Discover Palermo’s UNESCO churches and vibrant street food on a one day visit to this historic Mediterranean city. On our detailed walking tour through the ancient city visit ornate, Arab-Norman churches, bustling food markets and more in the capital city of Sicily.
Table of Contents
One Day in Palermo Itinerary
This one-day itinerary hits all the Palermo must-sees. The perfect itinerary for cruise passengers.
- Enjoy our self-guided Palermo Walking Tour of the ancient city beginning at the impressive Massimo Theatre.
- Explore the unique intersection Quattro Canti.
- Visit the Palermo Cathedral and the Church of San Cataldo, two of Palermo’s UNESCO-protected Arab-Norman churches.
- Don’t miss the Ballaro Market, the city’s oldest and most authentic outdoor market.
- Visit the Regional Art Gallery of Sicily or any of Palermo’s museums.
- In the evening, enjoy a walk on the Palermo waterfront or take in the city’s nightlife in the bustling Vucciria Market.
On a 2nd day in Palermo, visit anything missed on Day 1 OR visit the city’s markets more fully.
Palermo Walking Map
What to See in Palermo
Palermo: A brief history
The city was founded in the 8th century BCE. Over the centuries the city has become a mix of cultural styles and religions. A number of different architectural styles can be seen in the palaces, monasteries and churches of the city. The city first developed around the intersection of Via Maqueda and Corso Vittorio Emanuele, known as Quattro Canti. This part of the city is often a maze of winding, narrow streets. The city’s 19th-century expansion to the north has wider, straighter streets with larger buildings. WWII bombing damaged or destroyed much of the city but slowly the beauty of the city is re-emerging.
UNESCO Churches of Palermo
The UNESCO World Heritage Site is officially called the ‘Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalú and Monreale’ and includes a collection of structures built or renovated during the 12th century. The Normans had conquered Sicily and their kings made the city of Palermo their Sicilian seat of power. Seven buildings in Palermo are part of this World Heritage Site. All are worth a visit. Our walk passes these five:
- Palermo Cathedral,
- Church of Saint John of the Hermits,
- Norman Palace with its popular Palatine Chapel,
- Church of San Cataldo, and
- Church of St. Mary of the Admiral.
Street Food Culture – The Markets of Palermo
The ancient city was home to four open-air street markets. Three of these markets still flourish today and are well worth visiting:
- Capo Market – the local’s produce and meat market,
- Vucciria Market – the spot for nightlife, and
- Ballaro Market – the oldest and most authentic market.
These markets made Palermo famous for its street food culture. Discover bakeries, pizzerias and street food stands that sell an amazing variety of foods.
Try Palermo’s most famous street food, Sfincione. Also known as Sicilian pizza, it has a focaccia-like crust that is typically topped with tomato sauce, oregano and onions.
There are five unique museums in Palermo:
- Antonio Salinas Regional Archeological Museum – archeological treasures of Sicily
- Sant’Anna Modern Art Gallery – art of the 19th and 20th centuries
- Regional Art Gallery of Sicily – art from the Middle Ages to the 18th century
- Inquisition Museum – prison cells, graffiti and history of Inquisition
- Antonio Pasqualino International Puppet Museum – Sicilian puppetry
Self-Guided Palermo Walking Tour
The best way to explore the historic district of Palermo is on foot. This 5-kilometre walking route takes about 1.5 hours to walk without entering any of the buildings. Depending on the time spent at each stop, this walk could easily take a day. Follow our route from Massimo Theatre to the Church of San Cataldo in Piazza Bellini to catch the city’s must-sees, if you are short on time.
Our walking tour begins on the informal northern boundary of the ancient city in Piazza Giuseppe Verdi (Via Maqueda and Via Volturno). We start at the Teatro Massimo.
Palermo’s grandest theatre, known for its perfect acoustics, was completed in 1897. Opera, ballet and musical concerts are staged throughout the year in its ornate auditorium, which seats over 1000 people. Golden stuccoes and decoration, red velvet and glittering chandeliers add sumptuous elegance. Guided tours are available every day.
In this part of the city, the street Via Maqueda separates the city quarters of Capo and Vucciria. Both quarters have open-air markets, but if you are ready for a snack or looking for some fresh produce to enjoy while you explore, walk west along Via Volturno to the busy Capo Market (Mercato del Capo). This is where the locals shop for fruit, vegetables, meats and local specialties. Vucciria Market, further along this walk, is a great place to grab lunch or enjoy Palermo’s nightlife.
Walk east across Via Maqueda on Via Bara All’Olivella to Piazza Olivella (about 150 metres) into the city’s Vucciria quarter. The Museo Archeologico Regionale Antonino Salinas is on the far corner on the right.
Antonio Salinas Regional Archeological Museum
This museum, in a former monastery, holds some of Italy’s most valuable archaeological treasures, illuminating Sicily’s Greek and Roman past. See Greek and Roman sarcophagi and votive urns, sculptures, statues and more. The highlight is the Palermo Stone, an ancient Egyptian artifact inscribed with a partial list of the kings of Egypt. Take a moment to enjoy the quiet inner courtyard.
Continue east on Via Bara All’Olivella to Via Roma, a popular shopping street. Turn right and walk to Piazza San Domenico, on the left. The Column of the Immaculate Conception stands in the centre of the square. Look up to the bronze statue of the Madonna at the top. Statues of the four archangels are on pedestals around the base. Chiesa di San Domenico is the beautiful twin-towered church behind it.
Church of Saint Domenico
The front of this church was completed in the Baroque style with two bell towers. Niches contain statues of Dominican saints and popes. Many precious works of art are displayed inside the church.
In the 13th century, a Dominican church was built on this site with a convent and cloister adjacent. The community outgrew the first church and also a second one built in the 15th century. The current church was completed in the 18th century.
Walk across the Piazza San Domenico and south on Via Maccherronai. This entire street is Mercato della Vucciria.
If it is time for some food, this is the place to enjoy it.
This popular market is a loud, somewhat chaotic, place stretching between Piazza San Domenico and Piazza Caracciolo. The market was originally a meat market but these days everything from meat, fish, vegetables, full meals to souvenirs is on offer.
When the food stalls close for the day (typically around 2 pm), bars and restaurants continue to fill the market with food options and happy people until the wee hours. No matter when you arrive, there is always something to experience.
From Piazza Caracciolo, at the south end of the market, continue for one block on Via Pannieri to Corso Vittorio Emanuele. Turn right and walk for 250 metres to Via Maqueda and the intersection known as Piazza Vigliena or Quattro Canti.
This is the historic heart of the old city. The intersection has 8 equal sides; 4 contain streets and the balance contain building fronts. Each building façade has a fountain at ground level with statues in niches above. If you can, visit this intersection at different times during the day. As the sun moves through the sky, each building is sunlit, giving the intersection the nickname Theatre of the Sun (Il Teatro del Sole).
Continue on Corso Vittorio Emanuele for about 500 metres. The Cattedrale di Palermo sits to the right across a beautiful, green courtyard.
The 12th-century cathedral impresses with its unique Arab-Norman architectural style, still visible after many reconstructions over the centuries. Admire its façade, Neoclassical dome, and once inside, the sets of Moorish arches.
Below the sanctuary, see the royal Norman tombs and crypts containing sarcophagi dating back to the Roman era. The treasury with Constance of Aragon’s gem-encrusted, 13th-century crown is also a highlight. Climb to the roof terrace for great city views.
Continue on Corso Vittorio Emanuele. The area to the left is the Albergheria quarter. This district once housed the Norman King’s officials and advisers. Like most of the city, it was damaged by WWII bombing. Today its buildings house many of Sicily’s Regional government offices.
After a short walk, the beautiful Villa Bonanno park, in Piazza della Vittoria, is on the left. Walk through it to the UNESCO-recognized Palazzo dei Normanni and Cappella Palatina.
Norman Palace and Palatine Chapel
The palace was built in the 9th century. When the Normans took control of the city in the 12th century, it became the seat of the Norman kings. Today, it is the seat of the Sicilian Regional Assembly.
The Normans added gold-highlighted Byzantine mosaics to the Royal Apartments and the Palatine Chapel. The chapel is a masterpiece with Arabian arches, inlaid marble floors, and a wooden ‘muqarnas’ ceiling demonstrating the marriage of cultures under Norman rule.
Next door is the Chiesa di San Giovanni degli Eremiti, another of Palermo’s UNESCO churches.
Church of Saint John of the Hermits
This 12th-century, Arab-Norman church was built atop a mosque which was built on the site of a 6th-century Benedictine chapel. Five, red domes cap the church. The church is surrounded by a lush garden of citrus trees and exotic plants and includes the ruins of the cloister.
Walk northeast on Via Antonio Mongitore. The street ends at Piazza F Baronio Manfredi. Turn right and then immediately left to stay on Piazza F Baronio Manfredi. Continue straight onto Via Tesauro Francesco Paolo. The street ends at Via Ballaro and Mercato di Ballaro.
The always-bustling market stretches along most of the pedestrian-only Via Ballaro. This is the oldest and most authentic of the city’s street markets. Enjoy bargaining for fresh produce, cheese, olives, and seafood just like the locals. Don’t miss street food like chickpea fritters and marzipan fruits. In the evening, restaurants spill onto the streets. Any time of day, it is a mix of noises, smells and street life.
Via Casa Professa begins at the northwest end of Via Ballaro. Turn right and walk to Chiesa del Gesù (about 150 metres).
Church of the Jesus
This was our favourite church in Palermo. See twisted columns, sculpted angels, and marble draperies. It seems like frescos adorn every flat surface. We almost walked past this church, but were so glad we went inside.
The stunning Baroque church, also known as Casa Professa, was built during the 17th century. Over the next century, its predominantly marble, interior décor was completed.
Via Casa Professa becomes Via del Ponticello to the northeast of the church. Walk to Via Maqueda. Turn left and walk about 80 metres. On the right is Piazza Bellini and Chiesa di San Cataldo, the second last UNESCO-protected church on our tour.
Church of San Cataldo
The red domes and square, blocky shape of this 12th-century church are a simple yet striking blend of Arab and Norman architecture. The interior is stark with its bare, stone walls and little decoration.
The UNESCO-recognized Chiesa di Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio is next door to San Cataldo Church.
Church of St. Mary of the Admiral
The rather unique name of this church honours the Grand Admiral of the Kingdom who ordered its construction in the 12th century. Later the church was added to the nearby monastery of Martorana and is now often referred to simply as La Martorana.
The church floor plan is typical of Byzantine churches where the congregation faced the east to pray. Although many of the Byzantine mosaics have disappeared, the upper part of the walls and the dome are still covered with mosaics, thought to be the oldest in Sicily.
Across the Piazza Bellini is the Chiesa e Monastero di Santa Caterina d’Alessandria.
Church and Monastery of Saint Catherine of Alexandria
A Dominican monastery began here in the 14th century. The current church was added in the 16th century by purchasing and expanding a nearby church building. Both the monastery and the church suffered considerable bomb damage during World War II. The monastery welcomed cloistered nuns until 2014.
In 2017, the property opened as a museum of sacred art. A sweet shop sells desserts from monasteries in Palermo reproduced according to ancient recipes. Visit the terraces for a bird’s eye view of the area.
Don’t miss the Pretoria Fountain in the centre of Piazza Pretoria which is just a short walk along the west wall of the church. The intricate fountain is known for its sculptures of naked nymphs. In the 16th-century, the city’s church-goers called it the Fountain of Shame. The building on the left, Pretorio Palace, houses Palermo City Hall.
For another look at Quattro Canti’s Theatre of the Sun, continue through Pretoria Square to Via Maqueda, turn right and the intersection is straight ahead.
Otherwise, from Piazza Bellini walk east on Discesa dei Giudici, across Via Roma and continue on Via Sant’Anna for 300 metres.
This is the Kalsa quarter which was left untouched for decades after World War II’s destructive bombings. The area finally received some love and attention. Art galleries, restored churches and palaces, and other tourist attractions are now open in Kalsa.
The Galleria d’Arte Moderna is in the convent of the Church of Sant’Anna, on the left.
Sant’Anna Modern Art Gallery
The gallery exhibits both paintings and sculptures showing the evolution of Italian art in the 19th and the 20th centuries. The huge building includes exhibition spaces, a bookshop, cafeteria/restaurant and more.
The building was built in the 15th century. It became the Modern Art Gallery’s home in 2006.
Walk east on Via Sant’Anna, continuing along Piazza Croce dei Vespri, Piazza Aragona and Via Alloro, a distance of about 500 metres to Galleria Regionale di Sicilia.
Regional Art Gallery of Sicily
The 15th-century, Gothic-Catalan, Palazzo Abatellis houses one of Palermo’s top art museums. Originally the home of an important city official, it became a monastery after his death.
The gallery displays artwork by Sicilian artists from the Middle Ages to the 18th century. Treasures include Antonello da Messina’s dramatic Annunciata, painted in 1473, and the fresco Triumph of Death, painted in the mid-15th century.
Walk back on Via Alloro to Via del Quattro Aprile, turn right and walk to Piazza Marina and the Palazzo Chiaramonte Steri (on the right). It’s about 120 metres.
The museum is on the lower floors of the 14th-century palace, Palazzo Chiaramonte-Steri. From 1600 to 1782, it held the tribunal of the Holy Inquisition and its prison.
Wander through restored jail cells and see the graffiti artwork of inquisition prisoners. Learn about the fates of accused heretics, jailed here by the thousands.
Continue on Piazza Marina and edge to the right onto Salita della Intendenza. The 2nd lane on the right is Piazza Antonio Pasqualino. The Museo Internazionale delle Marionette Antonio Pasqualino is about 60 metres down the lane on the right.
Antonio Pasqualino International Puppet Museum
Sicily’s traditional puppet theatre, which began in the 18th century, thrives at this delightful, unique museum. It is a combination of museum and stage for live theatrical shows. Whimsical puppets with elaborate costumes enact tales of life from long ago. Exhibits show the wooden puppets’ mechanics, costumes and scripts.
Return to Salita della Intendenza and cross the boulevard to Piazza Marina. Giardino Garibaldi is straight ahead. The only entrance is on the northwest corner. Follow the Piazza to the right then turn left and walk to the corner.
Garibaldi Garden and the Palermo Waterfront
Opened in 1863, these lush gardens honour national hero, Giuseppe Garibaldi, who played a role in the unification of Italy. Stroll beside palm trees and statues of illustrious Italians. The stars of the garden are the huge ficus trees, some of the largest in Italy.
In the evening, enjoy the waterfront. Sip a drink at a bar on the nearby esplanade. Watch the port’s twinkling lights. Join the locals for an evening passeggiata along the waterfront promenade of Foro Italico Umberto I. There are lots of options.
The easiest way to reach the waterfront is by walking east on nearby Via Vittorio Emanuele and through the former city gate, Porta Felice. Built in the late 16th century, these imposing, Renaissance-and-Baroque-style gates, marked the water entrance to ancient Palermo.
Know Before You Go – Visiting Palermo
Can I drive in the old city of Palermo? Where can I park in Palermo?
Driving within the historic city is not recommended. It’s a busy area. The number of pedestrians in the area makes driving an uneasy and stressful event. There is limited parking in these areas and in most cases, you’ll need a special pass to park there.
We recommend parking your vehicle outside of the historic area. We parked our vehicle to the north, in the Politeama – Libertà neighbourhood.
When trying to park your vehicle, note the colour of street parking lines.
- White lines are FREE.
- Blue lines are pay. Depending on the area, you can pay for your parking by: using an online application, using a street machine, or purchasing a ticket from the local tobacco shops.
Is Palermo a walkable city?
Yes, Palermo is definitely walkable. All of the major sites in Palermo (the markets, churches and museums) are concentrated in the historic district. We covered our 5-km walking route in one full day.
Sicily Road Trip
Palermo is just one great destination on a Sicily road trip. Be sure to check out our article, 7-14 Day Sicily Self-Driving Tour, for even more places to visit.
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