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The seven best things to do on your first trip to Palermo

Benvenuti a Palermo. You’ve made it to the capital of Sicily. Known as the birthplace of the cannoli and famous for its outdoor street markets, there’s plenty to do in the island’s largest city. A few days is all you’ll need to hit the main sites and ease into la dolce vita.

Here are my top attractions you need not miss on your inaugural visit.

Quattro canti

In the center of Palermo, Quattro Canti is the place where movies are made — literally. Four sky-high, baroque-style buildings create a picturesque intersection in the city’s historic center. There’s very little chance anyone exploring the city won’t stumble upon this iconic pedestrianised thoroughfare. There’s nothing to do, per se, once here other than to marvel at a piece history.

Fontana Pretoria

Italy is known for its fountains and this one makes the list of top 10. So go ahead, step into Piazza Pretoria, just around the corner from Quattro Canti, and make a wish.

Cattedrale di Palermo

It would be impossible to visit Palermo and not see the Cathedral.

This massive sand-coloured church spans the length of a block. The gated church is lined with palm trees and is open daily to the public with shortened hours on the weekend. The cathedral is free to visit, but if you’re interested in skyline views, it costs 15 euros to visit the cupola.

During my visit in June, the cathedral was getting a face lift so the front nave was covered in scaffolding. Don’t be discouraged if this is your experience too, luckily, it’s free to visit.

Catacombs of Cappuccini

I’d never explored a place like Cappuccini before and it was quite a creepy site.

The eery catacombs are filled with the skeletal remains of men, women, children, monks and professionals. The oldest skeleton was a monk laid to rest in the 600s. The most spectacular of corpses in Cappuccini is a little girl who’s extremely well-preserved. Visitors can see her facial features and her body has barely decomposed.

Unfortunately pictures aren’t allowed.

Palazzo dei Normanni

All that glitters is gold would be an appropriate way to describe the Palatine Chapel. The gold-covered mosaics in a chapel are the main tourist attraction at the Royal Palace. The ticket to Palazzo dei Normanni, which costs $16, includes the courtyard, gardens and an art exhibition.

The palace apartments are a separate ticket and only open on weekends.

Mercato Ballaro

One of the oldest street markets in Palermo is Ballaro. The mercato, open daily from 7am to 7pm, has everything. Start at one end and eat your way through the market. The winding al-fresco shopping spot is a good place for trying traditional foods and purchasing souvenirs.

Mondello Beach

This is the most beloved beach by Palermitanis. Mondello is where all the cool kids can be found in the hot Sicilian summers and in July and August there’s barely a space on the sand to lie. Beachgoers can sunbathe free of charge or opt to rent a beach chair for £15 a day. If you arrive at the beach at 3pm or after, the lounge chairs can be rented for a discounted rate.


San Vito Lo Capo – The white, sandy beach of San Vito is about a 45-minute drive west of Palermo and has been named one of Sicily’s most beautiful beaches by Conde Nast Traveller and TimeOut.

Cefalu – an hour from Palermo, the seaside city of Cefalu oozes charm. Visiting Cefalu was one of my favourite experiences because it’s not overly large in size, but absolutely worth your time.

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