Having an Italian husband means that I travel to Italy every year – lucky me! It suddenly dawned on me that the region we’ve visited the most is Sicily. As Italy’s largest island, Sicily is a great region to explore – by car, train or boat. Here’s all the amazing places to visit in Sicily that we’ve been to – I hope you’ll put some of them on your travel list! At the bottom of the post, I’ve suggested some itineraries to help you plan your trip.
Palermo is the capital of Sicily and, depending where else you’re going in Sicily, will be where you fly in to. Do yourself a favour and spend at least a couple of days in Palermo as it’s a wonderful city, full of rich history and culture, not to mention amazing street markets, such as the four historic ones – Ballarò, Capo, Vucciria and Borgo Vecchio. True it is a bit gritty but it’s well worth spending some time in.
As well as historic sights to see, such as Teatro Massimo, which was built in 1897, Quattro Canti (the Four Corners), Fontana Pretoria (which dates back to the 1500s) and more, Palermo also has beaches! Head to Mondello for the day and enjoy the beach bars and restaurants.
Catania is Sicily’s second largest city after Palermo and is, again, where you’ll fly into, depending on where in Sicily you’re travelling to. Like Palermo, it’s well worth spending a day or two in Catania. It’s an ancient port city for one, and its ‘old town’ is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Be sure to visit the Piazza Del Duomo in the old town where you will find beautiful, historic buildings such as the Cathedral of Sant’Agata, which dates back to 1078 (although it’s had restorations over the years).
Something you can’t miss is Fontana Dell’Elefante which is right in the centre of Piazza Del Duomo. History has it that an obelisk and an elephant made out of lava stone was discovered in the rubble after an earthquake in 1693, which has become a symbol of the city. In 1736 Vaccarini completed the fountain with the elephant, which is known locally as Liotru. It’s very impressive and definitely a talking point as an elephant in Italy is a bit of an odd sight!
We absolutely ADORE Taormina, which is why we’ve visited several times and it’s a place we’ll keep returning to. It’s got everything you want in a holiday – beautiful beaches, historical sites, amazing food and the opportunity to explore nearby areas and towns by car or train.
One of the most photogenic sites of Taormina is Isola Bella. Not only is it photogenic, it’s also a great place to swim, of course. However it can get very crowded as it’s so popular.
Head up into the town for a birds eye view of Isola Bella from above! Isn’t it stunning?
Another must-see site in Taormina is the historic Greek amphitheatre or Teatro Antico di Taormina. Can you believe it was built in the 3rd Century BC! Of course over the centuries it’s had a number of reconstructions but you can still see some Greek inscriptions dating back to its origin.
When visiting you’ll have an amazing view (on a clear day!) of Mount Etna, the bays of Naxos and Taormina as well as the Strait of Messina. In the summer, there are often concerts held in the evening here – what a magical setting!
The charming seaside city of Cefalù is less than an hour by train from Palermo so could be done as a day trip but believe me you’ll want to stay longer! Especially as Cefalù has the most spectacular sunsets.
It’s a fairly small city but has plenty to keep you occupied and entertained for a few days. Visit the impressive Duomo, which sits in a lovely piazza where there’s often live music.
Of course as a seaside city, there are beaches to spend the day at. As Cefalù is very popular, the beaches right in the city can be quite crowded so venture a bit further for the quieter ones.
Another really interesting thing to see is the medieval wash house – Lavatoio Medievale – used by women hundreds of years ago to wash clothes. It’s very cool!
Cefalù is part of Madonie park, which is a nature reserve in Sicily, comprising of 15 towns. Many of these towns are in the mountains and are easily accessible from Cefalù as a day trip. We visited Castlebuono, which is a medieval town with a castle, and walked around and had lunch.
There’s so much to see and do in Cefalù and the surrounding areas! I have no doubt you would love it if you put it on your travel list.
Castellammare del Golfo
Castellammare del Golfo is another historic seaside town that sits under an imposing mountain in the Trapani province of Sicily. It gets its name from the castle (that’s actually a fort) that sits on the sea.
It’s a fairly small town but it’s got all you need – a beach, great restaurants, bars, shops and outdoor markets. It’s also close to the absolutely stunning Riservera lo Zingaro where you’ll find the most gorgeous beaches and swimming spots. Just be sure to take good walking shoes! Or you could always just hire a boat and explore the seven beaches of the natural reserve by sea.
Just seven kilometres away you’ll find Scopello – a fantastic swimming spot which has beautiful faraglioni (rock formations) as well as a disused Tonarra (how they used to catch tuna years ago).
Segesta is a historical site, close to Castellammare del Golfo and Trapani, and can easily be done as a day trip from Palermo. Segesta was once a major city of the Elymians, who were one of the three indigenous peoples of Sicily. Today, only two historical sites remain – The Temple of Segesta and the Amphitheater.
The Temple of Segesta is a Doric temple that is believed to have been constructed between 420 and 430 BC! It is absolutely amazing to see up close.
The Amphitheater sits atop of Mount Barbaro and you can either walk or get the shuttle bus. In its heyday it seated 4,000 people – which gives you a sense of just how big the city of Segesta must have been.
Erice is a medieval town, close to Trapani, that has not one but two castles! If you’re staying in Trapani you can get the cable car up to Erice. It is such a pretty town, with a rich history and lots of cultural sites to see.
Erice is worth visiting, whether you go just for the day or you stay overnight.
San Vito lo Capo
If you’re looking for history and culture then San Vito Lo Capo is probably not the town for you. Don’t get me wrong, it has both but not a lot – certainly not if you’re planning a stay that’s longer than a couple of days. What you do go to San Vito Lo Capo for is the beaches!
It’s very close to the amazing Riserva Lo Zingaro (pictured above) where there are seven gorgeous swimming spots. San Vito Lo Capo though has its own beach, which is really big. No crowded beach here as there’s plenty of space for everyone! If you do visit, I’d recommend combining it with another town or city, such as Castellammare del Golfo, Trapani or even the island of Favignana.
The island of Lampedusa is an absolute beach paradise and has some of the most stunning beaches I’ve ever seen! To get to Lampedusa, which is very close to Africa, you have to either fly or get a ferry. To be honest, there’s not much to do in Lampedusa apart from enjoying the amazing beaches so it’s definitely more of a beach holiday destination rather than a cultural holiday.
If you’re looking for a relaxing holiday with great weather, delicious food and amazing sunsets – put Lampedusa on your travel list.
If you’re looking for an island that’s easy to cycle around and which has stunning swimming spots, look no further than Favignana! It’s around 30 minutes by ferry from Trapani so is perfect to combine with either San Vito Lo Capo or Castellammare del Golfo. Or just spend a week here!
As well as gorgeous swimming spots, Favignana has some cultural and historic delights too, such as the Florio delle Tonnare plant, which is now a museum offering guided tours. Favignana was once famous for its tuna. ‘Tonnara’ is the system they used to catch tuna, which was then canned at this plant. It was owned by the wealthy Florio family who also have a huge house in the town, which you can visit.
Although the town is fairly small, there are lots of bars, restaurants and shops as well as night markets.
The Aeolian Islands
The Aeolian Islands (or Eolie) are a volcanic group of seven islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea, which is north of Sicily. They are not the easiest to reach but definitely worth the effort! They are comprised of Stromboli, Lipari, Panarea, Salina, Vulcano, Filicudi and Alicudi – the last two being the smallest of the islands.
We stayed in both Panarea and Lipari and visited Salina and Vulcano on day trips by boat. Panarea is fairly small – they don’t allow any vehicles, apart from the little luggage vans – but it’s full of life! I’d recommend staying 3 to 4 nights as there’s not that much to do, apart from swim.
Lipari is a much bigger island with more to do and see. There are a lot more shops and restaurants as well as some museums.
If you’re planning a two week holiday in the Aeolian islands, you’ll have enough time to visit most of the islands. This is definitely more of a beach island holiday though so bear that in mind. One of the best things we did when visiting was to do a day trip to Vulcano and climb up to the mouth of the volcano. It was such a unique experience!
Syracuse is around 60 km from Catania and evens boasts its own little island, Ortiga. Steeped in history, Syracuse is an architectural delight as well as an exciting city for history buffs. What I love about it is that it combines both city and beach so you get the best of both worlds.
Be sure to visit the Syracuse Duomo (Cathedral) as it is truly magnificent and dates back to the 7th century. Syracuse also has a castle – the Maniace Castle – which sits at its southern tip. Also check out Apollo’s Temple, which dates back to the 6th century and is the oldest Doric temple in Sicily.
If you’re looking for history and culture, look no further than the city of Noto which sits at the foot of the Iblean mountains. It has a fascinating history, having been under Greek, Roman, Norman and Arab rule throughout its history, before falling to Christian rule in the 10th century. Unfortunately it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1693, and was rebuilt about 10 km away from the original city in the Baroque style. Today it is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Noto is fairly small so can easily be done in a day trip or combine it with the neighboring UNESCO towns of Ragusa, Modica and Scicli.
Close to Sicily’s most southern point is where you’ll find the charming little seaside village, Marzamemi. On first impressions, it’s not very pretty at all but just walk a few streets until you reach the centre and you’ll be met with a gorgeous piazza, brimming with restaurants, bars and a few shops. It also has a lovely little marina too with colourful fishing boats and some restaurants facing the water.
It’s not very big so perfect to do as a day trip. However I would have loved to have seen it at night so could be worth spending an evening if you’re coming from Syracuse (just over 50 km away) or Noto (just over 20 km away), for example. In the Summer they sometimes play host to an International Film Festival.
If you do head out to Marzamemi, be sure to make a stop at the stunning Calamosche, 16 km away, for a swim.
Sicily is a really big island with two main airports. Here are some suggested itineraries in terms of places to visit depending on how long you’ve got.
- Palermo > Castellammare del Golfo > San Vito Lo Capo > Favignana > Trapani (to get to Palermo airport)
- Palermo > Cefalù > Milazzo (to get the ferry) > Aeolian islands > Palermo/Catania (to fly back)
- Catania > Messina > Milazzo (to get the ferry) > Aeolian islands > Catania
- Catania > Syracuse > Avola > Noto > Marzamemi
- Catania > Taormina
- Palermo > Cefalù
- Palermo > Castellammare del Golfo > San Vito Lo Capo
- Palermo > Favignana