Palermo, located in a strategic enclave of the island of Sicily in Italy, has been inhabited by Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans and Bourbons …
Later, it was known for Art Nouveau at the beginning of the 20th century and for being the starting point of the Allied reconquest after the Second World War. However, in recent decades unfortunately, has been denoted by incompetence, corruption, and especially the Mafia or “Cosa Nostra”.
In spite of all the bad reputation that Palermo has in terms of order, cleanliness and security, we were greatly seduced by the historical and cultural variety and its acclaimed gastronomy.
As our time was limited (we were only going to spend 10 days in Sicily), we could not book for Palermo more than one day, the first. However, we believe that it was enough to get an idea of the city and see the top must-see attractions in Palermo. However, if you plan a visit to Monreale and its famous cathedral or a bath on the beaches of Mondello perhaps speding two to three days would be better.
In this article we will only recommend a travel itinerary to see Palermo in one day. Whether you make a stop in Palermo during a cruise or if you are going to travel Sicily by car, with this post you will know perfectly what to see.
main neighborhoods in Palermo Sicily
Before telling what to do in Palermo in a day we will talk about the different neighborhoods of the city.
The historical center of Palermo is a compendium of anarchic and narrow streets and alleys. Remember the Arab architecture that we can see in Spanish cities that were also under this domination. They are distributed around 4 main areas or neighborhoods of Palermo and separated by the arteries of Corso Vittorio Emanuele and via Maqueda. The famous and historic Quattro Canti intersection is right in the center of the four neighborhoods.
The areas that separate are the famous districts of Vucciria, La Kalsa, Capo and Albergheria. You can visit all the districts of Palermo in one day.
Top things to do in Palermo in one day
In this section we will tell you about the the things to do in Palermo in a day.
MERCATO DELLA VUCCIRIA
When visiting Palermo in a day, knowing the Vucciria both day and night is essential.
VUCCIRIA in the morning
Our first contact with Palermo came looking in the streets and alleys that surrounded our the famous Mercato Della Vucceria.
As we commented, the neighborhood had a rather run-down and decadent apparence, with dirty historical buildings and street works. Palermo, as well as other cities I’ve visited such as Napoles and Havana, lets you glimpse an ancient era of heyday, culture, beauty and refinement that due to the history matters has fallen into disrepair. In the market of the Vucciria was where we find these contrasts to be best represented.
Here, undoubtedly, also lies the originality and beauty of the city. In those lights and shadows between art and flaking; markets with screams and empty alleyways in silence.
After traveling several streets exploring the neighborhood, we reached the first places where the famous “Mercato di Vucciria” started. We find food stalls such as fish, meat or fruit, as well as antique stalls and second hand items. In them they sold from old equipment like Walkmans and analogical cameras until old relics; coins, newspapers and magazines of the Second World War. Around these stalls there were numerous bars full of people taking the unforgivable Italian aperitivi.
We left the market for one of the streets that ended in Piazza di San Domenico. In this square is the imposing Chiesa di San Domenico; the most important architectural work in the neighborhood of Vucciria.
Perhaps it is because we are accustomed to the trail of Madrid that comes to be a large Vucciria market, but this market did not surprise us as much as we expected. Just as the neighborhood itself loved it, the Vucciria market did not quite live up to our expectations.
VUCCIRIA by night
We also toured the Vucciria neighborhood after dinner. The same streets that in the morning were a bustling market, at night they were filled with teenagers wanting to party. Full bars, foosball tables on the street, scooters passing through impossible places, food stalls. The cherry on the cake was the Piazza Garraffello where there was a DJ playing live.
Although the appearance of the people alarmed us at first, we had no problem with anyone. All the young people of Palermo were very nice and eager to have fun.
In our day in Palermo we had no plans to go partying. However, it was very curious and gave us a much more general view of the neighborhood. I invite you to discover the B Side of the Vucciria too.
After our diurnal immersion in the market of the Vucciria, our route continued towards the northwest looking for the neighborhood of Capo, whose first stop was the famous Teatro Massimo. The opening hours are from Tuesday to Sunday, 09:30 -16: 30. The price is € 8 with guided tour. We unfortunately could not enter because at that time it was under construction.
After our daytime immersion in the Vucciria market, our tour continued towards the northwest looking for the neighborhood of Capo, whose first stop was the famous Teatro Massimo, which schedule is Tuesday to Sunday, 09:30 – 17:30. The price is € 8 with a guided tour. We unfortunately could not enter because it was, at that time, in renovations.
This theater is one of the best known and most photographed in the city. It is known worldwide for the final scene of The Godfather III. This film closes the saga in the stairs of this theater. It is undoubtedly one of the most emotional and best scenes in film history.
As for the mythical scenarios as for being a great approach to the modern Sicilian reality (besides being one of the great classics of the cinema) we recommend to see the saga of The Godfather. Especially if you are going to travel to Sicily)
MERCATO DI CAPO
After leaving the Teatro Massimo and walking to Palermo Cathedral, we stumbled -without realizing- the Mercato di Capo. This one, unlike Vucciria, impressed us and left open-mouthed: Streets after endless streets full of all kinds of posts. From furniture, chairs, art and antiques, to innumerable and varied stalls of food per portare vía that made your mouth water.
Cries about prices and products, people, chaos, smells here we found the palermitani market that we had read and what we were looking for.
We had no setback. However, it is necessary to mention that as in all places where there are agglomerations, we have to be careful with pickpockets. It is important to have our cell phone, wallet or camera well controlled.
CATTEDRALE DI PALERMO
After Capo, we descend again southwards looking for the cathedral at the intersection with the busy Via Vittorio Emanuelle.
The Cathedrale di Palermo was built in Norman times, but with so much cultural passage it underwent numerous modifications and additions, mainly gothic cut.
The outside appearance is monumental, but nevertheless inside is quite austere. Its main interest is the Treasury of the Cathedral of Norman time and the crypt. Unfortunately we could not visit them as we were running short of time. Added to that, we had to pay an extra entrance to see the treasure, in addition to the basic entry of € 3.
CAPPELLA PALATINA AND PALAZZO DEI NORMANNI
A short distance from the cathedral and belonging to the neighborhood of Albergueria was our next stop. Without doubt the most famous point of interest of the city, La Cappella Palatina and Palazzo dei Normanni.
The Capella Palatina is a chapel from the Norman period. As soon as you enter, it leaves you speechless. The floor stands out for the marble incrustations and the ceiling for the Mozarabs made of wood. However, the most famous and best preserved Normandy mosaics in the world, with a gold background and settings of precious stones was the thing we like the most. The illumination of the chapel, makes understand why Palermo was one of the capitals and main axes in the Europe of the XII century.
Adjacent to the Chapel is the Palazzo dei Normanni, seat of the Sicilian Parliament and which we were lucky to visit since Monday to Thursday holds parliamentary sessions.
The group entrance to the Cappella Palatina and the Palazzo dei Normanni is priced at € 8.50. The visit hours are from 08:15 to 17:40.
CATACOMBE DEI CAPPUCCINI
Undoubtedly, in this guide of things to do in Palermo, we can not miss the visit to the Catacombe dei Cappuccini.
Getting theres is relatively easy from the Palazzo dei Normani. You have to follow the Via Vittorio Emanuele straight and then take the detour via Cappuccini. The walk will take about 25-30 minutes.
The Catacombe dei Cappuccini (09-13 / 15-18, € 3) consists of several galleries. In them they are more than 8000 palermitanos of between centuries XVII and XIX. It is divided into different corridors correctly cataloged by gender, age, profession, etc., finding sections of the Cappuccinos friars, nuns, children, teachers and even the aristocracy of the time.
Not all corpses are equally preserved, so we find from pure skeletons to embalmed bodies that allow to see more details.
The visit was somewhat gloomy. There was practically no one and we were lost in innumerable corridors surrounded by hundreds of corpses. Suddenly a monk in a brown robe and hood that covered most of his face appeared. Ascen could not help but let out a scream. We do not know with certainty if the scene seemed funny to the monk or if he was frightened by the scream; He disappeared down a corridor and we did not see him again.
Continuing back to the historic center, we could not miss one of the most well-known points of the city. The intersection of Quattro Canti already mentioned above.
It is located at the crossroads of the Corso Vittorio Emanuele Avenue with the Via Maqueda. Thus divide the four quadrants of the four neighborhoods (La Kalsa, Vucciria, Capo and Albergheria). This intersection consists of a square surrounded by a circle of historic buildings forming a unique perspective.
It was built inspired in the Quattro fontane of Rome in the 17th century. It emphasizes above the effect of the sun illuminating the different facades with the passage of the hours. It is as if it were a solar clock. For that reason also it was nicknamed “Il teatro del sole”.
The architecture of the façades is similar, changing the sculptures and inscriptions. The structure is as follows: 4 virgins at the top, 4 kings at the middle (including Charles V and Philip IV) and 4 springs at the base with 4 nymphs representing the 4 seasons.
Next to Quattro Canti, down to Vía Maqueda is the one that, for us, was the most beautiful square and fountain in Palermo, Piazza Pretoria, surrounded by Palaces and the imposing Fontana Pretoria in the center.
The fountain is covered with statues of nymphs, newts and gods. Unlike the rest of the city here everything is marble, lights and splendor. For a moment it moves you to the famous piazze and fontane of Rome, distancing you from the chipped palermitanis.
CHIESA DI SAN CATALDO
Following the direction of the street and just next to Piazza Pretoria we find the Chiesa di San Cataldo. We could not see its interior, since it was a wedding at that time. The print reminds of the descriptions of stone, sun and palm trees that Giuseppe de Lampedusa made in his book “Il Gattopardo”
CALA DI PALERMO
To finish your day in Palermo I recommend you to visit the neighborhood of Kalsa to the Cala di Palermo; the oldest port in the city, where we took a leisurely walk, ending our visit to Palermo.
Our advice is to accompany your walk along this port with one of the marvels of Sicily, the thousand flavors and types of granites, or crushed ice, ideal for cooling off the powerful Sicilian sun.
In the neighborhood of La Kalsa, next to Cala di Palermo, we find the Piazza Marina. In the area of this square is the park of Villa Garibardi, a place that many tourists decide to visit on their day trip to Palermo.
Although the square is surrounded by several historic buildings, what stands out is a Ficus Macrophylla that turns out to be the largest in Europe.
We recommend visiting the square on Sundays, since this day of the week a very busy antique and books market is set up.
OTHER THINGS TO do IN PALERMO
Here we give you some alternatives to do in Palermo if you visit this city more than one day.
On the outskirts of Palermo, we find one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Europe, the Duomo di Monreale, built by the Norman king Wilhelm II. This cathedral is the best representation of Norman building that we find in the world, where Arab and European artistic currents are interspersed with impressive medieval mosaics in which more than 2,200kg of gold were used.
To get the best panoramic view of Palermo is highly recommended to climb the roof of the cathedral.
Bus line 389 is taken at Piazza Indipendenza in Palermo, next to the Norman Palace and takes you to Monreale. The journey takes about an hour, or maybe more depending on traffic. Keep in mind that buses run every hour and a half so the bus option is only good if you travel to Palermo for more than a day and you are not in a hurry.
If you are going to spend more than a day in Palermo you may want to take a day off the route to go to the beach. The closest beach in Palermo is Mondello. This town is only 13 kilometers from the center of Palermo. Although at the beginning it was a fishing village, is now totally touristy. For this reason in summer it is crowded, both during the day, where Sicilians and tourists go to enjoy the beach, and at night, where the summer terraces are filled.
To get to Mondello from Palermo you can take the 806 bus from the Politeama Theater, which runs every 20 minutes and takes approximately 50 minutes to arrive.
With this we finish the guide of things to do in Palermo in one day. However, here are two sections that will be very useful if you visit this city.
HOW TO GET TO PALERMO FROM THE AIRPORT
Palermo is a real chaos in terms of traffic. If you make a stop in Palermo during a cruise on the Mediterranean there is no problem, but if your idea is to rent a car to make a Sicily road trip, I recommend you don’t enter the city by car.
The best way to get to Palermo from the airport is by the 29 bus line, which leaves from the airport to Piazza Giulio, where the central bus station is located.
Driving is not only difficult for this city. Finding parking in Palermo is almost impossible and in the end it is quite likely that you have to park it in a paid parking.
We spent our first day on the island in Palermo, and the next day we returned by bus to the airport to pick up our rental car. Although on the website of the company indicate that the airport – Palermo journey is 20 minutes, the truth is that it is longer than 40 minutes. The price of the round trip ticket is € 10 per person.
accommodation in palermo
We stayed at the Capo neighborhood . This district was the quietest and least frequented by tourists, so we found an apartment that was fairly well priced.
If on the other hand you want to stay in the center of Palermo, where all the movement of the city is, I would recommend you to stay in the Vucciria neighborhood. Although the area is usually more expensive, we can also find cheap accommodation.
The neighborhood of La Kalsa is also a good option to stay, since we will also be near the port and the bus station. This hotel is not badly priced compared with other accommodation we saw and it noted for its excellent breakfast.
However, if you want to have the best views of Palermo from your window then you can not miss this accommodation in the neighborhood of Albergheria.
Keep in mind that any of these 4 central neighborhoods are very close to each other and you can walk anywhere, so more than looking at the neighborhood where you stay, I recommend you choose an accommodation whose quality price is good.
If the four options that we have proposed do not convince you, you can always look for other accommodation in Palermo from here.
If you book your hotel through our Booking links, we will take a small fee without affecting the price paid by the reader. Buying through them helps us to continue with this project.
Also, if you prefer to book with Airbnb instead of Booking, here we leave you a € 25 discount on Airbnb.
WHERE TO EAT in palermo
Our only day in Palermo let us to delight the amazing italian food. More than planned meals we stopped to take anything in the middle of the road. For Ascen it was her first day in Italy so she wanted to try everything. An Arancino accompanied by a rich Estathé in Mercato Della Vucciria; a Trancio di pizza in Cattedrale di Palermo, the first of many gelatti di Pistacchio we ate along the whole trip…
The only time we sat down to eat, and even so was improvised, was at Pizza Ferrari.
We entered this restaurant simply because it was the only thing we found open at 11 o’clock at night. On the outside it looked like a normal pizzeria. However, we were surprised by the amazing pizzas they made, one of the best we tried on our whole Sicily road trip. Trying one of their pizzas accompanied by a Peroni, Italian beer, is undoubtedly one of the best plans to do in Palermo. You just need to look at the menu to make you drool.
And with this map of Palermo, where we have indicated all the points of interest and tourist attractions that we have mentioned, we finish this article.