10 of the best things to do in Palermo, Sicily

10 of the best things to do in Palermo, Sicily

After living in Palermo for nine months, I can describe the city in just two words: charming and chaotic! Sicily’s capital is a fascinating and underrated city that appeals to many travelers. Whether you are a beach lover or an art lover, Palermo will undoubtedly keep you entertained. It is a city full of history and culture. This reflects the island of Sicily as a whole, and Palermo is a great base from which to explore Sicily.

With just over 600,000 inhabitants, Palermo is the fifth largest city in Italy. However, it doesn’t feel like “Italy” at all. In fact, the bustling markets and numerous motorbikes rushing by give the city a real North African flair.

If you are looking for things to do in Palermo, you can visit Palermo all year round amid hot summers and mild winters.

Top things to do in palermo, sicily

Top attractions in palermo sicily

For travelers who don’t like 40 degrees heat, spring and autumn are definitely the best time to travel. The weather is still warm and sunny, if not unbearable.

You can have fun in Palermo for at least two or three days, with a combination of historical sightseeing and beach lounging. There’s a bustling tourist scene in the city (even during COVID), and it’s not difficult to meet travelers from all over the world. We recommend taking a walking tour to get a feel for the city.

Picking a top 10 route for Palermo was difficult as there is an abundance of great things to do! However, here are my top 10 things to do in Palermo.

1. Relax on Mondello Beach

Relaxing on Mondello beach in Palermo Sicily

Mondello Beach is breathtaking and is one of the most famous beaches in Sicily. Palermitans and tourists flock here in droves during the summer months, but it’s also quite busy all year round. The water is wonderfully warm in summer and certainly warm enough in spring and autumn!

In addition to sunbathing and swimming in the sea, there is a beautiful nature reserve within walking distance of Mondello. It’s called Capo Gallo and for just € 1 entry you can enjoy a beautiful coastal walk.

Mondello is not a walk from the city center but is easily accessible by public transport. To get to Mondello beach, take bus 101 from the central bus station to Piazza Crispi, from where you can take bus 806 directly to Mondello.

2. Visit the Cattedrale di Palermo

Visit the Cathedral in Palermo Sicily

The Cathedral of Palermo is arguably the only main tourist attraction of the city and the historical center. You can relax outside and admire the beautiful Arab-Norman architectural influence that makes the style of this cathedral so unique.

It is also worth going into the cathedral and climbing the roof of the cathedral for a panoramic view of Palermo.

Entry to the cathedral is free and costs € 7 for a roof view in combination with access to the royal tombs in the cathedral. If you want a more immersive experience, check out this Palermo Art Tour.

3. Admire Quattro Canti

Quatro Canti in Palermo Sicily

A short walk from the cathedral along Corso Vittorio Emmanuele will take you to one of Palermo’s most famous landmarks and meeting places – Quattro Canti.

This mini-square marks the intersection between Via Vittorio Emmanuele and Via Maqueda, the main street of Palermo. Most notable are the four perfectly symmetrical baroque buildings that make up the “piazza”. The Spaniards built these during their rule in Sicily.

4. Enjoy an aperitif in Via Maqueda

Have a cocktail at Maqueda in Palermo

Palermo’s busy main street comes alive in the evenings and at night – especially in summer. It is the ideal place to sit back and relax with an aperitif after an eventful day in the city.

Lots of bars and restaurants line the street and there is a really pleasant atmosphere in the late evening. It feels like all the locals are here! During the day it is also pleasant to eat or drink something here.

However, in daylight it feels more like a shopping street. There are many designer shops at the end of Via Maqueda and the adjacent street (Corso Ruggero Settimo). In the evening you really get a feel for the Mediterranean food culture in the open air.

5. Visit and admire the Teatro Massimo

Massimo Theater in Palermo Sicily

The Massimo Theater of Palermo is another cultural symbol of the city, located right in the heart of the historical center. This extravagant opera theater is one of the largest in Europe and the largest in Italy. It is always pleasant to relax in the Piazza Verde around the theater and admire the beautiful architecture with exotic palm trees.

If you are an opera lover or just curious about the inside of the theater, guided tours are offered daily. You can buy your tickets online here and for normal adults the entrance fee is only 8 €.

6. Walk through La Cala and Foro Italico

La Cala in Palermo Sicily

The port of Palermo (known as La Cala) is another picturesque part of the city. I went for a walk here almost every day! You can stroll along the promenade and admire the pretty fishing boats before continuing to Foro Italico.

Foro Italico is essentially a large green space and extends along the waterfront. It’s a great place to relax and watch the boats come into the port of Palermo.

From here you can take the boat to other destinations in Sicily and Italy including Messina, Naples and even Sardinia!

7. Visit the Norman Palace and the Palatine Chapel

Norman palace in Palermo Sicily

The Norman Palace of Palermo is one of the most visited historical landmarks in the city and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The palace is located at the highest point in the city – very close to Piazza Indipendenza (Independence Square).

Its Arab / Norman influence is evident and this palace is actually one of the oldest in Europe! It was once a center of the Sicilian royal family and traditionally housed the kings of Sicily.

You can also visit the magnificent Palatinate Chapel, which is connected to the castle. With its stunning Byzantine mosaics in its well-finished interior, you will get a true feel for ancient Sicilian aristocratic life.

Admission to the castle and chapel costs 7 euros together, which is worthwhile for those interested in history.

8. Shop at the world famous Ballaro Market

Ballero market in Palermo

I would say that the Ballaro market embodies Palermo: gritty, hectic, but culturally fascinating.

This market is alive every day and street vendors sell pretty much anything! Whether groceries, clothes or everyday objects, you can buy just about anything at Ballaro. Ballaro is very close to the historical center of Palermo – in the Albergheria district of the city.

It is one of the oldest and most authentic street markets in Europe and is 1000 years old. Here you can buy some of Palermo’s best street foods for a predictably cheap price.

The first time I walked through Ballaro’s many stalls, I felt like I was in Morocco. Here you really get a feel for Palermo’s intercultural mix and the North African influence.

9. Eat Palermo’s famous street food

Palermo street food

Street food is in abundance all over Palermo, and not just at Ballaro Market.

While Italian cuisine in general is better known for its pasta and pizza dishes, Palermo and Sicily are unique for their street food reputation. Don’t get me wrong, the pasta and pizza dishes are still delicious here! However, the city is characterized by its traditional and varied street food.

Discover the amazing street food of Palermo with this very popular food tour!

Arancini is probably the most popular option. These heavy and filling rice balls aren’t the healthiest, but they make a great casual treat! You can choose a vegetarian variant (burro) or have it filled with meat (carne). Another popular choice is Panelle e Crochhè – with fried chickpeas and flour.

10. Take a short day trip to Monreale

Day trip from Palermo Monreale

Even if you are only in Palermo for a short time, every local recommends the short, half-hour bus ride to the nearby city of Monreale. To arrive in Monreale, simply go to Piazza Indipendenza and take the AMAT 389 bus that will drop you off in Monreale.

Monreale is technically part of the metropolis of Palermo, although it feels a lot more like a separate city. It is best known for its incredible Arab-Norman cathedral that really rivals Palermo Cathedral!

Constructed in the 12thNS In the 18th century, this monumental complex has a remarkably well-designed interior and wonderful mosaics that you can admire for free. For a combined ticket of € 10 you also have the option of entering the cloister, the treasury and the cathedral roof.

If you’re looking for an even more immersive experience inside the cathedral, check out this guided tour that takes you behind the scenes.

There isn’t much to do in Monreale other than visit the cathedral. Below the city center, however, there is a wonderful panorama of Palermo and the surrounding region.

Final thoughts

These are just ten of the best things to do in Palermo; I could name many more!

Palermo is really one of the most underrated cities I’ve ever been to. Sure, there are a lot of tourists in the summer months, but the city does not enjoy the status of Rome or Milan.

Spending a few days exploring Palermo before touring the island of Sicily is a great adventure for any backpacker. I would love to do it all again!

Use these resources to plan your next trip to Italy

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Rachel Meadows

Rachel Meadows

Trending topics news writer who enjoys cooking, walking her dog and travel.

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