What to see in Palermo, Sicily

Sicily has been inhabited by the Greeks, Romans, Saracens, Normans, Spanish, and of course, modern-day Italians – and the evidence is everywhere. The bustling city of Palermo, on the island’s northwest coast, has a gritty feel, but a vibrant atmosphere, incredible art and architecture, and fresh, exotic food. Use my recommendations below on what to see in Palermo. 

CRW_3357 palermo

Markets in Palermo: two recommendations

Visit the markets of Vucciria or Ballaro’ and gape at all the types of fresh fish, the abundant fruit and vegetables, or just people-watch as the Sicilians point, yell, and do their daily shopping. Take note: whatever is abundant and looks fresh and plump is what you should try to have for lunch.

Speaking of lunch, keep your eye out for hole-in-the-wall restaurants near the market or the wharf. If you find something sparsely decorated, with a few plastic tables, no menu, no prices listed, and 1 cook – usually an older woman – you’ve hit the jackpot. The food will be inexpensive, fresh, and very authentically Sicilian.



Cultural Activities: two recommendations

See a puppet show. Most likely it will be the classic Italian tale of Rinaldo from Lodovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso. The show won’t be in English, so familiarize yourself with the plot beforehand. But don’t worry about the language barrier: the energy and costumes of the puppets, the puppetteers’ voices, and the scene will keep you entranced. If you really love puppets, or if you’re traveling with kids, go see the International Puppet Museum, too

See an opera at the world-renowned Teatro Massimo, featured in the movie The Godfather.

Sicilian granita Italy

What to eat in Palermo

Don’t skip dessert – after all, cannoli and the sweet shaved ice, granita (photo above) are originally Sicilian. In addition to luscious fruits and vegetables, look for African and Spanish influences in food such as couscous and use of cinnamon. Also eat: pistachios, almonds (marzipan), oranges, olives, sardines, swordfish, and chickpeas (or things made of chickpea flour).

Mosaics in Palermo: two recommendations

Visit the Capella Palatina (photo below) in the Palazzo dei Normanni, with mosaics rivaling those of Ravenna and Constantinople. Yes, that entire photo is of mosaics. Compare them to more mosaics in the gorgeous Duomo of Monreale, which is about a half an hour away. If it works for your Sicily itinerary, go see the mosaics of African animals and bikini-clad women in the Villa del Casale in Piazza Armerina, only a few hours away.

Monreale Cathedral Palermo Sicily


Churches in Palermo: two recommendations

Palermo has hundreds of churches, but make sure to see the Duomo or main church, and the red-domed San Giovanni degli Eremiti (see photo above), which is unlike any other church in Italy. Built in the 6th century and converted into a mosque after the Islamic conquest of Sicily, it was returned to the Christians after the Norman domination in the 12th century.  

Mondello beach Palermo Sicily

Nature near Palermo: a beach and a hike

When you’re all churched-out, or are tired of the big-city chaos and traffic, don’t forget that the ocean is never far away. Take a walk along the beach in Palermo or at nearby Mondello (photo above), or go for a hike on Monte Pellegrino, also in the photo above, for a change of scenery.

Getting to Palermo & Getting Around

Options abound: Fly into Palermo’s international airport, or take the overnight boat from NaplesTrains are great for getting between the coastal cities, including Palermo, but in general are not as efficient in Sicily as in the rest of Italy, so don’t forget to check bus schedules as well. Buses are a great option if you’re arriving in Palermo from the interior of the island, though they don’t necessarily run according to schedule, so factor in flex time when planning to take a bus. If you’re comfortable driving in Italy, then renting a car to get around Sicily is a good option, but I highly recommend not driving in the city of Palermo. To get around the city, walk, use city buses, or take taxis, and always agree on the fare before getting in.

Photo of San Giovanni degli Eremiti church by Sanjay; Photo of blood orange granita by Nyaa_birdies_perch; Photo of the mosaics in the Capella Palatina by Sanjay; Photo of Mondello and Monte Pellegrino by fachxx00

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Posted by on Aug 24, 2009 in Sicily | 5 Comments


  1. Rosalie Cummings
    September 23, 2009

    We’re going to Sicily in Oct. for 11 days. Would like help in how to get around without a car, what to do, where to stay, etc. Flying into Palermo and out of Catania.

  2. James Helland
    June 30, 2010

    nice pics of palermo.
    here is Mondello beach from the other side.

  3. flights to Palermo
    January 24, 2011

    That’s sound’s cool city, but I think it is less known place in Italy so might be it is not well known tourist place.

  4. Flights to Palermo
    January 28, 2011

    Breathtaking!! The architecture of the Churche is looking splendid, if in the picture this place so fascinating then it must be great in person.

  5. Villa del Casale in Piazza Armerina, Sicily - Italy Beyond The Obvious
    October 20, 2014

    […] you’ve seen the pious mosaics of of Ravenna or Palermo and are looking for more subject-matter variety, or are just interested in art or anthropology, […]


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