Do you have 2 days to visit Palermo?
Then you have the opportunity to not only take in the unmissable sites and attractions of this fascinating city but also to broaden the range of your visit and discover further delights.
For your first day I recommend “What to see in 1 day” to which, given the extended time available, we can add visits to other places that will deepen and enrich the discovery of Palermo.
Start your visit from the church of S. Giovanni degli Eremiti with its delightful cloister and its exotic garden. Since 2015 this charming church has also been included in the Arab-Norman route declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Leave the traffic and chaos of the city behind you and immerse yourself in a hidden corner.
Continue on to the nearby Royal Palace where the visit to the Palatine Chapel is a “must-see”.
Upon arriving at the Cathedral, I suggest going beyond the usual tour: a visit to the rooftop area. The Cathedral of Palermo was, like many Sicilian Norman churches, a fortified church, with a whole system of walkways on the roofs and within the towers at the four corners that allowed the guards to control and defend the city from above . A religious building, therefore, also with a military function.
Today, from the rooftops you can enjoy a wonderful 360 degree view of Palermo, from the sea to the mountains that protect it to the west, and especially of the ancient city with its many elegant and colorful domeswhich are apparent all around.
After leaving the cathedral, continue along the Càssaro, the historic main road laid by the Phoenicians, founders of Panormus in the 7th century. BC, which still connects the sea to the small hill of the Royal Palace to this day.
Along the Cassaro, take a trip to the church of the SS.Salvatore, a church of Norman origins refurbished in the Baroque period and covered with colored marble of mixed inlay. The building is particularly interesting as it is one of the very few examples in Palermo of a church with an elliptical plan; it suffered heavy bombing during the Second World War but was promptly rebuilt following the Scientific Restoration Technique which allows the visitor to distinguish the original parts from those rebuilt.
Continue along the Cassaro up to the Four Corners, turn right to enjoy the spectacle of Pretoria Square, surrounded by the majestic churches of S. Catherine and S. Joseph and arrive in Bellini Square, where you should visit the church of S. Maria dell’Ammiraglio, known as the Martorana.
At this point, after admiring the beautiful mosaics of the Martorana, if you want to be further amazed, enter the church of S. Catherine, one of the greatest examples of Sicilian Baroque art and take also the opportunity to visit the ancient monastery once inhabited by cloistered nuns.
Now take the Discesa dei Giudici, cross Roma Street and, from S.Anna Square, enter the Kalsa district.
Founded in 937 by the Arabs, Al Halisah, from the Arabic “the chosen one”, is one of the oldest district in Palermo where, among alleys, churches and noble palaces, you can still breathe a medieval atmosphere.
After visiting the beautiful church of S.Francesco and the little jewel that is the oratory of S. Lorenzo, which once held a painting by Caravaggio unfortunately now stolen, you can stop at the Antica Focacceria S.Francesco and taste the famous Palermo street food.
Then continue your walk along the ancient Via Alloro where you can enter the Regional Gallery of Palazzo Abatellis: the fresco of the Triumph of Death or the Annunciation by Antonello da Messina are well worth a visit.
Take one of the alleys that lead you to Magione Square and here, beyond the medieval church of the same name, ensure you visit the church of Spasimo. It is a place full of charm, the church was built in the sixteenth century but then it was soon abandoned by the friars to allow the construction of a bastion in defense of the ancient city.
The church is a symbol of the rebirth that the district has experienced in recent years, an amazing experience due to the open sky that reveals itself above you …
Then return to Marina Square, passing by the popular Kalsa square and along via Butera or the Foro Italico, conclude your walk to the Cala, the ancient port of Palermo, and enjoy the view of the small marina which is overlooked by the city.
And here you are on your second day in Palermo. There is still so much to see and savor, so let’s go!
I suggest, first of all, making a small detour out of town and going to admire the exceptional Cathedral of Monreale.
We are a few kilometers from the center of Palermo, so you will need a means to get there. If case you opt for public buses, between traffic and waiting at stops, equip yourself with a fair amount of patience. Your own vehicle, if you have it, is a better option or negotiate for a taxi …
In Monreale, the Norman Cathedral constructed at the end of the 12th century awaits you with its exceptional mosaic cover (consider that it is more than 6000 square meters of mosaics of local, venetian and byzantine workmanship) and the suggestive cloister, a perfect square with dozens of decorated columns and capitals worked in relief.
Take a quiet walk inside the silent cloister and, among the many capitals, look for the famous capital with the image of the Norman king William II who, kneeling, offers the model of the cathedral to the Virgin …
Returning to Palermo, a place that many do not want to miss out on visiting is the Capuchin Catacombs.
If you have a taste for the macabre, then this is the place for you! Hundreds of mummies of Capuchin friars and rich Palermitans who, for centuries (from the beginning of the 17th century until the beginning of the 20th century when this type of burial was forbidden) were buried, or even, exposed here.
Another undoubtedly interesting stop in Palermo, a little outside the historic center and thereby needing your own vehicle to visit, is the Zisa Palace.
The Normans named this palacem that was located outside the city walls, Al Aziz, “the splendid”.
It is a well-preserved example of a civil building, similar in style to some buildings in North Africa, where the sovereigns entertained and realxed during the hot summers, devoting themselves to leisure and entertainment activities. It’s easy to imagine it surrounded, as it once was, by an immense park, with artificial lakes, lush vegetation and hunting pavilions. The surrounding landscape has unfortunately changed, but the palace is worth a visit.
A stone’s throw from the Zisa you can take a leap in time jump and visit the Villino Florio, an extraordinary example of Art Nouveau architecture, miraculously surviving the devastating “sack of Palermo” or the extraordinary Villa Whitaker Malfitano, a very rich museum house surrounded by a park which is an aamzing botanical garden.
Not to be missed if you come to Palermo, is a trip through one of the historic markets. There are three in Palermo, all of ancient, probably Arab, origin, that remain like time capsules, places out of time, space and sometimes from rules …
The Capo market extends to the district of the same name, accessible from Porta Carini, one of the ancient gates of the city. At the Capo, make sure to find the time to visit the small church of the Annunciation, one of the richest jewels of the Palermitan baroque, and also to visit the church of Saint Agostino with its beautiful Renaissance cloister.
Ballarò is another of Palermo’s traditional markets, its name derived from the Arabic Suq al Balari, where in the arab era sellers would come from Balara, near Monreale, and came to trade their goods. Even here, between alleys and streets where there is barely space to pass between the stalls, you can lose yourself in the bright colors of fruit, vegetables and fish and treat yourself to some typical street food snacks.
When in Ballarò it is undoubtedly worth visiting the Church of Jesus, a triumph Palermitan baroque excesses. This was largely rebuilt after the Second World War bombing that destroyed the roof and part of the aisles.
If you still have the energy, why not climb the medieval S. Nicolò tower? A short flight of steps along a narrow stone spiral staircase to get to the top of one of the ancient civic towers, from which it commanded a view of all the surrounding areas, later converted into a bell tower. From here, right above a bustling little square until late at night, you can enjoy breathtaking views of the roofs, bell towers and domes in the heart of Palermo.
Finally, the day can be rounded off by taking a walk in the Vucciria area. The Vucciria market is perhaps one of the best known in Palermo, thanks to Renato Guttuso’s famous painting of the same name. Unfortunately, today the market has lost a lot of its wealth and charm and is the least lively of the three historical markets.
The area, with the central Piazza Caracciolo, comes alive especially in the evening and is now a meeting place for people who spend the night here eating fish or meat roasted on one of the numerous grills along and drinking a glass of wine at the historic Taverna Azzurra.
In the district, do not miss the monumental church of S. Domenico, which has been home to the tomb of Judge Giovanni Falcone since 2015, and the splendid oratory of S.Cita, a triumph of the white stucco decoration of the Palermitan sculptor Giacomo Serpotta.