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15 Best Things to do in Palermo (Italy)

15 Best Things to do in Palermo (Italy)

Here’s a list of the 15 best things to do in Palermo in Italy, along with famous landmarks, museums, and other points of interest.

Palermo is the capital of Sicily, located in the southern part of the country. The city is famous for its gastronomy and rich history with several historical places and cultural attractions.

It is believed that Palermo was founded by the Phoenicians in 734 BC as Zis, which later came under Carthaginian rule under the name Panormus. Since then it has been under Roman rule as well as Arab rule, which has all influenced Palermo into what can be seen today. 

In this article, I’m sharing some of the best places to visit in Palermo as well as interesting facts and attractions that shouldn’t be missed while visiting the city. 

Palermo Cathedral

The Palermo Cathedral is the most impressive religious building of the city. It is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and features architecture of different styles and eras.

The famous 3-arched portico by Antonio Gambara is perhaps the most remarkable feature of the monumental church. On the inside, a wealth of artifacts and art await the visitor.

Don’t miss the sarcophagus of Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen and the many precious objects of the treasure of the cathedral.  

Palermo Cathedral

La Martorana

La Martorana is another fascinating church that can be visited in Palermo. It is built in the 12th century and was initially planned as a mosque. It was endowed by George of Antioch, the emir of Syria.

The Fatimid pillars supporting the cupola are one of the highlights of the architectural highlights of the La Martorana. The best time to visit is the morning as this is the time when sunlight illuminates all the beautiful Byzantine mosaics.  

La Martorana

Photo: javarman / Shutterstock.com

Palermo Archaeological Museum

The Archaeological Museum ”Antonio Salinas” is the oldest museum of Sicily. The most interesting exhibit is the hall of the famous metopes of the Temples of Selinunte.

The collection of Punic and Ancient Greek art that is on display here is one of the best in all of Italy. There is also a section of the museum focusing on underwater finds.

palermo Archaeological Museum

Photo: Anton Kudelin / Shutterstock.com

Palazzo dei Normanni

The Royal Palace of Palermo was the seat of the kings of Sicily and acted as the seat of power for the following rulers of the island. Today it is the home of the Sicilian Regional Assembly.

The interior of the palace features impressive mosaics and beautiful marble incrustation of the walls and the floor. Visitors can access the interesting royal apartments, the courtyard, and a chapel.

Don’t miss the Sala Gialla with its frescoed ceiling and the Sala Di Ruggero, a masterpiece of Islamic art.   

Palazzo dei Normanni

Capella Palatina

The Capella Palatina is the truly breathtaking chapel of the Royal Palace of Palermo. Visitors await a fascinating mixture of Byzantine mosaics, Norman architecture, and Fatimid arches.

A very impressive feature of the Capella is the mosaic of the Christ Pantocrator at the apex of the dome and the Muqarnas ceiling of the nave. The Capella Palatina is a must-see when visiting Palermo.

Capella Palatina

Photo: Andreas Zerndl / Shutterstock.com

Teatro Massimo

The Piazza Verdi houses the largest opera houses in Italy, the Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele. The Teatro opened in 1897 and has been known for its perfect acoustics since then.

The opera house also impresses with its imposing architecture that has been inspired by ancient and classical Sicilian architecture. Visitors interested in experiencing a live performance should go online and buy their tickets on the website of the opera house.

Music-lovers should not miss this once-in-a-lifetime experience, which also happens to be one of the best things to do in Palermo.  

Teatro Massimo

Lido Finanza

The urban beach Lido Finanza in Mondello is a popular spot for recreation and relaxation. It is located around 10km north of the city center of Palermo.

The beach is great for bathing and boasts beautiful turquoise waters. Relax on one of the sundecks and enjoy the beautiful summers of Sicily. Many excellent restaurants and bars line the beach.  

Chiesa del Gesu

The Church of Saint Mary of Gesu is located a few hundred meters north of Palermo’s central train station. The architecture of the church is considered to be one of the best examples of the Baroque in Sicily.

The most impressive feature is the amount of marble that was used when constructing the church. The floors are truly marvelous. The restoration works to repair damages caused by bombings during the Second World War were finished in 2009.

The church received a new dome and many of the wall paintings and frescoes were restored. Today the church is as impressive as ever and shouldn’t be missed when exploring the city center of Palermo.  

Chiesa del Gesu

Photo: katatonia82 / Shutterstock.com

Ustica

The lovely volcanic island Ustica is located to the north of Palermo. It takes around 2 hours to reach the island with a ferry from the mainland. The island is a popular day-trip destination due to its natural beauty, rustic charm, and interesting history.

This island was used as a prison during the fascist rule of Italy. Due to strict environmental protection, the island offers plenty of untouched nature.

The main village is picturesque but humble in size. Scuba diving is the most popular activity due to the volcanic geology of the island, allowing deep dives relatively close to the coast.   

Ustica

Puppet show at Opera Dei Pupi Siciliani

One of the unique cultural traditions of Sicily is the puppet show at the Opera Dei Pupi. Beautiful tales are enacted in puppet theaters using the decorated sides of donkey carts and handmade wooden marionettes.

In 2008 the UNESCO inscribed the Opera dei Pupi in the Intangible Cultural Heritage List. Even though the tradition is increasingly forgotten there are still some troupes that perform for tourists.  

Opera Dei Pupi palermo

Photo: spatuletail / Shutterstock.com

Markets of Palermo (Capo, Ballaro, Vucciria, Borgo Vecchio)

The various markets of Palermo are worth a visit. All of them are bustling hubs of trading and offer interesting produce. Visiting the markets is worth it for the people-watching alone, you don’t necessarily need to buy something here, the experience is what matters most.

The Capo, Ballaro, and Vucciria markets are famous for their fresh food. These street markets are great places to buy fresh local vegetables and fruits, but you can also eat at one of the street stalls surrounding them.

The food is authentic and inexpensive here. The Borgo Vecchio market is less touristy and even cheaper. It opens until late at night and is one of the best-kept secrets of Palermo.  

Ballaro market

Photo: Alex Segre / Shutterstock.com

Cooking class at Mamma Corleone

Mamma Corleone is a family business that has made it its mission to share its passion for cooking Sicilian food with other food-lovers. A real ”Scilian Mamma” is teaching interested students the secrets of Sicilian cuisine right in the heart of the historic center of Palermo.

There are different courses you can take depending on what type of food you want to get familiar with. What they have in common is that they are all fun and even people that aren’t particularly interested in cooking will enjoy them.

San Giovanni degli Eremiti

The history of the church dates to the 6th century and witnessed the Norman domination of southern Italy. The church, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was heavily modified during its history.

The last big restoration efforts in 1880 attempted to revive the original medieval appearance of the church. Most remarkable about the San Giovanni degli Eremiti are its red domes, they immediately remind of the Arab influences in Sicily and make the church unique.

San Giovanni degli Eremiti

Capuchin Abbey and Catacombs

The Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo are a unique attraction. It is a place where the living meets the dead, not for the faint of heart. The cemetery of the Convent of the Capuchin Friars allows access to numerous exposed corpses.

This is a unique cultural heritage of the society of Palermo from the 17th to the 19th century, and it’s one of the best places to visit in Palermo for history buffs and people with an interest in religious sites.   

palermo Catacombs

Photo: Anton Kudelin / Shutterstock.com

Mondello Beach

The term Mondello Beach is used for the southern part of Lido Finanza. This area of the beach is less crowded than the central and northern parts. There are not as many restaurants and hotels here, instead a lot of private villas and the Molo Punta Celesi (port authority) can be found.

This area of the beach is very well suited for families with young children. There is plenty of space for them and a lot of fun playing in the sand can be had. There is also a kiteboarding school located here.

Mondello beach

Interesting facts about Palermo in Italy

  • Palermo is the most populated city in Sicily
  • The city is surrounded by the beautiful Madonie Mountains.
  • Palermo is one of the sunniest cities in Europe with more than 2,500 sunshine hours per year.
  • Saint Rosalia is the Patron Saint of Palermo.
  • The city of Palermo has a total population of 657.960 (2019).
  • The locals are called Palermitano or Panormito in Italian, or Palermitan in English.
  • Some historical findings indicate that the area has been inhabited for at least 8000 years BC.
  • Palermo’s Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele is the biggest opera house in Italy.

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Want more recommendations on things to do in Palermo, Italy? Leave a comment below! 

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Martino Bianco

Monday 26th of October 2020

Great information about Palermo, thank you!! I´ve been there once and I have to come back to see al the interesting sites you mentioned.