Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean, has a wealth of destinations to explore. Here are some of the top places to visit in Sicily:
- Palermo – the island’s capital city, which has a vibrant mix of cultures and a rich history. It’s a great place to explore ancient ruins, churches, museums, and markets.
- Taormina – a picturesque town located on a hilltop with stunning views of the coast and Mount Etna. It’s known for its ancient Greek theater and beautiful beaches.
- Agrigento – a city located in the south of the island, famous for its Valley of the Temples, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that features some of the best-preserved ancient Greek ruins in the world.
- Syracuse – a historic city that was once one of the most important cities in the ancient world. It has many ancient ruins, including the Greek Theatre and the Ear of Dionysius.
- Mount Etna – an active volcano and one of the most popular attractions in Sicily. You can take a guided tour to explore the crater and surrounding area.
- Cefalù – a charming coastal town with a picturesque old town, beautiful beaches, and a stunning Norman cathedral.
- Trapani – a coastal town famous for its salt flats and stunning views of the sea. It’s also a great place to explore the nearby Egadi Islands.
These are just a few of the many destinations to explore in Sicily. Each city and town has its own unique charm and history, so it’s worth taking the time to explore as much of the island as possible.
Sicily is a marvelous contrast of fiery volcanoes to bright blue seas, refined tastes to remnants of a rough past, and rugged landscapes to the fertile soil. While part of Italy, Sicilians have a strong sense of their own identity separate from the mainland. Each city on the island has its own story to tell from tragedies to triumphs making traveling through Sicily akin to a novel you can’t put down.
Sicily is ideal for adventurous travelers.
Fun facts about Sicily:
- Home to the largest active volcano in Europe, Mount Etna.
- 85% of the island is covered either in hills or volcanos.
- Conquered by many different cultures: Normans, Romans, Arabs, and Greeks.
- 9 ancient Greek ruins are found throughout the island
- Poor soil meant poor winemaking for many years, wasn’t until the last 40-50 years did it become known for quality wine
- Surrounded by 3 seas leading to an abundance of beach retreats and fresh seafood.
The active volcano, Mount Etna, looms majestically behind the city of Catania serving as a constant reminder of mother natures beauty and its dominance over the landscape. Over the centuries, Mount Etna has been the reason for the destruction of surrounding towns and industries while at the same time the source of fertile soil for prosperous farming and viticulture. Catania is the second biggest city on the island and a large industrial port. During the day the city is bustling with life as goods move from the port throughout the island and locals sell products at the city’s markets.
THINGS TO DO IN CATANIA
Walking through the streets of Catania you will notice the Baroque era influence throughout the city buildings with its decorative and ornate details. If staying in the city center, it’s easy to walk to most of the sights and is the best way to experience Catania.
Enjoy the heart of the city.
Piazza del Duomo resides in the heart of the city where 3 main streets come to a head. In the piazza, you will find the iconic symbol of the city, u Liotru, an elephant obelisk statue from the 1700’s. Legend has it the statue possesses magical powers and serves to temper Mt. Etna.
Taste the flavors of the sea.
La Pescheria is the fish market behind the streets of Piazza del Duomo in Catania. Fishmongers line the streets with freshly caught seafood each weekday morning. The sheer variety of mysterious sea creatures and fishmonger hustle is a show worth watching. To taste the flavors of this dramatic scene, grab a seat at one of the market restaurants for a more elevated Crudo display.
From the city hustle to the hideout.
Via Etnea is the main road in Catania that offers a variety of shops both big brands and boutiques, restaurants, coffee bars, and cafes catering to locals and tourists alike. Continuing down the street observing the beautiful Baroque architecture a botanical oasis emerges called Giardino Bellini. It boasts some of the best city views and offers an Italian garden escape from the busy city.
Start the drama.
The island of Sicily has an abundance of Greek ruins throughout its cities. In Catania, the ancient Teatro Romano / Odeon is the largest amphitheater in Sicily constructed from the lava rock of Mt. Etna. Originating in the 2nd century AD, most of it is now covered underground but thanks to a large hole in the ground remnants of its former glory are revealed.
The stately monastery.
Monastero dei Benedettini di San Nicolò l’Arena is one of the largest monasteries in Europe. Originating in the 16th century and modified due to two natural disasters in the 17th century; it boasts a beautiful blend of architectural styles.
Next door stands the Chiesa di San Nicolò which is a continuation of the monastery. The sheer size of the church is magnificent and the outward appearance looks nothing like inside. It is light, bright, and rather peaceful which was a stark contrast to the dark exterior.
Dine with locals.
Running parallel to Via Etnea, Via Santa Filomena is the best street to grab dinner and drinks having more of a locals feel. The narrow street is overflowing with people catching up over dinner and drinks at the city’s best restaurants and bars after a long week.
Tip: Il Sale is a delicious pizza and salad restaurant with custom in-house olive oil blends.
Zafferana Etnea offers a quaint countryside getaway off the beaten path just an hour from Catania heading into the foothills of Mt. Etna. It is popular with adventure-seeking tourists as a home base for up close and personal encounters with the active volcano as well as tourists looking for peace and serenity within a natural setting.
WHAT TO DO IN ZAFFERANA ETNEA
Encounter Europe’s largest active volcano.
The city sits on the outskirts of Parco dell’Etna which is Sicily’s first and remains its largest national park to this day. Day trips to experience the active volcano and its lunar landscape are a must. Local tour guides will lead the way through lava caves, craters, and lunar landscapes to discover how Mt. Etna has shaped the terrain for centuries.
Visit local wineries.
The vineyards surrounding Mt. Etna offer fertile grape-growing conditions for the famous wines of Sicily – Nero d’Avola, Nerello Mascalese, and Frappato. Many vineyards reside in the foothills and offer guests a chance to taste the famous juice while taking in the scenic views of the vineyards with Mt. Etna in the distance.
City of Honey
Zafferana Etnea has experienced its share of devastation over the centuries at the hand of Mt. Etna yet continues to prosper from the fertile growing conditions it creates. The respect locals have for Mt. Etna is demonstrated by religious symbols scattered throughout the city serving as reminders of its deep respect for nature and the saints that watch over the town.
Sicilian churches erected during the Baroque era are seen throughout the town nestled between mountains and sea. The church of Saint Mary della Provvidenza is a great example of a well-preserved Baroque-style church to visit. In the middle of town, Villa Belvedere noted by its fountains and elevated terrace, create the ideal moment to sit and admire the Ionian sea in the distance. After a well-deserved rest, walk the streets of Via Giuseppe Garibaldi and Via Roma to taste local honey and olive oils or try Sicilian-style pizza at one of the town’s restaurants.
Taormina is a charming seaside town boasting color, charm, and adventure along the Ionian Sea. It has an aura of approachable luxry with high-end shopping, dining, and hotels while offering rugged coastlines and adventure into the foothills of Mt. Etna.
WHAT TO DO IN TAORMINA
Taormina has many options whether you are an adventure seeker, beach lounger, or history buff – the popular seaside town in Sicily offers a scene for all travelers.
Lounge at a beach.
Taormina’s city center sits high in the hills above its sandy beach coastline. A quick shuttle to the beach below will allow you to discover an afternoon of relaxation at one of the many beach clubs or grab your favorite spot in the sand.
The beautiful island
Isola Bella (Beautiful Island) is a small island connected to the mainland by a narrow path of sand and stones. It’s free to explore the island estate and sunbathe on its rocky shores. As one of the most popular attractions in town, go early to avoid large crowds and opt for lunch or a drink after exploring at one of the beach cafes nearby.
Tip: Take the stair path down from Taormina city center to the island below. Beautiful cliffside homes and gardens tucked off the path give you a glimpse into how the locals live.
Explore the town’s stately villa.
Hotel Timeo is a must-visit in the town of Taormina. Located in the city center just steps from the Greek Theatre it is a statement of Italian-style luxury. Grab a drink and take in the sea views on the expansive terrace, dine at its Michelin-star restaurant, and explore the lush Italian gardens.
Stroll through time.
Corso Umberto is the main road in town. The buildings, monuments, and churches along the road exemplify architecture from many different eras such as Arabic, Norman, Gothic, and even Baroque. The street is a labyrinth of local shops offering samples of local honey to expensive jewelery.
A dramatic backdrop
Located just off Corso Umberto lies the ancient Greek Theater. The theater is carved into the rock with coastline views and Mount Etna looming in the background. The theater still hosts many events to this day for visitors and locals to experience the superior sound structure erected many centuries ago.
Piazza del Duomo
A Baroque fountain is situated in the center of the Piazza del Duomo featuring a Centaur, the symbol of Taormina along with a fortress-like structure which is the Cathedral of Taormina.
The city oasis.
Located off Via Bagnoli Croce, the Public Garden (Villa Comunale Di Taormina) is a lovely oasis from the hustle of the city. The garden is lined with quirky plants, temple-like structures, exotic animals, and magnificent coastline views.
This part of town is marked by a clock-tower gate and the noticeable change in architecture to Medieval buildings and small alleyways lined with shops selling all types of local goods.
The tiny town of Catelmola sits high in the hills inland above Taormina. Climb the stairs from the town center Via Circonvallazione or take a quick car ride and see the quaint town and its quirky vibes up close. The town is ideal for an afternoon of leisurely exploration without the crowds.
- Caffè Turrisi – A quirky 3-story bar decorated with phallic sculptures representing fertility leaves quite the impression. Its modest prices, interesting decor, lovely views, and friendly staff make this a must-visit. Don’t forget to try the almond wine!
- Madonna della Rocca Chiesa – Tiny, enchanting church having a ceiling of carved rock and pastel-painted interior dating back to the 12th century.
- Piazza Chiesa Madre – This is the main gathering area in Castelmola outlined by the church, shops, and cafes.
Panarea is the smallest of 7 islands that make up the Aeolian Islands. Located off the northeast coast of Sicily, it attracts visitors seeking a low-key getaway in an exceptionally chic and beautiful place.
Getting to Panarea
The Aeolian Islands are most frequently reached by ferries, known as hydrofoils. The main operator is Liberty Lines which offers an abundance of options for island hopping from its main port in Milazzo. That said, you can catch a ferry from Catania, Palermo, and a few other main cities but the routes are far less frequent.
WHAT TO DO IN PANAREA
Depending on what time of year you find yourself in Panarea, your experience could be partying with the wealthy or low-key relaxation and sea views. In the summer the wealthiest flock to the island on yachts for exclusive parties. During the off-season, its’ low-key charm offers an escape away from it all.
There isn’t much to do on the island itself which makes it the perfect place to recharge for a few days. If you find yourself wanting to explore in between reading a book on the terrace or taking a dip in the sea, there are a few options.
See all the 7-sisters
The Aeolian Islands are comprised of Lipari, Vulcano, Salina, Stromboli, Filicudi, Alicudi and Panarea. Explore the lively island of Lipari, climb the volcano on Stromboli, bathe in the mud baths of Vulcano or taste the sweet Malvasia wine of Salina. You can take a day trip via buying a day ticket for the hydrofoils or hire a private boat.
Beaches on beaches
There are 5 beaches on Panarea worth exploring. The Caletta dei Zimmari beach is the only sandy beach on the island. It’s a small and narrow beach with reddish sand that contrasts with the bright blue sea. Cala Junco, Spiaggia Della Calcara, Punta Milazzese and Basiluzzo are other beaches to explore if you have time.
Cruise the shorelines
Head to the main port in town San Pietro where you will find many small boats for an afternoon rental. Boats cost around $100 USD for the day and are equipped with snorkel gear plus a cooler for refreshments. Go see the beautiful famous Datillo rock up close, take a lap around the island to discover more remote parts or anchor in one of the many coves.
Cefalù is a small picturesque fishing village on the northern coast of Sicily. The sandy beaches, numerous boutique shops, and restaurants along with a rich history make it a great place to stay.
Getting to Cefalù
Unlike most of Sicily, the train is convenient to the city center of Cefalù. Trains run about every half hour from Milazzo and Palmero which make it perfect for a day trip from many surrounding cities.
WHAT TO DO IN CEFALU
For an active explorer, Cefalù is quite a treat. There are several rigorous climbs that reward incredible sea and city views from above. If hiking is not your thing, there’s plenty to see and do within the city center from lounging on the beach, shopping at boutiques, and exploring medieval historical sites.
The capital of Sicily, Palermo, is abundant with a history shaped by its many inhabitants and influences from the past. It offers travelers a rugged, yet beautiful look back in time through architecture, cuisine, and theater.
WHAT TO DO IN PALERMO
A sight to behold
The Palermo Cathedral dates back to the 11th century and has been added to and reconstructed throughout the years revealing periods of Gothic to Moorish influence making it a sight to behold.
Eat your heart out
Food markets are in abundance throughout the city with Ballaro being the most famous. Most of the markets are close to the main sights making it easy to stumble upon a good one. The collection of Sicilian street food, spices, and unique products are a true delight.
Sounds of the Gods
Teatro Massimo is located near the Piazza Giuseppe Verdi. It is famous for supreme acoustic qualities and one of the largest opera houses in Europe.