Along with Catania, Palermo is one of the top spots to start or end your Sicilian adventure. A well-established ferry port, train and bus routes, and international airport make travel to or from the city a breeze. It also has all the sightseeing adventures you want and a restaurant and gelato scene to support you for a few days!
Things to do
Palermo has long been overshadowed by some of Italy's other great cities. While it may not have the Coliseum or a series of romantic canals, it can still stand its own. It has some of the most spectacular churches, beautiful walking streets, and catacombs with over 8000 people!
What was once the outskirts of town is the Order of the Capuchin Friars Abbey and Catacombs. The abbey is relatively simple as compared to the magnificent churches in Palermo but the catacombs are truly unique. A few stories underground, the air is an almost constant humidity level and temperature offering an ideal spot for the preservation of human remains. Over 8000 people have been buried in the catacombs most of whom are in excellent condition even though some are almost 500 years old. While it may not be for everyone, it outlines changes through history including clothing, military, and burial customs. It has also inspired legends like Rosalia Lombardi whom it seems hasn't changed since the moment she died over 100 years ago.
Every main cathedral in Sicily has at least two similarities; they are both super old and have been reconstructed many times thanks to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and of course war. The Palermo Cathedral represents this perfectly. The massive church had its groundbreaking in 1185 but had additions built for almost 6 centuries afterwards. The constantly evolving cathedral has a number of unique elements including the front Portico, the western towers with their Arcades hanging over Via Matteo Bonello, and of course its rooftop. Running along the central nave is a walkway that gives up one of the best views of the city and the Mediterranean sea.
Palermo may not be one of Italy's most visited cities but it is one of the largest and as such when the country was unified in 1861, they figured it should have an opera house to match. Over the next two decades, the third-largest opera house in Europe was built. Built with a series of architectural styles, the most obvious elements are the massive columns that hold up the front portico. The theater can host just less than 2000 people but has held some of the best operas ever performed. Thanks to its stunning design, it is believed to have perfect acoustics.
Depending on whom you ask, Fontana Pretoria is either a magnificent marble masterpiece or a shameless symbol of political corruption and lude behaviour. The dozen or so nude statues that line the massive fountain in central Palermo haven't always been in its present location. For its first few years it was in a family garden north of Rome before being transported in over 660 pieces to Palermo over 400 years ago.
Literally translated as "four corners" the square is the intersection of two of Palermo's main historic streets. Each corner was built as a quarter circle with marble columns and statues to create a full circle in the centre of town. Each building features one of the four Spanish kings of Sicily and one of the four Patronesses of Palermo. Today, you will have a hard time missing it as it is the main connection between the Fontana Pretoria and the Palermo Cathedral.
Where to Stay
Palermo has a very large area that is suitable to stay in as a tourist. While the city is large the main attractions run on just a few streets so it is easy to navigate. If you are looking at a map, mark the Palermo Cathedral, Teatro Massimo, Porta Felice, and the central train station. Anything within that rough zone will make it easy to sightsee inside and outside the city. The only thing to note is that drivers in Palermo and Italy as a whole like to honk which makes the hotels along the main streets like Via Roma and Via Cavour a bit louder.
Depending on your budget, there are spectacular places to stay in Palermo. There are a ton of Airbnbs and guesthouses in the central area if you are looking for a kitchen or just a bit more space. For the lower budget hotels take a look at this. But the city also offers top-notch hotels for cheap when you compare them to the rest of Europe.
How to get there and around
Palermo has Sicily's second-largest airport so it is easy to arrive by plane from most spots in Europe. From the airport, it is super easy to get to town though it does take a bit of time. A conveniently located underground train station (Aeroporto Punta Raisi) will zip you into town in roughly an hour for 5 EUR a person. There are two main stations (Centrale and Notarbartolo) in Palermo so check which one is closer to your hotel and work from there!
Palermo is of course also connected to the rest of Sicily and Italy in general through Trenitalia's network which makes it easy to continue your epic adventure. The city is also a popular cruise and ferry port which can take you to many other places in the Mediterranean.
Once in the city, there are a few options for getting around. There is a small Metro network that spreads out around the city and connects to Trenitalias main train network and there is also a decent bus network. Between these two and some walking of course (you have to burn off all those cannoli's somehow!) you should be able to navigate around the city with relative ease.
Many people use Palermo as a home base for exploring the Sicilian countryside. While we shy away from suggesting to go all the way to Trapani or Agrigento as a day trip, there are dozens of towns or ruins to check out that are the perfect distance from town.
Just over an hour west is an amazingly well preserved and stunningly located Elymian amphitheater, ruins, and temples. This ancient group of people are distinctly different from the Greeks who lived to the east
What remains of the once-bustling city has been preserved and restored. While the whole area has yet to be explored, the main sites as of today are the temple, high city ruins, and the Amphitheater. While each have their charm and uniqueness, nothing beats the view from the Amphitheater. Built into a hill facing out over a stunning valley, the plays and concerts it used to hold would have been magical. To get to Segesta you will likely need to take a tour or rent your own vehicle/moped and make your way their on your own.
Everyone loves a good beach town but few are as stunning as Cefalu. Roughly an hour to the east, the town rises out of the ocean precariously perched on rock points. The town has been a center for tourism for years which makes it full of restaurants, hotels, and bars at all price points.