Palermo guide: What to see in Palermo in 1 or 3 days
What to see in Palermo and the surrounding area if you just have a few days? A very difficult question! Because Palermo is a city unlike any other. A cultural melting pot: of Greek, Roman, Arab, conquered by the Normans, the French, the Spanish. A city marked by centuries of history and domination, a city of many faces, an amalgam of cultures and diverse traditions.
The capital of Sicily and rich with artistic and cultural heritage, UNESCO defined the historical city centre of Palermo as the largest in Europe. A meeting point of the many cultures of the Mediterranean, which live together harmoniously amongst Arab domes, Baroque churches, Liberty palaces, Neoclassical theatres, Eighteenth Century gardens and teeming markets reminiscent of Arab souqs.
But don’t be scared! Sicilying has selected for you the best Palermo guide which will guide you through this city at lightening speed, as if you had had the chance to stay longer.
If you’re landing in Palermo for your tour of Sicily and you’re wondering what to do in Palermo for one day, this mini-guide is for you.
Our first piece of advice: start at the heart of the city, maybe at Teatro Massimo Palermo. The theatre is undoubtedly one of the most famous monuments of the city, and with its 7,730 square metres, it is the largest theatre in Italy and the third largest in Europe (after Paris and Vienna).
From Piazza Teatro Massimo take via Maqueda and after 20 minutes you’ll arrive at the famouschurch of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio, also known as the Martorana Church which in 1433 was sold by King Alfonso of Aragon to the Benedictine nuns of the nearby convent founded by the noblewoman Eloisa Martorana. Built in 1143, the building marries a multiplicity of architectural styles; the facade is Baroque but it is clear that the original style had an Arab-Norman style; and the interior will amaze you with its magnificent and majestic Byzantine mosaics, considered the oldest in Sicily. The focal point of all the mosaic decoration is the image of Christ surrounded by archangels, apostles, saints and prophets; and to complete the cycle, the marvelous mosaics portray the Nativity of Jesus, the Transit of Mary, the Annunciation and the Presentation in the Temple.
Heading up Corso Vittorio Emanuele, you will then meet the incredible Palermo Cathedral. Consecrated to the Assumption of the Virgin and guardian of the remains of the royal family of Sicily and of the patron saint of the city, Saint Rosalia, also the Cathedral is an artistic symbol of the cohabitation of cultures and the stratification of artistic contributions that over the centuries has shaped a building of extraordinary beauty. It’s no accident that on this site once stood a Christian Basilica (604), subsequently transformed by the Saracens into a Mosque (831) and then re-converted to the Christian faith by the Normans (1072). The facade is of the Catalan Gothic style, the dome late Baroque and then the apse, with Arab-Norman decorations, complete the masterpiece of artistic and cultural synthesis.
If your plans permit you to stay just one day more, or you’ve got a weekend free, and you’re asking what to do in Palermo in 3 days, then you cannot miss the local markets: places still of another time and place, where the life, colours and smells of Palermo are at their most raw.
The most famous markets are those of Ballarò and Vucciria, by the station and close to the Martorana Church respectively. Another two markets that you absolutely must see are Capo, behind the Teatro Massimo, and Borgo Vecchio, close to the port and also open at night. But if you want to live a truly unique experience, visit one of these markets with a chef or a local family chosen by Sicilying, and after visiting the market you will cook (and most importantly eat) together some of the most typical dishes of Palermitan cusine!
You don’t want to cook? No worries! Palermo is also the capital of street food: the famous ‘arancine’, ‘crocchè’or “cazzilli”made with potatoes, ‘panelle’(chickpea flour fritters), ‘sfincione’, and the unmissable “pane ca’ meusa”, or the loaf stuffed with small pieces of spleen, lung and trachea cooked down in lard, in the “frank” version or the “married” version with the addition of ricotta.
While you’re deciding what to do in Palermo at the weekend, don’t forget that with Sicilying you can go on tour of the city on bike with a tasting included! Follow our itinerary, with or without a Palermo guide, and discover the most precious parts of this city with pedal-power.
Got more than a weekend to stay in the city and you’re wondering what you could do with 4 days or more? Don’t miss out on visiting Monreale, just 8 km from the city.
What is there to see in Monreale? First off, there is the beautiful Arab-Norman Cathedral, dedicated to the Virgin Mary and built in 1174 by Gugliemo II d’Altavilla. The golden mosaics, realised between the 12th and 13th Century by local artists and Venetians of the Byzantine school, are a spectacular sight of colour and splendour. The focal point of the mosaics is the portrayal of the figure of Christ in an incredibly powerful scene: testimonies that speak of very rich cultures, whose memories have been lost in the mists of time.
And if you’ve still got some spare time and you’re wondering what to see in the surrounding area, visit Mondello beach and enjoy the wonders of the Sicilian sea! It’s easily reachable from the city centre by public transport; it’s the seaside resort not only for people from Palermo but also tourists. Get out of the city simply and easily and enjoy a wonderful day at sea.