A Solo Traveller's Guide to Palermo, Sicily

The city of Palermo is home to some stunning architecture and natural beauty
The city of Palermo is home to some stunning architecture and natural beauty | © Incamerastock / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Josephine Stockman
11 February 2022
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Travelling alone? Fizzing with energy, Sicily’s capital captivates an intoxicating mix of ancient, modern and startling extremes – Byzantine mosaics juxtaposed with graffiti artwork, baroque palaces cheek by jowl with boisterous markets. It’s a banquet for history buffs – and its feisty soul will leave you hankering for the next trip. Here’s our solo traveller’s guide to Palermo, Sicily.

What’s the vibe?

It’s solo Sicily at its best, pulling you in with its flamboyant, friendly, unpolished character. Packed with historic masterpieces, it’s best explored on foot. Amble through the patchwork of neighbourhoods, pausing at the glittering Palatine Chapel and soaring Arab-Norman Cathedral. Along the way, you’ll find secret piazzas shaded by date palms, and souk-like markets piled with plump aubergines.

Where to stay in Palermo

Villa Igiea

Double room at Rocco Forte Villa Igiea has brown and blue styling with elegant accents
Courtesy of Rocco Forte Villa Igiea / Booking.com
Splash out on this Art Nouveau villa, recently restored by the Rocco Forte group. Just 10 minutes from the frenetic centre, it’s a haven for A-listers, with palmy terraces spilling down to the sparkling Med. Rooms ooze elegance – book a sea view for max wow factor – while the pool bar is the place for a Sicilian mojito.

BB22

Lounge area at BB 22 Charming Rooms and Apartments features neutral tones and vibrant flowers
Courtesy of BB 22 Charming Rooms and Apartments / Booking.com
A stroll from Vucciria market and bustling Via Roma, you’re in the thick of it here. But all is serene inside this bolthole, occupying two floors of a 17th-century palazzo in a pocket-sized piazza. Minimalist rooms mix Starck chairs with antiques. Join guests for sundowners on the roof terrace with its honesty bar.

A Casa di Amici Boutique Hostel

Double room at A Casa di Amici features Japanese wall art and black and white decor
Courtesy of A Casa di Amici / Booking.com
Bold art and musical instruments on the walls hint at the creative vibe of this dead-central, friendly hostel. Choose from spacious, spotless dorms, or take a private room – each is themed, from Cuban to Japanese. Don’t miss the ‘social dinners’, with Sicilian dishes at a communal table – perfect for solos.

Eat and drink in Palermo

Aja Mola

Restaurant, Seafood
The nautical-chic décor reflects a menu that specialises in modern seafood dishes at Aja Mola. Near the seafront – in the up-and-coming Vucciria district, famous for its market – it draws well-heeled locals and visitors. Travelling solo? Sit at the bar and absorb the action over dishes such as grilled squid with basil and pepper sauce.

Ideal Café Stagnitta

Cafe, Coffee
Just off majestic Piazza Bellini, this iconic coffee roastery serves the best cappuccino in Palermo, say the locals. Providing Palmeritani with their daily caffeine hit since 1928, they feature decadent pastries. Grab one of the little tables outside and watch the world go by – before buying a bag of beans to take home.

Qvivi

Bar, Pub Grub, $$$
Always buzzing, this teeny bar on Piazza Rivoluzione is great if you’re on your own. Plastered in vintage posters, it starts to fill up early – thanks to the generous free aperitivi buffet. Settle in for a few drinks and stay for live music as night falls.

What to do in Palermo

Learn how to cook, Sicilian style

This Med island has a devoted foodie following, with flavour-packed dishes drawing on a rich culinary heritage and North African spices adding a kick to Italian fare. Learn to impress your pals with a cookery course in the capital – there are lots to choose from.

Enjoy a cookery class in Palermo, supervised by a Sicilian expert, as part of Culture Trip’s 10-day adventure around the island, La Dolce Vita: The Best of Sicily.

City of Monreale, Sicily | © Juergen Schonnop / Alamy Stock Photo

Day trip to Monreale

If you tick off one historic sight, make it Cattedrale di Monreale. This showstopper is on a hillside beyond the town, boasting sweeping views of the sea. It’s a masterpiece of Norman architecture, with exquisite medieval mosaics. Head for heights? Climb to the terrace for great photo ops.

Aerial view of the seaside resort town of Mondello in Palermo | © Roberto La Rosa / Alamy Stock Photo

Hit the beach

When the weather heats up, the Palmeritani make a beeline north for 12km (7.4mi) to Mondello – a sweep of golden sand. Hire a lounger and umbrella as the free public area can get crowded before ambling over to one of the seafood restaurants lining the bay for an Aperol and a plate of grilled shrimp.

Staying safe in Palermo

Despite its raffish feel, it’s simple to stay safe. The main risks are pickpocketing –be especially careful at Ballaro and Vucciria markets – and traffic. Cross the roads carefully and watch out for locals on whizzy scooters. Violent crime statistics are low and research conducted by the ISTAT (Italian National Institute of Statistics) found that among the 12 largest cities in Italy, Palermo had the lowest overall crime.

Getting around Palermo

Only the brave (or foolish) choose to drive into central Palermo – far less stressful is to stick to public transport or taxis. AMAT runs a fleet of city buses and trams, even linking day-trip destinations such as Mondello and Monreale.

Rather share your adventures with a small group of like-minded travellers? Join Culture Trip’s La Dolce Vita: The Best of Sicily, a leisurely 10-day loop taking in everything from an authentic Sicilian cooking class in Palermo to driving a 4×4 up Mt Etna’s volcanic peak, with plenty of gelato pit stops along the way.

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