Top 60 things to do in Palermo, Sicily

Top 60 things to do in Palermo, Sicily

Finding things to do in Palermo is definitely not a challenge! Palermo is the vibrant capital of Sicily. It’s a city with an incredible rich and diverse history. It has been influenced by the Greeks, Arabs and Romans over the years and all have left their mark on the city. We reckon this is the most comprehensive list of things to do in Palermo that you will find online!

  1. Visit the Catacombs of Palermo – this rather macabre and eerie site is home to the mummified bodies of 8000 adults and children that lived here between the 17th and 19th centuries, including the mummy Rosalia, who it is claimed is the most beautiful in the world. Just be prepared for what you’re about to see. Some may find it rather gruesome to see mummified bodies hanging from the walls, some dressed in their finest clothes.
  2. Visit the world’s third largest opera house – the Massimo Theatre – either for a guided tour or, if you’re lucky enough, to attend a performance here. You may recognise the interior from the film, The Godfather III.
  3. Discover Europe’s largest tree in the gardens of Villa Garibaldi. The villa was built in 1863 by Giovan Battista Filippo Basile to celebrate the unification of Italy and the gardens were named after the national hero, Garibaldi. There is a bust of Garibaldi himself in the garden as well as busts of many other famous Sicilians. The monumental Ficus Macrophylla tree here is said to be the largest in Europe.
  4. Visit the 12th century Cathedral of Palermo. The cathedral was built on a site that was once home to a Christian church and then a mosque. Since its construction, a number of renovations have been made, most of which date back to the 1700s. These days it’s a spectacular site and a fascinating blend of architectural styles that span centuries. It’s also filled with incredibly ornate details to admire, including a gold tiara that once belonged to Queen Constance of Aragon. Head to the roof to enjoy views over the surrounding city. Book a guided toured of Palermo Cathedral and and Palermo’s UNESCO World Heritage sites to learn more about the building’s history.
  5. Learn about Sicily’s puppet tradition at the Puppet Theatre (Opera dei Pupi) and the Antonio Pasqualino International Puppet Museum (Museo delle Marionette). The tradition dates back as long ago as the 13th century and the puppetry skills have been passed from generation to generation
  6. Spend a couple of hours shopping for souvenirs at the Vucciria market. The latter was immortalised in a famous painting by Renato Guttuso.
  7. Learn more about Palermo’s street food scene on a Palermo street food tour. There is no better way than a food tour of Palermo to find out the best places to eat and the local delicacies to try. It’s also the best way of avoiding the tourist traps! Get You Guide have lots of Palermo street food tours to choose from including this Palermo street food tour at night.
  8. Visit the ornate Baroque Church of Sant’Agostino and discover the art it contains.
  9. Marvel at the Palatine Chapel (Cappella Palatina) in the Palazzo dei Normanni. This truly is a spectacular sight, built in 1132 on the orders of Roger II of Sicily to serve as a royal chapel. It’s one of the buildings in Palermo which most clearly shows Palermo’s melting pot of cultures – Greek, Arabic and Latin inscriptions are obvious to see. Take note of the extensive mosaic work and look up to admire its wooden carved ceiling depicting scenes from everyday life. Just remember that, as this is a religious building, you will need to dress appropriately in order to be given admittance. The Royal Palace itself is one of the oldest royal residences anywhere in Europe and was the seat of the Kings of Sicily since 1071. Enjoy a guided tour of the Norman Palace and Palatine Chapel to learn more about its history.
  10. Check out the fountain – Fontana Pretoria – in the Piazza Pretoria (which is affectionately named the ‘Square of Shame’. The name was given because of the fountain which was purchased by the city in 1574. It features 16 statues of nude mermaids, nymphs and humans which at the time were considered rather gratuitous by the strict Roman Catholic community. This wasn’t the only reason for the name though – it was also a rather appropriate name since the fountain was erected among rumours of corruption. A number of buildings had to be demolished for it to be built.
  11. Whilst in the Piazza Pretoria, enjoy a tour of the 15th century Palazzo Pretorio, one of Palermo’s most important municipal buildings.
  12. Go shopping for food at the Mercato del Capo. This guided tour of Palermo’s markets and street food scene will really bring the experience to life
  13. Take a walk through the Porta Nuova. The gate dates back to the 17th century but replaces an earlier gate that had stood in its place since at least the 15th century. On the other side of it, you will discover the Via Vittorio Emanuele II, one of Sicily’s oldest streets, which is lined with shops, restaurants, cafes and historic buildings.
  14. Check out the cruise ships in Palermo’s port. Palermo has been a major trading port for thousands of years and the port is always a lively place for a stroll. The cruise ships will be moored alongside impressive yachts, cargo ships and traditional fishing boats.
  15. Take a guided tour of the well-preserved historic Palazzo Mirto to learn what life would have been like for a noble family in Palermo.
  16. Take a walk across the Arab-Norman Admiral’s Bridge (Ponte dell’Ammiraglio) which links the historic centre of Palermo with the Royal Gardens that sit on the other side of the Oreto River. It’s about a 20 minute walk from the historic centre of Palermo but it’s part of the UNESCO World Heritage site and well worth a visit.
  17. Visit the Baroque Church of San Domenico and the piazza of the same name in which it sits. The convent of San Domenico is now home to the Museo del Risorgimento Vittorio Emanuele Orlando.
  18. Visit the Zisa Castle and its gardens, just a 30 minute stroll from the centre of the city. Once the Summer residence of King Guglielmo I in the mid 12th century, this is one of the finest examples of an Arabesque building in Palermo, featuring ornate muqarnas.
  19. Enjoy a passeggiata along the Foro Italico. This is a charming stretch of coastline that runs from Villa Giulia to Felice Gate. From here, it’s possible to continue your walk around the marina at La Cala.
  20. Enjoy the views from the Santa Rosalia Sanctuary which sits perched on the Monte Pellegrino. This 17th century church is carved into the rock. It is dedicated to Santa Rosalia, Sicily’s patron saint who it is believed died in the cave in the 1100s. Whilst its exterior may appear to be a typical Italian church, head inside to discover a beautiful natural cave. It is possible to walk both up and down the mountain side but, for those that may find this a little strenuous, you can catch a bus up to it and opt to just walk back down. Alternatively, opt for a bike tour of Monte Pellegrino which will incorporate a visit to the sanctuary as well as the opportunity to cycle some of the best trails on the mountain.
  21. Enjoy a cooking class in Palermo and learn how to make some Sicilian specialities such as cannoli, Pasta alla Norma or arancini. Get Your Guide have a whole host of Palermo cooking classes to choose from.
  22. Head to the beach and go for a swim in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Just 20 minutes drive outside Palermo is Mondello Beach, a stunning stretch of white sand perfect for a day in the sun. Just be aware that it can get very busy in peak Summer.
  23. Visit the Palazzo Abatellis, now home to an art museum – the Galleria Regionale della Sicilia.
  24. Step inside the Chiesa della Martorana (Church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio) which blends Norman, Byzantine, and Arab architecture. Step inside to discover the incredible beauty that lies within this church which is in stark contrasts to its slightly worn and shabby exterior. Inside you can’t help to be amazed at the 17th century frescoes and golden Byzantine mosaics.
  25. Admire the Baroque style Jesuit Chiesa del Gesu and its highly colourful frescoes along with its marble and stucco ornaments.
  26. Pay a visit to the Museum of Engines and Mechanisms (Museo Storico dei Motori e dei Meccanismi) to discover machines from the 19th and 20th centuries. Transport lovers will adore the exhibits which include some rare motor cars and small aeroplanes.
  27. Relax in the botanical gardens (Orto Botanico). The gardens are home to an eclectic mix of plant species from all over the world.
  28. Head next door to the ornate gardens of Villa Giulia, dotted with impressive sculptures and ponds where you can spot both fish and turtles.
  29. Enjoy a Vintage Fiat 500 sightseeing tour of Palermo – it’s a great way to see the city in style, without wearing yourself out by exploring on foot.
  30. Check out the Museum of Zoology Doderlein, a museum with a vast array of preserved creatures from the sea and their skeletons displayed in glass-fronted cabinets.
  31. Check out the modern art at Palermo’s Modern Art Gallery Sant Anna (or GAM as it’s commonly known by the locals) in the Kalsa district of the city. Over 200 works of art are displayed here.
  32. Take to the sea on a boat trip from Palermo. You could even catch a boat all the way to Sicily’s second largest city, Catania. This half day boat trip from Palermo will take you from Capo Gallo to Capo Zafferano and includes lunch on board. Or opt for a full day boat trip from Palermo if you need a longer break from the heat of the city.
  33. Learn about Palermo’s maritime history by visiting the Castello a Mare in La Cala. This is a historic fort which is over 1000 years old.
  34. Discover the huge collection of fossils in Palermo’s museum of geology and paleontology (Museo Geologico G.G. Gemmellaro). It’s home to over 60,000 artefacts covering nearly 3 million years of history. These include the 12,500 year old remains of the skeleton of a prehistoric elephant, the giant jaws of prehistoric sharks and much more.
  35. Discover more ancient treasures at the Archaeological Museum A. Salinas. Its artefacts chronicle the history of not just Palermo, but the wider island of Sicily from as far back as the Phoenician period through to the Greeks and then to the time of the Roman empire.
  36. Take the Palermo hop on hop off bus for a tour of the city. These open top tour buses are a great way to find your bearings in a city and they’re also extremely convenient. See something you like en route – then just hop off and climb back on when you’re ready to continue exploring.
  37. Stock up on foodstuffs at Palermo’s Ballarò market.
  38. Enjoy a day trip – there are a whole host of day trips to be enjoyed from Palermo. One of our favourites is a trip to the picturesque island of Ustica which can be reached in under an hour. Alternatively, stay on the mainland and head to the nearby town of Monreale or to the coastal fishing village of Cefalu. The latter is just 30 minutes by car and the former an hour away. This half day trip from Palermo will take you to both Monreale ands Cefalu. The latter are home to two monuments that make up the nine monuments of Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of CefalĂą and Monreale. Whilst seven of these are in the city of Palermo itself – the Royal Palace with the Palatine Chapel, the church of San Giovanni degli Eremiti, the church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio, the church of San Cataldo, the Palazzo della Zisa, the Admiral’s Bridge and Palermo Cathedral – Cefalu Cathedral and Monreale cathedral are outside. They are easy to visit from Palermo though.
  39. Discover the unique structure of the Church of Santa Maria della Catena in the Piazza Dogana. It’s rather different from the other churches in Palermo and is an excellent example of late Renaissance and Gothic-Catalan architecture.
  40. Go wine tasting in Palermo. If you have time, you could take a trip out of the city to a countryside winery but, if you’re in a rush, then there are plenty of places to enjoy a wine tasting in the heart of Palermo itself. This wine bar in Palermo offers great wine tastings. This day trip from Palermo takes you to both Erice and Marsala and, among other things, includes both a wine and olive oil tasting.
  41. Admire the beautiful tiles at the Majolica Museum. Here, you’ll find the walls covered in over 5000 stunning majolica tiles dating from between the 15th and 20th centuries, making it one of Europe’s largest private collections.
  42. Explore the beautiful gardens of the 12th century red-domed Arab-Norman Church of San Giovanni degli Eremiti.
  43. Learn more about the Holy Inquisition at the Museo dell’Inquisizione in the 15th century Palazzo Steri. Once the residence of Manfredi III Chiaramonte, it was also used as a prison for the Holy Inquisition. The latter kept thousands of prisoners here across a 200 year period, all accused of being heretics by the Roman Catholic church. Visitors can enjoy a tour of the former cells, where it is possible to see the writings and drawings of prisoners on the cell walls.
  44. Explore the Villino Florio, a striking art nouveau villa in the Zisa district of Palermo that was designed by Palermo architect, Ernesto Basile. Following a fire in the 1960s it has now been fully restored to its former glory.
  45. Visit the Church of San Francesco d’Assisi to admire its beautiful interior.
  46. Stand in the middle of the intersection between the Via Maqueda and the Corso Vittorio Emanuele, Palermo’s two main roads. This intersection is known as the Quattro Canti and features four impressively identical facades on four opposing buildings. The structures date back to the early 17th century and the Baroque style architecture features reliefs depicting the four seasons, the four Spanish kings of Sicily and the four female patron saints of Palermo – Christina, Ninfa, Olivia and Agata.
  47. Visit the church with no roof – the Gothic Church of Santa Maria dello Spasimo – which stands unfinished. It hosts exhibitions and cultural events throughout the year.
  48. Visit the Chapel of San Lorenzo (Oratorio di San Lorenzo) to admire the intricate stucco decoration and artwork that it contains, including an altarpiece by Caravaggio.
  49. Take to the sky with a paragliding experience in Palermo. Probably not the first thing you had in mind when visiting Palermo but seeing the city from above is a unique experience!
  50. Relax in the Giardino Inglese (English garden), a small park popular with locals. If you’re visiting in the Winter months, you’ll find an ice rink here.
  51. Another day trip from Palermo is to Mount Etna. This active volcano is a 3 hour drive from the city but the views from the top are certainly worth the time taken to get there! Take this day trip from Palermo to Mount Etna and it will also include a trip to the bustling town of Taormina.
  52. Go snorkelling – the waters in the area around Palermo are perfect for snorkelling enthusiasts.
  53. Check out the art at the Regional Contemporary Art Museum (RISO) at the Palazzo Belmonte Riso. Whilst small, it displays a superb collection of art by Sicilian artists from many different periods.
  54. If you need to escape the heat of the city, then a great option is to drive 30 minutes outside Palermo to the beautiful Capo Gallo nature reserve. It’s a haven for wildlife and offers some of the most beautiful walks and hikes anywhere on the island.
  55. Watch a performance at Palermo’s second biggest theatre – the Teatro Politeama – which is also home to the Sicilian Symphonic Orchestra. It’s easy to spot the building – just watch out for its neo-classical facade topped with a statue of Apollo aboard his chariot. If you can’t time your visit to coincide with a show, then you can still enjoy a guided tour.
  56. Marvel at the Greek ruins at Segesta, less than an hour from the heart of Palermo. The Doric temple here dates back to 430 BC and is incredibly well preserved.
  57. Head outside Palermo to pay your respects at the Capaci monument. This monument was built to mark one of the most brutal events in Sicily’s history – the Capaci Massacre – when, on 23 May 1992, a bomb blew up part of the motorway killing anti-mafia prosecutor Giovanni Falcone and his wife along with three agents. On this bike tour of Palermo, you can learn more about the impact that the mafia has had on Sicilian life and culture and how the island is healing from the wounds inflicted by Mafia violence that peaked in the early 1990s, hear about the work of anti-mafia movements like Libera and Addiopizzo and learn about some key figures within it.
  58. Visit some of Palermo’s other incredible palaces – the Palazzo Comitini, the Palazzo delle Ferrovie, the Palazzo Jung and the Palazzo Abatellit.
  59. Relax in the beautiful gardens of Villa Bonanno, filled with palm trees. Named after Pietro Bonanno who was once mayor of Palermo, it’s a nice place to find some shade along with some peace and quiet in the Summer months.
  60. Admire the Church of San Francesco d’Assisi which is found in the Kalsa district of Palermo. It’s 14th century facade is rather beautiful, whilst inside the 17th century Chapel of the Immaculate Conception has frescoes by Pietro Novelli and statues of the Virtues by Giacomo Serpotta.

The things to see and do in Palermo in Sicily is so extensive that this isn’t even an exhaustive list but it’s certainly enough to keep you busy for more than a few days!