Sicily’s allure is undeniable, but its capital is less universally loved. T+L reveals five compelling reasons to make it a destination.

Because wine tasting is surprisingly sophisticated.
Forget cheap reds in straw-covered flasks: Palermo’s wine bars have become seriously chic. Try Vinoveritas (39-091/609-0653) for some 3,000 Italian and international pours and a tasty aperitivo spread; and Enoteca Picone, with its encyclopedic collection of small local producers. Kursaal Kalhesa, built into the medieval city walls, serves a dozen wines by the glass under ancient barrel arches.

Because you’ll find some of Italy’s best street food.
Joyfully chaotic markets are the place to feast on such treats as arancini (fried rice balls) and sfincione (pillowy focaccia with toppings). The three main markets—Ballarò, Il Capo, and the legendary Vucciria—are all lined with fragrant stands. Or grab an outdoor table at Trattoria da Salvo (20 Via Torremuzza; $$), where you can watch the fish being grilled right in front of you.

Because its western suburb is one of Sicily’s most idyllic seaside villages.
A 15-minute drive from the historic center, Mondello has a lovely half-circle of talcum-white beach sprinkled with umbrellas, chaises, and gelato stands. And it’s home to Alle Terrazze ($$$), perhaps the area’s best seafood restaurant, in an Art Nouveau folly over the water.

Because low-key, independent hotels are the rule, not the exception.
Our favorite, BB22 ($), makes a fine art of understated intimacy, with its glassed-in terrace, seven high-ceilinged rooms, and ideal location in Vucciria. Other top choices include Maxim ($), a contemporary refit of a Baroque palace, and the quirky but stylish Butera 28 Apartments ($), managed by Nicoletta Polo—a.k.a. the Duchess of Palma—in her family’s palazzo by the sea.

Because there’s art worth seeing that’s not 500-plus years old.
At GAM, 19th- and 20th-century Italian masters are mixed with high-profile living artists such as the Italo-American Francesco Simeti. In a stunning new space, dealer Francesco Pantaleone—formerly of Gagosian in New York—is bringing international bona fides to the local scene.

Restaurant Pricing Key
$ Less than $25
$$ $25 to $75
$$$ $75 to $150
$$$$ More than $150

Photo by Dagmar Schwelle/Laif/Redux