8 experiences to do to fall madly in love with Palermo

Palermo Bay

Palermo, the capital of one of the largest islands in the Mediterranean, is a city that has always been intimately connected with the sea, a source of life, commerce, and entertainment. From the stunning places of worship that represent the starting point of any tour to the experiences to be had on the narrow, shabby streets of Panormos, there is so much to discover in this multiethnic city.


Discover artisan shops where you can buy centuries-old craftsmanship products, such as classic or modernized majolica, moor’s heads, jewelry, and tailoring products of all kinds. Explore the city markets where you can breathe in the colorful folklore of the land, with “Virgin Mary street shrines” and “clothes hung out to dry in the sun.”


Embrace the dark and noble side of Palermo by visiting the Paleochristian Catacombs of Porta D’Ossuna and the crypt below the church of Santa Maruzza dei Canceddi. Or indulge in the bright colors of the city, such as the emerald green of almond paste decorating traditional sweets and the exquisite turquoise of the “Promenade of the Marina,” perhaps the best postcard view of the Gulf.


Palermo has something for everyone. Enjoy sandwiches with spleen or attend a famous show at one of over 10 theaters in the center, from the Teatro Massimo, the largest opera house in Italy and the third largest in Europe after Paris and Vienna, to the experimental Free Theater born from the ashes of the former Hotel de France.


Despite the neglect and decay of some of its monumental assets, Palermo’s mild climate, lively people, and extraordinary cuisine make it an undeniably splendid city.


On this page, we have put together a list of 8 classic or unusual experiences that will make you fall madly in love with this city of contradictions and contaminations.

Teatro Massimo Palermo

The myth and folklore of Palermo

Palermo’s rich history and diverse cultural influences have contributed to a vibrant and fascinating folk tradition that can be experienced in various neighborhoods throughout the city.


To truly immerse yourself in this enchanting world, we recommend visiting Teatrino Cuticchio, a small theater that specializes in the art of “pupari,” a unique Sicilian style of puppetry. With just thirty seats, the intimate setting allows for an up-close experience that showcases the skill and artistry of these puppeteers.


Another must-visit is the Franco Bertolino Sicilian cart museum on Via Simone di Bologna 15, an open-air gallery dedicated to the iconic two-wheeled carts that are adorned with motifs from the Carolingian tradition and the legends of the paladins of France.


The folk tradition continues to thrive on the streets of Palermo, where you can discover a series of majestic urban paintings paying tribute to the city’s most famous personalities. For example, in the Ballarò/Albergheria district, head to Vicolo Gallo to see a beautiful portrait of Franco Franchi by Crazyone, or admire the stunning mural by street artists Rosk and Loste dedicated to magistrates Falcone and Borsellino, created to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the mafia massacres.


By experiencing the myth and folklore of Palermo, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the city’s rich cultural heritage and artistic expressions, making your visit truly unforgettable.

Teatrino Cuticchio
Teatrino Cuticchio

Palermo, seen from above

Palermo, a city of stunning beauty, reveals its true grandeur when seen from above. The unique and picturesque cityscape with its characteristic bell towers and chimneys spread across the historic center presents an extraordinary sight to behold.


For those who want to admire the city’s stunning panoramic views, a climb to the top of the medieval tower of San Nicolò is an absolute must. This tower, once used for military surveillance in the hotel district, offers the most comprehensive view of the city, stretching from the coastline to the hinterland.


If you are looking for a more relaxed and peaceful spot, the Church of Santa Caterina d’Alessandria is a perfect option. This site is open only during specific periods of the year and offers a breathtaking view of Piazza Pretoria and Piazza Bellini.


For a more luxurious experience, head over to The Terrazze del Sole, where you can indulge in the best aperitifs and soak in the stunning views of the city. The sun-kissed terraces overlooking the rooftops of Palermo are the perfect place to sit back, relax, and enjoy the city’s magical ambiance.

Go underground

Palermo, the capital of Sicily, is not just a city to explore on the surface, but also below it. The underground treasures of Palermo are numerous and range from the catacombs of the Capuchin Friars, which house mummies dating from the 17th to the 19th centuries, including the famous “Palermo’s Sleeping Beauty,” Rosalia Lombardo, considered the most beautiful mummy in the world.


The Porta d’Ossuna catacombs are also a must-see, as they are the most significant testimony of early Christianity in Sicily. In addition, the air-raid shelter under Piazza Pretoria is another important underground historical heritage site, where the population hid during bombing in the past.


The city’s underground also includes the “Quanat” tunnels, which date back to Arab domination, and were once used to transport spring water to the city and fields. Visitors can take guided tours with water above the knee to explore these tunnels (available through archeofficina.com).


Finally, certain churches also have crypts that are worth visiting, such as the crypt of Santa Maruzza dei Canceddi. Overall, the underground of Palermo is a fascinating and lesser-known aspect of the city’s rich history and culture.

Habanero666, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Habanero666, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Indulge in sweet temptations

Palermo’s pastry scene is a must-see for anyone with a sweet tooth. Sicilian pastry is famous not just within the island, but all across Italy, and for good reason. In addition to being opulent and delicious, it is also a testament to the island’s multiculturalism, as it has been influenced by various cultures throughout history.


If you’re looking to sample some of Palermo’s best pastries, be sure not to miss out on classics like cannoli and cassata.


The Scimone pastry shop is a great place to start, where you can enjoy these delicious treats in a charming 1950s-style restaurant. But Palermo’s pastry scene also offers a variety of lesser-known delights, such as the “buccellati” – a donut-shaped Christmas sweet – or the “Sighs of the Nun,” small bonbons flavored with citrus fruits.


And for those looking for something truly unique, the “Trionfo di Gola” is a Leopardian dessert created by the Benedictines of the Monastery of Santa Andrea delle Vergini that is sure to satisfy.


And no trip to Palermo’s pastry scene would be complete without sampling the iconic “Brioche with Tuppo.” This soft brioche is traditionally enjoyed with a granita – a semi-frozen dessert made from water, sugar, and fruit juice – and is a must-try for anyone looking to indulge in some sweet, Sicilian goodness.

Sicily: the typical sweets, the cannoli siciliani

Palazzo Valguarnera Gangi

Palazzo Valguarnera Gangi in Palermo is a magnificent 18th-century palace that still awes visitors today.


The grand Sicilian style of the palace has captured the hearts of many, including famous Italian film director Luchino Visconti, who chose to film the ball scene of his renowned movie, The Leopard, in the ballroom and gallery of mirrors of the Palazzo Valguarnera-Gangi.


Today, visitors can experience the grandeur of the palace through private tours and admire the exquisite details of its interiors, including the embroidered tapestries, glassware, porcelain, original furnishings, sofas, consoles, carved chairs, decorated walls, boiseries, doors painted in gold, and tall mirrors.


The halls of the palace offer a total of 8000 square meters of beauty and history, with rooms like the red hall, the blue one, the dining room, and the hall of gilded mirrors with the Vietri ceramic floor painted with flowers and animals, including the leopards. The palace’s terrace is also overflowing with ceramics from Caltagirone, offering a breathtaking view of the facade of the church of Sant’Anna.

Palazzo Valguarnera Gangi in Palermo

Get lost among exotic plants and record trees

Discover a tropical paradise in the heart of Palermo by exploring its diverse and lush flora. Thanks to the underground rivers, Kemonia and Papireto, which emerge as spring water in some places, and the city’s temperate climate, characterized by mild winters and hot and sunny summers, the flora in Palermo is rich and varied.


The Botanical Garden, commissioned by the Bourbon Kings in 1789, showcases the best expression of this exotic flora, with towering trees and rare plants that are sure to captivate any nature lover. Take a virtual tour of this museum en plein air, boasting over two centuries of history, or explore the green spaces of the city offline.


Stroll through Garibaldi Garden, where a massive 50-meter-diameter Ficus tree dominates the landscape, or wander through the English Garden of 1851 and the Parco della Favorita, the largest green area in the municipality. Immerse yourself in Palermo’s natural beauty and let the lush greenery take your breath away.

Palermo Botanical Garden

Discover the Baroque churches

Palermo, the capital of the Italian Baroque, boasts over 100 churches, making it the third Italian city for the number of ecclesiastical buildings after Rome and Naples.


The Baroque style, with its ornate designs and dramatic details, is exemplified by countless buildings in the city.


Notable examples include the 17th-century church of San Giuseppe dei Teatini, the church of Santa Caterina, and the Cathedral of Palermo, which is the seat of the Archbishop of Palermo. The Church of the Martorana is another must-visit, known for its sparkling mosaics that have been included among UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites for Arab-Norman art.


The Church of the Holy Savior is also a must-see, featuring a unique elliptical dome, while the church of the Conception is entirely cloaked in marble decorations.


Finally, the church of San Domenico, known as the “pantheon of heroes,” houses the remains of dozens of illustrious Sicilians, including the magistrate Giovanni Falcone and the politician Francesco Crispi. Palermo’s rich ecclesiastical history is not to be missed for those interested in the Baroque style and the cultural heritage of Sicily.

Palermo's Cathedral

Stop to taste a selection of street foods

Palermo’s vibrant street food scene is a must-see for any food lover. The city’s markets, including Vucciria, Capo, Ballarò, and Borgo Vecchio, offer a unique experience that captures the essence of the city through its flavors, colors, and bustling energy.


At these markets, visitors can indulge in a variety of delicious street foods, from traditional arancini (deep-fried rice balls filled with meat, cheese, or vegetables) to panelle (chickpea fritters), and sfincione (Sicilian pizza topped with tomato, onion, and anchovies). Other popular street food items include cazzilli (potato croquettes), stigghiola (grilled lamb intestines), and spleen sandwiches.


Stopping at one of the city’s street food vendors is the perfect way to take a break from sightseeing and experience the authentic flavors of Palermo. Each bite is a journey into the history and culture of the city, making it an experience not to be missed.

Ballaro' Market

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