What to see, do and eat in Palermo
Palermo, a city nestled in Sicily on the edge of the Mediterranean, was a destination that had long piqued my curiosity. So my aunt decided to gift me a magnificent weekend in Palermo this November. We landed on the 12th and stayed until the 16th. Imagine my surprise when I stepped off the plane into 22-degree weather — in November! It was like an unexpected slice of summer. The local markets, brimming with energy and flavors, are a testament to the city’s lively spirit. Each day, we unfolded a new layer of Palermo, from the architectural marvels like the Palatine Chapel to the serene beauty of Mondello beach. The warmth of its people, the richness of its history, and the delicious Sicilian cuisine made Palermo not just a stop on a journey but a destination that captivated my heart. So here’s my take: if you want an elegant southern city, delicious food and summer vibes without the scorching heat, Palermo’s your winter getaway. Let me guide you on how to spend 3 days in Palermo (out of the 4 nights we stayed).
Getting to Palermo
Arriving in Palermo is a breeze, with options catering to various preferences. Since Sicily is an island, you cannot take a train to Sicily, you will need to take a plane. Flights land at Falcone Borsellino Airport, a gateway to this historic city. From the airport, the bus is a convenient and economical option, costing just €6 for a comfortable ride to the city center. Trust me, I wouldn’t say it if it isn’t. For those seeking more comfort, taxis and private transfers are readily available.
Day 1 Palermo Itinerary
Piazza San Domenico: Our day in Palermo began in the lively Piazza San Domenico, diving headfirst into the city’s bustling street life. The Vucciria Market was our first stop, a sensory feast with its cacophony of sounds, vibrant sights, and the enticing smells of Sicilian street food.
Quattro Canti: Wandering through the city, we reached the historic Quattro Canti. This iconic crossroads is more than just an intersection; it’s a showcase of Palermo’s baroque splendor. The four corners of the square are adorned with fountains and statues representing the four seasons, the four Spanish kings of Sicily, and the patron saints of Palermo. It’s a testament to the city’s rich past, where art and history intertwine.
Pasticceria Costa: A short walk away, we indulged in a sweet treat at Pasticceria Costa, a spot recommended by our B&B owner. She was spot on – the cannoli here were exceptional, and the cassatine, with their rich, sweet filling, were just as amazing. It was the perfect pick-me-up to fuel our morning exploration.
Piazza Pretoria: Next, we strolled to Piazza Pretoria to see the Fontana Pretoria, also known as the “Fountain of Shame.” The name comes from the nude statues that adorn the fountain, which caused quite a scandal among the prudish locals when it was first installed. The controversy has long since faded, but the nickname stuck. The fountain, with its intricate sculptures and sprawling design, is a sight to behold.
Mercato di Ballarò: Next up was the Mercato di Ballarò. If you want to experience local life, this is the place. It’s buzzing with vendors selling everything from fresh produce to delicious street food. The market culture here is a big deal – it’s not just shopping; it’s an essential part of Palermo’s social fabric.
Chiesa di San Giovanni degli Eremiti: Before heading to the Palazzo dei Normanni, we took a detour to the serene Cloister of San Giovanni degli Eremiti. This peaceful spot, with its lush garden and striking red domes, offered a moment of tranquility amidst the city buzz. It’s a perfect example of Palermo’s Arab-Norman architecture and a not-to-miss spot for anyone seeking a quiet escape.
Royal Palace of Palermo: The crown jewel of our morning was the visit to the Palazzo dei Normanni, aka the Royal Palace of Palermo. Here, the Palatine Chapel left us awe-struck. The Byzantine mosaics, covering every inch of the chapel with glimmering gold, tell ancient biblical stories. This fusion of Norman architecture with Arab and Byzantine influences creates an unforgettable visual spectacle. Tickets also include a visit to the Royal Gardens, which were not worth the hype, and the Royal Apartments, which unfortunately we didn’t get to visit as parliamentary activities were being held there that day. Hopefully you’re more lucky!
Cathedral of Palermo: We wrapped up our morning with a visit to the Cathedral of Palermo. This massive edifice, with its blend of architectural styles, houses royal tombs and exquisite art. It’s a grand structure, although it’s hard to compete with the mesmerizing beauty of the Palatine Chapel. You can also purchase tickets to climb to the top to get a great view of Palermo.
Lunch at Mercato del Capo: After a morning immersed in the historical wonders of Palermo, we ventured to Mercato del Capo for lunch. This market is a culinary haven, pulsing with the energy of local life. It’s a place where you can witness the true spirit of Palermo – people haggling, laughing, and sharing meals. We indulged in some of the market’s best offerings: succulent octopus, a classic Sicilian arancina bursting with flavors, and an assortment of fresh veggies. Each bite was a testament to Sicily’s rich culinary heritage. If you’re visiting, be prepared for the friendly calls of vendors inviting you to try their dishes – it’s all part of the Mercato del Capo experience! If you prefer having a local guide you, you can book a private tour taking you out to taste the most delicious Sicilian street food!
Teatro Massimo: Our next stop was Teatro Massimo, the grand opera house of Palermo and one of the largest in Europe. This majestic building is not just a venue for world-class performances; it’s a symbol of Palermo’s artistic and cultural prominence. The exterior’s neoclassical architecture commands attention, while the interiors are a testament to opulence and history. Even if you’re not there for a show, the theater offers guided tours, allowing visitors to marvel at its ornate halls and learn about its rich past. Standing in front of Teatro Massimo, you feel the cultural heartbeat of the city.
As the sun began to set over Palermo, we ventured out again. Normally, we’re the types to plan and reserve ahead, but this time we decided to let spontaneity guide us. It was a refreshing change, especially since it wasn’t peak tourist season, and Palermo’s restaurants welcomed us with open tables.
Dinner was a delightful affair at Antico Forno San Francesco. Known for its street food, to our pleasant surprise, we discovered that it also boasts a charming restaurant nestled in a picturesque baroque piazza – the quintessence of a Sicilian dining scene. The atmosphere was magical, with the warm glow of street lights casting a soft light over the square, and the buzz of diners around us adding to the lively ambiance. We settled in for what would become one of the most memorable meals of our trip.
We indulged in perfectly cooked pasta dishes – spaghetti with a luscious pistachio pesto with prawns. Accompanied by fried calamari, two glasses of crisp white wine, water, and ending with a delectable cassata, the meal was a culinary journey in itself. The best part? The entire feast cost us just €70 for two, a testament to Palermo’s delightful blend of quality and value.
After dinner, as we strolled through the streets, we came across Bottega Colletti. Although we didn’t stop there, it looked like the perfect spot for an after-dinner drink or an aperitivo. t’s definitely on my list for the next visit. If you’ve been to Bottega Colletti, let me know what you think – it’s always great to hear fellow travelers’ experiences!
Day 2 Palermo Itinerary
Day trip to Mondello: Feeling adventurous on our second day, we decided to venture out to Mondello, a stunning beach destination a stone’s throw away from Palermo. The beauty of off-season travel shone through as we opted for the bus – a choice I’d think twice about in the summer due to the crowds, but which was perfect in November with its punctuality and comfort.
Getting to Mondello: From Via Roma, we hopped on the 101 bus to Piazza Croce, then switched to the 806 towards Mondello. The journey, costing just €1.40 per ticket, took us about an hour but was a breeze, thanks to the uncrowded buses.
Brioche with gelato: Arriving in Mondello, we were greeted by a lively local scene – people lounging on the beach and even braving a swim. Our first indulgence was at Sirenetta Bar and Bistrot, where we savored a brioche stuffed with pistachio ice-cream. A word of advice – one brioche is more than enough for two! Sitting outside, enjoying our treat with the gentle sea breeze and the warm sun, was blissful.
Boat trip: if you come during the summer months or in springtime, apart from staying on the beach I’d recommend a boat ride where you can swim and do snorkelling! A sunset sail is also another great idea to get those Sicilian vibes.
Lunch: For lunch, we chose Al Gabbiano, attracted by its scenic location. Our meal was simple – a sauté di vongole and a salmon tartare. While the food was ok, it was the breathtaking view that made the experience memorable. Returning to Palermo, the bus back was a bit delayed, and we noticed taxis at the stop offering rides to the city for €5 per person – a convenient alternative for those seeking comfort.
La Cala Port and Street Art: Back in Palermo, we took a leisurely walk to the La Cala port and the lungomare area. The beauty of the coast was complemented by the intriguing Borsellino and Falcone murals by Rosk and Loste. These murals pay homage to judges Paolo Borsellino and Giovanni Falcone, symbols of the fight against the Mafia, both tragically assassinated for their bravery. Their legacy is a poignant reminder of Palermo’s tumultuous history and ongoing resilience. We then ventured through Via Vittorio Emanuele until we reached our accommodation.
*Dinner at Il Funnaco Pizza Lab: Dinner was a delightful affair at il Funnaco Pizza Lab, a renowned pizzeria close to our accommodation and ranked among the top 50 in Italy. The flavors were exceptional – I went for a Messina beer and started with the Pan Burrata, a dreamy combination of Apulian burratina in crispy puff pastry, bathed in bioe tomato sauce and fresh basil. For the mains, my aunt chose the “A Fera O Luni” pizza with pistachio pesto, fiordilatte, mortadella, burratina, and pistachio granules, while I savored the “Porta di Nolana.” Both were delicious, but my aunt’s choice was particularly impressive. They also have gluten-free pizza.
*Dinner at Osteria Mangia e Bevi: if you’re not up for pizza, go to the nearby Osteria Mangia e Bevi, where we had dinner on the night we arrived to Palermo. This is a shabby-chic osteria and the it-place to taste the pasta with with broccoli “arriminati” or the sardines pasta! Absolutely order the cannolo scomposto for dessert.
*Dinner with cooking class: if you want to learn the art of Sicilian cooking, skip the restaurant and book a Sicilian cooking class followed by dinner. It’s hand-on, fun, you learn something new and meet locals.
Drinks at Il Ferramenta: To cap off the night, we headed to Il Ferramenta, just minutes away from the pizzeria. Trendy and cool, it was the perfect spot to unwind and reflect on our day’s adventures.
Day 3 Palermo Itinerary
Day trip to Monreale: Our final day in Palermo took us on a day trip to the captivating town of Monreale, renowned for its stunning mosaics and significant historical sites. The crown jewel of Monreale is undoubtedly the Duomo di Monreale. This cathedral is a masterpiece of Norman architecture, famed for its dazzling golden mosaics depicting biblical stories. The vast interior and the cloister, with its intricately carved columns, are a testament to the artistic and cultural heights achieved during the Norman rule in Sicily. Note that the Duomo has a break in visiting hours from 12.45pm to 2.30pm, so plan your visit either in the morning or later in the afternoon.
Lunch at Monreale: For lunch in Monreale, you have delightful options like La Macina or Pikki Pakki for pizzas.
Politeama: Returning to Palermo, we explored the Politeama district, a vibrant area filled with quaint restaurants and chic boutiques – another great choice for accommodation in the city. We wandered through Via Ruggiero Settimone, browsing shops and soaking in the bustling atmosphere.
Street food: A stop at Ke Palle in Via Maqueda was next on our agenda. This street food haven is a must-visit. I tried the Norma arancina, an absolute delight and my favorite by far. The potato crocchè was also a hit – crunchy on the outside, soft and flavorful inside.
Pick-me-up coffee: A little later, we needed a pick-me-up and found ourselves at Donnafranca. Their espresso, coupled with a traditional cannolo, was the perfect energy booster for our afternoon adventures.
Dinner at Ferramenta: For dinner, we headed to Ferramenta, a place we had discovered the previous night. Dining outdoors on Piazza Giovanni Meli was an experience in itself, surrounded by the lively ambiance of Palermo at night. We started with sfincionello, a delicious local specialty akin to a fluffy pizza, and the heavenly caci fritti in pastella. Our main courses were pasta dishes – one with succulent shrimps and the other featuring rich and flavorful guanciale. Each dish was a culinary revelation, making Il Ferramenta a not-to-miss spot in Palermo.
We called it an early night, as our flight was scheduled for 8.30am the following day. We took the same bus route back to the airport, reflecting on our extraordinary journey through Palermo and its surroundings – a trip filled with unforgettable memories, flavors, and sights.
Palermo Travel Tips
Where to stay in Palermo
For first-time visitors like myself, staying in the center of Palermo is not just convenient; it’s a way to truly immerse yourself in the city’s vibrant life. Every corner of the central area tells a story, and the accessibility to major sites makes exploring effortless. Palermo is much cheaper in terms of accommodations than other Italian cities and the quality of the rooms and b&b is great. Here is my list of best accommodations in Palermo:
We chose a place just a stone’s throw from Piazza San Domenico, nestled cozily near the Vucciria Market. This location was ideal for us, as it put us within walking distance of almost everything we wanted to see and experience in Palermo. The area brims with some of the city’s cutest restaurants, such as Il Funnaco, Osteria Mangia e Bevi, and Ferramenta, each offering a unique taste of local cuisine. It’s worth noting that the Vucciria area is alive with music at night. It’s something to consider if you prefer quieter surroundings. We didn’t mind at all. Suggestions on where to stay in Vucciria:
Amalfitani House: we stayed in this lovely and newly refurbished apartment. Cute decor, comfortable bed, small balcony and walking distance from everything. Super recommended.
Sant’Andrea Luxury Rooms: this luxury room is in the same building as Amalfitana House. Modern room, great price.
Moncada Suites & Apartments: this is on the other side of the Vucciria and offer modern and comfortable rooms.
Another area that caught my eye was the Politeama district, where the beautiful Teatro Massimo is located. This part of Palermo struck me as particularly elegant, with its lovely restaurants and chic atmosphere. If you’re looking for a blend of sophistication and accessibility, Politeama is an excellent choice. Suggestions on where to stay in Politeama:
Family Affair Palermo: lovely family-run bed & breakfast with design rooms just a few meters from Piazza Politeama.
Palazzo Sovrana: Right across the street from Teatro Massimo, these luxury apartments offer lovely views of the opera house and surrounding mountains.
Grand Hotel Et Des Palmes: if you want a luxury 5-star luxury hotel experience.
The Quattro Canti area also has its unique appeal. It’s like being at the crossroads of Palermo’s history and modern-day buzz. If you don’t mind the touristy vibe, it’s definitely worth considering for its picturesque setting.
InCanto: at the intersection of the Quattro Canti, with all major sites just walking distance.
Best time to visit Palermo
When planning a trip to Palermo, timing is key. While many travelers flock to Sicily during the summer months, summer in Palermo, particularly from June to August, can be overwhelmingly hot. The scorching temperatures might be too intense for those not accustomed to intense Mediterranean heat. However, summer is undeniably a great time to explore Sicily’s stunning beaches and islands, so if you’re in Sicily during this period, a stop in Palermo is definitely worth it.
From my experience, the best time to visit Palermo is from September to May. During these months, the city experiences milder temperatures, making it perfect for exploring its rich history and culture comfortably. From October to February you can expect average temperatures to range from about 15°C to 20°C (59°F to 68°F). Dining outside is still a pleasant experience, and the city’s outdoor life remains vibrant.
Spring is another excellent time to visit Palermo. The temperatures are comfortable, generally ranging between 15°C to 25°C (59°F to 77°F), and the city starts to awaken with vibrant colors and activities. It’s a season that offers a balance of pleasant weather and the opportunity to explore without the peak season crowds.
Traveling during the off-peak seasons (autumn and early spring) not only offers more comfortable weather but also fewer tourists. This means more space to explore Palermo’s landmarks, easier reservations at top restaurants, and a chance to experience the city more authentically.
How to get around Palermo
Inside Palermo, the city unfolds beautifully on foot, with its central areas like Piazza San Domenico being perfect starting points for exploration. Public transport, including buses, is efficient for longer distances, like our trip to Mondello, costing around €1.40 per ticket.