A cruise day in
How to enjoy a cruise day in Palermo, Sicily:
First impressions of Palermo are often disappointing. Those expecting a beautiful city reflecting the magic of Sicily are faced with a poor and often dirty greeting with a reputation for crime (home to the famous Cosa Nostra Mafia).
However Palermo is a fascinating city with a unique history. Labeled "the world's most conquered city," it has a very colourful past which is reflected in the huge variety of buildings and cultural influences, mixing Arabic, Norman, Byzantine, Greek and Roman amongst others.
There are over 500 palaces, churches and other ancient buildings. Just be aware that many museums and public buildings close for lunch, usually between 1 and 3, although times vary.
Things to do in a day
From the port head south on Via Vittorio Emanuele towards the Quattro Canti or Four Corners- the symbolic crossroads at the old centre of the city, the centrepoint for all 4 quarters of the city.
Piazza Pretoria is where the City Hall is situated with the impressive ‘Fountain of Shame’.
Behind the City Hall, in Piazza Bellini you will find La Martorana church with byzantine mosaics inside.
Standing next to La Martorana is the miniscule Church of San Cataldo, characterised by its three red domes.
The Casa Professa or Chiesa del Gesù is a Baroque masterpiece. It is one of the most architecturally important highly decorated in Palermo.
The city's Cathedral, Piazza di Cattedrale is worth a snap but is prettier outside than in.
Palazzo Abbatellis - the Regional Art Gallery is well worth a visit for art fans.
Teatro Massimo – the famous steps where a scene from ‘Godfather 3’ was filmed (where Don Corleone’s daughter Mary is shot).
Directly opposite Teatro Massimo is Via Bara dell’Olivella, a narrow street famous for its craft shops and its puppet theatre (well worth a visit on Sunday afternoon for both adults and children). At the end is Piazza Olivella, by night one of Palermo’s nightlife centres, with its bars and restaurants, and by day the home to the imposing Baroque Church of Sant’Ignazio and the Regional Archaeological Museum, which houses, amongst other things, two large statues of Zeus dating back to the 2nd Century BC and, in the lovely cloisters, several Greek and Roman statues taken from Solunto and Tindari. The other streets of the area are also fun to wander around.
Bus tours - There are two open-top double-decker bus tours which leave from Piazza Politeama every hour. You can stay on the bus for the full tour, do two different tours (each lasting about 55 minutes) or hop on and off during the day (tickets are valid for the whole day).
Horse and carriage tours – you can hire one by the hour if funds allow, but make sure you negotiate the price before you go.
Il Capo Market is one of Palermo’s four main street markets and maybe the busiest. Its Arabic origins are evident and it is well worth a visit in the morning when the level of hustle and bustle is at its highest. Wending your way through the streets you will catch glimpses of the Cathedral. The secret in these labyrinthine alleys is to just follow your nose and try the food. A typical speciality is a sandwich with “Pannelle”, chick-pea fritters - delicious!
Palazzo dei Normanni – built by the Arabs in the 9th century, this beautiful building houses the Sicilian parliament. Don’t miss the stunning mosaics in the Cappella Palatina built for King Roger II in the 12th century.
For shopping, the main shopping streets are between Teatro Massimo and Piazza Politeama and along Via delle Libertá. From outside Teatro Massimo, go west along Via Ruggero Settimo where you will find some of the most exclusive shops in Palermo.
Halfway down this road is a pedestrian area street called Via Principe Belmonte, where there are some nice bars and cafés where you can sit outside and watch the world go by.
Ruggero Settimo leads directly to Piazza Politeama with its impressive theatre (the second in terms of size after Teatro Massimo). On the opposite side of the square, continuing in the same direction, is Via della Libertá one of the most desirable residential areas in Palermo as well as being home to more upmarket shops, restaurants and bars.
the Catacombe dei Cappuccini - the catacombs of the Capuchin convent located on the Piazza Cappuccini, just west of the city centre, contain over 8000 mummified ex-residents from Palermo and its surrounding villages, some merely clothed skeletons, other remarkably well-preserved and lifelike. It is fascinating if a little morbid, and not for the faint hearted!
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