things to do in Palermo

A vibrant city in the heart of the Mediterranean, Palermo is full of flavors and aromas which alone easily justify its title as the cultural capital of Italy.

Proud of its origins with Greek, Arab and Roman influences, the city keeps its markets bustling, ancient streets lively, and opera houses filled with artists and enthusiasts alike — which make it an interesting and fascinating place to visit.

Bathe in the tranquil waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea, climb Europe’s largest active volcano or walk the age-old labyrinth of streets. These are only some of the unusual and fun things to do in Palermo.

Rustic narrow paths and ornate buildings aged by time ensure that, in Palermo, you never know what is around the corner. You can find extravagant churches behind small ordinary facades scattered throughout the historic center.

Visit the cool catacombs slumbering beneath the humming crowd and sample the delicious arancini, cannoli and other traditional foods. Or, head outside the city center and make for the nearby Sicilian villages and towns on a day trip.

Here’s a list of how to explore this ancient city where the famous street foods Panelle, Cazzilli and Rascatura began.

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1 – Climb to the rooftop of the Cathedral of Palermo

Cathedral of Palermo, Sicily

You won’t find a building more grand and spectacular than the Cathedral of Palermo. This eclectic cathedral dates back to the 1100s and was built upon a mosque, which itself was built upon a Christian church. You will find these deep layers of history throughout the city.

First-time visitors to the cathedral will likely be stunned by its size and ornate decoration. The cathedral is a complex that has been added to over the centuries, the most recent works were in the 1700s when the interior was thoroughly renovated.

One of the most fun things to do in Palermo is to visit the cathedral’s roof terraces. From here you can get great views above the surrounding buildings and can see right across the city. It’s a great place to grab some panoramic photos from.

While you’re there visit the crypts to see the extravagant marble sarcophagi and explore the treasures of the cathedral, which include a gold tiara that belonged to Queen Constance of Aragon and dates from the 13th Century.

2 – Be amazed by the Palatine Chapel

The Palatine Chapel in the Norman Palace, Palermo, Sicily

Inside the Norman Palace can be found one of the most elaborately decorated and awe-inspiring buildings in Sicily, The Palatine Chapel. Commissioned by Roger II of Sicily in 1132, it functioned as the royal chapel and features extensive mosaics throughout.

The church features a mixture of styles and inscriptions in both Greek, Arabic and Latin which shows what a cultural melting pot 12th-century Sicily was. Don’t miss the attractive muqarnas ceiling of the nave which is carved from wood and painted with scenes of everyday life.

Showing off Byzantine mosaics, the entire room drips in gold and ornate details. Look up to the chapel’s dome for its most breathtaking piece: an illustration of ‘The Christ Pantocrator’ surrounded by angels.

Keep in mind when visiting the chapel to dress modestly, covering knees and shoulders.

3 – Straddling the ocean, lap up the views at Foro Italico

The large seafront lawn known as the Foro Italico in the Kalsa district is a great place to hang out in the city.

There are a number of large trees to sit under and relax in the shade while you enjoy the cool breeze from the sea. On an evening it really comes to life as a popular place for locals to jog, do yoga or take a stroll.

It runs from Villa Giulia to Felice Gate where the route extends around the marina at La Cala. Take a picnic and sit on the grass or find one of the brightly colored ceramic benches to unwind and enjoy the sunset.

Why not take a walking tour of the area? Discover local history, the best places to shop and eat and the must-see locations in the city. Visit the highlights and hidden gems that only a local would know!

4 – Pose with the naughty figurines of Piazza Pretoria

Piazza Pretoria, Palermo, Sicily

The large fountain, Fontana Pretoria, at the heart of Piazza Pretoria was originally designed for a palace garden in Florence. It was bought by the City of Palermo in 1574 and features 16 statues of nude mermaids, nymphs and humans which were thought gratuitous in the rigidly Catholic society of the time.

The piazza gained the nickname the “Square of Shame” due to the flamboyant nudity of the statues as well as some perceived corruption around the construction of the fountain, which required the demolition of a number of buildings.

Next to the fountain can be found the Palazzo Pretorio which dates from 1463. It is one of the most important municipal buildings in the city, housing the seat of the mayor of Palermo and city offices. Visitors are welcome to take a free tour of the historic building and offices and its marvelous collection of artifacts.

5 – Climb Mount Pellegrino up to Santa Rosalia Sanctuary

Just a short trip up Monte Pellegrino to the North of the City yields some spectacular views as well as alluring attractions. The Santa Rosalia Sanctuary is a church from the 17th century that is carved into a cave on the mountainside. It is dedicated to Santa Rosalia, who is the patron saint of Sicily and is said to have died in the cave in the 1100s.

There are also walking routes and hiking tours up to the Sanctuary and it is a popular pilgrimage to make — Pellegrino actually means Pilgrim. From the outside, the Sanctuary has the facade of a typical Italian church but inside it is a beautiful natural cave.

Visitors will also find a convent on the site and the area offers great views of the surrounding landscape. It is recommended to take the bus up and walk back down for the best experience.

6 – Eat like a local on a food tour

food tour in Palermo

If you’re looking for fun things to do in Palermo for foodies, look no further. Palermo is renowned for its tasty and unpretentious street food. Take a guided food tour and discover some of the best local establishments.

Pick up some local history on the way as you tour the ancient streets and piazzas of the city. Visit some of the famous markets such as Mercato del Capo and try the most popular local foods such as panelle and arancini. Visit genuine street carts, bakeries and bars and get the real local experience.

If you have dietary restrictions, no worries! Many food tours will accommodate any food restrictions, just make sure to read if your selected tour has the flexibility.

7 – Guarded by unique reliefs, walk beneath the city’s former entrance, Porto Nuova

The Porta Nuova, or new gate, has had a few different names, including Austrian Gate and Gate of the Eagles, but Porta Nuova was the one that stuck.

One of the main routes into the city for those traveling by land, there has been a gate on this site since at least the 1400s. The current gate was built in the 1600s after the previous one was destroyed in an explosion.

On either side of the Mannerist-style archway’s facade are friezes and symbolic statues, including four defeated Turks, representing Peace, Justice, Truth and Abundance.

Inside the gate is a more tranquil part of the city free from the busy traffic of the other side. It leads onto Cassaro (Via Vittorio Emanuele II), one of the city’s oldest and most important streets.

8 – Shop for groceries at the ancient markets

For the full Palermo experience, you have to visit some of the best local markets to grab some groceries or a souvenir.

Fun fact, each of the historic quarters in town has its own decades-long-running marketplace!

One of the best-known markets in the city is Vucciria which was immortalized in the painting by local artist Renato Guttuso. It was a busy thriving spot a few decades ago but now is somewhat quieter.

Ballaro and Mercato del Capo are still lively markets offering fresh fruit and vegetables, seafood and meats for reasonable prices. Take a stroll through and enjoy these historic marketplaces which have been at the heart and soul of the city for generations.

The fourth is the antique flea market: Mercato delle Pulci.

9 – Stroll through the Port of Palermo

There is always a lot of hustle and bustle going on down at Palermo’s busy port. Palermo has been a major trading hub for over 2,000 years and its fortunes have risen and fallen many times but the port remains central to the city’s livelihood.

Visitors will see a selection of yachts, cruise ships, fishing boats and cargo vessels at any given time. To catch a glimpse into old Palermo, visit Castello a Mare in La Cala, the historic fort that has watched over the city’s port for nearly 1,000 years.

The La Cala area also has a fantastic promenade that spans all the way to the Foro Italico with great views of the marina and bay area. Lots of locals take an evening stroll here enjoying the sights and smells of the seafront.

10 – See tiny elephants at Museum of Geology ‘G. G. Gemmellaro’

credit to Museo Geologico “G.G. Gemmellaro”

With a collection including over 660,000 fossils, Palermo’s museum of geology and paleontology covers 270 million years of history.

The collection includes fantastic fossils as well as the bones of early humans and long-extinct creatures such as the dwarf elephants that once called the island home.

One of the main attractions not to miss inside are the skeletal remains of a 12500-year-old prehistoric elephant! Or, how about a chalk crystal filled with a 6 million-year-old drop of water?!

Visitors can also see the humongous jaws and teeth of prehistoric shark species and the remains of early sea creatures, as well as the oldest Sicilian skeleton. This diverse collection of ancient fossils is a great place to visit for kids and adults alike.

11 – Cruise the city on a hop on hop off bus tour

Always one of the best ways to discover a new city, the humble hop-on-hop-off bus tour. Buy one ticket for the whole day and see popular landmarks such as Palermo Cathedral and Vucciria Market while cruising the city on an open-top bus.

Choose from different routes, each covering a section of the city. When you’re done with one, just get on the next one!

Get on and off as many times as you like and when you’re done exploring, just climb on board for the next destination. These bus tours include an audio guide so you’ll be sure you don’t miss anything. This is one of the best value ways to get around in Palermo.

12 – Enjoy a scenic walk from the town center to the medieval Admirals’ Bridge

The Arab-Norman Admiral’s Bridge formerly connected the historic center of Palermo with the Royal Gardens on the opposite side of the Oreto River.

The bridge sits in what was once a fertile valley and later a sugar cane plantation. The river was diverted to the West of the bridge in the 1930s to avoid flooding and damage to the structure.

Originally the bridge was considerably taller but the base has gradually sunk into the ground below it leaving only the uppermost part of the bridge showing. It is part of the UNESCO Arab Norman Heritage Site.

The historic site is located on the outskirts of Palermo but can be reached via bus or a 22-minute walk from the historic district.

13 – Wander around San Domenico Square

San Domenico square in Palermo, Sicily

Located in Palermo’s historic center, the famous San Domenico Square gets its name from the baroque Church of San Domenico. But despite being small, don’t be mistaken, there are plenty of things to do around this lovely square!

On the ground floor of the church, you can find Museo del Risorgimento “Vittorio Emanuele Orlando”, with paintings, sculptures, maps, and other relics of the Risorgimento.

In the center of the Piazza San Domenico is the marbled Monument to the Immaculate Conception.

If you get hungry during your visit, stop by one of the many restaurants and delight yourself in the amazing Italian cuisine. You can also opt to visit at night time and enjoy a drink at the square’s multiple bars.

14 – Enjoy a night of lit candles and music at a candlelight concert

candlelight concerts in Palermo

Relish an evening of classical Italian music dazzled by the lights of hundreds of candles at a candlelight concert!

Taking place throughout Palermo’s most beautiful music venues, enjoy the wonders of Italian classics interpreted by talented quartets and other classical musicians, ready to take your senses on a beautiful music-listening journey.

For example, watch a tribute to Coldplay, Ludovico Einaudi, Queen, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons or Ennio Morricone at Palazzo de Gregorio, or the best of Hans Zimmer or Lucio Dalla and Italian singer-songwriters.

Tickets can be purchased ahead of time, and start at as low as 25 euros. Make sure to double-check the venue of the concert you’d like to attend, as well as the song setlist for some of the concerts of contemporary artists, ahead of time.

15 – See ancient treasures at Archaeological Museum A. Salinas

One of Sicily’s oldest museums, Museo Archeologico A. Salinas is home to many ancient treasures of Sicily. Housed inside an old 16th-century convent, the courtyards, fountains, and chapels inside the museum will equally be worth a look!

Explore its collection of historic artifacts including statues, ceramics, coins and reliefs that tells the tale of Sicily, from the Phoenician period through to the Roman era.

Discover some of the amazing archeological finds that have occurred on the island and uncover its many overlapping layers of history and diverse Mediterranean cultures. This is an absolute must-see for history buffs.

Highlights from its collections include the treasured ‘Palermo Stone’ dating to the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt (it contains a hieroglyphic inscription from 2900 BC) and a 3rd-century bronze statue, The Ram.

16 – Dive into worlds of Arab-Norman-Byzantine architecture at the famous Norman Palace

Norman Palace, Palermo, Sicily

Sitting at the city’s highest point is the Palazzo Reale, also known as the Royal Palace or Norman Palace. Parts of the building date from the 9th Century and it is one of the oldest royal residences in Europe, being the seat to the Kings of Sicily since 1071.

It currently houses the Sicilian Regional Assembly, the Astronomical Observatory of Palermo and the stunning Cappella Palatina.

Palermo is home to many historical palazzos and as you explore deeper you begin to appreciate the deep historical significance of the city. The once prosperous region has some seriously extravagant buildings and they are well worth exploring.

Some of the finest are the 12th-Century la Cuba Palace and Palazzo Conte Federico, Palazzo Mirto and Palazzo Abatellis from the 15th Century and the Palazzo Cinese, built in the 18th-Century in an Oriental style to be the private residence of Ferdinand III, King of Bourbon.

17 – Feel like Watson and Holmes solving mysteries with a scavenger hunt

scavenger games in Palermo

Have you always thought you have what it takes to make a great detective? Well, with a scavenger hunt, you can put theory into practice as you have to crack riddles and solve challenges in order to win this fun (sightseeing) adventure.

Designed like a mix of an outdoor escape room and a race, the hunt is powered by a mobile app — where you receive the clues one by one. Each mystery involves walking around the city in search of a landmark or monument related to the riddle.

If you’re traveling with a large group of friends or families, split into two and race one another to see who can clock in the fastest time!

There are a few choices for scavenger hunts in Palermo, from standard walking tours to games centered around the historic center.

18 – Glimpse the “mummies” of the Capuchin Catacombs

This is one tourist attraction that definitely won’t appeal to everyone. Palermo’s Capuchin Catacombs contain the remains of nearly 8,000 bodies, some of which are remarkably well preserved. Many of the bodies are hanging from the walls and are dressed up in their finest clothes.

It is a somewhat macabre site to see but shows the connection that the Sicilian people keep with their dead. The oldest bodies date from around 1560 and some of the most recent from the 1920s. They reflect a wide cross-section of society and include doctors, priests and infants.

Though it may seem like a gruesome attraction, The catacombs are very peaceful and not as spooky as you might imagine. This is definitely one of the most interesting things to do in Palermo and one to check out for the curious.

19 – Go on a day trip

Monreale and Cefalù

From Palermo, there are a number of great day trips to take in order to get the most out of your time in the city. The charming island of Ustica, which can be reached in just over an hour by hydrofoil, is a jewel of the Tyrrhenian Sea, with picturesque villages, unspoiled nature and shimmering sea caves.

The nearby town of Monreale is famous for its Cathedral, which is a national monument of Italy and one of Sicily’s major architectural attractions. The town is also littered with attractive palaces and gardens and is home to the fantastic Benedictine Cloister, il Chiostro dei Benedettini.

The resort of Cefalù is one of the most popular day trips from Palermo. This attractive fishing village can trace its routes back almost 2,500 years and is home to an important historical cathedral with well-preserved Byzantine mosaics and artworks. The town also has a dozen or so historic churches and ancient ruins to visit.

A 30-minute journey from Cefalù is the medieval town of Castelbuono (located within the Madonie Natural Park region). It’s like traveling back in time, the village, its walls and landmarks painstakingly safeguarded.

Segesta and Valley of the Temples

Modern Art Gallery Sant’Anna, Palermo
credit to Modern Art Gallery Sant’Anna

The remains of the ancient and mysterious city of Segesta are a must-see for history lovers and feature the ruins of a Doric temple which is over 2,00 years old and a Greek amphitheater. The city was built by the Elymians, an early indigenous tribe with mysterious origins.

Agrigento on the West Coast has the remarkable Valley of the Temples, which contains the remains of seven Greek temples as well as huge fallen statues. The Temple of Concordia can be found here and is considered one of the finest surviving examples of Greek architecture in the world.

Taormina and Mount Etna

Taormina, Sicily
The Greek Theater of Taormina and smoking volcano Etna

Taormina, by the slopes of Mount Etna, has been a popular destination for centuries. It is home to an ancient theater, the Teatro Antico di Taormina, which towers picturesquely on cliffs above the Naxos Bay. It was praised highly by German literary figure, Goethe, in the 1800s and became a must-see destination for Europe’s young aristocracy.

Mount Etna, both loved and feared by Sicilians, is the largest and most active volcano in Europe. Many people make the trek up the volcano each year to see this sleeping monster up close. Explore some of Etna’s inactive craters with a guide and take a cable car ride up to the summit. These exhilarating tours will ensure anyone comes away with respect for the awesome power of nature.

The nearby theme park Etnaland is a great place to visit with kids. It has a bunch of wild rides, including some monster rollercoasters, a dinosaur-themed park and a water park. From white-knuckle thrill rides to gentle fun for toddlers, there’s sure to be something here for everyone.

20 – See the unique La Zisa Castle and Garden

One of Palermo’s finest Arabesque buildings, La Zisa was built as a summer residence for King Guglielmo I in the mid-1100s. Its architecture is primarily Islamic in style and features ornate muqarnas and even a simple air conditioning system that utilizes the cooling sea breezes.

La Zisa is open to the public along with its large gardens and is a little way out of the city. This one is for history and architecture lovers who want to see the splendor in which the early kings of Sicily lived.

The castle and garden are an estimated 30-minute walk from the historic center. Be sure to bring cash to pay your entry fee at the door.

21 – Take a wild, wonderful jeep tour

jeep tour in Palermo

Deserted settlements and marvelous stretches of open land beg to be explored; and there’s nothing like a bouncy, dusty jeep trip to take it all in!

Pass by temples and vineyards, watch for wildlife, and learn all about the more rugged side of Sicily!

Jeep tours usually favor the area around Segesta, Castellammare del Golfo and Trapani, heading inland further inland from Trapani to the countryside around Calatafimi-Segesta.

The excursion stops at a few places in between, such as wineries for a vino tasting and fruit orchards for sampling. You’ll spot Pispisa Mountain, the Temple of Segesta, Egadi Islands and the Gulf of Castellammare during the drive.

Choose a 2.5-hour or three-hour and 45-minute jeep adventure (the latter includes a stopover at a mud bath spa).

22 – Join a wine tasting or vineyard tour

wine tasting in Palermo

You wouldn’t want to visit Palermo without sampling some of its best wines, so why not take a wine tasting tour?

Discover the most popular grape varieties and get to know what makes Sicilian wines so unique. Try a selection of local wines including Nero d’Avola and Frappato alongside some of the region’s best-loved Sicilian cheeses.

Visit one of the countryside wineries for a really unique tour of the vineyards or, for those who don’t have the time, take a short tasting session in the city. Either way, you won’t miss out on the best wines Sicily has to offer.

Baglio di Pianetto is one estate favored for vineyard tours and tastings in its cellar. You’ll then sample five of its top vinos, like its Viafrancia Riserva Bianco.

23 – Try the pastries at Antico Caffe Spinnato

A perfect place to stop in any time of day, whether for a light breakfast, aperitif or lunch, Antico Caffe Spinnato has been a local favorite for generations.

It first opened in 1860 and has been serving delicious pastries and a morning pick-me-up to locals ever since.

Sample the rich traditional cannoli or modern treats like the pistachio mousse served in timeless and elegant surroundings. Topple this with a quick shot of espresso and you’re all set! (A classic Italian cafe brekkie.)

The cafe is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike so try to hit it outside of the busy times for the best experience. They’re set up with streetside dining and a savory menu for an afternoon aperitif.

24 – Learn how to stand and catch barrels with a surf lesson

surf lesson in Palermo

Surfs up, dude.”

While many tourists choose to laze away their days sunbathing, if water sports (and adventure) is your middle name, why not opt for a surf lesson instead? You are surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, after all …

One-hour surf lessons are headed up around various beaches along the coastline, but the closest beach to Palermo town is Mondello Beach.

Weather dependent, your instructor will pick the location with the best conditions that day (suitable for beginners). Some of the other beaches to learn how to surf are Magaggiari, Terrasini and Isola delle Femmine.

Locals favor the waters around the Island of Females (Isola delle Femmine) when starting out, and there are also a few surf schools here.

25 – Recharge at the Botanical Garden and Villa Giulia

For those looking for something a little different to do in the city, a trip to the Botanical Gardens is a fun thing to do in Palermo.

Established in 1789 by the University of Palermo, it wasn’t until 1795 that the gardens officially opened.

See a huge collection of rare and unusual plants from tropical shores as well as some exceptional native plants and trees. The very old ficus trees are particularly fun to see and some specimens are absolutely huge.

Next door visitors can find the beautiful 18th-century Villa Giulia which is a large ornate garden with a number of monuments, statues and ponds as well as rows of huge palm trees. Look out for the families of turtles and fish that live in the garden’s ponds.

26 – Let your hair blow in the wind on a boat tour

boat tours in Palermo

Take your adventures to the Mediterranean Sea, in style, on a boat tour!

Enjoy an aperitif and bonus snacks on a half-day boat ride around the sea, which is also suitable for children! Woo your partner on a romantic dinner on a sailing boat, enjoying the sunset, drinks, and chef-created dishes for your special moment.

From Sicily, some of the best boat trips to consider are to Catania, the second largest city in Sicily bustling with incredible things to do and see. Mythology lovers, check out a boat trip to Cyclops Island and hear the stories inspired by the islands.

Set sail in the morning, midday or late in the afternoon just before the sun begins setting. Boat tours range from two-hour ventures to a full eight-hour day out on the waters.

27 – See historic engines at Museo Storico dei Motori e dei Meccanismi

credit to Museo Storico dei Motori e dei Meccanismi

Part of the University of Palermo museum group, the Museum of Engines and Mechanisms is packed full of engineering marvels. Discover machines from the 19th and 20th centuries and see the evolution of European steam and internal combustion engines.

Its primary focus has always been on engines, mechanisms, and industrial, scientific and educational equipment.

The collection features rare motors from Fiat-Ferrari, Siemens & Halske and Ljungström and includes aircraft and automobile engines of historical significance. This will, no doubt, be one of the most fun things to do in Palermo for all petrolheads and motor aficionados.

More collection highlights include motorcycle and naval engines and hydraulic machines.

If you can, try to attend the most famous events at the museum, Florio Classics and Ferrari Tribute in February.

28 – See the dazzling patterned tiles of Majolica Museum Rooms at the Genius

credit to Museo delle maioliche Stanze al Genio

If you’re looking for fun and historical things to do in Palermo, the Majolica Museum is exactly that. The walls are covered in over 5,000 colorful and artistic tiles known as maiolica, some of which are patterned and others form pictures.

This museum houses one of the largest private collections in Europe. They were used for decoration by the wealthy middle classes and aristocracy and also for pavement in cities such as Naples and Salerno.

Its impressive collection is set up between eight themed rooms: the entrance hall, Neoclassical, Flowers, Burgio, Vase, Rose and Liberty Rooms, and the Anteroom of the Study.

The tiles were made in Sicily and Campania from the 15th to the 20th century making it something of a regional art form. Don’t miss this bright and colorful museum on your trip to Palermo.

29 – Pay your respects at Monument to the Capaci massacre

Ask many people what they know about Siciliy and, unfortunately, the mafia will be high on the list. The country is still healing from the deep wounds that decades of corruption and organized crime have had on its people, economy and landscape.

One of the most brutal incidents in the country’s history was the Capaci Massacre of 1992. On the afternoon of May 23rd, a bomb blew up a piece of the A29 Motorway killing the anti-mafia prosecutor, Giovanni Falcone and his wife along with three agents.

There is a monument on the site where it happened which pays homage to the innocent lives lost and this courageous public figure who dared challenge the mafia.

30 – Enjoy unique angles high above the Med during an airplane flight

airplane flight in Palermo

There are plenty of ways to explore Palermo and its Sicilian placement, from walking to bus tours, motorbike drives and boating excursions. But for one of the most unique aspects, an airplane flight is unbeatable!

Departing from Palermo–Boccadifalco Airport (roughly five kilometers from the center of Palermo), choose between a 20-minute or half-hour flight.

Shorter expeditions leave Palermo, climbing to an altitude of 750 meters. Lap up the views over Sicily, spotting the capital’s most famous landmarks from the sky.

Longer stints veer directions, and 30-minute flights also sweep over the Riserva di Capo Gallo and the five isles belonging to the Aegadian Islands. You’ll arrive back at the airport after the flight.

Some planes only fit two passengers (including the pilot), or there are airplane rides for three.

31 – Discover the Modern Art Gallery Sant’Anna in Kalsa District

Modern Art Gallery Sant’Anna, Palermo
credit to Modern Art Gallery Sant’Anna

The Kalsa District is one of the oldest areas of the city. It features time-worn medieval buildings and exotic Arab-influenced structures that give it a really unique and exciting vibe.

It is packed full of small alleys with authentic boutiques and restaurants and is the perfect place to get lost in. It has a sort of decayed grandeur and shabbiness that give it a charm all of its own.

The Modern Art Gallery Sant’Anna, or GAM as it is known, was established over a century ago and has grown to be one of the city’s finest cultural institutions. Visitors can explore its collection of modern artworks which includes 176 paintings and 38 sculptures that represent the changing art fashions of the times.

Check out its collection of work by prominent Sicilian painters and sculptors. It is located in the huge building complex that was formerly the Church of Sant’Anna la Misericordia and also includes a cafe and educational spaces.

32 – Visit Quattro Canti Square on a bike tour

bike tour in Palermo

Piazza Vigliena, also known as Quattro Canti is an impressive sight to happen upon when making your way through the city. The intersection of two of the city’s major roads, Via Maqueda and Corso Vittorio Emanuele, features four almost identical facades on the opposing buildings.

The baroque architecture features three layers of reliefs depicting the four seasons, the four Spanish kings of Sicily and the four patron saints of Palermo. It was built in the early 1600s and is some of the earliest evidence of city planning in Europe. Take a guided bike tour to discover this fabulous piazza and many more of the city’s hidden gems.

If you’re a fan of two-wheelers, there are plenty more biking excursions, for example, a three-hour city tour through Palermo’s historic center and most famous sites, or head out into the mountains for a mountain biking workout!

33 – See monkeys at Bioparco di Sicilia

Bioparco di Sicilia
credit to Bioparco di Sicilia

Less than an hour’s drive from the center of Palermo is Bioparco di Sicilia, a nature reserve and zoo with an emphasis on conservation.

The park has more than 60 species of animals in its care including exotic birds such as parrots and emus, large mammals including alpacas and American bison, monkeys, lemurs, hippopotamus and more.

Discover reptiles such as iguanas, snakes and caiman as well as adorable turtles. The park is scattered throughout with lifesize dinosaurs models which is a nice touch. This is a good family-friendly attraction for those on a budget.

Bring a picnic and escape the summer sun for a bit under the shade, in the quaint gardens of the park.

34 – Study the specimens at the Museum of Zoology Doderlein

credit to Museo di Zoologia “P. Doderlein”

The Doderlein Museum of Zoology gathered its collection of creatures up to 150 years ago when the seas were in a less-depleted condition.

It features skeletons of vertebrates and invertebrates as well as preserved creatures, including many varieties of native fish. These are stuffed and taxidermied or preserved in formalin liquid.

Founded in 1862, the museum is named after its founder, Professor P. Doderlein.

The museum has a very old-school vibe with most of the exhibits displayed in glass cases, which gives you a sense of how these early zoologists studied the creatures around them. This is a fun museum and kids especially will enjoy it. It has audio tours in English.

The museum is located in front of a large 18th-century botanical garden, Orto Botanico, also worth checking out afterward!

35 – Explore La Martorana and the other amazing churches

La Martorana church in Palermo, Sicily, Italy

When you visit churches in Palermo you are never sure what to expect. Though the building may look a little worn on the outside or have a rather plain facade, inside it is often a different picture, La Martorana (Church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio) is one such church.

The interior is decorated in fantastic frescos from the 1600s and shimmering golden Byzantine mosaics. Its eclectic Arab-Norman architecture makes it quite unique among Italian churches and it is definitely one of the most interesting buildings in the city. Take some time to explore and soak up the history of this church, you won’t regret it.

Another of Palermo’s magnificent churches is Santa Caterina d’Alessandria, a gorgeous 14th-century church and monastery with a museum and confectionary which sells cakes baked from the nun’s recipes.

Chiesa del Gesù is another very grand and ornate church in the Baroque style which has colorful frescos that pop out at you as well as marble and stucco ornaments. You could stay here all day and not see all the details, it really is a stunning church.

There are plenty of other churches to see in the city, including Santa Maria dello Spasimo, a towering gothic style church that remains unfinished, San Giovanni degli Eremiti an Arab-Norman church from the early 12th-Century that has beautiful gardens to explore and the Oratory of San Lorenzo, which famously features an altarpiece by Caravaggio.

36 – From Grouper to Barracuda, go fishing to reel in a big catch

fishing in Palermo

Whether you’re a long-time fisherman or perhaps looking for something unusual to try out during your time in the Sicilian capital, there are fantastic fishing expeditions to take your pick from.

A standard fishing charter has you out on the waters for a full (eight-hour) day onboard a dinghy Jokerboat (a small, nifty speedboat that can fit about four passengers at a time). With experienced staff leading the way, visit the hotspots around the Med that schools of fish typically favor.

You’re shown different techniques, such as trolling with live fish, for example, bluefin tuna, as well as classic systems like using a rod and monel fishing reel.

Then, there is night squid fishing for something extra cool! (Squid feed in the evenings and are easily attracted to light.) You’ll sail toward Secca della Barra at 8 PM, and the trip is four hours.

37 – Fly high above the city while paragliding

paragliding in Palermo

For a unique adrenaline-filled experience while in Palermo, why not try paragliding in the nearby countryside. See the city from above and get the best views of the beautiful Sicilian landscape. Though exhilarating, many people find paragliding to be a calm and serene experience.

You will take a 20-minute tandem flight with a trained professional so all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the experience. See the magnificent hills and the Ionian Sea while gliding on the gentle breeze. This is a must-do for adventure junkies.

Operator-dependent, the following destinations are favored for take-off: Piana degli Albanesi, Bolognetta, Cefalù and Pollina.

Some experiences include professional photography, so if you want to share on your socials, opt for an all-inclusive package!

38 – Try some of the best local beers

best local beers in Palermo
credit to Luppolo l’Ottavo Nano

Whilst not exactly famous for its craft beer scene, Palermo has some great places to enjoy a cold one and some excellent local beers.

A great place to start your tour of the best bars in Palermo would be Malox. This small and friendly bar has live music and serves great cocktails as well as some of the best local beers.

Luppolo l’Ottavo Nano is one of the best bars in the city for craft beers with four or five beers on tap. It is located near the Giardino Inglese, so is a little far from the city center.

Stout Beer Shop and Pub is one of the best places in the city to pick up local craft brews. It usually has a few beers on tap as well as a wide selection of bottles.

39 – Hit the beaches for some sunbathing

beach near Palermo, Sicily

Sicily has absolutely stunning white sand beaches and the surrounding sea is calm and warm throughout the summer months.

The most famous beach near Palermo is Mondello Beach, renowned for its long stretch of white sand and pristine lidos. It is indeed a stunning beach but can be very crowded through the summer months.

Isola delle Femmine and Sferracavallo are two other beautiful local beaches, the first of which has a nature reserve and shares its name with a nearby small island.

Sferracavallo is a small fishing village but has wonderful old buildings, ancient caves and delightful fish restaurants.

It can be tricky to travel between the city center and some of the beach resorts nearby. The most hassle-free way is to rent a car and drive or catch the 806 bus, though this can be pretty crowded in the Summer months. Palermo’s beach towns have a lot to offer and are worth exploring during your time in Sicily.

40 – Take the kids bowling or join one of the major leagues

bowling in Palermo
credit to Bowling La Favorita

Are you holidaying with kids and searching for fun, family-friendly things to do in Palermo? Then make for the bowling alleys!

Equipped with 20 in-line tracks and utilizing Brunswick bowling machines (considered one of the top-tier brands in the bowling industry) and Diamond Duramid Pins, Bowling La Favorita is for rookies, newbies and professional bowlers.

It sports a professional bowling shop, as well as its very own bowling school, hosting tournaments, too!

As the headquarters of the Bowling School in Palermo, Bowling La Malfa is set up within a 3,000 m2 arena and with ten playing lanes. Its on-site store offers services like customizing your bowling balls. Also here is a Billiards room, a mini-casino with slot machines and a 7D Cinema!

41 – Prepare local dishes in cooking classes

cooking class in Palermo

To really get under the skin of the city, you have to try the local food. An enticing mixture of tastes and cultures, Palermo’s cuisine includes the vegetable-laden Pasta alla Norma, the local fried rice specialty Arancini and mouthwatering pastries such as Cannoli.

Why not take a cooking class during your time in the city and learn to make Palermitan food like a local.

Join a small class to discover how to create these much-loved traditional dishes at home. But, you’re spoiled for choice really when it comes to cooking lessons in Palermo. Learn how to make gelato, limoncello, homemade pasta or pizza.

These fun classes are sure to be a highlight of your time in the city. This is one souvenir you can enjoy again and again!

42 – Explore the Ernesto Basile masterpiece, Villino Florio

Unlike the city’s other architecture, but very much in keeping with its surroundings, Villino Florio is an art-nouveau villa designed by Palermo architect, Ernesto Basile.

Cue its Baroque facade, Nordic trusses and castle-like cylindrical turrets.

Named after the original family who commissioned the villa’s build (the Florio familia), the villa was constructed between 1899 and 1902.

The building was badly damaged during a fire in the 1960s and has recently been restored to its former glory.

The interior details are very fine and will surely appeal to lovers of the “Liberty” style. The house is tucked away in the Zisa district so is a bit of a journey from the center but admission is free.

To get there, you can take a bus, or take a 28-minute walk from the historic center.

43 – Rewind at the spas with day packages, hammams or treatments for lovebirds

best spas in Palermo
credit to Beauty & Spa Centro Benessere

Italy is the perfect country for a classic vacation filled with eating, drinking, sightseeing and treating yourself. Add the cherry with a day at the spa.

With its dedicated health and beauty centers, wellness programs for couples and an oriental hammam, Beauty & Spa Centro Benessere is a fabulous option. Try the Ritual Himalayan Spa therapy, including a draining pink salt scrub and a detoxifying Turkish bath.

Opt for a rejuvenating massage from L’ Essenza del Benessere, or book a package that includes time in the Finnish sauna jacuzzi and at the Turkish Tea Bath Corner, for example.

Using botanicals harvested from an organic farm in Sicily, Irene Forte Spa offers body and skincare treatments, as well as advanced facials. The spa setting is gorgeous and even has a double treatment suite (couples) with a private terrace!

44 – Decipher codes and overcome obstacles locked inside an escape room

escape room in Palermo

After endless days of Aperols, gelato, pasta and fab wine, if you feel like you need to give your brains a de-rusting, an escape room is one way to do so … locked inside a room with only 60 minutes for you to make it out in time …

There are four rooms to choose between from Escape Room Palermo, each one themed and suitable for various different playing levels (ranging in difficulty).

These are Virus Vertale, Mystery Room, Escape from the Jungle and the La Villa Maledetta room.

Apart from usual escape rooms, eXcape also offers a Virtual Reality Escape Room experience! However, if your heart is set on the traditional, choose between rooms like The Big Heist, Tales of Magic, Saw – R14, Prison and more.

45 – Learn about the Holy Inquisition at Steri Palace Museo dell’Inquisizione

walls of the cells at Steri Palace

The Steri Palace was built in the 1400s as a home for the powerful local lord, Manfredi III Chiaramonte. It has had a number of other uses in its long life but was most notoriously a prison for the Holy Inquisition.

Over the course of nearly 200 years, the building housed thousands of religious prisoners considered heretics by organizations within the Catholic Church.

The museum features tours of the former cells, which are covered in graffiti made by the prisoners. Along the sketchings are many religious drawings as well as detailed maps, hearts pierced with arrows, poems and caricatures of Inquisitors.

The Steri Palace also features some great artworks one of the most celebrated being Guttoso’s depiction of the local marketplace La Vucciria.

46 – Catch a Puppet Opera at Opera dei Pupi

Ok, if you’re looking for fun and weird things to do in Palermo we’ve got you covered! The Opera dei Pupi, or puppet opera, is one cultural tradition that you shouldn’t miss on a trip to the city.

It’s thought the tradition stems from the 13th-century and it has long been practiced by families who pass on the puppets, skills and stories through generations.

Visitors can catch shows at the Teatro dell’Opera dei Pupi which are performed in Italian with regional dialect. You can also visit the Museo delle Marionette to see a collection of historical puppets that will likely enchant, or scare you half to death. Fun and weird!

Since 1975 (when the museum opened), it’s been a part of the annual Festival di Morgana – a festival dedicated to puppets and puppeteers — showcasing many of its collections on stage.

47 – Chill out in the English Garden

The Giardino Inglese is a fairly small park that is a popular place for locals to exercise or meet with friends for a lazy afternoon beneath the trees.

It has a number of statues and fountains, an artificial lake and a small cafe in the center, making it a perfect place to grab a drink and recharge.

Some of the ficus trees are especially large and impressive and there are shaded routes throughout the park to walk. Definitely stop in here if you’re nearby and searching for a cool oasis in the busy city.

During the winter, the main attraction inside becomes the major ice rink in the middle of the park.

48 – Meet the marine locals whilst snorkeling

snorkeling in Palermo

From the minute you strap on your mask and peer beneath the pristine waters of the Aeolian Islands, you’ll feel like you’re in a National Geographic special!

The area has certainly earned its UNESCO status; with undulating volcanic formations and an endless who’s who of creatures (including vibrantly colored fish and sedate sea turtles), it creates an aquatic paradise ideal for snorkeling like few others – and you’ll get to see it up close!

Take your pick from two snorkel tour sites: one to Vulcano and Lipari or another one to Salina and Lipari.

Or mermaids and mermen; if snorkeling doesn’t quite do it for you and you want to head further down into the depths of the ocean floor, opt for a scuba diving experience instead.

If you’ve never gone diving before, not to fear. There are excursions for beginners where you’re first introduced to some theory before practical time in the water.

49 – Watch a race or enjoy a picnic at Ippodromo LA FAVORITA

Ippodromo LA FAVORITA, Palermo
credit to Ippodromo LA FAVORITA

Opening up 70 years ago circa 1953, after a forced closure for a couple of years, the Ippodromo LA FAVORITA is back in action and with some new added features.

Originally built as a racecourse, today, the track is used for other racing fixtures and a multitude of events not only limited to the sporting realms.

Moreso, the tracks and the green spaces surrounding it have been converted into a park topped with its new hippodrome.

This entertainment venue is divided into two spaces: the stable side is where the horses live and the stable grooms work; the second area is the Grandstand. With both indoor and outdoor spaces, this area is open to the public for events and conferences.

The greens are perfect for a picnic, and there’s an on-site restaurant, a bar, lounge, a pizzeria and an amusement park for younger folk.

50 – Sample all the city’s best restaurants

caponata, a traditional Sicilian dish

For those looking to explore the best restaurants in the city, a great place to start would be Vecchio Club Rosa Nero. This trattoria, decorated in the colors of Palermo Football Club, serves fantastic food and offers good service at really reasonable prices.

Da Diego offers some of the best pizzas in town as well as pasta dishes and local specialties in a cozy low-key atmosphere. This place doesn’t require you to book ahead but is popular so can get busy.

Another authentic good quality restaurant is Bisso Bistrot, Locals will often recommend this place to out-of-towners for its great value and quality seafood dishes. It is right in the heart of the action and even caters to different diets with delicious gluten-free, vegan and veggie options.

If you’re in search of the best pizzas in town you could do worse than to check out Archestrato di Gela. This is a very popular place and is often full of locals which is a very good sign indeed. Pizzas here are square but don’t let that fool you, this may become your favorite restaurant in the city.

Those searching for MICHELIN quality food should check out Gagini Restaurant which serves creative contemporary dishes informed by the chef’s Brazilian Italian heritage.

51 – Get inspired at RISO

If you’re looking for cultural things to do in Palermo it’s worth checking out RISO, the Regional Contemporary Art Museum. In a country doused in centuries-old history (including its art and culture), it’s rather refreshing to visit a museum that highlights more modern pursuits, in this case, art!

Although its permanent collection is not so large it houses regular temporary exhibitions in its small gallery space.

It is housed in the Palazzo Belmonte Riso and includes a backyard with a terrace and another gallery. It has featured well-known artists such as Ai Weiwei and Richard Long. Check it out if you’re in the mood to explore the city’s modern art scene.

Stop by for a midday pick-me-up snack at the quaint, organic coffee shop nearby. Depending on the day, there may even be live music!

52 – Hit the beach clubs for private lounging, flowing drinks, views and good vibes

best beach clubs in Palermo
credit to Sky and Sand Club

Say ciao to vistas of the Mediterranean all day long from the beach clubs around Palermo.

Useful to know: in Italy, a beach club is often a private destination on a beach set up with loungers, chairs and a bar (most times a restaurant too). They’re basically privately managed lidos.

Having said that, if you are after a typical beach club like the type you find in Ibiza, Kalokairi Beach Club and Sky and Sand Club are top spots for funky drinks, tunes, ambiance and dancing the afternoon and night away.

With live music and an array of beach and water sports to get involved in, you’ll find a hard time trying to leave Essai Sport Lido.

Arrive early at Lido Angeli Del Mare before the 60-odd umbrellas and loungers get swept up! There is a lovely little cafe here, too, for refreshments throughout the day.

53 – For vistas of both mountains and the ocean, hike around Capo Gallo Nature Reserve

Just outside the city center, the Capo Gallo Nature Reserve offers a breath of fresh air and a bit of tranquility in contrast to Palermo’s hot and noisy streets.

The reserve is home to numerous reptile species such as the green whip snake, skinks and wild lizards.

Pack your sunscreen and best hiking shoes to take the scenic pathway, showcasing the Mediterranean flora and fauna all around.

Green-fingered folk, trekking past the coastline, bioliths and bioclastic limestone rock formations, expect to see wild olive trees, holly oaks, Italian buckthorn and the dwarf fan palm.

It is also an important stopover for migratory birds and visitors can often see white storks, cuckoos and falcons. There are a number of trails to walk throughout the reserve as well as interesting caves to explore such as Grotta dell’Olio.

54 – Enjoy the sights and sounds of the city from a rooftop bar

best rooftop bars in Palermo
credit to Il Bar at RINASCENTE

Whether you just want a shot or a cocktail before getting down to the serious business of local wine and dinner, check out some of the best rooftop bars in town while you contemplate your next stop.

Aside from great views and delicious cocktails, Seven Restaurant also offers fantastic food which makes locals and tourists alike return time and again.

Likewise, Atmosphera Rest & Lounge also serves delectable dishes so it’s worth making a reservation to ensure you have the best dining experience.

Il Bar at RINASCENTE has some of the finest views in the city and it’s a great place to stop by and grab a drink during a busy afternoon sightseeing.

55 – Revel in an evening of opera at 19th-century theaters

best theaters in Palermo
credit to Tonino Basci

Theater lovers will be spoiled for choice in Palermo with two grand venues to visit.

The Teatro Politeama is the second-largest Palermo theatre and is home to the Sicilian Symphonic Orchestra. The building itself is very grand with its neo-classical facade topped with a statue of Apollo on a chariot.

Visitors can catch a show or take a guided tour of the theatre to experience its wonders firsthand.

The largest opera house in Italy and one of the biggest in Europe, Teatro Massimo is world-renowned for its superb acoustics. Film fans may recognize the interior which was used in the filming of Francis Ford Coppola’s gangster-epic, The Godfather part III.

The theater hosts over 130 performances each year so there’s bound to be something to see during your time in Palermo.

56 – Don’t skip aperitivo!

aperitivo in Palermo

For first-timers in the city, aperitivo is definitely one of the iconic things to do in Palermo. Long live the traditions! Yes, Italians love their aperitivo!

Palermo has its fair share of excellent places to go and, as everywhere else, it boasts its own style. But, what’s common around Sicily is that people look for the best value — half-price equals better.

Most restaurants and bars offer “happy hour” such as il Siciliano, a couple of minutes walk from Massimo Theater, where patrons return for the large servings and great service.

At Vespa Café, order the aperitivo platter and you’d be surprised how much food you get! These come in big enough portions that you might want to skip dinner.

For those times when aperitivo turns into dinner, QVIVI BAR MUSICA is a great choice. It serves a buffet of delicious pasta, pizza, meat dishes and more.

How to get to Palermo?

After landing at Falcone-Borsellino Airport, you can either take The Trinacria Express train, which takes around 60 minutes to arrive at the central train station in Palermo.

However, you can also book airport transfers, and avoid lugging around your suitcase on trains. Enjoy the 30-minute drive directly to your hotel, with your experienced driver, making it a convenient and straightforward experience.

For those arriving by boat, there are also shore excursions in Palermo for a conducive way to sightsee the capital for a couple of hours —or the whole day. Cruise passengers, these tours start from the Porto di Palermo.

Where to stay in Palermo?

Enjoy the beauty of Grand Hotel Wagner, decked out in rich hardwood walls and accents mixed with old European charm. In the evenings, enjoy the signature cocktail at the American Bar, as live piano music starts to play. Located in the heart of Palermo, past guests rated this hotel highly for its proximity to the best restaurants and cafes.

Feel exclusive when you stay at the Rocco Forte Villa Igiea, where no two rooms are exactly alike. Each room is decorated in its own unique fashion, and equally offers incredible views of the city and sea, from different perspectives. The hotel offers a filling breakfast every morning and excellent hospitality from the trained staff.

Hotel Politeama has a beautiful historic facade, but on the inside, it’s anything but old. The interiors have been renovated with the most modern accommodations, styles, and colors, for the perfect old-world charm meets modern times.

Visiting Palermo on a budget?

Don’t know where to start your Palermo adventures? Book yourself on one of the free walking tours in Palermo! Walk the famous streets, piazzas, and landmarks that have served a purpose in the history of the city.

Learn about the fascinating facts, ask questions, and get to know the city on foot along with a local guide! If you’re traveling solo, it’s a great way to meet people too!

Where to go next?

Want to keep exploring the best things to do in Sicily? There are incredible multi-day trips from Palermo visiting nearby Monreale, Etna, Taormina and Agrigento, for example. Or, if you’d prefer, choose another idyllic Sicilian city to get to know better as your next destination for the week.

There are plenty of amazing things to do in Catania. Catch impressive glimpses of the iconic Mount Etna volcano, as you stroll the streets of Catania. Do some people watching at the Fontana dell’Elefante statue and admire the stunning baroque architecture in the historic district.

Cefalù, on the northern coast of Sicily, has beautiful Byzantine structures intermixing with archaeological sites, and the stunning Norman Romanesque Cathedral, dating back to 1131. As you check off the things to do in Cefalù, it feels like you’re traveling to bygone eras.

Visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Piazza Duomo in Syracuse, south of Catania,  for delicious gelato. But before that, head to the Greek Theater, as you listen to the stories of Greek gods and other deities. More things to do in Syracuse include exploring the Castello Maniace, Temple of Apollo and Roman Amphitheatre.

Get another view of Mount Etna, this time from Taormina, along with stunning views of medieval streets, architecture, and Greek and Roman Theaters. Visit the Teatro Greco, and stay for one of the many shows and events that take place there! Oh, and film nerds, one of the best things to do in Taormina for you is a Godfather film locations tour!

Final thoughts

From the intricate details inside the Palatine Chapel to the eerie findings inside the Capuchin Catacombs, or an adventurous paragliding flight into the sunset, Palermo spoils visitors with so much to do, no matter what they’re after.

We hope you enjoyed our list of the best things to do in Palermo – which one caught your eye? Let us know!

Happy travels!

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Benjamin Halliday is a seasoned content writer for TourScanner. Based in the UK, Benjamin's wanderlust has taken him across Europe and the US, with a transformative 7-year sojourn in Portugal adding depth to his tales. Beyond his written words, he's a gifted musician who revels in sampling, creating, and playing enthralling tunes. Whether through captivating articles or mesmerizing music, Benjamin's creations always promise an unforgettable journey.