Buon giorno signor! Do you speak English?
January 26, 2012 2:41 PM   Subscribe

Palermo, here I come! Where do I go, other than the beach?

So, lucky me, I scraped together the money for a proper holiday, and I'll be flying to Palermo, Sicily, at the end of March. I will be getting some suggestions of places to go courtesy of some archaeologist relations who have spent time there, but further detail is going to be very welcome. Here's what I'm looking for:

- Day trips to sites of archaeological or historical interest, outstanding natural beauty, fine art and architecture
- Classical or chamber music performances
- Bicycle hire for 1 or 2 days at a time
- Nice nightlife, i.e. bars that aren't dives

Budget is a concern for me, I doubt I'd be able to spend more than 80 euros on trips and cycle hire combined. I'd like to spend at least 4 days out and spend the rest of the time relaxing. Language is also an issue, though I've been assured it's a popular enough destination that I won't have too much trouble if I know barely any Italian (which is a shame because I love the way it sounds).
posted by fearnothing to Travel & Transportation around Palermo, Italy (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
There is a great travel series that you could probably find online that traces the life of Lampedusa through the places and palaces of Sicily. Go look for it!
posted by parmanparman at 2:50 PM on January 26, 2012


You go to the best gelateria in the universe. I'll MeFiMail you the name and address.
posted by The World Famous at 3:01 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Must see, and reachable by bus: Montreale, the magnificent Norman cathedral with stunning mosaics. Do not miss. At the other end of the awesome spectrum, the Palermo Catacombs with its creepily preserved bodies segregated by gender, profession--lawyers with lawyers!!!, social status, and age. The bodies are wearing the well preserved burial attire, laces, jeweled shoe buckles, gloves
--a replication of Sunday best, only for eternity. So bizarre.

The traffic in and around Palermo is madness. I can't imagine bicycling, but who knows? Post your question at slowtrav.com on the Italy board, too. Lots of Sicily travelers are on there and can offer plenty of advice..
posted by Elsie at 3:17 PM on January 26, 2012


FYI the bicycle is so that I can get out of the city and up into the hills. Wouldn't be too much trouble for me to do 30-40km round trip so long as I had a decent route planned.
posted by fearnothing at 3:31 PM on January 26, 2012


I have to put in a recommendation for Cefalu. Cefalu is an hour's train ride (cost between 10-20 euros round trip, depending) from Palermo, which means you get to spend time in the delightfully throwback-y Palermo train station; then you get to ride along the coast for an hour (gorgeous); then you get to spend the day in a peaceful small seaside town where Cinema Paradiso was filmed. A lot of people ride their bikes in the environs, though the locals mostly consider them to be crazy Germans (it's extremely hilly), but there's also lovely little shops in both tourist and local varieties; the cathedral is a masterpiece* -- small and rustic, but to me far more moving than St. Peter's in Rome; a beach that is more accessible and less crowded than the big Palermo beaches.
If you do go to Cefalu, try lunch at Al Gabbiano. We did the antipasto buffet and ordered entrees, but the buffet turned out to be more than enough on its own. It was extremely authentic and so delicious we're still talking about it 5 years later.
Palermo can be a challenging city -- and I say that as someone who adores Rome (another notoriously dirty and difficult city) and who wants to take Palermo home with me in my pocket to fix it up and restore it to its former glory. Anyway, enjoy Palermo, but definitely be ready to take a break from it when you need to.

*Sorry for the weird link to the limo site, but it had the picture that best depicted the cathedral's interior.
posted by katemonster at 3:33 PM on January 26, 2012


Oh, and here's a website that lists some local bike routes. Unfortunately the English is just the google translation, but it looks usable.
posted by katemonster at 3:40 PM on January 26, 2012


Elsie has most of the major bases covered. I'm not sure those are all must-sees, though. My must-sees in Palermo:

Top of Monte Pellegrino - go all the way to the statue.
Mondello (the beach)
Giardino Inglese
One of the open-air markets (This one, this one, or this one)
If you're into cycling, try to get over to Via Biciclettari / Via Divisi, which is a crazy confluence of cycling and Sicily.

Outside the city, the two must-see places are the Temple of Segesta and the Duomo di Monreale. Look around at the Google Street Views and people's pictures of those and all the other places people mention.

As far as cycling, I've done a lot of cycling in and around Palermo and it's a great way to get around and experience the city and surrounding areas, assuming you're in great shape and can handle the risks of theft and traffic issues. I wouldn't worry about riding in the city, as long as you've ridden in cities before. But be super aware of the risk of theft, and make sure a car sees you before you ride out in front of it. I don't like to ride in Los Angeles, but I love to ride in Palermo.

If you're up for a long but rewarding uphill ride, cycle up Monte Pellegrino from the Palermo side and then down the mountain on the other side to Mondello.

Finally, if you can get away on a day trip, I would suggest Erice instead of Cefalu. It's a tiny mountaintop town overlooking Trapani, Punta del Saraceno, Capo San Vito, and the Aegadian Islands. It's an ancient city that was destroyed by the Carthaginians in the First Punic War, then conquered a few more times and built and re-built. It has remains of ancient Phoenician walls, a Saracen castle, and a Norman castle built on top of the ancient Temple of Venus which was allegedly founded by Aeneas. And if you can get your bike up to Erice, cycling around on its crazy, narrow streets is a blast. And the food is fantastic, as are the views.

And yes, gelato, where I told you to go.
posted by The World Famous at 4:31 PM on January 26, 2012


I was 12 in 1982 when I went to Sicily, but I remember Agrigento being absolutely awesome city for ruins and general gorgeousness.
posted by Aversion Therapy at 6:45 PM on January 26, 2012


I suggest you delve into the wonderful 91 Days in Palermo blog. Juergen & Mike move somewhere and spend, well, 91 days there and document the city from a visitor's point view in impressive depth. I came across them in Buenos Aires but they've also done Bolivia and Valencia. Previously
posted by jontyjago at 4:35 AM on January 27, 2012


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