Palermo has long been considered one of Italy's most multicultural cities, having been conquered many times in its history. African, Arabic and European influences combine to offer a fascinating mix of architecture and gastronomy. As capital of Sicily, the Mediterranean’s largest island, it's also the gateway to the beaches of Taormina and the tallest active volcano in Europe, Mount Etna. Now nearly 3,000 years old, the city of Palermo was crowned Italy’s Capital of Culture in 2018.
Palermo hostels have dorms and private rooms in historic settings, including an ornate Art Nouveau building and a palace dating back to 1900. For something more modern, try a boutique Palermo hostel that doubles as a contemporary art museum, housing collections of sculptures, paintings and musical instruments. Throughout the city, there are many family-run hostels and guesthouses, with Italian-style free breakfast included. Book a hostel in Palermo with a terrace or balcony for views over the terracotta roofs of the old town.
Known locally as Quattro Canti (the Four Corners), the intersection of Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Via Maqueda is the traditional centre of Palermo. Close to all major monuments and attractions, this is the most popular area to stay. Just a short walk away, you’ll find the Politeama/Libertà district, which is filled with 19th-century architecture. Mondello is a former fishing village 20km from the city centre with sandy beaches and a thriving summer nightlife. It's connected to the centre by bus during the summer, making it a great waterfront alternative to staying downtown.
The old town is filled with majestic buildings including Italy’s biggest opera house, Teatro Massimo, where the final scene in The Godfather III was filmed. The 12th-century Cappella Palatina, part of the Royal Palace of Palermo, has stunning gold mosaics, marble flooring and intricate wooden carvings. The city’s main food market, Mercato di Ballarò, is an exhilarating assault on the senses and jam-packed with fresh produce, olives, meats and fish.
The best way to get around Palermo is the extensive local bus system, taking you across the city to all the major sights as well as nearby Monte Pellegrino, Mondello and Monreale. Falcone Borsellino Airport is 35km west of the city centre with connections by bus or train. The main bus terminal is right next to Palermo Centrale train station, both about a 15-minute walk from the old town centre.