If you’re visiting the Sicilian capital city for the first time, then 48 hours in Palermo is just long enough to get your bearings, explore all the top sites and eat your weight in brioche con gelato and street food. Most tourists who visit Sicily head to the east coast and road trip through the countryside for a week or two. And that sounds like a great trip! But I think keen city break-ers should consider Palermo the next time they book a trip.
What comes to mind when you think of Sicily or Palermo? The Mafia? Maybe you’re concerned that Palermo is quite dangerous. That the infrastructure for visitors isn’t great, or that it’s dirty and not very exciting? If you visited Palermo in the early 1990s, those assumptions might have been fair. But today, Palermo is a city on the up. The city centre is largely pedestrianised, more businesses are taking a stand against organised crime and it’s N. 5 on Forbes’ list of the best street food in the world.
Palermo’s history is perhaps one of the most culturally diverse in Europe (and that’s saying something). Over the last 2,000 years, the city was inhabited by the Normans, Arabs, Byzantines and the Spanish before it became an Italian region. This resulted in some elaborately decorated churches that were granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 2015. Don’t get me wrong, Palermo is still rough around the edges. But it’s refreshing to visit an Italian city without a well-trodden tourist trail. It’s not overtouristed and a lot of the secret spots have yet to be revealed.
My Palermo city guide will include the best restaurants in Palermo for every meal as well as street food and the best gelato. I’ll also cover things to do in Palermo, where to stay in Palermo and how to get to Palermo. And if you have any questions, please leave a comment below this post and I’ll be happy to answer you!
48 Hours in Palermo Itinerary
I’ve added a few shops/street food places on my Palermo map that aren’t listed on my itinerary. You don’t *need* to visit these places, but if you want to pop in a shop or re-fuel throughout your day, I’ve got your back.
Travel/Flights to Palermo: How to get there
You can absolutely find cheap flights to Palermo as long as you book a few months in advance. Flights to Palermo aren’t as frequent or convenient as other cities in Italy like Rome and Milan, so it’s best to book them as soon as you can. I booked my plane tickets in April (my trip was in September 2019) and my outbound flight cost around £65 (Ryanair, includes extra cabin baggage fees) and my return was £70 with EasyJet. But I know you can purchase cheaper tickets if you’re flexible on dates. And since Sicily has such a nice climate, you could travel in the off-season for much less and still enjoy fairly warm weather.
I flew from Manchester Airport to Palermo to meet my parents who were already in the city. Then, I flew back to Liverpool Airport with them. So, direct flights to Palermo Airport are definitely available from multiple UK cities.
Transfers from Palermo Airport to Centrale Station/City Centre
Getting from Palermo airport to the city centre is really cheap and easy if you take the train. Palermo Airport’s train station is within the airport itself, a few floors down from arrivals. So just follow the ‘tren/train’ signs when you reach arrivals. Then, you can buy a single ticket to Palermo Centrale Station using the ticket machines (which can operate in English) with either card or cash costing €5.90. There are only two platforms and trains depart around two/three times an hour so you shouldn’t have to wait too long for the next one.
There are lots of other train stations in Palermo on the same route so I departed at a stop closer to my accommodation, Palermo Palazzo Reale-Orleans. This might be something you want to check in advance if your accommodation isn’t close to Centrale Station, especially if you have heavy luggage. Then you might have to blow all the money you saved taking the train on a taxi!
You could also check out these shuttle/private transfer options in Palermo if you’d prefer, especially if you have lots of luggage.
Accommodation in Palermo: Where to Stay
You’ve got so much choice when it comes to your Palermo accommodation. So many fantastic hotels, apartments and hostels and they’re much more affordable than a lot of other capital cities in Europe. We stayed in this apartment near Palermo Cathedral and it was perfect. The owners were on hand should we need any assistance and there was a huge balcony/terrace overlooking the city. I think an apartment is a great idea somewhere like Sicily where breakfast or brunch isn’t a big deal (so you can have a kitchen and make your own breakfast to save ££).
You can easily find affordable Palermo hotels for less than £50 per night, and I usually book hotels through Booking.com. If you’d prefer to stay in a hostel in Palermo (which I would if I was travelling solo), I always book my hostels through Hostelworld.
The best area to stay in Palermo is as close to the Quattro Canti as possible. Particularly near either Palermo Cathedral or Teatro Massimo. Quattro Canti is the historical centre of Palermo and you’ll no doubt walk through it multiple times per day. When you’ve only got 48 hours in Palermo, you don’t want to spend half your time traipsing back and forth from your accommodation.
Day 1 in Palermo: Walking Tour, Palermo Cathedral & Quattro Canti
Breakfast – Makeda Food & Sweet
I’ll be honest – there aren’t that many amazing breakfast spots in Palermo. A ‘traditional’ Italian or Sicilian breakfast most often consists of a coffee such as an espresso or cappuccino with a pastry, perhaps a fruit or coffee flavoured granita. So, if your hotel offers free breakfast or you’re staying in an apartment, go for it! Don’t feel like you’re missing out on a vibrant breakfast scene in Palermo. Save your pennies for gelato and pasta!
If you do fancy grabbing breakfast in Palermo, head to Makeda Food & Sweet. It’s centrally located on Via Maqueda and serves lots of delicious pastries and coffees perfect for breakfast. Open 7:00-2:00 every day (!!).
- Guided Tour of Teatro Massimo – Before your walking tour, I recommend you head inside Teatro Massimo for a guided tour of the building. Teatro Massimo is Italy’s biggest opera house and the second biggest in Europe. The theatre was closed for 23 years due to renovations, corruption and cost delays but finally reopened in 1997. The tours run from 9:30-18:00 every day costing €8 for full price adults. Usually, the tours set off every half an hour and you don’t need to book in advance. €8 is a lot for some people for a half-hour tour and it’s not essential to see inside if you don’t have the money/time, but the Teatro is just beautiful inside.
- Palermo Free Walking Tour – On the first day of your 48 hours in Palermo, I recommend you start your trip with this free walking tour with a local guide. This is the tour I joined and I loved it. I just think walking tours are perfect if you’re short on time. Our guide was friendly and so knowledgeable and there’s no way I’d learn so much about the top Palermo sights without the tour. You can pre-book your places on their site here so they know to expect you. And you can tip your guides whatever you wish at the end (but I’d say no less than €10 per person for a good job). They will take you to Theatre Massimo, Gallerie Delle Vittorie, Quattro Canti, Piazza and Fountain Pretoria, Church of San Cataldo, Chiesa Della Martorana and finally, Palermo Cathedral. The tours start at either 10:00 or 11:30 depending on the day of the week and meet outside Church of St Ignatius at Olivella.
Lunch – Le Angeliche
Save exploring inside Palermo Cathedral until later and instead, walk the seven minutes to Le Angeliche Bistro. This small restaurant is run exclusively by women and serves delicious Sicilian food with a modern, fresh twist. Inside has a feminine decor and the air con is blasting. Which you’ll love after traipsing around Palermo in the heat all morning!
I had a tomato and mozzarella pesto salad and a Sicilian lemonade (served with a reusable straw!) which was just delicious. They also have a pastry counter and a fantastic craft beer selection. What more could you possibly want?!
It’s not an easy restaurant to stumble across as it’s tucked away down a narrow side street but just use Google Maps. Le Angeliche is worth it and you’re likely to find free tables due to its obscure location. They’re open from 9:00-19:00 most days except open later on Mondays and they close later on weekends.
- Brioscià Gelateria – It’s time for gelato! Brioscià is one of the best gelaterias in Palermo and only an eight-minute walk from the restaurant. If you want an authentic Sicilian gelato, ask for it served in a brioche bun. Note that they don’t accept credit cards and are open 11:00-midnight every day.
- Norman Palace and Palatine Chapel – One of the top things to do in Palermo is to visit Palatine Chapel within the Norman Palace. It’s home to the Sicilian Regional Assembly and dates back to the 11th century. The Norman Palace is a beautiful building with eclectically designed Royal Apartments, but the main attraction is the Palatine Chapel which is just magnificent. It’s part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Palermo churches and is covered head to toe in golden mosaic. Opening times are 8:15-17:45 every day except they close at 13:00 on Sundays. Visit on Monday, Friday or the weekend so you can visit the Hall of Hercules that the Regional Assembly use Tuesday-Thursday. Buy your tickets at the little kiosk outside the building near Villa Bonanno Park. Full price tickets to the Palace and chapel are €12. And you can buy add ons to gain access to other exhibitions, but I personally wouldn’t waste your money. Buy another gelato instead!
- Palermo Cathedral – Finally, get back to Palermo Cathedral before sunset, if it’s the right time of year. It’s open from 7:00-19:00 and even though the cathedral is beautiful inside, the interior isn’t nearly as decorative as the exterior. It’s the view from the roof you want. The cathedral is free to enter, but the roof costs about €5 and is worth every penny. Best view in the city, surely! And worth witnessing at sunset.
Dinner – Taverna dei Canti OR Maqueda Bistrot
We ate at both of these Palermo restaurants during our trip and I loved them both, for different reasons. I couldn’t recommend one above the other!
Taverna dei Canti and Maqueda Bistrot are literally next-door neighbours on Via Maqueda, one of the pedestrianised streets near the Quattro Canti. Taverna dei Canti is a mid-priced restaurant serving delicious fresh pasta and local Sicilian dishes. And I drank a soft drink called a Chinotto which tasted a bit like Coke but it’s made from Sicilian citrus fruit.
Maqueda Bistrot, on the other hand, isn’t so much a proper restaurant but a bar that also serves food. They don’t have much of a menu, mainly antipasti and salads. But if you ask for pasta they will show you a hand-written blackboard with that day’s selection. I had an Aperol Spritz and pasta dish, again beautiful. And guess how much the pasta dishes and cocktails were? €5 each!!! They only offered cannoli for dessert, but really who cares when the cocktails and pasta are that good for that cheap?!
Both restaurants are open from 12:00-23:30 every day, and Maqueda Bistrot is also open for breakfast.
The first day of your 48 hours in Palermo has been a little busy! But the second day is much more relaxed. So, you may want to spend your evening unwinding at one of these Palermo bars, depending on your tipple of choice…
- Extra Hop – If you’re a craft beer connoisseur, there aren’t tonnes of specialised craft beer bars in Palermo. There is one, however, and that’s Extra Hop which is also a bottle shop. They have some indoor and outdoor seating and open 18:00-02:00 every day.
- Botteghe Colletti – Cocktails and a gloomy interior are on the cards at Botteghe Colletti. If you don’t love vintage tiffany lamps and old movie posters you won’t like this place, but I think it looks like my kind of bar. Welcoming and very cosy. Great place for proper aperitivo and they’re open from 18:30-02:30 every day.
Day 2 in Palermo: Street Food Tour, Churches & Cannoli
Breakfast – Caffetteria del Corso
If you want to grab a quick pastry, coffee or granita (like a fancy Sicilian slushie, but if you get a coffee granita it’s a little like a frappe) for breakfast, head to Caffetteria del Corso on Via Vittorio Emmanuele.
It’s just a super basic cafe and they don’t have much seating available, but it’s highly-rated and has a local feel. It’s the kind of coffee shop where you might grab a quick espresso before work. Plus, you probably won’t need to eat tonnes for breakfast because we’re starting the second day of your 48 hours in Palermo on a street food tour!
- Street Food Tour – Palermo is one of the best cities for street food in the world. No question. You need to appreciate and eat as much street food (or street-style food) as you can during your 48 hours in Palermo, and I loved the Streaty Food and Local Market Tour in Palermo. Not only does it have the Paul Hollywood seal of approval (seriously, check out their photos!) but you’ll eat tonnes of street food from the local markets (like Mercato del Capo and Mercato Vucciria), And they give you a little booklet so you don’t have to remember exactly what you ate and where! Perfect! Tours are fantastic if you don’t have long to explore. And if you choose the 10:30-13:30 time slot, you’re basically sorted for lunch! The street food tour meets outside Teatro Massimo and finishes near the port at Gelateria La Kala (in summer).
Lunch – Passami ù Coppu
If you are still a little peckish after the Palermo street food tour, you can easily walk straight up Via Vittorio Emanuele to Passami ù Coppu for lunch. It’s a really bright and traditionally decorated ‘fast food’ place, but serving Sicilian street-style food. It’s perfect for just after your street food tour. They serve some of the delicacies you’ll eat on the tour like the fried deliciousness of panelle, cazzilli and arancini as well as sandwiches and fries.
They have a few tables inside and outside but you can also eat on the go. All dishes on offer are above the counter on a picture menu so you can just read out a number when you order, which is at the counter to the left of the kitchen. Passami ù Coppu is open from 7:30-midnight on weekdays and opens 9:30 on weekends. Some weekend nights close as late as 4:00 in the morning.
For the last afternoon of your 48 hours in Palermo, I’m suggesting a few ideas near the Quattro Canti. You could revisit some of the things to do in Palermo that were on the itinerary yesterday. Especially if you didn’t quite have time to see them all. Or, just continue wandering around shopping and/or eating!
- Giardino Garibaldi – Near Palermo port is Giardino Garibaldi. It’s literally just a garden but the huge banyan trees have sprawled out all over the park and offer some shade on a hot day.
- Gelateria Al Cassaro – You should definitely aim to consume at least one gelato per day! Gelateria Al Cassaro is really near the Quattro Canti and while it may not be the most pretty gelateria, the gelato is delicious and homemade. Open from 12:00-23:00 every day.
- Cannolissimo – And you need to try cannoli in Sicily! I’m sure you’ve heard of the traditional Sicilian sweet treat from The Godfather (1972). It’s usually eaten in winter as an alternative to gelato. Although I’m not the biggest fan of cannoli, I tried it at two different places just to make sure. Including Cannolissimo! You choose the filling flavour, the fried pastry flavour AND the toppings! I chose pistachio filling and white chocolate pastry. Open 8:00-23:00 every day.
- Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio Church and Church of San Cataldo – As well as Palermo Cathedral, the Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio Church and the Church of San Cataldo are both a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. They’re featured on the walking tour, but if you tend to like churches, you might like to visit inside. They both have entrance fees but you can get a combined ticket for €3. They’re situated right next to each other by Piazza Pretoria and the Pretoria Fountain. Open around 9:30-17:30 on weekdays with a two-hour break from 13:00-15:00.
Dinner – Pizzeria Frida
I’ve suggested lots of pasta/salad bistros and restaurants in Palermo thus far. On your last evening in Palermo, it’s finally time to sample the pizza. This is supposedly one of the best pizzerias in the city. And it is Italy, so that’s saying something.
Pizzeria Frida (as in Frida Callo, the Mexican artist, bit weird) serves oven-baked, fresh doughy pizza just as you would expect in Southern Italy. A variety of toppings are on the menu including prosciutto, olives, pesto, mushrooms and so much more. Mainly vegetables and buffalo mozzarella, though. No pepperoni or meat feasts here!
Pizzas cost between €7-15 and you might need to queue for a table if it’s a busy night, but they take no bookings. Open 19:30-midnight every day.
On the last night of your 48 hours in Palermo, why not see if there is anything on at Teatro Massimo? They don’t have shows every single night but the theatre definitely hosts touring performances a few nights a week.
For example, a concert of two Beethoven’s symphonies is performing in five days time (from when I’m writing this post, of course!) and tickets that cost between €16-30, depending on seats and concessions, are available! Which is very reasonably priced if you consider that’s less than one week’s notice and this is Italy’s biggest opera house.
Or, if you’re a movie fan like I am, why not check out some of the best cinemas in Palermo? It’s not often they show English films or films with English subtitles but you never know.
Day Trips from Palermo
If you’re spending more than 48 hours in Palermo, you’ve absolutely got time for a day trip! And there are some fantastic, easy day trips from Palermo.
- Cefalù – I visited Cefalù which is a coastal town around 40 minutes by train to the east of Palermo. It’s a beautiful little city with a beach and lots of narrow cobbled streets with plenty of bars and shops. Definitely the best option for a day trip! You can read all about my day trip to Cefalù here.
- Monreale – On one of my afternoons in Palermo, I hopped on an organised bus to Monreale, just south of Palermo. Monreale Cathedral is yet another cathedral that’s part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Arab Norman churches in and around Palermo. You could also visit Monreale in the afternoon of your second day in Palermo if you wanted. You can book your bus tickets to Monreale the morning before your trip via a stand run by a company called Open ArTour next to Villa Bonanno Park and the trip sets off around 15:00. I would not bother with their (or any) Hop on Hop off bus tour of Palermo, but this is an easy way to visit Monreale.
- Mondello Beach – And if you fancy a lazy day on the beach, head west along the coast to Mondello. There aren’t too many things to do in Mondello apart from rolling out your towel and laying on the sand for a few hours. It’s a typical beachside town! You can catch the 806 bus from Palermo to Mondello which takes around 30 minutes. Buses depart roughly every 20 minutes from Liberta’ – Notarbartolo bus stop costing around €1.75 for a single ticket.
And that is my perfect itinerary for 48 hours in Palermo, the capital city of Sicily! Are you planning a trip to Palermo? Let me know in the comments below!