Walk the Old Town to discover the Albergheria District

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.
tour the albergheria district

GUIDE PLAN
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 Pezzo or sandwich 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

Most of these attractions that you might hope to see offer very little in explanation or information for English speakers. Too often I see tourists confused before the monuments here hoping that someone can explain the significance to them.

Fortunately, now with audio guides there are fewer that I encounter, but if you do not want to be a part of the confusion, before starting this tour, 👉get yourself the best solution with audio guides.

 START: Ballarò Street Market

Palermo shopping in markets
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.

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.

tano street food peddlerThat 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

Torre San Nicolo
San Nicolo di Bari all’Albergheria tower
  • Location: Via Nasi Nunzio, 18
  • Hours of Operation: 10.30 am – 2.30 pm Tuesday through Saturday
  • 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.

You can visit the Tower of San Nicolo all’albergheria from Tuesday through Saturday. The hours of operation are from 10:30 in the morning until 2:30 in the afternoon. All you need to do is to show up and pay an entrance fee. There are some special occasions, like the Via dei Tesori (an event which lasts throughout October to promote Sicilian heritage), where you can book visits just as the sun is setting. There is no better way to experience the beauty of Palermo than this.

You should take some time read up on the history of this tower and some of its interesting facts, as there are no English explanations written anywhere. Sadly, many of the guides here are just teenage volunteers who can offer modest commentary in broken English.

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)

casa professa church jesus
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.

Detail of Church of the Gesù

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)

norman palace palatin chapel
Norman 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.

Porta Nuova

Porta Nuova

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.

Royal Apartments

Royal Apartments

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.

Cappella Palatina

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

villa bonanno
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

quattro canti corners
The four Corners
  • 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

San Giuseppe dei Teatini chiesa
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.

About Don Tano

I’m full-blooded Sicilian born from the noise of the Vucciria market and the gentle sound of the waves of Mondello. I grew up eating “pane e panelle” and “pasta con le sarde”. But most of all, I grew up with an awareness: Palermo is a beautiful city to live intensely and to love without question!

4 thoughts on “Walk the Old Town to discover the Albergheria District”

  1. Buongiorno Don Tano! We will be in Palermo 4-6 Ottobre, and want to do la prima passegiata you describe. You mention that the best time to climb the tower is at sunset, yet this is the second stop of the day… Would it be best to skip it and then come back closer to sunset or is it just as bella in the mattina?

    Reply
    • Ciao Deborah, si it would be best to come back at sunset but everything depends on Terra di Mare which is the organization in charge of the tower. Try to contact them and see if you can book at sunset during your stay as they might not be available. In the mattina it’s different but bellissima anyway!

      Reply
      • Grazie mille gentile Don Tano per la sua risposta. Ho escrito la chiesa per fare una prenatazione ma mi ha detto che non è necessario! Fantastico! Prenderò la suo suggerimento è vederla a tramonto!

        Ciao!

        Reply

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