09 January 2020

Palermo - Design guide of the capital of Sicily

When I travel I usually get a Wallpaper* design guide with me to explore, but this time I found the one about Palermo had not good reviews (was 2014), therefore I made a Basil design guide myself, which I share with you today in this post.

To do my research I used Instagram, advice from locals, and some post by Living Corriere, so I got the list of cool pleaces wanted to visit, and I believe you will also remain pleased by what I found.

“Palermo is the town with the most beautiful landscape in the world. (…) The valley between the two seas is wonderful, the lemon groves and orange gardens are perfect. Many guys have got Greek-like faces, others resemble Arabs, they look like many sculptures wondering open-air.

(Oscar Wilde)

Yes, I confirm what Oscar Wilde says. Palermo has got a very ancient history, it was a Greek colony, capital of the Mediterrean, founded by Phoenicians, it saw the succession of Romans, Berbers, Normans, Arabs, who left an artistic and cultural heritage which was included in Unesco in 2015. After long dark decades with mafia, this town is seeing a new birth today, and attracts many young Europeans. Considering also it is close to the seaside, and its delicatessen, I immediately thought to this place when my cousin asked me to have a spring break somewhere. It was a long time I had been wishing to go, so when she changed her program last minute I decided to go anyway and explore it as a solo traveller. It was my first trip as solo, and it revealed perfect, I met many people, and found a beautiful place on Booking to say in the central via Masqueda. The two hosts, brother and sister Carlo and Diana (yes like the British royals), have acted and helped like two friends. I also got the opportunity to meet an old university friend who moved to Palermo from Lodi. Here below you find the list of places I advice you to go to, perfect for a 3 days stay, as I did.

Where to stay:

Palazzo Ragusi

Carlo and Diana are brother and sister in their 30s, and they manage this newly renovated apartment inherited by their grandma. The location is very central in via Masqueda, and you get there from the airport via taxy sharing with only 7.00 euros. I booked a single room, and I was so happily surprised by the painted wooden ceiling dating back to the XVIII century, and the window facing the crawling street. Diana told me the ceiling was a nice discovery for them as well, since it was hidden behind a suspended ceiling.

Where to eat:

Pasticceria Costa – Via Maqueda 174

Costa pasticceria is an historical shop which sells typical Palermitan delicatessen. The Costa family started their activity in 1960, and opened their second shop in 2018 in via Masqueda, in the centre of the city, taking a 200 years old space. This historical interior had been the location for Pustorino before, a very famous, high end tailor, which left a deep memory in the city. Therefore Costa family had the aim to bring forward the same attention for high quality, luxury and tradition that distinguished the activity of the renown tailor, sharing and internationalising these same values. Love the original frescos on the walls, and the desserts of course! Don’t you?

Bisso Bistrot Via Masqueda, 172A

Next to Pasticceria Costa, Bisso Bistrot was born in 2014, during a dinner where one of the guests made Dario Bisso aware the spaces of Dante’s bookstore in the centre of Palermo were available, also for the change of their intended use. The bistrot has still got the original signage of Dante’s Bookstore which is related to the history of the current owner’s family: the Bisso family, coming from Genoa. They moved in Palermo in order to work at the “Cantieri Navali” as upholsterers. The “Bisso” is a valuable cloth originated by weaving the so called “peduncolo del cannellino”. From it is obtained a fine tissue, used by kings and queens. After the war Nino Bisso (owner’s grandpa) lost his job and started a business with books, here the Dante’s bookstore opened. His nephew Dario today manage one of the coolest restaurant in the same space, linking back to the origins of this location: in fact the rooms of the bookstore were originally intended as coffee shop with kitchen. Historical books of the 1800 second half refer to it as the “Umberto I’ Caffè” where the King used to have lunch.

Cioccolateria Lorenzo

This is a modern family-run business cioccolateria, with a lovely interior, which sells delicious desserts, and with a unique outdoor (unfortunately when I went there it was closed), which has got a decadent look given by the perimetrical wall (it belonged to a church), and by a natural bamboo cover.


This is the most famous market in Palermo, ideal for eating and drinks/music. The name of this market was modified, because originally it was called Bucciria, literally meaning “butcher”, coming from the name “bucherie”. At the beginning this market was used as abattoirandto sell meat, only later it became the market we know today.


Walking in the city:

Galleria Vittoria in via Masqueda:

Opened in 1935 under the Fascist period as a commercial gallery and it closed down in the 70s, left to deterioration until its reopening in 2018. The first business to open after years is the cocktail bar Mak Mixology.

Piazza Pretoria

This square has got a great visual effect, it distinguishes for the fountain purchased by the Senate of Palermo in XVI century from palazzo Toledo in Florence. It was indeed designed for the Florentine property, and it had to be readapted to the urban plan of the square. This square is also known as “Shame” square by locals, because of the amount of money the government spent and for the nudity of the statues. It is worth a visit also the interior of the historical palace by the Townhall, whose entrance faces the square.

Foro Italico di Italo Rota

A design project  by Italo Rota to recover the urban seafront was inaugurated in 2006, and it proposes as a place for free time and sport. It was made with Sicilian ceramic artifacts by a famous local artisan: Nino Parrucca. Unfortunately today this site is in a state of abandoment.

Murales Falcone e Borsellino di Rosk&Loste

This is an artwork by the two artists Rosk&Loste which pays homage to the two famous magistrates Falcone and Borsellino, this is a mural painting reproducing big size the famous shot by the photographer Tony Gentile on a the wall of Nautic building Gioeni – Trabia. 

Ficus in Giardino Garibaldi

A 146 years old ficus stands out from the exotic plants of Garibaldi garden, a green area in the middle of the town.

Street art at La Kalsa

In the famous working class district of Palermo you find four mural artworks by five artists to re-qualify the facades of three social housing buildings. The artists are: BasikCamilla FalsiniRoskLoste e Ambra Grassi.

Dream interiors:

Palazzo Alliata Villafranca

Palazzo Alliata di Pietratagliata in Palermo (built in 1473), comes from five centuries of art history in Sicily, with many architectural and decorative layers, it is definitely a metaphor of the artistic history of Palermo. A guide is included in the FAI ticket.

Something you will not see anywhere else:

International Puppets Museum Antonio Pasqualino

Antonio Pasqualino  was a surgeon doctor and anthropologist who died in 1995, expert in the history of popular Sicilian traditions. It was for the love he had for his own mother land that he decided to recover a theatrical art which was disappearing in the second half of 2oth century: the art of puppets. Here you can find scene scripts, materials, little stages, furniture saved from distruction and oblivion, coming from many European countries and far East. In 2001 the museum was declared “Masterpiece of immaterial and oral heritage of Humanity” by Unesco.


Day at the beach:


Mondello is the beach of Palermo you can reach by bus (on the way to go Carlo was very kind to give me a lift with his car). This town is a nice example of Liberty architecture with the villas all around and the famous bathhouse on the sea built in the period of the Belle Époque. The beach extends until a fisherman dock with small restaurants, and it is lovely. I also advice to visit the natural reserve nearby named Capo Gallo if you go there in summer.

To feast your eyes and ears:

Teatro Politeama Garibaldi

If Massimo theatre was destinated to the grand opera and to the high class, the lyrical theatre Politeama Garibaldi was conceived for the enjoyment of a more working class public, with the production of light operas, drama and comic plays, parties, circus and equestrian performances. Today it is the venue of Sicilian Symphonic Orchestra, and you can even assist to their rehearsals after the tour.

Art with history and innovation:

Palazzo Butera

Palazzo Butera is still an open air working site, but you can visit it. It is a XVIII century  building facing the sea, once belonged to Princes Butera, and today it has got a new owner: the art collector Massimo Valsecchi, entrepreneur from Lombardy he lived many years in London together with is wife Francesca, and chose to purchase this charming abandoned palace to exhibit his collection, that was close to be sold to USA. This is a project that is definitely worth a visit, 7.000 sqm that face Cattive walk with 3 floors, one dedicated to exhibitions, one to collections, one to artists in residence, with a restaurant area in the courtyard managed by the family Tasca d’Almerita. This is an art centre which opens the way to a series of private and cultural investments in town. The guide is included in the ticket.

Contemporary architecture:

Palazzo Branciforte

A building of di 5.650 smq which dates back to XVI century it is a gem of contemporary architecture thanks to the renovation by Gae Aulenti in 2007. Here you can find important collections: archaeology, maiolicas, sculptures. The building is also the venue of a Cooking school by Gamber Rosso, a restaurant, an historical library with more than 60.000 volumes, a bookshop and an auditorium.

This was my grandma’s town! Buon viaggio