At the airport or hotel, get a copy of Un Ospite a Palermo. A hundred page free book that comes out 6 times a year, with current events, hotels, exhibitions, Restaurants, Museums, Galleries, Historical Buildings & Churches, and Monuments. Also Timetables, openings, and postage rates are included. It is Bilingual - Italian and English
Museo Geologica Gemmellaro on Corso Tukory is a nice small museum. Moved here in 1985, A cut above some of the other small museums in Palermo and worth the 3 Euros. Lots of fossils and diagrams to make sense of 270 million years of Sicilian natural history, even if you don't know much Italian. Go to the top and see the cute little Pigmy Elephant in the Elephant room. Also, on exhibit is the "Thea" human cave skeleton and a room devoted to her environment of 14,000 years age. Allow 20 - 40 minutes.
La Kalsa is one of the oldest section of Palermo, mostly built during the Arab domination. It was heavily bombed during World War II and since a few decades ago it was so poor and degraded that, during a visit, Mother Teresa proposed to the town to build one of her mission there.
The town took shame over this and since than this area have been restored a lot and it is now becoming a vital center for culture and arts.
a cultural festival called kals'art take place here every year.
Sicily is an island, and Palermo is the main city of it: you are not allowed to miss the beaches, but..... Take care of pollution: unfortunately, waters may be severely polluted in the areas close by Palermo, as an example, the famous Mondello beach is no more open for swimming.
I suggest you drive all the way to Riserva dello Zingaro natural conservation area, or even to San Vito lo Capo (100 km west of Palermo), where the sea and the sand are almost Caribbean style.
The fascinating Kalsa quarter, designed and constructed by the Saracens, was home to the emir during the Arab period. However, after a massive WWII bombing attack, it became one of the city's most destitute zones and it's many beautiful monuments fell into neglect. Only recently have these weathered architectural masterpieces been rediscovered and restored .
Kalsa is the most obviously Moorish district in Palermo. It was originally a fortified town where 10th century emirs held court, and the name Kalsa itself derives from Arabic: Al Halisa, 'the Elect'. Even today local residents speak in a dialectal variant full of unique sounds, such as the aspirated initial of the name of the district. Instead of the 'K' in Kalsa, they say Hausa.
Palermo is the fifth Italian city by number of inhabitants. It's incredibly rich in life and signs of cultures left by the many populations that have dominated Sicily in the course of history. The best seasons to visit the city are spring and autumn, while summer is much too hot to go around and visit monuments, if you have an eye for architecture. Winter is usually not so cold, with temperatures very seldom going below 10 degrees Celsius. The list of things to see includes: the Cathedral, an awesome masterpiece of XIII century. Particularly rich when looked at from the road, it's a bit poorer when you step indoors. You can't miss the traditional markets of Vuccirìa and Capo, where they sell vegetables, meat and fish. Colours made immortal by the Italian painter Renato Guttuso in a famous picture of his, the shouting of sellers, the people swarming to and fro, the smell of the goods will compose an unforgettable image of Sicilian life, a sort of icon that must not be taken as the only specimen of life in the place. Piazza Marina (Marina Square) and the Kalsa are one of the beating hearts of the old city, with narrow stone-paved streets and the ancient palaces of noble families towering with their baroque architecture. Many of them have been abandoned since the World War II bombing of the city that destroyed the buildings well beyond the possibility of repair of noble but, by then, poor families. Skeletons through which you can see the sky...sort of moving, some feeling of past glory coming from those holes. The church of the Gancia is very close, the only sample of Romanic architecture in the area, dating back to XII century when the island was under the Arabian influence. Palazzo Abatellis hosts the National Gallery where you can, among others, admire pictures by Antonello da Messina, Mabuse and many others. You can also find the incredible Trionfo della Morte (Triumph of the Death). But by now you'll be hungry, of course. A very nice stop is the Focacceria S. Francesco where you can find the traditional 'sfincione' (sort of pizza, but softer and thicker, with tomatoes, anchovies, pecorino cheese, onions, breadcrumbs), the 'pani ca' meusa' (bread filled with veal spleen and lung fried in lard, you can eventually add ricotta or lemon juice), the 'panelle' (small deep-fried sqaures of chick-peas flour) the 'crocchette' or 'cazzilli' (deep fried small rolls of mashed potatoes with parsley and garlic) and much more... After that it would be nice to try a traditional ice-cream at Gelateria Ilardo, along the Foro Italico. Only two hints: the 'pezzo duro scurzunera e cannella' and the 'gelato cassata'. The first is a block of ice-cream (not creamy at all), the white half tastes the jasmin flowers, the red one tastes cinnamon. No more comments. The cassata is composed by a layer of pistachio , one of almond and a very thin of strawberry...then comes the chantilly cream. But it's time to go and visit the Cappella Palatina. Then the beautiful church of San Giovanni degli Eremiti with its pale red Arabian domes and palm trees around. Then down again to see the Martorana (same style as S. Giovanni) and the beautiful Piazza Pretoria with its fountain and the statues (the square was called Shame Square because of the nudity of the sculptures). On the square you can see Palermo Town Hall. Then head for the Teatro Massimo, one of the most beautiful theatres of Europe, recently re-opened to the public after a 25-years-long restoration. Walk down the Via Ruggero Settimo towards the Teatro Politeama and enjoy the sight of Piazza Castelnuovo and the second theatre of the city. A quick look at the sea and Via Liberta', with its trees and its shops, is your new scenery!
Along the route you'll feel the differences compose themselves in a picture of unique beauty. Old palaces, stone-paved narrow streets open up on modern sights of boutiques and everything the progress has given our society. A contrast that shows many of the paradoxes of Sicily.
There are so many things to see and do in Palermo: the Cathederal is a must - the little tourist stall outside has great souveneirs and are happy to take any currency. You should also visit the Massimo Theatre which is one of the oldest In Europe and if you are lucky enough to get a look around you can see one of the scenes where the God Father filmed.
A visit to Mondello beach and square is a must- if you walk further past the shops there are lots of wee gift shops with some lovely jewellery as well as the ceramics shop of Nino R..
There is the famous San Francesco bakery where you can go and try Milze which is made of similar ingredients as Scottish Haggis. It has been open for years and is near the famous Vuceria market.
There is really so much to see and do, if you want more specifics please email me as I LOVE talking about Palermo!
Sicily is like a historical theme park, with its Greek temples at Agrigento, Roman mosaics at Piazza Armerina and Norman cathedrals in Palermo and Monreale. But amid all the splendour and glory of the successive ages of Sicily, the best is perhaps the simplest: Antonello da Messina's incomparable painting of the Annunciation in the National Museum in Palermo. Old Cliffie always makes a point of visiting the museum to look at the painting whenever he is in Sicily.
its unique series of Baroque and Arabo-Norman churches, the unparalleled mosaic work and excellent museums are also the equal of anything on the mainland.