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Seek out the best things to do in Palermo, Italy and you’ll be rewarded with unique sights, experiences, and flavors that mean you’ll be living like a local in no time at all.

Sitting at the crossroads of Europe, Africa and the Middle East, Sicily’s strategic position in the heart of the Mediterranean has long attracted the attention of the region’s changing superpowers. With periods under Phoenician, Norman, Turkish, Greek, Arab and Spanish rule, the island is a true melting pot of color, culture, and tastes.

Its capital, Palermo, perfectly encapsulates this multifaceted history, proudly wearing that heady mix of Middle Eastern, European and African heritage like a badge of honor. Its four historic quarters and their surrounds bring together Byzantine mosaics, bustling souk-like markets, modern street art, and Renaissance masterpieces.

Part of Palermo’s charm is that it has its rough edges, and is a living, breathing city rather than a glossy tourist attraction. These are some of the best things to do in Palermo.

Marvel at the Baroque Architecture in Quattro Canti

Street view of Quattro Canti

Quattro Canti

Set at the intersection of Via Maqueda and Corso Vittorio Emanuele, Palermo’s four historic quarters meet at the magnificent Piazza Vigliena, locally known as the Quattro Canti.

A walk around the square is a little like being in a living museum: each of its four corners is home to a near-identical, elaborately sculptured concave Baroque building.

Each of these in turn houses a statue of one of the four Spanish kings of Sicily, another statue of one of the four patron saints of Palermo and a fountain, each dedicated to one of the four seasons.

Read: Best Places to Visit in Sicily

See the “Shameful” Statues of Piazza Pretoria

Visit Piazza Pretoria, one of the best things to do in Palermo

Piazza Pretoria

A few yards south and east of the Quattro Canti lies Piazza Pretoria, the far limit of the Kalsa district. It’s also known as the Piazza della Vergogna, or the “square of shame”.

The reason for this grandiose piazza’s alternative moniker comes from the 16 naked statues of river gods, nymphs, mermaids, and satyrs that surround the Fontana Pretoria, a magnificent fountain that fronts the Palazzo Pretorio, the Sicilian capital’s Renaissance Revival city hall.

The square’s other three sides are home to the 16th-century Church of Saint Catherine, a pair of baronial palaces, and a grand staircase that descends to Via Maqueda.

Visit the Royal Tombs at Palermo Cathedral

Visit Palermo Cathedral, one of the best things to do in Palermo

Palermo Cathedral

Dating from the 12th century and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Palermo Cathedral is one of the best-loved icons in Sicily.

A mish-mash of architectural styles reflects the influence of the various cultures that have shaped the island. There are elements of Norman, Arab, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque stylings in its striking exterior.

Inside is no less impressive thanks to the high domed ceilings, statues of the saints, and the tombs of several monarchs and nobles, including Emperor Frederick II and King Roger II.

Explore the Eerie Catacombe dei Cappuccini

Skeletons at the Catacombe dei Cappuccini

Catacombe dei Cappuccini

A visit to the Catacombs of the Capuchins, to give them their English name, is probably the strangest but most fascinating thing to do in Palermo.

The catacombs are part of the Capuchin monastery. Monks began excavating crypts and housing the mummified remains of friars here from the 16th century onwards when the main cemetery above ran out of space for further burials.

Originally designed to only house fellow Capuchins, the catacombs’ fame soon spread with members of Palermo’s high society paying for the privilege of interring their remains here.

The catacomb now displays an incredible 8,000 corpses and some 1,200 mummies divided between various halls dedicated to men, women, virgins, children, priests, monks, and professionals.

Stroll Around Parco della Favorita

Exterior of Parco della Favorita

Parco della Favorita

Landscaped by royal decree in 1799, this sprawling urban park sits to the north of the city in the shadow of Monte Pellegrino overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Approached by a grand, tree-lined avenue, the park is a quiet oasis compared to the bustling and sometimes hectic city itself. Highlights include a central lake with rowboats, jogging paths, sculptures, picnic areas, and spaces for exercise with the park office organizing regular classes such as yoga and Pilates.

Summit Monte Pellegrino

Visit Monte Pellegrino, one of the best things to do in Palermo

Monte Pellegrino

Overlooking Parco della Favorita at around 1,800 feet, the summit of Monte Pellegrino offers incredible vistas over the park, the city, and the blue expanses of the Tyrrhenian Sea.

There are two ways to the summit: drive up the winding Via Bonanno Pietro, or take the scenic hiking trail (around five hours return) through scented pine forests.

The route also takes in another of the best things to do in Palermo: the Santuario di Santa Rosalia, a church set against a cliff wall on the mountain and dedicated to the island’s patron saint.

Promenade on Foro Italico

View of Foro Italico

Foro Italico

When 16th-century viceroy Marcantonio Colonna first mooted a waterfront park with a walking path, little could he have imagined it would eventually go on to become one of Palermo’s most iconic locations.

In the immediate years after it was first landscaped, the promenade became a favorite spot for the city’s upper classes to take an evening stroll.

Slowly, it became democratized to the point where it is now enjoyed by all. Renovated in the early 2000s, it is home to well-kept lawns, flower gardens, benches, sculptures, and a cycling path.

Relax at Orto Botanico di Palermo

Trail in Orto Botanico di Palermo

Orto Botanico di Palermo

Palermo’s majestic botanical gardens sprung from humble beginnings. In 1779, the Accademia dei Regi Studi set up a small garden to assess the medicinal qualities of plants and this has since grown to house an incredible collection of species spreading over a 30-acre plot.

Must-sees include the elegant neoclassical Gymnasium (which houses the main offices and a herbarium), an aquarium dedicated to aquatic flora, greenhouses, and a fine example of a Moreton Bay Fig. The tree was imported from Australia in 1845 and is still flourishing today.

Take to the Stage at the Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele

Exterior of Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele

Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele

A renowned star of many famous movies, the Teatro Massimo is Palermo’s opera house, dedicated to King Victor Emanuel II and the biggest in Italy.

Opened in 1897, it is recognized for its elegant colonnaded entrance and perfect acoustics. There are daily tours of the building that allow visitors to explore the theater when there are no live shows and take to the stage for an artist’s eye view of the incredible interior.

From here, the seven tiers of private boxes (ordinarily the preserve of the rich and famous) can be seen, as well as the busts of famous composers carved by famed sculptor Giusto Liva.

Get a Tan at Mondello Beach

Mondello Beach, one of the best things to do in Palermo

Mondello Beach

Palermo is a busy Italian port and for many, a city-break destination, but those looking to escape the dazzling heat of summer can still take a cooling dip at Mondello Beach.

Some seven miles north of the city on a bay lined with opulent Liberty-style villas, this long arc of straw-colored sand and blue, shallow waters is dotted with bright beach huts, umbrellas, and sun loungers.

Iconic Art Nouveau building of Charleston


At its heart is the resort’s main symbol: a striking Art Nouveau building called the Charleston. Sitting on a pier that juts out into the water, it has a bar, a restaurant, and a private area of beach with loungers to rent.

The beach also has pedal-boat hire and fine views of Monte Pellegrino back towards the city itself.

Read: Best Beaches in Sicily

Sample Local Gelato

Gelato at a store in Palermo


Italy is known for its gelato, and in Sicily it’s more akin to a religion. It’s thought the Moors first brought a mix of fruit juice and ice to the island in the ninth century, and frozen desserts have been all the rage ever since.

Gelato in a brioche bun


Your usual cups and cones are popular, but one of the unique ways ice cream is served here is in a brioche bun—often for breakfast. Pezzo Duro Siciliano—an ice cream cake with various flavors—is also popular, as is the more traditional granite, a sorbet similar to those original Moorish recipes.

Gelateria abound in Palermo and all of them, naturally, claim to offer the best in town. Cappadonia Gelati, a small local chain, and Gelateria Ciccio Adelfio, which dates from the 1930s are popular options.

Gelateria Giovanni Ilardo is said to be the oldest on the island, dating from 1860. Unlike other establishments, it also serves pizza and home-cooked food.

Marvel at the Mosaics of the Norman Palace

Exterior of Norman Palace

Norman Palace

The former seat of the Kings of Sicily and now the home of the Sicilian Regional Assembly, the Palazzo dei Normanni (also known as the Royal Palace of Palermo) offers a unique insight into the island’s varied history.

Sitting at the highest point of the ancient city, it was first built by the Normans in 1072 and is thought to be the oldest royal residence in Europe. Added to many times over the years, it remains a working building but there are several areas beyond the stern medieval façade that can be visited by members of the public.

View inside the Palatine Chapel, Norman Palace

Palatine Chapel, Norman Palace

The Palatine Chapel, added to the complex by King Roger II in 1132, is an exquisite example of Byzantine-Norman-Arab art and construction, with a ceiling covered in incredible gold and marble mosaics.

There are more mosaics and frescoes in the Royal Rooms, while there’s also an Astronomical Observatory in the Pisan Tower. Dating from 1801, it contains a museum of 19th century telescopes.

Experience the Sights and Smells of Ballarò Market

Various produce inside a market in Palermo

Market in Palermo

The Arabic influence of this region is perhaps nowhere more felt than in Ballarò Market, a vast, partially open-air street market in the Albergheria district that bears more than a passing resemblance to an Arab souk.

Dating from the 10th century, the market contains myriad stalls selling all manner of produce: fresh fish, meat, vegetables, fruit, olives and cheeses, most of which are farmed or produced by local smallholders or artisans.

The stallholders, meanwhile, have all developed a unique singing style of advertising their wares. A little like a call-and-response prayer, their lilting song can be heard as one approaches, adding a unique atmosphere to this most charming part of this Sicilian town.

Admire Palermo’s Street Art

Street art in Palermo

Street art in Palermo Photo by Matthias Süßen on Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC BY 3.0

Palermo’s multicultural background can be seen all around in its buildings and traditions, but this bustling city is more than just a collection of historic sights. Once-bare walls in the districts of Albergheria, Vucciria, Kalsa, Zisa, and Borgo Vecchio have become blank canvases for some of the most incredible modern street art.

Each district has its own unique works with stand-out pieces including Albergheria’s giant mural of Viva Santa Rosalia by Igor Scalisi Palminteri, with the patron saint looking over the city from on high.

Over in the Cala district there’s a poignant piece dedicated to Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. The two public prosecutors fought long-running legal battles with the local mafia and have been considered among Palermo’s most heroic figures following their assassinations in 1992.

Take a Bite of Sicilian Street Food

Street food in Palermo

Street food in Palermo

As one of the best food cities in Italy, you can certainly find fine-dining restaurants in Palermo. A more authentic way to taste local life, though, is to make a stop at one of the many street food vendors stationed around the various public squares and street corners.

The tell-tale giveaway for finding the best is to look for the length of the line, particularly around lunchtime, and then to check out what they are selling.

Arancini being sold at a market in Palermo


More typical (and perhaps palatable to most) include offerings such as arancini. This popular Sicilian dish is traditionally filled with cheese or ragu, dipped in breadcrumbs and deep fried into a tasty treat.

Those with more adventurous tastes may want to sample pani câ meusa (spleen sandwich) or stigghiola (sheep’s intestines grilled on a skewer), both more delicious than they sound. No one, however, should miss out on From historic wonders to vibrant markets, explore the best things to do in Palermo for an enriching Sicilian experience. . These delightful pastry tubes are filled with fresh ricotta and fruits.

Scenic waterfront of Palermo


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