This is an ancient city that showcases the legacy of Sicily’s countless invaders, from the Norman Romanesque architecture of the cathedral to the Moorish-influenced markets. At the weekend, do as the Palermitans do and head to Mondello beach.
Designed by King Roger II in 1130, the Cappella Palatina's Byzantine mosaics are one of the world's most important works of art. Inlaid with precious marbles, the chapel has a jewel-like quality (+39 091 705 4879; Piazza Indipendenza 1; 9am-12pm, 2pm-5pm Mon-Sat, 9am-12pm Sun; £5).
Set among ancient palazzi and drying washing, the Mercato della Vucciria is Palermo's most alluring food market. It's great for bargain bags of pistachios and spices, which make lovely gifts (Piazza Caracciolo; 7am-7pm Mon-Sat, to 1pm Wed).
The Museo Archeologico Regionale houses an extensive collection of artifacts, but the highlight is the metopes (stone carvings) from the Greek temples at Selinunte, which depict scenes from the Greek myths (+39 091 611 6805; Via Bara all'Olivella 24; 8.30am-6pm Mon-Fri, 8.30am- 1.30pm Sat & Sun; £5).
Despite its famous manuscript collection, the Convento dei Cappuccini is best known for its macabre catacombs, where the mummified bodies of 8,000 Palermitans are on show (+39 091 21 2117; Via Cappuccini 1; 9am-12pm & 3-5pm; £1.25).
The history of the Teatro Massimo opera house is a mirror for Palermo itself - a city where high culture and low crime make uneasy bedfellows. Appropriately, it featured in Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather III (+39 091 605 3111; 10am-3pm Tue-Sun; tours £4).
Eat and drink
A traditional working-man's eatery, Foccaceria del Massimo is a good budget option. There are pasta specials and an antipasti buffet with grilled aubergines, artichokes and so on (+39 091 33 5628; Via Bara all'Olivella 76; lunch and dinner Mon-Sat; mains £4).
Antica Foccaceria di San Francesco is one of the city's oldest eating houses, having opened in 1834. It still serves the age-old Palermitan snack - a bread roll filled with milza (veal intestines) and ricotta cheese (+39 091 32 0264; Via Alessandro Paternostro 58; lunch and dinner Tue-Sun; mains £4-£6).
Recline beneath soaring vaults or sit in the garden at Kursaal Kalhesa. The menu is eclectic-Med, featuring Tunisian filo pastry parcels alongside traditional pastas with clams (+39 091 616 2282; 21 Foro Umberto I; lunch and dinner Tue-Sat, closed Mon lunch and Sun dinner; mains £7-£12).
Sant'Andrea is located in Vucciria, near the eponymous market from which it draws its ingredients. The pasta here is simply superb (+39 091 33 4999; Piazza Sant'Andrea 4; lunch and dinner Wed-Mon, closed Jan; mains £10-£13).
Osteria dei Vespri's menu features a wide range of modern Sicilian dishes such as anelleti (pasta ringlets) with octopus poached in Nero d'Avola wine and wild fennel (+39 091 617 1631; Piazza Croce dei Vespri 6; lunch and dinner Mon-Sat; mains £12-£18).
Palermo's best budget hotel, Ariston is located in an unassuming block in a prime location between the old and new town. Although the exterior isn't pretty, the accommodation is impeccably neat, featuring simply decorated, spacious rooms (+39 091 33 2434; Via Mariano Stabile 139; from £45).
Allakala overlooks the old part of the port and has a fantastic location for all the historic sites. Rooms are styled in a nautical blue and white colour scheme. Breakfast is brought to your room on a silver tray (+39 091 743 4763; Corso Vittorio Emanuele 71; from £80).
Quattro Quarti is a fabulously decorated b&b in a 17th-century nobleman's palazzo. You'll feel like the guest of an aristocrat in the four individually decorated rooms with their antique tiles and plush antiques. Book ahead (+39 091 58 3687; Corso Vittorio Emanuele 376; from £100).
BB22 is the city's first boutique B&B and a haven of luxury. Located in the historic quarter, the interiors are elegant and contemporary, with designer furnishings and plasma TVs. The suite is pure honeymoon material with a freestanding bath in front of the bed (+39 091 611 1610; Largo Cavalieri di Malta 22; from £110).
Like a royal court, the Grand Hotel et des Palmes has been the scene of intrigues and liaisons throughout Palermo's rich history. The grand salons and rooms still impress with their elegant turn-of-the-century decor and the hotel service remains studiously discreet (+39 091 602 8111; Via Roma 398; from £160).
How to go
Palermo is served by Ryanair flights from London Stansted and Alitalia flights from most British cities, all of which transit in Milan or Rome (from £150). Falcone- Borsellino airport is 20 miles from Palermo but there are regular buses from the airport into town (£4.60). A taxi costs £42.
Find your way
The easiest way to get around is on foot. Otherwise, Palermo's orange city buses are very frequent and most stop outside the main train station. Tourist information booths have leaflets of the bus lines. Tickets cost £1 for up to 90 minutes.
The article 'Mini guide to Palermo' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.