Palermo diverse history makes it very interesting place to visit for every kind of traveler. You will awe over beautiful architecture, reveal long history of Sicily, try delicious local cuisine, satisfy your shopping needs and enjoy distinctive nightlife of Palermo.
Despite many stereotypes about mafia, Palermo is now as save as any other big european city.
We visited this bustling city many times and now we put together the list which will answer your questions: What to do in Palermo, what are the best places to eat, where to park a car for free and few more tips which we wrote only for our audience. Read on.
What to do in Palermo
We will divide interesting places into several categories so you can easily orient yourself here. Click on the category to jump to the section:
1. Teatro Massimo
This is the main opera house of Palermo built in 1897. Here were shot several scenes with Al Pacino from famous Godfather trilogy. You can see it also from inside (it is very impressive) on guided tour or listen to one of many concerts there. During the tour you can sit on the same place as Al Pacino was sitting!
2. Quattro Canti (Four faces)
The centre piazza (square) where crosses the main avenues of Palermo – Via Maqueda and the Corso Vittorio Emanuele. On each side one of the four Spanish kings of Sicily is portrayed . Today it is part of limited traffic zone so you can enjoy the promenade almost without the cars, but when we visited Palermo first time in 2014, full traffic was allowed – that was crazy.
3. Piazza Pretoria (square of Shame)
The square is just next to the Quattro Canti. Part of the square is occupied by big fountain with many statues and sculptures around it. Don’t forget to peak inside Palazzo Pretorio on the side of the square. Not many tourists do that and if you go up to the first floor you can explore interiors of the palace for free.
4. Martorana (Co-Cathedral of St. Mary of the Admiral)
Connected with Square of Shame by Palazzo Pretorio, Martorana cathedral overlooks Piazza Bellini. You can also walk to the rooftop (for 5 euros) of the Church of Saint Catherine on the same square and see both squares (Bellini and Pretoria) and Martorana from the birds view.
5. Royal Palace of Palermo
Also called Palace of the Normans was the main residence of the kings. It also contains Palatine chapel which is spectacular example of Byzantine architecture. Nearby park there is a great place to sit in the shadow of palm trees and relax from chaotic atmosphere of Palermo.
6. Palermo Cathedral
You should definitely not miss this one. Palermo cathedral shows mixture of the different styles and cultural influences, because it was altered and restored many times throughout the history. It was built almost 1000 years ago, but latest alterations were added in 18th century. It is in our opinion the most magnificent building of Palermo.
7. Monreale Cathedral
Monreale is magnificent cathedral which was built to compete with Palermo Cathedral. It is one of the most beautiful places of Palermo, but because it about 7km from city center, you will hardly reach it by foot.
8. The Chinese Palace
Beautiful palace with gardens is located about 7km north from the city center. If your next destination after Palermo is north of this city, Chinese Palace is worth a quick stop. You can walk through all 3 floors of the palace and the entrance is free.
9. Monte Pellegrino
Pellegrino is the mountain not far from the Chinese Palace, it offers great views on the whole Palermo. In our opinion the best views are from the resting spot next to the road in the middle of the hill here. If you drive to the peak, the view on Palermo will be blocked by vegetation. For the best photos drive there for sunset.
10. The Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo
For the last spot of what to do in Palermo we kept something bit different. It is kinda morbid experience, but for some of us it is somehow very attractive. In the burial catacombs of Palermo you can see mumified bodies of priests and other local luminaries in the clothes according to their wish and contemporary fashion. It is extraordinary experience and different view at the history of Palermo.
Eating and drinking
There are plenty of great Trattorias (restaurants) around Palermo and we cannot list them all, but we will mention some which we enjoyed the most.
1. Ballaro market
You can buy here vegetables, fruits, cheese and other food, but it is also great spot for eating on the street. There are several street eateries with fresh and delicious seafood for very good price. Just pick one you like (and the one which has empty spot as they are often full) and choose what seems tempting to you. The squid was so soft and tasty – 1 portion of seafood was 5 euros. As on any street market, make sure you know the price before buying to avoid scams.
This is great restaurant which we recommend for delicious pasta and seafood for good price. Pizza was also very good, but we tried better. The place is quite big and lively. You will not see many tourists there, but it is full of locals – that is always good sign of quality. Very tasty cream cheese pasta (buziate goloze) was 8 euros, pizza 6 – 12 euros, mussles antipasti (cozze) 10 euros. Expect (as in every restaurant in Sicily) to pay 2 euros per head coperto. After the dinner we got free limoncello digestive which was a really nice surprise.
3. Ferro di Cavallo
This restaurant is nearby Vucciria, which is famous Palermo nightlife spot. Our local friend recommended us this restaurant for good dinner. And local’s recommendation is always the best.
4. Ice cream
The best ice cream in Palermo is nearby Teatro Massimo here. Wide variety of flavours and we recommend to try ice cream in broche (sweet bread). It sounds very unusual (and strange), but it is so delicious. Our local friend recommends pistachio flavour as exceptionally good.
Vucciria is synonyms for nightlife in Palermo. Many people go there during the day (as it is known as market) and leave dissapointed. Don’t do that. Come here after 9pm (even if you don’t party) and you will exprience unique atmosphere of nightlife in Palermo. Everything is happening on the streets and it might look a bit scary in the beginning, but don’t worry – police is monitoring the whole area. Still use your common sense and don’t go alone in narrow dark streets.
You can even eat here on the street, but for drinks the most famous place is Taverna Azzura. You cannot miss it as there will be plenty of people around this bar on the street. Just have a drink and absorb the atmosphere of Palermo nightlife.
6. Rinascente department store
Rinascente is department store, but why we list it here is the bar on the roof which offers great views to the nearby church and square. Great spot to have a drink on terrace and enjoy the views. If you don’t want to have a drink you can just come here to see the views and make pictures. It is just next to Vucciria, so it might be good start of the evening to have a drink here.
1. Via Maqueda
Via Maqueda connecting Teatro Massimo and Quattro Canti is great spot for shopping of any kind. You will find cheap souvenirs and accessories, but also famous brand boutiques.
2. Via Roma
This street is parallel to Via Maqueda and offers similar variety of things as Via Maqueda.
3. Del Capo market
Morning street market which offers a big variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, olives and spices, but also street snacks. You will meet locals and tourists as well here.
4. Rinascente department store
Where to stay
1. Our favourite spot is apartment just above the morning street market Del Capo. Apartment has 2 bedrooms with balconies and fully equipped kitchen. It has great location next to Teatro Massimo in the city center. We totally appreciated cozy decoration and decent price. Great place for 2 couples. You can book it here.
2. For couples we recommend to stay at this modern and so cozy loft apartment. It is walking distance to all important points in the city and located in quiet neighborhood. The hosts are super friendly and helpful with anything you might need.
If these two apartments are full, check other deals in Palermo.
Parking and car
Driving a car in Palermo is quite a challenge and be prepared for crazy traffic and no rules. You have to be 100% concentrated all the time, but if you don’t rush and pay attention to everything around, you will be fine.
Free parking in Palermo
Because all the parking in the city center is paid we recommend to bring your luggage by car to your apartment, pay just for short period parking if necessary and then park your car here for free. After that you walk without luggage back to your place or right away to city center. It is about 1.5km walk from city center. We always do it this way and never had any problems.
Note that there might be person at the parking lot who shows you empty spot and navigates your while you park. He expects a tip for his service and it is wise to pay him. We heard stories that if you don’t pay you might find your car scratched or damaged in other way. And if the car is from rental, you might end up paying much more for the damage. It is just not worth a risk. 1 or 2 euros for his service is enough.
Limited traffic zones
Another thing to mention is ZTL – Limited traffic zone (zona traffico limitato). Cities all around Italy introduces ZTL as the way how to reduce pollution and high traffic in city centers. When you see the sign ZTL, it basically means you cannot enter by car. Areas might be controlled by cameras, so don’t risk it. Many GPS apps don’t consider the zones and they will navigate you through them, so be careful to avoid being fined.
You will see parking lines of different colors on parking lots or next to the streets.
White parking line means you can park there for free of charge.
Yellow parking line means parking is only for disabled.
Blue parking line means parking is paid.
Green parking line means that parking is not permitted on working days between 08.00-09.30 and 14.30-16.00 hours.
This is our list and now you know what to do in Palermo. If you have any further tips or something is not correct here anymore, please comment below, so we can consider it for future travelers.
And if you are looking for other places to visit around Sicily, read our article about best places to visit in Sicily or our recommended itinerary for 4 days in Sicily. For nature lovers we wrote about Zingaro nature reserve beach hopping not far from Palermo.