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10 things to do and see in Palermo

A complete and detailed guide about 10 things to do and see in Palermo in 1, 2 or 3 days

Palermo has been a Greek and Roman city, Arab capital, land conquered by Normans, French and Spanish people. Centuries of history and domination made Palermo a city of many traditions and cultures. Its monuments represent its glorious past and the great artistic and architectural heritage.
In the “city of delights” coexist Arab domes, Baroque churches , Art Nouveau buildings, neoclassical theatres and historical markets space.
You will be charmed by this city and its historic monuments, the good weather , the good vibration of people and the great cuisine.
In this page we suggest you 10 things to do and see in Palermo.

If you are looking for a hotel in Palermo, we suggest you to choose among those offered by Booking.com. There are about 170 hotels with prices, pictures and comments of guests already stayed there. Go to Booking.com

Chiesa della Martorana in Palermo

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Built in 1143 the St. Mary’s church is also known as the “Martorana” because it was given in 1433 by King Alfonso of Aragon to the Benedictine monks convent founded by the noblewoman Eloisa Martorana.

Chiesa della Martorana in Palermo
Chiesa della Martorana in Palermo

This charming sacred building preserves its original Arab-Norman style as shown by the square shape and the hemispherical dome. The bell tower has arches and three rows of mullioned windows. Inside the church you can enjoy beautiful Byzantine mosaics in the dome considered the oldest in Sicily. The central point of the whole mosaic decoration is the image of Christ Pantocrator surrounded by archangels, apostles, saints and prophets.

Where: Bellini Square
When – Hours: Summer time:from 9:30 am to 1 pm and from 3:30 to 7 pm , the rest of the year up to 5 pm ; On Sunday you can visit it only in the morning
Tickets: € 2,50

The Cathedral of Palermo

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The Cathedral of Palermo was completed in 1185. It stands on the site formerly occupied by a Christian basilica (604) transformed into a mosque by the Saracens (831) then (re) converted to Christian worship by the Normans (1072).

The Cathedral of Palermo
The Cathedral of Palermo

Its original shape has been modified by many restorations over the centuries and is characterized by different architectural styles. The main façade between two towers has a large fifteenth-century porch with Catalan- Gothic style. The dome has a late Baroque style and the apse has with beautiful Arabic – Norman decorations. The interior has a Latin cross layout with three naves. Here there are the remains of royal people of Sicily, including Federico II and Ruggero II, and those of Santa Rosalia, the patron saint of Palermo.

How to get there: From the harbour , line 139 to Corso Vittorio Emanuele, then 105 line for the Cathedral; from the station, line 107 or 101 until Corso Vittorio Emanuele, then line 105 for the Cathedral;
From Monreale, lines 309, 339 and 389 to Independence Square;
From Piazza Politeama, line 104
When – Hours:
Cathedral:
Weekdays: from 9:00 am to 5.30 pm
From November to February you can visit the Cathedral from 9.30 am to 1.00 pm
Holidays: from 7:30 am to 1:30 pm and from 4:00 to 7.00 pm
Royal tombs and treasure:
Weekdays from 9.30 am to 1.30 pm and from 2.30 to 5.30 pm
Tickets:
Cathedral: Free entrance
Treasure, crypt and royal tombs: adults € 3.00; over 65 € 2.00; children (11 -17 years) € 1.00; Children (6 -10 years) € 0.50.

Cappella Palatina and Palazzo dei Normanni in Palermo

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Palazzo dei Normanni (Norman Palace also known as the Royal Palace) is one of the main monuments of Palermo. It was built by the Arabs in the ninth century and then transformed and enlarged by the Normans, who made it the center of their power.

Cappella Palatina and Palazzo dei Normanni in Palermo
Cappella Palatina and Palazzo dei Normanni in Palermo

It was a rich and sumptuous palace as shown by the royal apartments decorated with mosaics depicting hunting scenes (XII century) and the Palatine Chapel, the church of the royal family, decorated with Byzantine mosaics. It is considered among the most beautiful monuments in Sicily.
When the Spanish viceroy chose it as their residence, two large courtyards were added and other ceremonial rooms, including the Sala d’Ercole which takes its name from the frescoes painted by Velasquez. Since 1947, the majestic Palazzo houses the Sicilian Regional Assembly.

Where: Piazza Indipendenza (touristic entrance)
When – Hours:
Monday – Saturday: from 8.15 am at 5.40 pm ;
Sunday and holidays from 8.15 am am to 1.00 pm .
N.B. visits to the Palatine Chapel is not allowed on Sundays and festivities from 9.45 to 11.15 am for the church service. For institutional reasons the Royal Apartments may be closed unexpectedly.
Never: 25 December and 1 January.
Early closure : July 15 and September 4 h. 1.00 pm ; December 24 and 31 (when they are not public holidays) h. 3.00 pm.
Tickets: from Friday to Monday and holidays: full price € 8.50, reduced € 6.50. From Tuesday to Thursday: full price € 7.00; reduced € 5.00.
Free entrance for Italian and European Union citizens under 18 years of age.

Catacombs in Palermo

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The underground cemetery of the Cappuccini Convent, wrongly known as “the catacombs” preserves the mortal remains of monks, famous people, rich people of Palermo and ordinary people.

Catacombs in Palermo
Catacombs in Palermo

There are about eight thousands of mummified bodies from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century in the galleries under the convent. The bodies are preserved almost intact thanks to the micro – climatic conditions and the methods used by the monks to embalm the bodies.
Catacombs of Palermo are a little bit outside the city center, but are one of the tourist destinations most appreciated by tourists. The charm of macabre things never goes out of style.

Where: Via Cappuccini 1
When: every day (including Sundays and holidays) 09:00 am to 12:30 pm and 3:00 to 5:30 pm. From late October to late March, the catacombs are closes on Sunday afternoon.
Ticket: € 3

Popular markets in Palermo

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The street markets of Palermo are a kind of places out of time because they have preserved the charm of an ancient culture.

Popular markets in Palermo
Popular markets in Palermo

The markets of Ballarò and Vucciria, located close to the station and the Church of Martorana, are the most visited markets . Here the colors are mixed up to the smells of Palermo and the whole Sicily. Ballarò is still a populated market, while the popular Vucciria is almost decadent, but still worth a visit.
Two other markets are a must see: those of the “ Capo”, located behind the Teatro Massimo, and Borgo Vecchio, which is located closethe harbour and is open also at night. In this way you have four places to visit, to live an ancient Palermo, which never loses its appeal and to bring home some culinary souvenirs at very low cost.

Stanze al Genio in Palermo

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Inaugurated in December 2008, the unique Museum “Stanze al Genio” takes its name by the homonymous cultural association.

Stanze al Genio in Palermo
Stanze al Genio in Palermo

It contains one of the largest collections in Europe of ancient Neapolitan and Sicilian majolica with over 2,300 objects (from the end of the sixteenth century the early twentieth century), and other smaller collections of contemporary and modern art.
The Museum is housed in an elegant private house in the historic building Torre – Piraino, in the center of Palermo. The museum is divided into 4 beautiful rooms (entrance hall, kitchen room, flower room and neoclassical hall), also used for cultural events. Majolica are divided by age, geographical origin and production, highlighting for each of them the most beautiful and valuable pieces.

Where: Via Garibaldi 11
When – Hours: You can book guided tours calling the following numbers 340 0971561-335 6885379
Tickets: Ordinary card € 7,00; reduced (students and over 65) € 5,00

Monreale Cathedral in Palermo

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8 km far from Palermo, in the town of Monreale, there is the beautiful cathedral in the Arab – Norman style dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Monreale Cathedral in Palermo
Monreale Cathedral in Palermo

It is a destination for tourists and pilgrims from all around the world. The religious building was built in 1174 at the behest of the Norman King William
The Cathedral has a three – light window colonnade with the precious bronze door and two large square towers, one of which turned into a bell tower. The Latin cross layout is divided into three naves separated by columns with beautiful carved capitals; the walls are covered by magnificent mosaics on a gold background of Byzantine school depicting scenes from the Bible and stories of the Church. Many treasures to admire: the main altar of Valadier (1711), the sarcophagi of William I and William II, the organ of the twentieth century. Do not miss the Cappella del Crocifisso (Chapel of the Crucifix), a beautiful example of Sicilian Baroque, which houses the reliquary containing a thorn from Christ’s crown.

Where: Vittorio Emanuele I Square
When – Hours:
Cathedral: weekdays from 8:30 am to 12:45 pm and 2:30 to 5:00 pm ; public holidays from 8:00 to 10:00 am and from 2:30 to 5:30 pm ; visits are suspended during religious services.
Cloister: Tuesday -Saturday: from 9:00 am to 6:30 pm ; Monday and holidays: from 9.00 am to 1.00 pm
Tickets:
Cathedral: Free entrance
Chapel of the Crucified : 2,50 €
Towers and roof: 2.50 €
Chapel + Towers and Roof: 4,00 €
Card included the Diocesan Museum: 6,00 €
Cloister: 6,00 €.

Pretoria Fountain in Palermo

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It was built in the sixteenth century by the sculptor Camilliani for the villa of Don Pedro of Toledo.

Pretoria Fountain in Palermo
Pretoria Fountain in Palermo

Later it was bought by the Senate of Palermo and from 1581 the fountain makes a fine show in the beautiful Piazza Pretoria, surrounded by buildings, including the Palazzo Pretorio  (the Town Hall), and ancient churches (San Giuseppe dei Teatini and Santa Caterina).
The fountain is surrounded by an elegant balustrade within which are located the tanks (three concentric plus a number of small and medium), four staircases, statues depicting some pagan gods(Apollo, Venus, Diana, Bacchus, Adonis, Ceres, Hercules). The nudity of the statues pushed people to call it “fountain of shame.”

Where: Pretoria Square, old town centre

Things to eat in Palermo

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The gastronomy in Palermo is good and tasty. From appetizers to desserts, Palermo offers dishes not to be missed:

Things to eat in Palermo
Things to eat in Palermo

a unique combination of ingredients, flavours and fragrances, the result of an ancient tradition. Saffron, pistachio nuts, dairy products, prickly pear are just some of the items used in this cuisine.
Do not taste just cannoli and cassata, but also the popular “street food”, such as the famous arancini (breaded fried rice balls and stuffed usually with meat sauce, mozzarella and peas); the croquettes or “cazzilli” made from potatoes; Panelle, (chickpea flour fritters); sfincione (large piece of yeast dough topped with a fresh tomato sauce, onion, anchovies and cheese); and the pane ca ‘meusa, or the loaf stuffed spleen, lung and trachea cooked into small pieces with lard.

Where to sleep in Palermo

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In Palermo, the tourist is considered a kind of treasure, and the city is equipped to accommodate all types of travellers. Luxury hotels like the Grand Wagner, or cheap B&B’s, are close the most important tourist destinations of the city.

Where to sleep in Palermo
Where to sleep in Palermo

The selection is good and prices are not very high: a double 3 stars for a night, in the city center costs about 50 Euros. We suggest you to look for accommodation in the central area, and to optimize the visiting times because the internal connections are not always very reliable.
If you are looking for a hotel in Palermo, we suggest you to choose among those offered by Booking.com. There are about 170 hotels with prices, pictures and comments of guests already stayed there. Go to Booking.com