14 Churches in Palermo you simply have to visit

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Behind crumbling façades, protected by monumental wooden doors lie some of the most beautiful feats of architecture in all of  Southern Italy. The churches in Palermo are as diverse as their ancestry, from intricate stucco to golden mosaic-covered ceilings, be prepared for a lesson in opulence.

My love for churches started at a young age, in truth it was the stain-glassed windows that did it for me. Watching the sun seep in through the glass and create colors on the floor absolutely captivated me. To this day, the first thing I do upon setting foot in a church or cathedral is gaze up at the windows.

As with many cities in Southern Italy, Palermo has a church on just about every corner of the street. I was lucky enough to have spent many months in the city chowing down on the famous Palermitan street food and dotting in and out of the many, many churches in Palermo.

The below 14 churches are my absolute favorite, I highly recommend you try and squeeze in as many as possible during your trip to Palermo. Each church is wildly different from the next, some are dripping in gold while others are relatively understated but have a secret rooftop access offering the sweeping views over Palermo.


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Getting around the various churches in Palermo

The first 12 churches mentioned are all within walking distance from the Palermo Cathedral and can be visited while strolling around the Historical Centre of Palermo. Therefore my recommendation would be to simply enjoy Palermo and walk to the various churches.

That being said, walking around while the sun is relentlessly beating down on you might not be everyone’s cup of tea. With summer temperatures upwards of 40°C (104 °F), navigating Palermo can feel like a herculean effort. Below are a few alternatives to help those tired feet out.

GET A LOCAL GUIDE: Take away the hassle of navigating with spotty Google Maps leading you through dodgy streets to churches that are inexplicably closed for the day. For as little as $40 you can get a (private) knowledgeable local guide to show you around for the day.

GRAB AN APE: These typical little three-wheeled vehicles whizz tourists around the city all day long. They are usually parked at the Quattro Canti and a 2-hour ride will set you back €65 ($70). Drivers will quote a higher starting price, do not hesitate to bargain them down.

GETTING TO MONREALE: The Monreale cathedral is not reachable on foot. Consider taking a day trip from Palermo and combining the Cathedral of Monreale with the nearby fisherman village of Cefalu. Check rates and availabilities before going.

Considering renting a car? Learn about driving in Sicily before contemplating renting a car. Trust me, it’s filled with a ton of lifesaving advice and will make the ordeal a whole heck of a lot more fun. Delve into the 15 day trips from Palermo for inspiration on places to visit.

Cathedral of Palermo
The Cathedral of Palermo is but one of the majestic churches in Palermo

The 14 churches in Palermo that are worth visiting

The below list of churches is but a sprinkling of what Palermo has to offer. The keen observer will notice that religious iconography permeates much of the Historical Center of Palermo.

From little makeshift graffiti-drawn shrines to statues of the Blessed Maria encircled with a string of fairytale lights. Be it small or large, each of these places of worship has a neverending supply of fresh flowers and lit candles.

1. Cattedrale di Palermo – Palermo Cathedral

Location: Via Vittorio Emanuele, 90134 Palermo PA, Italy
Entrance Fee: Free; €10 ($11) to access the rooftop and select areas of the cathedral

Kicking off with the impressive Cattedrale di Palermo. The Cattedrale is dedicated to Saint Mary of the Assumption and was originally built in the 12th century. Over the centuries it underwent various rounds of restoration making it the eclectic architectural mix you see today: Arab, Norman, Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque.

While the original structure was reported to have a beautiful wooden ceiling and plentiful mosaics comparable to those of the Palatine chapel, sadly an 18th-century “restoration” meant these were replaced by the stark white-washed walls you see today upon entering the cathedral. Compared to the elaborate outside of the cathedral, the inside is somewhat underwhelming.

Clambering up on the roof to get a view over Palermo however will make the visit worthwhile. Purchase your ticket at the entrance of the cathedral, the ticket allows you access to the rooftop, the Royal Tombs and the Chapel of the Beneficials.


2. Chiesa Inferiore della Cappella Palatina – Palatine Chapel

Location: Piazza del Parlamento, 1, 90134 Palermo PA, Italy
Getting there: 6-minute walk from Palermo Cathedral
Entrance Fee: €12 ($13)

A chapel fit for royals, at least that is what Roger II of Sicily thought when he had the Palatine Chapel built in the 12th century inside the Norman Palace (his humble home at the time). The chapel took a full 8 years to build and is dedicated to Saint Peter. Believe it or not, it was originally intended for the private worship of the King.

What makes this UNESCO-classified Chapel so spectacular is the thousands of hand-painted golden mosaics that create ornate depictions of various biblical scenes. The ceiling and walls are quite literally dripping with gold. The observant traveler might spot the wooden muqarnas, an ancient Muslim architectural element one can also find in Iran & Uzbekistan.

The Palatine Chapel is inside the Norman Palace, the oldest working parliament in the world! Purchase a combined ticket to visit the Royal Appartments, the Royal Gardens and the Palatine Chapel for €12 ($13). The ticket booth is opposite the entrance to the Norman Palace in the small park (here).

Skip the line: Want to know more about the history of the Palatine Chapel and skip the long lines to get in? Book a locally run Art & Architecture Tour and kill two birds with one stone. Also includes the Cathedral of Palermo and the Teatro Massimo Opera House.


3. Chiesa e Monasterio di Santa Caterina d’Alessandria – Church and Monastery of Santa Caterina d’Alessandria

Location: Piazza Bellini, 1, 90133 Palermo PA, Italy
Getting there: 7-minute walk from Palermo Cathedral
Entrance Fee: €3 ($4) church, €5 ($6) rooftop or convent, €10 ($11) church, monastery and roof

This 14th-century Roman Catholic church and convent is one of my absolute favorite churches in Palermo. The jaw-dropping interior has decorative elements from the Renaissance, Baroque, Late-Baroque and Roccoco era which translates into a dazzling area of colored marble, intricate stucco and beautiful frescoes.

As you walk into the church, make sure to look up at the first floor. Back in the day, this floor was not accessible to the public and solely for the nuns living in the convent. They would follow the mass, hidden behind a mesh of steel wires meant to shield them from the eye of the public.

To access both the convent and the roof head back towards the entrance of the church, past the ticket booth, turn left and walk up one flight of stairs. Show your tickets to the staff and they will allow you to enter the monastery and gardens (on your right-hand side) or direct you towards the stairs leading up to the roof (on your left-hand side).

The roof has two viewing platforms, both of which offer some of the best views over Palermo.

Get the inside scoop: Travelers looking to get a bit more information about the church and convent as well as its surroundings might want to consider taking a locally-run guided tour. Includes a visit to the rooftop of the church, the convent and the bakery inside the convent still run by the nuns.



4. Chiesa di San Cataldo Palermo – Church of San Cataldo Palermo

Location: Piazza Bellini, 1, 90133 Palermo PA, Italy
Getting there: 7-minute walk from Palermo Cathedral
Entrance Fee: €2.5 ($3) – €1.5 ($2) if you also purchase a ticket for Chiesa di Santa Maria Dell’Ammiraglio

This UNESCO-classified Church of San Cataldo is one of the oldest churches in Palermo dating back to the 12th century. You will find no-frills, stucco or even frescoes on the inside but an intimate, sturdy little church that has withstood invasions, earthquakes and everything else thrown at it.

The red-domed church was built in a typical Arab-Norman architecture, the typical use of mosaics can be found not on the walls but on the floor.

Head towards the entrance (on the side of Piazza Bellini), push back the curtain and purchase your ticket at the little desk. You might be asked to wait outside a few minutes before entering. As the church is tiny, only a small number of visitors may step inside at any given time.


5. Chiesa di Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio – Church of Saint Mary of the Admiral

Location: Piazza Bellini, 1, 90133 Palermo PA, Italy
Getting there: 7-minute walk from Palermo Cathedral
Entrance Fee: €2.5 ($3) – €1.5 ($2) if you also purchase a ticket for Chiesa di San Cataldo

Located right next to the Chiesa di San Cataldo lies the UNESCO- classified Santa Maria Dell’Ammiraglio church. Yet another beautiful example of the eclectic styles of churches that can be found in Palermo. This little church is in fact the seat of the parish of the Italo-Albanians, dedicated to George of Antioche.

Built in the 12th century, architecturally it is a mix of Byzantine and Islamic with golden mosaics, lavish golden iconography and wooden beams painted with inscriptions in Arabic. Despite its opulent decoration, the low light filter into the church gives it a wonderfully intimate atmosphere.

The church is Catholic but follows the rituals of the Eastern Orthodox Church.


6. Chiesa Del Gesù (Casa Professa) – Church of the Gesù

Location: Piazza Casa Professa, 21, 90134 Palermo PA, Italy
Getting there: 7-minute walk from Palermo Cathedral
Entrance Fee: Free of charge

My absolute favorite church is the Casa Professa, also known as the Church of the Gesù. Behind an austere façade lies one of the most beautiful churches in Palermo. Stepping inside this 16th-century Jesuit church is like entering the equivalent of Baroque heaven.

Every inch of spare space covered is covered in expensive marble carvings or beautiful handpainted frescoes and lavish stucco work. Aside from the Orvieto Cathedral, I have never seen such an impressive array of marble.

The church underwent significant restoration after it was damaged during WWII when a bomb exploded nearby and collapsed the dome of the church causing irreparable damage to the surrounding walls and frescoes.

Good to know: It took me five visits to be able to see inside the church. The opening hours depicted for this church do not seem to be entirely correct. Your best bet is to go in the morning (before 12.30 PM).


7. Chiesa Di Santa Maria Dello Spasimo (Lo Spasimo) – Church of Santa Maria Dello Spasimo

Location:  Via dello Spasimo, 15, 90133 Palermo PA, Italy
Getting there: 19-minute walk from Palermo Cathedral
Entrance Fee: Free of charge

The 16th-century church was initially supposed to be a Gothic masterpiece with an original Raphael painting in the heart of the oldest neighborhood of Palermo. Sadly the church was never finished as an impending Turkish invasion meant all funds were diverted to the fortification of Palermo.

As for the Raphael painting, that was clandestinely sold to Philip IV of Spain and is now hanging in the Prado museum in Madrid. The church was never consecrated and these days is a very popular location among young Palermitans who do no wish to get married in an actual church.

You might have seen images of this church with a beautiful tree growing from the center. Upon visiting in June 2022 I was saddened to discover the tree had been chopped down.

Local Tip: The large green space sprawling in front of Lo Spasimo, known as Piazza Magione is a very popular hangout place for locals. Friday and Saturday evening (after 22.00 PM) every inch is covered by people drinking and having a good time.


8. San Giovanni degli Eremiti – St John of the Hermits Monastery

Location: Via dei Benedettini, 16, 90134 Palermo PA, Italy
Getting there: 7-minute walk from Palermo Cathedral
Entrance Fee:
€6 ($7)

The first recorded religious buildings on this site date back to the 6th century AD. The site that now contains the UNESCO-classified Benedictine Church and Monastery was restored in the 11th century by Roger II of Sicily, the red domes are a remnant of the then prevailing Arab-Norman architecture.

When visiting you will first step into a beautiful lush garden (offering a great respite from the blistering heat), next comes the (empty) domed church and finally the convent with views of the Norman Palace in the background.

Prior to 2020, it was possible to climb to the first floor of the Monastery, this is no longer possible for safety reasons.


9. Campanile & Chiesa di San Giuseppe Cafasso – Church and belltower of San Giuseppe Cafasso

Location: Via dei Benedettini, 16, 90134 Palermo PA, Italy
Getting there: 7-minute walk from Palermo Cathedral
Entrance Fee: Church is free of charge, belltower €3 ($4)

The 14th-century Baroque church known as the Church of San Giuseppe Cafasso has been dedicated to a variety of different orders and saints over the centuries. In fact, the current dedication to Joseph of Cafasso (patron saint of prisoners) is relatively recent dating back to 1953.

As far as the church goes, it is your standard run-of-the-mill Sicilian Baroque interior. Yes it is impressive but does not compare to the other churches in Palermo. The real reason the visit is the views you get from climbing the belltower. It offers the very best viewpoint over the St. John of the Hermits Monastery, yet has someone remained unknown to both locals and tourists alike.

Climbing the belltower will require you to wear a hard hat, this is provided upon payment of the entrance fee. Trust me, you will want to keep the hard hat on when walking up the wrought iron staircase to avoid knocking yourself on the head.


Views from the rooftop of de Santissimo Salvatore Church in Palermo

10. Chiesa del Santissimo Salvatore – Church of the Holy Savior

Location: Via Vittorio Emanuele, prima del n.398, 90134, PA, Italy
Getting there: 5-minute walk from Palermo Cathedral
Entrance Fee: Church is free of charge, belltower €2.5 ($3)

In the middle of the busy Vittorio Emanuele stands the very unassuming Church of the Holy Savior. Legend has it that the 12th century Constance, Queen of Sicily was once confined in these very walls as a child, at least in the monastery that stood on this very site until the 16th century.

The current church was built in the early 16th century according to then the prevailing Baroque style. Sadly during WWII much of the Historical Center was destroyed due to allied bombing and the interior of the church did not survive. What you see today is the work of many years of restoration.

My favorite part is not so much the church as a visit to the much lesser-known rooftop terrace which has 360° views over Historical Palermo. Small information boards tell you the names of the various churches and palaces sprawled out in front of you.

How to gain access to the rooftop: With the entrance of the church to your back turn right on Via Vittorio Emanuele, take the first little street on the right and head into the first door you see on your right. Inside, at the foot of the stairs will be a desk where you can pay €2.5 to access the stairway.


11. Chiesa di Santa Maria della Catena – Church of Saint Mary of the Chain

Location: Piazzetta delle Dogane, 1, 90133 Palermo PA, Italy
Getting there: 15-minute walk from Palermo Cathedral
Entrance Fee: Free

A small 15th-century church with the very best views in all of Palermo, Historical Palermo on one side and unimpeded vistas over the port of Palermo on the other. The location right by the waterfront meant it was once the anchor point for the chain that historically was used to close the port to stop invaders ransacking Palermo.

According to legend, one faithful day in 14th century Palermo it was raining cats and dogs. Three prisoners who had been condemned to death on the nearby Piazza Marina sought shelter in the church and prayed to the fresco of the Virgin Mary nursing her child. As they prayed, their chains were miraculously broken. The King granted them a pardon and their lives were spared!

That very same fresco can still be seen in the church today. The church itself is cute and worth a visit of you have some spare time while wandering around Palermo.

Foodie Tip: Just around the corner you can find the best spot to grab the famous spleen sandwich of Palermo. Learn more about where locals get their Palermitan street food.


12. Chiesa del Carmine Maggiore – Church of Carmine Maggiore

Location: Piazza del Carmine, 1, 90134 Palermo PA, Italy
Getting there: 8-minute walk from Palermo Cathedral
Entrance Fee: Free

The Church of Carmine Maggiore is nestled inside the folds of Ballaro. Its origins date back to the 13th century when it was built by the Carmelite order. The current version of the church as you see it today is a 17th-century rebuild in the then prevailing Baroque style revering the Virgin Madonna del Carmelo.

What sets this church apart is first and foremost the opulent dome, tiled with colorful maiolica and supported by Atlanteans (gargantuan male statues). The dome sits atop the convent, which can be visited in conjunction with the church.

The second reason to pop in is to take a peek inside to see the impressive stucco scenes by the famous Palermitan sculpture Giacomo Serpotta. They flank the two main chapels depicting various scenes from the life of the Holy Virgin and Christ.

Foodie Tip: Located in the heart of Ballaro, the church is surrounded by plenty of local restaurants. Read on about typical Sicilian dishes so you know exactly what to order!


Cathedral of Monreale Sicily

13. Cattedrale di Monreale – Cathedral of Monreale

Location: Piazza Guglielmo II, 1, 90046 Monreale PA, Italy
Getting there: 1h40 walk from Palermo Cathedral
Entrance Fee: Cathedral is free of charge, Invest in the €6 ($7) ticket including Monreale Cathedral’s Ruano Chapel, the Benedictine Cloister, and the terraces of Monreale C
athedral

The UNESCO-classified Cathedral of Monreale is an architectural masterpiece. Built in the 12 century by the Norman King Willem II of Sicily. Legend has it Willem fell asleep under a carob tree, the Holy Virgin appeared in a dream and suggested he build a church right here.

Upon purchasing your ticket, you have the option to get a free audioguide (works through a system of QR codes that you can scan with your phone). Once you walk in, the grandness of the Cathedral becomes apparent almost immediately. A portion of the ceiling is covered with 6,500 m2 of tiny glass mosaics depicting various Saints and Biblical scenes. It’s impressive, believe me!

Combine your visit of the Cathedral with the Benedictine Cloister located a 2 min walk from the Cathedral. Step out of the Cathedral and turn left, next turn left again (hugging the cathedral) and cross the little piazza (square). The visit to the Benedictine Cloister is included in your ticket for the Cathedral of Monreale.

Save your pennies: Monreale is very close to the quaint fisherman village of Cefalu, both can be visited together in a comfortable day trip from Palermo. Booking a day-tour combining Monreale and Cefalu. The tour is actually pretty solid value for money as it turns out to be cheaper than renting a car for a day! Additionally, it ensures you can avoid driving in frantic Palermitan traffic.

Read More: Monreale is but one of the many little villages in Sicily worth a visit. Uncover 12 more of the most charming Sicilian villages or read up on 15 day trips from Palermo to add them to your itinerary.


Santuario di Santa Rosalia Palermo Sicily
One of the churches in Palermo with the best views over the whole city

14. Santuario di Santa Rosalia – Sanctuary of Santa Rosalia

Location: Via Bonanno Pietro, 90142 Palermo PA, Italy
Getting there: 2h walk from Palermo Cathedral
Entrance Fee: Free

Perched 600 meters above sea level on the top of Monte Pellegrino lies the Sanctuary of Santa Rosalia. Getting there involves a supremely scenic drive through winding roads. The Sanctuary was erected in the 17th century when the alleged bones of Santa Rosalia were found on the site. After parading the bones through the city, the plague mysteriously stopped wreaking havoc on the city of Palermo.

Saint Rosalia was promptly named the fourth female patron saint of Palermo and a sanctuary was built! Although the façade looks like a church, after heading inside you will soon find the sanctuary was actually built inside the rock wall, forming a cave-like appearance.

Visiting Santuario di Santa Rosalia can be done in two ways. You can either hike (a one-hour steep climb along the Via al Santuario di Monte Pelegrino starting here) or drive up. If you drive, time your visit close to sunset. Visit the Sanctuary first, then drive up to the Belvedere di Monte Pellegrino to see the sun setting from the very best viewpoint over Palermo.

Map of churches in Palermo Sicily

This map shows the first 12 churches and cathedrals described in this article, the latter two can be found in this interactive Google Map.

Map of churches in Palermo

Fresco in one of the churches in Palermo

Practical information for visiting churches in Palermo

My number one tip is to always bring cash when exploring Palermo. If an entrance fee is required, it will usually have to be paid in cash, the churches are no different. Aside from the Palatine Chapel, the other churches do not have a card machine available to use.

Dresscode for visiting Palermitan churches

When visiting a church anywhere in Italy, it is advised to be modest in your clothing. Women are requested to cover their shoulds and knees when possible.

The cathedral of Monreale will require tourists wearing revealing clothing to purchase a cover-up for €1.5 (available at the entrance). Other churches in Palermo will usually not stop you from entering the premise and visiting, however it is considered a sign of disrespect if you waltz in with clothing that does not follow guidelines.

Opening hours to churches are fuzzy at best.

The opening hours for any business or place to visit in Sicily as indicated on Google are to be taken with a grain of salt. Popular tourist hotspots (Norman Palace, Palermo Cathedral) depict the correct hours and can be trusted, all the rest however is heavily dependent on the weather.

Yes you read that right, when the weather is good it is the Palermitans moral imperative to head to the beach or at the very least indulge in a very, very long lunch break. Life runs at a different pace in Southern Italy, be mindful of this when visiting.

Generally speaking, your best bet is to visit in the morning between 09.00 AM and 12.30 PM; lunch breaks are held from 13.00 PM up to around 16.00 PM after which the churches might reopen until around 18.00 PM.

Churches in Palermo Sicily San Giovanni Degli Eremiti

Where to stay when visiting Palermo?

Cathedral View Appartments, image courtesy of booking.com

RECOMMENDED: Cathedral View Appartments

The accommodation with the absolute best view in all of Palermo. Set in the Historical Center of Palermo, right opposite the stunning Cathedral in a historical 17th-century palazzo.

La Terraza sul Centro, image courtesy of booking.com

VALUE FOR MONEY: La Terraza sul Centro

Located a 2-minute walk from Piazza Pretoria, this accommodation is great for travelers looking to get value for money accommodation with an unbeatable location.

B&B Dimora Tomasi, image courtesy of booking.com

CENTRAL & PEACEFUL: B&B Dimora Tomasi

Top-rated B&B Dimora Tomasi is located in one of the oldest neighborhoods of Palermo, in possibly the most beautiful Palazzo in the whole city. Palazzo Cammarata is a favorite of both locals and tourists.


MORE TRAVEL RESOURCES FOR VISITING ITALY

SicilyThe best areas to stay in Sicily, and which ones to avoid!
SicilyQuaint little villages to explore while visiting Sicily
SicilyA local guide to the best Palermitan street food
Sicily20 things to do in Palermo
Sicily – 15 day trips from Palermo
Sicily – 15 day trips from Catania
ItalyComprehensive guide to being a vegetarian in Italy including regional specialties
Northern Italy One to two-week road trip guide to Northern Italy
Umbria10 Medieval villages you never knew existed but need to explore

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Caroline Muller

Thanks for dropping in! With this blog I hope to harness the power of travel to do good in the world. Think connecting with local cultures, sustainable tourism and in-depth guides to known and lesser-known adventures. 

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