Travel + Leisure Staff
September 26, 2017

Known as a bridge between the East and West, thanks to its geographic location on the northwestern shore of Sicily, this Italian city is the island’s center of tourism. Travelers will discover plenty of historic and cultural attractions in Palermo — the result of a long and dramatic history of conquest.

Years of transitioning between Phoenician, Arab, Byzantine, and Roman rule can be seen today in a city full of souk-like bazaars, diverse architectural styles, and a large variety of cuisine.

If you are looking to explore Palermo’s many layers, be sure to check out a few of the landmarks, such as the macabre Capuchin Catacombs, which contain a display of nearly 8,000 fully-dressed mummies. At the 12th-century Duomo (or Cathedral) of Palermo, gothic, baroque, and Neoclassical styles reflect Sicily’s long and complex cultural history.

One of the best ways to experience a city as intricate as Palermo is through its cuisine. Sicily is a stronghold for the grassroots culinary movement committed to preserving regional traditions and supporting local purveyors. Get to the source at Palermo’s trio of main markets: Ballarò, Il Capo, and the famed Vucciria, which are best known for street food treats like arancini and sfincione.

A trip to Palermo is not complete without exploring its art scene. Start at GAM (Galleria d’Arte Moderna di Palermo), which mixes 19th and 20th-century Italian masters with high-profile, contemporary artists. Inside the Palazzo Riso is the Museum of Contemporary Sicilian Art. It is one of the region’s most important museums, with works by Richard Long and Francesco Simeti.

Even if your stay is short, be sure to make time for a stop at the Teatro Massimo, the largest opera house in Italy. This opera house can accommodate more than 1,300 guests. Daily tours are available, but travelers should buy tickets to a show to experience the perfect acoustics.

With so much to do and see in Palermo, it can sometimes be nice to take a day off and simply relax by the sea. Families can often be found lounging on the sandy stretch of Mondello Beach, just outside of town. East of the city is Aspra Beach, named for the village of the same name, which is famous for its colorful fishing boats.

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