15 Things to Do in Palermo If You Are Visiting for the First Time

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15. Explore the Capuchin Catacombs

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They’re scary and macabre at first glance but, if you look closer, you’ll see that the Capuchin Catacombs aren’t really that creepy. In fact, they can be considered as a unique historical record of the people who lived in Palermo and surrounding areas hundreds of years ago. The catacombs contain around 8,000 corpses and more than 1,200 mummies.

14. Enjoy the local arts

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Just like the rest of Sicily and Italy, Palermo values the arts and finds ways to keep it alive. At the Teatro Massimo (the first opera house in Italy and the third-largest in Europe), you can watch an opera or catch a ballet performance. If you’re looking for something less serious, check out the “Opera dei Pupi” or puppet theater.

13. Visit Palermo’s religious buildings

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The city is home to several churches and cathedrals that will amaze you with their intricate beauty and architecture. The Palermo Cathedral, for instance, has undergone several restorations and alterations and gained various additions from 1185 to the 1700s, which is why it has a one-of-a-kind style. The Cappella Palatina, meanwhile, is filled with eye-catching frescoes, mosaics, and wood carvings.

12. Stroll through Vittorio Emanuele

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If you only have a couple of hours in Palermo, you’ll want to spend them by taking a stroll down Vittorio Emanuele, which is one of the two main streets in the city. Here, you’ll get to see most of Palermo’s attractions and study the influences of the Normans, Arabs, and Byzantines in the architecture. You’ll also get to observe the locals as they go about their daily lives.

11. Spend time in the markets

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To know Palermo on a deeper level, you’ll need to step into its markets and experience what they have to offer. Ballaro, one of the city’s main markets, reflects the Arab style and is a great place to grab a cheap but delicious lunch. Vucciria, on the other hand, is an excellent choice if you want to shop for knockoff designer outfits as well as cheese, spices, and fresh produce.

10. Go on a stucchi tour

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One of the most famous people from Palermo is Giacomo Serpotta, a sculptor who worked with stucco and was responsible for beautifying several buildings in the city. If you want to see his work, you can visit the Oratorio di San Lorenzo, Oratorio di Santa Cita, and Oratorio di San Domenico and admire the amazing stucchi sculptures that Serpotta had left behind.

9. Hang out in Foro Italico

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When you get tired of sightseeing and just want to relax, head off to Foro Italico. This beautiful park faces the sea, so you’ll get to breathe in the crisp, salty breeze while reading a book, listening to music, or simply watching other people. For an even better experience, bring some food and drinks and have a picnic at the park while sitting under a palm tree!

8. Unleash your inner foodie

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No trip to Palermo is complete without giving the local dishes a try. One of the must-eat foods is milza, which is a sandwich made of fried cow spleen in between caciocavallo cheese and slices of bread. You’ll also want to get some cannoli, which are cones filled with ricotta then deep fried, and the ever-famous gelato, which you can enjoy on its own or in between a brioche bun.

7. Taste the local wine

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Wine tastings are a big part of Palermo’s tourism landscape, so make sure to join one while you’re in the city. This way, you’ll get to sample the local wines as well as olives, grissini, and other local products. If tasting isn’t enough, don’t worry since you can head off to Vino & Co, which lets you fill a five-liter jug with your own choice of wine. Just make sure to bring a bottle that’s large enough since small bottles can’t be used.

6. Learn more about Palermo’s history

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Whether you’re a history buff or are just interested in the local culture, you’ll want to check out the Museo Archeologico Regionale Antonio Salinas. It houses an impressive display of Punic and Greek art, which is the largest collection in Sicily. The 17th century convent that houses the museum, along with its ancient courtyard, is also worth exploring.

5. Lose yourself in the Orto Botanico di Palermo

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This is a part of the University of Palermo’s Department of Botany, but it’s open to the public and can be enjoyed by everybody. It covers 11 hectares and is home to over 12,000 species of flora that come from different parts of the globe. Check out the Linneian section (where plants were originally arranged according to the Linneian system of classification) and the Aquarium, which houses aquatic plants.

4. Ogle at the Fontana Pretoria

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This fountain apparently caused quite a stir when it was unveiled in the mid-1500s because of its nude statues. The locals considered the statues disgraceful, especially since they had to pass by fountain on their way to church and back. Today, the Fontana Pretoria has become one of the city’s landmarks; take a closer look and you’ll see that it actually represents the Twelve Olympians along with various mythological beings.

3. Ride a bus to Monreale

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If you have the time, take a bus to Monreale, a town that’s located around nine miles away from Palermo and is built on top of Monte Caputo. Here, you’ll get to enjoy beautiful views of Palermo and explore the Monreale Duomo, which was built in the 12th century and features Norman-Arab architectural styles. Take the time to explore the Duomo’s gorgeous mosaics as well as the royal tombs of King William I and King William II.

2. Check out nearby beaches

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Want to splash around the water or get a tan? You don’t need to travel far since there are many beaches around the city. One of the best is Mondello Beach, which is a small seaside resort that can be easily be reached from Palermo through a bus ride. It’s well-known for its turquoise waters and wide stretch of white sand, so don’t be surprised if you’ll be sharing the beach with many other people.

1. Take a day trip to Mt. Etna

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Mt. Etna is around three hours away from Palermo, so visiting it is a good idea only if you have plenty of time to spare. Still, the trip is worth it since you’ll get to see the tallest active volcano in all of Europe and explore its old craters. Before you go, though, do your research to find out whether Mt. Etna is erupting or not; you don’t want to be there in the middle of an explosion!

Add these to your bucket list and have fun during your Palermo holiday!

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