For many wine lovers, Sicily is a bucket-list destination, but conquering the whole island in one go can prove difficult. To make the most of your food- and wine-soaked trip, it’s recommended to break down the island into several visits, focusing on different parts of the island each time – and what better place to start than the bustling capital city of Palermo?
Introduction to Palermo
Located on Sicily’s northwestern cost, Palermo is a busy urban centre known for its architecture and culture – and of course, its vibrant food and wine scene.
The city is situated on the eponymous Bay of Palermo and is fully encompassed by the Conca d’Oro, a highly fertile plain that translates as ‘the Golden Shell’.
Like the rest of the island, Palermo is quite mountainous and experiences a subtropical/Mediterranean climate year-round. Summer temperatures can reach scorching levels, while winter highs rarely dip below the 15.5°C (60°F) mark.
Palermo’s historic roots date back over 2,700 years. Although founded by Phoenician traders, the city later fell into the hands of the Carthaginians and was subsequently captured by the Romans in 254 BCE/BC.
Palermo later fell under both Norman and Arab rule and, walking around the city today, these are the two dominant architectural styles you will see.
These numerous cultural influences are also found in the city’s eclectic food culture, which is quite different from that of mainland Italy. Local highlights include arancine (risotto-style balls fried with meats and cheeses), pasta alla norma (savoury pasta made with aubergine, tomato, and basil), and sfincione (a fluffy pie laden with cheese, sardines and local herbs), followed by granita, fresh oranges and – you guessed it – cannoli for a sweet finish.
Where to stay in Palermo
One of Palermo’s most attractive qualities is its wealth of high-quality accommodation at attractive prices. Whether taking the hotel or bed & breakfast route, there’s really no shortage of great places to stay within the city.
For those choosing b&b, we recommend staying within the city centre itself – most of it is pedestrianised, so the best of the city’s food and wine scene is easily accessible from your front door.
It’s important to note that during the summer months the humidity and scorching temperatures can make it very uncomfortable to sleep if your accommodation lacks air conditioning, so be sure to narrow your search down to air-conditioned options only.
Top hotel recommendations in Palermo’s historic city centre
Palazzo Sovrana (Via Bara All’Olivella, 78, 90133 Palermo +39 351 561 5444)
Situated directly in front of the stunning Teatro Massimo, this highly rated hotel offers air conditioning, private balconies, separate kitchen areas, and electric tea/coffee machines in each room. The Palazzo also offers bicycle and car rental services, the latter of which is quite helpful if looking to explore wineries solo.
Grand Hotel et des Palmes (Via Roma, 398, 90139 Palermo +39 091 804 8800)
This sophisticated Art Nouveau-style hotel boasts traditionally furnished rooms, air conditioning, well-stocked mini bars, and a massive continental breakfast featuring a slew of Sicilian delicacies. Their on-site bar, Neobistrot, crafts beautiful cocktails. Best of all, the hotel is a 10-minute walk from the port and is located right on the edge of the traffic zone, meaning that using your rental car to visit various wineries is incredibly simple.
Palazzo Brunaccini (Piazzetta Lucrezia Brunaccini, 10, 90139 Palermo +39 091 586904)
Foodies, this charming accommodation is for you. Palazzo Brunaccini is located just steps away from the bustling Ballarò market. Each modern-style suite boasts wood-beamed ceilings and trendy art, some with furnished balconies to boot.
Accessing wineries from Palermo can be done via a curated tour or with a solo itinerary, though both will require some form of transportation. For those looking for a more wine-focused journey through the western part of Sicily, it is recommended to rent a car and forge your own journey along the northern and/or western coastlines.
Below are some wineries not to be missed. Reservations are highly recommended.
Biodynamic winery of 9.5 hectares focused on native Sicilian varieties from Alcamo, Camporeale and Monreale; natural, low-sulphite, and minimal intervention winemaking
Alessandro Viola (Alcamo)
Organic, five-hectare winery with a focus on native Sicilian varieties, especially Catarratto, as well as more recently planted red varieties: Nerello Mascalese, Nero d’Avola and Syrah.
Cantine Barbera (Menfi)
Small, female-led winery based in Menfi, focused on organic farming and indigenous varieties including Perricone, Nerello, Alicante, Nero d’Avola, and Grillo.
Tenuta Regaleali (Sclafani)
Tasca d’Almerita’s historic family estate, situated in central Sicily and planted to around 600 hectares of sprawling greenery and vineyards. Its long, 200-year history is full of innovation.
Marco de Bartoli (Marsala)
Fervent pioneer of indigenous Sicilian varieties and winemaking techniques with nine hectares in Marsala and six hectares on the island of Pantelleria.
Cantine Pellegrino (Marsala)
Larger, Marsala-based winery with stunning ocean views, an on-site tasting room and extensive Marsala solera system with roots dating back to 1880.
Palermo’s wine bar scene
Ferramenta (Piazza Giovanni Meli, 8, 90133 Palermo)
Simply unmissable wine bar with a sprawling outdoor terrace, hospitable sommelier team, and excellent aperitivo snacks. Don’t skip the panelle and fried cheese!
Bottiglieria Massimo Champagneria (Via Salvatore Spinuzza, 59, 90133 Palermo)
Cozy wine bar featuring well-priced Sicilian wines (and of course Champagne) with high-quality service, outdoor seating, and great bar snacks.
La Vucciria (Piazza Caracciolo, 90133 Palermo)
This ancient food and produce market turns into a rowdy and lively place to drink come night time. Known for its live music, to-go style wine and beer, and ample fried foods and fresh seafood-based snacks.
CiCala (Via Sant’Alessandro, 29, 90133 Palermo)
Underrated natural wine-focused establishment with generous staff and ample vegetarian options (tapas, pasta) and many Sicilian wines by the glass.
Vinodivino Enoteca Letteraria (Piazza Sant’Oliva, 35/36, 90130 Palermo)
A large selection of wines by the glass and bottle, artisanal beer, cocktails and digestifs served up alongside local Sicilian products and small plates.
Enoteca Picone (Via Guglielmo Marconi, 36, 90141 Palermo)
Traditional wine bar founded in 1947 with an extensive selection of Sicilian and international wines alike, and hearty meat and cheese boards.
Where to eat in Palermo
Antica Focacceria San Francesco (Via Alessandro Paternostro, 58, 90133 Palermo)
Historic focacceria in an expansive square with ample outdoor seating; perfect for a spritz aperitivo and well-curated snacks. Note: Focaccia here refers to bready sandwiches, not the traditional flatbreads many internationals think of as focaccia.
Basoli (Via Alessandro Paternostro, 38, Piazza Cattolica, 9, 90133 Palermo)
Locally beloved wine bar and restaurant featuring wine and cocktails in a lively quarter.
Ballarò Market (Via Ballaro, 90134 Palermo)
The largest and oldest food-focused market in all of Palermo, perfect for sampling local delicacies in small and eat-on-the-go formats. Fearless eaters, the market’s signature delicacy is its spleen sandwich, though worry not – panelle, various fritters, mussels, and fresh seafood bites are also widely available!
Osteria dei Vespri (Piazza Croce dei Vespri, 6, 90133 Palermo)
This Michelin Guide-approved restaurant focuses on fish-based dishes and pasta in a beautiful, quiet courtyard; known for an extensive wine list and locally-sourced ingredients.
Osteria Ballarò (Via Calascibetta, 25, 90133 Palermo)
A sprawling, rustic trattoria in the centrally-located old Jewish quarter. Known for its Sicilian antipasti, handmade pasta and innovative dishes, with an excellent wine list. Fun fact: The restaurant is located in the former stables of the medieval Palazzo Cattolica.
Gelateria al Cassaro (Via Vittorio Emanuele, 214, 90133 Palermo)
Regarded as the best gelateria in all of Palermo, known for its homemade gelati and sorbet, offering an extensive list of flavours and a variety of toppings; gluten-free gelato and brioche also available.
Cioccolateria Lorenzo (Via del Quattro Aprile, 7, 90133 Palermo)
A cozy, hole-in-the-wall coffee shop and chocolate store perfect for a morning cappuccino and sweet pick-me-up.
Palermo’s stunning architecture, rich history, and optimal location on the water mean that there are plenty of excursions to partake in – imbibing not required. A guided tour (approx. one hour) through the Teatro Massimo is simply unforgettable, as is a stroll through the breathtaking Cattedrale di Palermo. A number of other churches (La Martorana, Palatine Chapel and more) offer equally beautiful strolls, and when in doubt, there’s always an organised food tour to jump on.
For those looking to enjoy the island’s turquoise-hued waters, a quick trip to Mondello Beach promises indelible memories. Hiring a private (and very inexpensive) boat tour to take you to the island’s nearby grottos is equally satisfying.
The Norman Palace is superb for history buffs, though the €17 entry fee may not be worth it for those curious about other cultural destinations. For the non-faint of heart, a trip to the Capuchin Catacombs to visit 8,000 preserved bodies underground – some of which date back to the 16th century – is unforgettable.
Palermo: Helpful hints
Palermo is a city that can be enjoyed year round; it simply depends on the type of visit you’re looking for. Those after sunbathing and water activities will fare best from late May to early October, with July and August being the high seasons.
Those who prefer a quieter trip with milder temperatures will likely enjoy the city most from November to April.
For those looking to stop at wineries, keep in mind that harvest time (late-August to mid-October) is not ideal for visits, especially for smaller estates that don’t necessarily have dedicated tasting rooms and hospitality. Equally, many establishments are likely to be closed in the second half of December through to the first week of January for seasonal holidays.