Our Month Living in Palermo, Sicily

This page contains affiliate links. Please read our disclosure for more info.

This post is about our month living in Palermo Italy in 2013. It was last updated in 2021.

My day as a digital nomad in Palermo begins with a morning run along the seafront. I run down our street of 19th century buildings in this “new” part of town, in the middle of the road as cars are parked on the pavement.

It must have been too much effort to try to fit neatly inside the lines of the parking spaces so they just drove straight in, noses blocking the pavement, rears pointing out into the road.

I jog past well-dressed Italians drinking cappuccino in cafes, small children rolling their bright pink suitcases to school, a homeless guy and his dog bundled in blankets in a doorway.

I smell the harbour before I get there, the pungent smell of fish emanating from the warehouse-like market.

A little further along I reach the horseshoe of La Cala, a mass of boats reflected in the still morning water. Elegant yachts float next to rustic fishing boats, their bright blue paint peeling.

Fishermen untangle piles of nets, or sell their catch from a table in front of their boat; the buyers are all middle aged men.

La Cala, Palermo

Palermo looks its best on the seafront. At a slight distance you can appreciate its setting, cobalt sea on one side, green mountains on the other three.

It’s lined with grand but crumbling churches and palaces, with Porta Felice an imposing 16th century baroque gateway leading you into the city. But I carry on along the sea.

Our mornings are usually devoted to work. Our spacious one bedroom apartment is decorated with antique charm meets ikea practicality.

It’s a real home with artwork and books and DVDs and a multitude of armchairs, and even an old Marsala wine barrel.

From our small balcony we can see the sea, a sliver of blue at the end of the road that’s often filled with a ferry or cruise ship.

Casa Filo, Palermo

It’s October but the temperature hasn’t dropped below 25 C since we arrived.

We usually leave the French doors open, letting the sea breeze drift in along with the buzz of scooters, the occasional high pitched drill of building works down the road, the trill of the opera singer practicing across the narrow street, and the notes of the clarinetist downstairs.

Often we’ll hear the cackling laugh of our neighbour. We’ve never heard someone laugh so much, so joyfully, and it almost makes us forgive her for playing Jesus music early in the morning.

The residents of our building—Italian, African, Indian—reflect the city’s diversity, much more multi-cultural than other places we’ve visited in Italy.

We’re nearer to Tunis than to Rome after all, and Sicily absorbed influences from its Arab invaders, reflected in the city’s diverse architecture, the spices in the markets, and even the menus—nowhere else in Italy do you find couscous listed alongside pasta.

A gelato van sometimes parks outside our building and draws a crowd without needing to announce itself with saccharine tunes, although inevitably this means we miss it.

The flatbed truck is filled with aluminium tubs of different flavoured gelato—pistachio is popular here—and it’s served in cones or stuffed in brioche.

Around lunchtime Simon dashes down the three flights of stairs and returns breathless with a sesame seed covered baguette (another surprise in Italy) from the bakery on the corner, which like all the shops closes at 1pm for a four hour lunch break.

While Palermo never empties like many small towns, the afternoons are certainly a quieter time and the traffic more manageable.

The Wonderful Markets of Palermo

Within a few minutes walk we have two bakeries and two greengrocers, one that also has everything else we need including dozens of types of pasta (buying spaghetti has never been so daunting) and a cheese counter.

The greengrocers sell more than just fresh vegetables and fruit, they also have pots of olives, cooked potatoes and green beans in big tubs of water, and freshly roasted onions and peppers—Italian convenience food.

The cheapest place for us to shop though is at one of Palermo’s ancient markets—Ballarò is the biggest but Capo is closer.

They are both bazaar-like mazes of stalls down narrow cobbled streets with piles of aubergines, cherry tomatoes, chiles, peaches, grapes, incredible metre long cucuzza zucchini, and as we get closer to winter, mammoth heads of pale green cauliflower (confusingly called broccoli here), their dark green leaves discarded.

The vendors don’t like you to touch the produce so it’s good practice for our Italian asking for everything we need. Shopping is a leisurely, personal experience here.

Long cucuzza and green cauliflower, Ballaro market
Long cucuzza and green cauliflower
Ballaro market, Palermo
Ballaro market, Palermo

The markets don’t just sell fruit and vegetables.

There are tubs of olives, green and black, spiced or herbed; wrinkly sun-dried tomatoes; dried cannellini and chickpeas; salt packed capers from the Sicilian island Pantelleria; pistachios and almonds and pine nuts, all grown on the island; the biggest range of spices I’ve ever seen in Italy; blocks of caciocavallo, ricotta salata, pecorino, and primo sale cheeses; and of course fish.

Cheese stall at Ballaro market, Palermo
Simon at the cheese stall at Ballaro market

At Ballarò in particular you’ll also find street food. Much of it—spleen sandwiches, grilled sheep intestines—isn’t vegetarian friendly but we can indulge in pane con panelle, a sesame-seeded roll stuffed with chickpea fritters—the Palermitano chip butty.

Pane con panelle, chickpea fritter sandwich
Pane con panelle, chickpea fritter sandwich

Mondello Beach near Palermo

Sometimes we’ll take the afternoons off and go to the beach.

It’s an easy 30 minute bus ride to Mondello, a beach town with a long curve of powdery golden sand and Caribbean-like clear turquoise waters, still warm enough to swim in in mid October.

It has a spectacular location between Monte Gallo and Monte Pellegrino and is the perfect place for a few hours relaxation.

It’s popular, though. Italians like their beaches sociable and convenient, and on our first visit at the end of September the sand was crowded with sun beds and umbrellas.

We decided to embrace the Italian way and enjoy the comfort of a lounger for €4 each (after 2pm).

On our second visit in early October, it was a different scene. Italians decide their beach seasons by date, not weather, so despite the sun the beds were gone and the glorious stretch of sand was revealed.

Mondello, Palermo

Exploring Palermo’s Streets

If we don’t take the afternoon off we try to finish work by 4 or 5pm and head out into the reawakening city.

There are many churches, museums and palaces to explore but we prefer to just wander though the maze of streets in the old town. 

It has taken time to peel back Palermo’s layers, to see past the busy streets and decaying buildings, to discover fountains and piazzas and century-old banyan trees in gardens, and surprises like a street of colourful hand painted carts and rickshaws, which we later discovered was the workshop of artist Franco Bertolino, the fifth generation of traditional Sicilian cart painters.

Franco Bertolino workshop, Palermo
Franco Bertolino’s cart painting workshop has taken over a street
Franco Bertolino painted wheel
Quattro canti, Palermo
Quattro canti, the crossroads of Palermo’s four ancient neighbourhoods
Palermo street
Piazza Beati Paoli, Palermo
Piazza Beati Paoli
Banyan Tree in Piazza Marina, Palermo
Banyan Tree in Piazza Marina
Chiesa San Domenico, Palermo
Chiesa San Domenico
Palazzo dei Normanni, Palermo
Palazzo dei Normanni
Palermo street
Piazza Pretoria fountain, Palermo
Piazza Pretoria fountain

It was a shock to turn a corner and come across the apse of Palermo’s immense Cathedral, with its Arabic geometric patterns and castle-like structure.

It’s the most unusual Catholic church we’ve ever seen.

The mishmash of architectural styles reflects the city’s history as since it was built by the Normans in 1185 many additions have been made over the centuries and it now blends Norman-Arab, Gothic, Spanish, Baroque, and Neo-classical styles.

Palermo cathedral apse
Palermo cathedral apse
Palermo cathedral
Palermo cathedral

Dinner is eaten late here so to keep our British stomachs going we might have an afternoon gelato at Antico Caffé Spinnato, or occasionally an aperitivo.

Alcoholic drinks are always served with snacks in Italy so the nuts, crisps, olives, and other treats with our glass of wine help tide us over.

Final Thoughts on Palermo

Palermo isn’t a city that you fall in love with at first sight, it takes time to get to know it, to see beyond the chaos, to walk its streets and find its hidden secrets.

We’re glad we had a month here so we could begin to do that, a little every day.

Palermo car

Our Palermo Apartment

We rented a one-bedroom apartment (no longer available) in a central location just outside the old town and a few minutes’ walk from the Massimo and Politeama theatres.

Search for apartments in Palermo on Vrbo here.

Casa Filo, Palermo
Casa Filo, Palermo

Sicily Tips

If you are exploring more of Sicily check out our picks for the best places to visit in Sicily, our food in Sicily guide, and our posts on the gorgeous Aeolian Islands Salina and Stromboli


  1. Would you say Palermo is safe for a solo female digital nomad in her 20’s? Considering it as a possible next adventure :)

    Reply ↓

    • From my experience it felt safe. I was with Simon much of the time but I went on regular solo runs without issues. We didn’t go out late at night (except for dinner) though.

      Reply ↓

    • Yes very safe! I was there recently. From 9/15/23 to 9/20/23. I felt completely safe at all times. I was a single female traveler. Just use some caution when out at night late. I would have loved to be able to stay longer but I was on a time schedule. A fantastic B&B Ballarooms B&B Palermo Centro is where I stayed. It has a fantastic breakfast every morning. Rooms which are good size are cleaned daily. It is small and comfortable close to any attractions & restaurants.

      Do yourself a favor & visit Palermo!

      Reply ↓

  2. Hi! I am also thinking about staying for a month in Palermo but I am really having a difficult time looking for a flat, which search engines and/or webpages did you look into? Thanks for your help!

    Reply ↓

  3. This sounds ideal. Thinking of doing the same in January to escape the European winter. How did you find the WiFi/internet there?

    A fast reliable connection is what I am always worried about

    Reply ↓

    • We didn’t have any problems with the WiFi. I would check speeds with the accommodation before you book, just in case.

      Reply ↓

  4. Love your article. Just recently spent 4 days in Palermo and found it to be in much better condition than when I first visited it in the eighties when one could literally watch the corrosion of the old part of the city where also were far more popular than today. This last trip we fell in love with this vibrant historic city one of the footmats to Europe, just north of Africa.

    Thank you for your wonderful article.

    Reply ↓

  5. Hi. My husband and I will stay for 3 months in Italy next semester, to learn a little italian and to know a little the country and it´s people. Do you think Palermo is a good choice? We don’t want a too big, touristic city and we don’t know anything about Italy yet :-)

    Reply ↓

    • Dear Katia, Palermo is great place to be, not too touristic at all but open to foreigners! We will be happy to help you as we did with Erin and Simon (ciao ragazzi!)

      Reply ↓

      • Bongiorno, Maurizio! Could we please connect for 10.5 month rental for my husband and i- i’ve been accepted as last-year-medical-school trainee starting 16.07. Hope to hear from you. Grazie!

        Reply ↓

  6. Your apartment looks like a dream and the food in Palermo looks even more heavenly! I haven’t read or heard much about Sicily, but it looks pretty incredible—so much personality!

    Reply ↓

  7. The pictures look gorgeous. I especially love the image of the beach, so breath taking. There’s so much culture and interesting things to experience.

    Reply ↓

  8. Looks absolutely stunning. How much does it cost per month? Dave and I are thinking of doing something similar. It looks like a lovely part of Italy away from all the tourists :-) Beautiful photos.

    Reply ↓

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *. Your email address will not be published. By clicking the Submit button, you give consent for us to store your information for the purposes of displaying your comment and you accept the terms of our Privacy Policy.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.