Palermo is an absolutely brilliant city to explore in Sicily. It’s one of those cities that’s well worth visiting in its own right or as part of a wider stop to see all the beautiful places in Sicily. That being said, there are heaps of the best things to do in Palermo in its own right.
We loved our time in the northern Sicilian city of Palermo and it feels quite a bit different from other cities in Sicily like Catania. We stayed three nights on our last visit to Palermo and it was totally epic.
So, to help you get the most out of your time in Palermo, I’ve popped some total gems that you don’t want to miss when you visit. Have the best time in Italy.
1.) Palatine Chapel
One of the things that make Palatine Chapel so special is that it forms part of the royal palace and dates back almost 1,000 years. It’s stunning and the Muqarnas ceilings are just something else. It’s so impressive and influenced by Fatimid art that you sometimes see it in Islamic architecture and rooms.
Now, the admission price is a little more than other similar sights in Palermo, so keep that in mind. Though, I’d always say to go, as it’s so lovely to see.
Afterwards, book this delicious street food tour in Palermo that takes place in the early evening. It’s a great way to find local eateries and try local produce that sometimes gets overlooked. We loved the tour and the local guide is so nice.
Just be sure to book this food tour in advance as places do fill fast.
2.) Quattro Canti (Piazza Vigliena)
Okay, so Quattro Canti is a typical piazza area in Palermo to visit. It’s right in the heart of the historic centre and well worth passing through as you ramble the bustling streets of the city.
History-wise, Quattro Canti dates all the way back to 1608. Sculptures of figurines are set up around the courtyard. And admire the paintings by Pietro Novello.
Whilst here, be sure to take a gander inside the Church of San Giuseppe dei Padri Teatini. It’s totally gorgeous and a brilliant way to see some of that Baroque architecture that is so popular in Sicily.
Oh, and don’t forget that you’ve got the beautiful Fontana Pretoria that’s a few steps away. This means it’s totally easy to visit both at the same time. You will love it.
Getting peckish? Get yourself over to Osteria Ballarò for dinner that’s just off the market area. It’s totally lovely and the pasta is one of the best in the city. Just try to book a table in advance, especially on weekends – this place can fill up fast.
3.) Teatro Massimo
The Massimo Theatre is easily one of the best things to do in Palermo if you want to see a world-class opera performance. If you don’t catch a show, the theatre itself is gorgeous and even worth booking this epic tour to see its grandeur.
The tour itself takes around 30 minutes and is well worth joining if you love historic buildings.
Before heading for the performance, grab a table at Trattoria Del Massimo. It’s a casual but authentic Sicilian gem that really knows its pasta dishes. Plus, their pizza was delicious and totally fresh.
4.) Chruch of San Giovanni degli Eremiti
Nestled within the historic area of Albergaria, San Giovanni degli Eremiti is well worth seeing whilst in Palermo.
Dating all the way back to the twelfth century, it’s a really easy place to visit when you’re already heading to the Norman Palace that’s a short stroll away.
Once inside, make sure to keep your eyes peeled for the red domes and all the Arabesque influences within the church itself.
Finally, if you want to check out more of the gorgeous chapels and churches in Palermo, make sure to see the church of St. Mary of the Admiral (Martorana).
Hankering for a gelato? Get yourself over to Dolce Capo.
Now, it doesn’t look like anything significant from the outside, but this place knows good gelato. We went back here time and time again. Try the hazelnut flavour, it’s divine.
5.) Palazzo Abatellis
Afterwards, head to Palazzo Abatellis in the historic area of the city.
Visiting is one of the best things to do in Palermo if you’re interested in art history. Inside, you’ll get to see the Virgin Annunciate, which was created by Antonello da Messina. It’s world-renowned and one of the most famous paintings in all of Sicily. Plus, you’ll get to see Moses by Pietro Novelli.
Now, a visit will likely take around an hour and the perfect stopping point if you’re heading to the Botanic Gardens of Palermo (which is lovely to see, too).
6.) Monte Pellegrino
Now, it’s likely you’ll have seen Monte Pellegrino multiple times whilst you’re visiting Palermo. In fact, it’s hard to miss!
The views from here are spectacular and it’s a great place for a stroll overlooking the northern Sicilian coastline.
To make things easier, book this Monte Pellegrino tour that’ll take you to all the viewpoints and see the Sanctuary of Santa Rosalia that’s embedded within the rock itself.
It’s so worth it and makes the whole trip super easy.
7.) Ustica Island
Fancy a few days away (or a longer day trip) from the bustling streets of Palermo? Then get yourself over to Istica Island. Around 50km from the shores of Sicily, it’s one of the best things to do in Palermo if you’re fancying a quieter experience away from the crowds.
Now, to get here you will need to board a ferry, with Siremar or Liberty Lines, over to the island and chill in the natural beauty of this stunning spot.
The island itself is perfect for hiking and it’s great if you want to see some of the wild and natural beauty of Italy. It’s a Mediterranean gem.
Just remember, you’re not going to get the same opening times and or options for restaurants or bars on the island. Keep this in mind as options can be more limited, especially if you eat later in the evening.
8.) Mondello Beach
Sicilian beaches hit differently! We have such a soft spot for them, especially when there are some pristine waters to go with it. Modello Beach is exactly that.
Honestly, it’s one of the best things to do in Palermo if you’re fancying a beach day. Modello Beach is around four kilometres from the historic centre of Palermo and pretty gorgeous for a day trip.
If all that sea air has made you hungry, book a dinner at Le Antiche Mura. Yes, it’s a little away from the beachside itself but the seafood is worth it. They have fresh catches of the day and it’s so yummy.
If you’re less of a beach bum and prefer the open waters, book this vintage yacht tour around the Sicilian coastline from Palermo. It’s a five-hour tour and totally tranquil as it takes in Mondello Beach, too.
9.) Fontana Pretoria
To be honest, the whole area around Fontana Pretoria is going to be something where you’ll want to stroll for a good few hours.
Home to one of the most incredible fountains and marble statues, it is probably one of the cities most iconic spots.
Plus, right next door you have the likes of; Palazzo Pretorio (the town hall), the Church of San Cataldo and the Church of St. Nicholas.
To make things easier, book this guided walking tour of Palermo. Not only will you get to see the main sight of the city, but you’ll also get to taste so many local bites, too. We loved it.
10.) Ballaro and Capo Markets
Okay, so Ballaro Market is a hive of activity at the best of times. It’s busy, loud and totally amazing to go for a stroll. In fact, I’d go as far as saying it’s one of the best things to do in Palermo when wanting to experience the city to its fullest.
Filled with fresh stalls, local produce and trinkets to take home, we totally loved walking the stalls that are right next to the historic centre.
Alternatively, if you’re near Carini Gate, make sure to stop by del Capo Market that’s huge and has heaps of stalls. I think we had some of the best strawberries we’ve ever tasted from here.
Just remember, this area gets really busy around the weekends. If you want to avoid the crowds, visit early in the morning.
11.) Norman Palace
Sometimes referred to as the Royal Palace, make sure to spend some time exploring the complex of the Norman Palace (Palazzo dei Normanni). We spent a good few hours here and loved every second. It’s easily one of the best things to do in Palermo and totally worth seeing if you love Italian history.
After all, it was the seat of the King of Sicily and the palace itself dates back well over eight hundred years.
Afterwards, take a wander around the Old Cloister of Saint John in Palermo (Chiesa di San Giovanni degli Eremiti) and the church of the Gesu that’s within the historic area of Palermo.
They’re both so impressive.
12.) Monreale Cathedral
If you’re venturing a little away from the historic centre of Palermo, make sure to visit Monreale Cathedral and Abbey. It’s so stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site has the most amazing cloister and beautiful Mosaics in the apse.
To make things easier, book this half-day tour around Monreale and to Cefalu, too. It’s one of the best things to do in Palermo, especially if you want to explore the wider area of Northern Sicily.
Alternatively, book this incredible tour of Monreale the Capuchin Catacombs are totally surreal to see. Once here, you’ll get to see hundreds of mummies and preserved members of high society within the crypts themselves.
Yes, it can seem a little macabre but it’s part of Palermo’s history and one spot worth learning more about.
13.) Piazza San Domenico
As you stroll around the historic centre of Palermo, make sure to visit Piazza San Domenico. It’s one of the best things to do in Palmero if you’re wanting to visit some of the smaller alleys and streets of the old centre.
Once here, be sure to check out the Colonna dell’Immacolata (that’s right in the centre). Of course, you’re going to squeeze in one more church – the Church of Saint Domenico.
Getting peckish? Pop in for a bite to eat at Trattoria Al Ferro di Cavallo that’s been around Palermo for ages; and with good reason. Their grilled calamari is delicious.