How to experience Palermo's charme with a local guide

Have you ever visited a city and you had no idea what you should see or where to go for good food? You were too busy and didn't find any time to look at a guide book? Sounds like me but I might have found a good solution.

Palermo, Sicily © Melanie Klien @Mafambani

Did you ever sit in a plane on the way to your destination of choice and you had no idea which landmarks you wanted to see? That was me on my last trip to Sicily. I was really busy before so there was only little time for me to discover a few places on Instagram (save them) and book our hotels and transfers in advance. When we arrived in Sicily, I enjoyed our time at the beach in San Vito Lo Capo sooo much (blog post will be up soon). Obvious reasons: ocean, beach and some books. I don't need anything more to be happy. I really enjoy reading and unfortunately in my daily life I don't find enough time for it (or I don't create enough time for it). That might be another point I need to work on. 

 

As soon as my lovely co-worker heard that I booked a flight to Sicily, she lent me her guide book from Lonely Planet. I must admit that I read a bit before I left but didn't have any clue what to see or where to go in the capital of Sicily, Palermo. Somehow I just finished in time with my books during the time we stayed at the beach and my guide book simply stayed in the drawer. But, luckily, another great opportunity came up. Let me tell you more. 

 

A tour with Local Guddy

When I was aked if I would like to join a tour with Local Guddy, I honestly didn't hesitate. To be honest, I never heard of this platform before this trip. LocalGuddy brings travelers and locals together. In this way you get to explore the city in a completely different way with locals who shows you their favorite spots and places. And the whole feeling is different. While you just follow the guide during a guided tour and listen a lot, this tour was so different. 

Palermo, Sicily @Mafambani
Our LocalGuddy of the day - Gamze

There was a lot of interaction and from the very first moment, our tour guide, Gamze, felt more like a person we just met on Couchsurfing, rather than the typical guide. Immediately we had things to talk about and she asked us several questions about our trip and in general she was very talkative and super friendly. She always double-checked whether we wanted to do certain things and was not only flexible in the way of doing the tour but also very easy-going. 

Gamze, originally from Izmir in Turkey, was already living in Sicily in 2015 and then came back this year to finish her PhD in English. She's curious about the city and has a big passion for Sicily in general, which she likes to share with visitors and friends.


So, how does it work?

Okay, let's make one point clear. If you look for "the" typical guided city tour with a bunch of people and lots of historical information, this is not for you. If you're like me and too much heat has a certain impact on your brain and you can't even remember all the information, I can highly recommend this tour. Although it is longer than the average city tour, you will enjoy it so much. Not only will you have the feeling you're walking through town with your friend, you will also get to know the best and coolest spots in the city. 

 

First, head over to Local Guddy to see whether there is a tour in the destination you're planning to go. In Palermo, there's only one tour and I hope there will be more in the future. I'd love to go on kind of like a pub tour in the evening and see some cool local bars. We went for the "Magical History of Palermo". It said the tour would last 6 hours and while we had a very exhausting tour in our heads, we already wrote Gamze that we'd like to shorten the tour. In the end I think we spent 5 hours with Gamze and we enjoyed it. We did most parts of the tour but also skipped a few parts. 

 

The price per person is $25 and the great thing is, you don't need to go with a whole group. The most annoying thing during a city tour is if you can't hear the guide, if other people talk and disturb others or for me the worst, I don't have enough time to take my pictures. With this tour, you will not only find the time to take pictures, even better, your guide will help you taking pictures of you. So even if you are a solo traveler, you have someone who is willing to take good pictures of you. Perfect, right? 

Palermo, Sicily @Mafambani

 

All you have to do is to ask the guide's availability and write them where you would like to meet at which time and after the payment, you can write each other about the details. It's such an easy booking process. We wanted to meet earlier as we were aware of the heat in the city and it wasn't a problem at all. 

 

 

A reminder: To be fair, you don't pay a lot of money for the guide so whenever you want to climb a terrace and you want your guide to come with you, you need to pay his entrance too. 


Tour: The Magical History of Palermo

We started with our tour at our hotel Quinto Canto which by the way, has the perfect location to me. You're so close to everything. I'd book it immediately again. The hotel has been designed to be an architectural extension of Quattro Canti, that's why it received its name Quinto Canto, being the Fifth Canto.

Cattedrale di Palermo

Cattedrale di Palermo © Melanie Klien @Mafambani

From there, Gamze picked us up and we started our way towards the Porta Nuova, the historical city gate. Right next to it, we went into the Cathedral of Palermo. It is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The entrance is free and what I really loved about this church was they had the zodiac signs on the marble stone on the floor. A piece of art that I have never discovered so far in any church that I have visited. The way up to the terrace is possible every half an hour, starting at 9 AM and the fee is 5 €. At festival days it opens from 10 AM on. As we had to wait for almost 30 minutes, Gamze decided to take us to another church first to have a view from up there. 


Catedrale di Palermo, Sicily © Melanie Klien @Mafambani

Chiesa del Santissimo Salvatore

Palermo, Sicily @Mafambani

On the way back, we stopped at Chiesa del Santissimo Salvatore (The Church of Most Holy Saviour). At the side entrance on the left side you can enter the building to find your way to the top. You'll find a little desk there before it goes all the way up to the top, the 'cupola' (coupole). The visit here is totally worth it. The 360 view over Palermo around the coupole is incredible. Walking up the staircase is already great as you see this little 'living room' before you arrive at the top. 


Entrance: 3 €

Chiesa del Santissimo Salvatore, Palermo © Melanie Klien @Mafambani

Chiesa di S. Giuseppe dei Teatini

Guess what! Another church! This one is located near the Quattro Canti and it is a beautiful symbol for the Sicilian Baroque in Palermo. The art of those churches left me speechless. How on earth were they able to do all of this back then? 


Free entrance.  

Quattro Canti

Quattro Canti © Melanie Klien @Mafambani

Walking back, we passed our hotel and came to the picturesque baroque square Quattro Canti ('four corners').

 

It's a square in the historic center of Palermo and is situated between Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Via Maqueda. Another name for Quattro Canti, which I find quite pretty and it nails this place so well,  is Teatro del Sole.  That's because the sun is shining throughout the entire day on the corners of the facade. In every corner you see an important man of history and one floor above his wife. 

Piazza Pretoria

This square has quite a unique story to tell involving all those nude statues. The fountain was initially made for a palace in Florence but was then brought to Palermo. The big fountain includes sixteen nude statues of nymphs, humans, mermaids and satyrs. That's the reason the Sicilians call this place Square of Shame (Piazza della vergogna). 

Piazza Pretoria, Palermo © Melanie Klien @Mafambani

Teatro Massimo

After taking a few pictures at the Square of Shame, we went further on to the Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele. This remarkable building is an opera house and it was dedicated to King Victor Emanuel II. Gamze told us that it is the biggest theater in Italy and third biggest in Europe (after Paris and Vienna). If you want to see the Teatro Massimo from inside, you'll either need to book a ticket for a show or a tour. We decided against it, mainly because we didn't have enough time and it was quite expensive too. 

Teatro Massimo, Palermo, Sicily © Melanie Klien @Mafambani

Afterwards we walked down the little alleys on the side of the opera house. Here you feel the flair of Palermo. There are many restaurants along the houses and we were afraid to end up in a typical touristy restaurant as we did the first night. Our guide gave us the best suggestion for the night. She explained us the Sicilian tradition of aperitivo. From 7-9 PM many bars have a happy hour and they offer an aperitiv that comes along with some finger food. This was exactly where we were heading later that day. At 'Il Siciliano' we paid a little bit more than average (9 € for an Aperol Spritz) but it came along with a huge plate of delicious food. Of course we didn't only have one Aperol Spritz. We sat there for hours, enjoying the warm night, our company, the good food, the drinks and the fashion conscious Sicilians who walked by. 

Piazza San Domenica & La Rinascente

From there it's just a short walk over to Piazza San Domenica. Right next to it is the famous shopping mall (and also the most expensive in Palermo) La Rinascente. Here you find a big selection of luxury brands. On top of the building is a fancy rooftop bar from where you can take pictures over the square and enjoy an ice-cold drink too. Maybe next time I will see it by night too. 

Piazza San Domenica, Palermo, Sicily © Melanie Klien www.mafambani.com

Vucciria - open market

When you look at the picture above again, the first alley on the right side of the restaurant is the start of Vucciria. This open market is a must see on your walk through palermo. The locals sell here everything from old postcards to books and cups to fresh fish. The other day we had our lunch here and to be honest with you, it was one of the best dishes I enjoyed during our whole time in Sicily. It looked as a fully tourist trap but it was the most delicious food I could have asked for. Noodles with a pistacio sauce. Sounds like heaven? That's what it felt like. While we ate there, we enjoyed the scenes that were happening around us. One guy was driving by with his motorbike. He stopped for a second at the table above us only to give his best of Bob Marley and then continued his way. So whatever you are looking for or should I say not looking for, you'll find it at Vucciria. The name of the restaurant is Insalateria - Green Food. 

Lunch at Antica Focacceria S. Francesco

This place is no insider, no. Running the business since 1834 it's also not something you should skip. Take a break here and try one of their delicious sweets or have lunch here as we did. 

Along the way we also passed the oldest taverna of Palermo, passed a few other churches and also walked along another open market, close to the train station called Ballaro'. 

As we only spent two full days in Palermo, I didn't have enough time to think about the places we wanted to visit. Usually I do think about that before arriving somewhere. Having a guide was so relaxing as Gamze took us to interesting places and didn't just filled us up with historical details but was rather interested in showing us the best view from a rooftop. She wanted us to try out some delicious Sicilian food instead of running from one museum to the other and was happy to take pictures of us. All in all, I felt so comfortable with her. It was like walking around with a good friend and we could always tell her what we wanted to see or do and what things we were not really interested in. 

 

Have you ever done a special tour in a new city? Tell me about your experiences. Thanks for stopping by and reading. 

A big thank you to Local Guddy for inviting me to this tour. My opinion is as always my own.