Of all Sicily's cities, it most strikingly embraces all aspects of the island’s later history from the Arab, Norman and Spanish invasions to the influences of the Belle Epoque era. The differing styles of architecture and artistic treasures are a feast for the eyes, while the city’s turbulent history is ever-present in the busy streets. Visitors can sample the animated local lifestyle in the enormous open markets, particularly the Vucciria, or delve into the historic past in the Cathedral, huge churches like Santa Caterina, a splendid example of Sicilian baroque, museums, magnificent palaces, beautiful squares and a wonderful botanical garden.
For anyone looking for alternatives to city centre sights, Palermo has a fascinating hinterland. Day or half-day trips offer the beautiful Norman monastery at Monreale in the mountains behind Palermo, the brooding lonely Greek ruins of Segesta and Selinunte, or the rustic pleasures of the natural park in the Madonie mountains.
All visitors to Palermo should try the city's famous pasta con sarde at least once. Listing its diverse ingredients - salted sardines, sultanas, pine nuts, fennel, tomato sauce and saffron - gives only a hint of the combined flavours of this exhilarating dish. If you favour sandy beaches then Palermo's popular resort of Mondello has a 2km stretch of fine golden coastline.
Excursions are available from Palermo.