- Visit the Norman Palace
- See the Palatine Chapel
- Climb Monte Pellegrino
- Discover Palermo Cathedral
- Go to a concert at Castello a Mare
- Enjoy aperitivo in Vucciria
- See a puppet show at Teatro Argento
- Spend a day at Mondello Beach
- Sample Sicilian street food at Ballarò Market
- Gawk at Teatro Massimo
1. Visit the Norman Palace
The Norman Palace is a good place to get an introductory cross-section of Palermo's colourful history. Located at the highest point of the ancient city centre, this imposing palace has been the seat of power in Palermo since the 9th-century Moorish Emir of Palermo. It has been home to Sicilian kings, Holy Roman Emperors, and Spanish governors. Today it houses the Sicilian Regional Assembly, arguably the world's longest-running parliament.
2. See the Palatine Chapel
This is part of the Norman Palace complex, but worthy of its own mention. The Palatine Chapel is one of Europe's best examples of combining various religious architectural styles. It's covered in sensational 12th-century Byzantine mosaics, incredibly detailed and rich in colour contrasts. It has a spectacular muqarnas vaulted ceiling, a feature of Islamic architecture. The imposing door is Norman in design and the Eastern Orthodox-style sanctuary balances out a Western Christian-style nave.
3. Climb Monte Pellegrino
Looming over the city, Monte Pellegrino offers a real escape into nature, plus unparalleled views over Palermo and the Mediterranean. From Palermo, take the local bus 812 from Politeama to the top. Or, if you're up for it, take on the 1-2 hour hike. It's a steep climb in parts, but it's paved all the way. And the views make it more than worth the effort.
4. Discover Palermo Cathedral
Another UNESCO-listed site, the Palermo Cathedral is the city's most striking historical building. Built in 1185 under Walter Ophamil, the Anglo-Norman archbishop of Palermo, the church has seen many major additions and alterations over the centuries. As a result, it's covered in a head-spinning number of belfries, parapets, domes, and spires – there are even some remains of pillar bases that belonged to the great mosque on which the cathedral was built. It's also the location of several royal tombs, including those of Roger II, Frederick II, Henry VI and William II.
5. Go to a concert at Castello a Mare
Near Palermo's harbour, Castello a Mare was an ancient fortress guarding the entry to Palermo's port. You can still see extensive remains of the fortress at Castello a Mare Archaeological Park. In addition, the Norman keep, Aragon gate, and Renaissance star-shaped defensive complex, all built much later, are preserved in good condition. Large areas of the Castello a Mare Archaeological Park are open to the public and are also used regularly as an outdoor concert venue.
6. Enjoy aperitivo in Vucciria
Vucciria is traditionally known for its fresh market. Located close to the harbour, this is where Palermo's freshest seafood has been bartered for centuries. Today, however, only a few fresh fish stalls remain. This area is more popular after sundown, when the lively squares of Piazza Caracciolo and Piazza Garraffello slowly fill up. The crowds come first for the extended pre-meal aperitivo, and then for dancing, which often continues deep into the night.
7. See a puppet show at Teatro Argento
For a distinctly Sicilian tradition, see an authentic puppet show at Teatro Argento. This classic marionette theatre was founded in 1893, still run by the same family. The vintage decor of the theatre is gorgeous, and the craftsmanship with which the puppets are made is impressive for all ages. Of course, this is an especially good place to take kids. The theatre often reserves the entire front row for children.
8. Spend a day at Mondello Beach
Just 15 minutes up the coast by local bus from downtown Palermo, Mondello Beach is a popular spot for beach day trips among locals. This gorgeous beach has clear water and very safe swimming. And there's plenty of space for sunbathing and building sandcastles, so it's great for families with young kids. Another feature of the beach is the eye-catching Art Nouveau pier, which contains a restaurant and bar – ideal for sunset drinks.
9. Sample Sicilian street food at Ballarò market
Haggle for fresh fruit and vegetables shoulder-to-shoulder with locals at historic Ballarò market. The concoction of smells, sounds, and beautifully displayed stalls is worth a visit, even if you're not planning on doing your grocery shopping. But don't miss the chance to try some famous Sicilian street food here. Indulge in an authentic, cream-stuffed sweet cannoli, or a rich, deep-fried savoury arancini risotto ball.
10. Gawk at Teatro Massimo
You might mistake the Teatro Massimo for a palace. Its sheer size is eye-catching. Its facade is incredibly ornate. And the inside is even more opulent. Constructed in 1897, this remains the largest opera house in Italy. It's also regarded for its superb acoustic qualities, and it regularly hosts world-class performances. If you visit during the day, take a tour of the entire complex. You'll also learn about its role in filming The Godfather Part III.
How to get to Palermo by train
Reaching Palermo by train is easy, and Sicily's dramatic landscapes make the journey a memorable one. The direct regional service operated by Trenitalia from Messina to Palermo traces Sicily's glittering northern coastline – the journey lasts about 2h 50m. Catania to Palermo trains cut through Sicily's rugged mountainous interior in 2h 56m. Palermo Centrale station, located right on the edge of the historical centre, is the ideal place to start enjoying the many fantastic things to do in Palermo.
If all this isn't enough to convince you that Palermo is worth a visit, have a look around our Trains in Sicily page. You'll find all the information you need for riding trains around Sicily, including to and from Palermo airport. Plus, if you want to discover more about Sicily's beautiful cities, UNESCO sites, dramatic landscapes, and picturesque beaches, you'll find some useful information on there too.