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Italy Travel

Is Palermo worth visiting for one day?

Fontana Pretoria in Palermo Sicily

Palermo is the capital of Sicily and the gateway to the Egadi islands, including the largest, Favignana. It’s also where you fly to the islands of Lampedusa and Pantelleria, both of which are close to Africa. Other amazing places in Sicily to visit, which are close to Palermo, are Castellammare del Golfo, San Vito lo Capo and Cefalù.

Often tourists fly in to Palermo to then go on to their holiday destination but is Palermo worth visiting for one day? Absolutely, yes!

Years ago we spent a long weekend in Palermo and most recently we spent a night and day in the capital city where we packed a lot in. Here’s what I recommend are the best things to do and see in Palermo in one day.

The best things to do in Palermo in 24 hours

Visit the Archives (Archivio Storico Comunale)

Located just off one of Palermo’s main roads, Via Maqueda, is the municipal archives – which is a treasure trove of history in Palermo and Sicily. Not to mention that it’s a stunningly beautiful building! It’s free to visit and there are volunteers who will explain some of the history, if you’re interested, or you can just walk around and explore the items yourself.

Inside the State Archives in Palermo

I particularly loved the items of fashion throughout the decades. There were also lots of newspaper articles from significant eras, such as the Second World War. It’s a really fascinating place to visit and definitely worth spending an hour or so looking around.

Newspaper articles from the 1940s

Visit the historic churches of Palermo

Italy is full of the most incredible churches and in the South they are very religious. Palermo has some of the most incredible churches and chapels I’ve ever seen. In one square alone, Piazza Bellini, are three churches to explore: the Church of San Cataldo, Church of St. Mary of the Admiral and Chiesa di Santa Caterina d’Alessandria, which is also a monastery with a bakery.

Church of St Mary of the Admiral and Church of San Cataldo

Church of San Cataldo

The Church of San Cataldo was commissioned by Majone di Bari and King William I around 1154 and was the private chapel of a palace that no longer exists today.

Since 1938 the church has been assigned to the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, which is a Catholic order of knighthood, who looks after its maintenance and upkeep.

It is quite small but absolutely stunning inside, with it’s high arches and decorative columns. It costs €3 to visit and is well worth a look.

Inside the church of San Cataldo

Church of St. Mary of the Admiral (Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio)

The Church of St. Mary of the Admiral is also known as Martorana. It’s a stunning example of a Medieval Byzantine church and is opulent and rich in beautiful artworks and mosaics. It was built in 1143 by King Ruggero’s Admiral, who was of Greek origin.

Inside the Church of St Mary of the Admiral

Eat pastries made by nuns at Santa Caterina d’Alessandria

Just across Piazza Bellini from both the churches of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio and San Cataldo you’ll find the church of Santa Caterina d’Alessandria (Saint Catherine of Alexandria). This is both a church and a former convent (nuns lived here until 2014) and it has a very special bakery.

Recipe books and baking items on a table

The I Segreti del Chiostro serves traditional Sicilian sweets that have been made for centuries by the nuns. We bought a cassata to enjoy in the lovely courtyard. You can visit the courtyard and bakery for free, however to visit the church and also the area where you can see all the ancient recipe books is ticketed.

A cassata, which is a typical Sicilian cake

Visit the famous Palermo street markets

Palermo is a city that loves its street markets! The city has historical ties with the Arab world and its markets are very much a reflection of this history as you’ll feel like you’re wandering around a souk. Each of the historic quarters have their own markets but the three most famous ones are Ballarò, Capo and Vucciria.

Mercato del Ballarò

Ballarò is Palermo’s busiest market and is where many locals do their shopping as you can find pretty much anything and everything here. It’s a fun market to visit as it’s very lively and the stall holders shout out, vying for attention – and your business!

Ballarò market stalls in Palermo

There are so many places to try some street food for just a couple of Euros. I was feeling brave so tried some grilled intestines (stigghiola) and it was actually delicious, although very rich. Other typical street food on offer are grilled octopus, stuffed rolled fish with breadcrumbs and panini with beef spleen.

For lunch, we headed to Trattoria Bersagliere, which was recommended to us by our hotel, Ai Tre Mercati. It’s 118 years old! Don’t expect anything fancy as it’s pretty basic but it’s very popular among the locals who eat there for lunch or get take out. We shared a starter, my husband had pasta, I had grilled octopus, we had a carafe of white wine and a bottle of water and the bill was €36.

Grilled octopus from Ballaro market

Mercato di Capo

The ancient Mercato di Capo runs along Via Sant’Agostino to Porta Carini and is bustling with activity during the day. Vendors here sell everything, from fruit and vegetables to meat, fish, spices and household goods. We visited late afternoon when the stalls were packing up for the day so I’d recommend getting here in the morning for the full experience.

Mercato della Vucciria

My tip would be to leave visiting Vucciria until last as this market really comes alive at night. Head there around 6pm or so for aperitivo or later if you want to have dinner. There are many restaurants to choose from, as well as stalls serving fish and seafood which they will grill to order, arancini, panelle and more. Note that some places will only accept cash so be sure to bring some with you.

Cocktails at Vucciria market in Palermo

Visit Palermo Cathedral

Palermo Cathedral is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Built in 1184 during the Norman reign of King William II, the Cathedral has many architectural styles due to alterations and additions over the centuries.

It was built on the site of a Mosque, which stood there during the Saracen’s reign in the 9th century, which is evidenced by a verse from the Quran carved on to a column.

Palermo Cathedral building

It’s free to visit the main part of the Cathedral, however other areas are ticketed. We paid to see the crypts and the Imperial tombs, which were really impressive. If you want to see the domes and the terraces, that is also ticketed.

A tomb in the crypt of Palermo Cathedral

Note that you need to be dressed appropriately to visit the Cathedral and may be asked to purchase a plastic poncho to cover yourself. On Sundays the Cathedral is only open for Mass and you won’t be able to see the ticked areas so plan your visit for a Monday to a Saturday.

Admire Porta Nuova

If you’re heading from the Cathedral to the Norman Palace, be sure to pay a quick visit to Porta Nuova, which is one of the gates to the city. It was built to celebrate Charles V’s conquest of Tunis and his visit to Palermo, which at the time was the capital of the Kingdom of Sicily. Be sure to view it from both sides as one side is more ornate than the other.

Porta Nuova ancient gate in Palermo

Explore the Norman Palace & Palatine Chapel

Just a short walk from Palermo Cathedral is the Norman Palace where you’ll find the absolutely breathtaking Palatine Chapel. It’s called Palazzo dei Normanni in Italian and is also called the Royal Palace of Palermo.

The Norman Palace in Palermo

It was the seat of the Kings of Sicily and today houses the Sicilian Regional Assembly. First built as a Norman castle after the Normans invaded Sicily in 1072, it established Palermo as the capital of Sicily.

It was built just above the first Punic settlements, evidence of which you can see in the basement.

For me, the highlight of visiting the palace is to see the absolutely breathtakingly beautiful Palatine Chapel (Cappella Palatina), which was commissioned by King Ruggero II in 1130 and is dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul. It is an amazing example of Arab-Norman Byzantine style.

Mosaics in the Palatine Chapel

It costs €19 per adult to visit, €2 for children up to 13 and €11 for 14 -17 year-olds. The ticket price includes access to the Palatine Chapel, Royal Apartments, the Ruggero Room, the Neo-Gothic Chapel, the Pisan Tower, Royal Gardens, the Punic Walls and entry to whatever exhibition is on at the time. Be sure to check opening times online before you visit – particularly as access to the Royal apartments are only only certain days and times.

So even if you’ve only got one day in Palermo, you can experience a lot of the city by following my suggestions! Have you been to Palermo? What do you recommend seeing?

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How to spend one day in Palermo

Kirsty Marrins

Reader, writer, occasional runner, travel lover.




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