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There's something for everyone, from the Palazzo dei Normanni to Palermo Cathedral, from the botanical garden to Mondello beach, from local markets to the Capuchin catacombs.
Would you like tips on how to best organise your Sicilian adventure? Here you'll find lots of ideas for your visit and recommendations for top hotels in Palermo.
Why visit Palermo?
Palermo tells the tale of a rich cultural past, like other Sicilian towns. The city is a token of the many civilisations that have put down roots there throughout history: Romans, Arabs, Byzantines, Spaniards and even Normans. This fascinating destination bears the marks of its eventful past. Palermo is also a city of contrasts. It offers you a new surprise each time you turn a corner. The multifaceted capital of Sicily testifies to the cultural crossroads it has been down the centuries. And because flavoursome street food is served everywhere in Palermo, it's also a great destination for gourmets!
What can you do in Palermo?
Admire the old town's treasures
Palermo's old town is brimming with splendid historic palaces, churches and squares. Begin your discovery at the monumental square Quattro Canti. This hub is ringed by Baroque buildings adorned with fountains. It's the perfect starting point for exploring the city.
Just a step away lies Piazza Pretoria. The square centres on the Pretoria fountain, famed for its statues. Here you can also marvel at elegant palazzos, Santa Caterina church with its magnificent Baroque interior, and the grand Palazzo Pretorio – Palermo's present-day city hall.
Palermo Cathedral – the Cattedrale della Santa Vergine Maria Assunta – towers majestically a few minutes' walk away. This architectural masterpiece blends Byzantine, Gothic and neoclassical styles. When you've admired the edifice's facade embellished with countless sculptures, you can climb to the roof to enjoy a stunning panoramic view over Palermo.
Near the cathedral, make sure to stop by a leading landmark of Palermo: the Norman Palace (Palazzo dei Normanni). Like the city itself, the palace displays a mix of cultural influences. The site was first a Punic fort, then a Roman one. Later, it became a residence for Arab emirs, then a palace for Norman kings. Today, it's the seat of Sicily's regional parliament. And it houses an astonishing gem: the Palatine Chapel (Cappella Palatina), adorned with rich, gilded decor and medieval mosaics that offer a breathtaking sight.
As you wander Palermo's streets, don't miss the Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele. This spectacular Sicilian-style opera house is Italy's biggest theatre, and the final scene of The Godfather Part III was filmed there!
Last, see Palermo's many palaces as you tour the old town. Take a walk down Via Maqueda, a historic thoroughfare on which you'll find the Palazzo Grassellini, the Palazzo Comitini and the Palazzo Mazzarino. Film buffs will enjoy looking for the Palazzo Valguarnera-Gangi, where the famous ballroom scene in The Leopard by Luchino Visconti was shot.
Venture down into the Capuchin catacombs
The Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo are by far the city's most unusual attraction – but also one of its most popular. Here, around eight thousand mummified corpses are kept, most still in good condition. Step down into this underground complex cut into volcanic rock to explore one of the strangest burial places you'll ever see.
Visit the archaeological museum
The Antonio Salinas Archaeological Museum houses a large collection of Etruscan, Greek, Roman and Egyptian works. Naturally, the place is of great cultural interest, but the museum building itself is also a pleasant spot to spend time too thanks to its fountains, exotic trees and two shady courtyards.
Relax in lush surroundings or swim in the sea
Feel like a break amid greenery, away from the bustle? Then enjoy the coolness of Palermo's botanical garden and its lush vegetation. Or go for a stroll along the Foro Italico seafront promenade lined with trees, benches and sculptures.
If you fancy a dip in the sea, a picture-perfect backdrop awaits you 10 kilometres from Palermo. Head to Mondello Beach to lie on a magnificent stretch of white sand and swim in the turquoise waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. There you'll also find small bars and restaurants that offer dishes and drinks for every budget.
To get some fresh air while enjoying an unrivalled view of Palermo, climb Mount Pellegrino, just five kilometres from the city centre, or take a bus that'll drive you right up to its summit.
Enjoy a boat ride
When you've been darting around on cultural visits, what better a way to admire Palermo from a fresh perspective than a boat ride? Sicily is surrounded by three seas and you've got several boat tour options around it. In a single day, you can tour the Aeolian Islands, take in a stunning view of Vulcano and dive into crystal-clear waters.