kasiawrites – travel blog

Discovering the past in Palermo, Sicily

Having been to Italy twice before, I expected Palermo and the rest of Sicily to be along the same lines as what we’ve already seen. I wasn’t really prepared for the mix of architectural styles, cultures and flavour that was a totally different Italy than what we were used to. 

Arriving in Palermo

We landed in Palermo after midnight.  Having just left a very busy, crowded and stifling hot airport in Santorini, the emptiness of this unexpectedly modern, air-conditioned place was a welcome change. As it was the middle of the night and transportation choices  were slim, we proceeded, along with everyone else who just got off the plane, to the deserted taxi stand.

It’s been a while since I’ve been to Italy and I’ve forgotten how the Italian minds operate. There is no coherent order of lining up and waiting for taxis, which is what I’ve become accustomed to. In Italy, you can be in a line up, but when it comes to boarding (be that plane, train, ferry or any other mode of transportation), the Italians approach it in an en mass formation and with great urgency. It’s like a sport to them.

It only took seconds before the competitive instinct kicked in and we pushed our way to the front of the line like it was our job. Since one of us is fluent in Italian, the negotiations were handled swiftly and after an appropriate amount of outrage at the prices (20 Euro a person!) we were on our way.

Not your average taxi ride

Our driver, wearing a t-shirt with a plunging neckline, coiffed hair and cigarette in his mouth (who says you can’t be styling in the middle of the night while driving a cab), stuffed us in the back of his vehicle with two other couples. As we started driving, the skies opened up with a torrential downpour. It was then that I started to get a feeling that things might not end well.

The driver got lost after dropping off the first couple. The four of us watched in amazement as he stopped the car at the lights and got out  to talk to someone in the cab in front of us. It didn’t exactly inspire confidence, but at this point, what choice did we have? I was just hoping our Airbnb hosts would still be up to let us in.

At this point, it was close to 2 a.m. and we stopped at a corner of what I would best describe as a small, sketchy alley and a smaller, narrower and possibly more questionable one.  As it was our street, the driver left us and our luggage, on the corner in the pissing rain.  Despite my apprehension, we found our destination fairly quickly and with no issues. Our host, dressed to the nines and looking more like he was off to a party rather than his bed, happily handed us the key and left us alone.

Arrived at last

Palermo, we made it. I was so excited to start exploring.

Palermo really took me by surprise. It was the unexpected mix of history, architecture and cultures that got me hooked.  I expected predominately Roman influence and remnants. It turned out to be that and so much more.


Orto di Palermo

A little bit of history

Various cultures have dominated Palermo for centuries. From the Carthaginians, Greeks and Romans to the Byzantines, Arabs and Normans, there were many that left their mark on the city. What fascinates me, is the fact that every new set of architects often incorporated previous styles rather than destroying and replacing them with their own. For that, I am very grateful.


Fontana Pretoria

As a key port, Palermo played an important role in the ancient world. According to my DK travel book “the town prospered under the Roman, but its golden age was under Arab domination, when it rivaled Cordoba and Cairo in beauty.” How amazing would it be to travel back in time to see that splendour?


San Cataldo


Ahhh Palermo

You can see the stark contrast between the many crumbling buildings, once glorious and proud, and the newly renovated ones everywhere. According to my guidebook, the many years of neglect when the mafia controlled this area led to the current state of affairs. Slowly, the government has been taking steps to revitalize and renovate different neighbourhoods, but they still have a long way to go.

The building that captured my attention

Probably one of my fave buildings was the Palermo Cathedral. The guidebooks don’t do enough to prepare you for this place. Built around 1185 as an early Christian basilica, it then became a mosque only to become a Catholic church once again. A blend of Christian then Arab and Norman influences are visible in many parts of the building, both inside and outside. I was pretty obsessed with taking pics of this place. There isn’t a bad angle and it looks different depending on the weather and time of day. We managed to get on the rooftop walkway where the views were just amazing.

Palermo Cathedral

Alex and I on top of the Palermo Cathedral

There were so many buildings that I wanted to take pictures of. I could spend days just walking around Palermo capturing the world around me. The cobbled, narrow streets, the peeling and crumbling buildings, the bars and filled with people and merriment.

Views from the top

Our apartment had an incredible three-level patio that we made a very good use of. At night, you could hear music, the laughter and clinking of cutlery in the distance. It was amazing. I go back to that moment every now and then, and the memory of that place gets me every time.

Palermo airbnb

One of the patios at the Airbnb in Palermo

Palermo as anywhere else in Italy, has an abundance of great restaurants, bars and coffee shops.  We definitely contributed to the local economy by partaking in these delights.


You had me at gelato


Biggest problem is choosing


Patio life, Palermo edition

One of the interesting things I noticed about Palermo was that there were many Italian tourists, but not many others.  Italy is normally overrun with visitors from all over the world, but that wasn’t the case here. Sicily is still not as widely visited as the rest of the country, but definitely worth visiting.

I have a feeling we will be back in Palermo. It became one of those places that felt like home. Who knows what the future holds? 🙂

Don’t miss future posts!


25 thoughts on “Discovering the past in Palermo, Sicily

  1. Pingback: Top 10 reasons to travel | kasiawrites - travel blog

  2. Pingback: Cagliari, Sardinia – another part of Italy that’s worth a visit – kasiawrites – travel blog

  3. Dippy-Dotty Girl

    You had me at that gelato! The architecture stuns the onlooker as I can see from your photograph and account. All those influences finding a common ground somewhere – that itself is a great thing to see in this world where intolerance is rife.

    The Italian and his tees showing a great deal of his chest and the great love for chaos is a part of the landscape anywhere in the country, eh? xx

    1. kasiawrites

      Yes, the Italians are definitely an interesting bunch. As Alex’s background is Italian we have a lot of interactions with that culture. 🙂

      I am a big sucker for architecture and Palermo has so much to see. I would like to see them restore more of it.

      Gelato gets me every time 🙂

  4. Rachel Lishman

    I felt the same on my recent trip there – Sicily is an entirely different beast to mainland Italy and a welcome rest from the droves of tourists in other cities! Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to Palermo this time around, but after reading your post I’m definitely scheduling another visit to the north of the isle! I’d recommend a great book by John Norwich (‘Sicily’) that gives loads more detail on the cultures that have occupied it over the centuries 🙂

    1. kasiawrites

      We didn’t get to see more of Sicily but I guess that’s a reason to go back 😜 I would definitely recommend Palermo. It was so much fun. I will definitely check out that book. Thanks for the recommendation 👍🏼

  5. Mel & Suan

    Amazing indeed and definitely on our bucket list. We tried gettting there years ago but was warned off by colleagues about the mafia etc. So it was untouched so far! But yeah we would love to do the same as you. Did you get around in the scooters?

    1. kasiawrites

      We walked most of the time. There is a free shuttle that kinda goes around the city so we took that a time or two. We were there in August so it wasn’t busy as most of the locals were on vacation. The only ‘mafia’ type things was the cab ride. I’m pretty sure they jacked up the prices because of the time when we got there. 😏 Otheriwse is was very safe

      1. Mel & Suan

        Oh taxi drivers all around the world are mafia! LOL. Only when Uber came in they started to realize it was ‘muscling on their turf’… and you know the rest…
        Good to know about getting in August, but it surely would have been hot and humid?

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