If you are visiting Italy for the first time, Sicily – the largest Italy' island in the heart of the Mediterranean sea with 1000 km of coastline and 7 Unesco World Heritage sites – should be on your trip itinerary. Sicily's historical, cultural and architectural treasures coupled with its culinary delights influenced by Spaniards, Arabs, Normans, Greeks make it to a truly unique and rich travel experience.
I have asked travel experts and bloggers to share their picks for the most beautiful places to visit in Sicily all year round. Here are their suggestions to help you create the perfect itinerary around Sicily.
The best of Northern Sicily
North Sicily is likely to be where you start the trip. You can fly into Palermo Borsellino Airport on the North West Coast, from there go east, visit Cefalu and the Aeolian Islands to reach Messina at the end of the coastline. Here are 4 of the best places you can visit on the beautiful northern part.
Sicily has the most Unesco sites in Italy, the country with the most Unesco sites in the world. So Palermo, the capital of Sicily, is also the capital of World Heritage Sites. Palermo itself is like a cultural Disneyland with its narrow, winding alleyways, elaborate, decaying mansions, local markets with weird vegetables, churches with unusual architecture, and religious street processions.
The whole city feels a little like a Fellini movie, slightly surreal. But the real charm of Palermo lies in its streets, markets, and food. While I was there, the city closed one of the main streets to accommodate an ice cream festival. This made it easy to not only patronize the ice cream vendors but also to wander around the ornate palaces, plazas, and museums unencumbered by the Sicilian traffic, which is legendary.
Palermo’s streets double as living rooms brimming with little restaurants, musicians, street art, and happy Palermitanos strolling their streets. Street food in Palermo is ubiquitous and, true to its Italian culture, delicious. You can find it all over town for about €1 – €2 a snack. The “arancini” little, fried rice balls were my favorites. One night I caught a religious street procession. A large group of people was carrying a statue of Mary on their shoulders accompanied by priests and nuns singing religious hymns. It was like watching an old Godfather movie.
Cefalu is one of my four favourite places in Sicily, Italy. A medieval village where we spend a week in a villa that overlooks the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is a place to swim, to hire sun lounges and umbrellas to make the most of the beautiful September weather. We walk the streets with the backdrop of the sea and rugged mountains; eat wonderful food and I drink the best white wine I have ever tasted. Every restaurant we visit has wonderful food and we enjoy each evening either going to a restaurant or cooking in our villa.
We do a cooking course and enjoy delicious food in a setting with the blue of the sea in the background. We watch the sun set each evening captivated by the beauty of the ocean and coastline; the intensity of the sunset different every night. Cefalu is famous for its Duomo where we continue to learn about mosaics and tiles of Sicily. Cefalu is on the northern coast of Sicily an hour east of Palermo or two hours west of Messina by train.
3. Salina Island
The Aeolian Islands are a fantastic place to escape the crowds in Italy (outside of August when Italians descend). We rented a motorbike to explore Salina a stunning island with dramatic volcanic cliffs plunging into the sea, sleepy villages amidst verdant mountains, colourful fishing boats on pebbly beaches, and hills covered in capers, wildflowers, and vines heavy with grapes for sweet Malvasia wine. In early September we felt like we had it to ourselves.
The food was a highlight – spaghetti with a pesto-like sauce of capers, mint, parsley, and pecorino; pane cunzato, an open sandwich topped with sun-dried tomatoes, marinated aubergine, capers, olives, and mozzarella (Da Alfredo's in Lingua does the best); and refreshing lemon granita.
We also spent a night on the conical island of Stromboli, home to Europe's only permanently active volcano. We climbed the volcano in the late afternoon to watch the sunset as we waited for the smoking rumbling craters to erupt. With 360 degree views of the sea turning pink, it was magical even without the fireworks display we were treated to when it finally erupted. Sliding down the volcanic sand in the darkness on the descent only added to the adventure.
By Erin of NeverEndingVoyage
4. Vulcano Island
Off the coast of Sicily is a string of islands known as The Aeolians. The highlight for many travelers is Vulcano Island. This island has the original volcano that gives all volcanoes their name. While the Roman mythology is fascinating (it is believed that the Roman god Vulcan lived here), there’s an even better reason to visit: the island is a paradise. All year long, travelers take the ferry over to Vulcano from Sicily to engage in the island’s big three attractions.
First, active visitors will enjoy hiking up the Grand Crater, which provides incredible views of the Aeolian Islands. Second, travelers looking for a more relaxing experience can lounge on Italy’s original black sand beach. Finally, be pampered at the hot springs mud baths. Here, hot water warmed by volcanic activity and fine silty mud combine for one of the most unusual experiences you can imagine. Visitors slather themselves in the (slightly radioactive) mud before jumping in the ocean to wash off.
by Lance and Laura of TravelAddicts
The best of the Sicily East Coast
If you start from the East Coast, Mount Etna and Taormina are a short drive von Catania the second largest and well-known Sicilian city, but there are a few more interesting places along this amazing coast of Sicily. See them here below.
Beautiful Taormina has been on the itineraries of international travellers for well over a century, and with good reason. Perched on top of a promontory in Eastern Sicily, this small town is in an incredibly scenic position, framed by the sparkling Mediterranean on one side and the mighty Etna on the other. Taormina dates back to ancient times and its centre is now a maze of historical buildings, beautiful belvederes and small, winding streets with shops, bars and restaurants catering for all palates and needs. The jewel in the crown here is the town's stunning ancient theatre. Built in the 3rd century BC, the theatre still maintains part of its structure and its imposing ruins overlook the bay below, which act as its natural backdrop.
Taormina can be visited in one day. Start early with a visit to the Greek theatre, then take a stroll along Taormina's main street and fill up with the amazing local street food (try the arancini!). Stop for cannoli at Pasticceria D’Amore and then catch the cable car down to the beach for a visit to Isola Bella. Finish your day with an aperitivo with views over the Etna for the pefect Taormina experience.
By Marta Correale of Learning Escapes
The city of Catania, Sicily’s second largest, sits on the east coast of the island. Catania is overlooked by brooding Mount Etna and consists of ornate baroque buildings, an impressive cathedral, churches and grand palazzos. The city has a dour monochrome look to it as the buildings were constructed from dark grey lava rock but look closer and you’ll find there’s a colourful hub in the heart of the city. The food market and “pescheria” (fish market) is the beating pulse of Catania and it’s the one place you shouldn’t miss.
Sicilians are deeply passionate about their food and it’s highly evident at the market which is an explosion of sights, sounds and smells. The freshest fish and seafood sit on piles of ice as the stall-holders shout and call enticing you to buy.
Narrow alleyways lead off from the fish market filled with vibrant fruit and vegetable stalls, meats cheeses, dried fruits, nuts and spices. Bustling, chaotic and alive with atmosphere, the market instantly awakens all the senses and offers a glimpse of the real Catania. La Pescheria sits just off Piazza Duomo near the fountain, Fontana Dei 10 Canali – you’ll hear it before you see it.
By Suzanne of The TravelBunny
When visiting Siracusa, your main focus will be the Old Town. The whole old part of Siracusa is located on a separate little island connected to the mainland with 2 bridges. Ortigia, as the island is called, offers a beautiful maze of tiny old streets with occasional openings in the form of wide Squares. Archimedes, the famous mathematician, was born in Siracusa and the locals are more than proud of that fact. That’s why you’ll find many Archimedes-related sights and an Archimedes Square. Naturally, your main draw will be the Siracusa Cathedral (a.k.a. Siracusa Duomo) and St. Lucy’s Church on the Piazza Duomo.
Don’t leave out the castle at the island’s very tip: the Castello Maniace. There are not many tourists, and the whole castle/fortress complex from 1232 offers breathtaking views onto the sea. Siracusa is rich in ancient Greek and Roman remnants, such as the Apollo Temple in Ortigia, or the Greek Theatre and Roman amphitheater in the Neapolis Archeological Park located in Siracusa city. What I loved most about Siracusa, though, was how full of local artists it was. You wouldn’t encounter just tourists, but the streets were full of artists selling their jewelry, leather goods and handicrafts and also making new pieces right on the spot.
By Veronika Primm of The Travel Geekery
Ortigia is the ancient heart of Syracuse, a Greek colony that grew to become the most powerful city-state in the Mediterranean by the 5th century BC. Ortigia is actually an island, and the city spread millennia ago onto mainland Sicily, where most of Syracuse’s ancient Greek ruins can be found. However, Ortigia is where you really feel you’re stepping back in time. The island is one of the most beautiful cityscapes in Italy, a labyrinth of backstreets and alleyways, with 18th century houses built on an ancient street layout. It’s mostly pedestrianised, so you can wander at will and get lost – though never for long, as the sea is always close by.
The side streets are home to some gorgeous churches and lots of small family-run trattoria, and the lungomare walk along the shoreline is stunning. However, the highlight of Ortigia is the Piazza del Duomo, in our opinion one of the most beautiful squares in Italy. We went there every evening, just to sit with our son at one of the tables next to the Baroque cathedral, listen to the accordion music and enjoy gelato in one of the most magical settings we’ve ever found.
By Dave of Delve into Europe
The Best of South Sicily
The southern region of the island is home to some beautiful ancient cities in Sicily and small towns of extraordinary beauty, places that have made to the Unesco World Heritage listing. This is one of the best parts of Sicily, whit a few rare gems like Noto Valley, Piazza Armerina and Ragusa Ibla.
Unesco listed Modica in the Noto Valley is breathtakingly extraordinary. From above the city you can see across the gorge to this Italian baroque city, built after an earthquake in 1693 destroyed most of the old town. Ornate buildings form terraces up the hillside. The city centre is lined with beautiful yet crumbling baroque structures – a castle, cathedral, churches and a palace. Modica though, has a secret dating back to when Sicily was under Spanish rule. You’ll find chocolate made here just as it would have been by the Aztecs.
The oldest artisan chocolate house, Antica Dolceria Bonajuto has been owned by the Bonajuto family since 1880 and if you are lucky you can see a demonstration of chocolate being made by hand grinding the cacoa beans to make a cocoa ‘butter’, then melting the butter to between 36 and 38 degrees centigrade, adding sugar and then tempering the mixture by a kind of knocking/pounding process. Somehow this unique artisan chocolate defines Modica for me. I defy anyone to visit and not end up with a bar or two tucked away to take home.
By Fiona Maclean of London Unattached
Last March I spent a week in Sicily by myself. I rented a car in Siracusa and decided to explore the south-eastern part of the island. One of the biggest of surprises was the beautiful hilltown of Ragusa. Ragusa is divided into Ragusa Ibla and Ragusa Superiore. The historical centre is located in Ragusa Ibla where you find lots of Baroque palaces and churches. Also, make sure you visit the Giardino Ibleo with a beautiful view of the valley. The upper part of town, Ragusa Superiore, provides you with a great view over the old part of Ragusa but also has some good restaurants like Trattoria Tinchitè. If you plan to visit other nearby towns like Noto or Modica spend a night in the stylish SanVito hostel, a perfect place for solo travellers to Sicily.
By Chantal of Alleenopreis
11. Valley of the Temples
At the Valley of the Temples near Agrigento in south west Sicily you can walk through history and the remains of a lost civilisation – the Ancient Greek city called Akragas – built over 2,000 years ago. There are over 2.5 kilometres of ruins to explore including temples devoted to the gods, civic buildings and former burial sites. You can’t help but wonder how they all were built. A huge open public bath house was serviced by an ingenious plumbing system that would challenge today’s engineers. But most impressive is the incredible Temple of Concordia celebrating the goddess of harmony that rises majestically over the site.
The best time to visit The Valley of the Temples is in Spring and Autumn when the weather is mild. In the summer temperatures are very hot and the site becomes crowded. At that time of year, try to time your visit for early in the morning or close to sunset when the temples are lit up. You can either take a taxi or bus to the Valley of the Temples from Agrigento or, if you are driving, park at one of the carparks and take a taxi back once you have walked through the park.
Though you can visit as a day trip from Palermo or Catania, I recommend staying overnight in the area to make the most of your day at this historic place. The Valley of the Temples is a breathtaking sight and a highlight of any trip to Sicily.
By Katy of Untold Morsels
Western Sicily Highlights
The West Coast is less visited by travellers but offers a concentration of historical best sites of Sicily with beautiful beaches and more off-the-beaten-path places like the Egadian Islands with Levanzo, Marettimo and Favignana, or Erice and San Vito lo Capo. Within a short distance from Palermo, the Northwest region of Sicily makes it for a weekend road trip or a great short break.
For Greek ruins that rival those in Athens, explore Parco Archeologico Selinunte, on Sicily’s west coast. Located about an hour’s drive from the port town of Trapani, Selinunte houses temple ruins as well as remnants of city streets and rampart walls dating back to 7th century B.C. when the Greeks inhabited the area. Wander among the impressive columns of Temple E, also known as Temple of Hera, or the scattered stone blocks and columns at the Temple of Apollo without the crowds you’d find at Athens’ Acropolis. In spring, wildflowers bloom among the ruins, turning your visit into a magical one.
Most visitors don’t make it to all of the ruins at Selinunte due to the size of the site. Allow at least 3 to 4 hours for exploring, preferably not in the summer heat as there is no shade. For those in a hurry, or who have mobility issues, consider purchasing a ticket on the small electric train that travels between the major sites.
The seaside village of Marinella offers lodging for overnight visitors. Staying in the nearby town of Castelvetrano is another option.
By Donna Hull of My Itchy Travel Feet
Located between the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Mediterranean Sea lies the small Sicilian town of Trapani. As Trapani receives considerably less visitors than some other Sicilian towns, it has managed to keep its original charm. The historic city center is a great place to wander around for a few hours with many outside terraces serving tasty Sicilian food. Don't forget to look at the beautiful Art Nouveau and baroque architecture.
Of course, there are also beautiful beaches in the city, but if you're looking for something truly stunning, you should visit the nearby Egadian islands Levanzo, Marettimo and Favignana. Walk or cycle to the different beaches and dip into the turquoise water. Another fun day trip is Erice, a gorgeous walled medieval town, which is only 10-minutes by cable car from Trapani’s town center.
By Manouk of Bunch of Backpackers
When planning your visit to Sicily, make sure to put Erice on your travel itinerary. You will find Erice on the west side of the island in the harbour of Trapani, 800 metres above sea level on Mount Erice. The Phoenicians founded the village Erice, but it was the Greek hero Eryx the town was named after. A favourite option of reaching Erice is to take the funicular from Trapani. It’s only a 10-minute km ride up to Erice with views of Trapani harbour, the salt flats and the Egadi Islands.
Entering through the Porta Trapani, a beautiful medieval village will greet you with its narrow, cobblestoned streets dotted with local souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants. Make sure to visit the famous La Pasticceria Maria Grammatico to enjoy the marzipan pastries. The choice is overwhelming.
The highlight of your visit will be Castello di Venere (Castle of Venus) and Giardino del Balio (Garden Balio) giving you panoramic views of the coastline and landscape of Sicily. And yes, the views are spectacular. Erice, only 2 hours from Palermo makes a great day trip to experience more of the beauty of Sicily.
By Maura of TravelKiwis
15. San Vito Lo Capo
Last summer my partner and I traveled to Sicily. We decided to spend a week at the beach in San Vito Lo Capo. It's the perfect destination if you want to enjoy a beautiful public beach. The town is in summer full of vacationers, mostly Italians which I enjoyed a lot. There were mostly families at the beach and it wasn’t loud or anything. For us it was the perfect combination of a laid-back vacation town, combined with a beautiful beach, crystal clear blue water and many restaurants and some bars. Each night we tried out another restaurant and San Vito Lo Capo won't disappoint when it comes to culinary delights. There wasn’t one single restaurant that disappointed us.
If you have some time, make sure to visit the Riserva naturale dello Zingaro where you can hike and enjoy the beach. It's a national park and the place is a bit hidden and it's not very busy at the beach. Bring lots of sunscreen and try to get a spot close to the rockets as there is almost no natural shade.
By Melanie of Mafambani
Conclusion about visiting the Best of Sicily
Either solo or in a group I think Sicily is an excellent destination if you love the Italian culture, excellent food and lesser-known places of Italy that are not overcrowded.
For travelling to and around Sicily, fly from any main Italian cities, like Rome, Milan, Bologna, Verona, Venice and Venice Treviso to Palermo or Catania and hire a car to explore the island at your own pace.
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