As Sicily’s capital city, Palermo is a tourist hot-spot full of fantastic opportunities for visitors. With so many things to do and see, it can be a struggle to make sure you hit all the best activities and have the vacation of your dreams. To help you save some time and the headache of determining what to do, we’ve come up with a list of the 10 best things to do in Palermo, Italy.
Whether you want to spend your time in Palermo checking out all the amazing architecture, lavish interior decorations, or relaxing on a Sicilian beach, this city has it all. It’s just a matter of determining what you really want to spend time doing.
So without further adieu, here are the 10 best things to do in Palermo, Italy!
Visit the Palermo Cathedral
During any visit to Palermo, visiting the Palermo Cathedral is an absolute must. Initially constructed in 1185, this cathedral has been influenced by many different societies and styles since it was built. This makes the design, both inside and out, one of the most unique designs anywhere in the city.
The outside of the Palermo Cathedral is expectedly prominent and gorgeous. With massive stone towers, ornate columns, a towering central dome, and well-kept grounds, it’s genuinely a building to marvel out from the outside. But it gets even better once you get inside. During its time, the Palermo Cathedral has been used as a place of worship, a mosque, and even a crypt.
With its varied history, you can expect to find all sorts of unique artifacts everywhere you look. The church even has a treasure chamber with priceless pieces of history as well as the tomb of Emperor Frederick II — remember the crypt? It’s just such a unique building and an important piece of Palermo’s history that you can’t visit the city without stopping by.
Spend Time in Piazza Pretoria
One of the many popular public spaces to visit while you’re in Palermo, Piazza Pretoria, is the square that you don’t want to miss out on. The Piazza Pretoria’s centerpiece is the fountain that shares its name — Fontana Pretoria — which is one of the most opulent and ornate fountains that you’ll find anywhere nearby.
Constructed in the 16th century, this famous fountain is a symbol of Palermo and is a must-see attraction while you’re visiting the Sicilian capital. Fontana Pretoria is made up of 16 marble statues, including the 12 Olympians, mermaids, and other mythological creatures.
Visit Norman Palace
Also known as the Royal Palace (Palazzo Reale), Normal Palace is one of the most ornately decorated buildings in all of Palermo, if not Sicily itself. The incredible architecture and stonework on the outside will draw you in and give you a taste of how stunning this palace is, but you won’t truly understand until you step inside.
Once you do, you’ll be surrounded by ornate decorations, including gold in-lays everywhere, artwork in every direction, candelabras adorning every surface, sculptures everywhere you look, and more. To this day, Normal Palace remains an integral part of Palermo society as it houses the Sicilian Parliament.
Check Out the Palermo Archaeological Museum
For any history-lovers making the trip to Palermo, a visit to the Palermo Archaeological Museum is a great way to spend a couple of hours. The museum houses an incredible collection of some of the most well-preserved archaeological finds of the region from all the different empires whose heyday has come and gone.
Once you’re in the museum, you’ll realize it’s incredibly easy to find your way around and know what you’re looking at because of how well it’s separated into distinct sections. The different areas all have artifacts from specific regions, regimes, or time frames, including Greek, Roman, Phoenician, and more.
Visit the Church of St. John of the Hermits
One of Palermo’s most recognizable landmarks due to its easily identifiable five red domes is the Church of St. John of the Hermits. The five red domes of varying sizes adorn the church’s roofs and make it an iconic symbol of Palermo to see no matter where you are. While the impressive stone construction and red domes will draw your attention and pique your interest, it gets better the closer you get.
The Church of St. John of the Hermits includes a beautiful cloister nearby, from which you can get a view of the rest of the facility and the bell tower looming overhead. Due to its historical significance and beauty, the Church of St. John of the Hermits has been made a UNESCO world heritage site and one that you don’t want to miss.
Explore the Capuchin Catacombs
The Capuchin Catacombs refer back to the days of the Capuchin Friars from the 16th century and are something that you should check out while you’re in Palermo. The aboveground Capuchin Abbey is nothing to gawk at, but the underground catacombs are a unique and eerie experience that you won’t get anywhere else.
In the catacombs, you’ll find a collection of over 8,000 preserved bodies. That sounds crazy, right? That’s because you won’t find anything quite like it anywhere else in the world. Take a tour through the catacombs and learn the Capuchin Friars’ history while you explore the ancient burial site.
Venture to the Top of Monte Pellegrino
When you get tired of the crowded city streets and tightly-packed streets and buildings of Palermo, venture to the nearby Monte Pellegrino for an escape. You can easily catch a bus from the city center and take the journey to the top of the mountain, less than ten miles away. Once you get to the top, get off the bus and be ready for an experience that will take your breath away.
From your vantage point atop Monte Pellegrino, you’ll get unobstructed views of not only Palermo below but also of much of the whole island of Sicily and the endless blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. You can also hike to the top of the mountain on foot if you’re into strenuous hiking, but it’s not a walk on the beach! No matter how you get to the top, the views will be worth it, and you’ll be glad you’re there.
Relax at Mondello Beach
If venturing to the top of Monte Pellegrino doesn’t pique your interest as a way to escape the busy streets of Palermo, this one might do the trick. A short bus ride north of the city, you’ll stumble upon the town of Mondello and its picturesque beach. Feel the warm sand between your toes and wade out into the warm Mediterranean waters and relax like never before.
The calm, clear waters at Mondello Beach make it perfect for taking a quick swim, wading in the shallows, or letting the gentle waves break over your feet as you soak up the sun. When you get hungry, just take the short walk out to the end of the pier, where you’ll find a restaurant and even more views of the seemingly endless blue waters.
See a Show at Massimo Theater
If you were asked where the biggest Opera House in all of Italy is, what would you say? Rome? Naples? Florence? Venice? All great guesses, but they’d all be wrong. The biggest one in the entire country is nestled in the little town of Palermo, Teatro Massimo (Massimo Theater). One of the city’s biggest buildings, Teatro Massimo, dominates much of the city’s skyline and is easy to find from almost anywhere in town.
Take a guided tour through the opulent theater, and learn the history of the incredible building. Teatro Massimo is sure to impress, from its impressive structure on the exterior to its lavish and grandiose interior. If you’re in town the night of the show, you should strongly consider reserving your spot. Seeing the Opera at Teatro Massimo is an experience you will never forget.
Excite Your Taste Buds in the Palermo Food Markets
If you want to really experience the culture of Palermo, there’s no better way than walking the streets and trying the authentic food you find at many of the city’s food markets. The most popular food markets are located in the center of the city and include Ballaro and Vucciria.
Through these markets, you’ll find countless restaurants, food stalls, and street vendors making different foods that are all delicious in their own way. Your senses will be blasted with the aroma of exotic foods and all the potential tastes floating around. Walking through the food markets and trying different culinary options is a great way to spend an evening in Palermo.