Palermo online travel guide
You want to discover Palermo? Very nice. In this travel guide we show you the most important sights and give you info & tips for the capital of Sicily. With it, you can prepare your trip perfectly!
The Top 10 Sights in Palermo & Info and Tips on the Sicilian Capital
Ciao, we are Adriana and Eugenio.
We live in Palermo, were born in Sicily and are hosts at Boutique BnB Dolcevita. We have compiled all the info you need for your city trip.
With around 650,000 inhabitants, Palermo is the fifth largest city in Italy and the cultural centre of the island. Quickly after arriving, you can already feel the contrasts of the city, which have been formed by the influences of changing dominations:
Arabs, Normans, Hohenstaufen - they have all left their mark on Palermo's eventful history These contrasts give the city its charm. At first glance, it seems disorganised - like a jungle of possibilities. i
With our travel guide, you have a compass in your luggage with which you can easily drift like a feather through the Mediterranean metropolis.
This is what awaits you in our travel guide:
- The Cathedral
- Giardino Garibaldi
- La Dolce Vita in the old town
Sightseeing in Palermo:
The 10 most beautiful sights
The historic markets of the old town
If you're looking for old-town flair, take a tour of the many markets in the centre, where you can buy almost anything from fresh food to electronics and clothing.
The markets form the heart of Palermo's city centre and largely date back to Arab domination. Here you are immersed in a world full of colours and sounds.
Here is a list and brief presentation of Palermo's three best-known and most worthwhile markets. For more information about the markets we recommend our report: These 3 historic markets in Palermo inspire with Arabian flair
The Ballarò market is not to be missed. At over 1,000 years old, it is the oldest street market in the Sicilian capital and probably one of the liveliest in Europe.
The lively market is located in the multicultural neighbourhood of Albergheria, which means you will hear many other languages here besides Arabic.
Besides the variety of food, the market also makes the hearts of fashion lovers beat faster. If you're looking for something unusual, you're sure to find what you're looking for while browsing through the diverse stalls with vintage fashion.
Plan your visit in the morning to avoid larger crowds.
La Vucciria Market:
The la Vucciria market is Palermo's most historic market. It delights with its colourful variety of food, but also clothes, books and other things. Night owls in particular get their money's worth here.
In fact, for the last 20 years or so, the area has been one of the most important places when it comes to nightlife in Palermo and has thus become a gathering place for night owls.
Towards evening, when the traditional food stalls close, the street food here is particularly popular with young people, students and people on a tight budget.
Market del Capo:
The del Capo market is located in the eponymous il Capo neighbourhood and is the right choice for those who like it a little less touristy. Nowadays it is much smaller than it used to be, but just like the other markets, it is very well attended.
A particular speciality is the freshly baked bread, which comes from the surrounding villages of Palermo and is very popular.
However, a large part of the market also consists of a wide range of clothing and home textiles, which is why local visitors in particular flock here.
Our tip for all Palermo's markets:
Palermo is a safe city. Nevertheless, pickpockets are on the rampage in the markets. Take care of your valuables and don't carry too much cash.
The harbour bay of La Cala
The harbour bay of La Cala, Palermo's marina, is a promenade and photo backdrop. Since its restoration in 2008, the many yachts, cosy bars and cafés present a well-kept image and make the harbour a hotspot for Palermitans.
Be sure to visit the open-air bar NAUTO at the Nautoscopio. The Nautoscopio is a work of art created shortly after the restoration of the harbour.
Secure one of NAUTO's coveted waterfront seats and enjoy the view of the yachts, ferries and passenger ships arriving and departing.
The Mummies of Palermo in the Capuchin Crypt
Do you feel like being spooked? The Capuchin Crypt houses the world's largest collection of mummies and is one of the most morbid tourist attractions around.
In 1534, the Capuchin monks built their first monastery in Sicily's capital and later discovered by chance 45 intact, naturally mummified corpses. The surroundings of the tomb had prevented the brothers in the faith from decomposing.
From then on, the dead were displayed as a symbol of their own transience (memento mori). The monks perfected the process of mummification and also opened the Capuchin tomb to the population as a final resting place.
As a result, the Catacombe dei Cappuccini grew strongly and today, with over a thousand mummies, form the end of the old town.
Among others, Rosalia Lombardi lies here, a mummified two-year-old girl known as the "sleeping beauty of Sicily" and considered the most beautiful mummy in the world.
Visit the Capuchin Crypt as early as possible and during the week and you will have the chance to roam the crypt alone, with only the dead at your side. Out of respect for the dead, photography is not allowed. So leave your camera in your bag.
Would you like to learn more about the Capuchin Crypt? Then follow us into the underground passages of the crypt in our article Capuchin Crypt Palermo: thousands of mummies remind us of the transience of life.
Admission: A visit to the Realm of the Dead costs €3 per ticket.
Mo - Fr: 10:30 - 17:00
Sa + Su + Holidays: 10:00 - 18:00
Opening Hours & Entrance Fees Capuchin Crypt
Fountain of Shame: The Fontana Pretoria
The imposing fountain in late Renaissance style, one of the most important sights of the Sicilian metropolis, has an eventful history.
Originally commissioned in the 16th century for a private Tuscan villa, the building found its destination in Palermo. Like no other monument, it attracts attention and has caused heated tempers in the past.
The Palermitans found the unclothed statues of the river gods and nymphs scandalous and called the fountain "Fontana della Vergogna", i.e. "Fountain of Shame".
Tempers have long since calmed, but the epithet remains to this day.
The fountain is illuminated at night and can still be visited without any problems. Take this chance and experience the Fontana in a special light.
In our article The Fontana Pretoria in Palermo: Fountain of Shame we tell you more about how the fountain travelled to find its destination in Palermo, why it was threatened by vandalism for a long time and we walk through the different levels of the fountain with its torsos, mystical water games and the gate to heaven.
The Cathedral Maria Santissima Assunta
If you are in Palermo, you should definitely visit the Maria Santissima Assunta Cathedral. It stands in the middle of the old town and is considered the most beautiful and important church in the city.
The cathedral is not only impressive from the outside, but is also convincing from the inside with its baroque-looking basilica. The underground crypt and the treasury are particularly worth seeing. Here lie the relics of former archbishops of the city, the relics of Santa Rosalia and royal tombs such as that of Frederick II.
Take the opportunity to climb to the roof of the church early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the sun is pleasant. For the climb up a narrow spiral staircase made of stone, your eyes will be rewarded with a breathtaking view over the roofs of the city.
Admission is free. Those who wish to visit the crypt pay a ticket price of 3€. For the roof tour, one pays a price of 7€.
Mo - Sa: 07:00 - 19:00
Su: 08:00 - 13:00
Cathedral Opening Hours & Entrance Fees
Other churches worth seeing
There is a church worth seeing on literally every corner, and the buildings date from a wide variety of eras. This results in numerous styles that reflect Palermo's turbulent history.
With its places of worship, Palermo offers highlights for every taste. If you want to visit more churches than just the cathedral, we recommend our 5 favourite churches for your tour:
Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio (La Martorana / Admiral's Church)
Chiesa San Giovanni Degli Eremiti
Church of San Domenico
Santa Maria Dello Spasimo
The Palatine Chapel in the Royal Palace (Norman Palace)
In addition to countless sacred buildings, the city of Palermo is home to an almost equally large number of representative residential buildings from different centuries.
The former noble and regent palaces show the wealth of their former owners and give an idea of how significant Palermo was as a permanent residence.
One of these main attractions in the medieval city centre of Palermo is the "Palazzo Reale" (Norman Palace). Particularly worth seeing in the palace is the court chapel, the "Cappella Palatina". It was built between 1132 and 1140 and is one of the most famous medieval church buildings.
The Cappella Palatina is best known for its gold-ground mosaics depicting a series of scenes from the Old and New Testaments, for its remarkable details and its message: tolerance between peoples and religions.
The entrance fee is 8.50 euros (6.50 euros reduced).
Mon- Sat: 08:15 hrs to 17:40 hrs, last admission at 17:00 hrs.
Sun + holidays: 08:15 to 13:00, last entry at 12:15
Opening Hours & Admission Fees
Teatro Massimo: Where history meets Hollywood
Last but not least, you can also enjoy sights of a completely different kind in Sicily's capital: Internationally acclaimed opera and ballet performances take place on the stages of the large theatre houses, making Palermo one of the three most important "playgrounds" in Europe.
When you're in Palermo, there's one very special attraction you can't afford to miss: the Teatro Massimo.
Here you can get a whiff of Hollywood flair. Francis Ford Coppola shot the famous final sequence of "The Godfather - Part III" in the stairwell and in the Sala Grande.
If you don't want to buy a ticket, switch to the 30-minute guided tour of the Teatro Massimo opera house and you'll get an insight into the backstage area of the Teatro Massimo as well as a view of Palermo from the roof of the opera house
Find out more about the architectural masterpiece with its imposing portico at the entrance, the Sala Grande, the exclusive séparées and why the opera house is a symbol of resistance against the Mafia in our article The Teatro Massimo in Palermo: where history meets Hollywood.
The Quattro Canti intersection marks the point where Via Vittorio Emanuele and Via Nuova meet. The name is somewhat misleading: translated, it means "four corners". In fact, however, the piazza is octagonal.
The perfectly symmetrical palazzi in the Piazza Quattro Canti impress with a distinctive symbolic language, which is also reflected in the popular name for the square.
The Palermitans call it Teatro del Sole, the Sun Theatre. Because at any time of day, one of the façades is illuminated by the sun.
For more pictures of the Quattro Canti and info on the history of the crossroads, its Baroque architecture and symbolism, see our report The Quattro Canti in Palermo: More than a crossroads.
A place of tranquillity in the Palermo hustle and bustle is the Parco Giardino Garibaldi. Here you can stroll and relax on one of the benches under gigantic trees.
The small park is located in Piazza Marina on the edge of the historic district of La Kalsa, just a few minutes' walk from the harbour.
The biggest attraction of the park are the specimens of three fig trees, which are similar in size to sequoias. One of the trees, together with another from the Botanical Garden in Palermo, is one of the largest and oldest fig trees in Europe.
But the park has even more magical secrets to offer than just the miraculously grown fig trees. The first police murder of the mafia in Palermo took place here.
Treat yourself to an ice cream made from old Sicilian recipes and exclusively from natural ingredients from the Rorò Gelateria right next door and enjoy it while strolling through the park.
Whether the police murder could be solved, where the park got its name from and what the proximity to the Inquisition court in the Middle Ages has to do with the growth of the fig trees, we reveal in our report Giardino Garibaldi - a magical place of tranquillity, legends and secrets.
La Dolce Vita in the old town
The top sights can all be found in the old town. Palermo's attitude to life with its many influences flows between them.
The best way to get to know this identity is on foot in the old town. The streets and narrow alleys here offer a special ambience.
We have presented the markets to you. During the day, you can also shop in numerous shops or browse at street vendors' stalls.
In the early evening, from 6pm, it's "time for an aperitivo" in the old town. Literally, aperitivo refers to the drink before the meal, which is supposed to "stimulate the appetite". In fact, it can be translated as "going for a drink and having all kinds of snacks".
Meanwhile, the street from Quattro Canti towards the sea to Piazza Marina has become a pedestrian zone. Stroll through the traffic-calmed street and enjoy a cool drink, a caffè, the Palermo street food or an aperitivo in the evening in one of the numerous street bars and snack bars.
City map with the top sights
You can get to know the presented top 10 highlights in the old town of Palermo on foot and in about 3 days. We recommend the following sights if you are in the city for at least 4 days.
The beach bay of Mondello
After an extensive tour of the Sicilian capital, it's time for a break. How about a day trip to the beach?
The suburb of Mondello is only a few kilometres from Palermo and offers the finest sandy beach, crystal-clear water and an idyllic view of the surrounding natural landscape on the sea bay between Monte Pellegrino and Monte Gallo.
In our report Palermo beach: a day by the sea in the picturesque bay of Mondello, you will learn more about the "house beach of Palermo" at the former fishing village of Mondello with its 1.5 km long stretch of beach, the Liberty-style spa house and the numerous activities that are possible.
The Cathedral of Monreale
In the small town of Monreale, 5 kilometres from Palermo, the Cathedral of Monreale awaits you at a height of 300 metres on the royal mountain "Monte Reale".
It is the largest church in Sicily and one of the island's main sights because of its imposing interior and cloister. Byzantine gold-ground mosaics cover the entire interior walls of the church and an area of 6,340 m². The church thus contains the largest uniform Byzantine mosaic cycle known anywhere.
The Monte Pellegrino
Monte Pellegrino, the "pilgrim's mountain", lies four kilometres outside the city centre to the north. The view from the highest point is breathtaking and on the way up, on the "Acchianta" Santa Rosalia path, you will encounter many highlights worth seeing.
There is the "most beautiful promontory in the world" (Goethe), the chapel of Saint Rosalia carved into the mountain or the paradise-like Laghetto Gorgo di Santa Rosalia pond.
While some of the historic buildings are still used for government business today, others house galleries or museums and attract many art enthusiasts to Sicily with their exhibitions.
Palermo exhibits here partly unique exhibits of the prehistory and early history of Sicily or shows valuable sculpture and painting collections.
The Botanical Garden and Villa Giulia
You can take a break in the largest and oldest botanical garden in Europe. It is located right next to the Villa Giulia, which is well worth seeing. Goethe once looked for the original plant here. The botanical garden is one of the best research facilities in Italy and a visitor attraction.
Around 12,000 species of plants grow here in Sicily in peace under Palermo's favourable climate. You can also expect impressive aerial root trees, cacti, a series of greenhouses, a huge plant archive and, with the aquarium, a magnificent round fountain with many aquatic plants.
Info about Palermo
The city in brief: Numbers, data, facts
Geographical location: on the north coast of Sicily, in a plain ("Conca d'oro") between the Monte Pellegrino and Monte Catalfano mountains.
Capital of Sicily
Founded in the 8th century BC
Height above sea level: 14 m
Population: 676,000 (fifth largest Italian city)
University: Università degli Studi di Palermo (50,000 students).
Local holiday: 15 July (feast of the city's patron saint Santa Rosalia)
Car registration number: PA
Europe's Street Food Capital in 2015
Europe's largest botanical garden is in Palermo
Ice cream was invented in Palermo
Europe's largest fig tree, at 30 metres, is in Piazza Marina
Where is Palermo? (City map)
Palermo is located in the northwest of Sicily, directly on the sea. The journey from Mid-Europe by direct flight takes about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. On the satellite image, Italy looks like a boot and Sicily like the football at its top. This football is the remnant of a land bridge that once connected Italy with Africa. Of course, the proximity to Africa can still be felt in the climate today. Tunisia, for example, is 308 km away.
Weather Palermo - Current
When is the best time to travel to Palermo?
The climate is most attractive in spring and autumn. It is pleasantly warm then, you can swim in the sea and it rarely rains. In these southern regions it is very hot in July and August with temperatures around 40 degrees. In principle, you can travel to Palermo all year round, because it never gets really cold there. In January, temperatures are rarely below 10 degrees, and the first almond trees begin to blossom at the end of February. The most expensive travel season is around Easter. July and August are also high season, despite the heat, because Italian families have their summer holidays during these months.
Travel tips and answers to frequently asked questions
How much time should you plan for Palermo?
The old town can easily be explored on foot in two days. However, if you want to see some of the most beautiful sights, a weekend is too short. Three to four days would be ideal to see the most interesting highlights. For a combination of city trip and beach holiday, it is recommended to plan a week.
Who is Palermo best suited for?
Palermo is the ideal place for active bon vivants who are life-affirming and optimistic. For whom it is important to enjoy life to the fullest. Who have "pamper and be pampered" as their motto, are often interested in art and culture and like the urban flair and the richness of facets. For these active connoisseurs, Palermo with its mix of art and culture, its culinary delights, its vibrant life and its location on the Mediterranean is the ideal place.
Is it safe to drink tap water in Palermo?
Tap water in Sicily is tested at regular intervals according to EU guidelines. You can drink it, there are no health reasons against it. However, there are regional differences in taste. Water from the mountains tastes very good, but on the coast the taste leaves a lot to be desired. In Palermo, for example, the tap water tastes like lime, which is why most hotels, restaurants and cafés filter the water.
Do you tip in Palermo?
Throughout Italy, and also in Sicily, it is customary to charge for the coperto, i.e. the table setting, the obligatory bread on the table and the service. This amount of about two to three euros per person is listed on the menu and is automatically included on the bill. In principle, this covers the tip. Since the local waiters earn little, it is a friendly gesture to leave a few euros on the table for the service despite the coperto charged.
How can I pay in Palermo?
You can easily make cashless payments in Palermo, both in supermarkets and restaurants. Either use your German EC card or pay by credit card. Withdrawing money is also easy, there are banks with ATMs. The withdrawal fee with a German EC card is between two and six euros.
What should you definitely pack?
In Sicily, the sun shines very strongly almost all year round. Therefore, one of the most important tips is to make sure you take a sunscreen with a high sun protection factor. You should also pack a sun hat to avoid sunstroke. Mosquito repellent lotion is also worthwhile. It is advisable to buy these products in Germany. On the island, hygiene products such as creams and also shampoos or body lotions are usually more expensive.
It is also advisable to pack a light scarf or coverlet for church visits. On the one hand, it is not allowed to enter sacred buildings with bare arms, and on the other hand, it is often very cool in the old buildings.
Do I need a travel adapter?
As there are three different systems of sockets in Italy, the Europe standard plug does not fit into all sockets. If you want to be absolutely sure that your device will work in the hotel, you should think about a universal adapter. It is worth taking this adapter with you from home, in Italy it is not easy to find everywhere.
Are there certain rules of conduct?
In principle, the same rules of conduct apply in Palermo as in other European regions. When visiting a church, however, you should make sure that you are dressed correctly. If you visit a church or any other sacred building, you should not wear a spaghetti strap or have bare arms. Skirts that expose the knee are also not welcome. You can throw on a light scarf or borrow a plastic cover-up at the portal.
Do you still have questions and need tips for your tour?
Is Palermo dangerous?
Palermo is known for its mafia past. Today, the capital of Sicily is considered the safest metropolis in Italy. The criminal structures have been fought by the judiciary and the population since the 1980s
The turnaround in dealing with the Mafia is due first and foremost to Giovanni Falcone, who as a judge in the early 1980s set up a special commission in Palermo and brought some 400 Mafia members to trial.
The victorious Falcone was then killed with a car bomb on his way from the airport in revenge. The second prosecutor in the trial, Paolo Borsellino, also fell victim to an attack a good two months later.
These two assassinations of the symbolic figures of the resistance triggered a wave of indignation among the civilian population. The Italian state launched a repressive offensive that continues to this day, and the enraged population began to free itself from the influence of the criminal organisation.
The national statistics office Istat reported in 2019 that Palermo is the safest metropolis in Italy. More details on this and the latest crime data can be found in the Tagesspiegel's article Italy's safest city or in our article How safe is Palermo? A look at Italy's safest metropolis.
Accommodation in Palermo
Looking for the most beautiful accommodation in Palermo? Modern upscale rooms with plenty of space and feel-good service in a historic building right on the harbour. From €47 per person and breakfast included. Live like a local for a while at the best value for money.
The Oldtown Apartment PalermoVibes is a holiday flat located on the first floor of a 200-year-old palazzo in the famous and traffic-calmed Via Vittorio Emanuele, right in the old town. There are 2 bedrooms, a dining room with fridge, a kitchen, a bathroom and a balcony with the best view of the old town. From 63 € per night (2 persons). Holiday flat in the middle of the old town.
This fully air-conditioned holiday flat with 100 sqm is for highest demands. 3 bedrooms, 1 living room, 2 showers, 2 toilets, 1 a fully equipped kitchen and 1 dining area offer space for a maximum of 6 people. The equipment is exclusive - among other things satellite TV and spinning bike. From € 135 per night
What and where to eat well in the capital of Sicily
Palermo has more to offer than the typical Italian dishes such as lasagne, pizza or spaghetti, although you can also order these delicacies in top quality at every corner of the city.
Sicilian cuisine is very versatile. One reason for this is Sicily's turbulent history with its many changes of rule. The Greeks, Romans and Arabs brought many ingredients and new spices to the island.
In addition to the influences of foreign cultures, Sicilian cuisine is characterised by the rich yields of its own agriculture, such as olives, artichokes, tomatoes or aubergines and fishing.
Planning the trip (with useful links)
Set travel time (Tips on the best time to travel)
On request: Rent a car
Pack your suitcase and think of everything
Enjoy your stay on site with this guide
...or return home refreshed and and plan a new trip
Highlights of Sicilian cuisine
Parmigiana di Melanzane: Vegetable casserole au gratin with aubergines. Delicious and complex to prepare, parmigiana melanzane has its origins in Sicilian cuisine and was invented in the early 18th century after Arab traders introduced tomatoes and aubergines to Sicily from America and Asia.
Pasta con le Sarde: Pasta with fried sardines, fennel, saffron and sultanas. The dish originated in the 10th century under Arabic, Mediterranean and Italian influences.
Caponata: A Sicilian vegetable revelation with aubergine as the leading lady. Caponata is served cold with bread as a starter or as a warm side dish with fish and pasta.
Our restaurant tips:
La Premiata Enoteca Butticè:
First opened in 1936 and reopened in 2011 in Piazza San Francesco di Paola, the Enoteca offers 700 different wines from more than 40 countries, including the best wines of Sicily, in one of Palermo's best squares. Inside, sit among wine racks and enjoy Palermo and regional cuisine with ingredients fresh daily. Our highlight: the tuna steak. Show location (Google Maps)
A gourmet experience for the taste buds is offered by Gagini in the heart of Vucciria, right on the harbour. The restaurant was one of the first gourmet restaurants and was created in the rooms where Antonio Gagini, the greatest sculptor of the Sicilian Renaissance, created his works. It creates fine cuisine according to its own creative rules and is one of the few restaurants in Palermo that has been listed in the Michelin Guide since its inception. Show location (Google Maps)
La Cambusa truly deserves the "Made in Sicily" award. In 1988, Nonna Oriana realised her dream of having her own trattoria on the beautiful Piazza Marina. After more than 30 years, traditional Sicilian dishes are still served there in a family atmosphere, such as pasta with sardines or aubergine caponata. Show location (Google Maps)
Palermo has also been synonymous with street food for centuries. Forbes lists the city as the 5th street food capital of the world. It is the only Italian city in the top 10.
We recommend that you get to know the street food culture on the three-hour tour of the local markets. You will taste the authentic street food with a licensed guide at your side.
Here is a list of the most popular street food dishes:
Arancini: Arancini - Sicilian rice balls - are probably the most popular street food to satisfy your hunger in between meals. They are saffron rice balls breaded with flour, deep-fried in oil and filled with various ingredients.
Pani câ meusa: The pana ca meusa is chopped veal lung and spleen in a soft white flour bun.
Polpo bollito: For many, it is considered a delicate highlight of the Palermo street food scene: the boiled octopus. After cooking, it is cut into small pieces and served with a squeeze of lemon and parsley.
The most popular Sicilian desserts and sweets
Cannolo con Ricotta: This is a pastry rolled around a "cannolo" (tube) and deep-fried with a creamy ricotta filling.
Brioche con gelato: A fluffy milk roll with ice cream of your choice. The brioche filled with ice cream often replaces lunch. It is also very popular in the morning for breakfast, but is then served separately with a granita.
Cassata Siciliana: Cassata Siciliana is a baroque-style Sicilian layer cake that was originally only made in monasteries and manor houses and served only at Easter or weddings. In Palermo, however, you can nibble on the delicious dessert all year round.
Where to get good desserts:
For three generations, the Pasticceria Costa has been producing artisan Sicilian pastries according to family tradition. The best local raw materials are the basis of the desserts, which can be described as small masterpieces and taste delicious. From tarts to classic cannoli: there is something for every palate. Of the family's two branches, we recommend the one in Via Maqueda in the old town, so you can fit your visit perfectly into your day on foot. Show location (Google Maps)
Our tip for further reading:
In our article Palermo Food: A Gourmet Journey through Palermitan Cuisine, we take you on a more in-depth tour of local menus, street food markets to the city's colourful pastry shops and vineyards. We explain why food is so important to the Palermitani and give you more tips on where to eat well.