The Best Things to do in Palermo, Italy

The 15 Best Things to do in Palermo, Sicily

An ancient city with roots that almost go back to the beginning of civilization, Palermo is a cultural melting pot full of amazing things to do. Boasting gorgeous architecture that’s Italian, Norman, Arabian, Byzantine, and Roman all at once, walking around in Palermo is like being in many different places at the same time.

Whatever type of experience you’re looking for, you’ll find it here. Whether you want to spend your days gazing at dazzling churches or gorgeous beaches, watching world-class shows at ancient theaters, or eating your way through the city’s cobblestone streets, you’ll never get bored in Palermo.

From 500-year-old fountains, almost millennia-old cathedrals, and traditional puppet shows to contemporary art galleries, modern Carnival parades, and breathtaking wineries, Palermo is an intoxicating mix of old and new.

With so many things to see and do, it can be tricky to know where to begin. To help you out, we’ve put together a list of the absolute best things to do in Palermo. Add these fun activities and attractions to your Palermo bucket list, and you’re guaranteed to have an amazing time exploring the Sicilian capital!

15 Fun and Unique Things to Do In Palermo

1. Watch a Traditional Puppet Show

Cool Things to do in Palermo: Traditional Puppet Show

One of the most popular Palermo activities is to see an authentic puppet show. Known locally as Opera dei Pupi, these shows are a huge cultural tradition that has been going on for centuries. The puppets, stories, and skills are passed on through generations, so you could find yourself watching a show with puppets that are hundreds of years old. 

The Teatro dell’Opera dei Pupi in Palermo’s Jewish Quarter is one of the best places to watch a puppet show. Here you can witness incredible performances based on gallant knights, damsels in distress, notorious bandits, and many other characters based on medieval literature and Italian Renaissance poetry. 

If you want to learn more about Sicilian puppet shows, take a trip to the Museo delle Marionette. Here you can check out a huge collection of more than 5,000 historical puppets, including marottes, marionettes, shadow puppets, and hand puppets from all over the world! 

2. Climb to the Top of the Palermo Cathedral

Fun Things to do in Palermo: Palermo Cathedral

Seeing the magnificent Palermo Cathedral should definitely be on your to-do list. But if you’re searching for the coolest things to do in Palermo, you should head inside and climb to the top!

Because Palermo has been conquered by many different nations and empires, the cathedral features a myriad of different styles, making it a remarkable building. It was originally constructed in 1185, but it’s been added to and modified countless times over the centuries. It’s even had many different uses, including once being a mosque and another time a crypt. 

Before you head to the top, it’s worth checking out the treasure chamber. Here you can admire all kinds of artifacts from periods throughout history. You can also see the tomb of Emperor Frederick II.

The views from the rooftop terraces are some of the most spectacular in Palermo. From up here, you’ve got excellent views of the surrounding buildings, and you can see almost the entire city laid out before you.

Book an Art and Architecture Walking Tour

3. Soak up the Sun at Mondello Beach

Palermo Things to do: Mondello Beach

When you need a break from all the Palermo sightseeing, take it easy and spend a day at one of Palermo’s beautiful beaches. The city boasts many stunning bays, but our favorite is definitely Mondello Beach. 

This gorgeous beach is made up of super-soft golden sands and gentle aquamarine waters that lap the shore. The water temperature rarely drops below 75°F, so you can swim at any time of year. The enchanting mountain backdrop and consistently clear blue skies make this spot even more enchanting. 

There’s a huge number of sun loungers and umbrellas, so you’ll always find a great spot, no matter how busy it is. There’s also a pier in the center of the beach where you can take a stroll and check out the restaurant and bar. 

Mondello Beach is just a short drive or bus ride away from the center of Palermo, and spending the day here is a great way to recharge for more sightseeing.

Book a Mondello Tour

4. Check out the Palermo Archeological Museum

If you want to learn more about the history of the local area, spending a few hours at the city’s Archeological Museum is one of the best things to do in Palermo. It’s located just a short distance from the Teatro Massimo, making it a convenient place to stop if you’re checking out the sights.

The museum houses a vast assortment of ancient Greek art and other fascinating artifacts which were discovered in Palermo and the rest of Sicily. All the displays are divided into independent sections, making it easy to work your way around. Our favorite sections were the Roman artifacts, Phoenician relics, and underwater discoveries. 

Some of the most interesting pieces include the Palermo Stone, which is engraved with a list of Egyptian kings from the 1st to the 5th dynasty. The marble statue of Satyr is also definitely worth seeing, as are the lion statues that were uncovered at the ancient site of Selinunte.

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5. Fall in Love with cannoli

Unique Things to do in Palermo: Cannoli

There are loads of delicious things to eat in Palermo, and cannoli is one of the things you’ve absolutely got to try. An iconic dessert that was first invented in Sicily, cannoli makes a wonderful afternoon snack or a sweet treat to end a meal.

A cannolo (the singular version of cannoli) is made of a delicate pastry shell that is deep-fried until crisp and golden brown. It’s then piped with a wonderfully sweet and creamy ricotta cheese filling.

Traditional cannoli are filled with sweetened ricotta and chocolate chips or sweetened pistachio-flavored ricotta. But there are some really creative pastry chefs in Palermo who take the classic fillings to a whole new level.

Cannoli are so popular you’ll find them in every bakery and grocery store throughout Palermo. Pasticceria Fratelli Magrì is the place we had the best-ever Sicilian cannoli. They’re simple, traditional, and taste superb. The pastry shop also does loads of other classic Sicilian desserts if a single cannolo doesn’t satisfy your sweet tooth.

Book a Traditional Food Tour

6. See Amazing Artwork Inside the Cappella Palatina

Fun Things to do in Palermo: Cappella Palatina

If you’re stuck for what to do in Palermo, visit the Cappella Palatina. This magnificent chapel is in the center of the city and is one of the best-preserved pieces of Byzantine artwork and architecture in all of Europe. 

The grandiose structure was built in 1132 and is dedicated to Saint Peter. It looks pretty impressive from the outside, but step inside, and you’ll be truly amazed. 

There’s so much going on inside the chapel that you could spend hours just taking it all in. The central basilica is blanketed in intricate mosaics that are almost too detailed to be real. Every inch of the walls and ceilings is jam-packed with historical and religious iconography. 

Even the shape of the basilica is fascinating. The arches, domes, and columns all come together to create an extraordinary piece of art you’ll want to take pictures of from every angle possible. Even if you’re not really into churches or architecture, the Cappella Palatina is definitely worth a visit. 

Book a Cappella Palatina Walking Tour

7. Explore the Capuchin Catacombs

What to do in Palermo: Capuchin Catacombs

For one of the most unique things to do in Palermo, visit the place where the living meet the dead. Palermo’s Capuchin Catacombs is a one-of-a-kind cultural heritage site that houses a vast number of skeletons and well-preserved bodies from centuries ago.

The bodies you can see here were preserved using advanced embalming techniques and kept in their original clothing. There are more than 8,000 skeletons and bodies hanging from the walls, many of which are dressed in their finest clothes. It’s definitely not for everyone, but if you’re fascinated by the macabre, you’ll find this place captivating. 

The oldest bodies date back to the 1560s, while the newest ones were placed in the catacombs in the 1920s. There’s a wide cross-section from all walks of life, including infants, priests, and doctors. 

Although it may be tricky to imagine, the Capuchin Catacombs isn’t a frightening or morbid place. When you’re there, it’s very calm, peaceful, and spiritual. It’s definitely worth visiting if you’ve never been anywhere like this before. 

Book a Capuchin Catacombs Tour

8. Watch a Summer Show at the Villa Castelnuovo

Best Things to do in Palermo: Teatro Massimo

One of the most fun things to do in Palermo is to watch one of the amazing performances at the Teatro Massimo. But if you’re planning to visit the city in the summer, you can watch an even more spectacular performance in the park of Villa Castelnuovo. 

Every year between June/July and August/September, the Teatro Massimo moves its program to this beautiful open-air location. 

Most of the shows are opera performances featuring prolific local and international acts. But there are some other show varieties, too, such as ballets, orchestral performances, and choir recitals. There’s nothing like sitting outside on a balmy summer evening and watching world-famous shows being performed by some of the most talented artists on the planet.

The open-air theater has room for 750 people, but the summer shows are always really popular. To make sure you get a seat, we recommend you grab tickets as soon as you can!

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9. Recharge at the Botanical Garden

Fun Things to do in Palermo: Botanical Garden

If you’re in need of a little peace and quiet, spend a few hours at Palermo’s botanical garden. The marvelous garden was founded by the University of Palermo in 1789 and now covers a huge space of 4 hectares.

Take a stroll around, and you’ll see a massive collection of rare and unusual plants from all over the world. The garden also features a number of native trees and plants, which are simply stunning. Keep an eye out for the ancient ceiba trees, some of which are staggeringly huge!

As well as all the plants, trees, and flowers, the garden also has a number of beautiful features. Inside you’ll find lily-covered ponds, centuries-old statues, and greenhouses with giant replica dinosaur skeletons.

There’s also a cute cafe where you can sip a coffee and enjoy this tranquil piece of nature in the middle of the busy city.

10. Nibble on Arancini

What to do in Palermo: Arancini

When you’re in the mood for a snack, find the nearest cafe and order some arancini. Arancini (also known as arancina or arancino – the singular version) is a delectable ball of saffron-infused rice which is stuffed with delicious ingredients, covered in fine breadcrumbs, and deep-fried to crispy golden perfection. 

You’ll find all sorts of arancini fillings in Palermo, from simple mozzarella to lamb ragu. You’ll also find them in all different sizes. Some are literally bite-sized, while others are as big as your hand and are as filling as a complete meal.

Arancini can be found all over Palermo, from street food stalls to cafes and restaurants. Bar Vabres is a fantastic place for arancini. Every day they serve all kinds of wonderful arancini stuffed with mozzarella, ragu, bacon, sausage, and provolone cheese. Visit on a weekend, and you’ll have the chance to try their sweet chocolate arancini, too.

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11. Watch the Spectacular Parade at Carnevale di Acireale

Cool Things to do in Palermo: Carnevale di Acireale

For some of the best sights in Palermo, time your vacation for the city’s Carnival. Held between February and March in Acireale each year (the dates change depending on when Easter falls), this celebration is one of the most colorful, extravagant, and entertaining in Palermo’s events calendar. 

The parade is definitely one of the highlights. Elaborate floats covered in giant characters from children’s stories and local folklore move down the street while music plays and people stare in awe. There’s singing, dancing, and a fantastic party atmosphere that will sweep you up with it. 

As well as the parade, there’s loads of other stuff going on in Palermo during Carnival. People dress up and put on traditional Sicilian masks. There are also dramatic historical re-enactments and silly pantomimes the whole family can enjoy.

There’s also a special parade in which the Carnival King puppet waltzes through the streets accompanied by a local band. It’s quite a thing to see!

12. Get Inspired at RISO

If you’re in the mood for a little culture, one of the top things to do in Palermo is to spend a few hours at RISO. The city’s contemporary art gallery, RISO is tucked inside the glamorous Palazzo Belmonte Riso and is a beautiful place to walk around.

Although the permanent collection is relatively small, the gallery hosts many temporary exhibits and almost always has something new and interesting to see. Here you can admire artwork from some renowned local and international artists, such as Richard Long and Ai Weiwei.

The palace itself is one of the most impressive parts of the art gallery. It was built in the final days of the Sicilian Baroque period in the 18th century and was owned by the Prince of Belmonte. In the 19th century, it was handed to Baron Riso. You can still see Baron Riso’s marble coat of arms above the entrance to the gallery today.

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13. Check out the Statues at Fontana Pretoria

Unique Things to do in Palermo: Fontana Pretoria

You’ll find some of the best things to see in Palermo at Fontana Pretoria. This fountain is located in the middle of Piazza Pretoria and boasts 12 gorgeous and incredibly detailed statues.

The magnificent fountain was built by a Florentine architect in 1554 before it was sold off to pay some major debts and transferred to Palermo in 1574. The marble statues that decorate it feature the 12 Olympians from ancient Greek mythology, including Ares, Apollo, Poseidon, and Zeus. The other statues you can see represent the rivers and animals of Palermo.

Although its real name is Piazza Pretoria, the square was often called the Square of Shame due to the nude statues. There’s a nuns’ convent nearby, and rumor has it that the nuns would run out each morning to cover the statues with clothes!

You won’t spend hours at the fountain, but it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re in the area.

14. Go on a Wine Tasting Tour

Palermo Things to do: Wine Tasting Tour

When you need to relax, one of the most fun things to do in Palermo is to sign up for a wine tasting tour. Sicilian wines are wonderfully rich and diverse, making Palermo a great place to explore vineyards and sip on their creations.

This 2-hour cheese and wine tasting tour is fantastic. You don’t visit a vineyard – instead, you unwind in a gorgeous 16th-century home as you sip and nibble. 

You’ll get the chance to try six local wines along with six local cheeses. You’ll also discover how to identify and properly taste everything you try. At the end, you’ll be treated to some typical desserts and dessert wine.

If you’ve got a full day to spare, consider going a little further afield. This tour takes you out into Camporeale to the Porta del Vento winery. You’ll get to stroll around the estate and find out exactly how wine is made. You’ll also get to sample local products and wines and even have the opportunity to join in with a cooking class.

15. Try a Little Bit of Everything at Palermo Manciataria

Cool Things to do in Palermo: Palermo Manciataria

One of the must-do things in Palermo at any time of year is to check out the Palermo Manciataria. A huge food tour that starts from Piazza Marina, this gastronomic event gives you the chance to discover the amazing world of Sicilian cuisine.

Led by a knowledgeable foodie guide, the tour takes you through the old streets of the city center, stopping at the best places to try traditional Sicilian cuisine. From arancini and cannoli to panelle (chickpea fritters) and crocchè (fried mashed potato balls), you’ll get to sample all sorts of local delights your taste buds will get addicted to.

Unfortunately, there’s no set calendar for Palermo Manciataria. It can happen at almost any time of year. Be on the lookout for posters around Piazza Marina advertising the event, or pop into a tourist information center and ask the staff there.

If there’s no Palermo Manciataria during your visit, you can always join this fun street food tour where you can sample everything from sfincione (Sicilian pizza) to cannolo while taking in Palermo’s most iconic sights and attractions. 

Book a Street Food Walking Tour

There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Palermo. What’s your favorite thing to do in Palermo, Italy? 

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