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Palermo is the capital of the Italian island of Sicily. A historic city that was established by the Phoenicians, it was one of the wealthiest cities in Europe.
Palermo has numerous historic monuments and excellent cultural attractions, and nature lovers will also find plenty to inspire them.
Sadly, Palermo is also somewhat famous for its high levels of crime and economic instability, with the notorious Mafia running the island.
This may deter many people from visiting, which is a real shame; Palermo is a terrific place to explore, with plenty of variety to suit everyone. And, you don’t need to feel unsafe or ill at ease.
Our expert guide of the best things to do in Palermo not only covers the hottest spots but also gives you peace of mind when it comes to discovering this culturally rich Italian city in a safe and secure way. Why miss out?!
Get ready to see Palermo through a local’s eyes and visit somewhere a bit different to the norm. Tick a fabulous Italian destination off your bucket list and have a top time with our well-researched list of the best things to do in Palermo.
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Plenty of fun is often what makes a vacation different from the everyday humdrum of ordinary life. Leave any tensions at the airport and have a blast exploring Palermo with these creative ideas.
Get closer to local sights and have an urban adventure by exploring Palermo’s fascinating streets by Segway. You can reach places that are otherwise inaccessible by larger vehicle and you’ll see places that you may well miss if wandering around alone.
Tours last for three hours and you’ll be given a fully operational and safety briefing before setting off, along with time to practice. A knowledgeable guide accompanies your group at all times. Don’t worry about inclement weather—rain ponchos are provided if the skies look dull.
You’ll learn more about the different groups that have called the city home over the ages as well as local anecdotes and witty tidbits.
Experience the olde-worlde and traditional vibe at the Arab-esque Capo Market, marvel at the gigantic opera house of Teatro Massimo, and gaze upon the cathedral. Feast your eyes on the Norman Palace and Bishop’s Palace, admire the Pretoria Fountain, appreciate the Garibaldi Gardens and much more on this fabulous tour of Palermo.
Palermo, and Sicily in general is notorious for being home of the infamous criminal underworld gang of The Mafia. Learn more about local efforts to fight the Mafia on a guide-led walking tour of Palermo.
You’ll stroll through the historical heart of the city, with ample opportunities to pick up tasty street snacks along the way, all while getting beneath the city’s skin and experiencing local life through the eyes of a native.
View anti-Mafia monuments, learn about the gang’s awful history, and be inspired by those who are finally standing up to the bullying and proudly declaring “no more”.
If you purchase anything in any of the establishments you have the added bonus of knowing that none of your money goes towards funding illegal and immoral activities and you can display your support for the grassroots movements that try to make Palermo a better place for all. A donation to anti-Mafia movement Addiopizzo is also included in the tour fee.
Fans of the macabre, gruesome, and darker history are sure to be enthralled on this tour of Palermo’s cathedral and catacombs.
Descend underground into the gloom to come face to grisly face with the mummified corpses of people from the past and skeletons galore. Remains stretch along the walls, their lifeless eyes watching your every step. There are friars, children, and virgin maidens among the bodies.
You’ll learn about the preservation techniques used by the Capuchin monks and can see the mummified body of Velazquez, a renowned painter.
Emerge into the sunshine to stroll through the gorgeous gardens of the Benedictine Cloisters and admire the striking Norman-period architecture of Monreale Cathedral.
If you’re visiting Palermo with that special someone you can’t pass up on the city’s most romantic attractions and activities for that extra wow factor.
Take to the sparkling waters for a beautiful sailing excursion around Sicily’s gorgeous coastline. Soak up spectacular Mediterranean views, feel the sunshine gently caressing your skin, and cool down with a dip in pristine, clear waters. (Don’t forget your bathing suit!)
Highlights include the picturesque Bay of Mondello, the scenes along the picture-perfect Gulf di Sferracavallo, and the scenic Capo Gallo Bay. Enchanting dolphins might even make an appearance, adding even more to the romance.
Admire the Villa of Tonnare and the Saracen towers, splash in refreshing waters, see an assortment of aquatic life, marvel at stunning scenery, and have a fabulously romantic sailing trip around Sicily.
Enjoying delectable wines with your love is always a great way to spend time, but how about if you paired that with other great experiences too? Wouldn’t that be a splendid day?
You can be as lovey-dovey as you like on a private tour of the western area of Sicily, discovering four of the island’s prettiest places.
Stroll across the Salt Pans of Trapani and Paceco, visit Nubia’s interesting salt museum, step back in time at the Greek temple and ruins at Segesta, and wander the medieval jewel of Erice.
In Marsala, you can sample local wines while relaxing on the terrace and soaking up the attractive views with your lover by your side.
As clichéd as it may sound, sharing a meal with your love is a great way to spend quality time together and strengthen bonds and loving feelings. Whether you opt for lunch or dinner, ditch the crowds for a truly intimate dining experience.
Gaze lovingly into each others’ eyes as you sit on a private balcony in a beautiful historic home that overlooks the bustling Piazza San Domenico Church.
Your private chef will expertly prepare four delicious courses, each using fresh local ingredients and giving a great overview of tasty Sicilian flavours and culinary traditions. Sip local wines between courses as you eagerly await each new taste sensation and relish the company of your sweetheart.
Bidding farewell to a day and watching a beautiful sunset is right up there with romantic things to do. Seeing the sun set over the waves is a blissful way to round off a perfect Palermo day with your love.
Walk up Monte Pellegrino, a lovely promontory between the Gulf of Palermo and the Gulf of Mondello. The peak provides glorious vistas of both the city and the sea, and it’s an especially charming destination to witness a fine sunset. Perhaps take a bottle of local wine to the summit to crack open as the colours of the sky start to change?
Alternatively, feel the sand between your toes with a late afternoon stroll along Addaura Beach before perching on the sands to lean in close and watch the sun go down.
Visiting Palermo as a family can be a great time for all when you include some of these kid-friendly recommendations.
Sightseeing with kids can sometimes be a chore, especially if they tire quickly and bore easily. Those problems are easily solved, though—board a hop-on-hop-off bus to travel between major sights with ease and give the kids something to get excited about. Riding a bus is often a thrill in itself for younger members of the family!
You can get off anytime your little ones (or you!) need a bathroom break, to grab refreshments, or simply to stretch your legs. Stops are conveniently located right next to key attractions.
There are two routes and the onboard audio is available in a range of languages.
One service leads past many places of interest, including Piazza Quattro Canti, Palazzo Steri, Vucciria Market, the Royal Palace, and the Cathedral. The other travels past Palermo’s glorious villas and monuments, with highlights such as Zisa Castle, Villa Malfitano, and Massimo Theatre.
The whole family can enjoy an authentic cooking class with a professional chef, learning how to replicate tasty Sicilian dishes once back at home. You can definitely impress your friends and family with your new skills! Plus, it’s a great way to have a giggle and bond with your children.
Wander through the local market to start your experience, picking up fresh ingredients to use in your class. Next, set to work, under careful supervision and instruction, to create a four-course meal.
Once your dishes are ready it’s time to tuck in and relish your handiwork. The adults can indulge in a lunchtime tipple of fine Sicilian wine too.
Visit the Museo Internazionale delle Marionette to see a huge selection of traditional puppets in all their splendour. In addition to marionettes from Palermo and other parts of Italy, you’ll also find exquisite examples of stringed puppets, glove puppets, and others from various parts of the world.
If you’re lucky there may also be a puppet show scheduled when you visit.
Don’t worry if there is no show though—you can go to the delightful Teatro dei Pupi di Mimmo Cuticchio to watch puppets in action. Sure to captivate kids and adults alike, the puppets are made by hand and perform lovely scenes.
Trying to save money on your Italian adventures? Give your wallet a rest with these terrific free things to see and do in Palermo.
There are plentiful green spaces around Palermo, where you can unwind in nature and enjoy a break from city life.
Step into Villa Bonanno’s Gardens and you’ll find the atmospheric ancient remains of a Roman villa set in beautiful grounds. Villa Giulia offers more lovely gardens and the English Garden is filled with interesting statues, sculptures, and water features.
For kids, the play area within the Garibaldi Gardens is often a hit, and old and young alike can enjoy long walks on the various nature trails. There are certainly plenty of opportunities to enjoy being outside in Palermo.
Northern Sicily’s coastline offers several splendid sandy beaches within easy reach of Palermo. Bask in the sunshine and enjoy a chilled-out day without spending a single cent, euro, dollar, or dime. Sure, you’ll need to catch cheap bus to most beaches (unless you have your own transportation), but once there you can have an affordable day. Pack a picnic to cut costs even more and enjoy a spot of al fresco dining right on the sands.
Swim in the inviting waters, catch up with your journaling, bury your nose in your favourite book, stroll along the sand, build a sand castle … and enjoy a feeling of freedom and joy.
Mondello is one of the closest beaches to Palermo, and both Aspra and Isola delle Femmine are within easy reach. If you want a busier beach vibe, check out San Vito Lo Capo or Cefalu.
We can’t promise that you won’t be tempted to splash a little cash and make some purchases, but exploring the city’s markets won’t, on the face of it, cost a thing.
See a range of local goods for sale and sample diverse snacks and meals. Immerse yourself in local life as you watch the comings and goings of locals looking to get the best bargains. Soak up the sights, sounds, aromas, and energy of Palermo’s markets for a glimpse into the local way of life.
The Vucciria is one of Palermo’s liveliest markets, presenting a frenzy of activity and photo ops galore. Indeed, Vucciria actually means “confusion”, so you have some idea of what to expect!
Peek inside the workshops of the market near Piazza del Papireto to see diverse goods being crafted, and browse the stalls for second-hand bargains. Sample Arabian life at Il Capo and feel as though you’ve been transported to Northern Africa or the Middle East.
The fun doesn’t need to end when the sun goes down over Palermo with these great night time activities.
If you’re yearning for a more quiet and low-key evening, Palermo’s laid-back cafes could be just what you’re looking for. Pull up a seat and chat with friends in a cosy ambience, and gaze out the windows (or from your vantage spot right on a sidewalk at a pavement café) to watch the city light up at night time.
Many cafes sell alcoholic drinks as well as a range of coffees and soft drinks, so no worries if you fancy a chilled-out beer or two.
You’ll find some of the best evening cafes in Borgo Vecchio and Piazza Olivella.
There are plenty of places to drink, dance, and be merry in Palermo. Get your glad rags on and head out for a night on the tiles!
Palermo’s bar scene is fairly sophisticated, and you’ll find a great selection of expertly mixed cocktails and locally made wines along with beers and other popular drinks. Check out a rooftop bar for glorious views across the city and sit outdoors to absorb the local energy.
If your feet are itching to dance, some of the city’s main nightclubs include Candelai, Country Club, and Tonnara Florio. The summer months are the best for partying hard in Palermo when flocks of tourists seek out nocturnal fun.
Palermo has a vibrant performing arts scene and there’s almost always something going on all throughout the year.
The warmer summer months bring open-air stages and performance areas, with live music, comedy, plays, and more. There are also a number of small playhouses and concert venues where you’ll find a varied program of events.
The Ballet and Opera seasons are especially popular, with a number of terrific shows to tickle your fancy. Listen to the haunting arias and operatic voices and be dazzled by fancy footwork and graceful moves.
Have a fantastic time discovering Sicily’s capital with this comprehensive list of the best things to do in Palermo. While you’re in research mode, why not find out which of Palermo’s neighbourhoods suits your interests, style and budget or peruse the 17 best hotels in Palermo.
Benvenutu to Palermo!
Gin lover. Coffee addict. Nicola has traveled the world for 7 years and is a staff writer for Hotel Jules. Born in London, Nicola first got the taste of travel studying abroad in Barcelona. Since then she's been hooked - traveling the world non-stop. Passionate about green travel and vegan lifestyle, Nicola spends more of her free time staring at maps wondering where she will head to next!