Palermo is the largest city on the fascinating island of Sicily, making it an obvious inclusion on many travelers’ itineraries. Just as Sicily has felt the influence of many different cultures over the years, so has Palermo, making it a city with an enticing mix of historical and cultural attractions.
Sicily has much more to offer visitors though beyond just Palermo, so it’s best to allow one or even several days to explore the best places to visit from Palermo. From beaches to ancient ruins and towns full of character, the best day trips from Palermo help you experience the things that make Sicily so special. Here’s what you have to look forward to with extra time in Palermo.
How to Get Around
Although many of these day trips can be undertaken with public transport, consider renting a car for the day to give yourself more flexibility and independence. Your own four wheels allow you to be in control of your time and schedule, and depending on how many people are in your group, renting a car might even work out cheaper than other forms of transportation. You can compare car rental deals and find the cheapest prices at Rentalcars.com, an aggregation site that searches and displays prices and availability from hundreds of car rental companies so that you can be sure of getting the best possible car for your budget.
Don’t want to drive or deal with the hassle of public transport? No worries, we’ve listed the best tour for each day trip (where available).
Sitting just beyond the city limits of Palermo on the slopes of Monte Caputo, the small town of Monreale is one of the easiest Palermo day trips to make. Visits to Monreale mainly revolve around the impressive Monreale Cathedral thanks to its incredible beauty and curious history which is full of legends. Built in the 12th century, the cathedral is part of Sicily’s proud collection of Norman landmarks recognized by UNESCO. Decorated with vivid mosaics and featuring a gorgeous cloister, the cathedral is considered one of the best examples of Norman architecture in the world. While Monreale Cathedral may be the main attraction in town, the views out from Monreale over Palermo and the coast are just as spectacular.
Getting there: A short trip from Palermo, there are regular buses that make the 35-minute trip up to Monreale from Palermo. If you’d like to have someone show you around Monreale, consider taking a guided tour instead.
Often seen just as a place for visitors to Sicily to base themselves, the port city of Trapani has quite a bit to see for day trippers. As laid-back as Palermo is bustling, the Old Town of Trapani has some grand landmarks like the Porta Oscura and Cathedral of San Lorenzo among its humble maze of streets. There are also the fortifications along the waterfront which lead to Ligny Tower which is home to a local archaeological museum. But actually, the main attraction of Trapani is the city’s salt pans which are just to the south. There, around the community of Nubia, you can see the salt pans stretching out below traditional windmills by the coast. You’ll even find a Salt Museum there which takes visitors through the history of harvesting sea salt.
Getting there: There are regular buses that make the 2 hour journey from Palermo to Trapani. If you only want to see the salt flats though, consider a guided tour which takes you there as well as some other great places.
An adorable medieval hilltop town, a visit to Erice is easily one of the best day tours from Palermo. Overlooking Trapani, this small town sits atop Mount Erice and has remained mostly unchanged over the centuries. Walk through the streets of this town which dates back to the time of the Phoenicians, and you’ll still see cobblestone streets lined with traditional stone houses. Erice seems trapped in time and one of the best things to do there is to simply wander the maze of streets. Do so and you’ll encounter sections of the historic town walls over and over again. The main attraction in town is the ruins of Castello di Venere, which dates back to the 12th century. Right outside the castle you’ll find the elegant Garden of Balio which features several fantastic panoramic terraces, with views as far as Trapani and the coast.
Getting there: To reach Erice from Palermo, first take a bus journey to Trapani. There you can ride a cable car up to Erice. Alternatively, you can visit with a guided tour and see other places in the region.
There’s no doubt that the seaside town of Cefalu is one of the best side trips from Palermo. This is because the scenic town manages to combine so many of Sicily’s best features all in one place. If you want to spend time at the beach, the main city beach is sure to suit your needs. Those that want a pretty medieval town to explore will be thrilled to meander through the town’s streets and squares. Along the way you’ll see plenty of Arab-Norman architecture, including Cefalu’s memorable 12th-century cathedral and the Osterio Magno. You also have the Mandralisca Museum in town, which has ancient pottery and Renaissance artwork on display. As for superb viewpoints, you have a choice between the harbor views through the historic Porta Terra or the sweeping panorama you get after hiking up La Rocca.
Getting there: There aren’t too many easy train trips from Palermo, but Cefalu is one of them. Hourly trains make the journey from Palermo and take just under an hour to get there. Alternatively, you can combine Cefalu and Monreale if you take a guided tour.
You won’t find any nice beaches in the city center of Palermo, so if you’re looking for sand and surf head to Mondello just up the coast. Mondello is a northern borough of the city and is basically the beach resort of Palermo, making it ideal as a day trip if that’s what you’re after. Naturally, Mondello Beach is the main attraction and with a long, white sand beach it’s easy to see why. At the beach you can rent sun loungers and pedal boats to make the most of your day. Sharing the waterfront is the Toy Park Beach amusement park, which is solely designed for kids. By the beachfront you’ll also find a beautiful Art Nouveau pavilion and colorful beach cabins that add to Mondello’s fun and laid-back vibe.
Getting there: Local buses frequently travel from Palermo to Mondello, taking 35 minutes to make the journey.
6. San Vito Lo Capo
Thanks to its sheltered white sand beach, San Vito Lo Capo has grown from a humble fishing village into a must-see destination on Sicily’s north coast. The beach here is so beautiful with warm and clear water, that people often say it belongs in the Caribbean rather than in Sicily. This public beach stretches for several kilometers right across the center of town. This length means that there’s plenty of space to spread out for swimming or sunbathing. Over in town, the main tourist attraction is the Santuario di San Vito, an imposing 15th century church with Arab-Norman influences. Other things to do in and around San Vito Lo Capo include visiting caves like the Grotta dei Cavalli on the far coast of town, while rock climbing is popular in the mountains northeast of the village.
Getting there: There aren’t any public transport options to reach San Vito Lo Capo from Palermo, so you’ll have to rent a car and do the 1 hour 20 minute drive yourself.
7. Castellammare di Golfo
Another pretty port town well worth visiting from Palermo is Castellammare di Golfo on Sicily’s north coast. The town’s name means “Sea Castle on the Gulf” and comes from the Norman castle that overlooks the town port. Inside the castle you’ll find a small museum on the history of the region and views of the town’s waterfront. But actually, Castellammare di Golfo is at its prettiest when strolling along its small port full of fishing boats, surrounded by traditional Sicilian buildings and nearby mountains. The narrow streets and twisting staircases you find when you step away from the waterfront help give Castellammare di Golfo a very genuine feel, making it a nice pick for those who want to see the “real” Sicily.
Getting there: To make the trip from Palermo to Castellammare di Golfo, take a train to Piraineto and then continue on by bus. There are only a few connections a day, and the trip takes 2 ¼ hours.
Sicily is well-known for its remarkable history and there are few places on the island better to explore it than the city of Agrigento. While the city itself is nice enough, especially walking along Via Atenea into the medieval town center, the real reason to come here is the Valley of the Temples. Easily among the best places to visit in Sicily, this site below the city is full of ancient Greek ruins from around the 5th century B.C. Seriously, the ruins here are so well-preserved that you’ll think you’ve accidentally teleported to Greece. Start with the Temple of Juno and follow an ancient road west to see a further great collection of temples and tombs. Besides seeing the ruins, the Valley of the Temples also offers some great views up to the city on one side and down to the coast on the other.
Getting there: There are regular trains which travel from Palermo to Agrigento, with the journey taking 2 hours. However if you want to head straight to the Valley of the Temples and be shown around, it’s best to go with a guided tour.
Best known for its sweet fortified wine, the town of Marsala offers visitors more than most people realize. This coastal town lies on Sicily’s west coast, and while you can spend the day touring nearby wineries, Marsala itself is well worth a look. Walking through the town’s historic center you’ll find marble streets and grand Baroque buildings. Visit either the Porta Garibaldi or the Porta Nuova and you’ll see where the town’s old fortifications used to be. Then there’s the Piazza della Repubblica which boasts multiple pretty churches, including Marsala Cathedral. To explore the ancient history of Marsala, head for the Museo Archeologico Baglio Anselmi, an archaeological park with ruins from the ancient Carthaginian city of Lilybaeum and a partially reconstructed ship from the First Punic War.
Getting there: With public transport not supporting a day trip there, it’s best to do the 1 ½ hour drive from Palermo to Marsala.
10. Villa Romana del Casale
For some incredible Roman ruins, one of the best things to see in Sicily outside of Palermo is the ancient site of Villa Romana del Casale. Found in the island’s hilly interior outside the town of Piazza Armerina, this archaeological site is famed for its massive collection of Roman mosaics. Visitors here are taken through the remains of an actual Roman villa, with mosaics throughout its rooms, corridors, and halls. And we’re not just talking about fragments here and there, but complete scenes that tell stories from local history and mythology which have been wonderfully preserved. It’s little wonder that Villa Romana del Casale has made it onto the UNESCO world heritage register, considering it’s widely agreed to have the most complete in-site Romain mosaics in the world.
Getting there: To get from Palermo to Villa Romana del Casale is a 2-hour drive.
To many people, Sicily is best known for its Mafia history, something you can learn a lot about on a visit to the small town of Corleone. Yes, this is the town that inspired the name for the central character in the acclaimed film The Godfather. But Corleone also had strong ties with the real-life Mafia, with many infamous Mafia bosses coming from there. To learn more about this dark chapter, head to the Museo Anti-Mafia which features an extensive photography collection. Luckily, there’s more to Corleone than just the Mafia, including many churches and the beautiful Due Rocche waterfall on the edge of town. Not far away is the Royal Palace of Ficuzza which was once home to King Bourbon Ferdinand III of Sicily and sits below the imposing presence of the Monti Sicani mountain range.
12. Egadi Islands
Taking a boat ride out to the Egadi Islands off the coast of Trapani is a great choice for a day trip if you’re after something different. The Egadi, or Aegadian Islands as they’re also known, are made up of three major islands: Favignana, Marettimo, and Levanzo. Each island has its own unique character and reason to visit, so it’s best to visit all three if you can, though all three enjoy perfectly clear blue water to swim in. Favignana is the largest island and features several beaches, as well as caves and rock formations along its coast, best seen on a boat trip around the island. Marettimo, on the other hand, is a rugged island with few signs of life and is perfect for those seeking a hike with superb scenery. Levanzo is the smallest of the three islands and is best known for its diving opportunities where you can see a Roman shipwreck and the Paleolithic and Neolithic cave paintings found inside Grotta del Genovese.
Getting there: To reach the Egadi Islands from Palermo, first take the 2-hour bus ride to Trapani and then hop aboard the 30-minute ferry out to the islands.
You’re not yet done with the ancient ruins in Sicily, as you’ve yet to reach the impressive archaeological site of Segesta. Once a major ancient city found inland from Castellammare del Golfo, all that’s now left of Segesta are several ruins. But these are some incredible ruins. The main attraction here is the Temple of Segesta, built in the 5th century B.C., by the indigenous Elymian people with help from the Greeks. Nearby on a hill overlooking the temple lies the Segesta Theatre, which has also fortunately been preserved over the years. Besides seeing the theater up close, climbing up there allows you to also enjoy some fantastic views of the surrounding rural landscape.
Getting there: It is a 45-minute drive from Palermo to Segesta, but if you don’t want to drive there is a guided tour you can take that stops at Segesta as well as some other popular places.
14. Parco delle Madonie
A nice alternative to spending your day in cities or surrounded by people on beaches, is to venture into the mountains of the Parco delle Madonie nature park. This vast regional park is home to some of Sicily’s highest mountains, gorgeous countryside, and even a few quaint villages here and there. There’s even a ski resort for when winter brings snow to the mountains. You’re free to choose how you’d like to explore Madonie Regional Natural Park, whether it’s to simply drive to different villages, or to stop somewhere and hike one of the many local trails. It’s even possible to hike up to the summit of Pizzo Carbonara, Sicily’s second highest point after Mount Etna at 1,979 m.
Getting there: To reach Parco delle Madonie from Palermo it’s roughly a 1 ½ hour drive into the center of the regional park.
Some may think that the city of Messina is little more than where you get the ferry to mainland Italy, but this port city is not to be underestimated. Much less dense than other major cities in Sicily, Messina features broad boulevards which are flanked with stylish Belle Epoque buildings from the turn of the century. The city’s most iconic attraction is the Messina Cathedral, a superb building that hosts the largest astronomical clock in the world. In front of the cathedral you’ll find the Fontana di Orione, a beautifully detailed public fountain. Other impressive historical landmarks include the 12th-century Church of the Santissima Annunziata dei Catalani and the Santuario di Montalto. And while granita is a common treat across Sicily, only in Messina can you find granita di caffè, which is coffee-flavored granita topped with whipped cream.
Getting there: You can take a train from Palermo to Messina, the trip takes just under 3 hours, or you can drive yourself there in around 2 ½ hours.
Those are many of the places in Sicily that you’ll want to consider as day trips from Palermo. Clearly, you have so many choices that deciding which to do is the hard part.