Palermo, Sicily's capital, is a marvelously jumbled, crumbling blend of old and new—a canvas upon which the region's complex and ever-shifting history has been painted. Over the centuries, the port of Palermo was controlled by forces from the far corners—from Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans, to Arabs from North Africa, and then Normans from France, who oversaw a renaissance during which many of Palermo's iconic landmarks and modern tourist attractions were built.
To see some of the vestiges of ancient empires, take a day trip from Palermo to the Valley of the Temples at Agrigento, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its Greek and Roman ruins, including the Temple of Concordia, remain wonderfully intact. Within the city itself, explore the attractions in historic neighborhoods such as the Arab district of La Kalsa, home to the finery-filled Palazzo Mirto. The Quattro Canti (Four Corners) lies in the heart of the old city, with Piazza Pretoria on the corner. From there it's only a short distance to Palermo's Norman Palace, another UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Palermo's star attractions, which houses the Palatine Chapel, famous for its intricate mosaics.
Palermo is also a perfect jumping-off point for sightseeing excursions to the idyllic beaches of Mondello, the medieval coastal town of Cefalù and the mountain village of Monreale, which is known for its exceptional Norman cathedral.