The 15 Best Things to Do in Palermo (All Highlights)
You’re planning to visit Palermo, the capital of Sicily, during your next trip?
To help you plan your stay in town, I have prepared a list of the 15 best things to do in Palermo, with all the points of interest. As always, it’s accompanied by my best tips!
In addition, I will also give you examples of itineraries to visit Palermo in 1, 2 or 3 days without missing any must-see attractions. And at the end of the article, you will find the list of my favorite hotels in town. Yep, the ones offering the best value for money in the city!
So, what are the best places to visit in Palermo?
Let’s find out and plan your stay!
- The 15 Best Things to Do in Palermo (All Highlights)
- Visit Palermo: Points of Interest and Must See Attractions
- 1. Palace of the Normans
- 2. St. John of the Hermits
- 3. Palermo Cathedral
- 4. Ballaro Market
- 5. Quattro Canti
- 6. The Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele
- 7. Palermo Regional Archaeological Museum
- 8. Sicilian Regional Art Gallery, in Abatellis Palace
- 9. Foro Italico
- 10. The Botanical Garden and Villa Giulia
- 11. Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo
- 12. Palermo palaces
- 13. Visit Churches in Palermo
- 14. The cathedral of Monreale
- 15. Mondello Beach
- How many days to visit Palermo?
- 1 day in Palermo
- 2 days in Palermo
- 3 days in Palermo
- Where to stay in Palermo
- Where to eat in Palermo
- Palermo Tourist Map
- You’re traveling in Sicily? These articles will help you!
- Visit Palermo: Points of Interest and Must See Attractions
Visit Palermo: Points of Interest and Must See Attractions
1. Palace of the Normans
Let’s start this list of the best things to do in Palermo, with one of the most visited monuments, the Norman palace (Palazzo dei Normann in italian). Just so you know, it’s sometimes also called Royal Palace of Palermo.
The Norman palace, located on Piazza Independenza, is the perfect representation of the cultural mix in Palermo. Built to accommodate Arab emirs, it was then occupied by the Normans who expanded it, and then by the Spaniards. Nowadays, it’s the headquarters of the Sicilian Regional Assembly.
The architectural style is cosmopolitan and keeps traces of the different nations that inhabited it. In the Palace, what I preferred was the courtyards, gardens and King Roger’s Room. The hunting scenes mosaics are impressive!
But the Norman palace’s jewel is the Palatine chapel, a masterpiece of Arab-Norman-Byzantine style. The chapel was commissioned by King Roger II to accommodate the royal family’s masses.
The most impressive thing in the Palatine chapel are the magnificent golden mosaics, decorating both walls and ceiling. Some of them even represent human figures, which wasn’t common at the time.
It’s the most beautiful Byzantine chapel in Palermo, and is considered by many to be the most beautiful church in Sicily.
If you plan to visit the Palace of the Norman during your stay, you can find the latest information, including opening hours, on the Palace official website.
2. St. John of the Hermits
Next to the Norman palace, you can visit St. John of the Hermits (San Giovanni degli Eremiti in Italian), a medieval Norman church.
Famous and easily recognizable by its bright red domes from the outside, the interior is also worth a look. The cloister and gardens are really beautiful, a great place rest from the hustle and bustle of city life.
The church itself is very simple, with a clever mix of Muslim and Norman style.
3. Palermo Cathedral
Not far from the Palace of the Norman, go up the street in Via Vittorio Emanuele and you will find Palermo 2nd must-see monument: the Palermo Cathedral. It’s for me the best place to visit in the capital of Sicily!
From the outside, the cathedral is simply magnificent. I was particularly impressed by this large building unique architecture, a true melting pot of styles, much nicer on the outside than the Norman palace!
You can visit the crypt and see the tombs of kings and queens, including the tomb of King Roger II. There is also the treasury of the cathedral, a collection of royal jewellery from the 12th century.
While you’re here, you should really climb up on the cathedral roofs to admire a beautiful panorama over the whole city.
4. Ballaro Market
As you may know if you have read some of my articles, I am a foodie! I really enjoy walking around the market stalls to taste local specialities.
In Palermo, I recommend you to visit Ballaro Market, one of the largest and most typical of the city.
In this colorful market, you can find Sicily best produces, and that includes fruits, vegetables, cheese and of course fish. And all this at unbeatable prices!
In addition to the food stalls, they also sell dishes, electronic products and many other cheap things.
5. Quattro Canti
The Quattro Canti crossroads, known as the “Four Corners” in English, marks the intersection of the 2 main streets of Palermo, the Via Vittorio Emanuele (the street where the cathedral is located) and the Via Maqueda which leads to the Massimo theatre.
When you visit Palermo, your should really take a walk around this crossroads to admire these 4 perfectly symmetrical facades. All are built on the same model: at the base, a fountain representing the seasons; at the first level, the statues of the kings of Palermo and at the last level, the representations of the 4 patron saints of Palermo.
If you have had the chance to visit Rome, the Quattro Canti will maybe remind you the “Quattro Fontane”, from which it is greatly inspired.
6. The Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele
From the Quattro Canti, take the Via Maqueda, leading you straight to the Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele, another point of interest in Palermo.
The Massimo Theatre of Palermo, inaugurated in 1897, was Italy‘s largest opera house and the third largest in Europe. Just Behind Paris and Vienna Opera Houses! Its huge size was controversial at the time, many people wondering if Palermo really needed such an opera.
It quickly became one of the most famous theatres in Italy, thanks to the quality of the plays and operas performed there.
Closed in 1974, it only reopened in 1997 after 23 years of work accompanied by political scandals and corruption.
Today, the theatre keeps hosting world-class operas. The tickets are pretty expensive, but the theatre also organizes guided tours every day. Several packages with or without backstage access are available. The complete visit costs 20€, and it allows you to access the Opera Terrace for a 360-degree view of Palermo.
Find all the information about the Massimo theatre on the official website
7. Palermo Regional Archaeological Museum
The Palermo Regional Archaeological Museum is located close to the Massimo Theatre, in an old palace.
On 3 floors, it houses an impressive collection of Etruscan, Roman, Egyptian and Greek works, some of them coming from the famous Selinunte temples site.
The works are well presented and the setting is particularly pleasant: beautiful courtyards with exotic trees and refreshing fountains. A perfect place for a quiet cultural visit!
And the best thing? The admission to the museum is free, so no excuse for not going!
8. Sicilian Regional Art Gallery, in Abatellis Palace
Another museum to visit in Palermo is Sicily Regional Art Museum.
It’s located in Abatellis palace, a Catalan Gothic palace, former residence of Francesco Abatellis, port master of the Kingdom of Sicily.
The regional museum has an important collection of paintings, statues and frescoes.
Must see: the “Triumph of Death” fresco (anonymous work), The “Virgin Annunciate” by Anthony of Messina, Eleanor of Aragon bust and the “Malvagna” tryptic, painted by Mabuse.
9. Foro Italico
The Foro Italico is a large public garden located by the sea.
It is the ideal place to take a break from the hustle and bustle of downtown Palermo. There is also a seaside walk and a few trees to enjoy some shade.
If you’re traveling in Sicily with children, you can go relax there a bit, there is a playground and a huge lawn to play.
Great place for a short break between visits of the historical monuments of Palermo.
10. The Botanical Garden and Villa Giulia
For even more greenery, you can also go to Palermo Botanical Garden, located not far from the Foro Italico, on Via Lincoln.
Take a walk in the shady alleys to enjoy the freshness. The botanical garden is home to several species of Mediterranean and exotic trees and plants, many fruit trees such as orange and lemon trees and greenhouses. Don’t miss the giant ficus with intertwined branches, the most famous tree in the garden.
The entrance is paid (5€ standard rate), but the botanical garden still lacks some maintenance.
My advice: If you don’t want to pay for the botanical garden, but still want a bit of shade, you can go to Villa Giuilia, adjacent to the botanical park.
The access is free and locals love this place! It’s a the most beautiful public garden in Palermo, with statues, fountains and many benches to rest. At the bottom of the garden, you will even find a café to quench your thirst.
11. Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo
If you’re looking of an unusual visit during your trip to Palermo, you should definitely visit the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo (Catacombe dei Cappuccini in Italian). Yes, these catacombs are one of the best places to visit in Palermo, and for sure the most memorable place I visited during my stay.
Originally, only monks were allowed to be buried in Capuchin Monastery Catacombs. But as time went on, many Sicilians, mostly from noble families, asked to be buried there.
Thanks to a dehydration and embalming process, the bodies were very well preserved. In their will, the deceased even chose the clothes they wanted to be embalmed in. The families could visit them and make donations to the monastery, allowing the monks to maintain the bodies.
Thanks to these gifts, the catacombs have been preserved for centuries.
Today, the catacombs counts almost 8,000 mummies and are divided into several sections: monks, women, men, children, etc… The visit is particularly impressive because most of them are displayed hanging on the walls and still extremely well preserved.
The best known mummy and one of the best preserved in the world is Rosalia, a 2 years old girl who died of pneumonia. Her hair and face are so well preserved, it really looks like she is asleep. Quite creepy!
Of course, I don’t recommend you to go there with young children.
Please note that taking photos is forbidden in the catacombs.
12. Palermo palaces
In addition to the Norman palace, the city of Palermo is full of palaces to visit or just to admire. Some are more or less well preserved.
Here is the list of my favorite palaces to discover during your visit to Palermo:
- Gangi palace: This sumptuous palace is well known for being the place where “The Leopard” movie by Luchino Visconti was shot. The Gangi family still lives here, so the palace has preserved all its former splendor. You can’t visit it on your own, as you need to book before for a group of at least 20 people.
- Chiaramonte Steri Palace: the palace is reputed to have been the headquarters of the Inquisition Court for more than 150 years. You can discover the prisons cells, covered in graffiti made by prisoners with their blood and urine and learn more about the horrors of torture during Inquisition.
- Mirto palace: A splendid palace with authentic decoration and original furniture. It represents the lifestyle of a wealthy Palermo family of the 18th century.
- The Zisa palace houses the Museum of Islamic Art. Nice to see from the outside, but I don’t recommend you to pay for the visit. The inside isn’t super interesting.
13. Visit Churches in Palermo
If you like to visit places of worship, then Palermo is the right place for you with its countless churches.
Here is a list of my favorite churches to see in Palermo:
- Co-Cathedral of St. Mary of the Admiral (The Martorana): famous for its magnificent golden mosaics
- San Cataldo Church, for its unusual architecture. It doesn’t look like a Christian building at all!
- Santa Caterina Church, a magnificent baroque church
- Santa Maria della Catena with a very simple interior decoration
- Church of the Gésu, the largest baroque building in Palermo
- Saint Dominique Church
- San Antonio Abate Church
- Church of Saint Matthew of Palermo
- Carmine Maggiore Church
14. The cathedral of Monreale
If you are staying a few days in Palermo, i highly recommend you to visit the Cathedral of Monreale.
This must-see attraction is located 40 minutes by car from the centre of Palermo and it would be a shame to miss. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s a masterpiece of architecture, especially on the inside.
This Norman-Byzantine style church used to have 2 towers. After being struck by lightning, it now only have 1 and a half.
It’s when you will get inside that you will really be amazed! it’s covered with more than 6,500 square metres of gilded mosaics, depicting scenes from the New and Old Testament. Stunning!
Next to the cathedral, you can also admire the cloister. It’s really beautiful, and every columns has its own unique decoration.
After your visit of the cathedral, you should take a stroll in the town of Monreale, to enjoy some beautiful viewpoints.
15. Mondello Beach
After all these historical and cultural visits, why not go to the beach? After all, you are also in Sicily to enjoy the joys of the sea, aren’t you?
From Palermo you can reach Mondello beach in 30 minutes by car.
With its fine sand and clear water, it’s Palermitans’ favorite beach. You will find a lot of deckchairs to rent, but there is also a free public area where you can put your towel. And if you’re looking for restaurants and snacks, there are many!
Well, I prefer to warn you, you will not be alone! On the other hand, with its shallow water, it’s the ideal place if you have children.
How many days to visit Palermo?
This is a question many travellers ask themselves. Personally, I would advise to spend at least 2 nights in Palermo during your trip to Sicily, to have 2 full days in the city.
If you wish to have time to visit Palermo and its surroundings, I recommend you to spend 3 days in Palermo.
1 day in Palermo
For a day in Palermo, I advise you to focuse on the following points of interest:
- Visit the Palace of the Norman
- Go take a few pictures of St. John of the Hermits, close to the Palace of the Norman
- Visit the inside (and roof) of Palermo Cathedral
- Lunch Break
- Stroll through the streets of the historic centre to admire churches and palaces.
- Take a walk on Foro Italico
- Enjoy a moment of relaxation in the botanical garden or in Villa Giulia gardens.
2 days in Palermo
If you plan to stay 2 days in Palermo, you just can do as described above for the 1st day and add:
- Start you day a the Ballaro market to immerse yourself in local products and flavours
- Visit the Massimo Theatre or the Palermo Regional Archaeological Museum.
- Lunch Break
- Go to the town on Monreal to visit the famous Monreale Cathedral
- Stroll through Monreale village to enjoy the nice viewpoints.
3 days in Palermo
During the last 2 days, you had the opportunity to see a lot of the city of Palermo. In 3 days in Palermo, you will also have time to:
- Visit the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, to live an unusual (and quite creepy!) experience
- Visit Mirto Palace to immerse yourself in the lifestyle of a noble 18th century family
- Lunch Break
- Enjoy an afternoon of relaxation on Mondello beach: taking a nap on the beach, swimming in warm crystal clear water, enjoying some ice-cream…
Where to stay in Palermo
- A casa di Amici: Located 1km from the cathedral, this youth hostel offers beds in dormitory from 20€, breakfast included. Strong points: the geographical location, the terrace, the fact it’s super clean, the comfortable beds and the shared areas.
- Due Passi: B&B located 500 meters from the Massimo Theatre. Modern and bright double room from 63€ per night, breakfast included. Strong points: very pleasant neighborhood, B&B well located, the warm welcome and availability of the hosts, quiet place and very good breakfast. This hotel offers the best value for money in Palermo under 100€!
- Alma Hôtel: Located 450 metres from the Massimo Theatre and 1.5 km from the Cathedral of Palermo. Very modern and stylish double room from 130€, breakfast included. What I liked: adorable owners giving lots of good advice, the rooms quality, and of course, the exceptional breakfast with home-made cakes.
- Porta Di Castro: Located in the heart of Palermo old town, at only 5 minutes on foot from Palermo Cathedral. Superb double room starting at 150€ per night, breakfast included. What I loved: The perfect location, the hotel design, the awesome breakfast, and the very friendly staff. The best hotel for a luxury stay in Palermo!
Where to eat in Palermo
- Lo Scrigno dei Sapori: Located in Piazza Principe di Camporeale, 150 meters from the Zisa Palace. Excellent and generous typical Sicilian cuisine. Fresh produces and catch of the day. Excellent value for money. The entrance and the inside aren’t super nice, but the restaurant hides a nice garden inside. Perfect to have a pleasant evening.
- Torquemada: Located in Via Pignatelli Aragona, 200 meters from the Regional Archaeological Museum. This restaurant offers a wide range of dishes, from pizzas to pasta and fish. All are excellent and generous at a reasonable price, offered with limoncello as bonus. Note that the place is quite noisy, because it’s often really crowded.
- Al fondaco del conte: Located in the historical center of Palermo, on the Piazza Conte Federico. A small quiet restaurant, offering a delicate and refined cuisine. The appetizers are offered, the dishes are tasty and made with quality produces and the desserts are original. All this for a reasonable price, I can only give it a thumbs up!
Palermo Tourist Map
To help you have a better overview of the city, I have made a tourist map with all the places I am talking about in this top 15 things to do in Palermo. You can display the map legend by clicking on the button with the small arrow, in the top left corner.
And you, what did you prefer during your stay in Palermo?
Sicily travel Guides
- Buy the Lonely Planet Sicily guide on Amazon.com or on Amazon.co.uk
- Buy the DK Eyewitness Sicily guide on Amazon.com or on Amazon.co.uk
You’re traveling in Sicily? These articles will help you!
Discover all my articles about Sicily: All my articles to help you plan your trip to Sicily are listed there.
- Itinerary: 10 days in Sicily – with all my best tips + accommodation suggestions! (West coast)
- Agrigento: The 10 best things to do in and around the city
- Taormina: Top 10 things to do and must-see!
- Trapani: The 10 best things to do
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