The Ultimate 2-Day Palermo Itinerary: Top Things To Do and See
The capital of Sicily was one of the stops on my road trip to western Sicily last May.
What to see and do in Palermo? What are the must-sees?
In this article, I share with you the ultimate 2-day Palermo itinerary for a weekend. I also tell you the top things to do and see in Palermo and its surroundings.
To visit Palermo, follow the guide!
Top things to see in Palermo in 2 days
Palermo, the capital of Sicily, seduced me with its rich history and dynamism. This Sicilian city is very cosmopolitan, just like Malta, where I live.
The history of Palermo is fascinating. Different powers have succeeded one another in this beautiful Italian city: the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Normans, the Spaniards…
Its fascinating architecture bears witness to the syncretism of Western, Islamic and Byzantine cultures.
Palermo boasts a number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Norman Palace and Palermo Cathedral.
The capital of Sicily is a perfect destination for a city break in Europe.
Here are the must-sees to include in your 2-day Palermo itinerary.
The Norman Palace and the Palatine Chapel
The Norman Palace is a top thing to see in Palermo. It is a perfect example of Palermo’s characteristic mix of influences. The Palazzo dei Normanni was originally a Punic fortress, before becoming a Roman fort, housing the Arab emirs and then the Norman kings. Today it is the seat of the Sicilian regional assembly.
The Norman Palace contains a real jewel: the Palatine Chapel, decorated with sumptuous Byzantine mosaics. Another remarkable feature is its wooden coffered ceiling, designed by workers from the Cairo caliphate.
Please check opening times and days before visiting. The Palace is sometimes closed for political events or religious ceremonies.
Because of that, we could not visit it from the inside (maybe next time?). However, we took the time to admire its exterior facade, typical of the Arab-Norman style. We took a short break in the park in front of it.
Note also that some parts are not open to the public during parliamentary sessions.
Visit the Norman Palace in the morning, as it is not always open in the afternoon.
Located near the Palazzo dei Normanni, Palermo Cathedral is another must-see monument in the Sicilian capital.
Its history reflects, once again, Palermo’s characteristic syncretism. It was built by a Norman archbishop in the XIIe century, on the site of a mosque (which was itself previously a basilica of the Roman Empire!).
Its white interior is soberer than that of many churches in Palermo. However, a visit to the interior of the cathedral is worthwhile: from the roof, you can enjoy an amazing view of Palermo.
The Quattro Canti (“four songs”) is another best place to visit in Palermo during your city break.
This square is located at the intersection of the two main streets of Palermo: via Maqueda (leading to the Teatro Massimo) and via Vittorio Emanuele (the street where the cathedral is located).
Piazza Quattro Canti’s architecture is unique.
The baroque building consists of four buildings with concave facades decorated with fountains and statues on three levels.
The fountains represent the four ancient rivers of the city. They are decorated with statues representing the four seasons.
Statues of the Spanish kings of Sicily adorn the second level.
On the top level, the protective statues of Palermo watch over the city.
The other name of the Quattro Canti is Piazza Villena or Vigliena.
Piazza Pretoria and its fountain
Piazza Pretoria is located very close to Quattro Canti. The beautiful Pretoria Fountain is located in the centre of this square. The fountain is adorned with statues, which have earned Piazza Pretoria its nickname: Piazza Vergogna (the square of shame). Why? The nudity of the statues was not always looked on favourably!
Piazza Pretoria is one of my favourites. A must-see when visiting Palermo in 2 days!
Churches to see in Palermo
You should definitely include churches in your 2-day Palermo itinerary!
The first church I recommend you visit in Palermo is the Chiesa di Santa Caterina d’Alessandria. This magnificent baroque church is a top thing to see in Palermo! It is located in the beautiful Piazza Bellini, in the historic centre of Palermo.
Piazza Bellini has the particularity of grouping together several churches. The two other churches to see in this square are:
– The Chiesa San Cataldo, boasting the Arab-Norman style. Its three red domes make it a remarkable church in Palermo.
– The Chiesa Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio (or Martorana), in Byzantine-Norman style. Its interior is decorated with splendid Byzantine mosaics. A beautiful monument to see during your visit to Palermo in Sicily!
The historic centre of Palermo includes other churches that are worth a visit:
– The Church of St. John of the Hermits with its typical Arab-Norman architecture,
– The Chiesa del Gesù, a beautiful baroque church richly decorated and topped by a turquoise dome.
The Ballarò market
When planning a 2-day itinerary in Palermo, don’t limit yourself to the Baroque and Arab-Norman monuments.
The Ballarò market is located just a few blocks from the above-mentioned monuments. Very typical, its authentic atmosphere makes it a must-see!
It is the ideal place to take a gourmet break and buy souvenirs. This emblematic market of Palermo is the perfect place to taste Sicilian street food.
One of the best things to do at this typical Sicilian market is to have pomegranate juice. This is definitely an experience worth coming to Ballarò market for! We were treated to a real street show, with the vendors singing Lasciatemi Cantare while dancing.
A real favourite!
By following this itinerary to visit Palermo in 2 days, take the time to get off the beaten track. Take a walk through the typical alleys and get a feel for everyday life in Sicily. Amidst the charmingly decayed buildings, grannies watch the passers-by from their balconies, while tuk-tuks zigzag through the narrow streets. Typical Mediterranean atmosphere, street art and other surprises await the curious traveller.
The Porta Nuova is located right next to the Norman Palace. It is representative of the triumphal architecture in Palermo. The present gate was rebuilt in 1669, after a gunpowder explosion.
One of the interests of this gate lies in the roof above it. This is covered with tiles representing an eagle with open wings, the symbol of Palermo.
Other monuments and things to see in Palermo in 2 days
The advantage of visiting Palermo in 2 days is that it gives you time to discover all the treasures of the Sicilian capital.
You need a day or less to see the best places to visit in Palermo, depending on your pace.
There are other monuments and areas to see in Palermo. You can use this list to complete your weekend itinerary in Palermo.
Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele
The Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele is the second-largest opera house in Italy!
The theatre can accommodate 1640 spectators and up to 700 actors on stage.
If you are curious, go to the Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele. The tour includes the auditorium, vestibule, dressing rooms, foyer, stairs…
Guided tours are even organised.
The Politeama Theatre, or Politeama Garibaldi, is a beautiful neoclassical building. With its facade resembling a Napoleonic triumphal arch, it is a must-see during your weekend in Palermo.
Catacombs of the Capuchins
A visit to the Capuchin catacombs is probably the most unusual activity to do in Palermo!
I did not visit the Capuchin catacombs. Indeed, the visit is somewhat gloomy.
Underground passages have been dug under the Capuchin monastery. They house an unlikely collection: thousands of mummies, arranged along the walls and organised according to the sex and status of the person. The best-preserved mummy is that of little Rosalia Lombardo, a two-year-old child who died of pneumonia.
Sensitive souls refrain!
The Zisa Palace is a Unesco World Heritage Site. This 12th-century Arab-Norman castle houses the Museum of Islamic Art.
The Kalsa district is located near the seaside of Palermo. It was founded by the Arabs (Kalsa derives from the Arabic al Khalisa, which means pure or chosen).
We stayed in the Kalsa during our road trip in western Sicily.
I suggest you start your visit from Piazza Pretoria. Go through the Vucciria market, the oldest market in Palermo.
If you have time, or if you stay in Palermo for three days, why not visit some palaces? The Sicilian capital has a number of palaces, several of which are in the Kalsa district: Palazzo Chiaramonte-Steri (which was the seat of the Inquisition Court), Palazzo Butera and Casa Museo Palazzo Mirto.
The Chiesa di Santa Maria dello Spasimo is a curious thing to see in the Kalsa district of Palermo. This is an open-air church: its construction has never been completed.
Finish your visit to the Kalsa district with the Piazza Marina and the Garibaldi Garden. The latter is home to the largest ficus in Europe (30 metres high!). Perfect for a little break during your visit to Palermo!
La Cala, Porta Felice and the Foro Italico
La Cala in Palermo is a small cove-shaped harbour with a few restaurants. It is an ideal place to stroll and have an early evening drink.
The Porta Felice is a must-see near the Cala. This monumental Renaissance-style gateway faces the sea.
You can continue your walk to the Foro Italico, Palermo’s seaside promenade.
What to do and see in the surroundings of Palermo
Take advantage of your stay in Palermo to explore the surroundings.
There are many excursions from Palermo you can do during your city break. Those can be included in your 2-day itinerary. Alternatively, you may decide to visit Palermo in 2 days and then spend an extra day or two exploring the surroundings.
Visit Monreale and its magnificent cathedral
Monreale is definitely one of the best things to see during your trip to Sicily!
We included this excursion in our 2-day itinerary in Palermo.
Monreale is a must-see near Palermo. This very picturesque village was built on a hill overlooking the surroundings.
We were seduced by Monreale as soon as we arrived. From the belvedere, a breathtaking panorama awaits you. You can admire a green valley, see Palermo and let your eyes wander over the mountains and the sea in the background.
The village is famous for its magnificent cathedral of Monreale. The Santa Maria Nuova Cathedral of Monreale (Duomo di Monreale) is a must-see during your stay in Sicily. The tour begins with the interior of the cathedral, which is entirely covered in beautiful golden Byzantine mosaics. Next, you will climb the steps leading to the roof of the cathedral. Your efforts will be rewarded with a sublime panoramic view. You will finish your visit to the cathedral of Monreale with a visit to the cloister.
Make sure to include this visit in your 2-day Palermo itinerary!
After visiting the cathedral of Monreale, take time to wander through the picturesque streets. You will come across typical Sicilian ceramic shops. The ideal souvenir to bring back from your trip to Sicily! Thanks to its long tradition of craftsmanship, Monreale has been named the “city of ceramics and mosaics”.
To get to Monreale from Palermo, I recommend taking the city bus from Piazza Indipendenza. The journey takes about half an hour.
It is also possible to go to Monreale by car. I do not recommend it because, between the traffic in Palermo and the difficulty to find a parking place, you may lose time.
Enjoying the sea and the beach in Mondello
Discovering Sicily also means enjoying the Mediterranean Sea.
Is it possible to swim in Palermo? No.
You need to go to Mondello, a small seaside resort located 12 kilometres from Palermo.
Nestled in the mountains is a beautiful white sandy beach. Mondello beach is an ideal place for swimming and water sports.
Have you been dreaming of swimming in turquoise water in Sicily? Look no further!
Visiting Cefalù from Palermo
Cefalù is another popular destination for a holiday in Sicily. Located about an hour from Palermo, this seaside resort offers a postcard landscape. A beautiful place to add to your 2-day Palermo itinerary!
The cathedral of Cefalù, perched on a hill, watches over the city and the beach below. This Arab-Norman-style building is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A must-see!
Other things to do in Cefalù include walking around the old town, swimming in the turquoise waters and climbing to the temple of Diana for a magnificent view of the town and the bay.
Trapani is a small seaside town on the western tip of Sicily. I spent two days there during my road trip to western Sicily. Trapani is further away than the towns mentioned above. I advise you to sleep there.
Trapani is an absolute favourite, which deserves a dedicated article.
Now, let’s have a look at the practical information to organise your weekend in Palermo!
Where to eat in Palermo
You can’t visit Palermo without tasting Sicilian gastronomy!
What to eat in Palermo?
A trip to Palermo is the perfect occasion to discover traditional Sicilian cuisine. Enjoy arancini (fried and stuffed rice balls), panelle (fried fritters made from chickpea flour) and caponata (eggplant-based antipasti).
Sweets are also delicious. We enjoyed the famous cannoli, the cornetti al pistacchio and the pasta reale or pasta di mandorle.
As a vegetarian with vegan tendencies, I was able to find something to eat, even though meat and fish are quite present in Sicilian cuisine.
By the way, keep an eye out: some pastries are not vegetarian (nor halal) because they contain lard (“strutto”).
Where to eat in Palermo?
I have a few good restaurants to recommend.
KePalle – Arancine d’Autore is a famous street food restaurant in Palermo (Via Maqueda, 270), serving a wide variety of arancini, as well as sandwiches with panelle.
The decoration is typically Sicilian and well cared for. It is possible to taste Sicilian specialities on tables set up outside.
I also tried the Makè Food Drink and More, a cafeteria that serves both sweet and savoury food (Via Maqueda, 307).
I strongly advise you to visit the typical markets of Palermo:
– Mercato di Ballarò, the must-see market in Palermo. It is the perfect place to taste Palermo’s street food and sip fresh pomegranate juice.
– Mercato alla Vucciria
Palermo being cosmopolitan, many restaurants are serving international cuisine. I tried Bangla Fast Food, a good and very cheap Bangladeshi restaurant (Via Maqueda, 142).
Where to stay in Palermo
There are a lot of places where you can stay in Palermo: hotels, rental flats, youth hostels…
We stayed two nights at the Bed & Breakfast alla Vucciria. I give you my review of this accommodation right here.
To find a hotel in Palermo, I recommend using platforms such as Booking.com and Hostelworld.com.
How to get around Palermo
I advise you to stay near the centre of Palermo so that you can visit everything on foot.
We rented a car for our road trip in Western Sicily but left it in the car park for the 2 days we spent in Palermo. There, the traffic is dense and chaotic: driving in Palermo will waste your time and give you a few cold sweats!
If you don’t want to walk too much, you can use the city bus. We, for example, took the bus from Palermo to Monreale.
As you walk around, you will probably notice tuk-tuks, including the “Ape” tuk-tuks (Italian for bee). They offer short trips around the city of Palermo.
I did not test the taxis in Palermo.
To reach Palermo from the airport, there are several options:
– Taxi (can be quite expensive)
– Train (approx. 1h15 journey from the airport to Palermo Central Station)
– The bus (50-minute journey, several stops in Palermo): the best option in my opinion.
How to get to Palermo
The fastest way to get to Palermo is by plane. Several airlines offer flights to Palermo from many European cities.
We flew from Malta (where we live) and landed at Trapani airport (we took advantage of very low prices with Ryanair).
But the plane is not the only way to get to Palermo. If you’re a slow traveller, you can get to Palermo by bus or train. From Italy, you can cross the Strait of Messina on a ferry that even carries trains!
From Malta, Virtu Ferries and Ponte Ferries offer frequent departures to Sicily.
Finally, you can take a look at the website of the Palermo tourist office.
I hope that this ultimate 2-day Palermo itinerary has inspired you to discover the capital of Sicily. There are so many great things to do and see in Sicily!
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