Sicily’s capital city is packed with historic sites, delicious food, and vibrant markets. From the magnificent architecture to its fantastic museums and thriving food scene, there are lots of wonderful things to do in Palermo. Having explored the city on our Sicily trips we have put together this list of the best things to do in Palermo.
Things To Do in Palermo
We highly recommend including Palermo in your Sicily itinerary as the city is packed with so many things to do and there is something for everyone in the Sicilian capital.
How long to spend in Palermo
We recommend at least 2 days to take in all that Palermo has to offer. Two days will give you time to visit the food markets, take a tour or two of the city and explore all the sights. If you want to include some day trips then allow a couple of extra nights depending on your itinerary.
Things to do in Palermo tip: we spent 2 nights in Palermo on our first visit to the city and we were able to cover most of the top sights in that time.
Where to Stay in Palermo
Hotel Politeama: this is our Palermo favorite and we love both the hotel and the location. Located overlooking the Politeama Theatre, Hotel Politeama is a beautiful modern hotel and perfectly located for exploring the city. The hotel also arranges reasonably priced valet parking if you are driving – check prices now!
Alma Hotel – This is a great small boutique hotel located in the center of Palermo. It’s a perfect option for those looking for a budget-friendly hotel located close to everything in Palermo – check prices now!
Massimo Plaza Hotel – For those wanting one of the best locations in Palermo then check out the Massimo Plaza Hotel. It’s located directly in front of the Massimo Theatre opera house and is a short stroll from all the major sights – check prices now!
1 | Explore the Food Markets
Palermo is famous for its food and is home to three incredible local food markets: Mercato Ballaro, Vuccuria, and Mercato del Capo. Each of the markets is worth a visit and they vary in size and style. Before visiting them it’s worth knowing what to expect at each market.
Mercato del Ballaro
Located on the south side of central Palermo, Mercato Ballaro is the largest and most popular market in the city. The area is a hive of activity from 7 am every morning to around 6-7 pm in the evening. With stalls selling household goods, clothes and food, Ballaro is popular with locals and tourists. Ballaro is known for its incredible seafood so expect lots of fish stalls selling everything from octopus to sardines.
We’d recommend visiting early in the morning to avoid the heavy crowds that visit the market in the late morning/afternoon.
Mercato della Vuccuria
Mercato Vuccuria is a smaller and more relaxed market located closer to the main sights in central Palermo. There are some great restaurants dotted along the street throughout the market to sit and grab a bite to eat at.
Mercato del Capo
A short walk from the Massimo Theater, Mercato el Capo is a small local market that only covers a few small streets. Cheese, meat, and fish are popular offerings at the stalls. The market has a much more relaxed vibe and is aimed more at locals looking for produce compared to Ballaro and Vuccuria which are more tourist orientated.
The food markets are definitely a highlight in Palermo and we recommend trying all three as each market has its own charms.
2 | Sample the amazing food
Palermo is renowned for its vibrant food scene and the city is packed with restaurants and bars that serve some of the best food in Sicily. Palermo also has some of the best street food in the world, so there is no shortage of options for places to eat.
Some of the best-known foods are arancini,Pasta alla Norma, Pane con la Milza, Granitas, Cannoli, and gelato. Served with the world-renowned Aperol Spritz of course!
Palermo Food Tour
Choosing where to eat can be quite daunting in Palermo as there are so many options to choose from. One of the best ways to experience a few of the local delicacies is by taking a food tour of the city. This is one of the most popular food tours in Palermo. The tour starts at the Massimo Theatre and includes two of the food markets, Mercato El Capo and Vucciria Market – check prices now!
3 | Take a Day trip from the city
Due to its location, Palermo is a great base for exploring some of the best places to visit in Sicily. With the good motorway system is it possible to easily visit even some of the more difficult to reach destinations on the island from Palermo by day trip.
We have a full guide on the best day trips from Palermo, with our favorites being the cathedral at Monreale and the archaeological sites of Segesta and Selinunte.
4 | Cattedrale di Palermo (Palermo Cathedral)
No visit to Palermo is complete without experiencing the incredible Palermo Cathedral. Built by the Normans in the 12th century, the Cathedral of Palermo is one of the most important structures in Sicily and one of the most distinctive buildings in the city. The cathedral is also inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, listed along with the Monreal and Cefalu cathedrals.
The cathedral is open to the public and the main part of the church is accessible to everyone. There are 4 other parts available to visit with an additional paid ticket:
- rooftop with views across the city
- crpyt with marble sarcophagi
- the treasury which holds many gold and silver treasures.
We find the overall €7 ticket which includes access to all areas to be more than worth the cost. Tickets can be purchased at the little kiosk inside the cathedral. You can purchase each entrance separately if you only want to visit one or two of the things.
The best way to experience the cathedral is to climb the rooftop. The views from the walkway on the roof are some of the best in Palermo so the ticket is worth the price for this alone.
The cathedral is open Monday to Saturday from 8am to 6pm and on Sundays from 8am to 1pm and 4 to 7pm.
5 | Norman Palace and the Palatine Chapel
A short walk from the Palermo Cathedral through the peaceful Villa Bonanno park is the Norman Palace (or Palazzo dei Normanni). The Norman Palace is the Royal Palace of Palermo which was once the seat of the Kings of Sicily during the Norman reign on the island. The Norman Palace is one of the highlights of Palermo.
Things to do in Palermo tip: The Norman Palace was one of the most breathtaking places we visited in Palermo and we highly recommend including it on your list of things to to in Palermo. The building and gardens are exquisite and the Palatine Chapel in stunning.
The highlight of the Norman Palace is the Palatine Chapel. The ornate chapel, covered in gold mosaics, is one of the most beautiful things we’ve seen in Sicily.
Things to do in Palermo tip: The Palatine Chapel costs a few extra euro on the entrance ticket and it’s definitely worth paying the extra.
Today it is the home of the Sicilia government who conduct parliamentary business in the palace. Make sure to check out the beautiful gardens at the back of the Palace. There is a nice outdoor cafe in the gardens which is perfect for a break and to take in the relaxing surroundings.
6 | Santa Caterina Church (Chiesa di Santa Caterina)
Santa Caterina Church and Monastery is one of the true hidden gems in Palermo. Santa Caterina is a Roman Catholic church located behind the Pretoria Fountains and is known for its stunning interior baroque architecture and sculptures.
The monastery was used for over 700 years until 2014 by the nuns of the Dominican order. Today visitors can access the monastery and church where there is also a bakery and a terrace for a view across the city. The main draw to the monastery is the interior of the Santa Caterina Church which is really beautiful.
The monastery and church are open every day from 9.30 am to 7pm (closed from 1.30pm to 3pm each day). There are various tickets available: from €3 for the church rising to €10 for access to the church, monastery, and roof terrace. For more information check out their site here.
Things to do in Palermo tip: It’s worth buying the roof/terrace ticket when you enter as the views from the roof (especially at sunset) are beautiful
7 | Politeama Theatre
The Teatro Politeama Garibaldi overlooks Piazza Ruggero Settimo on the north side of old Palermo town. The theatre was built in neoclassical style with an imposing frieze of galloping horses atop its arch at the entrance.
While it is only possible to visit the inside of the Politeama theatre if you are going to a concert, the stunning outside facade of the building is still worth checking out. We stayed in Hotel Politeama across the street which overlooked the Theatre.
8 | Wander the streets of the old town
One of our favorite things to do in Palermo is simply wandering around the streets of the old town. While the main streets of the old town are bustling with pedestrians and food and drinks, a few steps into its side streets reveals the quieter side to Palermo.
Our favorite area to stroll around was around Via Vittorio Emanuele (once known as Cassaro Alto, the oldest street in Palermo) which links the Cathedral area with the port. Vittorio Emmanuele is lined with cute shops and restaurants and was one of our favorite places in Palermo.
9 | Visit Mondello
If you have some time and want to see the ocean then the beach town of Mondello located just outside Palermo is worth an afternoon visit. Mondello is home to one of Sicily’s best beaches, a 1.5km stretch of white sand beach which is also very popular with the locals. On sunny days the area is a huge draw for locals and tourists looking to enjoy the crystal clear waters.
Similar to other beaches in Sicily, Mondello beach has a small public area together with paid lido sections. If you plan to spend a few hours then we recommend paying for a private lido on the beach. It’s a lot more comfortable and definitely worth the price for a few hours.
Things to do in Palermo tip: Mondello is only 15 minutes from Palermo city centre by taxi or if you are renting a car in Sicily for getting around the island. For public transport, the public bus (line 806) runs to Modello from behind the Politeama Theater. It runs quite frequently between May and October although it can get crowded.
10 | Piazza Quattro Canti
We stumbled upon the Quattro Canti, also known as Piazza Vigliena, by accident as we made our way back from Mercato Ballaro. This piazza is truly unique, with 4 streets meeting and an ornately adorned Baroque building on each corner. Each side of the piazza is almost identical and contains statues of the four Spanish Kings of Sicily, the four seasons, and the four patronesses of the city.
11 | Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo
A visit to the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo is one of the most unique things to do in Palermo.
The Capuchin Catacombs contain the mummified remains of thousands of Palermo inhabitants. After the Capuchin cemetery in Palermo reached capacity at the end of the 15th century, mummified monks were then placed in the catacombs. Over time locals were laid to rest in the tunnels and so the catacombs grew to their current size.
The last burials in the catacombs took place in 1920 and today the catacombs contain around 8,000 bodies and 1200 mummies which line its walls and corridors. The corridors of the catacombs hold different categories of burials, with men, women, children, and clergy in different halls.
Today visitors can take a self-guided tour of the catacombs. Entry is a modest €3 and well worth it.
12 | The Paetorian Fountain (Fontana Pretoria)
Originally from the city of Florence, the Praetorian Fountain is a beautiful ornate fountain located in the historic center of Palermo. The fountain is adorned with sculptures of the 12 Olympians and other mythical figures.
It’s a great place to sit and relax with some street food and indulge in some people watching while admiring the intricate decoration of the fountain itself. The fountain is located on a square just around the corner from the Piazza Quattro Canti.
13 | Church of San Cataldo
The 12th century Church of San Cataldo is instantly recognizable from the three red domes that sit atop its roof. Located at Pianna Bellini, the church is inscribed as part of the Arab-Norman UNESCO World Heritages sites along with Palermo Cathedral.
The church has changed use many times over the centuries and was, most notably, a post office in the late 18th century. Although there are no frescos or murals, the inside of the church is worth a quick stop. Tickets cost €2.50 for adults and free for those under 14, which goes towards the upkeep of the building.
14 | Church of the Martorana (Church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio)
Located next door to the Church of San Cataldo, the church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio is one of the sites included in the Palermo UNESCO inscription. The Church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraaglio is famous for the immaculate Byzantine mosaics which adorn the interior.
Due to its beauty, the Church of the Martorana is one of the most popular places to visit in Palermo. The detail on the frescos and mosaics is stunning and makes the church a must-visit in Palermo.
15 | Massimo Theater
The stunning Massimo Theatre is the largest opera theatre in all of Italy. The theatre held its first opera in 1897 and is still in operation today. The front entrance of the theatre was inspired by the ancient Greek temples and the auditorium inside is the largest in Italy.
Visitors who wish to see the interior of the theatre can take one of the guided tours that run each day. Tours run from 9.30am to 5.30pm and last around 30 minutes.
Tickets are €8 for adults, €5 for under age 26, and kids under 6 go free. For more information and to purchase your tickets in advance check out their website