From breathtaking coastlines to charming cityscapes and historic ruins, Sicily is a treasure trove of world-renowned and undiscovered beauty. As one of Italy’s most popular islands, it has much to offer those that venture to its shores for a vacation at any time of the year. 

And whilst the island’s beauty has no bounds, its capital city of Palermo is one of the most spectacular of locations to venture to. Offering a little bit of everything when it comes to Sicily’s culture, natural beauty, and history, a visit to Palermo is guaranteed to create memories that will last a lifetime.

So, for those starting from square one, what are the best things to do in Palermo? Well, you’re in luck as our team of experts here at Italian Breaks has compiled the top 10 things to do in Palermo to ensure you have the quintessential Sicilian experience. From exploring the culture embedded in the Palermo streets to world-famous sights that you simply can’t miss, read on to see exactly what this Sicily capital has in store for you.

Visit The Cathedral Of Palermo – And Climb To Its Rooftop!

As one of the most important and prominent monuments in Sicily, the Cathedral of Palermo stands proudly in the centre of the city. It was founded in 1185 and created in a Gothic-Catalan style, and it is the largest Norman Cathedral on the island. This monument is truly a sight to behold and is unlike any other religious architecture in the world. 

The city’s main catholic place of worship draws residents and tourists alike through its doors, and there’s much to marvel at inside its walls. The crypts that lie beneath the cathedral hold the highly ornate marble sarcophagi alongside the royal and imperial tombs, which are the resting place of some of the most important emperors. The cathedral’s treasury also holds an assortment of precious silver, gold, and enamelled treasures.

During your visit, you mustn’t hesitate to go to the roof terraces at the very top of the cathedral. Here, you can expect marvellous panoramic views over the rooftops of the city and the surrounding buildings that compose Palermo’s breathtaking cityscape.  

Venture Up Mount Pelligrino

Dominating the landscapes of Palermo, Mount Pelligrino is one of a number of granite-covered mountains that stands 606 metres high in the city’s surroundings. 

It lies on the western edge of the bay of Palermo away from the rest of the surrounding mountains that overlook the city, offering spectacular views of Palermo, the Gulf of Mondello, and the Gulf of Palermo from its vantage point.

The mountain is a part of the Oriented Nature Reserve, harbouring some of the most breathtaking of Sicily’s flora and fauna in the wilderness that blankets its slopes. One of the best free things to do in Palermo that won’t cost you a penny is hiking up the mountain to take in views of Palermo from new heights. 

It takes roughly 40 minutes to reach viewpoints on the mountain from its base which borders Palermo, and you’ll be rewarded with unrivalled views of the city itself and its bay.

Palermo Cathedral

Admire The Palatine Chapel

Set within the Norman Palace is the Palatine Chapel, one of Palermo’s most visited historical and religious sites. It was built in the 12th century by Roger II of Sicily as a private chapel within his home, which was the Norman Palace itself. 

The Palatine Chapel is covered in gold from head to toe, which tints its walls, arches, and pillars in tiny golden mosaic form, creating beautifully detailed biblical scenes. The golden sheen that illuminates every nook and cranny of the chapel is enough to leave any visitor simply mesmerised, adding it to the top of the list of things to see in Sicily. 

Whilst not all sections of the Norman Palace are accessible, the Palatine Chapel is one of the areas that are open to visitors, and it shouldn’t be missed for those looking for the best things to do in Sicily and Palermo, in particular.

Experience A Performance At The Largest Opera House In Italy

The Teatro Massimo is Italy’s largest opera house, the third largest in Europe, and one of the most renowned in the world. Situated within the old town of Palermo, its dome is recognisable from a mile away and is a major landmark in Palermo’s skyline. 

Built in the 19th century in the neoclassical style, its position in Piazza Verdi places it in one of the most convenient spots in the city, so much so that it’s likely you’ll encounter it organically whilst roaming the streets of Palermo. 

The two distinct characteristics of the opera house are its large Greek-style pillars that line its exterior and its exceptional acoustics, which it has developed a reputation for. It’s still possible to see operas alongside other performances at the theatre so, for any lover of the arts, this is one of the top things to do in Palermo.

Teatro Massimo

Savour Some Local Street Food

Palermo is home to a variety of unique and delectable foods which stem from Italian cuisine and have been influenced by the many ancient civilisations that once inhabited Sicily. One of the best ways to get a taste of the island’s diverse cuisine is by sampling its street foods.

Sicily is said to offer some of the best street food in all of Europe, and it’s easy to dig your teeth into a variety of savoury and sweet eats as you roam the Palermo streets. There are a number of foods that you should undoubtedly try when you visit Palermo, such as the cannoli, which was invented in Sicily. This is a cylindrical pastry filled with sweet ricotta, or cream, and is often flavoured with pistachio, chocolate, or other sweet and fruity flavours. 

Similarly, Cassata is a dish which has been linked to Palermo. The dessert is made with candied fruits and a sponge cake which is soaked in liquor and mixed with ricotta before being coated in marzipan. 

Finally, Carne di Cavallo, which is horse meat, is a delicacy on the island. Vendors will sell burgers and sausages made from this animal’s cuts, and these are considered to be delicious amongst locals.

Spend The Day On Mondello Beach

Mondello Beach is the most famous beach in Palermo and is situated just 20 minutes by car north of the city. It offers crisp white sands, a bright turquoise sea, and beautiful natural scenery which borders its crescent-shaped bay, including Mount Gallo. 

The beach stretches 1.5km, meaning there’s ample space for visitors from far and wide to spend a day on its shores beneath the beating Mediterranean sunshine. Everything you could want and imagine for your beach day out is more than possible during a visit to Mondello Beach. Whether you’re looking to swim, tan, or sit beside the seafront with a drink or ice cream in hand, Mondello Beach is perfect for a quintessential beach getaway.

Mondello Beach

Explore A Market

During your visit to Palermo, you’ll undoubtedly wind through the old piazzas and some of the city’s most ancient streets. And, when doing so, you’d be silly not to indulge in the beautiful and historic markets that lie here.

The city is home to five street markets which date back to Arab settlers living on the island. These markets serve everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to seafood and meats. Whilst the quality of the food you’ll find at any one of Palermo’s markets is exceptional, you’re equally visiting them for the lively atmosphere and history that these ancient markets are steeped in. 

Some of the city’s most famous markets include the Mercado del Capo, whose colours, sounds, and aromas enrapture every sense. Other markets include Vuccuria, Ballarò, Borgo Vecchio, and Lattarini, and whichever you choose to visit, you’ll be in for a treat.

See A Sicilian Puppet Show

Puppet shows have been a traditional form of entertainment in Sicilian culture for centuries, and Palermo is one of the places where this tradition thrives the most.

In fact, Palermo’s traditional puppet theatre, known as Opera dei Pupi, was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List, demonstrating just how significant this form of entertainment is to the island’s culture. 

Becoming popular in the early 19th century, the Opera dei Pupi put on a variety of shows based on Medieval literature, including the lives of saints, poems of the Renaissance, and chivalrous romances.  Visitors can still see one of the company’s shows today, and whilst it is one of the most unusual things to do in Palermo, it is one of the most memorable for this same reason.

Sicilian Puppet Show

Stroll Within The Quattro Canti

The Quattro Canti, which is officially referred to as the Piazza Vigliena, was once the heart of ancient Palermo. It is a Baroque-style square which connected the four ancient districts of Capo, Kalso, Albergheria, and Vucciria. 

Constructed in the early 17th century, the piazza is roughly circular in shape and is surrounded by historic buildings. Its boundaries are illuminated in the daytime during which each of its curvilinear facades lights up, giving it its nickname of ‘Theatre of the Sun’.

It is one of the best places to visit in the city as it is drenched in history and is considered to be one of the most interesting Sicily tourist attractions. Be sure to spot the fountains on its facades, which each host a different figure at each corner that depicts one of the four seasons and, further up, you’ll also find each of Palermo’s four patron saints.

Walk The Catacombe Dei Cappucini

8,000 human skeletons lie in the Catacomb dei Cappucini, which are the remains of Palermitans and monks. This underground cemetery in Palermo is composed of a number of burial chambers in which these corpses are dotted within their walls. Between the 16th and 20th centuries, the remains were brought to the catacomb and now visitors can venture down to this spooky site for themselves. 

It is one of Palermo’s most unique cultural heritage sites and one of the most impressive graves in the world. Visitors can expect to see embalmed and preserved bodies on display that are well-categorised, with children alongside other children, doctors beside doctors, and so on.

Quattro Canti, Palermo

Where to Stay in Palermo

Situated in the Palermo area, only 5km from the city itself, Villa Raffaello is an opulent and elegant 18th-century villa sleeping up to 10 guests across 4 bedrooms. 

It may be that the property looks familiar to you, and you could be right, as it’s the same property that featured in the second season of the famed and favourite HBO TV Series “The White Lotus”. 

Originally built in the 1500s, the property rose to fame after featuring in the Bull Elephants episode of the series as the property in which two of the main protagonists, Daphne and Harper, stayed. 

Featuring a private swimming pool, and 20 acres of parkland which includes fountains, romantic gardens, and artificial lakes, there’s much to be mesmerised by at this breathtaking accommodation. And inclusive services such as the butler, private chef, and concierge make stays here all the more luxurious. 

Summary

For a Sicily city break, Palermo tops the list of places to visit on the island. Whether you’re a foodie, beach lover, culture vulture or otherwise, the city is home to bags of historic and traditional sites and experiences that will offer you nothing short of an authentic getaway in the heart of the island. 


You can contact our team of experts at Italian Breaks now to begin planning your perfect Palermo getaway.  Equally, you can visit our website, or our blog page, to learn more about the beautiful properties we have available on the island of Sicily and gain our expert insight and tips on how to spend your visit here at every time of the year.

Is Palermo Worth Visiting?

Home to a fascinating historic timeline and culture in bucketloads, Palermo is oozing with character and charm, unlike any other Italian or Sicilian destination. As such, it would be one of the destinations on the top of our list for those looking to dive headfirst into experiencing the true beauty of Sicily.

Is Palermo Safe?

Palermo is considered to be a safe Sicilian destination. But, much like other European capitals, you must have your wits about you and be vigilant when navigating your new surroundings. Pickpockets are common in certain areas of the city, and we wouldn’t recommend walking alone at night time in unpopulated areas. As long as you use your common sense, you should be fine. 

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