Palermo and Monreale, Sicily: the Essential Guide
Palermo is a city of contrasts, it is a city where palm trees are ubiquitous, the food and wine are both delicious and affordable, the history is compelling, and the architecture is beautiful. When in Palermo, don’t miss to visit Monreale, Sicily. In fact according to an old Sicilian proverb : “Anyone who comes to Palermo without seeing Monreale arrives on a donkey and leaves as an ass,” and rightly so.
Start your day in Palermo. A walk through the crowded streets of the city will result in the discoveries of everything from elegant Georgian apartments, to Norman castles, old domes of Arab mosques, major Neoclassical theatres and endless other curiosities in a city which has been a multiethnic melting pot for centuries.
Let yourself be surprised by its streets, its life and the charm of its nature. You might like to start from the symbol of the city: the Cathedral.
The Palermo Cathedral is iconic, its facade has been changed and shaped by the renovations of each of the cities foreign governers which makes it a unique blend of architectural styles.
A wonderful mixture of Norman, Moorish, Gothic, Baroque and Neoclassical characteristics the church is set in the heart of the centre of the city, and its artwork and decor inside are one of a kind. It’s also home to some very unique touches, like a sundial on the floor marked with zodiac signs and an inscription from the Quran on one of the columns near the entrance–both highly unusual for a Catholic church!
It’s unique outdoor rooftop terraces offer a great perspective of the historic centre of the Palermo, and recently the Cathedral has been opening up for night time viewings, an experience which sounds absolutely beautiful.
Then you can continue your walk by seeing Palazzo dei Normanni, Piazza Pretoria and Via Maqueda, whose “four corners” converge Palermo at a quartet of baroque palaces left over from the heyday of Spanish rule dating from 1560.
If you like the idea of losing yourselves amongst the smells and colours of markets, Palermo is the perfect city.
Palermo’s markets are absolutely among the best things to see in Palermo: food is such an important cultural component to the region, and the markets are an excellent place to get a taste of it, whether that’s through picking up fruits and veggies, haggling over fish, or grabbing a piping hot arancina to munch on.
In Palermo, I recommend you to visit Ballaro Market, one of the largest and most typical of the city.
In this colourful market, you can find Sicily best produces, and that includes fruits, vegetables, cheese and of course fish. And all this at unbeatable prices!
An unmissable part of your journey will be surely Monreale (Sicily) with its extraordinary Cathedral. Monreale(Sicily) is slightly out of Palermo, and you will need a half day to go there and come back.
If you don’t want to travel by car: Monreale (Sicily) is a short and easy excursion from Palermo using public transport. You can use the 389 bus, which can be taken from Piazza Indipendenza. The price of a ticket is €1.40.
The church of Monreale (Sicily) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the wonderfully preserved architecture of the church and surrounding cloisters. It’s when you will get inside that you will really be amazed!
It’s covered with more than 6,500 square metres of gilded mosaics, depicting scenes from the New and Old Testament.
The magnificent golden mosaics which dominate the Monreale church depict a giant Christ, who looks over a succession of Saints, scenes from the old and new testament, royal thrones and King William himself being crowned by Christ. Stunning!
Indulge in some Sicilian desserts: Cannoli are possibly Sicily’s most famous export and arguably one of the most delicious Sicilian foods: the crunchy pastry shell is deep-fried and then stuffed with ricotta cheese, and is an incredibly delicious treat.
Cassata, though not as well-known as cannoli, is another ubiquitous Sicilian dessert. Made from a sponge cake soaked in liqueur or fruit juice, the cake is then layered with ricotta and topped with marzipan.
Mondello Beach: for your summer relaxation
The sublime Mondello Beach is a great place to relax and enjoy the cool Mediterranean waters.
You’ll be awestricken by the white sand and the crystal clear water of the sea. The beach is only a mile and a half long and you can rent an umbrella and/or sunbed as well. Along this beach there are no rocks or any other dangers. This an ideal place for families to bring their children to play and relax under the sun.
Here summer evenings are full of fun: the promenade is the place where the nightlife is concentrated, between ice cream shops and walks looking over the sea.
Best time to visit Sicily
The best time to visit Sicily is from March to June or September to October. These late spring and early fall months offer hospitable temperatures, which are ideal for temple gazing, beach lazing or hiking.
If you plan a July or August vacation, you’ll contend with lots of crowds, high prices and the hottest temperatures of the year. Winter is pretty much locals only, but as temps drop and facilities close, apart from over the Christmas holidays, you’ll find a much quieter side of Sicily that few tourists get to appreciate.
If you’re in Sicily for Ferragosto (15th August) then don’t miss a swim in the sea at midnight on the 14th, going into the 15th. Many people camp out and have barbeques on the beach that night so there’s a real party atmosphere – join in the fun!
Palermo Hotels – Where to Stay
Best luxury hotel: Palazzo Natoli Boutique Hotel 4*
Stay in the heart of Palermo
Located in Palermo’s centre, Palazzo Natoli is a modern and refined boutique hotel. With its 9 rooms, the building presents an intimate and elegant environment, maintaining the noble residence’s identity. It is located a few steps from the Palermo Cathedral and the famous Quattro Canti, the crossroads from which to start visiting the city’s historic centre and markets.
Rooms from € 179/night
Best mid-range hotel: Casa Nostra Boutique Hotel
For a real authentic experience in Palermo
Casa Nostra Boutique Hotel features a restaurant, outdoor swimming pool, a fitness centre and bar in Palermo. 500 m from Palermo Cathedral and 1.3 km from Fontana Pretoria, the property features a shared lounge and a garden. All units are equipped with air conditioning, a flat-screen TV with satellite channels, a fridge, a kettle, a hairdryer and a desk.
Rooms from € 150/night
Best budget hotel: B&B Hotel Palermo Quattro Canti 3*
You could not find a better location in the heart of the historic centre of Palermo. B&B Hotel Palermo Quattro Canti is set next to the piazza of Quattro Canti.Enjoy a beautiful view of the fountain in Piazza Pretoria from the rooftop terrace. Each guest room is complete with Smart satellite TV with Chromecast device, air conditioning, and internet connection.
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