16 Of The Best Sights And Things To Do In Palermo
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Palermo's location in the heart of the Mediterranean, coupled with its long and turbulent history give it one the densest concentrations of architectural and cultural attractions in Italy. However, many people only find themselves with a day or so to experience as much as they can, often because they're sightseeing as part of a cruise excursion. So to help streamline your itinerary planning we're providing this list of our favourite sights and things to do in Palermo. As the Sicilian capital has its own City Sightseeing bus tour we've also included a stop number next to each address. Happy Travelling!
Our Favourite Things To Do In Palermo:
1, Quattro Canti:
- Getting There: Piazza Vigliena | Line A Stop 3, Line E Stop 9.
Quattro Canti is an octagonal square in central Palermo which was designed in a baroque style by architect Giulio Lasso and constructed between 1608-20. It's a place of stunningly ornate beauty, with four sides featuring a fountain, various carvings, and two primary sculptures; one of a patroness of Palermo, and another of a Spanish King of Sicily. Together, the four façades and their associated decorations each represent one of the four seasons.
2, Teatro Politeama:
- Getting There: Via Turati, 2-4-6, Palermo | Line A, B & D Stop 1.
A grand horseshoe-shaped theatre designed by Giuseppe Damiani Almeyda and constructed during the second half of the 19th century. Photography fans with an interest in architecture should stop off and snap a few pictures of the columnated rotunda, its triumphal arch, and the various equine sculptures adorning the roof.
3, Teatro Massimo:
- Getting There: Piazza Verdi, 90138 Palermo | Line A Stop 2, Line B & E Stop 6.
Another neo-classical theatre constructed towards the end of the 19th century. It's noted for being the largest of its kind in Italy, and the third largest in Europe.
- Getting There: Piazza Marina, 61, 90133 Palermo | Line A Stop 4.
A must for those seeking Palermo's medieval history. Chiaramonte Palace is a fortified residence that was built for Sicilian nobleman Manfredi III during the early 14th century. It still retains many of its original elements, such as a jail once used by the Inquisition, but today functions mainly as an art gallery.
- Getting There: Via Lincoln, 2, Palermo | Line A Stop 5.
Palermo's Botanical Gardens lie just east of the city centre and cover some 30 acres. Its various greenhouses and herbarium contain thousands of plant species native to the island of Sicily and other Mediterranean regions such as Portugal, Spain, Corsica and Crete. As with many of its kind Palermo's Orto Botanico is the perfect spot for a morning or afternoon stroll.
- Getting There: Piazza Indipendenza, 1, 90129 Palermo | Line A & E Stop 7.
Once the seat of Palermo's Norman rulers the Palazzo dei Normanni today houses the regional parliament of Sicily. Its imposing façade is a mix of architectural styles, including Arab, Norman and Byzantine, making it a vivid testament to the island's long and tumultuous history. While the palace itself is closed to visitors the adjacent Palatine Chapel (Cappella Palatina) has proven a renowned attraction for its extensive Norman-Byzantine mosaics. Pay a visit and see for yourself the breathtaking biblical scenes, saintly depictions, and historical subjects.
- Getting There: Walk west up Via Cappuccini from Stop 7.
The Catacombs of the Capuchins are famous for being one of the world's most macabre tourist attractions. These extensive subterranean hallways came into use during the 16th century after the local Capuchin monastery crypts became filled to capacity. Upon exhuming the bodies for transfer, however, they were found to have been naturally preserved in what was interpreted at the time to be an act of god. As a way of honouring the miracle the bodies of the deceased brothers where he henceforth given their own recesses along the walls of the catacombs, and can still be seen to this day. One such person, brother Silvestro da Gubbio, was first to be interred in 1599.
Gradually, mummification and enterrement in the catacombs came to be viewed as something of a status symbol, with dignitaries from all across the city asking to have it done to them upon death. As time went on the practice became more refined, the burials more elaborate, and by the late 18th century it even extended to common people. Following the cemetery's closure in 1880 only two more bodies were ever admitted: Giovanni Paterniti in 1911, and Rosalia Lombardo in 1920. The latter was a 2 year old girl who died of pneumonia, only to become one of the world's most well preserved mummies.
Though the reason for your own visit might just be morbid fascination, the sheer number bodies from so many different eras make it a spectacular journey through time. As most are dressed in their original clothing you're literally seeing a frozen snapshot of someone's life from hundreds of years in the past. Follow the title link to the Palermo Catacomb's own site for more information.
- Getting There: Corso Vittorio Emanuele, 90040 Palermo | Line A & E Stop 8.
Few buildings encapsulate the architectural diversity of Palermo quite like its titular cathedral. This complex was first erected in 1185 and came to incorporate styles as myriad as Norman, Moorish, Gothic, Baroque and Neoclassical. It's still active to this day, serving as the seat of the Archdiocese of Palermo. During your visit be sure to keep an eye out for the sometimes hidden, sometimes conspicuous motifs of each artistic style. Also have a wander around the Treasury Museum (filled with bejewelled metalwork artefacts and Byzantine enamelware), the crypts, and admire the towering clerestory.
9, Mercato Vucciria:
- Getting There: Piazza Caracciolo, 1, Palermo | Line A Stop 9, Line E Stop 3.
Located along Via Roma close to the city's waterfront Vucciria Market is one of Palermo's most notable. It's a daily hive of activity in which fresh fish catches are sold alongside locally sourced fruit and vegetables. Another market to look out for along the City Sightseeing route is Mercato Di Capo (Line B Stop 5).
- Getting There: Line B Stop 2.
Following a popular 19th century trend Palermo had its own urban English Garden erected in the heart of the city centre. It's one of a few places throughout the city where you can fully immerse yourself in natural surroundings and flora from as far as Africa and Asia.
11, Villa Malfitano:
- Getting There: Via Dante Alighieri, 167, Palermo | Line B Stop 3.
The full name of this pretty Art Nouveau manor is Villa Malfitano Whitaker, its construction having been commissioned by Joseph Whitaker, a Sicilian-English ornithologist and entrepreneur who sought a fitting residence on the island that was the base of his vineyard business. Its highlight feature is arguably its gardens, which cover a great area and boast rare plants from places as far as Tunisia, Sumatra, Australia and South America.
12, Castello Della Zisa:
- Getting There: Piazza Zisa, 90135 Palermo | Line B Stop 4.
Ziza Castle is a building in which Palermo's Moorish influences are greatly apparent. It was constructed by Arabian craftsmen as a summer residence for King William I of Sicily and its name derives from the Arabian 'al-aziz', meaning 'splendid'. As well as its external motifs the castle's interior has become a huge draw for tourists who want to see its Islamic artworks, tools and other artefacts.
13, Monreale Cathedral:
- Getting There: Line C Main Stop.
About 9 miles or so outside central Palermo is the sunny and fertile commune of Monreale. As well as being famed for its flourishing Mediterranean agriculture it's perhaps most famous for its cathedral. The Cathedral of Monreale is notable for being one of the most potent examples of Norman architecture in the world. It was built on the site of a smaller church in 1174 by William II after he drove away the island's theretofore Arabic rulers. To this day visitors flock to stand in awe of its towering golden apse, magnificent mosaics, and its marble-columnated cloisters.
14, Mondello Beach:
- Getting There: Line D Stop 6.
For visitors who want to spend some time soaking up the sun one option is the 1.5km long golden sand Mondello Beach. It sits within a picturesque bay wedged between the green peaks for Mount Gallo and Mount Pellegrino. Its sheltered location means that its turquoise waters are smooth and calm, ideal for strong and less confident swimmers alike.
- Getting There: Line D Stop 5.
This building's name literally translates as the 'Old Beach Resort'. It's a prominent Art Nouveau building that graces the shoreline about half-way along Mondello Beach. From a distance it doesn't look like much, but get up close and you're in photography paradise. Fish sculptures adorn Art Nouveau pillars and metal spires rise high above its four crenellated towers.
- Getting There: Via Roma, Line E Stop 4.
A slightly curious British architectural treasure in the heart of Palermo is the Anglican Church on Via Roma. It stands out prominently amongst the modern apartment buildings that surround it, a sight that offers one of the quirkiest contrasts in the entire city. The architecture and the decorations are unique: the exterior resembles the Gothic style typical in Northern Europe, while the golden mosaics in the apse are of Byzantine inspiration which is often seen in Sicily. It was constructed on behalf of the aforementioned Joseph Whitaker and Benjamin Ingham junior as a place of worship for the British expat community, and is still used as such today.
Discover More Things To Do In Palermo On The City Sightseeing Bus Tour.