Palermo "In Five"
The Orto Botanico di Palermo quickly became our favourite spot in the city, even with the entry fee. It’s a peaceful and large botanical garden with a variety of plants to marvel at for all those green-fingered folks amongst you! It also happens to have a very well stocked bar, where we happily sat and enjoyed reading our books for an hour, whilst sipping probably the best Negroni I’ve ever had! For a change of pace and scenery, I’d heartily recommend a couple of hours in the Orto Botanico.
Palermo is full of them! Particularly the ones you presume are pedestrianised until a scooter whizzes past you… La Vucciria is probably one of the better-known parts of town, with a lively food market and bar scene in the evenings. We came here on our first night in town, and it certainly opened our eyes to the lighter side of life in Palermo! Whether you want to grab an arancino to go, sit down for drinks and snacks for aperitivo, enjoy fresh barbequed seafood, or find a “quieter” corner of one of the small restaurants – La Vucciria probably has something for you! It’s loud, smoky, and full of atmosphere – so pull up a stool and soak it all in.
There are just so many amazing options for food in Palermo – and whilst a lot of it comes in fried form, there are some places where you can get your hands on something greener too. If you’re hankering for organic and tasty – head to Ecologica near the marina. You can stock up on a variety of eco-friendly goods there, as well as enjoy lunchtime salads. And to bring it back into balance, don’t forget that gelato is a necessary food group in that hot weather! Both Brioscia and Cappadonia serve up tasty treats – I always recommend going with the classic combination of cioccolato fondente and pistacchio; and for the particularly adventurous – you can get your gelato stuffed into a brioche bun too!
For great Sicilian eats, check out Antica Focacceria San Francesco – where you can try a little of everything (even a tripe sandwich, if that’s your thing…)! And you might want to follow that tasty lunchtime meal up with a visit to the surprising monastic dolceria: I Segretti del Chiostro, for absolutely HUGE cannoli.
I could keep going and going, as Palermo certainly is bountiful! But my final recommendation is to check out Cassaro Bottega Alimentare – for not only are their shelves generously stocked with a variety of produce made from lemons (including delicious limoncello!), but you can also buy spices to add to your own pasta dishes, pesto and other sauces, and a variety of cheeses too. It’s a beautiful store with friendly and informative staff.
Palermo is a lively city, and perhaps not always the best looked after – with struggling infrastructure and sanitation, particularly in the hot weather. Alongside that you’ll see not only the usual graffiti that is so common in Italy, but also some beautiful pieces of art that have seemingly been thrown up on the walls by the hands of a magical artist. I've shared my favourite in this blog, but the walls are alive with creativity in this city. Palermo is also full of its fair share of beautiful buildings, some all the more romantic in their appearance because of their slightly unkempt facades. As always, explore the best you can by foot, if you’re able, as Palermo isn’t great for public transport.
5. Buon Viaggio
As a city-lover, it feels strange to so often encourage people to leave them – but with so much to offer within a couple of hours of Palermo, you might want to take the opportunity to at least visit these two spots:
Agrigento, and the Valley of Temples
We went via train on a two-hour journey to Agrigento, and then it’s a short walk downhill (taxis and buses were also milling about) to the Panoramica dei Templi B&B – where we had chosen to stay for the night. You could probably do this trip in a day, if you allowed the afternoon to sightsee, but we wanted a more relaxed pace. The hotel was a great option, conveniently located between the town of Agrigento and the Valley of the Temples – as well as being above the Restaurant Trattoria dei Templi, where we had one of the best meals of our trip.
Of course, the Valley of Temples is impressive to behold – and you might recognise one of the temples as being the model for the logo of UNESCO! There are guides available, or plenty of information online or in guide books to ensure you’re well informed during your visit.
Finally, before getting the train back to Palermo, head to Caffé Concordia for their very sweet and ice-cold almond milk (literally, that’s what it is – fresh almond milk!), and then grab a panino or salad at Antichi Sapori Salumeria Gastronomica & Bio – the food was delicious, cheap, and wonderfully located just a few minutes from the train station.
For this day out of the city, we hired an electric car from Sicily by Car – an excellent choice for only €50. The car was fully charged, which was ample to get us to and from Erice, but there were also charge points en route we could have used if needed.
Erice is a beautiful walled town, perched high up on a hill – with powerful panoramic views. Again, Italy isn’t always the best for those with access needs, and unfortunately, it’s no different here – with steep slopes and cobbled streets.
If you do decide to go, then make the most of a leisurely paced stroll around this town that retains much of its historic charm, as well as stopping off for, you guessed it, more pastries! I’m recommending Pasticceria Grammatico Maria, as I’d received the same recommendation from a friend. There’s a LOT to choose from here, so best to just grab a few to try! For something savoury, try the arancino from La Tonda, which is immediately on your left as you enter through the town gates – the food is fresh, piping hot, and excellent value for money.
Finally, on our way back to Palermo we wanted to check out a few of the beaches with their teal waters – and whilst the private cove at Castellammare del Golfo does have some impressive Insta-worthy views, I don’t think it is good value for money. It was absolutely rammed when we visited with nowhere so sit (and definitely no social distancing), so we asked for a refund, drove along the coast for about 20 minutes and found a virtually empty sandy beach to enjoy a quick dip in the balmy sea!