As the largest city on the fascinating island of Sicily, Palermo is an obvious inclusion on many travelers’ itineraries. The city has felt the influence of many different cultures over the years, giving it an enticing mix of historical and cultural attractions.
Sicily has much to offer beyond Palermo, though, so you should devote at least one day of your trip here to explore the best places to visit from Palermo. From ancient ruins to 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 you can make many of these day trips with public transport, consider renting a car for the day to give yourself more flexibility and independence. With your own four wheels, you control your time and schedule; depending on how many people are in your group, renting a car might even work out to be cheaper than other forms of transportation. You can compare car rental deals and find the lowest prices at Rentalcars.com, an aggregation site that searches and displays prices and availability from hundreds of car rental companies so that you can get 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 full of legends. Built in the 12th century, this church 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 one of the best examples of Norman architecture in the world.
While Monreale Cathedral is the main attraction in town, the views out over Palermo and the coast from Monreale are just as spectacular.
Getting there: Monreale is just a short trip from Palermo, with regular buses making the 35-minute journey. If you’d like someone to show you around Monreale, though, consider taking a guided tour instead.
Though it’s often dismissed as just a base for visitors to Sicily, the port city of Trapani has quite a bit for day-trippers to see. As laid-back as Palermo is bustling, the Old Town of Trapani has some grand landmarks – such as the Porta Oscura (Dark Door) and Cathedral of San Lorenzo – in its humble maze of streets. The fortifications along the waterfront lead to Ligny Tower, home to a local archaeological museum.
The main attraction is Trapani’s salt pans to the south. Around the community of Nubia, you can see the salt flats stretching out below traditional windmills by the coast. You’ll also find the Salt Museum of Nubia, which takes you through the history of sea salt harvesting.
Getting there: Regular buses make the two-hour journey from Palermo to Trapani. If you only want to see the salt flats, consider this guided tour, which takes you there as well as some other great places.
An adorable medieval town, Erice easily makes one of the best day tours from Palermo. Sitting atop Monte Erice, the mountain overlooking Trapani, this small town has remained mostly unchanged over the centuries. Walk through the streets of the town, which dates back to the time of the Phoenicians, and you’ll still see cobblestone streets lined with traditional stone houses. One of the best things to do here is simply to wander this maze of streets, where you’ll repeatedly encounter sections of the historic town walls.
The main attraction is the ruins of the 12th-century Castello di Venere. Right outside the castle, you’ll find the elegant Garden of Balio, featuring several panoramic terraces with views as far as Trapani and the coast.
Getting there: To reach Erice from Palermo, first take a bus to Trapani, where you can ride a cable car up to Erice. Alternatively, you can visit with a guided tour and see other places in the region.
The seaside town of Cefalù is undoubtedly one of the best side trips from Palermo, as it combines so many of Sicily’s best features in one place. Cefalù Beach is sure to meet any beach lover’s needs, while those who just want to explore a pretty medieval town will be thrilled to meander through its streets and squares.
You’ll see plenty of Arab-Norman architecture, including the memorable 12th-century Cathedral of Cefalù and the Osterio Magno. You can also see ancient pottery and Renaissance artwork on display in the Mandralisca Museum. As for superb viewpoints, you have a choice between the harbor views from the historic Porta Terra or the sweeping panorama you get after hiking up La Rocca.
Getting there: Cefalù is one of the few easy train trips from Palermo. Hourly trains make the journey from Palermo and take just under an hour to get there. Alternatively, you can combine your visits to Cefalù and Monreale in 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. This northern borough is basically the beach resort of Palermo. Naturally, Mondello Beach is the main attraction, with its long stretches of white sand. You can rent sun loungers and pedal boats to make the most of your day here.
Sharing the waterfront is the Toy Park Beach amusement park for kids. 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.
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. With its warm and clear water, San Vito Beach is so beautiful 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, providing plenty of space for swimming and sunbathing.
The main tourist attraction in the town is the Santuario di San Vito, an imposing 15th-century church with Arab-Norman influences. You can also visit caves like Grotta dei Cavalli on the far coast, while rock climbing is popular in the mountains northeast of the village.
Getting there: There’s no public transport to San Vito Lo Capo from Palermo, so you’ll have to rent a car for the drive, which takes an hour and 20 minutes.
Castellammare di Golfo
Another pretty port town well worth visiting from Palermo is Castellammare del Golfo on Sicily’s north coast. The town’s name means “Sea Castle on the Gulf,” referring to the Arab-Norman castle – or Castello Arabo Normanno – that overlooks the town port. Inside the castle, you’ll find a small museum on the history of the region, known as the Memory of the Mediterranean, and views of the town’s waterfront.
For the prettiest view of the town, though, stroll along its small port full of fishing boats, surrounded by traditional Sicilian buildings and mountains. The narrow streets and twisting staircases you’ll find when you step away from the waterfront help give Castellammare del Golfo an authentic feel, making it a nice place to see the “real” Sicily.
Getting there: To get from Palermo to Castellammare del Golfo, take a train to Piraineto and continue on by bus. There are only a few connections a day, and the trip takes two hours and 15 minutes.
Sicily is known for its remarkable history, and there are few places better to explore that history than the city of Agrigento. While the city itself is nice enough, especially when you walk along Via Atenea into the medieval town center, the real reason to come here is the Valley of the Temples. Easily one of the best places to visit in Sicily, this site below the city is full of Greek ruins from around the fifth century B.C. These ruins are preserved so well that you’ll think you’ve accidentally teleported to ancient Greece.
Starting with the Temple of Juno, follow an ancient road west to see a majestic collection of temples and tombs. 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: Regular trains travel from Palermo to Agrigento, with the journey taking two hours. However, if you want to go 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 on Sicily’s west coast offers more than most people realize. While you can spend the day touring nearby wineries, the town itself is well worth a look. Walking through Marsala’s historic center, you’ll find marble streets and grand Baroque buildings. The central square, Piazza della Repubblica, boasts Marsala Cathedral and other pretty churches.
Visit either Porta Garibaldi or Porta Nuova to see where the town’s fortifications used to be. 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: Public transit doesn’t support a day trip from Palermo to Marsala, so you’ll likely need to make the 1.5-hour drive yourself.
Villa Romana del Casale
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.
You’ll be taken through the remains of an actual Roman villa, with mosaics throughout its rooms, corridors, and halls. We’re not just talking about fragments here and there, but wonderfully preserved scenes that tell complete stories from local history and mythology. It’s little wonder that Villa Romana del Casale is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, considering it’s widely agreed to have the most complete collection of Roman mosaics in the world.
Getting there: Villa Romana del Casale is a two-hour drive from Palermo.
Many people know Sicily for its Mafia history, which you can learn a lot about on a visit to the small town of Corleone. Yes, this town inspired the name of the central family in The Godfather. But Corleone also has strong historical ties to the real Mafia, with many infamous mob bosses coming from there. Learn more about this dark chapter in Corleone’s history at the Museo Antimafia, which features an extensive photography collection.
Luckily, there’s more to Corleone than 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 Ferdinand III of Sicily and sits below the imposing presence of the Monti Sicani range.
Getting there: The drive from Palermo to Corleone takes around an hour. Public transport is not an option but you can book a guided tour.
A boat ride out to the Egadi Islands off the coast of Trapani makes a great day trip. Also known as the Aegadian Islands, they include the three major islands of Favignana, Marettimo, and Levanzo. Each island has its own unique character and appeal, so it’s best to visit all three if you can, but you’ll find perfectly clear blue water to swim in at any of them.
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 – perfect for a hike with superb scenery. Levanzo, the smallest of the three, is best known for its diving opportunities, letting you see a Roman shipwreck and the Paleolithic and Neolithic cave paintings inside the Grotta del Genovese.
Getting there: To reach the Egadi Islands from Palermo, take the two-hour bus ride to Trapani and then hop aboard the 30-minute ferry.
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 city found inland from Castellammare del Golfo. All that’s left are several ruins, but these are some incredible remains.
The main attraction is the Temple of Segesta, built in the fifth century B.C. by the Elymian natives with help from the Greeks. On a hill overlooking the temple lies the Theater of Segesta, which has also been well preserved. Besides seeing the theater up close, climbing the hill allows you to enjoy some fantastic views of the rural landscape.
Getting there: It’s a 45-minute drive from Palermo to Segesta. If you don’t want to drive, you can take a guided tour that stops at Segesta as well as some other popular places.
Parco delle Madonie
A nice alternative to spending your day surrounded by people in cities or on beaches is to venture into the mountains of Parco delle Madonie. This vast regional park is home to some of Sicily’s highest peaks, gorgeous countryside, a ski resort for when winter brings snow to the mountains, and even a few quaint villages.
You’re free to explore the park however you like, whether you simply drive to different villages or stop 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 meters.
Getting there: It’s roughly a 1.5-hour drive from Palermo to the center of Parco delle Madonie.
Some may think the city of Messina is little more than where you catch 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 flanked with stylish Belle Époque 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 sits 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. Also, while granita is a common treat across Sicily, only in Messina can you find granita di caffe, coffee-flavored granita topped with whipped cream.
Getting there: You can take a train from Palermo to Messina in just under three hours – or drive there, which shaves about half an hour off the travel time.
You now have a good list of places in Sicily to consider visiting from Palermo. It could be hard to choose, but any of these will make a fantastic day trip.
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