Top 10 Must See Attractions in Palermo - For First-Time Visitors

by Alexa Monroe

From Author

As the capital of Sicily, Palermo has no shortage of sights for curious travelers. But for first-time visitors with limited time, choosing what to prioritize can be a challenge. After multiple trips there, these are my picks for Palermo’s top 10 must-see attractions that you won’t want to miss:

Top 10 Must See Attractions in Palermo - For First-Time Visitors

1) Palermo Cathedral - 12th Century Cathedral Blending Diverse Cultural Styles
Palermo Cathedral is a striking 12th century cathedral that uniquely incorporates Arab, Romanesque and Baroque architectural elements due to additions made over the centuries. Marvel at the regal Norman family tombs, see jewels and vestments in the treasury, and climb the bell tower for panoramic views over the city’s rooftops. But especially don’t miss admiring the cathedral’s diverse mix of Arab-Norman arches, ornate Baroque stucco work, paintings, mosaics and more.
2) Teatro Massimo - Italy's Grandest 19th Century Opera House
Construction first began in 1874 on Teatro Massimo, an impressively massive neoclassical opera house and the largest in Italy. The opulent interior dazzles visitors with marble details, gold leaf decor and vibrant fresco ceiling paintings depicting scenes from famous operas composed by Italian masters. Guided tours allow you to admire the ornate architecture and decor up close while learning about the opera house’s long and illustrious history at the cultural heart of Palermo. Don’t miss the chance to experience perfect acoustics during an opera or concert performance in this gorgeous venue.
3) Palazzo dei Normanni - Arab-Norman Palace Overflowing with Artwork
As the seat of Sicily’s regional government, this 9th century palace impresses with its diverse blend of Arab-Norman architecture. Its highlight is the Palatine Chapel completely covered in stunning Byzantine mosaics of biblical scenes and saints. Other features include the Norman Kings Room with medieval murals and an original throne. Schedule a tour to fully experience the palace’s mixture of Arab, Byzantine and Norman art and architecture throughout its rooms and corridors.
Palazzo dei Normanni – Arab-Norman Palace Overflowing with Artwork
4) Monreale Cathedral - 12th Century Cathedral with Breathtaking Byzantine Mosaics
Just outside Palermo, the 12th century Monreale Cathedral is famous for dazzling visitors with over 6,500 square meters of extensive glittering golden Byzantine mosaics covering the cathedral’s columned interior walls and arches. It’s considered one of Sicily’s most significant artistic masterpieces. The shimmering golden mosaics depict biblical stories, saints, and more. Don’t miss seeing this magnificent Norman cathedral situated on a scenic hillside with sweeping valley views.
5) Catacombs of the Capuchins - Macabre Display of Preserved Monks and Locals
Under the Capuchin monastery, these eerie catacombs hold over 8,000 preserved and mummified monks and wealthy locals from the 16th to 19th centuries. It’s an unusual sight, providing insight into Sicilian history and culture. Some mummies are posed standing upright in wall niches or chillingly hanging along the walls and ceilings, still wearing their faded original clothing. Definitely not for the faint of heart, but intriguing.
6) La Martorana - Historic Church with Elaborate Byzantine Mosaics
Also called Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio, this 12th century church was the first Norman cathedral of Palermo. It impresses visitors with its extraordinarily intricate Byzantine mosaics that have earned it the nickname “Martorana of mosaics.” Marvel at the famous Christ Pantocrator mosaic dome and other biblical scenes crafted by talented 12th-century Greek artists. Be sure to admire this church’s Arab-Norman bell tower and architecture as well.
La Martorana - Historic Church with Elaborate Byzantine Mosaics
La Martorana – Historic Church with Elaborate Byzantine Mosaics
7) Quattro Canti - Ornate Baroque Square with Statues of Seasons
The photogenic Quattro Canti is an ornate octagonal square located at the crossing of Via Vittorio and Via Maqueda, Palermo’s historic main streets. This baroque public space features elaborately carved statues representing the four seasons on each side of the octagon. A great spot to see Palermo’s Spanish-influenced baroque architecture and streetscapes.
8) La Magione - Remains of a 12th Century Arab-Norman Palace
These remains of a 12th century Norman Arabic summer palace retain impressive Arab-Norman architecture influences like interlacing arches and intricate stonework. Climb the tower, called “La Torre Pisana,” for beautiful panoramic views over Palermo’s rooftops and surrounding mountains. Wander through the peaceful cultivated gardens with citrus trees and fountains onsite.
9) Museo Archeologico Regionale - Treasures from Sicily's Ancient Civilizations
One of Italy’s most important archaeological museums, this venue displays ancient treasures from significant Greek and Roman Sicilian sites like Agrigento, Selinunte, and Syracuse. Highlights include artifacts from temples and daily life like Greek black figure pottery, terracotta figures, and marble Roman statues. Get insight into Sicily’s multicultural past spanning Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and more.
10) San Giovanni degli Eremiti - Arab-Norman Church with Striking Red-Domed Architecture
Built in 1132, this Palermo church has uniquely striking Arab-Norman architecture like the twin red-domed cloister garden with interlacing arches. The harmonious blend of Middle Eastern and European architectural styles reflects Sicily’s diverse cultural influences. Tours allow you to fully take in this historic church’s architecture inside and out. Don’t miss the exotic cloister garden, a peaceful oasis in the city.

With this list, first-time visitors can hit Palermo’s top highlights and appreciate the best of Sicily’s diverse cultural legacy in architecture, art and history