A guide to visiting the Aeolian Islands

The Aeolian Islands (or Eolie, as the Italians call them) are a volcanic group of islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea, which is north of Sicily. They are named after the demigod of the winds, Aeolus. They are not that easy to get to but oh so worth the effort! The Aeolian Islands are comprised of Stromboli, Lipari, Panarea, Salina, Vulcano, Filicudi and Alicudi.

Panarea

How to get there

There are numerous ways to get to the Aeolian Islands, depending on where you are coming from. We flew from London to Catania, and then stayed the night before getting a two hour train to Milazzo where you then get a ferry to whichever island you are visiting first. There are two ferry lines – Liberty lines and Siremar – that go to the islands and choose the Hydrofoil, as they are the quickest. We had ten days in all and chose to stay in Panarea and then Lipari and the ferry to Panarea from Milazzo is around 2 hours. You can also get the ferry from Naples or Palermo to certain islands.

What it costs

Our ferry tickets in total cost us €119. This covered our trip from Milazzo to Panarea, Panarea to Lipari, Lipari to Milazzo and included our luggage tickets. Only hand luggage is free – you have to pay €2 per suitcase. The train from Catania to Milazzo and back cost us around €65 so remember to factor these in to your budget.

Which islands to choose

Where you choose to stay is really important as the islands are quite different. Panarea, for example, is really small and quite expensive but beautiful. Lipari is much bigger, more affordable and has way more to see and do. Filicudi and Alicudi are the smallest, remotest and furthermost islands. If you want to see most or all of the islands choose either Panarea or Lipari as your base or, like us, stay in both.

Panarea

One of the smaller islands but the most beautiful, in my opinion. As Panarea is quite small, you only really go there if you’re happy to spend all day swimming in the stunning sea. They only have one small beach so really you need to hire a boat, which isn’t cheap. You’re looking at around €120 a day, excluding petrol. Panarea is unique in that there are no cars allowed on the island. Locals have scooters to get around and hotels will pick you and your luggage up using little golf carts. These golf carts are also used as taxis. Another unique feature of the island is the lack of street lighting at night. When you walk around, away from the main port area, it’s really dark – the only lighting comes from restaurants, shops or hotels.

Hiring a boat in Panarea

Panarea has a number of small islets, which are fabulous to swim by but only accessible by boat. Just look at the colour of the water! It was so clear and the temperature was perfect.

Panarea water

Panarea, although small, has a great nightlife. There are a number of places to have aperitivo before dinner, lots of restaurants to choose from and even two nightclubs should you wish to go dancing. Just be warned… it’s not cheap. Typically you are looking at between €20 and €30 for two drinks and snacks and at least €100 for dinner, if you’re drinking wine. But the views were just spectacular.

Aperitivo at hotel Raya in Panarea

There are many hotels to choose to stay in Panarea as well as Airbnbs. We stayed first at Hotel Lisca Bianca, which was fabulous until we realised they had an outdoor nightclub until 2am, which was right outside our room so we moved to Hotel Quartara, which was also lovely and more importantly, quiet!

We enjoyed meals at Da Pina, Hycesia and Cusiritati. For lunch we often enjoyed just getting a freshly made sandwich from a little supermarket to then eat on the boat. You choose your meat and whatever else you’d like (cheese, artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes etc) and they make it up to order.  Also, do not miss trying a coffee granita with panna (cream) and a brioche – divine!

Sicilian coffee granita with brioche

Salina

Salina is the second largest Aeolian island, after Lipari. We only went there for lunch and got there with the boat that we hired. There are frequent ferries between the islands so getting there is easy if you don’t have your own boat. We had lunch at Il Delfino, which was recommended to us, and then a little walk around before leaving.

Salina an Aeolian island

Before leaving, however, we had to try a granita from Da Alfredo. Apparently people travel to Salina purely to have a granita from here. I had an orange one and it was really good – basically iced fresh orange juice.

Granita from Da Alfredo in Salina

Stromboli

We didn’t visit Stromboli as we just didn’t have enough time to do all the islands, and my husband has been before. Stromboli is an active volcano and you can do guided walks to the crater, both during the day or at night, which takes around six hours to walk up and down again. From Panarea you have a great view of Stromboli and one night we actually saw the lava or Sciara del Fuoco as the Italians call it (which translates as ‘stream of fire’). Because it’s a volcanic island, the sand is black which means the water is nowhere near as pretty as Panarea and Lipari, for example. If you want to climb to the crater but don’t want to stay in Stromboli, every island offers guided tours so you can go whenever you like.

Lipari

Lipari is the biggest of the Aeolian Islands and has a very different feel to the ones we visited (Panarea, Vulcano and Salina). The centre of the town is pretty big and you’ll need to either hire a car, scooter or get buses to travel around the island.

Lipari an Aeolian Island

Unlike Panarea, Lipari has many beaches so there’s no need to hire a boat (although of course you can if you wish). Vulcano is really close so we did a day trip there to climb the crater. The actual boat ride is around 25 minutes. There are many operators offering tours to all the islands, making Lipari an ideal base.

There are many places to visit if you don’t want to spend every day at the beach. You can explore the 15th Century castle, the museum, the many churches as well as the old baths of San Calogero. There are also many shops if you fancy a spot of retail therapy.

We stayed at Hotel Mea, which I would really recommend. There are many hotel, holiday home and Airbnb options to suit any budget. Lipari is much more affordable than Panarea, with aperitivo costing around €14 to €20 and meals under €80 with wine.

Old church in Lipari

Vulcano

We did a day trip to Vulcano so that we could climb the crater. As you can probably guess, the word volcano originates from Vulcano. It’s a popular island because it has therapeutic sulphur mud baths as well as thermal baths around the island. I can’t describe the smell of the mud baths – like 1,000 rotten eggs! Honestly, I don’t know how people could stand the smell.

Vulcano mud baths

As we had around five hours to explore the island, we started with lunch at The King of Fish. Absolutely ridiculous name but we chose it because they have a fishmonger in the restaurant and they had a nice view. And the food was amazing!

After lunch, we set off to walk up to the crater of the volcano. It took us about 50 minutes to get to the top and it was a pretty tough walk (especially as it was about 34 degrees) but it was actually easier than I was expecting. When you got to the top it was so worth it! How often do you get to see a crater?

Vulcano crater

The walk down was much easier (obviously!), quicker and best of all there was an ice-cream shop nearby which had seriously good gelato. Win!

Alicudi and Filicudi

Although they are two different islands, I’m grouping them together because I’ve not been to them so am only going on research. Alicudi is about 40km from Lipari and only around 5km² – TINY. As far as I can tell, you don’t stay here – you just go for a day trip, should you wish to see it.

Filicudi is not much bigger at almost 10km² but is at least twice the size of Alicudi. Apparently it’s a great island to go walking, if that’s your thing.

So there you have it – a guide to visting the Aeolian Islands. I hope this post has inspired you to venture out from Italy’s more well-known islands, such as Capri and Ischia.

A guide to the Aeolian Islands in Italy

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