An iconic tour of the Palermo markets

Mara Noveni | Live the World

May 29, 2024

The markets of Palermo represent the ideal place for diving into the past and the most lively traditions of the Palermitan people. Usually, you get there by skirting neglected neighbourhoods, decadent buildings full of memories, and entering areas delimited by ancient ruined portals, symbolic boundaries between past and present, between history and existence. The most important and historical markets of Palermo are Vucciria, CapoBorgo Vecchio and Ballarò, in the heart of the city. So, let's start an iconic tour of the Palermo markets

La Vucciria

The Vucciria market is a pleasant mix of voices, scents and noises, a corner of the city where time seems to stand still. It is an ancient market in Palermo that extends into the area of Piazza Caracciolo and the surrounding area. La Vucciria was born as a meat market, and its name seems to derive from the French butcher shop (Boucherie). Since the time of Arab domination, this area was the preferred residence of oriental merchants, Pisans, Genoese, Venetians, etc. Subsequently, it became a food market where you can find all the ingredients of Sicilian cuisine, with their scents and colours: the gold of lemons, the silver of fresh fish, the bronze of olives and the coral of dried tomatoes, form a rainbow representing the city.

© iStock / ilVacca

Currently, the Vucciria market is turning into a reference point for nightlife. In fact, during the evening, the vendors crowd the central square with their stalls offering street food and specialities to be enjoyed on the fly. A historic meeting place for young and old is the Taverna Azzurra, but there are many clubs overlooking the market square, and the Vucciria is filled with music and populated by young people, especially during the weekend. Until late at night, it is possible to drink, chat and eat: bread and panelle (chickpea flour pancakes), sandwiches with meusa (pork spleen), crocchè, snails, baked pasta, but also sandwiches and, especially in summer, fruit, oysters and fried fish.

© iStock / Digitalsignal

Il Capo

A few steps from the Teatro Massimo, this market is folkloristic and multifaceted and has been present since the Muslim era. The market extends beyond Corso del Papireto, along via Carini and via Beati Paoli, and was originally inhabited by the Schiavoni, pirate slave traders. However, the Augustinian monks populated this area since their convent was adjacent to the church of S. Agostino. One of the main entrances to the market is at Porta Carini, near the Palace of Justice.

© iStock / gandolfocannatella

From Monday to Saturday, from morning until late afternoon, but also on Sunday morning, the shouts of the vendors create a deafening chant in Palermo dialect, a feature common to all Palermo markets, to invite customers to buy their goods. The market is characterized by its stone pavement and red banquet tents. Then, in the midst of this cute confusion, a wonder like the Church of the Immaculate Conception suddenly stands out, a breathtaking baroque masterpiece.

Also, in this market, the goods are fruits and vegetables, meat and fish, and souvenirs and objects mostly intended for tourists. As a speciality to taste, we can suggest the boiled octopus, which is a real must: it is always very fresh and served to regular customers and tourists with a bit of lemon, salt and pepper.

From the market, you can easily reach the magnificent Cathedral of Palermo and other points of interest in the historic centre.

Il Borgo Vecchio

It is the smallest of the historic markets, ancient and very characteristic. Born at the end of the 1500s, it was a meeting point for those who sold goods and those who practised ancient crafts. It is located in the centre of Palermo, between Piazza Sturzo and Piazza Ucciardone. It remains open until late at night, even on Sundays, and is also a popular meeting place. The Borgo Vecchio market is one of the least touristy, despite being very colourful and folkloric.

Banks, warehouses and small shops alternate and offer both food and other goods. Peering inside some shops, you can still see traditional crafts, such as wood and ironworking. Lately, the area has been enriched with typical restaurants, which delight tourists with all the Sicilian gastronomic specialities.

© iStock / Jerome LABOUYRIE


According to some written testimonies, a market already existed in the 10th century where the Ballarò market is today. In this ancient market, goods from India were also sold, and for this reason, it was called Balhara by the Arabs, after an Indian prince. Hence the origin of the name.

This is the oldest market in Palermo, which attracts hundreds of customers and tourists daily to discover and search for the freshest products. Basically, the Ballarò market sells food, including all Sicilian gastronomic delights. Here you can find stalls with open-air grills and rotisseries selling the classics of Sicilian rotisseries, such as panelle, crocchè (potato croquettes) and arancine (fried rice balls stuffed with meat sauce, mozzarella and peas).

© iStock / Angela Ravaioli

But Ballarò is also full of history and monuments, as inside there are the Monumental complex of Santa Chiara, the Church of Carmine Maggiore, the Tower of San Nicolò, the Chiesa del Gesù and many other marvels, all of which can be visited, and often managed by associations and cooperatives of young cultural promoters.

Furthermore, walking along the streets and alleys of the market, one is left speechless in front of the murals and the works of street artists who have decorated and coloured the walls.

After this story, your desire to visit the markets of Palermo should be irrepressible, to experience this deep full immersion in sounds, noises, smells and tastes, and because the markets of Palermo are the mirror of the whole of Sicily. Multicultural, welcoming, colourful, warm and historic: all adjectives go well with this wonderful island and make it one of the most beautiful lands to discover. So, we are waiting for you for the iconic tour of the Palermo markets! Enjoy!

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