Why Palermo is one of the most underrated cities in Italy (and you should visit it)

A city surrounded by mountains and sea. That is my favorite combination and Palermo has this. When you want a city trip but also a bit of beach holiday, Palermo is a perfect destination. However, I rarely hear about people that spend holidays here. I have to say that before my Erasmus here, Palermo was not on my radar as well. More popular city trip and/or sun holiday destinations are Barcelona, Lisbon, Paris etc. But today I want to explain to you why you should definitely add Palermo/Sicily to your travel bucket list.

Some facts

Palermo is located on the Italian island Sicily, which is the island most South of Italy. The city is one fourth biggest city in Italy, with from 2016 approximately one million citizens. Palermo is an university city, has a football club (US Palermo) and has a rich history, which includes the Cosa Nostra (the Sicilian mafia) that ruled the city at the end of the second World War. The city has the nickname ‘the African city’ and has the worst traffic ever. Seriously, they say Rome is bad but those people haven’t experienced the Palermo traffic. They drive like crazy people.

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The food
Italian food is one of the best cuisines in my opinion (honestly; I cannot get enough from pizza, even after 4,5 months of eating it). Palermo has the typical Italian pizza and pasta ready for you. Palermo is quite a big city as I said before and so there is also a wide range of restaurant choices. Basically everywhere in the city the pizza is better than at home. Next to the standard Italian dishes, you have some Sicilian specialities. Cannoli you should definitely try, which means “little tube”. Cannoli made out of tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough, filled with a sweet, creamy filling containing ricotta. It is mostly eaten with some espresso. Also Palermo is famous for its street food, with the most important one being Arancini (update: apparently it is called in Catania arancini, but in Palermo arancine. Don’t say arancini in Palermo, our the Palermo people will hunt you down). These are stuffed rice balls which are coated with bread crumbs and then deep fried. They are usually filled with ragu (meat and tomato sauce), mozzarella and peas. Another street food is Panelle, which is basically fried chickpeas with some other ingredients. It tastes a bit like fried potatoes I think. Lastly, try a brioche with ice cream. Yes, you read that right; ice cream on a white bread. It is actually similar to a ‘bolletje’ in the Netherlands, which we eat as lunch. Here they put some scopes of ‘gelato’ on it and some chocolate. Yum.

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The sea

No where in Italy I have seen such blue, clear water as here in Palermo/Sicily. To go to a proper beach, you go to Mondello (if you stay in Palermo this is the most popular one) or if you want to travel a bit further Cefalu is a great option. The beaches are gorgeous with a surrounding of mountains around it. The temperature is basically always perfect for a beach day; summer starts here around April, but compared to the Netherlands and other more Northern countries it is always summer here.

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The city

The city centre is one you don’t see too often. My mom and grandma described it as lots of neglected buildings that once were beautiful, but when you look longer are now even more beautiful because of their imperfection. Some monuments and buildings are now getting renovated, which is great though. It is a special mix of cultures, which makes Palermo so interesting I think. There are a lot of Northern African and Arabic influences, with some Greek now and then and of course the Roman styles. The places you must see are Teatro Massimo, then walk the via Maqueda to see several churches (look carefully, they are everywhere). Then at one point you will see the Quattro Canti and if you then turn right you will pass the Cathedral of Palermo and even further the Palazzo Reale. This Palazzo does not seem interesting from the outside but the inside is gorgeous. And this is just a bit of the culture that Palermo has to offer. The best is just to stroll around and look around you. There are hundreds of churches, monuments and other spots even outside the city centre. For instance, Monreale or to go up the Monte Pellegrino (from this mountain you see the view of the picture in the preview) for a picknick and a picture perfect view of the city.

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I think I could ramble on about Palermo for ages. Instead, I want to end this post with this poem about the city I found on the tourist website of Palermo (visitpalermo.it):

They say
Palermo is difficult to describe

Palermo is sensual and fascinating
Palermo is chaotic
Palermo is an Arabian city not Muslim

Palermo is a city that changes continually
Palermo has blinding light
Palermo is a bridge between east and west
Palermo is a hell of traffic and smog

Palermo is near yet exotic
Palermo is the most European of North African cities
Palermo is not clean

Palermo in summer is an experience on the edge of reality

Palermo in spring and autumn is an experience on the edge of paradise

Palermo is exuberant

Palermo is a city of contrasts

In Palermo public transport works badly
Palermo has an eclectic, multiform beauty
Palermo has marvellous gardens, although they are more than often hidden

In Palermo you can eat anything, any time, any place
In Palermo you come across fantastic markets
In Palermo you can get around on foot
Palermo is a huge bazaar on the border of Europe

Palermo can be frightening but it is not dangerous
Holidays in Palermo are exciting
Palermo is sweet and sour, like many of its culinary dishes

In Palermo hospitality does not know the meaning of the word ‘private’
Palermo is a province with cosmopolitan scars

Palermo is by the sea, but sometimes this goes forgotten
Palermo is a word of Greek origin which means ‘all port’

Palermo is made of layers like an onion
Palermo has beautiful, dusty museums
Palermo is conflict between pleasure and boredom
Palermo is its Baroque churches and its Arabian water system

In Palermo there is the mafia, but the mafia is not like it is in the films

Palermo always seems different from what others have you told you it is like

About Palermo, in fact, there are many different versions going round.

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