This is a one day long self-guided walking tour through Albergheria District to see some of the most impressive spots that it has to offer. Being a leading expert on all things Palermo, I have narrowed this down to the must-sees of the area, including the Palatine Chapel, Quattro Canti, the Ballarò Market, and the most important monuments and attractions.
- Total Time: One Day
- Starting At: 9:30 am
- Ending At: Early Evening Hours
- Expected Total Cost: 16€
- Total Travel Distance: 2.8km
- Number of stops: 5
- Clothing: Comfortable walking shoes and clothing, no jewelry.
There are a lot of attractions that you really should see when you are walking through this quarter. Some of the general highlights of this free walking tour in Palermo will be the Palatine Chapel, Quattro Canti and the Ballarò Market. This area is rich with history, such as this being originally the Kemonia River, where 7th century Phoenicians settled.
While the walking through this area is completely free. Even with Europe’s unbelievable taxes, they haven’t managed to find a way to tax walking around yet. It goes without saying that many of the monuments and attractions will require an admission fee, but much of this tour will be free. While I, as a proud and honest Sicilian can only offer you a hot espresso and my wealth of information for free, it should be noted that none of the attractions later listed are going to run you out of money.
But before we get off track, let’s look at a quick breakdown of the day’s events.
Palermo Walking Tour: Albergheria District Highlights
Morning: Get an early start to your day and get a light breakfast to get you going. You are going to have a lot to eat later, so there is no need for overeating to start your day. You are going to start this tour in the Ballarò Market. You will soon be lost (in a good way) among the stalls and vendors that line the streets here. Around 10 am or so, grab a slice of Sfincione and appreciate the magnificent view from above the bell tower (San Nicolò di Bari all’Albergheria). This is the place where Cagliostro was born. Then you are going to check out Casa Professa before you notice it’s time for lunch.
Lunch: There are a couple of places to get lunch in the area, but the two you really should choose between are Da Carlo a Palazzo Prestipino or Osteria Ballarò. You could choose a cheaper route for lunch and get a sandwich (Pezzo) in a supermarket cafeteria.
Afternoon: You really don’t have time to sit and relax if you want to get this all done in a day, so get an espresso in your system and gear up for part 2 of your journey. In this latter half of your day you will see some of the main attractions of the whole city, the Palazzo dei Normanni and its amazing Cappella Palatina. From here you will check out the beautiful Villa Bonanno Park, and then you will see the impressive Quattro Canti and the richest church in the whole city – the San Giuseppe dei Teatini.
Night: You aren’t going to find much of a nightlife within this district. If you are looking for just a modest amount of night time fun, you could check out the PaLab, an old pub in the area featuring live music and great drinks. For more that you can do after hours, check out this page.
Walking Itinerary for Albergheria District
START: Ballarò Street Market
- Location: Via Dalmazio Birago
- Hours of Operation: 8:30 am – 5:30 pm Monday through Saturday
- Admission: Free
- Average Total Time Spent: 1 hour
You don’t need to get all glammed up for this walking trip. Get your mind focused on the history and culture of the area. The marketplace where this journey begins is unlike any other it is beautiful and it is loud. It is colorful and it is dirty. There is very little that you cannot find in this area, offering everything from fresh vegetables and fruits to meats and fish.
All of the other walking tours I’ve written offer their own markets for you to check out, but Ballarò is the biggest and oldest of them all. It rivals the look and feel of an old time medieval market, complete with the unhygienic conditions and its unwillingness to change with the times.
There are people of all types and backgrounds selling goods in this market place. Everywhere you turn you will have countless vendors attempting to attract you to their merchandise with their own dialect and mannerisms.
Due to its generally dirty appearance, you aren’t going to see the high class Italians frequenting the Ballarò Market. You will however see a lot of bargains for the penny pinchers, and a genuine look at Palermo from a new set of eyes.
A testament to the unchanging nature can be seen in a report given by a 10th century Arab traveler who visited this market. He commented that they had apparently forgotten about the existence of bacteria.
As unnerving as it might seem, this is a formidable and odorous introduction to Old Town. Combinations of soiled roots, fish and tomatoes offer a mixed scent that might very well turn your stomach. But alas, the history of this city isn’t something that Dolce and Gabbana are going to bottle up one day.
Now it is important to note that not all of the smells here are nauseating. Fresh baked items from the local bakeries can make your stomach growl in a good way, and you will want to give in to their tempting aromas.
Even with all of the mixtures of smells, it all seems to work with each passing stall that you come across. Wet roots offer a unique smell, but also present the image of a cornucopia of fresh vegetables carefully arranged.
That alluring fresh smell from the bakeries takes the form of well-lined trays of biscuits and loaves. Brioches leap out from the display into your nostrils, giving a deliberate message to eat them all.
There is something to be said about the sounds that you can hear when you close your eyes in the market as well. You can isolate the sounds of rushing water over the fish stock, the howling from all of the merchants, and the clattering of countless wooden crates. When you have your eyes closed, you can visualize this same array of sound a thousand years ago.
On second thought, don’t close your eyes. There are plenty of would-be criminals all throughout the market, and you don’t want to return from your journey through the sounds to find your wallet missing. Trust me it happens. That’s part of why I suggested not to wear any jewelry on this day trip of yours.
STOP #2: San Nicolo di Bari all’Albergheria Tower
- Location: Via Nasi Nunzio, 18
- Hours of Operation: Anytime (with reservation)
- Admission: 3€
- Phone: +39 091 651 2820
- Average Time Spent: 30 min
Once you have had your fill of all the poignant smells of the marketplace, it is time to get some fresh air. In Piazza Ballarò, the heart of the entire quarter, you will see a tall building adjacent to the San Nicolo di Bari Church. This 14th century belfry was originally constructed to help defend the city.
While it might not be quite as tall as the over 2700 ft tall Burj Khalifa in Dubai, it is worth a climb to the top to appreciate the spectacular view of Palermo that the rooftop vantage point offers. The only real drawback to visiting this must-see is that you have to book it in advance. You can do this by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The best time to book is just as the sun is setting, as you will see Palermo at its most beautiful.
Given that the admission cost is only 3€ per ticket, it is really an affordable way to get a truly breathtaking view of the city. With some assistance from your tour escort, you can identify the famous monuments that the sun is gorgeously setting upon.
For those that suffer from claustrophobia: it is not recommended to do this part of the trip as the stone staircase up to the rooftop terrace is very narrow.
STOP #3: Church of the Gesù or Casa Professa (Chiesa del Gesù)
- Location: Piazza Casa Professa, 1
- Hours of Operation:
6:30 am – 1 pm and 4 pm – 7 pm Weekdays
6:30 am – 12:30 pm and 5 pm – 6:30 pm on holidays
- Admission: Minimum contribution of €4
- Average Time Spent: 30 min
Only a short 200 meters from the tower where you got your amazing view of Palermo, you will find Chiesa del Gesù. No matter what your religious beliefs, or whether you enjoy the sight of a church or not, this is one of the must see locations for all of Palermo. You will be a believer here.
You might not be completely awe-struck by the baroque era exterior of this church. This is even discussed briefly in The Leopard – a novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. Once inside the walls, the interior of this church will leave you breathless. Your jaw might literally drop lower than you thought possible just from walking inside.
This was a 16th century creation by the Jesuits, but it would be redesigned in the 1600s by Natale Masuccio, a Sicilian architect. There are key areas to see within this massive place, including the crypt beneath the church, the Oratorio del Sabato and the Museum of Applied Arts.
The locals tend to frequent this church for marriages, which is a testament to its intimate and amazing décor.
You might even find yourself lucky enough to catch a wedding taking place when you visit, and it is sure to add even more to how you feel about this magnificent place. There is nothing like true love and devotion, the dedication to sacred rites of the church, and the interior that will literally sweep even you off your feet.
STOP #4: Palazzo dei Normanni (Palace of the Normans or Royal Palace)
- Location: Piazza Indipendenza, 1
- Hours of Operation: 8:15 am – 5 pm Monday through Saturday
8:15 am – 12:15 pm Sundays and Holidays
- Admission: €8.50 (€6.50 reduced priced ticket available)
- Average Time Spent: 1 hour
No doubt you are getting a little tired by now, but hopefully you have enough in the tank to appreciate all of the details here. This is literally the most important stop of your entire day, and it gives you one of the most comprehensive looks at the history of Palermo.
At one time this used to house famous kings of Sicily. It was even the imperial seat with both Frederick II and Conrad IV. These days, this facility houses the Sicilian Regional Assembly. While they claim to create helpful initiatives for the island, they seem to bring about more corruption than anything else.
All of these political things to the side for a moment, this is one of the most precious treasures of the entire city. You should take the time to appreciate everything that there is here, but most importantly the Cappella Palatina. Even I might tell you that the Palatine Chapel trumps the rest of the Royal Palace in main tourist attractions, you should not rush through the Palace and miss all it has to offer.
You will find this adjacent to the Palazzo dei Normanni. This monumental city gate frames the entrance to Via Vittorio Emanuele Street. This is one of the grandest entrances that you will make onto any street in the whole city, so bask in it for a second.
This was commissioned originally to celebrate the arrival of Charles V who was instrumental in defeating the Turks. Following an accidental explosion of a nearby gunpowder store in 1667, Gaspare Guercio was tasked with rebuilding the impressive structure. There are four telamons on the façade that depict the defeated dead, and they are eerie and scary, but truly impressive works of art. This is on your way to the Palazzo Reale, and it really only takes a few minutes of your time to take it in.
This palace was originally constructed in the 9th century, even before the Normans were owned by Arabs. Every prevalent power that the city has ever seen has been stationed here: Arabs, Normans, Sveva, Aragones, Spanish, Bourbons, and the present day Sicilian Regional Assembly.
When you visit the apartments on the second floor, you will find the influence of each of these eras. This begins when you see the Sala d’Ercole room which was painted by Giuseppe Velasco in 1812. This is where the Assembly currently meet. You will then go through the Sala di Ruggero room and eventually end up in the Sala dei Vicerè room.
The Palatine Chapel is perhaps one of the greatest wonders of all of Palermo, but most certainly the biggest draw to the Palazzo dei Normanni. You will find this within the walls of the Palace, and it is truly a piece of art all on its own.
While you might be greeted by a plethora of ugly wooden chairs right away when you enter, these are to seat those waiting to be married within these hallowed halls. Even with this, you will be overtaken with a sense of wonder.
I don’t want to be the person to have to tell you this, but there is always a chance of tourists not being allowed through due to a private ceremony taking place at that time. There is no way to plan around this, so you kind of have to roll the dice and try to maintain your composure if you are turned away for a specific period of time.
The low lighting within the main areas of this chapel offer an ambiance that sweeps you up in the golden mosaics that surround you. These mosaics all tell critical parts of the life of Christ, namely those that played significant roles throughout His life.
There is a gigantic Christ under a dome with two beautifully constructed marble columns at its entrance. This golden mosaic of Christ was created in 1132, and depicts Christ amongst his angels, prophets, saints and evangelists.
UNSCHEDULED OPTIONAL STOP: Villa Bonanno
- Location: Piazza della Vittoria
- Hours of Operation: Reservation Only (For Roman remains)
- Average Time Spent: 20 min
Now that you have the view of Capella Palantina fresh in your mind, you should stop by Villa Bonanno to process this and get some fresh air. These gardens rest just beyond the Norman Palace, and are quite hard to miss with their abundance of palms.
Within the inner portion of this area, you will find a lot of statues and busts of famous Sicilians. You will also see a monument to King Philip IV and even some of the remains from an original Roman city wall.
The Villa Bonanno was originally created for the mayor of Palermo in 1905, Pietro Bonanno. The engineer that took on the task was Giuseppe Damiani Almeyda. Apart from some of the relics of the past, there are few other draws to this location, beyond its beautiful gardens that offer a nice backdrop and peaceful spot to have a bite to eat before continuing on.
STOP #5: Quattro Canti
- Location: Piazza Vigliena
- Average Time Spent: 30 min
This is one of the most polluted works of art in all of Italy, maybe in all of Europe. The Quattro Canti (Four Corners) is a true marvel, but even the green peace activists can’t seem to stop people from smogging up the atmosphere here, which is a shame.
This is not officially called the Quattro Canti. The official name for this location is Piazza Vigliena, and it is an octagon shaped area at a crucial intersection between two of Palermo’s main roads.
This used to be the very heart of all of Palermo in the 18th century, serving as a divider between all of the four districts. This is where they would all converge. While this might have at one time been revered for live performances, today the octagon is more overtaken by hectic motorists. The air pollution has literally caused the color of the buildings to change over time, which is a testament to progress not always being the best for historical sites.
There might be a benefit to having an actual tour guide here to show you each nook and cranny of this important area. There is a lot of history jammed in this little space, and having some background on it could certainly help you to appreciate it even more.
For the sake of time and space, I will give you a short version of Quattro Canti’s history. This began with the creation of a perpendicular street running through Via Vittorio Emanuele (at that point it was Cassaro) named Via Maqueda.
Over the 12 years that would follow this creation, four beautiful buildings at each of the corners of this intersection were adorned with statues depicting Spanish saints and kings.
This was the square of course, before vehicle emissions slowly pulled the beauty out of these creations. All four of these street facing facades are getting slowly darker and darker with each passing year.
Tip: You will find all kinds of horse drawn carriages throughout this area offering an hour long trip through Quattro Canti for around €80. This is way overpriced. If you really want the experience of a carriage ride in this area, seek out a specialized tour which will educate you and will be significantly cheaper.
This is truly a circus with the carriages, crazed automobiles, garbage and more. You can step over the garbage and past the carriages fairly easily, but be truly mindful of the motorists. Most of these drivers would sooner run you down where you stand than tap their brakes to allow you to get to safety.
I have been hopeful that the municipality with make this section for foot traffic only, but I also imagine that it would only make matters worse in the long run.
San Giuseppe dei Teatini Church
Within the Quattro Canti (in the southwest corner) you will see the San Giuseppe dei Teatini Church overlooking the square. The first thing that you notice about this impressive building is the massive statue of Saint Joseph – which was created in 1738 by Baldassarre Pampilonia.
The inside of this church is really what will impress you, though. There is nothing about the interior that isn’t ornate. In the nave you will find frescoes from both Giuseppe Velasquez and Filippo Tancredi, as well as art pieces from Pietro Novelli, Guglielmo Borremans and Ignazio Marabitti.
While you will never be allowed to see it, legend has it that the crypt houses a miracle. This miracle is in the form of a mysterious gushing water source.
Now you have your path through Palermo’s Old Town. If you follow these directions, you will find each location rather easily from the last, and won’t even notice that you have traveled a total of nearly 3 km. If you have more days yet to plan out, check out the walking plan for the historic Capo District for another dose of culture and history.