best things to do in palermo

13 Best Things to Do in Palermo, Sicily

Here you’ll find a complete guide for all the best things to see, do, and eat (plus where to stay!) in Palermo, Sicily—one of my favorite destinations in all of Europe!
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When we arrived in Palermo in the second half of my second time visiting Sicily, I didn’t know what to expect, if I’m honest. I’d spent a decent amount of time searching for things to do in Palermo, and like you (I’m assuming), was scouring all the blog posts trying to craft the perfect few days.

But despite all my research, I was nervous! I’d only previously spent time on the east side of Sicily, and as you may know if you’ve read the rest of my Sicily articles, I’m fully enamored with the beauty and energy of the east coast. I worried that, like so many capital cities, Palermo would feel a bit overrun with tourism—perhaps a bit inaccessible in any sort of authentic way. I visited in late March, so there was no chance of a beach escape if I hated it.

But I like a challenge, and so I approached Palermo determined to find something to like, but ultimately expecting the worst.

Lucky for me, my fears were founded on literally nothing. What’s that cheesy John Green quote? Falling in love is like falling asleep: slowly, and then all at once (I’m sure I’ve just butchered that, sorry John). That was me with Palermo.

It snuck up on me, and I tried to resist it, but I swear to god by the second day in Palermo I was trying to convince Daniel of why we should move there. So I think it’s safe to say I liked it.

Ultimately, I think Palermo is a city to be experienced, so while I’m going to do my best in this post to convey the energy you’ll find, and detail all the best things to do in Palermo, just know that this doesn’t hold a candle to the real thing.

Scroll down to find some frequently asked questions, and keep scrolling to get to my top tips and official Palermo guide.

Map courtesy of Wanderlog, an itinerary planner on iOS and Android

Delve into Sicily

My Complete Palermo Guide:
What to See, What to Do, Where to Eat, & Where to Stay

Things to do in Palermo: What to See

Now, as a bit of a disclaimer, or like, a general note for how I hope you consume this guide: I do not think it’s necessary to go to all of these sights in order to have a nice time in Palermo. In fact, I didn’t even go to all of these places, and I had a wonderful time in Palermo (I’ve noted in the guide which things I skipped out on, don’t worry).

I’ve included everything in this list because I either personally enjoyed it or I think that other people would really enjoy it. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with hearing a suggestion, and knowing it just isn’t for you!

I find that sometimes the worst trips of mine have happened because I overwhelmed my schedule and tried to do every little thing that I felt like I was supposed to do. But there are no rules to creating an itinerary. Do what feels right for you, take what you want, and leave what you don’t. With that, let’s get into it!

1. Eat some street food and visit the markets

best things to do in palermo

Palermo is incredibly well known for its famous street food, and is often listed as one of the best cities in the world for street food culture. The most famous tasty treats are of course the arancine, and also sfincione (a fried pizza bread), and panelle (chickpea fritters). The best way to try some of these famous foods is exactly like a local would: while wandering through Palermo’s equally famous markets.

Capo, Vucciria, and Ballarò are the three famous markets in Palermo, and each one inhabits one of the four districts of old town. You’ll get differing opinions about which one is the best depending on who you ask, so I recommend checking out all three to see for yourself.

The markets a great way to get a taste for Sicilian daily life, and to see some of the Arab influences left over in the city. A lot of advice warned us that we’d feel overwhelmed while visiting the Palermo markets, but Daniel and I agreed that the markets all felt exactly like the souks that we’ve been to in the Middle East and North Africa. That being said, if you haven’t had experience in that type of environment, it will definitely be a shock to the system!

Expect an ordered chaos, people yelling in every direction, and more sights and smells than you can imagine. Oh, and wear closed toed shoes!

Ballarò is the largest and the oldest market, and it also manages to be the most “authentic” of the three. Located in the Albergheria district, it feels like a serious assault to the senses, and definitely feels rough around the edges. Ballaro is unique because it sits in a less touristy part of the old town, and also contains plenty of stalls that sell things other than food.

Vucciria is the market that we were staying the closest to, so we passed through it a number of times. Vucciria, in my opinion, is best visited in the evening for a drink or late afternoon snack.

During the day there honestly wasn’t much to the market, at least not much that we could find, but at night it completely transforms and comes alive. There are little bars that line the streets where you can get an aperitivo, and further into the chaos you’ll find a wide open square, Piazza Caracciolo, with music, food stalls and people drinking all over the place. It’s your classic golden hour, European summer open air drinking vibes (if you know, you know).

A quick note on Vucciria: many of the spots along this market also serve dinner, but I do not recommend eating a meal here if you can help it.

A quick look on Google Maps will show that pretty much every place has fewer than 4 stars, which for me is almost always a complete deal breaker. We also heard a lot more American and British accents (especially from a younger crowd) in this area, and the servers were very aggressive about getting people to sit, so my view is that it’s one of the more touristy places to eat dinner.

I say stop for a pre-dinner drink (much harder to mess that up!) and then move on to one of my top Palermo restaurant recommendations.

Capo is the best market to try street food (in my opinion) because it has a nice mix of stalls and casual restaurant stands with some seating. This is the market that our food and history walking tour took us through, and we tried all of the famous street food options here. Capo is also well located as it allows for easy access to the old city walls and the stunning Teatro Massimo, which is also worth a visit.

P.S. When you book using my links, you help support Rachel IRL at no extra cost to you. It’s a win-win!

2. Admire Quattro Canti: Four Corners square

best things to do in palermo

Quattro Canti is essentially the official center of the old town of Palermo. It’s a busy square that actually serves as an intersection of two of the main pedestrianized streets in Palermo, Via Maqueda and Via Vittorio Emanuele.

The buildings that meet at the intersection are four nearly identical facades that represent the four seasons as well as many other symbols important of the history of Palermo – if you want to know more about the intricacies of the facades, I recommend a walking tour!

Quattro Canti is kind of a hub from which all the rest of Palermo is to be explored, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself stumbling past here multiple times through your stay. Each quadrant of Quattro Canti is one of the four main neighborhoods of Palermo: Albergheria, Capo/Monte di Pietà, Kalsa and Vucciria/Castellammare.

Aside from being incredibly crowded, and a hub for hawkers looking to price gouge you for horse rides and snow cones, it’s genuinely stunning, especially when facing south, which gives you an insane view of the mountains in the distance—making it absolutely one of the best things to do in Palermo.

3. Stroll Via Vittorio Emanuele 

best things to do in palermo

Via Vittorio Emanuele is one of the two main roads that cross to create the Quattro Canti. It’s quite long, stretching from the water all the way to Porta Nuova, the historic gate to the city, at which point it turns into a major car road that continues on into the rest of the city. The part of Via Vittorio Emanuele that’s worth noting is the part between the Porta Nuova and Giardino Garibaldi (in Kalsa, near the water).

Along this street you’ll access many of the best things to do in Palermo, but you’ll also find all kinds of little shops and vendors for you to explore and peruse. I found some adorable prints for my kitchen, as well as some handmade jewelry while walking along the street. This street is also home to the No Mafia memorial and the Palermo Cathedral (more on those later).

I wouldn’t exactly recommend stopping for food or drinks at most of the places along this street, as they lean touristy and overpriced, but I can recommend Cappadonia Gelati if you absolutely must revive yourself while you’re exploring!

4. Admire the Cathedral of Palermo, Norman Palace, Villa Bonanno and Porta Nuova

best things to do in palermo

I’ve lumped these things to do in Palermo together because they are geographically nearby to one another, so it makes sense to hit them all at once if you’re able.

The Cathedral of Palermo is, in my opinion, the crown jewel of Via Vittorio Emanuele. The inside is actually a bit lackluster as far as European cathedrals go, but it is free to enter, and there’s a pretty cool stone inlay of the zodiac signs towards the front of the church that serves as a clock and calendar.

Aside from that, though, the splendor is all on the outside if you ask me. The Cathedral is really a perfect example of the unique Palermitan architectural blend of Arab and Norman styles, and it reminded me a lot of the things you see in Spain. Something I didn’t get the chance to do, but wish I’d had the time for, is climbing to the roof of the cathedral, which costs €5 and a lot of stamina to climb the stairs up, but offers apparently incredible views of the city.

Porta Nuova is, as we’ve covered, the historic gate to the city, and marks the end of Via Vittorio Emanuele, separating the old and new parts of Palermo. It’s an absolutely stunning structure dating back to the 1500s, and the conical top bit was rebuilt in the 1600s after it was destroyed in a storm. It’s beautiful and ornate, and shocking to imagine how old it is.

The Palazzo dei Normanni, or The Norman Palace, is a palace dating back to the 9th century and is home to Sicily’s regional parliament. The palace, along with the famous Royal Palace and Palatine Chapel that sits behind it are famous for their unbelievable mosaics and paintings. Be sure to visit the inside of both if you’re able to, as they’re a sight to be seen.

And last but not least is Villa Bonanno, a beautiful city park that sits in front of the Palace. It’s a great spot to sit and rest after a long day of walking, and a good way to retreat from the crowds on the street.

5. Get Lost in the Kalsa neighborhood

best things to do in palermo

I was really eager to get a better feel for Kalsa, one of the four main neighborhoods making up the old city of Palermo. Kalsa goes fairly under the radar as far as main neighborhoods to explore in Palermo, which is strange because a lot is going on there, and there are several museums and landmarks in Kalsa worth seeing.

Not only that, but Kalsa is home to tons of local bars and restaurants and generally has the young, relaxed energy that I like to look for in any city when traveling.

If you turn off of Via Vittorio Emanuele onto Via Alessandro Paternostro you’ll come across countless small artisan shops, restaurants and bars. There’s actually an artists’ collective in the area, and you can locate participating shops by the orange window stickers they all display. The street becomes packed in the evenings with people drinking outside its many small bars as well.

If you keep following this street into the neighborhood you’ll reach a small square with many more cafes and bars, as well as more cute shops—this area is another great option for evening drinks. From there you can continue left down Via Alloro or straight through towards Piazza Rivoluzione. Like most areas in Palermo, it’s best to be discovered through curiosity and wandering, so don’t feel the need to take these instructions literally, just explore!

Many specific bars, cafes and restaurants in the neighborhood are linked below in the “Where to eat” section, so click here if you want my specific recommendations.

I do definitely want to note that Kalsa seems to be the site of major gentrification right now, and while there are many cute and trendy shops populating the area, that often comes at the cost of the original local residents being priced out and pushed out.

I don’t have all the right answers for how to strike the balance between respecting the locals of this area, and not wanting to further accelerate the gentrification process, with wanting to support local and small businesses, especially the many artisans and restaurants in the area.

I do think that a good rule of thumb would probably be trying not to rent Airbnbs in this area, as Airbnb has been detrimental to so many cities undergoing gentrification. So just keep that in mind and be mindful of the situation.

A few other interesting things to see in Kalsa include:

Piazza Pretoria Fountain, or the Fountain of Shame, is located right off the Quattro Canti, and it’s an absolutely stunning fountain with many beautiful sculptures lining the edges. Going at golden hour is highly recommended.

Also, check out the Church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio nearby if you want to see the most gorgeous Byzantine mosaic of your life.

Finally, Kalsa was the birthplace and childhood neighborhood of Paolo Borsellino and Giovanni Falcone, two friends and judges who spent their professional lives attempting to challenge and overthrow the powerful grip the mafia had over the city. Both were assassinated a few months apart from each other in 1992 due to their opposition to the mafia, and they’re seen as heroes today.

The No Mafia walking tour of Palermo will take you through Kalsa to see the relevant sites, or you can pass by Borsellino’s childhood home on Via della Vetriera.

6. Strike gold at the Sunday Antique Market in Kalsa

best things to do in palermo

This one seriously deserves an entire point to itself!

On our last day in Palermo, Daniel had to work, so I had the day entirely to myself to do whatever I wanted, which meant I decided to do my favorite thing to do when traveling: wander. I’d already established that Kalsa was probably my favorite area of Palermo that I’d found yet, so I wanted to leave no stone unturned!

Stumbling upon the antique market in Kalsa was one of the highlights of my time in Palermo and happened entirely by accident. I didn’t see this listed in English anywhere online, so I’m really glad I found myself stuck in the middle of it.

You can find the antique market on Sunday mornings surrounding Giardino Garibaldi—which has some stunning old trees in it, and some lovely cafes alongside, so even if you aren’t in Palermo on a Sunday I do still recommend walking over here. The market seems to start pretty early, though it’s not entirely clear to me when stalls start to close up, I noticed them dwindling around 1pm or 2pm, but it seemed to be on an individual basis.

This was probably the most insanely massive antique market I’ve ever found without knowing about it first. I literally couldn’t believe no one online had already mentioned it in any of my research! I guess Palermo, and Kalsa in general, is just a lot more off the beaten path than I had realized.

This means that the entire thing was pretty untouched by tourists. In fact, I felt like one of the only tourists hanging around the area, and by the way that most people were speaking to me exclusively in Italian, I’d say they also weren’t expecting many foreigners. But of course, I was there in March, so maybe this is totally different in the summer!

At the market you’ll find a mix of all kinds of things: old books, vintage clothes, antique furniture and knick knacks, records, film cameras, jewelry, literally anything. After exploring for over an hour I think I’d only covered about half of it. I managed to get myself a pretty nice (working) point-and-shoot film camera for €25, and two old books which is a total win for me.

I found that most vendors either didn’t speak any English, or spoke just enough to get by in a transaction, but I had no issues either way. Like everyone I’ve interacted with in Sicily, everyone was so kind and willing to work their way through a conversation with me using a mix of charades and Google Translate. People are incredibly friendly, so don’t be afraid to interact with the vendors, especially if you want to buy something!

Speaking of buying, I would say to definitely make sure you have cash on hand, especially because the closest ATM that I could find was over on the main road and charged a small fortune to pull money out. I did find that some stalls took card, but of course most people are relying on cash.

7. Relax in the Botanical Garden

palermo botanical garden orto botanico palermo

The Orto Botanico di Palermo is a botanical garden and a research and educational institution of the Department of Botany of the University of Palermo. The Botanical Garden is a perfect place to relax after a long day sightseeing Palermo, because the calming abundance of plants are a stark and quiet contrast to the hectic and crowded streets outside.

Admission is only €5, and it goes toward supporting the research of the university. This could be the perfect pairing to a morning at the antique market, as they’re quite nearby one another.

8. Cool off at the beach

best things to do in palermo: mondello beach

If you’ll be in Sicily during the summer months, I can almost guarantee that you’ll want to prioritize some time for the beach, because trust me—you’ll be melting. Palermo doesn’t exactly have a beach of its own, but it is a city on the coast, so heading to a nearby beach is a pretty easy.

The closest option is Mondello, a cute village and beach town that’s about a 30 minute drive from Palermo. You can easily get there via bus, taxi or car if you rented one. Mondello beach has stunning and calm waters, and the beach is clean and has several lidos for those who are looking for amenities.

Another option would be Cefalù, which is really more of a day trip as it’s about an hour away from Palermo. Cefalù is one of the top destinations in Sicily for beaches, so it’s absolutely worth the trip, and depending on your itinerary you may even want to spend a night there to get a true feel for this cute town.

9. Hike (or Drive) Mount Pellegrino

best things to do in palermo: monte pellegrino

Mount Pellegrino is a hill on the north of the city that is home to the sanctuary of Saint Rosalia, the patron saint of Palermo. Its imposing beauty can be seen from so many parts of Palermo, and you’ll probably hear about it a number of times while you’re there.

Okay honestly, you couldn’t pay me to hike this thing. Generally speaking I don’t like hikes, but this one in particular is almost entirely vertical and depending the route you take can be three to SIX HOURS. So like, do take that into account if you’re thinking about hiking, it’s absolutely not for the faint of heart!! And definitely think about the weather!! Summer will be hot.

However, there is a road that allows you to drive up to the top of Mount Pellegrino and it only takes about 15 minutes or so—depending where you start from—and you get some pretty incredible views all the same.

We went up at golden hour/sunset and it was stunning, but also freezing (it was late March) so we really only spent like 15 minutes getting a nice view of all sides, walking up to the giant statue of Saint Rosalia, and taking some pictures. I was told that in the summer the drive up the mountain can take ages, because so many people are trying to go up and catch the view, so take that into account as you plan your day.

10. Explore the Capuchin Catacombs

best things to do in palermo: capuchin catacombs

So in full transparency, I did not visit the Capuchin Catacombs. I do not like dark, scary, death related things (sue me!), but I wanted to include this on the list because I know not everyone shares my aversion to these kinds of things!

Located out of the main bits of Palermo you can visit the catacombs where thousands of monks are laid to rest and on display for you. These catacombs are unique compared to others you can find around Europe because the skeletons wear their clothes, and the families actually used to change them.

It’s only €3 for entrance, and you can pay when you arrive. You should note that photography is not allowed, and of course please be respectful as it is a resting place!

11. Discover the Temple of Segesta

best things to do in palermo: segesta

The Temple of Segesta is actually technically about an hour out of Palermo, but it’s a really good option for a day trip, so I’ve included it. We didn’t check out the ruins in Segesta because we’d already made a point to visit Agrigento, which is a 2-3 hour drive from Palermo (depending on traffic).

The archaeological site’s main attraction is a remarkably well-preserved Doric temple, that dates back to roughly 430 BC. You can also visit the other impressive attraction, a 3rd-century BC Greek theatre. You’ll have to pay a small fee for entrance to the site, much like in Agrigento, but it felt well worth it to gain access to these incredible ruins.

If you’re able to plan your visit for either the early morning or evening light I would recommend it, as crowds can get crazy at these sites, and the heat in Sicily is relentless, so bare that in mind!

12. Visit the Best Museums

best things to do in palermo: no mafia memorial and museums

There are a ton of incredible museums to see in Palermo, and it’s probably impossible, or at least quite improbable, that you’ll be able to see them all in one visit. However, I’ve pulled together the ones that I think are the coolest or most worth your time, so you can pick and choose the ones that work best for your schedule.

If you don’t get a chance to take the No Mafia walking tour, The No Mafia Memorial is actually one of the few things I would say probably is a must do for things to do in Palermo. It’s totally free to visit, and offers an incredibly detailed account of the history of the Mafia activity in Palermo and the rest of Sicily since the 20th century. It’s a pretty graphic museum, so do take that into account.

I personally wish that I had come to this museum after doing the No Mafia tour, as I think it would have given me a deeper context for the exhibit, so honestly I recommend trying to do both when you visit. The mafia is obviously a huge part of the history of Palermo, so it’s important to learn about it from those who continue to work towards putting a stop to it today.

The Palermo Archeology Museum showcases archaeological finds from Carthaginian and Greek settlements in Sicily from prehistoric times to the Late Roman period. Sicily was super important in ancient Greece, so this museum covers a lot of ground, and is really critical in explaining the ancient history of the island.

The Majolica Museum is a small but very unique museum. It features over 5000 traditional Sicilian tiles, displayed through eight rooms in a palace apartment in the Kalsa neighborhood. They offer guided tours if you want to learn more about the tiles.

If you’re exhausted by all the ancient historic sites and art in Sicily, I can recommend the Museo RISO, a modern art museum on Via Vittorio Emanuele. The museum showcases the work of Sicilian artists from the 50s to present day. There’s also a lovely cafe in the back.

Finally, the Puppet Museum is a fun and unique option that you definitely don’t see in many other places outside of Sicily. However, finding puppet museums within Sicily is fairly common, because it’s a really important part of their folklore and historical artistry. Notably, there’s also a puppet theatre and museum in Ortigia. If a museum isn’t really your speed you could also visit the puppet theatres, and see a traditional puppet show in action.

13. Go Vintage Shopping

best things to do in palermo: thrift shopping

Something I like to do whenever I travel is a little bit of vintage and thrift shopping. I like that it can give me a fun “souvenir” that’s actually useful, but also is a nice way to get a feel for wherever you are that isn’t necessarily meant/built for tourists. My top picks that I visited were:

Modwear: A shop mostly featuring menswear (although there was a rack of diverse and quality women’s clothes too) and records with a super friendly owner. They also have a cafe on the next block up.

Marlon Vintage: Sort of out of the center, so you won’t find a lot of tourists there, and they have a great selection of curated vintage pieces.

Magazzini Anita: Where we most broke the bank, because the very kind owner had a stunning collection of super high quality vintage pieces. She’s located on Via Maqueda, one of the main roads of Quattro Canti that crosses Via Vittorio Emanuele—so it’s quite central.

Vintage 21: On Via Vittorio Emanuele, and it’s a super small little shop with mostly women’s vintage clothes, and pretty cool accessories too.

Libreria Easyreader: One of my personal favorites, because it’s a vintage shop and a bookstore. Tragically (for me) they only had Italian books, so I could only appreciate the vintage side of the shop, but it’s still absolutely adorable.

Things to do in Palermo: What to Do

Palermo guided food tour

As I’ve mentioned, Palermo is perhaps best known as one of the street food capitals of the world and taking a food tour of the city is probably one of the most important things to do in Palermo to really begin to understand the city. Plus, these tours will usually bring you through at least one of Palermo’s historic markets!

Here are some of my top picks for Palermo guided food tours, based on different possible priorities you might have:

  • A street food and history tour, combining all of Palermo’s major sites, one of the three markets, and three popular street food dishes, plus a cannolo to top things off at the end of the tour. We did this one and LOVED it!
  • A street food-specific tour, covering two of Palermo’s three markets, and offering a taste of some of the lesser known (and more adventurous) street food options of Palermo—you’ll taste 7 dishes overall + a drink at Palermo’s oldest pub!
  • A night street food tour, focusing on Vucciria Market and promising two drinks as well as enough food that you won’t want dinner!
  • A market tour + cooking class, where you’ll pick up fresh ingredients from Capo Market and then return to the chef’s home to cook up a delicious and authentic 4-course lunch!

Palermo guided anti-mafia tour

While it’s definitely possible to explore the history of the mafia and efforts to eradicate its influence on your own, this is one area where I highly, highly recommend seeking out a local guide. After all, isn’t that why we travel? Hearing from someone who knows and understands the intricacies of the history and social effects of mafia violence is exactly the kind of opportunity that you can really only have by visiting Sicily yourself.

Whether you’ve only budgeted a half-day in Palermo or want to go beyond the city to explore more deeply, here are a few highly-rated Palermo guided anti-mafia tour options:

  • The most famous No Mafia walking tour of Palermo, run by members of the grassroots Addiopizzo organization (which was largely responsible for helping Sicilians stand up to the mafia in the early 2000s). You’ll visit important sites throughout Palermo, focusing specifically on their relationship to anti-mafia history.
  • A No Mafia bike tour of Palermo, which allows you to get slightly farther from the historic center into the docklands and suburbs of the city, where you can explore the anti-mafia history of the region in more depth. Also run by Addiopizzo Travel.
  • A guided No Mafia day-trip to Corleone from Palermo, the real-life town which inspired The Godfather (not to be confused with Savoca, where The Godfather was filmed) with Addiopizzo Travel, where you’ll hear from a present-day anti-mafia activist.
  • A private guided day-trip to Corleone from Palermo, including a visit to the Anti-Mafia Museum there as well as the opportunity to experience a few other aspects of Sicilian culture including tasting cannoli and (if you want) helping to prepare ricotta and sheep cheese at a local dairy.

Other unique Palermo guided tours

If you plan to explore Palermo’s street food or anti-mafia history on your own, but still want to explore the city’s sites in an interesting way, check out these extremely unique (and also very well-rated!) Palermo guided tour options that I just could not help but share:

Things to do in Palermo: Where to Eat

For Breakfast

If you’ve read any of my other Sicily guides you may know by now that “breakfast” in the traditional American or British sense is not really a thing in Sicily—or the rest of Italy—for that matter.

Most places you can find a true breakfast like you might be looking for are going to be catering to tourists, so just keep that in mind. If you want a more authentic experience/want to frequent more local and authentic places then your best bet is a pasticceria (pastry shop) or a caffeteria (cafe) which will often have pastries delivered from a local pastry shop.

Antica Caffeteria Corona is where we ended up for breakfast most of the days we were in Palermo, in part because it was super close to our apartment, but also because the sweetest woman owned it and was there every single day. The first morning we came she only had one pastry left that we split between us and she was super apologetic. Later that day we passed her shop and she called out to us to tell us we better come back in the morning, so Daniel jokingly said “we’ll be back if you have pistachio croissants for us!” (he’s the only one who speaks Italian).

Lo and behold, in the morning she pulled four pistachio croissants out from behind the counter that she saved for us. Needless to say she reeled us in and we didn’t try anything else for breakfast for the rest of the trip. I miss her.

If you want a bit more variety than we opted for, I would recommend the TECO tea room in Kalsa. They have great reviews and open pretty early most days.

Another option, also in Kalsa, is OJDA. We found this place while looking for a mid-morning pick-me-up, It’s a pretty nice cafe in the morning and they have really good cardamom buns and really good coffee. It can be kind of hard to get “normal” coffee (I miss having flat whites when I’m in Italy, sue me), but they have all of that kind of stuff on the menu. They seem to also have a lot of drink options, but appear to close by 5, so I think it might only be for later afternoon food and drinks.

For Lunch

We ate at Antica Focacceria San Francesco for our last lunch in Palermo, and I’ll be honest and say I don’t super recommend it. I’ve decided to include it anyway because it’s pretty famous, and at the very least I think is worth passing by to see it (it has a cool and old facade) and maybe trying something (rather than allowing it to be your main lunch). There’s always a chance that we didn’t choose well from the menu, but personally I wouldn’t go back.

Bisso Bistrot, on the other hand, was an example of a restaurant in a touristy area that has managed to maintain its quality. I really wanted to eat here because it’s located inside of an old bookshop that’s been converted into a restaurant—the outside is maintained to still have the old bookshop signage, which I’m of course obsessed with.

We got a table outside, and even though it’s on one of the main Quattro Canti roads, it was super pleasant on the terrace. The food was also delicious, which is rare for a restaurant in the center usually, and the staff were so lovely. I’d definitely come back. Be warned that it gets crowded.

Al Cancelletto specializes in “southern comfort” food, and it did not disappoint. This cute little restaurant is nearby to where we were staying, so we popped in for lunch one day. It’s nicely tucked off onto a side street, so it’s not super overwhelmingly busy outside. It’s family owned and you can tell they put a lot of care into everything they do. I’d recommend booking ahead in busier seasons and for dinner!

Grano Granis Trattoria Tipica Siciliana was another spot that was kind of near our apartment in Palermo that I was so happy to stumble upon. It’s a pretty casual spot, but the food is so delicious and high quality. The menu is pretty small and seems to change regularly based on the freshest seasonal ingredients. Bonus points because once again it’s family run, and you can feel the care that goes into the whole operation.

BIGA Genio e Farina is the ideal spot for a quick lunch. It’s a street pizza place on Via Maqueda with super quality food and some yummy drinks available too. This was a nice option on days when we had a lot going on, because it’s pretty no fuss and went quickly for us.

If you want to stick to Palermo’s famous street food for lunch—great choice, by the way—I recommend heading to Capo market to get your fix. I specifically tried, and can vouch for, Dainotti’s Cibo di Strada, which our food tour guide brought us to. That being said, I’m sure that there are plenty of good street food options in the market, and sometimes half the fun is trying things out for yourself.

For Dinner

Ristorante La Galleria was one of our favorite dinners in Palermo. It’s a nicely sized restaurant that’s up the hill from the main cathedral but feels somehow well and truly out of the way of the hustle and bustle. The staff were kind and the setting was lovely, both the indoor and outdoor seating is so cozy and cute. We ordered enough food for about 45 people and the bill was somehow still obscenely affordable considering how delicious and quality it all was. I can especially recommend the gnocchi and the ragu.

We never actually got the opportunity to eat at Ferramenta because it was packed every single night we were there, so while I can’t personally vouch for it, I feel like that’s a pretty good endorsement. It seems to attract a lively and local crowd, and its placement out of the main streets gives the massive terrace area a really cozy feel.

Osteria Alivàru da Carlo Napoli is tucked away on the far corner of a local neighborhood piazza in Kalsa. I’d recommend making a reservation here because it can get busy! The chef here takes a lot of care in the dishes and the environment in general is just perfect. 10/10 meal.

On the first night we arrived in Palermo it was quite late, so we actually ordered food. We kind of randomly chose Pacinotti’s because they had a bunch of pistachio options. I was so incredibly impressed with this restaurant that I almost wanted to order them again on our other nights. We never made it to the physical location, but the photos make it look super cute, and if the food was as good as it was after being delivered across town, I can only imagine how good it was fresh.

A’nìca Ristorante & Pizza Gourmet is a restaurant we ended up at by accident actually, after being unable to be seated at Ferramenta. I loved the pizza at this restaurant, and the setting was so nice, on one of the main streets in Kalsa, but far enough off the square that it isn’t rowdy. The only thing I would say is to stick to pizza here, the pasta was a bit lackluster, but the pizza impressed.

Ristorante Quattro Mani is another ideal Kalsa option. They have a seasonal menu and the staff is so lovely and they have a great wine selection.

Tannura Osteria has a an absolutely stunning terrace, which is the ideal way to eat while in Sicily in my opinion. The food is high quality and has a bit of a fancy flair, so I would recommend this for a night when you want to go above and beyond.

Fúnnaco PizzaLab is another great pizza option that was near our apartment. The whole vibe of the restaurant is really nice, and of course the pizza itself is incredible. I recommend getting a reservation!

For Everything Else

Dolce Capo probably had the best gelato that we tried in Palermo, maybe in all of Sicily. We went after dinner on a Saturday night, which for the record I would not recommend. It’s right across from some nightclubs that seem to be frequented by super early 20-somethings, maybe even late teens, and so the entire area outside the shop is literally swarmed with people. It was hard to even get to the store.

However, once we were inside the staff was so nice despite it being a mob, they gave us all samples and didn’t rush us or anything. And my god was the gelato insanely good. I wish we’d found it sooner because I’ve been dreaming of it since.

Another amazing gelato option is Cappadonia. There are two locations in Palermo (I’ve linked you to the more central one, although I prefered the atmosphere and calm of the other one). Cappadonia has super quality gelato, and the cream on top was also super delicious. The only thing that was a miss here was the brioche, which I thought was a bit lackluster and not particularly fresh, so I would skip that and opt for a cone instead, which was amazing.

Gelateria Al Cassaro and Roro Gelateria are two more great gelato options in the center. I enjoyed the brioche and cream at both places and the gelato itself was so creamy and good. I can’t really say with confidence which one I preferred because they were both amazing, so do try them out and let me know your opinions!

I’m not a huge cannoli fan, so feel free to take this with a grain of salt, but we all agreed that our favorite cannoli we tried during our trip were at Ruvolo Caffetteria on Via Maqueda. I only got to try the normal one, with the chocolate chips in the filling and a candied orange slice as garnish, but I thought it was amazing. I tried a few other things from here and frankly I wouldn’t recommend literally any other thing from them, but the cannoli were worth it.

If you turn off Via Vittorio Emanuele onto Via Alessandro Paternostro you’ll find yourself walking along some of the nicest boutiques and bars in Kalsa. There are a handful of bars lined up along here that get packed in the evenings, but people make use of the street space to stand and mingle, so there’s no need to worry about reservations unless you want a seat, though people also line the sidewalk sitting on the curb! The boutiques also stay open a bit later in these areas sometimes, so it isn’t odd to find a jewelry shop, or the vintage shop still open as you’re on your way to pre-dinner drinks.

We really enjoyed getting a drink at Farmacia Alcolica, the menu was super interesting and the overall vibe of the place is really fun and eclectic, very my style of bar. They have a nicely sized inside space and they also make use of some patio space across the road.

Dadalia Osteria is where we stopped for a drink in the Vucciria market. The reviews are kind of bad, and because of that we didn’t try the food, but I was pleasantly surprised by how nice the aperol spritz was. Of the “touristy” places I’ve had a spritz, this was definitely one of the best. It was also a nice option for a drink in the market because it wasn’t too in the midst of the craziness, so you can still relax a bit.

A bit random, but if you’re in the mood for a beer, Ballarak Magione is a really nice brewery in Kalsa. I think this is a fun place to try out in Sicily because we typically think of beer as an American, British or Belgian thing, but they really impressed me. There’s a nice outdoor space as well, which, in my opinion, is critical for a brewery.

Where to Stay in Palermo

As Sicily’s largest city, of course Palermo has endless options for where to stay, both within and just outside the historic center, that will put you right on the doorstep of all the best things to do in Palermo.

You can also check out my comprehensive hand-picked list of my favorite options for where to stay in Palermo, but here’s a small selection of amazing options I recommend (and almost stayed at myself!):

Palazzo Natoli Boutique Hotel

where to stay in Palermo: Palazzo Natoli Boutique Hotel
Image: Booking.com

Located just off of Via Vittorio Emmanuele, the chic Palazzo Natoli Boutique Hotel is an oasis of calm just steps away from all of the most important things to do in Palermo. With decor that perfectly compliments the historic building the hotel occupies, the hotel offers balconies in most of its rooms where you’ll be able to have your morning cappuccino in style, just like the Italians do… sipping away as you nosily people watch the passersby below! Recent guests rave about the welcoming staff, cleanliness, and personal touches.

Porta di Castro Boutique Hotel

Where to stay in Palermo: Porta di Castro Boutique Hotel
Image: Booking.com

Porta di Castro Boutique Hotel is everything I want in a boutique hotel: funky and unique, yet refined and calm. Many rooms at this hotel have cozy private terraces teeming with plants, artistically tiled bathrooms, and charming wooden beams to remind you of the building’s history. Plus, this hotel is located just steps away from the Royal Palace, Villa Bonnano park, and the Ballarò market. Apparently, they serve a more-than-decent breakfast as well!

I Balconi di San Domenico

where to stay in Palermo: i balcony di San Domenico
Image: Booking.com

This charming apartment, I Balconi di San Domenico, is located right in the neighborhood we stayed in, just on the edge of Vucciria market and overlooking the buzzing Piazza San Domenico. For being so central, this apartment strikes the perfect balance between tasteful decoration (let’s be honest, there are so many dreadful apartments available to rent when traveling these days!), location, and a very fair price.

Frequently Asked Questions About Things to Do in Palermo

Is Palermo Sicily worth visiting?

I’m pretty sure I’ve already made it clear how I feel about this, but just to reiterate: Yes! Palermo, Sicily, is absolutely worth visiting. Palermo is the capital of Sicily, and the fifth largest city in Italy overall (Catania, Sicily’s second city, is only the tenth largest in Italy, just to offer some scale), so it’s a pretty important stop on any trip to Sicily. I think anyone who is able to visit Palermo should jump at the opportunity, and plan the time you’re there based on your wants and needs.

Palermo is perfect as a city break, or as a stop on a wider Sicily trip to break up the small towns and beach vibes. Stopping in Palermo offers you a chance to see all the different dominations Sicily has experienced through over the years, from Greeks and Romans, to the Arabs and Normans, and finally the French and Spanish. It also has some of the most famous markets in Sicily, and is the best place to learn about the current and past influences of the Mafia in Sicily.

There are even beaches and beach towns nearby to Palermo, so there really is something for everyone.

best things to do in palermo

What is Palermo best known for?

Palermo is best known as being the largest city in Sicily, as well as the capital city. It showcases so much of Sicily’s history through the different styles of architecture and landmarks throughout the city, where you’ll see Arab, Norman and Spanish influence. Palermo is widely known for its famous street food too, with arancine, sfincione and panelle being the main attractions.

Palermo is also well known as being the main center for mafia violence in the years when they were most active, as well as the center of the anti-mafia movement in Sicily today. It’s also one of the most visited destinations on the island (though it doesn’t get the top spot—that’s reserved for Taormina).

best things to do in palermo

What to do in Palermo in 3 days?

If you only have three days there are tons of things to do in Palermo to fill your time.

On the first day I recommend doing a walking tour to get a good feel for the city and knock off a portion of the main sights. Bonus points if it also has a food component, because Palermo is well known for its street food. This is the tour we did, and we thought it was a great primer to better understand just how much history Palermo has seen!

I also highly recommend doing the popular anti-mafia tour while you’re there (highly rated and run by the official grassroots organization who really got the anti-mafia movement off the ground in the early 2000s)—but maybe save that for the second day so as to not overwhelm!

One of the best things to do in Palermo is to just spend some time just wandering around the different markets and neighborhoods to soak up all the energy that Palermo has to offer, and make sure to pop into all the artisan shops you see along the way. If the weather permits you should definitely make time to head to the beach—Mondello is the best option nearby to Palermo—and for a stunning golden hour/sunset you should head up to Monte Pellegrino.

best things to do in palermo: quattro canti

How many days do you need in Palermo?

3-4 days is an ideal amount of time for most people budget for all the main things to do in Palermo. I’m pretty biased, so I actually would say that five days is my personal preference if I were to go back. As a proponent of slow travel, I really feel like the best way to get a feel for any new place—but especially a city—is by simply being in it.

You can get all the main sights done in more or less two days, including doing a walking tour or two. Then you have one day to head to the beach if the weather permits, and another day to just soak up the energy of Palermo, wandering aimlessly and sitting at cafes to your heart’s content. If you had an extra day, or were doing this as part of a larger Sicily trip, you could then do a day trip to a nearby town as part of your itinerary.

Is Palermo a walkable city?

Yes, Palermo is definitely a walkable city. In terms of square miles, Palermo is a pretty large city, larger than cities like Paris and San Francisco, but the bulk of things to do in Palermo are concentrated to the old city, which is much smaller and super easily seen on foot.

Like many Italian/European cities, you’ll come across a lot of cobblestones and a lot of uneven ground, so I would definitely keep note of that if you or anyone you’re traveling with has mobility issues or cannot walk for long periods of time! If you’re worried at all about having to walk too much in Palermo, don’t worry—there are tons of taxis around the center, and there are apes everywhere too, which are basically Italy’s version of a tuktuk.

Is Palermo an expensive city?

Now obviously this answer is relative, both to wherever you’re coming from and what you’re used to, and of course based on where else in Sicily you might be visiting. That being said, when we were in Palermo we didn’t find it to be expensive at all. The food, the attractions, the drinks, and even the accommodation were super fairly priced considering we were in the biggest city in Sicily.

For reference we were able to eat a meal for four at a super cute, delicious local restaurant (with starters, pasta, mains, dessert, and a bottle of wine) for under €200. Breakfast at a local caffeteria every morning cost less than €20 for the four of us.

best things to do in palermo

Is Catania or Palermo better?

This is so hard to give a straight answer to because I genuinely fell in love with both cities. I think both Catania and Palermo are absolutely worth visiting, and if you’re planning a larger trip they work equally well as a stop along the way, but if you’re looking for which city would win as a standalone city-break, then I have to give it to Palermo.

Palermo and Catania are both… so beautiful and special. They both feel equally accessible and inaccessible, exciting and overwhelming, but also so different and conflicting with one another. You just have to go and feel the energy yourself to be honest. I think that there are upsides and drawbacks to each city, reasons to rank one above the other that I could go between for days, but ultimately it’s a subjective topic!

There is no right answer and I’m sure that for as many people who think Palermo is better, you’ll find an equal amount who think it’s Catania.

I can say that I loved Catania so much that I wished we had more days there, and we stayed more than recommended. Then in Palermo I felt pretty overwhelmed, but left wondering if I could eventually end up moving there. So clearly they’ve both left an impression on me. Both cities are wonderful and you will have an incredible time in either, please don’t make me choose.

My best advice would be to weigh the cities equally, and then choose based on which side of the island they’re on. Whether that means you choose based on which airport makes more sense to fly into, or whether you want to explore baroque architecture (for which Catania is famous) or street food culture (more of a thing in Palermo)—let that guide you! I doubt you’ll be disappointed in either option.

P.S. When you book using my links, you help support Rachel IRL at no extra cost to you. It’s a win-win!

I hope you’re excited for all the things to do in Palermo!

I loved writing this post almost as much as I enjoyed actually being in Palermo. There are so many things to do in Palermo and it easily became one of my favorite cities, one I know I’ll be back to in the future.

As always let me know in the comments or find me on Instagram to tell me how your trip goes or let me know what I missed!

Happy traveling!

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the best things to do in palermo

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20 Amazing Hand-Picked Palermo Hotels for Every Budget

Palermo, Sicily has something for everyone, and the same is true for its beautiful independent hotel and apartment options! Read on for hand-picked recommendations of the best hotels and B&Bs in Palermo.

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