I didn’t go to Italy for 10 years and I almost forgot how much I love this country. The small streets, the friendly people, the food, the cheap Aperol spritz, the Italian lifestyle…
My teenage dream of living under the Tuscan sun immediately came back.
We chose to go to Palermo, known for the big lemons, fresh olives, rich history and off course the mafia. At a certain point I guess everybody once owned Palermo. I saw some pictures online before booking, and it looked like time stopped here. Palermo looks like a typical south Italian city. Although you can clearly see the influence from other cultures here. Through the years Palermo has always been an important city, right in the center of the Mediterranean Sea. So, it seemed like Palermo was certainly worth a visit. Because of the Sicilian history with the mafia I first thought that Palermo wouldn’t be safe. Seemed I was wrong, the center is safe.
It’s possible to see the whole city by foot but if you are not in the best shape you can also rent a bike.
If you’re visiting Palermo by plane, there is a shuttle bus to the city for €6 (or €10 if you buy your retour ticket at the same time).
I’ll give an overview of the highlights in the city.
1. Fontane Pretoria
This fountain is also known as the fountain of shame, because all the statues are naked.
It was built in the 16th century in Florence (Italy) for the viceroy of Spain. Sadly, he died before the fountain was finished and his son sold it to the city of Palermo. You can find it at piazza Pretoria surrounded by the city hall and the Sint Caterina church.
2. Quatro Canti
This historic square is just around the corner from Fontane Pretoria and is also known as Teatro del Sole, because the sun is here at every moment of the day. So do not visit this at noon in July or august, you will regret it! The four houses here each represent a season and in the middle of each building you can see a Spanish king.
3. Cathedral de Palermo
The Cathedral off Palermo has different architectural styles, because of the city’s rich history. You can visit the rooftop here and enjoy a stunning view over the city (the rooftop is €5, a visit with the whole cathedral is €10). In the basement you can find tombs from kings and bishops. In the 16the century this cathedral was a Mosque because the Arabs took over Sicily. In 1169 there was an earthquake and the Cathedral was hit very bad. Later in 1179 they started to build an “new” cathedral.
4. Pallazzo dei Normanni
Palazzo dei Normanni or also known as the royal palace was built in the 9th century. Later in the 11th century the Normans took over Sicily (yes even the Normans ruled over Sicily once) and the palace.
You can’t visit Italy without visiting a church and there are many in Palermo. My favorite is San Domenico because of its gorgeous baroque style. If you like a rooftop view, there is a shopping center right next to it where you can have a drink in their rooftop bar.
Chiesa de Gusu is another baroque church in Palermo. Make sure to visit the inside of this church too! It’s a Jesuit church from the 16the century with colorful marble interior decoration. When we were here there was a wedding which made the church look extra spectacular.
La chiesa di San Cataldo is an iconic church in the city. It has three red bolls on the roofs, which you’ll see from the street (or from any rooftop view). These bolls are typical for the Arabic Normandy architecture. Across from the chiesa di San Cataldo is the Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio. I do recommend you’ll visit the rooftop here; it has a spectacular view over the Fontane Pretoria.
6. Theatro Massimo
Theatro Massimo is right in the center of the city and is the biggest opera house in Italy. If you have seen the movies from The Godfather, you ‘ll recognize this building from the last scene of the second movie.
7. La Calla
Near the city there is a small port (called La Calla) where you can find a lot of small boats and enjoy a drink. If you do want to see the beach you ‘ll need to take a bus.
8. No Mafia Museum
For a long time, the mafia ruled Sicily. In this museum you find the history of the mafia and how they tried to conquer the region. There’re pictures of ex-mafia members and victims (heads up, they can be bloody!).
Where to eat in Palermo?
I’ll share some vegan hotspots in Sicily with you. I thought it would be hard to eat vegan in Italy, because they are known for eating a lot of cheese and ham. But I forgot they eat a lot of pasta (with veggies!). Our first night we found a vegan burger place named Flower Burger where you can eat all kinds of colorful burgers. They have a lot of restaurants all over Italy, France and The Netherlands (please come to Belgium). I choose the “Cheesy Chickpea” with patatas bravas and loved it!
The next morning, we choose to go to Cuma, a shop with a lot of healthy food and vegan options. You should try the vegan croissant, it’s black but really delicious. You can also have a vegan lunch and dinner here and some healthy juices.
For dinner we choose to go to Haiku, a plant-based restaurant which I highly recommend (we even went here twice for dinner!). They have the best pasta that I ever had, you should try the ‘Spagetti alla pantesca’ or the ‘Pappardelle’. These are sold as ‘primo’ (appetizer) but we had them as main dish and this was really enough. Don’t forget to check out their desert chart as well!
When you walk around in Palermo, you’ll find a lot of street food. At KePalle you can try vegan “arancine”, these are fried rice balls and the vegan option had mushrooms. If you are in the mood for some gelato (which you are when you’re in Italy) you can have a vegan option right next to Kepalle and Bar Cheri also has multiple options.
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