The capital of Sicily is full of historic sites, great food, and lively markets. Palermo is known for its stunning architecture, fantastic museums, and vibrant food scene. There are many wonderful things to do here. We have compiled this list after spending time in Palermo on our Sicily trip.
1 | How long should you spend in Palermo?
To fully appreciate all Palermo has, we recommend spending at least two days. You will have enough time to explore the city, visit the food markets and take a few tours. You can add a few extra nights to your itinerary if you wish to include day trips.
2 | Explore the Food Markets
Palermo is known for its delicious food. It is home to three amazing local food markets: Mercato Ballaro and Vucciria. Each market is worth a visit, and each one has a different style and size. It’s worthwhile to know what you can expect from each market before you visit them.
3 | Mercato del Ballaro
Mercato Ballaro, located on the south side central Palermo’s main street, is the biggest and most well-known market in the city. From 7 am in the morning until 6-7 pm at night, this area is bustling with activity. Ballaro is a popular tourist destination with its stalls selling food, clothing, and household goods. Ballaro is famous for its amazing seafood, so expect to see many fish stalls selling everything from octopus and sardines.
To avoid heavy crowds in the afternoon/evening, we recommend that you visit the market early in the morning.
4 | Mercato della Vucciria
Mercato Vucciria, a smaller market that is closer to the main attractions of central Palermo, is called Mercato Vucciria. You can find great places to sit down and enjoy a bite at many of the restaurants that line the street.
5 | Mercato del Capo
Mercato el Capo, a small market located just a short distance from the Massimo Theater is just a few streets away. The stalls sell cheese, meat, and fish. This market is more local-oriented than Vucciria and Ballaro, which are more tourist-oriented. It has a more relaxed atmosphere.
Palermo’s food markets are a must-see. We recommend that you visit all three, as each one has its own charm.
6 | Sample the amazing food
Palermo is known for its lively food scene. The city is home to many restaurants and bars that offer some of Sicily’s best food. Palermo is also home to some of the most delicious street food in the country, so you will never run out of places to eat.
Arancini, Pane alla Norma and Pane con la Milza are some of the most well-known foods. Granitas, Granitas, Cannoli, Granitas, and Gelato are also great choices. Served with the famous Aperol Spritz, of course!
7 | Take a Day trip from the city
Palermo’s central location makes it an ideal base to explore some of Sicily’s most beautiful places. It is possible to visit some of the most remote destinations on the island by day trip thanks to the excellent motorway system.
A full guide will be provided on all day trips to Palermo. Our favourites are the Monreale cathedral and Selinunte’s archaeological sites.
8 | Cattedrale di Palermo (Palermo Cathedral)
The incredible Palermo Cathedral is a must-see on any visit to Palermo. The Cathedral of Palermo was built by the Normans in 12th-century Sicily. It is one of Sicily’s most significant structures and one of the city’s most unique buildings. Along with the Cefalu and Monreal cathedrals, the cathedral has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The cathedral is open to all and the main portion of the church can be accessed by everyone. You can also visit the following parts with an additional fee:
- Rooftop with city views
- Sarcophagus with marble sarcophagus in crypt
- The treasury holds many silver and gold treasures.
The total EUR7 price for all access, which includes access to all areas, is more than worthwhile. You can purchase tickets at the kiosk located inside the cathedral. If you are only interested in seeing one or two things, you can buy each entrance separately.
Climbing up to the roof is the best way to see the cathedral. You can enjoy breathtaking views from the rooftop walkway, which is well worth the cost.
The cathedral is open Monday through Saturday, 8am-6pm; Sundays, 8am-1pm; and 4-7pm on Sundays.
9 | Norman Palace and the Palatine Chapel
The Norman Palace, or Palazzo dei Normanni) is located just a short distance from Palermo Cathedral. The Norman Palace, also known as the Royal Palace of Palermo, was once home to the Kings of Sicily in the Norman reign. One of the most prominent attractions in Palermo is the Norman Palace.
10 | Santa Caterina Church (Chiesa di Santa Caterina)
Santa Caterina Church is a hidden treasure in Palermo. Santa Caterina, a Roman Catholic Church located behind the Pretoria Fountains, is well-known for its beautiful interior baroque architectures and sculptures.
The Dominican nuns took over the monastery from its inception 700 years ago until 2014. Visitors can now access the monastery and the church, which also includes a bakery and a terrace with views across the city. The interior of Santa Caterina Church is the main attraction to the monastery. It is truly beautiful.
The monastery and the church are open daily from 9.30am to 7pm. They close at 1.30pm to 3pm every day. You can purchase tickets for various areas: the church is open from EUR3 to EUR7, the monastery and the roof terrace are available from EUR10 to EUR10.
11 | Politeama Theatre
Piazza Ruggero Settimo, on the north side of Palermo’s old town, is seen from Teatro Politeama Garibaldi. It was constructed in neoclassical style and has an impressive frieze of galloping horses at its entrance.
Although you can only visit the interior of the Politeama Theatre if there is a concert going on, it’s worth seeing the beautiful exterior facade. The Hotel Politeama was across the street and overlooked the Theatre.
12 | Wander the streets of the old town
Wandering the streets of Palermo’s old town is one of our favorite things to do in Palermo. The main streets of Palermo are full of pedestrians, food and drink. But a few steps down into the side streets will reveal a quieter side.
Via Vittorio Emanuele was our favourite place to walk around. It is the street that connects the Cathedral with the port. Vittorio Emmanuele is lined by cute shops and restaurants, and is our favorite place in Palermo.
13 | Visit Mondello
The beach town of Mondello, just outside Palermo, is worth a visit if you have the time and desire to enjoy the ocean. Mondello, which has a 1.5km stretch on white sand beach, is one of Sicily’s most popular beaches. The area is popular with tourists and locals who want to take in the beautiful, clear waters on sunny days.
Mondello beach is similar to other beaches in Sicily. It has a small, public area and paid sections. We recommend purchasing a private beach lido if you are planning to stay for more than a few hours. This is a much more comfortable option and well worth the cost for a few hours.
14 | Piazza Quattro Canti
As we were returning from Mercato Ballaro, we happened upon the Quattro Cianti, also known by Piazza Vigliena. The unique piazza has 4 streets that meet and a Baroque building at each corner. The piazza has almost identical sides and is home to statues of four Spanish Kings of Sicily as well as the four seasons and four patronesses.
Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo
One of the most unusual things you can do in Palermo is to visit the Capuchin Catacombs.
The Capuchin Catacombs house the mummified remains from thousands of Palermo residents. The catacombs were created after the Capuchin cemetery in Palermo had reached its capacity at the close of the 15th century. The catacombs grew in size over time as locals were laid to repose in the tunnels.
The catacombs were last buried in 1920. Today, the catacombs house around 8,000 bodies and approximately 1200 mummies that line its corridors and walls. There are different types of burials in the catacombs’ corridors. They include men, women and children.
Visitors can now take a self-guided tour through the catacombs. It is only EUR3 to enter, but it is well worth the effort.
The Praetorian Fountain (Fontana Pretoria)
The Praetorian Fountain, originally from Florence, is a lovely ornate fountain that can be found in Palermo’s historic centre. It is decorated with statues of the 12 Olympians, as well as other mythical characters.
This is a great spot to relax and enjoy street food, people watching and the intricate fountain decoration. It is just around the corner of the Piazza Quattro Cianti.
Church of San Cataldo
From the three red domes atop the roof of the 12th-century Church of San Cataldo, it is immediately recognisable. The church, located at Piana Bellini is listed as one of the Arab-Norman UNESCO World Heritages Sites along with Palermo Cathedral.
Over the years, the church has been used many times. It was most recently a post office in late 18th century. The inside of the church, despite not having frescos and murals, is well worth a visit. Adult tickets cost EUR2.50, while children under 14 get free tickets. All proceeds go towards maintaining the building.
Church of the Martorana (Church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio)
The Palermo UNESCO inscription includes the Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio church, which is located next to the Church of San Cataldo. The interior of the Church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraaglio is known for its exquisite Byzantine mosaics.
The Church of the Martorana is a popular place to visit in Palermo due to its beauty. Palermo’s Church of the Martorana is a must-see because of the incredible detail in the mosaics and frescoes.
15 | Massimo Theatre
The magnificent Massimo Theatre is Italy’s largest opera house. It was home to the first opera, which it performed in 1897. The theatre is still in use today. The theatre’s front entrance was inspired by ancient Greek temples. It also has the largest auditorium in Italy.
Guided tours are available each day for those who want to see the inside of the theatre. The tours last approximately 30 minutes and run from 9.30am to 5:30pm.