Things to Do in Palermo with Kids
We have heard that Sicilians often get angry when tourists mention them in the context of the mafia, even in the joke. We didn’t joke about it. We spent seven adventure days with kids in Palermo without mentioning mafia, but we had to deal with police in one situation.
One of the most notable sights in Palermo is the palace where the Norman king ruled. Today, it is the residence of the Sicilian government. Inside it is the fascinating Cappella Palatina, famous for its gold mosaics on the altar depicting Christ flanked by the Archangels, Gabriel and Michael. The mosaics on the walls illustrate scenes from the Bible. It is trivial to write about the toilets in such divine places, but for families with children, this could be vital information. It often happens that children interrupt us in the middle of admiring these places because they need to poop. It is good to know that there is actually no toilet inside the palace. The only toilets are located near the tickets booth. Entrance is 10 euros. Not for the toilet. For the palace.
Adults can see that in front of the Norman Palace are just ordinary stairs, but it is only because adults have no imagination. Of course, these are no ordinary stairs. This is a toboggan made by the Normans or someone else.
Cathedral in Palermo
The cathedral is unique because of the different styles of construction. You can find the Byzantine, Arab or Baroque styles in the one cathedral. All the Sicilian conquerors added new elements to the architecture of this building. Churches are meant to be places of prayer and meditation, but now they have become museums where most people come to sight-see, which is a bit sad to me, especially if the person who wants to pray must pay to enter. Unlike many other religious places, entrance to the cathedral in Palermo is free, but if you’d like to climb up the cupola, it will cost 4 euros. We decided to stay on the ground level at the big picturesque piazza in front of the cathedral. They were filming some movie scene there while we were passing by, so maybe we will appear in some Hollywood movie.
Teatro Massimo is one of the biggest opera houses in Europe, known for its finest acoustics. You can see this location in many different films, but the most famous is from ‘The Godfather’.
The theatre hosts more than 130 music, opera and dance events every year. All the great conductors or singers of the 20th century, such as Maria Callas, Luciano Pavarotti, and Herbert von Karajan, have performed here. Unfortunately, no performance was staged when we visited Palermo, but our talented children created their own interpretation of a famous opera scene.
Traditional Puppet theater in Palermo
Just a few steps from the cathedral in Palermo is a small puppet theatre. The traditional puppet shows are performed in Italian but the language was no barrier to understanding what was happening; the story is very clear and simple. Particularly impressive were the strong voices of the puppeteers embodying the characters, full of lively scenes and artisan marionettes in traditional costumes, Sicilian soldiers bravely fighting with dragons and court ladies waiting for their knight. The show is available for all ages. The children were laughing at some scenes which means that physical humor was used on the stage. After the performance, children could take a photo with the puppets and touch them too.
Despite appreciating the Sicilian puppet tradition, I have to say that some parts are questionable. Many scenes involved violence in the form of sword fights and heads getting chopped off, so if I knew that before, I think I would avoid that part of the Sicilian culture.
Botanical garden in Palermo
In autumn, gardens can look a bit dull and sad, but the botanical garden in Palermo seems magical even in that period. In large cities such as Palermo, there are a lot of attractions everywhere, so children need some silence and peace too. There is, as expected in a botanical garden, a huge variety of plants and trees from around the world, and we were delighted to see some unique old trees with unusual growth patterns. It looked mystical like we suddenly got lost in some fairytale. This stimulated the children’s imagination, with the long thin branches of the tree becoming the hair of a forest fairy.
In the middle of the garden, there is a pool of waterlilies and lazy turtles that are, for some reason, interesting to the children. The children always report to us with such enthusiasm when they have seen a turtle or fish as if they had seen a flying cow instead.
In one part of the garden is an orchard with oranges, cedars, and lemons. The fruit was already ripe, so we picked it from the tree and collected some from the ground too. We took as much as we could carry and made the most refreshing juice in the world.
Street market in Palermo
Nothing gives a better insight into local culture than visiting the local market. The three most popular traditional open markets in Palermo are Ballaro, Capo, and Vuccaria. Here you can discover the traditional life of the city, all the food diversity and even the temperament of the people. They are very pleasant and communicative with grand gestures, but they kept shouting in Sicilian dialect to sell their items. Sometimes, the only option is to cover your ears to enjoy the mixture of colors, scents and tastes around you.
Vuccaria is among the top ten markets in the world where people can eat the best street food. This is the oldest and most lively market in town where they sell herbs, fruits and vegetables, cheese and other local produce. We were happy to see paprika, tomato, and lemon that were not perfectly shaped, which gave us faith in natural gardening.
Best beaches in Palermo: Mondello
Palermo has no beach in the city center. The most famous is Mondello, 20 minutes away from the city center. Mondello is one of the most popular seaside resorts in Sicily. The white sand and turquoise sea call you to swim even in November. There is an excellent open-air playground for children. Parents can enjoy a café on a sandy beach, breathe the sea air and sunbathe.
Cheap eats in Palermo?
No place in the world is obsessed with food like Sicily. Walking through the streets of the city, we had the impression that at each step, someone was eating something. So, what other option did we have but to join them? Italian restaurants are open mostly from 12 pm until 3 pm for lunch, so if you miss that lunchtime, you have to wait for dinner which is at 7 pm. Since we tasted all the vegetarian specialties during our three weeks in Sicily, we decided to try the ‘walk and eat’ option in Palermo: roasted chestnuts rolled in ash!
Dozens of guards were standing around the fountain. We thought that the president of the state had a bath inside, but there were just statues of a lot of naked figures. The second name for the fountain is Piazza Della Vergogna, or ‘The Fountain of Shame’.
The fountain was originally built in Florence, but it was sold and moved to Palermo. Maybe they were afraid that someone would take Fountain back to Florence. With the supervision and permission of the guards, we made five circles around the fountain and took a few photos. Not even the Pope in the Vatican has such great protection. The guards watched our youngest daughter with suspicion.
Places to visit nearby Palermo: Monreale
Monreale is a hill town just outside Palermo. It is famous for the mosaics in its cathedral. The Norman Cathedral, built in the 12th century, is one of the most magnificent churches in the world. It is known for mosaics of the Byzantine style which illustrate episodes from the Bible. At a time when people were illiterate, these mosaics had an important role in explaining the faith. Our illiterate children could recognize the episode of Noah’s Ark and Jesus’s birth.
Next to the cathedral is a gallery where one artist creates these amazing mosaics. These artworks need a lot of effort, patience and time, and they are very expensive. Some are worth a few thousand euros. That’s why I told Aura to sit, watch, and study the craft. Stone by stone – palace.
Monreale is full of creative people. We noticed another gallery selling jewelry and other items made of recycled material. We got great ideas for trying to make things at home. The children could see how old buttons or pins could be useful for creating rings or earrings.
If you travel to Sicily with kids or without kids, you might like to read more stories by Mom The Muse.