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Top 15 Things to Buy in Palermo

Shopping is a great thing to do on any Carnival European cruise, and when you cruise to Palermo, it’s especially fun! You’ll discover items in this Sicilian city that are hard to find anywhere else. From clothing and accessories to home décor, Palermo has it all. Many of these items have fascinating historical heritages, too.

a harbor in palermo italy

1. Eye-Catching Coffa Bags

These embellished straw bags were once used by Sicilian farmers to carry goods to and from the market. Today, coffa bags are emerging as an international fashion statement.

With their painted designs, mirrors, metal trinkets, pom-poms and embroidery, these bags will capture admiration no matter where you travel. Sizes range from roomy tote bag and beach bag styles to small, evening purse versions.

coffa bags hanging on a wall with pink and red flowers in them

2. Gray and Black Lava Stones

Lava stone comes in neutral colors, so they work well with almost any color scheme in your wardrobe or at your home. The volcanoes of Sicily have long produced these dark-gray stones and Sicilians have used them for paving streets and for marking bricks for buildings.

In Sicilian shops, smaller gray lava stones are available in a variety of items, from magnets and bracelets to bowls and vases.

If you come across any trinkets made of shiny black stones, it’s likely it is obsidian, a type of lava rock still common on Lipari Island, just off the shore of Sicily. Archeologists have uncovered obsidian tools in Sicily that date back to the Stone Age.

3. Cool Coppola Caps

If you’re more interested in a coppola than a coffa, then you would want a hat. These traditional beret-style caps are making a big comeback lately on fashion catwalks as well as in street wear. Coppola hats are not only supremely stylish, they are practical and made in a variety of materials.

A lightweight coppola will shield your head from the hot summer sun, while one made of wool will keep you warm in winter. Pick up a bunch during your cruise to Palermo for yourself or surprise loved ones with a gift with style.

a display of coppola caps hanging in a market stand in palermo, italy

4. Coral in Multiple Hues

The waters surrounding Sicily are filled with coral. You’ll also come across plenty of objects made from coral in the stores and markets of Palermo.

There’ll be jewelry, of course, but also decorative craftwork for the home. The coral off the coast comes in a variety of warm hues, including light pink and deep red.

5. Captivating Caltagirone Pottery

Caltagirone pottery is another way to enhance your home, and it’s very easy to locate in Palermo. In the Sicilian town named Caltagirone, ceramics have been a tradition since prehistoric times.

The techniques were perfected by the Greeks — who introduced the pottery wheel to Palermo in the eighth century B.C. — and then other cultures contributed to the creation and refinement of glazing methods.

Bright, bold pottery still thrives in Caltagirone today. Buying some examples of Caltagirone pottery, even if it’s just a coffee cup, is a must-do on any cruise to Italy.

a stack of ceramic italian plates from a marketplace

6. Swanky Silk Scarves and Ties

Yet today, Palermo is still a great place to buy fantastic Italian silk scarves and ties during your European cruise. Look for items like silk squares, long scarves and extra-long ties. Some silk items are even hand-painted.

7. Prestigious Puppets

Puppet Theater, referred to as Opera del Pupi, has a history stretching back to the 19th century in Sicilian cities such as Palermo and Catania. For this reason, those traveling in Palermo will find many marionettes in retail shops and markets.

The marionettes in Palermo are much smaller than those in Catania, so they’re easier to transport back home. Choices range from finely crafted designs to simple, less costly puppets that kids will love just as much.


8. Melt-Resistant Chocolate

While you’re out on your Palermo shopping spree, you might get hungry and want a snack. Well, fortunately, in Sicily, you can buy special chocolate bars that won’t melt all over you or the contents of your shopping bag, even during the heat of summer.

Based on ancient Aztec recipes, this Modica-style chocolate is created by grinding cocoa beans with sugar into a fine consistency. Confectioners sometimes add flavors like coffee, cinnamon or citrus to this delectable candy. It is considered one of the best things to eat in Palermo. The chocolate bars are also wrapped in gorgeous paper, making them great gifts. Be sure any foods you bring back to your cruise ship are unopened and sealed in their packaging.

9. Marvelous Marmalades

Sicily’s fertile farmlands generate fabulous fruit throughout the year. Unfortunately, you cannot take fresh produce onto your Carnival cruise ship. However, artisans in Sicily learned centuries ago how to preserve fruit as marvelous marmalades and spreads.

In Sicily, you’ll find orange and ginger, and orange and pistachio marmalades prepared using centuries-old recipes. There’ll also be compotes made with figs and walnuts, and sweet crème spreads made with pistachio or cocoa. A light line of products made with honey or rice syrup instead of sugar is also available in Sicilian pharmacies.

a person spreading orange marmalade

10. Tantalizing Liqueurs

Sipping a liqueur is another way to enjoy the harvest of native Sicilian fruit. Lemon liqueurs are a very popular choice as well as those made from prickly pears that are ubiquitous throughout the island.

Other ingredients in Sicilian liqueurs can include cinnamon, chocolate, hazelnut, walnut and myrtle. A liqueur can be a fabulous dessert when served in chilled glasses, and it can also work as an excellent base for a distinctive cocktail.

11. Well-Known Wines

Sicily’s been growing grapes since 1500 B.C. or earlier, so people there know more than a thing or two about making fantastic wines. The best places to buy fine wine in Palermo are high-end shopping neighborhoods like Il Capo, Vecchio Centro and Castellammare.

You’ll encounter well-known wines like Marsala and Syrah, as well as lesser-known varieties such as Nero d’Avola and Etna Rosso. Even if you aren’t into drinking alcoholic beverages, take a couple of cases back home with you from your cruise to Europe for use in the kitchen. Chicken marsala, anyone?

a sicilian vineyard with grapes growing out of the vines

12. Tins of Sicilian Tuna

What’s so special about tuna caught and canned in Sicily? You can get what’s called “premium tuna,” which is darker and more reddish than the white albacore common in the United States. Also, Sicilian tuna is packed in olive oil, instead of water or vegetable oil used in popular American brands.

Sicilian artisans have developed delicious specialty items. One of these is ventresca, or tuna belly, which has a creamy, buttery flavor. Sicilian tuna is packed in oval-shaped tins, not round cans.

13. Frutta Martorana

Not all of the fruit you’ll see in Sicily grows on trees. There are bakeries with glass cases filled with martorana fruit. These Sicilian baked treats might look like cherries, lemons or even prickly pears, but they’re made from marzipan almond paste, so they taste like delicious pastries.

Frutta Martorana comes in other shapes, too. There are designs, for instance, that look like shrimp, mortadella sandwiches and Easter lambs. Usually, you can eat the martorana right in the pastry shop.

a batch of frutta martorana from a bakery in palermo, italy

14. Molds for Frutta Martorana

After your return from Palermo and a European cruise, it will be hard to find bakeries selling fresh Frutta Martorana. Frutta Martonrana are traditional marzipan sweets that are made to look like fruits and vegetables. You might want to get ready to make this treat yourself.

It’s easy to cook the marzipan, and recipes are widely available. The only problem is that, unless you’re an expert in shaping pastry by hand, you’ll need martorana molds. If you happen to see any martorana molds on your shopping expedition, seize the moment, buy them and bring them home. The few bakeries in the U.S. specializing in this art typically use molds imported from Sicily.

15. Vintage Embroidered Linens

Some homes and guest houses in Sicily still display beautiful embroidered linens that are made on the island. In fact, Sicily has a long tradition of embroidery and the manufacture of fine fabrics. During a time of Muslim domination in the ninth century, rulers set up textile workshops in places that included Palermo.

A textile art, that continued being practiced from then on over the centuries, was sfilato, a needlework technique in which linen is embroidered with colorful threads in beautiful designs. In the flea markets and antique stores of Palermo, you might find vintage embroidered linens such as tablecloths and bed sheets.

Alternatively, during your cruise to Italy, head to the eastern side of the island, where this ancient art is still alive.

intricate pillow embroidery from palermo, italy

As you tour Palermo, Italy, on your European cruise, enjoy finding treasures to take home with you to commemorate your memorable trip. This remarkable city that’s a blend of East and West like no other Mediterranean locale has things to buy that you can wear, eat, decorate with, play with and use, so you’re sure to find something that suits you perfectly.