Sicily has a special place in our hearts. The street food (arancini!), spectacular Arab-Norman architecture, and a plethora of authentic sights make Palermo a true, southern Italian gem. For those with just 1 day in Palermo, we’ve put together our favorite sights in the city as well as some tasty eats!
This city is bursting with culture and they have a real passion for food. What’s not to like about that?
Why don’t as many people make it down to this part of the country as they do in Tuscany and Venice? We’re not sure but we’re okay with the smaller crowds!
Things to Note in Palermo
Let’s skip the headache of figuring out public transport and just accept that walking is the main mode of getting around. Especially for travelers, getting around the city by public transport can be pretty difficult. However, all the attractions are pretty tightly packed into one area and Palermo is very walkable. Wear proper walking attire!
Palermo is a Big, Busy City
It’s the biggest in Sicily and is humming with life, both day and night. Unfortunately, in our opinion, scooters are everywhere you look. It reminds us a little of Asia in that regard. Even so, Palermo is a safe, friendly city. It’s just loud!
As always, with any city in the world, keep an eye on your belongings at all times and don’t show off your Prada handbag. That only brings attention to you!
It’s Not Tuscany (Northern Italy)
It’s common sense that Palermo isn’t Tuscany. Duh.
Even so, we can’t tell you how many people seem to expect Palermo, and the rest of Sicily, to be like the more northern parts of the country (Siena, Rome, Florence).
But that’s a good thing! Palermo and the rest of the island are unique. Their culture is unique. Their food is to die for. We think it’s incredible. So be prepared for a different side of Italy.
Our advice? Don’t have expectations and let the adventure unfold organically!
The Godfather is a Movie, Not Real Life
Don’t expect the Sicilian people or way of life to be exactly like you’ve seen in Hollywood. Yes, the mafia was a real and terrible part of Sicily’s past but things have drastically changed here!
One Day in Palermo Itinerary
There’s no better place to start your day!
Palermo is famed for its markets and your day isn’t complete without stopping by at least one. There are four main markets: Capo, Bellaro, Borgo Vecchio and Vucciria.
Which one should you visit? If you can, visit them all! However, Vucciria seems to be lacking its luster during the day. At night, though, it’s an entirely different story!
Our favorite market in town is Capo; we walked from end to end multiple times during our day in Palermo. You can find a few restaurants with tables if you’d like to grab a seat and relax or you can grab and go. We snatched a seat (it gets busy!) for a late breakfast/early lunch and tried many Sicilian specialties!
You’ll also find some shaved ice with fresh squeezed orange juice (granita)! It’s a must-try. There are also vendors selling fresh produce as well as local products like spices, cookies, etc….
It’s not unheard of to make multiple visits throughout the day to these markets. Whether you want a snack or just another glimpse into Sicilian life, these markets are a cheap and tasty activity!
Quattro Canti is a symbolic architectural masterpiece. Located at the crossroads of Maqueda and Vittorio Emanuele, visitors will want to take some time and observe the details here.
At the lowest level you can find a representation of the four seasons. Above the seasons are four Spanish kings and at the highest level are patron saints of Palermo.
Praetorian Fountain (Fountain of Shame)
Just off to the side of Quattro Canti is another famous spot in Palermo: Praetorian Fountain. This fountain, which dates back to the 16th century, is really big. This is a great spot to catch your breath and appreciate some of Palermo’s past. You’ll see the town hall, as well as some immaculate churches (which you should enter!).
This fountain is also known by its other name: the Fountain of Shame. Due to the close vicinity of the many nude statues to the churches and convents, it caused quite a stir. Hence the name!
Fun Fact: this fountain was originally created for a garden in Florence but was relocated to Palermo.
If you’ve seen The Godfather Part III (it’s by far the worst one – not even close) then you’ve seen the Massimo Theatre! When Al Pacino and company are leaving the opera house near the end of the film, they are walking down the front steps.
The 3rd largest opera house in Europe, Massimo is thought to be haunted. Churches were destroyed for it to be built and apparently a nun’s tomb was desecrated in the process. Now she haunts the backstage of the theater. Spooky!
You can tour the inside or just admire the architecture from the street.
What a beautiful mix of Arab and Norman architecture! The courtyard in front of the cathedral is the perfect spot to appreciate this iconic Norman facade. However, step around to the side for a less crowded and different look at the cathedral’s Arab influence.
Venture inside for free and appreciate the huge interior. Like most of Italy’s cathedrals, this one is pretty immaculate. Be sure and find the dedication to Giuseppe Puglisi, a local anti-mafia priest who was murdered on his 56th birthday.
In addition, you can also visit the crypts, roof, and treasury for 7 euros. If you’d like to visit one and not the others, you can purchase them separately.
For even more insight regarding the wonderful architecture of Palermo, head to the Norman Palace. Here you’ll find the likes of Byzantine, Arab, and Norman all mixed together.
The real gem of Norman Palace? Palatine Chapel. There will be a ton of tour groups going in and out so if crowds aren’t your thing, plan your visit to the chapel as soon as it opens or near closing time.
Tickets for the palace and chapel are 12 euros per person. Honestly, we think the price is a little steep. We loved the chapel itself but everything else was just okay. Again, there were a ton of guided tours going through so this probably didn’t help our experience!
Caffè del Kassaro
We stumbled upon this amazing eatery by accident. You can’t go wrong with food in Italy (except maybe at McDonald’s) but Caffè del Kassaro is special. Their prices are ridiculously cheap when you consider the quality and quantity of food.
Enjoy a relaxed lunch with a carafe of cool white wine, grab a pizza, or try the carbonara. It’s only open until 3:30 pm so if you time your trip to the market right, you can have a late lunch and be satisfied until dinner.
Stroll Down Vittorio Emanuele
It may not be the same as walking down the Champs Elysees in Paris but it’s waaaaay less crowded and entertaining nonetheless! Better yet, it’s free!
Waltz down Vittorio Emanuele (it leads to the cathedral and palace) and admire the pottery shops, puppet makers and so much more. If it’s a hot summer day (it was hot enough for us in September) grab a table on the street to people watch and sip on an Aperol spritz or coffee.
“Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli”…Lots of Cannoli
Do we usually recommend stopping in the city center for anything besides sights? Not if you’re on a budget!
However, Palermo is an exception! There are cheap, authentic eats all throughout the popular spots (Caffè del Kassaro included). So, when your sweet tooth is shouting out to you for satisfaction, Cannolissimo is your go-to. Try the essential Sicilian dessert: cannoli.
There are other treats inside as well so sample away if you desire but don’t leave without trying the cannoli! So good!
Sicilian Carts (and trucks!)
This is a unique item of Palermo (and Sicily) that we don’t find mentioned much on other 1 day itineraries. However, Sicilian carts are a work of art. They were used for hard work, of course, but today are very popular souvenirs in shops.
Buy one to take home if you like but otherwise, wander the streets of Palermo and seek out these beautiful pieces. We found several in an alley near the cathedral. The detail is amazing!
If your interest in these historic carts is peaked then head to Terrasini (outside of Palermo) where there’s an entire museum dedicated to just that: Museo del Carretto Siciliano.
Have more than one day in Palermo? Here are some options for other fun things to do!
Whether you’re a fan of the Godfather films or you just love authenticity, visiting Corleone is a fantastic experience for travelers in Sicily. It’s easily reachable by car or is more difficult to reach by public transport.
Check out our post on a lovely afternoon in Corleone for deets on what to see and eat!
One of the most popular beach destinations in Sicily, Cefalu is next door to Palermo. Unlike many European beaches, Cefalu is all soft sand. Its Norman cathedral is another architectural masterpiece and one of the best views in Sicily is there!
San Vito Lo Capo
A car is required for this one! If you’re antsy about getting behind the wheel in Sicily, we’ve got you covered. Read our tips for driving in Sicily; if we can do it then so can you!
San Vito was perfect. Seriously. Maybe it’s because we visited after summer (late September) but the crowds weren’t bad and the weather was pleasant. That water though… It’s so clear and a beautiful blue. Add the fact that the surrounding area is super scenic and you’ve got a must-see. It’s just under 2 hours by car.
Valley of the Temples
Lastly, for those who appreciate history and stunning views, the Valley of the Temples is a must while on the island. It’s reachable by public transport so no worries if you don’t have four wheels.
Admire temples that have been standing for more than two millennia and see the ruins of what used to be the gigantic Temple of Zeus. The park is huge, to say the least. Head early or late to avoid the guided tours and eat in Agrigento, not the park! Or bring snacks.
Summary of 1 Day in Palermo
We hope your one day in Palermo is fantastic just like our time in the city was. The food beckons us back and we will return one day to do it all over again. Enjoy Sicily!