It is difficult to answer the question about the most beautiful places in Palermo without any considering it for a while. The city has so many different attractions to offer that everyone, regardless of interests or lifestyle, will find something interesting.

Palermo (as well as the whole Sicily) is a city of contrasts, where bags of rubbish are left next to an elegant, fashionable restaurant in the city, and where you can see an abandoned or almost decaying building in the vicinity of a historic, beautifully decorated villa. You need to be ready for such views! People with a very ecological approach to life may not fully find themselves in Sicily, because this part of Italy has its own rules. Just simply. 

Palermo, city
Palermo, city of a contrast, old town

Although I spent quite a lot of time there during my last trip – 10 days – I am sure that I wasn’t able to discover all its secrets.

Architecture and monuments of Palermo

I still think that for the best food in Sicily you have to go to my beloved region of Catania, where I lived for over 8 months, but … when it comes to the number of fascinating sights, I have to admit – Palermo is second to none on the island!

It is impossible to count (and visit in a week) all these rich villas, palaces or churches (many of them formerly mosques) with amazing mosaics that are living traces of Arab and Norman domination in the past. The architecture of Palermo perfectly depicts the cultural mix.

So below you have my subjective list of the most beautiful places in Palermo! I guarantee that they are all worth seeing, and I will complete this list after my next trips to Sicily! Make it to the end – a hint and a funny detail are waiting for you there 🙂

The monastery, church and terrace of St. Catherine in Palermo

Let’s start with the place that made the greatest impression on me – the monastery and the terrace of St. Catherine. These monuments are adjacent to the Fountain of Shame and the City Hall (on one side) and Piazza Bellini (on the other), where the churches of La Martorana and San Cataldo are situated as well.

The monastery was founded in 1312 and the Dominican Sisters living there were completely cut off from the world, devoting their whole lives to silence and prayer. They often ended up there not necessarily because of their own free will, but because of family issues. The last nuns left the church in 2014 and now it has been open to the public.

Saint Catherine's Monastery, Palermo
Saint Catherine's Monastery, Palermo
Saint Catherine's Monastery, Palermo

I was most delighted with the decorations inside the monastery, its beautiful courtyard with wonderful, colorful tiles and … the view from the terrace! There is real magic happening there, you really have to see Palermo from this perspective (it’s best to come to such places for the sunset :)).

As for tickets, there are several different sightseeing options:

Church of Santa Maria dellAmmiraglio / La Martorana

And since we are next to Piazza Bellini, do not forget to visit the La Martorana church (also known as Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio). The design inside made me impressed so much! The church is on the UNESCO World Heritage List as a monument of Arab-Norman architecture.

Inside, you can see Byzantine mosaics that were completed before 1151 and are one of the oldest in Sicily!

Church of Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio / La Martorana
Church of Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio / La Martorana, decor

The church is open from 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. from Monday to Saturday, and on Sundays and holidays between 9:00 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. (please check all the info before you go). Entrance – 3 euros.

Chiesa del Gesù (Casa Professa)

The rich design of the Chiesa del Gesù church (Casa Professa) is a real masterpiece. Honestly speaking – one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen in my life! I highly recommend this place. Baroque lovers will be (literally) in heaven.

The church is right next to my favorite market, Ballarò, which is a must-see when visiting Palermo!

Chiesa del Gesù Church (Casa Professa)
Chiesa del Gesù Church (Casa Professa)

Cattedrale di Palermo

The cathedral of Palermo, which is a mixture of different architectural styles and a symbol of many cultures living on the island through the years, seems to be the most representative monument in the city. It is also one of the most photographed places that must be included in almost every postcard from the Sicilian capital!

Palermo Cathedral (Cattedrale di Palermo)

The interior is not as impressive as what can be seen outside, but it is an important place for Palermitans – here in a silver urn there are the remains of the patron of the city – St. Rozalia. You can read more about her below.

What’s interesting, there was another cathedral in this area, which was later transformed into the great Gami mosque during the Arab domination. When the Normans entered the island, it became a church again. The present Cathedral was built on its pillars, so you can find a few lines from the Koran, carved in Arabic, on one of the column.

In addition, I highly recommend going to the roof of the Cathedral, but I will write more about it in another article.

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Villa Bonanno

There is a beautiful park near the Cathedral – Villa Bonanno, where you can hide from the heat and escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. A really fun place! Perfect to recharge your batteries before further exploring or to grab a bite to eat some delicious Sicilian street-food. And those lush palm trees – I never get tired of admiring them!

Palermo, Villa Bonanno

Palermitan markets and bazaars

The fair is the heart and soul of every town in Sicily. If you want to see what the real everyday life of local people looks like and become a part of it, a visit to one of the local bazaars is a must. I wrote more about the Palermitan markets in a separate article here.

Quattro Canti

I am convinced that you would still find Quattro Canti without my suggestion – after all, it is a very pure city center, where two main streets of Palermo meet: via Maqueda and via Vittorio Emanuele.

Quattro Canti Square
Quattro Canti Square, Palermo

Even though it is one of the most touristic places in the city (and I personally prefer to explore those off the beaten track), you cannot take away its charm and magic. Especially when you hear „My Funny Valentine” by Frank Sinatra, but performed by a charismatic girl with a guitar who completely surpassed the original. It still resounds in my head. Briefly speaking, you can meet street artists and musicians here.

The Fountain of Shame in Piazza Pretoria

Apart from the fact that the Fountain of Shame is (in my opinion) one of the most beautiful fountains in Italy, there are also some interesting stories about it.

For example, the fountain was built at the request of Don Luigi Toledo, who was dreaming of having such a masterpiece in the garden of his villa in Florence. However, when he died, his son was drowning in debt and decided to sell the fountain for a huge amount of money. And the buyer turned out to be … the Senate in Palermo.

There would be nothing wrong with that, if not for the fact that the residents did not do well during this period and the money spent by the city could be better dealt. Therefore, when the fountain stood on the square, the Palermitans would shout “vergogna”, which means „shame”.

The Fountain of Shame in Piazza Pretoria
The Fountain of Shame in Piazza Pretoria

The second story says that the nakedness of the statues embarrassed the nuns who lived in the monastery opposite. Apparently, a few of them got upset by the sight of the fountain to such an extent that one night they decided to destroy the noses of the male figures (they weren’t courageous enough to cut off some other part of the body).

Tip: Coming back to reality, I recommend that you look at the fountain from above from the roof of the Monastery of St. Catherine!

Villa Giulia

Villa Giulia is just another park in Palermo that I strongly encourage you to visit. The perfect place to relax surrounded by amazing plants. It is located next to the Botanical Garden (which I didn’t reach, but had some pretty good reviews!) And Foro Italico – the seaside promenade. Apparently, Goethe himself stopped in this park to read Homer, calling this area “the greatest corner of the world” 🙂 Shall I really convince you any stronger?

Villa Giulia, park in Palermo
Villa Giulia, park in Palermo

Cathedral of Monreale

“Is it worth going to Monreale?” – I was wondering when I was in Palermo, typing this phrase several times in the Google browser. Now I can say – yes!

It is worth going there not only for the breathtaking golden Byzantine mosaics from the 12th and 13th centuries inside the Cathedral, but also for the wonderful views of Palermo and the Tyrrhenian Bay. Monreale is located on the hill of Monte Caputo and delights with its … ordinaryness. Compared to the chaotic Palermo, life here is much slower and calmer.

Monreale, Sicily

The Cathedral itself does not make a great impression from the outside, but its interior, which is the result of Normandy, Byzantine and Arab influences, is truly impressive. After entering, you will immediately notice a huge mosaic, 13.3 meters wide and 7 meters high! with Christ Pantocrator (Lord of Everything). The taste of ”exotic” is added by beautiful Arabic ornaments.

Cathedral of Monreale
Cathedral of Monreale

Admission to the Cathedral in October 2020 was free, while the entrance to the courtyard is additionally payable.

How to get to Monreale? The best is the city bus 389P, which departs from Palermo from the Indipendenza stop (ticket costs 1.40 euro). The journey takes about 30 minutes and it is worth remembering that the bus runs quite rarely, more or less every hour / hour and a half.

Santa Maria dello Spasimo

In my favorite district of Kalsa there is Chiesa Santa Maria dello Spasimo, a church that is characterized by… no roof. It was the first public theater in the city, and during the plague it turned into a hospital, then a hospice. Currently, there are various cultural events taking place in the church, and the facility itself is, in my opinion, worth seeing!

Santa Maria dello Spasimo

In my favorite district of Kalsa there is Chiesa Santa Maria dello Spasimo, a church that is characterized by… no roof. It was the first public theater in the city, and during the plague it turned into a hospital, then a hospice. Currently, there are various cultural events taking place in the church, and the facility itself is, in my opinion, worth seeing!

And what do you think are the most beautiful places in Palermo? Should I add anything to this list? 😉 If you liked the article, be sure to share it with others 🙂 And if you use my advice, be sure to let me know – it will be nice to know that my work is not going to waste!

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Post udostępniony przez Włochy, Sycylia, podróże, pyszne jedzenie | Ania🙋‍♀️ (@pizzagirl.patrol)

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