What are the best things to do in Palermo? We at Visit Italy have selected 10 of the must-see attractions in 2023.
We will try to provide you with 10 things to do in Palermo. We know it's a tough challenge because there are so many things to do in Palermo. With its decadent air, Mediterranean setting and sparkling atmosphere, there are truly many things to do in Palermo. This is a fascinating city that holds masterpieces from the Arab, Norman and Spanish periods.
Take a moment to admire the beauty of the Sicilian capital, located at its magnificent entrance at the foot of Monte Pellegrino, once considered one of the richest cities in the Mediterranean. Definitely one of the things to do in Palermo is to explore the Arab-Norman city, discovering the different attractions it has to offer. If you want to take a dip in the sea after visiting, head to Mondello, a beach in Palermo with surprisingly clear water. Go to the bay between the Pellegrino and Gallo mountains.
Here are some things to do in Palermo.
Want to know things to do in Palermo? Discover our selection
When it comes to things to do in Palermo, it is always a good idea to visit in the round. The city awaits you in its elegance, visit the neighbourhoods, markets and enjoy the food. This is the right opportunity to discover its attractions or enjoy the first sun on one of the city's many beaches.
We leave from the Teatro Massimo and walk down Corso Vittorio Emanuele. At the Quattro Canti, at the crossroads where the 4 seasons are represented by a triumph of Baroque, you will find Via Maqueda, the street of the city's 'struscio'.
Continuing along Corso Vittorio Emanuele, you will reach Piazza Pretoria with its famous fountain and then meet Piazza Bellini, with views of the Martorana Church and the Basilica of San Cataldo. Slow rhythms, smiles, invitations, everything here seems like a party. Did you know that you can shop or get something to eat along the way at one of the many stalls of one of Palermo's famous markets? Discover Vuccirìa, Ballarò and the magnificent Cathedral.
Below is our list of the 10 best things to do in Palermo.
10. Things to do in Palermo: a hop-on hop-off bus tour
One of the things to do in Palermo is a hop-on hop-off bus tour. The service is divided into Line A, where you can admire the splendour of the historic centre, and Line B, which shows the city's Art Nouveau district, the main villas and the Zisa Castle. Another route leads to the Cathedral of Monreale, a famous Norman jewel coveted by William II of Altavilla. The cathedral is located in the Forte Monreale, from where you can also admire the entire Conca d'Oro. A hop-on hop-off method allows complete freedom of movement, and the multilingual commentaries widely available on the bus, full of anecdotes and historical references, complete this experience. Discounts are available for museums, shows and Mondello Beach. Download the Sightseeing Experience APP. It is a simple and practical way to orientate, navigate, visit and learn about the city. The app allows you to find the real-time location of buses, waiting times at each stop and an interactive map showing your position so you can easily reach the next stop.
9. Palazzo Asmundo, one of the highlights of things to do in Palermo
Palazzo Asmundo is one of the most representative and beautiful late Baroque residences of things to do in Palermo. An aristocratic palace located in the heart of the city, at the top of the Cassaro, today's Corso Vittorio Emanuele, right in front of our beautiful Norman Cathedral. The exterior architecture includes elegant mixed-linear tympanums on the balconies and garlands of fruit and flowers carved in stone, just above the eighteenth-century palace cornices and above the newer upper storey. The noble floors of Palazzo Asmundo Paterno are true jewels of art and refinement for their decorative quality and richness. Spacious rooms decorated with serpotian stuccoes, vaulted ceilings with splendid frescoes by Gioacchino Martorana, a very important figure in the Sicilian artistic panorama, rich antique furniture, richly decorated doors and corridors are an extraordinary testimony. The 'way of life' of the Sicilian nobility in the 18th and 19th centuries.
8. Things to do in Palermo: see the mosaics of the Martorana church
An unmissable stop on the list of things to do in Palermo is to visit the Martorana Church. The church's name is a tribute to the founder of the Benedictine convent, Eloisa Martorana, who inherited the church in 1453. They are known as the 'martorana nuns' and are remembered as the inventors of the martorana fruit, the typical marzipan cake that Sicilians are used to prepare for the Day of the Dead. In addition, the Church of the Martorana is the reference point for the more than 15,000 Albanian faithful, of Greek-Byzantine rite, who are in Italy. The church has a simple, linear façade, but inside it hides an unexpected and wonderful Byzantine treasure: the oldest cycle of mosaics in the Sicilian region, completed and dating from before 1151. The centrepiece is the image of Christ Pantocrator in the dome, and four earthly angels bow at his feet. Eight prophets are depicted in the drum of the dome and four evangelists are depicted in the niches of the corner brackets. You are blinded by the glitter of gold.
7. Maredolce Castle: a must-see
In Brancaccio, on the southern outskirts of the town, the Maredolce Castle or Palazzo della Favara, which means 'fountain' in Arabic, was a real unexpected surprise. Probably built by an Islamic chief at the foot of Mount Grifone, it later became a Norman residence and also hosted the great Roger II. The interior is stunning, there is a large garden with a rich spring and a pond in the middle. In 1300, the castle was ceded to the Teutonic Order. The Teutonic Knights established their headquarters in the Magione complex, which they converted into a hospital. In the following century, various private owners took over. Long neglected and abandoned, it was finally acquired by the local community and completely restored. It now also houses social projects. Your tour of things to do in Palermo includes two classrooms in the complex.
6. Monreale Cathedral and Cloisters
Among the things to do in Palermo, visit the magnificent Duomo di Monreale, a must-see during your trip. Also known as the Cathedral of Santa Maria Nuova, it is part of the city's Arab-Norman monuments and is considered one of the most beautiful interpretations of the Italian Middle Ages. According to legend, this church was built to rival the more imposing Cathedral of Palermo. The Duomo has a basilica-like Latin cross plan with a length of no less than 102 metres. Another wonder of the Duomo is the cloister, considered one of the most imposing and prestigious cloisters of the 12th century. Finally, from the monastery, we continue to the recently restored Benedictine dormitory, Villa del Belvedere. From here there is a spectacular view of the Conca d'Oro and the Oreto Valley. The monastery cathedral is worth a visit for its mystical atmosphere.
5. Descend into the Qanats to explore the underground
Palermo's ancient underground waterways, the Qanats, are small masterpieces of hydraulic engineering that began more than 1,000 years ago during Arab rule. It is a network of underground waterways that is still functioning today and can be visited in some places. An educational, refreshing and entertaining exploration. One of the things to do in Palermo is to visit an unknown area, not accessible to all, that winds its way underground through the city by way of the Qanats. Underground tunnels and galleries dug by the muqanni, masters of water. The walls of these tunnels were made of calcarenite, a brittle rock that is easy to drill, so they used a simple pickaxe. As the channel is about 50 cm deep, it is advisable to wear an anorak, sweatshirt, trousers and socks with a change of sportswear.
4. Things to do in Palermo: diving off the rocks of Capo Gallo
During the day you will visit churches, museums and historical buildings, but remember that you are on an island. Rejuvenate with a swim in the waters of the Palermo coastline or with some relaxation on the beach. The Capo Gallo Nature Reserve is perfect for beautiful walks along various rocky coves. But if you want to feel at ease after breathing in the scent of flowers and the sea, make a stop at one of its small beaches. There is also the beach at Mondello, a seaside village famous for its long white sands and turquoise waters between Monte Gallo and Monte Pellegrino. This is where the people of Palermo go to the beach and has been the hub of nightlife for many years. The beach is always crowded, especially in high season. If you go in the summer season, it is advisable to choose a well-equipped bathing establishment where you can relax on sunbeds in the shade of umbrellas.
3. Things to do in Palermo: visit the Cathedral
The Cathedral is the first stop on the list of things to do in Palermo. A masterpiece of architecture and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it combines elements of Greek, Roman, Arab, Norman, Catalan and Gothic art that will leave you speechless. It was completed in 1185 by order of Archbishop Gualtiero Offamilio, but underwent some modifications in the 18th century. Before entering, admire the magnificent exterior, especially the ornate atrium, a true masterpiece of Sicilian art. On either side of the great nave are two other aisles leading to numerous chapels, including the Chapel of the Royal Tombs. Of great importance to the people of Palermo is the Chapel of Santa Rosalia, where the remains of the city's patron saint are kept in precious silver urns.
2. Palace of the Normans and Palatine Chapel
Another testament to the Sicilian capital's cultural contamination of things to do in Palermo and see is the Palazzo dei Normanni, which began as a defensive fortress built by the Arabs in the first half of the 9th century. It was later used as a palace by Roger II, William I and the heirs of William II, building a complex of elegant rooms and towers connected by ornate walkways. The palace remained a royal residence until the Aragonese, then lords of the city, decided to abandon it for security reasons at the end of the 14th century. In the 16th century, the palace was converted into a royal residence by appointment of the Spanish governor-general. In the 18th century, the Bourbons became new tenants, but after the Unification of Italy, several ministries were established in the palace. Today the Palazzo dei Normanni is the seat of the Sicilian Regional Council, with a military wing. Next, visit the elegant rooms in the palace such as the Sala del Cole, seat of the Sicilian Regional Council. Built in 1130 by order of Roger II, the Palatine Chapel features a mix of Latin, Byzantine and Arabic styles and represents the cultural and political integration of the Sicilian Normans. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Chapel, like the entire building, is part of the Arab-Norman Route of things to do in Palermo and is a magical place to visit once in a lifetime.
1. Things to do in Palermo: shopping and street food at the Ballarò and Vuccirìa markets
To see the true face of the city and among the things to do in Palermo, a visit to the historic markets, which are the true institutions of the Sicilian capital, is not to be missed. The city's market is of Arab origin and is more like a bazaar because it is not only a place of trade, but also of meeting and exchange. Ballarò is the most famous of the city's historical markets, beloved by Palermitans and less visited by tourists. It is the market par excellence where you can get lost in the maze of busy streets. Alternatively, you can go to the Vucciria market, one of the oldest in the city and also captured in the works of Renato Guttuso.