Palermo is the capital of the Italian island and autonomous region of Sicily; an island which is not only the largest in the Mediterranean but which has played one of the most important roles in both the region’s history and current affairs.
Palermo can trace its origins back almost 3000 years, to the times of the seafaring Phoenicians who built the first city here.
For the history lover, it’s an impressive place to visit; the surrounding areas are full of historic gems and artifacts just waiting to be uncovered.
In more recent history, Palermo is perhaps best known for its Mafia roots – a problem which is still very much part of life here, but which the average tourist will rarely even notice unless they undertake a novel, up and coming mafia tour along the coastline or into the mountains that surround the city.
Beach and outdoor lovers may simply prefer to enjoy the unrivaled beauty of the coast for what it is, rather than chasing Mafia legends, because Sicily is one of the Mediterranean’s most spectacular islands.
Hike through mountains, lounge on the sands, and enjoy the constant, year-round warm weather that the island is renowned for. To help inspire your trip to Sicily, here are the best day trips from Palermo.
The town of Mondello is just a ten-minute drive along the coast from Palermo and makes for one of the quickest but most spectacular escapes from the city.
Although the town is slowly being encroached upon by the expanding suburbs of Palermo, Mondello has retained its glorious beaches and white sands and is a very popular day trip for locals and visitors alike.
On weekends, especially in summer but even in the warm winters, you can expect this to be a busy and lively place. If you are looking for peace and quiet, Mondello is not the choice for you, but if you are looking for sun, sand and a taste of local life, then this is the place to visit.
Suggested tour: From Palermo: Exclusive Mondello Coast Tour w/ Lunch
Monreale is another small Sicilian town that is just a short day trip away from Palermo, but Monreale is found inland and it couldn’t be in a more dramatic location.
Sicily is a volcanic and mountainous island, and Monreale encapsulates this ruggedness with its position on the steep slopes of Monte Caputo.
The journey here is beautiful, as you are taken through the green valleys at the base of the mountain where for centuries the locals have farmed and harvested their unique produce.
The town of Monreale itself is incredibly historic; along with Palermo and the town of Cefalu – which is found some distance away on the coast – it forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site that recognizes all three destinations’ extensive Norman and Arab architecture and relics.
Recommended tour: Monreale and Cefalù Half Day Tour from Palermo
Cefalu is the third part of the fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Site of Palermo, Monreale, and Cefalu.
Cefalu is found along the coast and is famed for not only the expansive views over the Mediterranean but for the historic cathedrals and the surviving remnants of the old town that are found here.
This has become one of the most popular destinations in Sicily – particularly for day trippers from Palermo – and in peak season, the ramshackle streets can be overflowing with tourists, so try and visit early in the morning to avoid the crowds.
4. Piazza Armerina
History lovers will also enjoy a day trip from Palermo two hours south to Piazza Armerina, a small city which grew to importance during the Norman conquests of Sicily during the medieval period.
Before the Normans, many other Empires had left their mark on the city. Today, it’s an incredible place to explore if you have an interest in immersing yourself in the many different layers of history that are waiting to be found here.
One of the most important sites around the city is the site of the ancient Roman Mosaics, which are found in the ruins of a Roman villa in the nearby countryside. Villa Romana del Casale is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which dates back to the 4th century AD. Here, you can see some of the best-preserved examples of Roman artwork in the Mediterranean.
Suggested tour: Piazza Armerina Full-Day Tour
5. Parco delle Madonie
Parco delle Madonie is the place to visit for outdoor enthusiasts and those looking to search out some rural charm. This protected area encompasses hundreds of square miles of rolling hills and scenic views and there are some great hiking opportunities to be had in the region.
This is an area full of small, local villages, and local Sicilians who tend the land as they have for centuries. You can sample local produce straight from the fields, find home-cooked meals in small hamlets in picturesque settings, and enjoy the sublime scenery of a peaceful and quiet part of the island that’s untouched by tourism.
Just an hour south of Palermo is the town of Corleone; a place that’s hidden away amongst the beautiful mountain scenery of inland Sicily and a place that is steeped in local legend and mystery – not all of it good.
Corleone is the hometown of the Corleonesi, one of Italy’s most infamous Mafia gangs.
Despite its notorious recent associations, the town has become somewhat of a surprise favorite amongst tourists in recent years.
The locals have established the intriguing Mafia and Anti-Mafia Museum of Corleone, a place which attempts to not only help the town move on from its Mafia roots but also to preserve the history rather than simply ignoring it.
It’s one of the most interesting day trips you can make from Palermo.
Available tour: Corleone Full-Day Private Tour from Palermo
Trapani is found along the coast to the west of Palermo and is famed for the dense concentration of Salt Flats that are found in the area. This spectacular area stretches for kilometers to the coast and you can even visit the local Museum of Salt to learn more about the local history.
That history is extensive because salt has been harvested here on the flats for centuries – as far back as the 14th century – and even today the locals use many techniques that are unchanged in years.
8. Egadi Islands
The Egadi Islands are a small archipelago that is waiting off the coast of Trapani.
Just a few miles away from the city, these three islands offer visitors a glimpse at a life that has hardly changed in millennia.
Visit the small local villages, enjoy the peace and quiet of the rugged scenery, and escape the busy cities of Sicily in this spectacular getaway.
Erice is a small village that’s found just outside of Trapani and makes for a wonderful place to spend the day.
This charming village is found on top of a prominent hilltop overlooking the Mediterranean, offering sweeping views out to sea.
Erice is famed for the medieval fortresses which are found in great condition here, as well as the abundance of historic buildings in the old center which are great to explore.
Bestseller tour: Segesta, Erice and Salt Pans Full-Day Excursion from Palermo
Segesta is one of the oldest human occupied locations in Sicily.
This was once a city of the ancient tribes who first occupied the island. Over the centuries, it became a place steeped in myth and legend, with the locals even purporting to be descendants of the survivors of Troy.
The ruins of Segesta are now an archeological site and the crumbling city walls that have been excavated are a striking sight to see, as are the hilltop temples and the vast Greek amphitheater.
Along Sicily’s north-west coast is the town of Marsala. This makes for a great day trip from Palermo for many reasons. Like many other towns in the region, salt harvesting is a big industry; you can enjoy endless views over the spectacular salt pans that are found here.
The town is equally, if not more famous for, its production of the world-renowned Marsala Wine. You can visit some of the many wineries where the grapes are grown and the wine is bottled to learn more about it.
Agrigento is located on the shoreline of Sicily to the south of Palmero. It’s one of the best places to visit to see the ruins of the ancient Greek civilizations that once ruled the island.
In centuries past, some of the largest Greek cities in the Mediterranean were found in the area. Today you can visit the Valley of the Temples, one of the largest archaeological sites in Italy, where you can see the vast remains of the former glory of this lost civilization.
Available tour: Full Day in Agrigento and the Valley of the Temples
13. Mount Etna
Mount Etna is the largest volcano in Europe and this mammoth volcanic peak is still very much active.
Mount Etna is found on the eastern side of Sicily and its gigantic form dominates the skyline for miles around.
The peak reaches a height of over 3000 meters and the continual eruptions over the years have led to the surrounding area becoming a beautiful pasture of agricultural land.
It’s an Italian icon and a place not to be missed.
Suggested tour: Mount Etna and Taormina Full-Day Excursion from Palermo
The city of Messina is located on the far eastern tip of Sicily, overlooking the narrow strait that separates the island from mainland Italy.
It’s a historic city, where you can enjoy exploring many of the Norman cathedrals and buildings that are still found across Messina, alongside more contemporary Sicilian life and culture which is found everywhere.
Catania is the second largest city in Sicily and is found on the eastern coast, in the constant shadow of Mount Etna.
It has been destroyed by the volcano on several occasions.
The locals always rebuild and today Catania is a center of Sicilian culture, being particularly renowned for its glorious local dishes and cuisine.