Palermo’s attractions are as varied as the city itself. They are mainly ancient monuments, numerous sacred buildings and former royal residences, but also bustling local markets that cannot be missed during a trip to the capital of Sicily. One thing is certain Palermo will not leave anyone indifferent, either you will love this city or you will hate it. However, you cannot deny him the fact that he can interest you.
The long and colorful history left its mark on this city. For this reason, there is no shortage of places to see or objects to visit. The attractions of Palermo have long tempted tourists who come to Sicily. In part, to visit the surrounding monuments yourself, but also to see for yourself if it is really as dirty as the rumor is. In addition, local cuisine, especially in the street version, has become legends and many people want to try it.
Things to do in Palermo
When it comes to the topic of the local mafia, it is definitely not worth asking the local people about it. Tourists in Palermo can feel safe and this is supposed to put an end to all other speculations. Even the mafiosi here realize that the monuments and attractions alone will not attract visitors if it is not safe in the city – and, after all, tourists = money. Therefore, it is worth debunking the myth of a dangerous Sicilian city. You have to keep an eye on your wallet or other valuables in every tourist place.
Palermo is a multicultural city, on the one hand with monuments inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, on the other dirty and neglected. The architecture here reflects the influences of Arab, Byzantine and Western European cultures, on the other hand, the capital of Sicily is a typical southern Italian metropolis. It will be an ideal place for people who like to visit historical remains. Interestingly, the attractions of Palermo attract globetrotters as well as ordinary vacationers. In addition, it is undoubtedly a Mecca for all gourmets, regional Sicilian cuisine.
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Although Palermo is a large metropolis, we can easily visit its greatest attractions on foot. Most of the interesting places here are located within two streets. However, we can reach more distant monuments by public transport. There are bus and tram lines in Palermo. Sometimes, however, it is worth getting lost in the maze of small, dilapidated streets.
You need at least two days to visit Palermo. If we also want to go to the beach or see the surrounding attractions, we will need a bit more time. However, Palermo is the perfect place for a weekend getaway, the so-called city break. Of course, there will also be people for whom the week will be too short a period to see all the local churches and monuments with ease.
Palermo can be visited all year round, depending on our preferences. The best weather is here in spring and autumn, when the temperatures are tolerable and it is pleasantly warm. More or less in April, May or October, the weather should be favorable for trips and city exploration. For those who are not bothered by the heat, go to Palermo in high summer, which is roughly from June to September. However, then you have to take into account the tiring heat. On the other hand, winter is the perfect time for tourists who do not care about swimming in the sea or a golden tan, but like to rest and visit for a reasonable amount of money (it is simply cheaper in the off-season).
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Monuments of Palermo
Let’s start our tour by visiting the greatest monuments in Palermo.
One of the most important and greatest monuments in Palermo is the local Cathedral. It is an unusual mix of various architectural styles, but its original form dates back to the 12th century. Almost every part of the cathedral comes from a different period, for example, we have an eastern facade built in the Norman style, and a southern portico which was made in the Gothic style.
It is also worth paying attention to the 13th-century mosaic of the Virgin Mary and the belfry from the 12th century. The attraction of the cathedral in Palermo is also the possibility of climbing the roof to admire the panorama of the entire city. The interior, on the other hand, is much less decorative. There are tombs in the chapel, including those of the Norman ruler – Roger II, or the Emperor Frederick II Hohenstauf. It is also worth visiting (for an additional fee) the cathedral treasury and the crypt. Palermo Cathedral has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Another important monument in Palermo is the Norman Palace – Palazzo dei Normanni. It is the former seat of the Sicilian kings, located on the highest hill in the city. Its construction dates back to the 9th century, but over the years it was repeatedly changed and rebuilt. When visiting the Norman Palace, it is worth paying attention to the Torre Pisana tower, which dates back to the beginning of its construction, and to the royal apartments, with the King Roger Hall at the fore, which is covered with hunting mosaics.
However, the most popular here is definitely the private chapel of King Roger I – Capella Palatina, built in a combined Norman-Arab-Byzantine style. Today the Sicilian Regional Assembly has its seat in the Norman Palace. On the other hand, the entire palace building was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
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The Palatine Chapel – Capella Palatina, one of the most visited monuments in Palermo, which, as we have already mentioned, is part of the Norman Palace, definitely deserves additional attention. It was built around 1130 on the plan of a three-nave temple, separated by marble Corinthian columns, which in turn are ended with three apses. In the following years, it was additionally decorated with colorful mosaics.
Noteworthy in the Palatine Chapel is the wooden ceiling (in the central nave) made in the Arabian style with painted mini-scenes. It is also worth looking at the carved pillars on which the pulpit is placed, the marble floor and the large candlestick carved in wood with the figure of Christ.
Church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio
An important monument in Palermo is also the Church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio – Church of Our Lady of the Admiral. It is located in Piazza Bellini square, and it was built in the 12th century thanks to funds donated by the admiral, serving King Roger II. The Church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio is commonly known as La Martorana and, like other valuable monuments of this city, it has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Inside the church, you can admire the mosaics, created in Greek and Byzantine styles. They present important religious scenes related to, among others, the Virgin Mary and Christ, who was to crown King Roger. In the central point of the temple – in the dome, there is the image of Christ Pantocrator with the Greek inscription: “I am the light of the world”. Additionally, it is worth knowing that the Church of Our Lady of the Admiral is related to marzipan produced all over the island. It was the nuns from the monastery associated with this church who started the production of these sweets, giving them fruity shapes.
Tourist attractions of Palermo
When visiting Palermo, we direct our steps from monuments to tourist attractions.
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One of the biggest tourist attractions in Palermo is the Capuchin Catacombs. It is worth noting right away that they are located outside the city center, actually on its outskirts, so it is worth considering public transport in this case. The catacombs themselves are placed underground, in carved volcanic rocks, just below the building of the Capuchin monastery. Established in the 16th century, it served as a municipal necropolis for many years.
Currently, they are made available to tourists who are not scared by the sight of embalmed bodies. In the center of the Capuchin Catacombs, more than 8,000 human mummies are stored. Interestingly, they are ordered according to gender, age and social status. Embalmed human corpses are here placed in coffins or literally hung on the walls. The mummy of a small, two-year-old girl – Rosaria Lombardo, whose figure looks as if she was just asleep, is the most impressive.
Another attraction for tourists in Palermo is just the crossroads, called Quattro Canti. What distinguishes the intersecting streets of Via Maqueda and Via Vittorio Emanuele is the square on which they are located. It has an octagonal shape and is decorated in a baroque style.
All four buildings have cut corners here, at the bottom of which there are four fountains, and sculptures above each other. They symbolize, in turn, the four seasons of the four Spanish kings, as well as the four patrons of Palermo – Ninpa, Agata, Olivia and Christina. It is worth coming here after dark, because they are nicely illuminated.
A large tourist attraction in Palermo is also the Botanical Garden – Orto Botanico. It is considered one of the most beautiful in all of Italy. It was established in 1795, so it is one of the oldest green areas of this type, where more than 12,000 species of plants have been collected since then. Among them, you can admire the large-leaved fig tree, whose crown can be up to 100 square meters.
In addition, there are bamboos, cactuses and palm trees. In the Botanical Garden in Palermo, there are also ponds with papyrus, greenhouses with exotic plants, and a herbarium where you can also see fungi and algae. It is a good place to take a break while exploring the city.
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What’s worth seeing in Palermo?
What else is worth seeing and visiting in Palermo? There is no shortage of monuments, attractions and interesting places in this city. So let’s keep exploring.
In Palermo, it is definitely worth going to the local markets, which are an indispensable element of the life of local residents. They offer all kinds of fresh food products, from vegetables and fruits, to dairy products, spices, meat, fish and seafood. It is worth coming to it from the very morning, because most of them roll up around noon, for example in the evening they become a huge street food market.
The biggest market in Palermo is Vuccirii, which is located in the main square on Via Roma. In addition to shopping, you can also taste typical Sicilian dishes here. Another interesting market in Palermo is Ballaro, which in turn is an old Arabian souk. In addition to typical Italian products, you can find here typical Arabic delicacies and ingredients for their preparation.
The Fountain of Shame
In Palermo, you should also see the famous Fountain of Shame, which is also called the Pretoria Fountain. Nude figures of men and women who allegedly scandalized nuns from a nearby order were placed on it, hence the name. Not only that, apparently under the cover of the night, in order to deal with the outrageous nakedness, the nuns tore off the noses of the statues, as they were too shy to move their genitals.
Fortunately, today, the Fountain of Shame does not offend anyone, and among the 16th century sculptures, you can see Olympic gods, nymphs and mermaids.
During a trip to Palermo, it is also worth seeing the Zisa Palace, the summer residence of the Norman kings. Its construction dates back to the 12th century and it is a perfect example of the influence of the Arab culture on the local architecture. The property is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
What distinguishes the Zisa Palace is not only the Moorish style of architecture, but also the installation of something like air conditioning. Thanks to the water tunnels in the walls of the mansion, it was getting a little cooler inside. Today, the Zisa Palace houses the Museum of Islamic Art. In addition, it is worth taking a stroll through the gardens adjacent to the property, where there are numerous fountains that provide a little cooling on hot days.
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Interesting places in Palermo
See also other interesting places in Palermo.
An interesting place in Palermo is Teatro Massimo, or the Grand Theater. It is the third largest opera house in Europe with a capacity of nearly 1,400 spectators. The Massimo Theater was founded in 1897 and boasts excellent acoustics. It is worth seeing it from the outside, for example, due to its unusual dimensions and the fact that it is located in the very center of the city.
Church of San Cataldo
In Palermo, it is also worth visiting the interesting, old Church of San Cataldo. It stands out in the very panorama of the city, with three red domes, which directly refer to the Arab style of construction. Like other unique buildings in Palermo, it was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. In the middle of the Church of San Cataldo, it’s worth taking a look at the mosaic floor.
This 12th-century floor is the only decoration inside the temple here.
An interesting place in Palermo, especially for history lovers, will certainly be the local Archaeological Museum. It is here that the largest collection of Punic and Ancient Greek art in all of Italy is gathered. In addition, you can also admire historical items from all over Sicily. Inside, it is worth paying attention to hand-made items by the Phoenicians and the ancient Romans. You can also see two sarcophagi from the 5th century, or one of the larger Etruscan collections, which include: urns, tombstones and also sarcophagi.
Also check out the official website of the city of Palermo.
Palermo tourist attractions map
On the map of Palermo attractions below you will find the most important monuments and interesting places that are worth seeing and visiting: