There are many good reasons to visit Palermo around Christmastime, but poor old Don Tano can’t get them all in one article. So this time, I’m going to give you just 7 great reasons for you to spend your Christmas vacation in Sicily, the most beautiful Italian island.
Today, I’m gonna make you an offer you can’t refuse. Now I’m not doing a Don Corleone number on you like in The Godfather, but I have to tell you that one of the best presents you can give yourselfand your family this Christmas will be a visit to Palermo on the Island of Sicily. You’re not gonna regret a single day spent on this amazing Sicilian island.
Okay, now, as they say in Hollywood, let’s cut to the chase and take a look at the seven reasons for you to visit Palermo in December during the Christmas Holidays.
If you took a tour of Italy without visiting Palermo, in ancient Rome, you would have been punished with the damnatio adbestias (thrown in with the wild animals). In those days criminals and sinners were often devoured by ferocious beasts. Not a pretty thought.
Okay, today you won’t be feeding your fingers to wild animals if you don’t visit the Sicilian regional capital, but you would be considered a sinner anyway for the following reasons:
1. The largest historic city center
Let’s start off with our heritage. Palermo boasts the second largest historic city center in all of Europeand the first in Italy. It is hardly a coincidence that Palermo has recently been named the Capital of Culture 2018.
Due to Sicily’s advantageous Mediterranean Sea location, Palermo also has the dubious distinction of being known as the most conquered city in the world. As one nation after another gained control of Palermo, each carved its own mark on the island leaving us with a truly international city.
The flavors of different countries remain today throughout the island, and particularly Palermo. You’ll see styles such as Norman, Arab, and Roman, Catalan — you name it and you won’t be far off the mark.
Among the most visited monuments, you’ll see the famous Teatro Massimo. You’ll definitely be in for a treat when you visit this amazing theater. Other opera houses are better known, such as the opera in Paris and the Vienna opera, but il Teatro Massimo is the third largest opera house in the world and — as many believe — perhaps the most beautiful.
A huge tourist attraction to be found in the city center, also known as “Old Town”, are the four historic street markets, These origins of these outdoor markets date back to the souks that opened in Palermo during the city’s time under Arabic rule.
As an additional treat, during the month of December, Old Town explodes in a beautiful display of Christmas lighting that creates a surrealist scenario you won’t find anyplace else in the entire world. If there is anything missing during this festive period, it’s the snow. If you want snow, you’ll have to bring your own!
The bottom line here?
Palermo has had an important influence on the history of Europe, much more so than the average person realizes.
And the important part for you as a visitor is that Palermo, especially during the Christmas Season, shows off all this varied history as you walk through the most atmospheric time of the year to take in all there is to see and hear in Old Town.
I can’t give you a short list of notable Sicilian dishes in the small space given me. There are hundreds of delightful dishes on the menu, far too many for the average person to absorb anyway.
But I gotta tell you, here in Palermo, we have some of the best food in Europe, maybe in the whole world. I’m not just talking about pizza and pasta. These are great too. In fact, they’re certainly staples and today, pasta is gonna be served at dinner in restaurants and in homes throughout the world, including my home right here!
But we have a long list of street food too. On the streets, vendors sell every sort of food such as pastries that will make you scream with pleasure and cry for more.
The cuisine in Sicily today is a blend of its influence by so many different cultures that ruled the island for a time, each leaving its mark. And for you, the visitor, Christmas is the time when our master cooks do their very best work being motivated by the Spirit of Christmas. And don’t worry about your tummy. A long loose jacket will cover that.
Bottom line here?
Sicilian cuisine is one-of-a-kind cuisine. It’s unique to our island and takes the very best from traditional Italian culture while being influenced by so many cultures that once ruled the island, and through all this, we have ended up with a mix that’s unique in the world.
This is especially noticeable in Sicilian street food. And remember, Christmas is the best time of all to sample some of Palermo’s creative dishes served up by our very best cooks.
Among the twelve largest cities in Italy, Palermo is considered one of the safest. And that’s not just Don Tano promoting Old Town. The authoritative ISTAT (National Institute of Statistics) published this bit of information. And that’s not only during the Christmas season, but it’s for the entire year.
So remember, you’ll be as safe in Sicily as you could be in any large city in the world. Perhaps safer. In Palermo, we love visitors and welcome them with open arms. Only a few rapinatori and ladri (muggers and robbers), as well as borseggiatori (pickpockets), have to be taken into consideration, so it’s always wise to keep valuables in a safe place and avoid dark lonely places, especially at night.
It’s also wise to book accommodation in the better hotels you’ll find on the internet and avoid districts such as Zen and Brancaccio. Besides these districts have nothing to offer the visitor.
Another unfortunate type that makes Palermo its home is what the call Tascios. Tascios are boorish, coarse ill-mannered ruffians with no style at all. These uneducated young men are completely unbearable.
They go about with slicked-back hair and think they’re so beautiful attractive and pleasant as they strut about that every girl who sees them will instantly fall under the charm of their spell.
Ignoring them does little to cause them to give up as long as the unfortunate girl is within earshot, but for the average young woman, you’ll likely hear catcalls and phrases that only they understand (even other Italians can’t understand much of this).
The important thing for every young woman to remember is that these bozos aren’t really dangerous and your only recourse is to ignore them and keep on walking. They’ll tire of this as you move on.
Palermo is one of the safest cities in Italy. Tourists are not at risk in the same way as the rest of the population.
4. Active Nightlife
Along with summer, the Christmas Season is one of the best times to experience our Palermo nightlife. From the fifteenth of December until January first, the city’s many bars, clubs, and restaurants are overflowing with people who come out to celebrate the holiday season. It is during this season that locals really love to get out that enjoy the Christmas vibes.
The nightlife you’ll find in Palermo isn’t like that of the large European cities. There all the famous clubs, well-known DJs, and events present many famous musical groups drawing thousands of visitors from every corner of the globe.
Here, it’s more about enjoying the company of the people around you (and that often includes people you don’t even know!). Sicilians are very open and the vast majority of them love to talk to foreigners. Sometimes these informal get-togethers last throughout the entire night. With Sicilians, the bigger the group and the longer the celebration, all the better!
But this isn’t all about eating, drinking and dancing throughout the night. Palermo has a lot more to offer than intimate nightclubs and bars. Our city constantly offers concerts, theater plays, and even culinary events. Another possibility: Nighttime religious processions, as well as breath-taking, guided walking tours.
Bottom line for this segment?
Palermo presents a nightlife that will make everyone happy, especially during Christmas when we all get carried away by the Christmas spirit.
5. Christmas markets and living nativity scene
Yearly events in Palermo are its characteristic Christmas street markets. There, you can buy anything you want. If you bring kids, just pray that Santa has a gift for you too, maybe a suitcase bursting with cash, because these markets are overflowing with toys and anything that kids might like.
However, on the bright side, these markets are home to a myriad of food vendors where you can take comfort in some our most tasty dishes at bargain prices. I hope you’ll have a look at my page given to the best food in Sicily.
Street markets and local food aside, another way to feel the essence of Christmas without spending a great deal of money is by watching the most amazing living nativity scenes in the world as they’re performed by the many churches in the main squares.
Being almost exclusively a Catholic city, Palermo has deep roots in church history and one of its most impressive activities is the surrealistic atmosphere the church evokes with its Nativity parades and to miss it would in itself be a sin.
In Sicily, Santa leaves the reindeer in the field to munch lichen while he rides around on his Vespa (Wasp). The Vespa is a storied brand manufactured by Piaggio. You probably have some in your city. This little motor scooter is known throughout the world, and with gas prices as high as they are, it’s a wonderful carefree mode of transportation.
While December won’t bring snow to Palermo, it won’t normally bring rain either. January and February are the two months when we’re likely to get most of our yearly allotment of rainfall.
The average temperature in December is around 55° F, it’s not uncommon for it to rise to 70°F. So Christmas aside, the temperature range in December affords many people an opportunity to enjoy our beaches, and it’s not uncommon for visitors to get a nice tan on the beach while the waves rollin and out.
You can expect good weather during the Christmas Season and enjoy the city and its many outdoor restaurants without wearing a lot of heavy clothing. More often than not, you can also enjoy going to the beach for a swim and perhaps a tan as well.
7. Affordable prices
It’s also my privilege to inform you that Palermo is officially one of the least expensive from among all the largest cities in Italy. It doesn’t cost a fortune for you to visit Palermo. You can get an attractive, safe hotel room or a short-term apartment for very low prices, even during the busy Christmas and New Year’s Eve time in Old Town or in Downtown.
The only expensive consideration here would be the taxis. An alternative would be the crazy public transportation which doesn’t work very well at all. If you can, the best bet for touring about would be to rent a car. If you do opt for a taxi, you should negotiate the cost before entering the vehicle.
Bottom line here?
If you want to visit a nice place, one that’s rich in its history with many things to do and see while enjoying great food at bargain prices, Palermo is one of the best places in Europe to fill all your needs, and you won’t be sorry you came.
Well, I hope I’ve convinced you to visit Palermo this Christmas, but if you can’t come this time, or have some questions or doubts, don’t hesitate to drop me a line below and Old Don Tano will do his best to help you. That’s what hosts and guides do, even if they’re only semiofficial like I am.
Don Tano Bongiorno
About Don Tano
I’m full-blooded Sicilian born from the noise of the Vucciria market and the gentle sound of the waves of Mondello. I grew up eating “pane e panelle” and “pasta con le sarde”. But most of all, I grew up with an awareness: Palermo is a beautiful city to live intensely and to love without question!