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Palermo Revealed - Art, archaeology, architecture and gastronomy

A captivating city, richly encrusted with the art and architecture of many periods.

Exclusive visits: meals at two private palazzi and drinks at another; see the outstanding Palatine Chapel outside public opening hours.

Includes an excursion to see the spectacular mosaics at Monreale.

Print itinerary (2024)

Print itinerary (2025)

12 - 17 Oct 2024 £3,320 Book this tour

  • Palermo cathedral, steel engraving c.1850
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Sicily’s heritage of art, architecture and archaeological remains is exceptionally rich and varied, and Palermo is by far the most interesting of the island’s cities. Staying here for all six days, the tour also has excursions to some of the best of the area’s patrimony just outside the city.

In the ninth century AD, when Byzantine rule was supplanted by that of Muslim Arabs, Palermo became the leading city on the island and famous throughout Europe for the beauty of its hillside position, its tradition of craftsmanship and its enlightened administration. In the eleventh century Arab rule was swept aside by conquering Normans. By succumbing to the luxuriant sophistication of their predecessors they distanced themselves as far as is imaginable from their rugged northern roots. From a Palermo-based cosmopolitan court they ruled an affluent and cultured nation with efficiency and tolerance.

The unique artistic blend of this golden age survives in Romanesque churches with details of Norman, Saracenic, Levantine and classical origin. Byzantine mosaicists were extensively employed, and more wall and vault mosaics survive here than in all of Byzantium. The tour includes not only the Norman buildings in Palermo but also the cathedral at Monreale.

The prosperity and power of Sicily began to wane from the later Middle Ages, but pockets of wealth and creativity remained, as Gothic and Renaissance creations demonstrate. Artistically, however, a final flourish was reached in the Age of Baroque when churches and palaces were erected in Palermo and throughout the island which are as splendid and exuberant as anywhere in Europe.

Always a seething, vibrant city, an enlightened local government has made Palermo cleaner, safer, and altogether more enjoyable in recent years.

Day 1

Fly at c. 8.30am from London City via Milan (in 2024) or Rome (in 2025) to Palermo (ITA Airways). Overnight Palermo where all five nights are spent.

Day 2

Palermo. A morning walk through the old centre includes a visit to several oratories. The afternoon is spent at the Galleria Regionale della Sicilia (Palazzo Abatellis), which has an excellent collection of 15th-century pictures­, and at La Martorana and S. Cataldo, two outstanding Norman buildings. Dinner at a private palazzo.

Day 3

Monreale, Palermo. Monreale dominates a verdant valley southwest of Palermo, and its cathedral is one of the finest Norman churches with the largest scheme of mosaic direction to survive from the Middle Ages. Free afternoon before a private evening visit to the Palatine Chapel.

Day 4

Palermo. Spend most of the day with the Duchess of Palma in an 18th-century palazzo facing the Bay of Palermo. The palace is the former residence of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, author of The Leopard, now the home of his adoptive son. Visit the city’s best market with the Duchess herself to select fresh seasonal produce, before returning to the palazzo for a cooking class, lunch in the grand dining room and a tour with the Duke and Duchess.

Day 5

Palermo. Visit the Chiesa del Gesù, an extraordinary example of Palermitan Baroque with a profusion of marble inlay, stucco and sculpture. S. Giovanni degli Eremiti is a Norman church with five cupolas and a charming garden. The cathedral, a building of many periods, has grand royal and imperial tombs. Free afternoon. In the evening, there is a visit and reception by special arrangement to an otherwise inaccessible palazzo, with astonishing Rococo interiors and many original furnishings (used as a set in Visconti’s film of The Leopard).

Day 6

Palermo. Visit the Castello della Zisa, an Arab-Norman palace. Fly from Palermo via Milan to London City, arriving c. 6.30pm.

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Dr Luca Leoncini

Art historian specialising in 15th-century Italian painting. His first degree and PhD were from Rome University followed by research at the Warburg Institute in London. He has published articles on the classical tradition in Italian art of the 15th century and contributed to the Macmillan Dictionary of Art. He has also written on Mantegna and Renaissance drawings. Instagram: @lucaleonci

Image of Christopher Newall

Christopher Newall

Art historian, lecturer and writer. As well as being a specialist in 19th-century British art, he has a deep interest in Sicily, its architecture and political and social history. A graduate of the Courtauld Institute, he has organised various exhibitions including Pre-Raphaelite Vision: Truth to Nature (Tate Britain 2004) and John Ruskin: Artist & Observer at the National Gallery of Canada and Scottish National Portrait Gallery (2014). His interest in John Ruskin led to our tour Ruskin’s Venice.

Price, per person

2024. Two sharing: £3,320 or £2,920 without flights. Single occupancy: £3,690 or £3,290 without flights.

2025. Two sharing: £3,320 or £3,140 without flights. Single occupancy: £3,690 or £3,510 without flights.


Flights (economy) with ITA Airways (Airbus 319 & 320); travel by private coach; hotel accommodation; breakfasts; 1 lunch & 4 dinners with wine, water, coffee; a cooking class with the Duchess of Palma; a drinks reception at a private palace; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer. 


Grand Hotel Piazza Borsa, Palermo: a centrally located 4-star hotel housed in an assortment of historical buildings. Single rooms are doubles for sole use. 


We opt to travel to and from Sicily with ITA Airways because British Airways do not fly to Palermo at the times of year that this tour runs.

How strenuous?

There is a lot of walking on this tour, and it would not be suitable for anyone who has difficulties with everyday walking or stair-climbing. Fitness and sure-footedness are essential. Average distance by coach per day: 10 miles.

Are you fit enough to join the tour?

Group size 

Between 10 and 22 participants.

Combine with


Bulgaria, 28 September–7 October

Frank Lloyd Wright, 30–10 October

Courts of Northern Italy, 4–11 October

Opera in Sicily, 18–24 October

Roman & Medieval Provence, 18–24 October

Modern Art on the Côte d'Azur, 22–28 October

Istanbul Revealed, 24–31 October



Caravaggio, 13–20 January 2025

Pompeii & Herculaneum, 27 January–1 February

Travel advice

Before booking, please refer to the FCDO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting.

'Meticulous attention to detail, a carefully devised itinerary, and very special private visits.'

'It was all perfect, and a beautiful balance between detailed visits and free time to explore alone, or just to relax.'

'We saw the most wonderful things and I was extremely impressed.'