How to spend a day in Palermo
Updated: Oct 29
Palermo is the beautiful capital city of Sicily, full of worthy places to visit that all seem to call for your attention as you wander through its historical centre.
But what to go and see if you only have the day?
Here are just some of the highlights to help you get a real taste of the city, quite literally, as first up we have...
What to eat
As Palermo is in Sicily and Sicily is in Italy, it just wouldn't be right to write a blog post and not dedicate a section to food. The day we spent in Palermo just so happened to fall on the last day of our road trip around Sicily, and so we wanted to make sure we maximised our time both in terms of seeing a lot of places and eating a lot of food.
Here are my recommendations of foods you need to try while in Palermo:
An absolute staple are these delightful, crispy, deep-fried Sicilian balls of rice. They typically have a meat sauce and mozzarella filling however they come in a wide variety of flavours (including sweet!).
Where to get it - Sfrigola
One of my all-time favourite foods is the mighty cannolo, a fried pastry tube with a ricotta style sweet filling, these Sicilian treats are a must when visiting the island.
Where to get it - I segreti del Chiostro
Typically served in a bread roll and with potato croquettes, panelle are Sicilian fritters made from chickpea flour and are an absolutely delicious street food commonly found in Palermo.
Where to get it -
Granita con brioche
Last but by no means least is granita, a semi-frozen dessert which originated in Sicily. It can be served with cream (would recommend) and brioche (would also recommend).
Where to get it - Palermo Store Café
Now you're well-fed we can move onto our next section, what should you go and see if you only have the day?
What to visit
Cattedrale di Palermo
This cathedral is a real mixture of architectural styles and definitely one of the must-see's of the city, it was built in 1184 by the Normans as a re-converted Christian church on the site of a Muslim Mosque that was previously built over a Christian basilica!
Not only can you view the treasury, the royal tombs and the crypts, but you can also go up on to the terraces and witness what is arguably the best view of Palermo from above.
There are a range of ticket types here depending on what you want to see which can be purchased on arrival, I would recommend going for the full package at only €8 to really get the full experience.
Mercato di Ballarò
One of many street markets in Palermo, Mercato di Ballarò is the oldest and largest of the lot and a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture.
Full of sounds and smells, this vibrant market is a great place to purchase all kinds of foodstuffs, fruits and vegetables, fish and meat at a competitive cost - or just wander around and enjoy the atmosphere!
If you enjoy seafood this is one of the places to be and I would suggest picking up a plate of freshly cooked Octopus as you wander around the busy winding streets of the market.
This opera house was built in 1897 and is one of the oldest in Europe. It was inspired by Greek temples as can be clearly seen by the massive columns guarding its main entrance and, while we didn't go inside, it's certainly worth a visit just to stop and take in the stunning architecture.
Catacombe dei Cappuccini
Now delving into one of the more morbid pieces of Palermo's past, I bring you the Capuchin catacombs.
Here you will see over 8,000 corpses split into a range of sections (the children section really spooked me out), sat on benches, pinned to walls, or displayed in open coffins, each one dressed in their Sunday best.
Possibly the most famous of these is among the last of the residents admitted to the catacombs, 2 year old Rosalia Lombardo who died of pneumonia in 1920. Displayed in a glass coffin, you would be hard-pressed to know that she wasn't just sleeping, due to the extensive preservation process carried out by Dr. Alfredo Salafia when she died.
Originally, the catacombs were intended to be used as an extension of the cemetery overseen by the Capuchin monks. However, after a few centuries, they decided to open it up to the residents of Palermo who could afford it, leading to the accumulation of corpses which brings us to the somewhat macabre tourist attraction, as well as outstanding historical record, we see today.
Churches of Palermo
It wouldn't be a Palermo blog without mentioning the churches, the city is quite literally covered in them (with well over 100). With a range of styles from the Arab-Norman-Byzantine style to the Gothic and the Baroque styles, it's well worth stopping in a couple to have a look as you make your way around the city.
a small shoutout here for the Quattro Canti, which I would describe as the 'main square' of the city. The intersection falls right in the centre of Palermo's historical district and each corner is studded with statues of the four Spanish kings of Sicily and the four patronesses of Palermo, as well as symbolic representations of the four seasons.
This brings me on to our last stop, right by the Quattro Canti in a small Piazza you'll stumble across the Fontana Pretoria. The fountain represents the Twelve Olympians and was built by Francesco Camilliani in the city of Florence in 1554, but was transferred in Palermo in 1574.
For some more information, check out my video guide on YouTube.