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Authored by Nicola Barcellona

Featured photo by ro431977

Palermo has a rich history as being the most conquered city in the world; the regional capital of Sicily has seen close to 15 ruling bodies throughout its history, including: Phoenicians, Arabs, Aragons, Romans and Spaniards (just to name a few).

This diverse cultural experience is what draws so many tourists to this part of Sicily year after year. In Old Town alone, you will find hundreds of historical relics, structures and traditions, all part of a cultural diversity that the city retains.

A good example of this is the bustling street markets that first emerged during Arab rule, thousands of years ago. While these street markets are often in the dilapidated and neglected areas of town, there are four that are very important for anyone traveling to Palermo to see in person.

The following are reasons to explore the historic street markets of Palermo. These are Vucciria, Capo, Borgo Vecchio and Ballaro.

Explore the 4 Historic Street Markets of Palermo, Sicily

Vucciria

While Arab rule in the area has long since dissipated, this area used to be a huge epicenter for Oriental, Genoese, Venetian, and Pisan trade. This was largely due to its short distance from the Cala Harbor.

This is an excellent stop for those looking to purchase authentic ingredients common to Sicilian cuisine, as you will find many kiosks and carts offering fruit, fish and spices.

This might not be a stop that requires a large portion of your time in the day, you might be more inclined to visit this iconic area in the evening when it really comes alive.

While the crowd is very different during the day, at night the streets are filled with all manner of locals and tourists dancing and drinking amidst the aging buildings of Old Town.

Vucciria Palermo

Palermo la Vucciria

Photo credits:  Nicola Barcellona / Franco Antolini

Ballarò

Ballarò is a little more diverse than Vucciria, and offers a distinct flare that makes it one of the best visualizations of bustling street vendors from Arab rule. It is loud and colorful, offering something for everyone willing to spend some money.

You will discover by visiting all of these street markets that Ballaro is the largest. It is noisy and dated, suggesting that every stall offering goods and fare are refusing to get with modern times.

The Atmosphere

This is a busy marketplace that will offer you a lot to consider and experience. Street vendors will call out to you as you pass by, attempting to lure you towards their stalls.

This street market is not the cleanest, nor does it represent the high-class standards of many well-to-do Sicilians. You will not see the upper-class Italians shop here, but that doesn’t make it any less a part of Palermo’s rich history.

While you might expect street markets to smell like Italian colognes and perfumes, Ballaro is keener on the smell of aging produce and fish. While this is undoubtedly not a pleasant smell by any means, it can give you a sense of how this area looked and felt a very long time ago.

There are smells here that can entice you though, such as passing the bakeries. Their fresh daily bread offerings are sure to make your stomach grumble to be fed with delicious croissants, brioche and more.

Palermo Ballaró market

Palermo Ballaró market

Palermo Ballaró market

Photo credits: michael clarke stuff,  Nico Barcellona, Ira Smirnova

Capo

Capo street market is another area that remains virtually unchanged since the time of Arab rule. Along with Ballaro, these two are the most significant and true-to-life representations of street markets from this historically influential time in Palermo history.

You will find that Capo looks and behaves much like you might have already seen in Ballaro. It is alive with vendors shouting, colors everywhere, and a lingering folklore of days gone by.

The Atmosphere

The entire atmosphere rivals that of a circus, complete with some incredible feats and sights to be seen. Children on scooters weave in and out of crowds while you shuffle your way through the bustling market.

You will see heads of swordfish, stacked wooden crates that defy your understanding of gravity, and even be serenaded by local vendors that cannot carry a tune in a bucket.

You can look at this layout of stalls and see that little has changed since it was first created, which gives the entire area a distinctive cultural significance and undeniable grandeur.

Beware however, the bustling market has also been known to house its own share of lawbreakers and thieves, to be mindful of your valuables as you engulf the history.

Palermo Capo Market

Palermo Capo Market

Photo credits: Dennis Jarvis

Borgo Vecchio

Like Vucciria, Borgo Vecchio is better known for its nightlife than its daytime street market offerings. Here you will see people out dancing and drinking until 4 in the morning every night. There are more people at night usually than you will find shopping stalls throughout the day.

While much of the former historical market has long since gone, it still offers a good bit of shopping opportunities for those who would like to get fresh foods and interesting wares at a reasonable price.

This is a great spot for those looking to cut loose at night, though it might not be the best representation of culturally significant and historically accurate street markets here in Palermo.

Markets in Palermo

These are the four primary street markets you can find in Palermo, but there are other smaller ones you might also consider, such as the Lattarini Market.

The most authentic markets are Capo and Ballaro, so if you only have time for one or two, these are the ones that you should check out.

For those looking for a lively spot to cut loose at night, you might make the time for Vucciria or Borgo Vecchio markets as well.

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Nicola Barcellona is founder/editor of ‘We are Palermo’ and a freelance internet marketer for SMEs in the Tourism and F&B fields.

He built up wearepalermo.com to promote tourism to his home city, and provide a useful resource for tourists. Originally from Italy, he has also lived in the UK, Dubai and Qatar, before settling down in Spain in 2016. He spends as much time as possible traveling the world.

    25 Comments

  1. Just got to know yesterday that Palermo is Europe’s Cultural Capital for 2018! Lots of events going on throughout this year!

    • Cool tip, I didn’t know that! A good year to travel to Palermo then, thanks Michela!

    • hey cool – i go there in just 4 days for 9 days! if anyone likes to go hiking tell me – i join you! you find me in Palermo – eventually. Marianne

  2. We’re just planning a trip to Sicily for this summer and this was perfect! I think the Vucciria is definitely one of the most interesting parts of Palermo because of the street market and the food stalls. You’re right that it’s definitely a place to go to if you want to buy fresh ingredients! Some people also find accomodation in the area but we find it a bit too noisy in the evening so we don’t recommend it!

    • Fabulous Danila, you’ll have such a wonderful time! Thanks for the tip on accommodation in the area being noisy, I can definitely understand that, with Nico’s description of the nightlife.

      Have a fabulous trip back to Sicily 🙂

  3. I was just looking at flights to Palermo and now I am reading this post! Great ideas and love visiting a good street market whilst on the road. Cant wait to get out there.

    • It’s a sign!! Hope you have the chance to visit soon 🙂

  4. Love the colorful fruit stalls at Capo market. They are so universal and yet to local. There are some fruits you find everywhere and some that you find only in that destination. Do you think every city has a market that comes alive at night like Vucciria in Sicily?

    • I’ve certainly not come across street markets with as much night atmosphere as Nico described Vucciria to be, so it might be quite unique to this part of Sicily. Let me know if you hear of any other fab nighttime markets along your travels though!

  5. Palermo looks like the kind of place I could spend a few months living in. The food looks wonderful and lots to see and do. I definitely want to explore those 10 UNESCO World Heritage sites. “Best European Street Food” city also sounds like my kind of place!

    • Doesn’t it! I would love to spend some extended time here at some point too 🙂

  6. You know, I’ve been to Palermo once (a very long time ago on an escorted tour with my parents when I was a kid) and I didn’t even see a single market — it was that kind of tour that just dashed between the main sights. I really want to go back even more now I’ve read your post about these four street markets. I love buying specialist food to bring home, so Vucciria would appeal to me. Ballaro for the colour and excitement, and the bakeries! I’m loving the photos of the fresh produce at Capo. The only one I might miss is the Borgo Vecchio as I’m not big on night life!

    • Perfect excuse to head back again 😀 Especially if you enjoy finding specialist food, and taking in the color and excitement of local life 🙂 Borgo Vecchio sounds like it’s still interesting enough to take in during the day, just that the nightlife is what it’s more famous for.

      Hope you have a fabulous trip when you do get back!

  7. Oh wow. I love the colours of the food on the markets. I love visiting local food stalls when travelling – all those yummy smells and new food

    • Aren’t the colors incredible! I love how the photos pop from the vibrant fruit stands. Makes for some fun photography – and yes, I would definitely visit just for the smells! … maybe not the fish smells lol

  8. Oooh, I’d love to visit the local markets for fresh produce! I haven’t been to Sicily yet, although I’ve been to other parts of Italy. One of my favourite things was buying ingredients at the local markets and preparing my own meals (usually pasta with fresh veggies!) back at my apartment.

    • You’ll be well set up in Palermo then!! Hope you have the chance to visit Sicily on your next trip to the region 🙂

  9. Those tuna steaks in Ballero look insane! I love wandering around markets, especially if they haven’t changed that much over the years. It’d be interesting to see some of them at night too, for a different view of the local life.

    • Don’t they just!! I love markets too for the people watching, it’s usually a great insight into local life 🙂

  10. So fascinating to hear about the history of Palermo – had no clue that the Arabs left such a lasting impression on this city. I love this amalgamation of cultures 🙂

    One of the things I love doing is to explore local markets, and all of these, esp Vucciria, look enticing. Would love to explore them during the day and the night to see that transition happen…that itself would be such an interesting story to capture 🙂

    • Glad you enjoyed the article Siddhartha – I learnt a lot from Nico’s post about the history of Palermo as well 🙂

      If you really love exploring local markets, it sounds like Palermo would be the perfect place for you – I’m looking forward to seeing the day / night transition when I next head to Sicily too 🙂

  11. Makes me miss Rome. Streets look similar.

    • It does have a lot of similarities! Maybe you can plan a trip to Palermo via Rome at some point 🙂

  12. My wife and I loved our time in Palermo and Termini 🇮🇹. It had all three of the big “S” sight, sounds and smells. The taste came later with our cappuccino’s and cannoli’s.

    • So glad you had a fabulous time Michael! Definitely a feast for all senses in Sicily!

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