The ancient city of Palermo is located on Sicily’s northern coast. A major port city, Palermo was founded in the 8th century BC and is renowned for its architecture, culture and rich history.
As the cultural and regional capital of Sicily, Palermo is one of the most visited cities in the Mediterranean. Now almost 3,000 years old, it is a fascinating city of contrasts, too. Since it was established by the Phoenicians in the 8th century BC, it has become one of the most conquered and occupied cities in the world; this is evident in the sheer range of art, culture and architecture found in the city.
To help you get the most of your visit to this eclectic destination, we’ve put together a city guide which includes tips on how to get around Palermo, must-see attractions and where to eat after a long day of sightseeing.
How to Get Around in Palermo
As is the case with many cities, it’s far easier (and more enjoyable) to explore Palermo on foot. Many of the historic sites are in the old town of Palermo, which although large, is easily walkable. However, there are plenty of transport options for visitors, including bus tours, horse and carriage tours and public transport. Taxis in Palermo can be expensive, so agree a price before entering.
HoHo Bus Tours
The City Sightseeing hop-on hop-off (HoHo) double-decker bus tours are a popular option with visitors keen to take in the highlights of Palermo. Running from June through to September, the tours stop at a number of key sites on a 60-minute loop of the city.
Horse and Carriage
Horse and Carriage tours of Palermo are a fun way to see the city, however they are also notoriously expensive. It is advisable to agree a price with the driver before agreeing to a tour. Drivers can usually be found in front of the Cathedral or close to the Teatro Massimo.
Bus and Tram
A number of regular bus and tram services operate across the city. You can buy tickets for the orange buses from most tobacco kiosks and some bars and newsagents. A ticket costs €1.30 and is valid for 90 minutes of use. Here are the up-to-date bus and tram routes.
Things to See and Do in Palermo
This breathtaking chapel is Palermo’s top tourist attraction and is part of the Royal Palace of Palermo. Designed by Roger II in 1130, the glistening gold mosaics, inlaid marble floors and painted wooden muqarnas ceiling of this extraordinary chapel truly are a wonder to behold.
Please note: Dress code requirements apply. You will be refused entry if you’re wearing shorts, skirts or dresses that do not cover the knees. Shoulders should also be covered.
The Teatro Massimo is the largest opera house in Italy and the third largest in Europe. The grand entrance is flanked by two bronze lions who stand guard either side of the huge columns that line the front of the building.
Mercato di Ballaro
Mercato di Ballaro is Palermo’s busiest street market. Here you can expect to rub shoulders with the locals as they shop for their fresh produce, fish and meat. The market is open from early morning until 8pm Monday-Saturday but closes at 1pm on Sundays.
Palazzo dei Normanni
The Palazzo dei Normanni, also known as the Royal Palace of Palermo, or the Norman Palace, is one of the wonders of Sicily. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was the seat of the royal government during the Norman conquest of southern Italy and Sicily.
Galleria Regionale della Sicilia
The Sicilian Regional Gallery is an art gallery located in the in the Palazzo Abatellis, a 15th century palace in Palermo’s Kalsa district. Its collection is widely considered to be one of the best in Palermo, with a range of exceptional late Medieval and Baroque artwork on display.
Located close to the city, the soft sands of Mondello Beach attract thousands of visitors each year. The beach offers a stunning panoramic view of the surrounding area and is located at the foot of Monte Pellegrino and Monte Gallo. Sit back and relax or make the most of the sea and join in with the many water activities on offer.
Where to Eat and Drink
Seven Restaurant is located in the luxury four-star Ambasciatori hotel. Here you will find an exceptional range of regional dishes on offer, many made using ingredients sourced from the area. Looking for a great place to watch the sunset and enjoy a cocktail? The views from the dining area are unbeatable.
If burgers are your thing, FUD is a must when you’re in Palermo. Don’t let the industrial-style surroundings put you off – the food on offer here is anything but ordinary. Menu highlights include the mouthwatering buffalo and mozzarella burger and FUD potato croquettes served with prosciutto and cheese.
If you have a sweet tooth, head over to Pasticceria Capello, one of Palermo’s most loved bakeries. Here you’ll find a delicious range of sweet treats on offer, including their famous setteveli cake, a seven-layer hazelnut chocolate cake. From ricotta-filled cannoli to piping-hot fresh croissants, the options are endless – not to mention delicious!
Gagini Social Restaurant
Gagini is a gastronome’s delight. Billed as a “sensory experience where art and music coexist”, you should expect a dining experience like no other. Diners eat at long tables to encourage a sense of community and togetherness, whilst the chef serves traditional Sicilian dishes with a modern twist. Expect flavourful food, beautiful presentation and a warm, welcoming atmosphere. Book ahead to avoid disappointment.
Would you like to explore the Gothic palaces and ancient art of Palermo?