You won’t run out of things to do and see in Palermo, Sicily. This ancient capital city is a wonderland of fabulous, mystical, wondrous and mysterious must see Palermo attractions.
Palermo is ground zero for World Heritage Sites. Why is that? Italy has the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites of any country in the world.
Sicily has the most UNESCO sites in Italy, so Palermo, the capital of Sicily, is king of UNESCO World Heritage Sites…and with good reason!
Palermo must-see sites include imposing palaces like the Palazzo dei Normani, mysterious underground crypts of the Catacombe dei Capuccini, and the most mouth-watering street food in Italy. And when you consider that Palermo’s restaurants and culinary delights are competing with places like Florence and Rome, that’s really saying something!
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Palermo City Palaces
Palermo, Sicily itself is like a cultural amusement park with its winding alleyways, ornate decaying palaces and street markets with the strangest vegetables I’ve ever seen.
Among the top 10 Palermo sights are the cathedrals with unusual architecture and religious street processions. It’s all a little bizarre and surreal…like a Fellini movie. That’s why some of the best things to do in Palermo include absorbing the architecture.
Sicily was conquered and inhabited by a diverse group of people with different cultures and architectural styles; Normans, Arabs, Spaniards, Greeks. For this reason, the most impressive structures are a wonderful mix of styles, unlike anything you see elsewhere. This is one of the things that make the must see Palermo cathedral so fascinating. You won’t see these styles anywhere else in the world.
Built around the late 1100s, the Cathedral has been many things, a tomb, a mosque, a farm. The style is ornate with Moorish arches, Gothic spires and a touch of the Italianate Baroque. The inside of the building is even more sumptuous guarding religious icons and objects as well as the tombs of Sicilian royalty.
Palermo, Sicily Streets and Markets
As impressive as Palermo’s architectural gems are, the real Palermo is experienced in its streets, markets, and in its food. Palermo markets are a festival of food. During our three-day stay, our street was closed for an ice-cream festival.
The pedestrianized Palermo streets made it easy to wander around the ornate palaces some of which have been turned into museums. Palermo’s plazas function as the city’s living rooms filled with little cafes, music venues, art exhibits, and strolling citizens. Street food in Palermo can be found all over town in little stalls selling tasty snacks for about 1 – 2 Euros. Try as many as you can especially the “arancini” little, fried rice balls.
We were lucky enough to be in town the night of a religious street procession. A crowd was singing religious hymns and carrying a statue of Mary down a major street accompanied by priests and musicians. I felt like I was in the original Godfather movie.
The Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan immigrants to Sicily seem to have taken over the small vendors markets selling jewelry and the ubiquitous Indian garments. I got into a conversation with Dileep, one of the Sri Lankan immigrant vendors. He told me he had really wanted to go to the States but it was easier to get to Italy. He had family in Manhattan and would try to get there.
I wondered if he would make it to the U.S. Probably. He was a young, outgoing, engaging hustler. He spoke English, Italian, his own language, and had family in New York. Odds are I’ll bump into him on Lexington and 23rd street in New York someday.
At the Ballaro market, one of three major markets in Palermo, we saw some very strange looking vegetables. Looks were deceiving. When we tasted them at a nearby food stall and they were delicious.
A trip through the markets of Palermo will surprise you.
The 16th-century cemetery of the Capuchin monastery of Palermo grew too small to accept new bodies. The priests were forced to unearth the tombs beneath it to buy their fellow clergy. The bodies were treated with various preservation methods; vinegar wash, embalming, or sealing them in glass. The townspeople began to see these catacombs, or underground crypts, as sacred ground. Why else would priests be buried there?
The residents offered donations in return for burial in the catacombs until having the catacombs as a final resting place became a status symbol for the upper classes. sensing a financial opportunity, the priests began offering tomb maintenance in return for donations. Donations poured in, more ground was excavated until a virtual underground city was created beneath the monastery.
Once donations stopped for the maintenance of a particular body, it was placed on an above-ground shelf–essentially a spiritual hostage–until the donations resumed.
The exhibit is filled with mummies, some remarkably well-preserved. Most interestingly, you can learn about the customs and traditions of the local residents of the time. Well worth a visit and one of the key Palermo points of interest.
As in the rest of Italy, food is close to being a religion in Sicily. Easting is what to do in Palermo any time of day. The residents celebrate food and wine. Sicilian wine is extraordinary, velvety smooth and thick on your tongue. There is no bad food. Even the tiny eateries down side alleys serve extraordinary food. It is truly a foodie’s paradise.
Although we didn’t have one even mediocre meal in Palermo, two restaurants that stood out are Il Maestro del Brodo and Palazzo Sambuca, both specializing in Sicilian cuisine. As soon as I returned home I attempted to recreate some of their dishes…so far unsuccessfully, but I’ll keep trying!
The antipasto section at Il Brodo restaurant.
Dinner at Palazzo Sambuca in Palermo’s port.
What are your thoughts on things to see and do in Palermo, Sicily? What if your favorite activity on a trip?
Want to know more about Palermo’s main points of interest and its fascinating history? Check out these reference books:
Read the other installments of the series: Seven Adventures in Southern Italy including Naples, Matera, Taormina, Ortygia, Agrigento, and Monreale.
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Top Palermo Markets. The four historic quarters of Palermo each have their own market. But Ballarò, Vucciria, and Capo are the most prominent when it comes to historical charm and popularity with both locals and tourists alike.What is the name of the street market Palermo? ›
Ballarò is one of the oldest street markets in Palermo, one of the most lively and surely picturesque of Sicily. Its name, Ballarò indeed, recalls its ancient arab origins, as it is Sicily's outdoor market tradition, which explains their similarity to Arab suqs.Is Palermo a walkable city? ›
Palermo is a very walkable city, especially if you stay in the Old Town or Politeama/Libertà . Many tourists have no need at all for a car.What part of Palermo is best to stay? ›
- Centro Storico (Old Town)
- Politeama/Libertà (Downtown)
- Mondello (Seaside)
The city is noted for its history, culture, architecture and gastronomy, playing an important role throughout much of its existence; it is over 2,700 years old. Palermo is in the northwest of the island of Sicily, by the Gulf of Palermo in the Tyrrhenian Sea.What is the main piazza in Palermo? ›
The extravagant piazza in the center of Palermo is Piazza Pretorio is home to the city's delightful fountain and other architectural gems. Named for the Palazzo del Pretorio, which was the ruling seat of power, the piazza was given a dubious nickname- Piazza of Shame.What day is the market in Palermo? ›
Fera o Luni (Monday's Fair) is the most famous market, now open every day, with clothing and household goods as well as fresh fruit and fish. On Sunday mornings, there is a flea market and numerous smaller antique markets and all very much worth a visit.Why is Palermo so cheap? ›
But prices in Palermo remain modest, not just because the average salary is lower here and many people are unemployed, but because it is not really a touristy destination. Prices are kept low because it is a University town, so you'll find lots of affordable deals across the city!Can you get around Palermo without a car? ›
Between the comfortable and scenic trains plus the comprehensive bus network, it's possible to get around much of Sicily without your own vehicle. And prices on public transportation are very cheap, making it a great budget option.How many days is enough for Palermo? ›
If you choose tu Visit palermo, 3 days is perfect to visit the best tourist attractions of the city. You will also have the time to visit the stunning Monreale Cathedral, one of the most beautiful in Sicily, as well as the charming Monreale town.
At night it's best for a woman not to walk around the Kalsa or Cassaro areas alone. We reiterate that, despite appearances, violent street crime in Palermo is actually low compared to many places. But this doesn't mean that it does not exist! Certain "social" factors come into play here too.Where do the rich live Palermo? ›
Albergheria. The oldest of the four noble neighborhoods is Albergheria, which is known for the Royal Palace, as the Phoenicians put basis to build it in the highest part of the city.Where can I walk in Palermo? ›
- Albergheria and Ballarò District. There are a lot of attractions that you really should see when you are walking through this quarter. ...
- Capo District. ...
- Kalsa District. ...
- Vucciria District.
Cefalù is more relaxing than Palermo, but as DKCairns indicated, there's so much to see and do in Palermo. If you mostly want to see Palermo, then stay in Palermo, and day trip to Cefalù. If relaxing is more important to you, then base in Cefalù, and day trip to Palermo. How crowded for Cefalù will depend on how hot.What is the nicest part of Sicily? ›
- 1) Taormina. ...
- 2) Syracuse and Ortigia Island. ...
- 3) Lampedusa and Rabbit Beach - Pelagie Islands. ...
- 4) Val di Noto. ...
- 5) Aeolian Islands. ...
- 6) Agrigento and the Valley of the Temples. ...
- 7) Cefalù ...
- 8) Mount Etna.
For those keen to explore Sicilian market culture, Palermo may be a better choice. With markets such as the Mercato di Ballaro, the Mercato di Capo and even the Vucciria night market, there are a few more to choose from that are easily accessible for tourists when compared to Catania.Is Sicily better than Amalfi? ›
Whilst the Amalfi Coast's history is fascinating, and there are plenty of remains that show traces of past civilizations, Sicily is the better choice if you're a fan of history and want to see a huge range of ancient monuments, archaeological sites and ruins.Is Palermo Sicily cheap? ›
Whether you're planning a month long road trip like us, or a quick one week sojourn to enjoy Sicily's highlights, there's one question that's likely crossed your mind - 'is Sicily expensive? '. The simple answer is that by European holiday standards, it's really quite affordable.Is Palermo Sicily expensive? ›
Palermo is a great affordable city for tourists. On average, you may not have to spend more than between 70 and 150 euros depending on your priorities and preferences. Of this, 20 to 25 euros go to food, less than 10 euros on public transport and about 35-100 euros on accommodation.What is the most famous piazza? ›
The most famous of all piazzas in Italy, Saint Peter's Square serves as the entry point to the greatest basilica of the Christian world: St. Peter's Basilica. Built around 1667, the striking square and its grand colonnades represent the core of the Vatican City.
You have nothing to worry about when you visit Palermo. Much like the rest of Sicily, it is considered more than safe to visit. You need to take the normal precautions that you would take anywhere visiting a big city in the world.What is the best month to be in Sicily? ›
March through June and October are ideal, with few crowds, lots of festivals, and mild weather. The days leading up to Easter are full of celebrations, and worth planning around. July and August are hot and can be crowded — especially at beaches and resorts. September is the busiest (and most expensive) month.What is the coldest month in Palermo? ›
The cool season lasts for 4.0 months, from November 29 to March 30, with an average daily high temperature below 64°F. The coldest month of the year in Palermo is February, with an average low of 48°F and high of 58°F.Are Sicilians friendly? ›
That said, Sicilians are very warm and friendly people. Even if you're not able to communicate, they'll welcome you with open arms.Do they speak English in Sicily? ›
Wherever tourists can be found around the globe, people speak English. Sicily is no exception. Many tourists, of course, pass through Sicily's three airports. At each airport you will find it easy to make your way using English, especially since the auto rental offices at each airport also use English.What is the coldest month in Sicily? ›
August is the hottest month in Sicily with an average temperature of 22.35°C (72°F) and the coldest is January at 8.65°C (48°F) with the most daily sunshine hours at 10 in July. The wettest month is December with an average of 78.6mm of rain.Is taxi expensive in Sicily? ›
I will tell you now that taxi services in Sicily are incredibly expensive, and even more so in Palermo. This increases further when you travel at night. As you might be able to see, locals seldom take cabs.Do you need cash in Palermo? ›
Major cards are accepted in tourist restaurants and shops, but cash is often preferred. If you plan to use your regular bank card, do let your bank know you're travelling, so they don't flag up any transactions as suspicious.Is Palermo cheaper than Rome? ›
The cost of living in Palermo is 36% less expensive than in Rome.How many Euros should I take to Sicily for a week? ›
A vacation to Sicily for one week usually costs around €569 for one person. So, a trip to Sicily for two people costs around €1,138 for one week. A trip for two weeks for two people costs €2,276 in Sicily.
How much money will you need for your trip to Palermo? You should plan to spend around €74 ($74) per day on your vacation in Palermo, which is the average daily price based on the expenses of other visitors. Past travelers have spent, on average, €23 ($23) on meals for one day and €4.51 ($4.51) on local transportation.Is Sicily walkable? ›
Best for urban adventure. The best way to enjoy Sicily's main city is by getting lost. Endlessly walkable, there is a slew of revamped pedestrian areas and squares (with plenty of cafes for refreshment) amidst the centuries of decay the city wears proudly. Palermo is a place to lose yourself in its contradictions.Can we drink tap water in Sicily? ›
Generally speaking, Sicilian tap water is potable, although it may carry a metallic taste if it comes from Etna. The strange taste can also be found around a volcanoes, Taormina or Catania. Public places and fountains generally have signs, informing the bypassers if the water is potable or not.Are there pickpockets in Palermo? ›
Palermo is home to some of the most skilled pickpockets on the continent.Are taxis safe in Palermo? ›
Yes, they are generally safe. We rarely hear about problems with taxi drivers, except the usual taxi driver style haggling, trying to make an extra pound.Where do the super rich live in Italy? ›
Tuscany. Tuscany remains one of the most popular (and expensive) areas to buy a house in Italy among ex-pats. Foreign investors are particularly attracted to the so-called 'golden triangle' of Florence, Siena and Volterra, where, as is well known, the most expensive properties in Italy are located.Where do most billionaires live? ›
A single person estimated monthly costs are 726$ (721€) without rent. Palermo is 47.16% less expensive than New York (without rent). Rent in Palermo is, on average, 87.43% lower than in New York.Is Palermo easy to get around? ›
Seriously though, Palermo is very difficult to get around in. You can easily navigate the City Center and downtown through a reliable bus service, but beyond these areas, you are in God's hands.Is Taormina or Cefalu better? ›
Taormina is more tourist-friendly than Cefalù offering a plethora of hotels and restaurants. Siracusa is a historical and sightseeing destination, not a beach resort, and not necessarily a town to relax. Noto is a fantastic day trip. For a few days of relaxation and some sightseeing, Taormina would be your best option.
Re: Palermo or Taormina? It depends on your preference, Taormina is a small, chic and pricey tourist resort, Palermo is a big and chaotic city, two completely different environments/experiences. With only 4 days, you have to decide between the two.Where should I stay in Sicily for the first time? ›
If you are visiting Sicily for the first time, Palermo is the best area to stay in Sicily. It is packed with baroque buildings, churches, palaces, museums, and art galleries; it has a great nightlife with many bars, restaurants, and plenty of accommodation options that suit all budgets.What days are the markets in Palermo? ›
- Admission Fee: free to observe and wander around.
- Opening Times: Monday to Saturday 7.00-19.00 but the mornings are the best time to go as they are the busier.
- Address: Vucciria Market is in Piazza Caracciolo, Palermo.
- Wander Quattro Canti.
- See Fontana Pretoria.
- Admire the Church and Monastery of Santa Caterina d'Alessandria.
- Step Inside Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio.
- Visit the Church of San Cataldo.
- Join the Locals at a Public Market.
- Visit San Giovanni degli Eremiti.
Palermo, Cefalu, Taormina, and Catania are the nicest parts of Sicily.How much money do you need a day in Sicily? ›
You should plan to spend around €81 ($81) per day on your vacation in Sicily, which is the average daily price based on the expenses of other visitors. Past travelers have spent, on average, €26 ($26) on meals for one day and €10 ($10) on local transportation.