Gentle fading palazzos connected through winding alleys interspersed with boisterous markets and opulent churches are but a few delights that await you when visiting the capital of Sicily. From secret rooftop terraces to the best beaches, read on for a local’s guide to 20 things to do in Palermo
The beauty of falling in love with a Palermitan living abroad is the many “obligatory” visits to the family. These numerous trips to Southern Italy combined with an insatiable curiosity and my snap-happy camera have resulted in an overflowing hard drive and a surprisingly deep love for the chaos that is known as Palermo.
Truth be told, Palermo is not the easiest city to get to know. It requires patience and an inquisitive mind to uncover its true beauty. This guide contains 20 things to do in Palermo, the first 15 are “must-sees”. While the last 5 I happened to stumble upon during my many escapades exploring Palermo.
As the Sicilian saying goes “Quannu amuri tuppulìa, ‘un lu lassari ‘nmenzu la via” (When love knocks, be sure to answer). I truly hope that with the help of this guide to Palermo, you will be rushing to answer the knock.
Quick guide to Palermo
WHERE TO STAY
CAR RENTAL: Book your rental car online and pick it up right outside the arrival hall of the airport (information booths are inside, the car itself is parked in the main parking of the airport).
AIRPORT TRANSFER: Take a private transfer between the airport and your hotel in Palermo. Book your transfer in advance.
BIKE AROUND PALERMO: Discover Palermo by bike on a 3-hour bike tour or opt to simply rent bikes to get around the city. Check rates before booking.
USEFUL READING: 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.
Is Palermo safe?
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Yes, there is still Mafia in Palermo today. Contrary to popular belief however, they do not go around advertising their existence. The movies you might have seen are largely based on the Palermo of the late 20th century when Mafia-related assassinations were at their height.
As a tourist, you will not experience the presence of Mafia in any shape or form – so do not let any Godfather’s induced fear prevent you visit this wonderful city. Of course – as with any big city – pickpockets are a thing, so be vigilant in busy areas and keep your belongings close to you.
This said, over the last decade, Palermo invested heavily in the renovation of the Historical Centre, restoring many of the beautiful attractions in Palermo, putting in place solid tourism infrastructure and returning the old heart of the city to its inhabitants and visitors alike.
Learn more about Mafia in Palermo: Take the locally run “No Mafia” walking tour through Palermo. Part of the proceeds go towards Addiopizzo – a charity supporting entrepreneurs who defy Mafia.
Best time to visit Palermo
The short answer is, any time of the year is great to visit Palermo. Things to see and do are abundant and mostly befitting each season. Beaches in the summer, full-on sightseeing in the winter! Palermo has a Mediterranean climate, with mild winters (average temperatures of 16°C/61°F) and blistering hot summers (upwards of 35°C/95°F).
The months of May, September, October and November are my personal favorite. In May locals start going to the beach, the sea is warm and the lack of tourists means the island is nice and peaceful.
September, October and November are still warm (the average temperature in November is 25°C/77°F) without the oppressive mugginess that is omnipresent during the months June, July & August. Avoid the week of ferragosto (mid-August) when all of Italy has their holidays. A trip to Palermo is often a top pick for local holiday-goers ensuring the city is bursting at its seams with tourists.
A brief history of Palermo
Visiting Palermo will bring you to one of the longest continuously inhabited cities outside the Middle East. Palermo was in fact founded by Phoenicians around the 7th century B.C. when it was used as a commercial and logistic center for their sea trade.
Across the centuries, many populations made Sicily’s capital their home: Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, French, Spanish and finally – in 1860 – Garibaldi brought Palermo into the nascent Kingdom of Italy.
This eclectic mix makes for an extremely diverse city, a melting pot of culture where West and East meet. However, it is undeniable that Arabs and Normans are the two populations that left the biggest mark on the cities, creating the unique style of Palermo, known as ‘Arab-Norman’.
Palermo’s recent history is a complex one, marked by many difficult years, most famously due to the scourge of the Mafia. Today the city is experiencing a tourism renaissance, albeit economic difficulties still linger – but do not let this discourage you: The city is a joyous kaleidoscope of colors, smells and sounds. All of which are covered in detail in this guide to Palermo!
15 Things to do in Palermo
The city of Palermo offers a phenomenal mix of culture, architecture and culinary delights to the observant traveler. Historical Palermo with its winding alleys and boisterous markets are positively brimming with energy offering up some of the best places to eat, drink and be merry!
Thanks to a recent infusion of capital, many of the main sights in Palermo received a second lease on life, opening their (restored) doors to curious visitors once again. There is no shortage of things to do in Palermo, conversely choosing what to see & do might prove harder than expected.
1. Visit the Norman Palace & the Palatine Chapel
Location: Piazza del Parlamento, 1, 90134 Palermo PA, Italy
Getting there: 6-minute walk from Palermo Cathedral
Entrance Fee: €12 ($13)
The Palatine Chapel is set inside the Norman Palace, to this day the oldest working parliament still in existence. The chapel is one of the most visited sights in Palermo. Built in the 12th century by Roger II of Sicily as a private chapel inside his “humble” home, the Norman Palace.
With walls positively dripping gold, or rather tiny little golden mosaics that together create ornate depictions of various biblical scenes, it is not hard to see why it continues to entice visitors centuries later.
Buy a combined ticket including entrance to 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: Looking to learn more about the Palatine Chapel and skip the line? Book the Art & Architecture walking tour which also includes the Cathedral of Palermo and the Teatro Massimo.
2. Hunt down the most ornate churches in Palermo
If there is one thing Palermo is not lacking it is churches! One could easily spend a week darting from church to church and never get bored. Byzantine mosaics, arabesque domes, stucco-laced chapels and crumbling staircases leading to sweeping views await the inquisitive.
CHIESA DI SANTA CATERINA D’ALESSANDRIA: A 14th-century church with the most sumptuous Baroque interior. Make sure to head to the roof for the best views over Palermo and escape the heat in the citrus-filled monastery garden.
LA MARTORANA & SAN CATALDO: 12th century Norman Churches located piazza Pretoria. Behind an austere façade, La Martorana houses an opulent interior that combines golden Byzantine-style mosaics with Baroque. San Cataldo looks more like a mosque than a church with its three domes.
LO SPASIMO: An unfinished 16th-century church that was supposed to house a beautiful Rafael painting. The church was never consecrated and the painting was sneakily sold to Philip IV of Spain. Nowadays the space is used for temporary art exhibitions and is a popular wedding venue for locals.
Read More: I have added only 4 churches in this Palermo guide. Want to go on a proper church crawl? Check out 14 churches in Palermo you have to visit.
3. See a performance in Italy’s largest opera house – Teatro Massimo
Location: Piazza Verdi, 90138 Palermo PA, Italy
Getting there: 9-minute walk from Palermo Cathedral
As you stroll through Palermo Old Town chances are high you will spot the domed building of the Teatro Massimo. The 19th-century Opera House is the largest in all of Italy. Although technically built according to the neoclassical style, the exterior has impressive columns which are reminiscent of a classical Greek temple.
Ticket prices for an opera start at €20 ($21). Tickets and the latest calendar can either be found online or in the entrance hall of the opera house.
Get the inside scoop: Not interested in seeing a performance? A guided tour is available for €10 ($11). Includes a visit to the auditorium, the stage and the rooftop! Book tickets online.
4. Go shopping for local Sicilian handicrafts
Sicily is known for its colorful ceramics. To this day, no household is complete without a colorful ceramic pigna (pinecone) to bestow good fortune upon the house. Many of the ceramics sold in souvenir shops along Via Vittorio Emanuele are however overpriced and industrially made.
If you are looking to bring home some ceramics after your trip to Palermo, support the local artisans and head to one of the below-mentioned addresses.
5. Cool down on one of the beaches in Palermo
Getting there: Take bus 806, 544 or 603 from Palermo to Mondello Beach
Cost price: €1.5 ($1.5) single journey
After a day of sightseeing in Palermo, a refreshing dip in the sea is just what the doctor prescribed. Mondello is the closest beach, located 10 kilometers out of the Historical Centre of Palermo. Due to its proximity to the city center, it is a very popular each hangout for locals.
Unlike many of the pebbled-filled beaches in Sicily, Mondello beach is a sandy beach making it a lot more comfortable to lie on (trust me!). Lay your towel on the free beach or pay €15/person to many of the private lidos lining the beach. This fee will include the rental of a sun lounger and umbrella.
6. Try out the famous Palermitan street food
One of the undisputed best things to do in Palermo is trying all the various forms of street food that are ubiquitous around the city. From crunchy fried balls of rice (Arancina) to piping hot sandwiches gorged with cow’s spleen and lungs (Pane con la Milza) the scene is quite diverse.
Head into the Ballaro market to try the typical Pane con la Milza (€3/$3) or Stigghiola (€2/$2), skewered & bbq lambs’ intestines or walk into a rosticceria (bar) to get your hands on a delicious arancina (€1.5/$1.5)
Foodie Tip: There is nobody better to elaborate on the virtues of street food than a true Palermitan. Learn about the history of Palermo, while trying the very best street food in this 3-hour street food tour.
Read More: A finger-licking guide to the street food in Palermo
7. Walk the whole length of the Corso Vittorio Emanuele
Location: Corso Vittorio Emanuele
Length: 1.5 kilometers
What to see: Norman Palace, Palermo Cathedral, Piazza Pretoria, Quattro Canti
One of the two main axes of Palermo Old Town is the Corso Vittorio Emanuele, the oldest street in Palermo. Running for 1.5 kilometers starting at Porta Nuova, around the corner from the Norman Palace at ending at Porta Felice, in front of the Port of Palermo.
Myriads of dark electricity wires run zigzag overhead, connecting many of the main Palermo tourist attractions such as restored palazzos, churches and little souvenir stores. The noise made by swarms of seagulls swarming around is only topped by voracious vendors selling Pane con Meusa (spleen sandwich).
Early mornings are my favorite time of the day when the tourists have not ventured out and the corso is virtually empty aside from a handful of runners and bleary-eyed locals on the hunt for their first coffee of the day.
8. Check out the 4 historical markets in Palermo
Word of caution: The markets are a great spot for both people-watching and tasting local specialties. In true Sicilian style they are loud, busy and very crowded. Be very careful of pickpockets here!
IL CAPO: Once the preferred market of Slave traders under Arab-Norman rule now a souk-like market filled with food peddlers and tiny eateries. Venture off the main axes to get a feel for how the market was prior to the influx of tourists.
BALLARO: The largest of the four historical markets in Palermo and still wonderfully authentic. Untouched by the hands of tourism, it’s rowdy and rougher around the edges.
VUCCIRIA: La Vucciria is no longer a market instead it has transformed into a hotspot for nightlight and plenty of little restaurants. Go either for lunch or after dinner for a great night on the town.
BORGO VECCHIO: While still technically a market, these days it has become a popular hangout for locals looking to have a good time until the wee hours of the morning.
Foodie Tip: Some of the best street food can be found in Ballaro and La Vucciria. There are however an equal amount of tourist traps that have sprung up over the years. Time & budget permitting invest in a knowledgeable local guide to help you navigate in the direction of top-notch food stalls.
9. Meander around the Historical Center
At first glance, navigating the Historical Centre of Palermo should be a piece of cake. As it is seemingly organized around two straight, perpendicular roads intersecting at Quattro Canti forming four distinct sections (the historical neighborhoods of Palermo). Reality however is rarely that simple
Venture deep into the maze of little vicoli (alleys) extending off the main axes. It is here you will find the heart and soul of Palermo. Sprawling fruit & vegetables stands, undergarments on clothing lines, gently decaying buildings and neighbors holding full-blown conversations through their windows, on opposite sides of the street, at the top of their lungs.
It took me a few trips to Palermo to fully appreciate the beauty of this more visceral side of the city. Walking around the little alleys might feel intimidating at first, it surely was for me. But give it a chance, as chaotic as it might seem this is the real Palermo. A local guide is a great alternative to explore this part of Palermo if you are worried about getting lost!
10. Learn how to eat gelato properly
Best Gelato in the Historical Center: Lattepa in città
Location: Via Vittorio Emanuele, 87, 90133 Palermo PA, Italy
Getting there: 13-minute walk from Palermo Cathedral
Ice cream is worshipped in Palermo, where it is eaten throughout the day and even deep into the night. Gelateria are often open until well past midnight, and always heaving with customers.
“You can go on a diet when you go back home, in Palermo we live” was what an owner of a gelateria informed an unsuspecting traveler in front of me. She made the mistake of asking for “one small scoop”. In Palermo, the word “small” and “one scoop” are never uttered in conjunction with gelato. A trip to Palermo is not complete without at least one trip to the Lattepa in città gelateria!
Gelato is eaten in copious amounts, preferably stuffed inside a brioche and topped with a healthy dollop of whipped cream. Unlike in Brussels, you do not pay per scoop. Instead you simply order two (or more) flavors and choose if you would like a cup, cone or brioche. You pay for two flavors, regardless of how much gelato goes inside your holder of choice.
11. Visit the Botanical Gardens of Palermo & stay for an aperitivo
Location: Via Lincoln, 2, 90133 Palermo PA, Italy
Getting there: 20-minute walk from Palermo Cathedral
Entrance Fee: €6 ($7)
One of the most underrated places to visit in Palermo. The Orto Botanico or Botanical Gardens holds 12.000 species of plants, an impressive array of giant focuses and a neoclassical museum filled with plant specimens in amber-colored bottles. Not as large as the Botanical gardens in Leiden but much more picturesque.
The perfect place in Palermo to escape the heat! In summer a pop-up bar is located inside right opposite the entrance. Cocktails are slightly more expensive (€7/$7 for an Aperol Spritz) but the ambiance is unbeatable.
12. Shudder at the Capuchin Catacombs (Catacombe dei Cappuccini)
Location: Piazza Cappuccini, 1, 90129 Palermo PA, Italy
Getting there: 23-minute walk from Palermo Cathedral
Entrance Fee: €3 ($4)
One of the eeriest things to do in Palermo, yet somehow wildly popular among visitors. The only place mentioned in this guide to Palermo that I did not personally visit. These types of things give me the heebie-jeebies. Do not let that stop you though!
Initially, the Catacombs were set up as a private cemetery for the Capuchin friars. After 45 mummified friars were found intact while expanding the cemetery in the 16th century, the catacombs started attracting attention. The intact bodies were displayed much like relics, hung on the wall.
Around the mid-18th century wealthy Palermitans were granted permission to be both interred, and for additional funds mummified. Their bodies on display for loved ones to visit and venerate.
13. Marvel at the many tucked-away Palazzos in Palermo
When the going was good, the Palermitan aristocracy lived an extraordinarily sumptuous life. Where previously the gates to these ornate Palermo attractions were closed to the average joe, they have now flung open their doors inviting inquisitive eyes & much-needed funds for renovations.
PALAZZO MIRTO: Formerly owned by the Filangieri family. Inside you will find opulent Murano chandeliers, tapestries and a beautiful inner courtyard. Visit without a guide available.
PALAZZO CHIARAMENTE-STERI: The residence of Manfredi III Chiarmonte who was an important Sicilian Lord in the 14th century. After the fall of the family, it became the seat of the Inquisition (17th and 18th century). Only guided visits available (in Italian).
PALAZZO ASMUNDO: A 17th-century Baroque palace that is still privately owned to this day. The Palace has some of the best views to be had of the Palermo Cathedral.
14. Find a rooftop bar in Palermo to grab an aperitivo
No Palermo guide is complete without the addition of a few rooftop bars. Drinking a cold Aperol Spritz far removed from the buzzing crowds, between the domes of Palermo is an absolute must.
RINASCENTE ROOFTOP: The terrace of the Rinascente shopping center has had a number of restaurants over the years. The views over Piazza San Domenico and the entrance of the Vucciria are truly unique.
LE TERRAZZE DEL SOLE: A stone’s throw away from the Quattro Canti. Le Terrazza del Sole is the very best rooftop bar in Palermo when it comes to views. Great for a drink, the food however is overpriced and not of great quality.
SEVEN RESTAURANT PALERMO: On the top floor of the Hotel Ambasciatori, SEVEN offers the very best in terms of cocktails, food and views! Come for sunset while nipping a drink and stay for an affordable and delicious meal.
15. Take a Sicilian cooking class
Read before you go: An in-depth guide to Sicilian Cuisine
At the risk of sounding like a walking cliché, a Sicilian cooking class is really worth investing in. Sicilian cuisine is very different from typical Italian cuisine. Traditionally, Sicilian cuisine is a poor man’s cuisine using every ingredient that was on offer.
The history of this little island is reflected in the dazzling array of ingredients used in their cuisine: Rice, saffron, pine nuts, cinnamon, pistachios and of course the everpresent eggplant.
Recommendation: This top-rated 4h30 cooking class combines a visit to one of the Historical Markets in Palermo before heading into the kitchen to create a 4-course meal. Check rates & book.
5 Attractions in Palermo that are not in the tourist guidebooks
The above 15 things to do in Palermo are an absolute must when visiting the city for the first time. I wanted to add a few lesser-known places that you might not necessarily find in your run-of-the-mill Palermo itinerary.
Most of these little spots were stumbled upon by accident, a stroke of pure luck while I aimlessly moseyed through Palermo contemplating if another gelato was warranted (of course it was!).
1. Learn about the coppola and how it is making a comeback
Location: Coppola Mascari – Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, 42, 90133 Palermo PA, Italy
Getting there: 15-minute walk from Palermo Cathedral
The Coppola – a wool flat-cap – is the most traditional Sicilian hat. Thought to have made its way to the island by English emigrants, who were sporting the flat cap which had become immensely popular in 19th century England. Despite this likely foreign origin, the Coppola is still ubiquitous among older gentlemen and became one of the staples of Sicilian iconography.
The Coppola has today lost some of its popularity with younger generations, however it is lately experiencing a revival thanks to some entrepreneurs that are trying to re-propose it with a more modern twist, both in terms of material and design.
Looking to purchase a coppola? Avoid the cheap industrially made coppola found in tourist shops and instead head to Via Giuseppe Garibaldi where you will find plenty of artisanal hatmakers.
2. Venture out to the Zisa Palace (Castello della Zisa)
Location: Piazza Zisa, 90135 Palermo PA, Italy
Getting there: 22-minute walk from Palermo Cathedral
Entrance Fee: €6 ($6)
The Zisa Palace is one of the most underrated places to visit in Palermo. Despite being part of the UNESCO-classified Arab-Norman architecture, its more remote location deters many visitors. Originally built as a summer residence in the 12th century for Norman King Willem I of Sicily.
Keen observers will notice typical Islamic architectural elements such as muqarnas, vaulted niches and Arab inscriptions vaguely reminiscent of architecture found in countries such as Iran and Uzbekistan. The palace is built with very thick walls and tiny windows for optimal temperature control.
Good to know: Truth be told, the walk towards the Zisa Castle from Palermo Cathedral brings you through a neighborhood that is perfectly safe during the day but a little dodgy at night. Aim to be back in Palermo Old Town before dusk.
Get your tickets: Purchase your tickets online before visiting.
3. Clamber up the best viewpoints over the Historical Centre of Palermo
The very best viewpoints over Palermo Old Town are to be found at the top of rickety stairs, rising up from the domed ceilings of a select few churches in Palermo.
CHIESA DI SAN GIUSEPPE CAFASO: For €3 ($3) you can climb the belltower offering a great vantage point over San Giovanni degli Eremiti and the Norman Palace. Palermo Cathedral is visible from a distance. Cover your ears on the hour as the viewing platform is right next to the bell!
CHIESA DEL SANTISSIMO SALVATORE: In the heart of Historical Palermo with sweeping 360° views. This is the very best viewpoint in all of Palermo (in my humble opinion). Cost price €3 ($3) to climb up three flights of stairs.
CHIESA DI SANTA CATERINA D’ALESSANDRIA: Offers the best views over Piazza Pretoria and the 12th century Arab-Norman twin churches San Cataldo and La Martorana. €10 ($10) entrance fee gives you access to the church, the monastery and the rooftop. Make sure to visit both viewing platforms.
4. Go to the fleamarket on Piazza Marina
Location: Piazza Marina
Getting there: 14-minute walk from Palermo Cathedral
Every Sunday morning a flea market is held on Piazza Marina. Everything from antique furniture, ceramics and hand-made jewelry is sold at the market. Before purchasing anything make sure you bargain down the price.
The technical operating hours are between 10.00 and 13.00 yet in the hot summer months, I remember passing by at 09.00 when the market was already set up. It is a safe bet to say around 13.00 most merchants start packing up in order to be home for lunch.
5. Play a game of cards – Sicilian style
Playing cards has a long tradition in Italy, and Sicily is certainly not an exception. In fact the game is played with specific cards that derive from Tarot cards and are inspired by the island’s history. The peculiarity of these cards versus their more famous Poker relatives is that the deck contains a mere 40 cards while the suits are Gold, Clubs, Swords and Cups.
Many a game is possible with these cards. A typical scene often witnessed in villages throughout Sicily is a group of older men passionately playing on a table outside a bar. The most famous games are Briscola, Scopa, Ti Vitti, Cucu’ e Settemmezzo. Learn the rules online – or if you are up for a challenge – directly from one of the many players you’ll see around Sicily.
Where to stay in Palermo
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.
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.
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.
HISTORICAL BEAUTY: Villa Igiea
Once the home to the famous Florio family, the most important family of Sicily. The 20th-century jet-set vacationed here with the Florio family before the palace was turned into a luxury hotel.
What not to do in Palermo
TAKE A HORSEDRAWN CARRIAGE: During summer, it is not uncommon for horses to drop dead while pulling carriages. Sadly there is no form of protection put in place for these animals.
GO ANYWHERE WITHOUT CASH: The card machines in Palermo are often “broken”. Cash payment is encouraged everywhere quite simply because it is easier not to declare it to the taxes.
BE IN A HURRY: Palermo operates at its own (slow) pace. Sit back and relax!
VISIT A CHURCH NAKED: I don’t mean naked naked, rather dressed in a revealing manner. It is heavily frowned upon to enter a church without adhering to the prescribed (modest) dress code.
Palermo things to do sample itinerary
There are a lot of things to see in Palermo, ideally you spend at least 3 full days exploring the city and one day galavanting around Palermo. Life in Palermo proceeds at its own pace, bringing new meaning to “dolce far niente”. So sit back, relax and enjoy the slow experience.
DAY ONE: Norman Palace, Palermo Cathedral, San Giovanni degli Eremiti, Historical Centre, Botanical Gardens
Where to eat: Lunch at Buatta, aperitivo Via Chiavettieri, dinner Sicilò Food & View 360°
DAY TWO: Ballaro & Vucciria historical markets, Chiesa di Santa Caterina, La Martorana & San Cataldo, Local artisanal wares in Via Alessandro Paternostro
Where to eat: Lunch at Dadalia or 3-hour street food tour in the markets, aperitivo in Dal Barone, dinner at Sardina Pasta Bar
DAY THREE: Palazzo Mirto, Palazzo Chiaramonte – Steri, Zisa, Il Capo historical market
Where to eat: Lunch Sicilian cooking class or Castello a Mare, Dinner at rooftop restaurant Seven
Map of the various Palermo tourist attractions
This map contains all the sights covered in this guide to Palermo. The top things to do are indicated with a red dot, the restaurants with a yellow dot and the recommended hotels in purple. Cick on this interactive Google map to have a better view.
Where and what to eat while visiting Palermo
What to eat: Read up on traditional Sicilian dishes
For the vegetarians: It is important to note that Sicilian cuisine relieves heavily on fish, while being a vegetarian in Italy is usually easy peasy I found it significantly harder in Palermo.
When to eat: Lunch between 13.00 and 15.00; aperitivo from 19.30; dinner starting at 20.30
- SEVEN: ($$) A rooftop bar & restaurant with a variety of local specialties.
- GAGINI: ($$$) Recently awarded a Michelin star. Refined local cuisine
- DADALIA: ($$) Set in the lively Vucciria market. Loud, chaotic & very busy with great food
- BUATTA: ($$) Serving the very traditional Sicilian dishes once eaten at grandma’s house
- AJAMOLA: ($$) A restaurant renowned for their fish dishes (not suitable for vegetarians)
- FRANCO U VASTIDDARO: ($) The place to go for Palermitan street food
- PORTA CARBONE: ($) The best spot in town for a spleen sandwich (not suitable for vegetarians)
- SICILO: ($$) Rooftop bar & restaurant. Known for their high-quality raw fish dishes.
Things to do near Palermo
Palermo is the capital of one of the most amazing islands in Europe. It would be a pity not to explore at least a few additional places outside of Palermo!
Read ahead of time: A local survival guide to driving in Sicily, contains plenty of tips on how to navigate the chaotic traffic, how to pay at toll booths and so much more!
You might also like: 15 day trips from Palermo reachable in under 2 hours from the city.
Location: 7 km (4.3 miles) from Palermo Cathedral
Getting there: 30-minute bus ride from Palermo (€/$2 single journey)
Tour options: Combine Monreale & Cefalu from Palermo
The village of Monreale lies on the outskirts of Palermo. It is well worth a half-day visit to explore the UNESCO Arab-Norman Cathedral of Monreale. Pay for the €6 ($7) ticket including Monreale Cathedral’s Ruano Chapel, the Benedictine Cloister, and the terraces of Monreale Cathedral
Location: 70 km (43.3 miles) from Palermo Cathedral
Getting there: 40 to 60-minute train ride from Palermo Centrale to Cefalu (€/$6.2 single journey)
Tour options: Combine Monreale & Cefalu from Palermo
A quaint fisherman village with the surprisingly large and impressive UNESCO Arab-Norman Cathedral of Cefalu. The village has become very popular in recent years due to its pristine beaches and great connection to Palermo. Can be easily combined with a trip to Monreale
Location: 50 km (31 miles) from Palermo Cathedral
Getting there: Will require your own car to get here.
The sleepy village of Caccamo has been kept well-off the tourist radar ensuring it has held on to its authentic village. The Castle of Caccamo is one of the largest & best-preserved Norman castles in Sicily. Unlike the dainty castles in Belgium, this 11th-century castle was built to protect! Entrance fee is €4 ($4).
Aside from the castle, Caccamo has a picturesque 17th-century cathedral located on the equally scenic Piazza Duomo.
Read More: The most charming villages in Sicily
How to get to Palermo from Palermo Airport
The ”Falcone-Borsellino Airport” i.e. the main airport in Palermo is located 35 km outside of the city center. There are a few options to get to Palermo from the airport.
BUS: Buses operated by Prestia e Comandè run every 30 minutes from and to the city center. Tickets cost €6 ($6), ride time 60 minutes. Check schedule and purchase tickets.
TRAIN: Twice hourly trains operated by Trenitalia run between Palermo Airport and Palermo Centrale railway station. Tickets cost €6 ($6), ride time 50 to 70 minutes. Check schedule and purchase tickets.
TAXI: Go to the official taxi stand outside the arrivals terminal for a taxi. Prices vary between €35 ($36) and €45 ($47) depending on the drop-off point.
PRIVATE TRANSFER: By far the most efficient and reliable form of transport. At €25 ($27) it is considerably cheaper than a taxi. Check availability.
How to get around the sights in Palermo
Driving in Palermo
The main Palermo must-see locations are within walking distance of each other. If however Palermo is but a pitstop on a longer trip through Sicily you might have rented a car. In which case you will need to navigate the traffic and most importantly find out where to park.
Parking in Palermo is widely available. The definition of parking is slightly different for the Palermitan though i.e. parking is wherever there is a space that my car will fit. Be it a boardwalk, a small square or a dead-end street.
Be aware: Parking is controlled by the local Mafia. Driving around you will notice people sitting in front of a block of cars. These “parking attendants” are in fact accommodating and will guide you to a parking spot within their block of cars. While the parking space might in theory be free, the “parking attendants” will request a fee. Pay them €1 to €2 to ensure the car is still there when you get back.
Climb on an APE
An APE or three-wheeled little motorcycle used to be a very popular means of transport in Palermo. These days their use is mostly limited to the countryside or to transport tourists in the Historical Center of Palermo.
While it is a bit “touristy” to take an APE, when the heat strikes, exploring Palermo on foot can truly become a herculean task. If you are short on time and still want to see the city without wilting away, climb in the back of an APE. The tourist-friendly APE are white (see above left image).
Practical: A lot of APEs converge at the Quattro Canti waiting for clients. Pricing is subject to bargaining, stand firm and pay no more than €60 ($65) for a 1.5-hour ride around Palermo.
Final thoughts on things to do in Palermo
Getting to know Palermo requires time and patience. The city and its inhabitants are a little rough around the edges, oftentimes loud & always blissfully unaware of personal space. With this guide to Palermo I truly hope to guide you past first appearances and help you unveil the beauty that Palermo holds within its innermost folds.
If you can, spend at least 3 to 5 days discovering everything there is to do in Palermo. Stay in the Historial Center (bring earplugs!), when the heat strikes escape to Mondello or get out of the city and discover the many sights around Palermo (Cefalu, Monreale, Caccamo). Whatever you do, never leave Palermo without trying some of the famous street food on offer.
MORE TRAVEL RESOURCES FOR VISITING ITALY
Sicily – The best areas to stay in Sicily, and which ones to avoid!
Sicily – Quaint little villages to explore while visiting Sicily
Sicily – A local guide to the best Palermitan street food
Italy – Comprehensive guide to being a vegetarian in Italy including regional specialties
Northern Italy – One to two-week road trip guide to Northern Italy
Northern Italy – Most beautiful lakes in the Dolomites