Planning out a Palermo itinerary can be one of the most exciting (or overwhelming) things to do when mapping out a trip to Sicily. As the capital of this island region of Italy, Palermo is a vibrant, loud and dynamic city that is an absolute joy to visit – but there is a lot to this city that planning out how exactly to spend 1, 2 or 3 days in Palermo can seem a bit daunting.
Palermo has a lot to offer visitors – beautiful city streets, bustling markets, an undeniable energy and interesting historic sites. However, the city is also compact enough that you can also cover quite a bit of ground and see a number of the highlights in just a short amount of time.
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How Many Days in Palermo?
While you could easily spend weeks or months in this city and feel as if you’ve barely scratched the surface, this isn’t necessarily a practical answer for most potential travellers.
The good news is that Palermo is quite a compact city and you can easily see the top sites within the span of a single day. However, spending only one day in Palermo may still feel a bit rushed if you also want to kick back, relax and enjoy the energy of this city.
If you have 2 days in Palermo, that will allow you to slow down a bit and enjoy a few more sites that the city has to offer. You will be able to dig a bit deeper and explore some neighbourhoods that are slightly off the beaten tourist trail.
Spending 3 days can be ideal if you want to explore some areas nearby the city. Whether that be the beaches of Cefalu, the temples of Segesta, the cathedral of Monreale or elsewhere, there are countless places that are within easy reach of the Sicilian capital that can give you a more holistic view of Sicily as a whole and not just its largest city.
Getting To & Around Palermo
Palermo is home to its own international airport and, along with the second-largest city of Catania, is likely going to be your point of entry into Sicily. And whether you fly into Palermo or Catania, you’re going to need to figure out how to get into the city centre.
Palermo airport is located about 35km outside of the city centre and you can opt to either take a bus or a taxi to the city centre. The bus, run by company Terravision, is €6 per person and takes about fifty minutes.
If you opt to take a taxi, the fares to the city centre will start at €35-40. Keep in mind that taxi scams are relatively common at the airport and to ensure that the meter is running when you are in the taxi. Another option, to avoid being taken advantage of, is to book a transfer in advance here.
For those who are arriving in Palermo by car, keep in mind that driving in the city can be incredibly hectic and stressful and is really only recommended to confident, experienced drivers. You can view car rental options here.
Once in Palermo, you will find that the city is very easy to navigate on foot. As most of the top sites are within easy reach of each other, it’s simple to walk from point A to B without much of a worry. If you need to get further afield, there is an extensive bus network to utilise, as well.
2 to 3 Days in Palermo Itinerary
With its electric energy and chaotic nature, Palermo is a far cry from cities like Florence or Venice. However, there is so much to do in Sicily’s capital and the below itinerary outlines just how you should your time in Palermo.
Day 1 – City Centre Highlights
Begin your trip to Palermo as the locals do – with a proper Italian breakfast (colazione in Italian)! Find yourself a cafe, order a coffee and grab a pastry.
Cornettos are traditional (basically the Italian version of a croissant filled with jam, nutella, vanilla custard or pistachio cream) but you could also opt for something very Sicilian – like a granita with alongside a brioche roll!
If you’re looking for a central place for breakfast, we can recommend heading to Caffetteria del Corso.
Pretoria Fountain & Quattro Canti
After a leisurely coffee and pastry, make your way to some of Palermo’s most famous sites – the Quattro Canti and the Pretoria Fountain on Via Maqueda. The Quattro Canti is a vibrant piazza that serves as the convergence of four major city streets in the Palermo city centre.
Just around the corner from the Quattro Canti is the Pretoria Fountain, a grand fountain in its own piazza surrounded by some of Palermo’s iconic churches and it has sat in this piazza since the late 16th Century.
It is quite the site to see and something that absolutely needs to be a stop on your Palermo itinerary to appreciate the Baroque architecture.
Admire Palermo’s Churches
No visit to any Italian city — be it Florence, Rome, Milan or Turin — is complete without taking in some spectacular churches and Palermo is no different. While the Palermo Cathedral is a stop on its own, there are countless other historic and beautiful churches to visit in the city centre.
Just from the Quattro Canti, you can see and get to a number of the most beautiful churches in Palermo.
These include the Chiesa di Santa Caterina, the Chiesa di San Cataldo and the Chiesa di Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio. If it interests you, most of these churches are open to visitors (generally outside of mass times) for a small fee.
Mercato di Ballaro
After wandering around the city centre and admiring some of the buildings and streets that make Palermo so famous, it’s time to go to one of the most chaotic, electric and vibrant parts of the city – the Mercato di Ballaro. This open-air market is the largest in the city and it is truly an experience to behold.
When you enter the area for the market, it can be easy to feel a bit underwhelmed – the first hundred metres or so are filled with junk and tourist kitsch, but I encourage you to keep walking deeper into the market to really see what it has to offer.
The market is winding, incredibly busy, loud and seems never-ending as you wander through it. The stalls are narrow and you do need to be aware of motorbikes making their way through the pathways along with pedestrians.
You will see all kinds of Sicilian produce being hawked here – from fresh seafood to beautiful fruits and vegetables to fragrant herbs and spices that make the cuisine so flavourful. You will also hear the vendors yelling at each other or advertising what it is they are selling.
I urge you not to skip this market if you want to get a feel for how alive and vibrant Palermo can be as it provides an excellent insight into the culture and soul of the city.
After making your way around the market and exploring some of Palermo’s top sites, it’s likely that you’ve worked up quite an appetite.
Fortunately enough, there are countless fantastic eateries where you can sample the local cuisine at affordable prices. Whether you feel like grabbing a fresh arancine from a street vendor at the market or are looking for a sit-down meal, you can find it here.
If you’re looking for a great lunchtime spot, we can recommend a meal at Trattoria Grano Gratis which has a lot of traditional Sicilian dishes at affordable prices. Alternatively, Salumeria Alcolica in the Kalsa neighbourhood is also a fantastic choice.
Palazzo dei Normanni
After lunch, it’s time to pick up and start sightseeing again and head to the Normal Palace of Palermo. This imposing Palace has stood, in one form or another, since the 12th Century following the Norman conquest of Sicily.
For centuries, it was the official residence of the Kings of Sicily and today it serves as the seat Sicilian Regional Assembly. It is considered to be the oldest royal residence in Europe and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You can tour the palace and take in its history can splendour yourself. Tickets are €19 per person with concession prices available for those who qualify.
After visiting the grand Norman Palace, it’s only a few hundred metres before you reach the imposing Palermo Cathedral. This massive structure is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it is one of the top tourist sites in the city.
Originally built in the 12th Century, there have been numerous renovations and additions to this historic church over the centuries – with the last occurring in the 18th Century.
Visiting the cathedral is one of the top things to do in Palermo and there are a few different tiers of tickets available depending on what parts of the church you are interested in.
However, if you want to experience everything in the cathedral (including the roofs of the building), expect to spend €15 per person on a ticket – which can be purchased online in advance if you wish to skip the long queues.
If you want more context on some of the sites mentioned above, consider booking this guided tour which will take you to some of the top sites and markets in Palermo.
Another option is this street food and history tour that combines two of Palermo’s top activities! Alternatively, this guided walking tour will offer you insight into the mafia history and anti-mafia movement of the Sicilian capital.
After a long day of sightseeing, it’s time to kick back and enjoy another part of the Palermo lifestyle – aperitivo. There are so many bars and cafes that have good drink deals where you can get an affordable cocktail or beverage (usually for around €3-6) and purchase a bit of a snack as well.
This is also a great time of day to wander around some other neighbourhoods outside of the main city centre. We highly recommend getting a bit lost in the gorgeous neighbourhood of La Kalsa, which is one of the oldest in the city.
You can also opt to wander over to the waterfront – there is a nice promenade along the harbour. Here, you can enjoy the great energy or, if you’re after something sweet, pop into Graniteria a’ Cala to get some of the best granita in Palermo.
If you’re looking for a great place to relax, we can recommend heading to Taverna Celso in the city centre or, alternatively, to Botteghe Coletti, which is located very close to our next stop at Vucciria.
La Vucciria Market
End your day at one of the most famous spots in the city – La Vucciria. This is a night market known for its lively bars, cafes and street food vendors.
This area is definitely worth visiting, but I have to be honest that we were a bit disappointed in the street food offerings here. If you end up here after dark, however, there is no denying that it feels alive and electric.
If you’re looking for a great place for a drink and something to eat, we can highly recommend finding a place at Ai Bagnoli. This hip bar has good drink prices and you can even get a massive sharing platter (that is a meal in and of itself) for an affordable price.
Day 2 – Markets, Museums, Beaches & More!
For your first stop of the day, head over to Piazza Verdi and take in the imposing and beautiful Massimo Theatre.
This opera house is one of the largest in Europe and is considered to be the largest in Italy. It is well-known for its excellent acoustics and the architecture of the building is noteworthy.
The theatre was opened in 1898 and is still just as splendid today. If you’re keen to see the inside of this iconic building, you can go on a guided tour (€10 per person) which you can buy online in advance or purchase tickets for a performance.
If you’re interested in the ancient history of Palermo and Sicily as a whole, then you’re sure to love stopping at the Archaeological Museum. This museum is filled with an excellent collection of Greek and Punic art and antiquities that is sure to make all Classics nerds swoon.
The museum is open from Tuesday through Saturday and entry is €6 per person. Entry is free to all those under 18 (irrespective of nationality).
Mercato di Capo
Palermo is full of street markets and interesting places to visit and if you’re looking for another great market to see (and maybe sample some of Palermo’s famed street food), then head over to the Mercato di Capo.
This market is smaller and a little calmer and less overwhelming than the Mercato di Ballaro, but it is worth a stop anyhow.
The Mercato di Capo has similar produce stands as other markets and plenty of street food to choose from if you feel you need a snack or want to sample some fantastic Sicilian cuisine at an affordable price point.
If you want some context when sampling Sicilian street food, then consider going on this street food tour which will take you to the Mercato di Capo along with other stops along the way!
Especially if you’re visiting in the warmer months (which are most months in Sicily!), then spend the afternoon of your second day in the city enjoying the sunshine and sand at Mondello Beach.
The most famous beach near Palermo, it is also easy enough to reach for visitors regardless of how you choose to get there.
If you don’t have a car, you can reach Mondello via public bus line 806 from the city centre in about 30 minutes. Alternatively, you can also drive to the area in about the same amount of time. Once there, find a patch of sand and enjoy one of the top beaches on the island.
This stop is easiest if you have your own vehicle, however, it is doable via public transit, as well.
Monte Pellegrino is a hill that overlooks the city of Palermo and you can get to a viewpoint (either by hiking, driving or taking a public bus) to get some of the most spectacular views of the city below.
It is especially lovely to be here as the sun begins to set and it can be incredibly romantic if you choose to go with someone you love.
Day 3 – Day Trip to Monreale, Cefalu or Segesta
If you have 3 days in the city, this is the perfect opportunity to go on a day trip to somewhere nearby to the city. There are countless options to choose from, these are just a few.
If you’re looking for a quick, easy day trip from Palermo, then consider heading to Monreale.
This little town is located only about 11 kilometres outside of Palermo and it is well known for its beautiful cathedral. The Duomo di Monreale was first constructed in the 11th Century and it is renowned for its incredible mosaics and beautiful interior.
You can reach Monreale via public bus line 389P from the city centre of Palermo and the journey time take about an hour. Alternatively, you can opt to self-drive to the town, which will take about thirty minutes.
A very popular day trip destination from Palermo is the lovely seaside town of Cefalu. Known for it’s lovely beach, beautiful town centre, and gorgeous cliffs, Cefalu is an excellent place to visit as a day trip from the Sicilian Capital. You can spend the morning wandering around the town and the afternoon enjoying a leisurely time on the beach.
It is easy to reach Cefalu via regional train from Palermo in about 40 minutes – and trains run quite frequently. Alternatively, it is about an hour’s drive to reach the town.
If you’re interested in visiting both Monreale and Cefalu but don’t want to bother with public transit, then this half-day tour from Palermo can be an excellent option.
If it’s ancient ruins you’re interested in, then heading to the archaeological site of Segesta makes for the perfect day trip. Known for both its incredibly well-preserved temple and a nearby amphitheatre, this is a truly spectacular site to behold in Sicily.
If you wish to travel independently, Segesta is best reached by self-driving. The drive from Palermo to Segesta is about an hour and there is ample parking available at the site.
For those who want to see the most famous temples in Sicily, then consider heading on a day tour to the Valley of the Temples. This archaeological park near Agrigento is truly spectacular and well worth the visit.
Where to Stay in Palermo
Alma Hotel – A great mid-range option, this 3-star hotel makes for a great base in Palermo. They have a range of clean and comfortable rooms available, a fantastic central location and they offer a buffet breakfast each morning.
Casa Nostra Boutique Hotel – This hip boutique hotel is an excellent choice for those after a bit of luxury during their trip to the Sicilian capital. They have beautiful rooms on offer, plenty of great amenities and a location that is perfect for exploring the city.
Appartamento Piazza Pretoria – If you’d like to have your own flat in Palermo, then this fully furnished 2-bedroom apartment is an excellent option. Located close to the Pretoria Fountain, it has everything you will need during your stay in the city.
A Casa di Amici Boutique Hostel – For those travelling on a budget or solo, this hostel is a great choice for you. They have a good, social atmosphere, offer both dorms and private rooms and is well-located to explore all Palermo has to offer.
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Palermo hotels!
Planning a Palermo itinerary can feel a bit overwhelming when you consider just how much this vibrant city has to offer. And whether you only have one day here or can spend up to three, you’re sure to quickly fall for the Sicilian capital.
Are you planning to visit Palermo? Have any questions about the city? Let us know in the comments!