We expected Palermo to be gritty, rough-around-the-edges, largely without charm or intrigue. Decades of stories about the economic situation in southern Italy and the considerable Mafia power didn’t give us high hopes, but we also didn’t feel like we could skip the capital city on our trip through Sicily. What we found in Palermo was a city with blemishes, but what city in Italy—or basically anywhere in the world—doesn’t have those? We also found a city that’s a mix of fascinating influences thanks to its location at the crossroads of the Mediterranean and a city with amazing food, friendly people, and a cultural and religious history stretching back for millennia. It’s safe to say that Palermo was more than a pleasant surprise. Here’s a look at some of the fun spots and experiences we uncovered.