The port city of Palermo is beautifully situated on a wide bay under the bulk of Monte Pellegrino, on the north coast of Sicily. Founded in 734 BC, it has enjoyed a position as one of the greatest cities of Europe, first under the Carthaginians and the Romans, and then under Arab and Norman domination in the Middle Ages. The legacy of its past is evident today in its treasure-trove of Byzantine, Baroque and Norman historic buildings, and relics in its many museums.
After years of post-war neglect and mafia corruption, Palermo is becoming an increasingly popular stop for tourists and many fall in love with the city's chaotic streets and faded glory. The rescue of Sicily's capital has been aided by European Union funds and the wane in Mafia influence. Its crumbling roads are being repaved and the historic landmarks are being restored.
The most famous sights include the Royal Palace, the seat of the Norman kings of Sicily, and the Cathedral of Monreale, which is one of the greatest surviving examples of Norman architecture in the world.
Today the pulse of the city beats fast and furious in its vibrant street markets, cobbled squares and narrow alleyways. Old, historic quarters like Kalsa are being restored and restaurants, galleries and cafes are opening to cater for the growing tourist trade. The historic wealth, and even the down-to-earth chaos of Palermo, make it an interesting Italian city and several days may be required to appreciate the sights before moving on to explore the rest of the island.
Palermo has a Mediterranean climate, with mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. In the winter months, between December and February, temperatures average between 50°F (10°C) and 60°F (16°C). Snow is rare but not impossible. In the summer months, between June and August, temperatures average between 67°F (19°C) and 83°F (28°C). Summer is the driest season, with very little rainfall, and winter is the wettest, with rainfall heaviest between October and February.
Palermo is served every weekday by a fleet of about 350 orange buses on more than 100 routes; day passes are generally the best value for money. Bus travel can be slow, especially as traffic congestion is common in Palermo. Hiring a car can be troublesome for the same reason and is only really worthwhile if used to explore the surrounding region. Taxis are available but can be expensive. Luckily, although Palermo is a fairly large city, most of the major tourist attractions are close together in the city centre and can be easily explored on foot.