Palermo, the capital of Sicily, is becoming a popular alternative city break on its own merits. However, if you’re looking to spend a little more than a long weekend here, it also acts a great base from which to explore more of the island’s picturesque northern beaches, its sparsely populated interior, and even its famous active volcano.
In this post, we’ve shared our picks for the best day trips from Palermo alongside advice on how to visit them independently or with a tour; whether you feel like a beach day, a hike day, or an exploring-a-pretty-little-town-and-sipping-on-Aperol sorta day, we’ve got a day trip for you!
Palermo is a super popular place for a short Sicilian getaway, but just because you're based in a city doesn't mean that you have to sacrifice time at the beach.
Mondello, located just 10 miles (or a 30 minute bus ride) from the city centre, makes an excellent day trip. A long crescent of soft white sand and beautiful blue water, the coastal holiday town has all the amenities you need for a perfect beach-bum day including lidos, restaurants and beach bars.
Do be warned however that, should you visit during a sunny summer day, you will most definitely not be alone. The proximity to the Palermo means that it can sometimes feel like the entire city has come to join you! We visited on a Monday at the very beginning of July and the beach was super packed with tourists and locals alike, and that is supposedly quite common in the summer months. However, if you don’t mind sharing, then you can still have a lovely day.
Do it independently | Find all the information on how to get there from Palermo in this short guide to Mondello Beach.
Take a tour | Actually, don’t. There are a few tours from Palermo which take you to Mondello, but they aren’t necessary. Simply take public transport!
Hike through Riserva Naturale dello Zingaro
The coastline that stretches between San Vito Lo Capo and Scapello is undeniably beautiful; aleppo pines, wild flowers and verdant green cacti tumble out over rocky trails, towering cliffs and the cobalt blue waters of the Mediteranean below, a bounty of hidden pebble-stone lined coves just waiting to be explored.
It may come as a surprise to learn then, that were it not for a group of local protesters, what is now known as Riserva Naturale Dello Zingaro would simply have become another road, another stretch of tarmac.
We spent a delightful day hiking the length of the nature reserve, but it’s perfectly possible to simply park your car and walk a short distance to one of the many secluded coves along the way and enjoy a beach day with far fewer tourists that you’ll find elsewhere on the island!
Do it independently | You can only do this trip with your own wheels as it’s a 1h 25 minute drive from Palermo to the start point. However, you’ll be able to access some of the best beaches in Sicily so it’s a no-brainer if you have the time! We recommend renting a car in Palermo via Auto Europe, and if you’ve never rented before you should read this guide full of stress and money-saving car rental tips.
You can also read our personal guide to hiking Lo Zingaro Nature Reserve!
Take a tour | We haven’t discovered a tour company that offers day trips from Palermo, but would be happy to add a link if you have any suggestions (let us know in the comments).
Enjoy the beautiful town of Cefalù
Anchored between salty water and craggy rock sits the charming small town of Cefalù. An ancient fishing port at heart, in relatively recent years it has become the beachside break for those seeking sun and sand along the Tyrrhenian coast of Sicily.
And whilst we would honestly recommend spending more than a few hours here, being just an hour down the road from Palermo means that for those of you on a bit of tight schedule (or preferring to have one base on your northern Sicily holiday), it's remains an excellent choice for a day trip from Palermo.
Do it independently | if you've got a hire car, it's an easy drive to the centre of Cefalù (although you'll need to get there early to ensure a good parking spot) or, if you prefer, there's also a regular train that departs form Palermo's central station. To find out more, head on over to our guide to Cefalù.
Take a tour | Combine your guided tour of Cefalù with a visit to Monreale in this full day tour from Palermo.
Marvel at Monreale
Despite our best of intentions when travelling, we don’t always get it right. Case in point? Monreale. Or more precisely, the World Heritage-listed Cathedral di Monreale.
Said to be one of the greatest examples of Norman architecture in Europe, but somewhere we kind of forgot to visit.
Yeah, we’ve been regretting that one.
Located in a hilltop town of the same name, it offers unrivalled views of the Conca d’Oro and the Tyrrhennian Sea, and at just 7 km from the Sicilian capital, it makes a mighty fine day trip from Palermo.
Do it independently | The best way to visit Monreale independently is by bus (you can go by car, but parking can be quite tricky in the summer months), and you have two options. Bus number 389 departing from Piazza Indipendenza or another bus run by Azienda Siciliana Transporti (AST) which leaves from the train station. It’s €1.40 each way (it’s best to have the right change), and despite being relatively close to the city it can take up to one hour each way due to traffic.
Take a tour | You have two popular options for a guided tour from Palermo: this one which also includes a guided historical tour of Palermo’s old town, or this tour which takes you on a full day trip to combines a trip to Monreale (and its cathedral) with time in our favourite, Cefalù.
Read Next | The Best Things To Do in Palermo
Climb Mount Etna
When we were planning our time in Sicily, well, we honestly didn't know too much about the 'must-sees' or 'can't misses' - but we knew we had to climb Mount Etna.
Located on the east coast of Sicily, it takes a little bit of effort to reach from Palermo but for those that dream of witnessing Europe's most active volcano with your own two eyes, it's worth it.
Do it independently | This is only going to be possible if you have a rental car, in which case it's about a two hour drive from Palermo. See this post about visiting Mount Etna for all the necessary information.
Take a tour | This combined Etna and Taormina tour allows you to kill two birds with one stone - and has excellent ratings.
The literal home of the Godfather, Corleone has somewhat of a reputation. It’s for this reason that a variety of community projects have been set up in town to remove the Hollywood fuelled glitz and glamour associated with Sicily’s dark underbelly - and this is why you should visit.
Don’t miss CIDMA, where they have guided tours in English and Italian (you have to book ahead via their website). Afterwards, take some time to wander around the town which is so wonderfully and quintessentially Sicilian, it’s easy to forget that Corleone was the root of so much bloodshed.
Do it independently | Getting to Corleone with public transport is not possible (certainly not for a day trip, anyhow) so you will need to hire a car to visit, or tie it into your own Sicily road trip itinerary. It can be reached in around an hour and a half via picturesque back country roads , and you can find further details in our short guide to Corleone (published soon).
Take a tour | This six hour tour includes a tour of the town and anti-mafia perspectives, as well as stops at the Gorges of the Dragon and Due Rocche Waterfalls. Alternatively, Addiopizzo Travel runs this ‘Beyond the Mafia’ tour to Corleone on Fridays.
Go back in time at the Valley of the Temples
We need to preface this recommendation with the full acknowledgement that visiting the Valley of the Temples from Palermo is not a ‘quick day trip’ by anyone’s standards. However, upon realising that the Temples are such a tourist draw that indeed people are making the 2.5 hour journey across the island (and then back again) to see them, that they deserved a place in this post.
Located just outside Agrigento on the south coast of Sicily, this impressive archeological park is home to eight temples dating back to around 500 BC - many of which are impressively preserved despite the passage of time.
Do it independently | To do this independently, you’ll need a rental car and the option to set off nice and early, especially during the summer months when the park heaves with tourists. We’ve just published a guide to visiting The Valley of the Temples, so hop on over there for full details of how to visit by yourselves. Note that if you’re doing a road trip around Sicily, we think it’s best to save the Valley for later in your itinerary once your base is closer.
Take a Tour | This well-rated eight hour day trip from Palermo includes excellent guide and transport.
Explore the Madonie Mountains
Located just south of Cefalù, the vast Parco delle Madonie incorporates quaint medieval towns and villages with lush mountainous landscapes and an agricultural heavy lifestyle - and provides quite a contrast to the the classically ‘Sicilian’ coastal way of life.
Home to a number of mountains over 1,500m (including Siliy’s second highest), Madonie lends itself particularly well to hiking and walking, with countless routes of varying length and difficulty. There’s even the possibility to ski here during the winter months!
Do it independently | 35,000 hectares is a rather large area to cover in one day, so we’d recommend choosing a specific town (or several towns) to explore, or perhaps pick one of these hikes to conquer by yourself.
Take a tour | You can take a day trip tour to Castelbuono, one of the most popular (and beautiful) towns to visit in the Madonie Mountains, which also stops in Cefalù - find out more here.