It wouldn’t be surprising for you want to move to the Sicily for the rest of your life once you realized all of the amazing sites that it has to offer. The trouble is, this isn’t practical. I can’t even begin to list all of what there is for you to see. Instead, I can give you a small list of the must-do trips around Palermo when you visit.
Quick Tip: Do not rely on the public transportation system of Palermo. While things are congested enough as it is, using the public transportation system here is a great way to run late or miss limited openings for certain sites. Rent a car and save yourself a lot of headaches (and likely a lot of your money too).
To put a finer point on this, some of the later listed places you should visit are a bit too far to road trip to, so you are better off finding a one-night accommodation. So, having a rented car sets the terms for when you get where. So, what’s the best itinerary to do from Palermo? Let’s look.
Places to visit near Palermo
1. PIANA DEGLI ALBANESI
18 miles away from downtown Palermo you will find “La Piana”, a small mountain village. While I will get into its history in a moment, first you should know why its significant to local Sicilians. It is believed that in this small village, the best cannoli in the entire world is made. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the must-eat page. You’ll want to lick your computer screen.
Now for some history. Up until around World War II, this area was known as Piana Dei Greci (Greek’s Valley). This is mainly due to the professed Byzantine-Greek religious ritual. Today it is still heavily populated with Albanians and Greeks, boasting the largest Greek-Albanian colonies in all of Sicily.
This is a great example of ancient Albania in a modern era, as much of the history has been preserved in its people here. Throughout the years, it has surprisingly maintained much of the linguistic, ethnic, religious and overall cultural staples of Albania.
After you’ve had a few cannoli, there’s a lot of history to see within this village. Start with St. George’s (the oldest church in the village) that is loaded up with paintings and statues. After this, head over to St. Demetrius, a Greek Rite church to see some of the impressive frescoes painted by Pietro Novelli. Next, check out the anthropological museum nearby to see authentic Albanian costumes and their traditional items.
At the southern part of the town you will find the Piana degli Albanesi Lake. Built in 1923, this artificial lake is the oldest in all of Sicily. When it was first constructed it was intended to be used for electricity for irrigation. If you happen to have a swimsuit along with you (and the weather is nice enough for it), have a little swim while you are down there.
If you have taken your rented car, this is not one of the overnight trips that you will have to plan for. The total round trip time is less than an hour. Don’t be worry if you are confused by the road signs (or lack thereof), just try to have some fun on the winding roads.
It was Marlon Brando in the Godfather who said he’d “make you an offer you can’t refuse.” But now, I plan to do the same thing. A town by the name of Corleone, likely an inspiration for Don Vito Corleone of the Godfather series, should be your next stop.
The village itself has always been associated with Mafia dealings (and rightfully so), long before the film series was ever even a thought. Some of the biggest and most powerful mafia bosses were from Corleone.
You can start off your trip to Corleone at the Mafia Museum. Here you can look over all of the bloody history (spanning centuries) which show the Mafia’s direct contamination of Sicily’s past. Be mindful that you don’t get swept away in idolizing these wicked men, as this would be insulting to Sicilians who understand the dear price that some had to pay fighting against this organization. Two good examples of this would be two judges, Falcone and Borsellino.
While it might have a lot of Mafia history, this is not the only perk to Corleone. Here you will also see nature, archeology, tradition and history. It is these components that make Corleone a must-see location on your trip.
The village itself rises on the Ficuzza Wood which was an area initially created for hunting and agricultural experimentation by pooling large estates together. This dates back to the end of ‘700s. There are many great sights to see here including a plethora of botanical beauties and many buildings that have been constructed within the woods (such as the Palazzina Reale).
There are many tourists who head to Corleone because of the miracles that have been said to occur throughout the district of Tagliavia. This is evident through the 19th century construction of a sanctuary (Madonna del Rosario) to the Virgin Mary for miraculously healing animals stricken with an epidemic at that time.
You don’t have to spend a night here either, as the round trip is only a couple of hours. You can head out to Corleone in the morning from Palermo, and be back to Palermo before nightfall easily. Unless of course, you have to tell your friends that you slept in the town Don Vito Corleone was born in.
While it might not have a name that is as recognizable as Corleone, and it might not be the home (fictional or otherwise) of any mafia boss throughout the years, there is a lot that makes Segesta world-renowned. This is primarily due to its Punic history (people from Ancient Carthage or modern day Tunisia).
Tourists from all around the world are drawn into this village for its Doric Temple and the Greek Theater. These were built back in the 5th century and remain a standing reminder of the area’s history in truly awe-inspiring splendor.
There is a lot of mystery about this village as well. For starters, no one even knows for sure when it was founded. Due to some documentation that was uncovered, it was known that the area was inhabited as early as 9th century BC. This document would describe how Trojan refugees crossed the Mediterranean Sea and when they reached Sicily, they founded Segesta. At that time, it was referred to as Aegesta.
Another theory is that Segesta was founded by Acestes (the son of the Trojan Egesta) and the God Crinisus. The final theory about its origins comes from a Roman poet (Virgilio) who believed that Segesta was founded by Aeneas and was a resting point for the old men and women as they made their ship journey.
Only being 45 miles from Palermo, it is possible that this could also be a day trip.
Selinunte is an ancient Greek city that once neighbored its rival Segesta. Being the westernmost Greek colony in Sicily, it doesn’t have a long history to speak of. This town experienced a great economic boom and a simultaneous period of decadence.
It is home to the biggest archeological park in all of Europe, and the entire town oozes history. The park is an amazing example of the Greek culture in Sicily. Walking through the 250 hectacres, you can see many of the white temple ruins with the blue sky as a contrasting backdrop that will leave you breathless.
Most of the beauty that you will experience within this town lies within these ancient ruins, and there are more being discovered as years go by. On the Acropolis 6 different temples were found, dedicated to Athena, Apollo, Castor and Pollux. The other 3 were located on the eastern hill.
Eathquakes ruined some of the temples back in medieval times. Two of the most famous temples, E (Temple of Hera) and C have been meticulously reconstructed.
You can easily travel back in time just from staring off into the ruins. At one point the area would have been full of temples wet with the salty airs of the sea.
Only an hour from Palermo (62 miles), this is another trip that you should be able to take and return within a day’s time.
This is another reasonably short trip from Palermo (45 miles). This isn’t just some must-see place for Sicily. This is a representation of the most beautiful sights of the entire Italian country. This is something you will regret forever if you don’t see, and that’s not even an over-exaggeration.
This town is included on a list of the most beautiful in all of Italy, this list is created by an association of the small towns throughout Italy looking to preserve history and cultural significance s years go by. There is something for everyone here, from the history and culture to the beaches and nightlife.
Cefalu is believed to have been founded some thousand years before the birth of Christ. At this time, it would have been the Greeks who would have occupied the area (5th century BC).
While it might only be 25 square miles in size, it is a popular tourist location every single year. The heaviest flow of tourists typically comes during the summer, which can rival some of the biggest Italian destinations.
You might enjoy taking a nice swim in the crystal-clear waters here (you should also take a look at all of the other beaches around Palermo as well) or you can partake of the great nightlife as well. Here is what I personally recommend:
- The Cathedral. Built by Ruggero II, who would also be buried here along with his wife (today their remains are in Palermo). Behind this cathedral, on a rock, you will find the Temple of Diana built in 5th century BC.
- The Sighting Tower. Near the Cathedral you can take a walk on the promontory. Here you will see the ruins of an old sighting tower. Imagine the new cultures, peoples and invaders that have been spotted from this point.
- Municipal Theater. This is a must see for the village. Here several scenes from the Academy Award winning “Cinema Paradiso” were shot. Even apart from this, the building is alive with culture such as the 19th century canvas decorated ceiling by Rosario Spagnolo.
While I might not always be the biggest supporter of the “touristy” spots, this is well worth spending a couple days of your trip seeing all that Cefalu has to offer.
6. PARCO DELLE MADONIE
Whether you are an avid fan of nature or not, you shouldn’t miss seeing Madonie Park on the northwest side of Sicily. This is around 55 miles from Palermo. Even though it is far newer than many of the other must-see things on this list, created in 1988, this is still an impressive sight. At an altitude of nearly 2000 meters, this botanical wonder has more than half of the 2600 species of plant life that exist in all of Sicily.
You should take in the surreal sights that surround you. Gaze towards Mount Etna, the Aeolian Islands and Nebrodi as the sun rays dance across them. You might have the words to express it, but it will be a sight you will remember for the rest of your life.
It is advisable to get the help of a tour guide or local expert to help navigate you through all you plan to see. It isn’t difficult to get lost out there. If you plan to drive around a little, be mindful that your car might not be a great choice on some of the mountain paths. If you are driving at night, watch out for wildlife (boar, deer, foxes, etc.) that could run out into the road.
This is easily accessible by the car that I’m sure you are convinced by now to rent. It is a mere 6 miles from Palermo and it is known all over Europe for being the foremost location for architecture of the Arab-Norman dynasty. The Cathedral is the prime example of this architecture in the area.
According to the history of the area, the Norman King William had the Virgin appear to him in a dream. He was shown where an old royal treasure trove was hidden and it was to be used to build a temple to her. From this, William would build the Cathedral of Monreale which is also known as Chiesa di Maria del Fiore. This structure is brimming with mosaics on the roof and walls. Golden mosaics showcase important scenes of both the Old and New Testaments.
I don’t have enough positive adjectives to describe this church, and it would be a literal sin if you went without seeing it once in your life. It is one of the most beautiful churches that exist the world over.
It will only take about 4-5 hours to drive to Monreale, see the Cathedral and some of the other sights nearby, and be back to Palermo. Well worth the short trip.
Sitting around 750 meters above the sea, this is a quaint little village with a lot of charm. Around 60 miles from Palermo, you will find Erice in the northwest part of Sicily on top of an isolated mountain.
Much like Piana degli Albanesi, the food here is what makes it renowned to the local Sicilians. Here instead of cannoli it is the Genovese. Made from a sweet shortcrust pastry, the inside is filled with a sweet pastry cream filling. For the best, stop at Maria Grammatico’s famous pastry shop.
The views here are incredible, and are something out of a romance novel. This is perhaps what makes the romantic panorama so alluring, and what encourages so many to use this area to propose marriage.
Even though we live in the modern era of smartphones, this town seems like it is very much still in the middle ages. So much so that you might be tempted to don the attire of the time and put on an Olde English accent.
You will find a familiar triangular shape to the perimeter of the buildings and streets, which is a nod to the cult of fertility. There are still walls that exist from the time in which these towns needed to be defended from invaders, some from back in the time of Phoenicians and others slightly more recently constructed under Norman rule.
9. ETNA VOLCANO
The Etna volcano is one of the most astonishing sights that anyone can see in all of Sicily. This is a very active volcano, the most active in all of Europe in fact. You shouldn’t skip this sight, as it is a rare thing that so few people around the world will ever get to see. Don’t be so quick to pass this by, because you will regret it if you do.
Yes, it could be dangerous to go hiking up a volcano. There are many times in which Etna leaks lava down the mountainside, which damages farming grounds nearby and even some structures. Seismologists work around the clock to monitor Etna’s behavior to give adequate warning for potential danger. Pay attention for these alerts and alarms, so you aren’t risking your life in a potentially fatal experience with Etna.
There are many different kinds of people that frequent Etna. Avid hikers who want to see an active crater and even winter sport enthusiasts using the area to practice various snow sports.
You can drive to the top of the mountain (with a proper car) or you can use the cable car system. There is also nothing stopping you from attempting to climb it on your own, though it would be recommended for you to be in great shape before attempting something like this.
This is a site that is available all throughout the year, and it offers a little something for everyone. From hiking trails geared towards children and beginners to those looking for a serious challenge, there is outdoor fun for all.
You might find that sleeping in an active volcano seems a bit risky, but it is also a once in a lifetime experience. This is also a great way to experience the stunning nightlife that the area has to offer.
If you are in need of some more history for your upcoming trip to the Palermo area, you really should make it a point to get out to Agrigento. This is within 70 miles of Palermo, and one of its great draws it the Valley of the Temples. There are a lot of other draws to the area as well, including churches, other religious architecture and even museums.
You will rarely find a place where art, nature and culture can intertwine so seamlessly. The capital of this province, also known as Akragas in ancient times, has been described by the Greek poet Pindar as the most beautiful of the cities of mortals. Agrigento is also the home of the Italian poet Luigi Pirandello (who has a theater and library named after him in the area, and you can also tour his home).
You will find a lot of attractions throughout this entire city, so just coming here for one day would likely not be sufficient. At least get accommodations for a single night so that you have more than a day to appreciate all of the wonders that Agrigento has to offer.
There are tons of places that you should visit all around Palermo, but these are ten that I highly endorse myself. While you might not be able to get to all of these, my hope is that throughout your visit you are able to get out and see even half of the above listed locations. Make sure you also check out the free walking tours for your time in Palermo. If you have any questions or concerns at all, leave a comment below and I will be happy to get back to you as soon as I can.