This is a guide to all aspects of Palermo and its surroundings: where to stay and eat, what to see and do, how to get around. The island of Sicily is like another world compared to the rest of Italy - only three km away over the Messina Straits. And in fact the people proclaim themselves Sicilians first, with distinct differences in language, culture, food and day-to-day living. Many visitors find this surprising but refreshing. The richness in culture is seen in the architecture, theater, cinema and art found everywhere. Despite the poverty, unemployment and much-publicized Mafia control, it's a vibrant and volatile place but far safer than tourists expect.Sicilians have a strong sense of community, the pace of life is slow, schedules seem to have no importance and it can be simultaneously frustrating, entertaining and totally memorable. But, whether you come here to fish, dive, hike, ski, play golf or trace your family origins, there is plenty that is appealing to visitors. The capital of Sicily is immediately enticing despite its frenetic traffic and heady markets. It's an exciting, in-your-face and up-your-nose kind of city that's brash, fast and loveable - one of those places that is both loathed and loved in almost the same heartbeat. Jamie Oliver accurately described it as modern-day anarchy when he toured in 2005 writing and filming Jamie's Italy (BBC). There is crumbling architectural wealth, the diversity of multi-ethnic communities, an energetic population, tantalizing markets and wonderful coastlines, with the island of Ustica lying just off the coast. You can also retreat to the heights of Monte Pellegrino to the north or to the fine beach of Mondello. Palermo Highlights: Monreale - The ceiling of the church at Monreale in the heights above the city is a stunning example of medieval workmanship, with some of the most important of Christian mosaics in the world. Vucciria Market - The heady delights of Palermo are best experienced on foot in this bustling age-old market. Let your feet do the walking past stalls selling everything from film, batteries and electrical cord to mouth-watering delicacies like sun-dried tomatoes, eggplant and home-made pasta. Mondello - The pleasant beachfront, with fine seafood dining on ceramic plates, is a good excursion from the capital. Monte Pellegrino - Escape from the hustle and bustle of Palermo into the pleasant park area to the sanctuary on top. Bus it or walk to stretch your legs. Ustica - The turtle-shaped island off the coast is a pleasant day-escape from the busy capital. Its sparkling clear waters are perfect for scuba-diving. Monte Iato - This small mountain 30 km west of Palermo is a rocky slope littered with the remains of ancient cities in one of the region's most beautiful areas.