The island of Sicily lies south of the Italian mainland and offers much by way of nature, history and relaxation. Read our guide to learn about all the places to visit in Sicily.
Getting to Sicily:
Sicily has two main international airports: Palermo (PMO) in the Northwest and Catania (CTA) on the east coast, and a few national airports in Trapani, Comiso, Lampedusa and Pantelleria. You can also arrive in Sicily by train Rome or Naples, or by boat from other parts of Italy although these journeys can be quite long. Keep in mind that distances in Sicily are quite far so it makes sense to try to land closer to where you will be staying.
Getting Around Sicily:
The best way to get around Sicily is to rent a car. That way you can run your own schedule and visit as many sites as you’d like. That being said, to get around the whole island would take a couple of weeks so it makes sense to stay in different parts so you can reduce your travel time.
If driving in Italy scares you (mind you, Sicilians are even crazier drivers), then consider public transportation in the form of trains or buses (SAIS, AST and Interbus). Keep in mind though that these often go to town centers and not to specific sites.
For specific tourist destinations such as Mount Etna and the Aeolian Islands, you will find many tour operators to help you make the trip.
We drove and found that although distances were far, we enjoyed the flexibility and chance to go where we want. The kids often slept in the car and were ready to roll when we reached our destination.
Where to Stay in Sicily:
As mentioned before, there are many places to visit in Sicily. Depending on how much time you have, the best thing to do would be to move: spend half your time on the east coast and half on the west. If that’s not available to you, I would recommend staying in the Southeast near Siracusa, where you have optimum access to a lot of the main sights like Noto, Ragusa, Modica, Etna, and Taormina. Agrigento, the site of the Valley of the Temples is about 2.5 hours away and a must-see if you are interested in Sicily’s Greek heritage.
Places to Visit in Sicily:
We visited Sicily for 8 days and were hoping it was enough time to see all the major sights as well as get some downtime on the beach. We were wrong. I would say we covered a little more than half, and every place was more spectacular than the next, and there were many more places to visit in Sicily. Here’s what we did see:
Agrigento and the Valle dei Templi: The Valley of the Temples is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and considered one of the most important cities of the ancient Mediterranean. The Valley of the Temples was the site of a Greek colony founded in about 6BC and is magnificent to behold because of how intact many of the monuments still are. The best preserved are the Temples of Juno and Concordia. The Temple of Zeus which can be seen in fragments is supposedly the largest Zeus temple ever built.
A visit to the Valle dei Templi is a must if you are in Sicily. If you are visiting in the summer skip the crowds and the brutal daytime sun and opt for a night viewing, the last entry for which is at 10pm (11pm on weekends). Read this mother’s tips on how to enjoy the Valley of Temples with kids.
Mount Etna: Etna is the largest active volcano in Europe (one of three) and is a constant state of activity which makes is particularly interesting to view. There is a whole ecosystem around the volcano which has impacted large parts of the island either through destruction or with its fertile volcanic soil, used to produce everything from wine to limoncello to skincare products. You can visit Etna by bus, helicopter, or cable car depending on your budget and level of interest. Keep in mind that there is a microclimate around Etna so even if it’s 35 degrees at the base, it’s likely cold and rainy at the top. The weather will also impact how much you can see.
Siracusa and the Fontane Bianche:
Siracusa on the southeast coast is known for its Greek ruins. In the Neapolis Archaeological Park you will find all you need to see, including the Greek amphitheater and the Ear of Dionysus (aka the Latomia del Paradiso). The Greek Theater is one of the largest in the world, built in the 5th century. Today it is still used for concerts and while those may be a wonderful experience, the modern upgrades do take away from the authenticity of the site. Still, worthwhile to visit.
The Ear of Dionysus was named so by the famous artist Caravaggio, due to its pointy shape and resemblance to an ear. It’s a remarkable site and a favorite with the kids for its wonderful acoustics.
Another must-see in Siracusa is Ortygia, a small island and the historical center of Siracusa. The best way to visit this charming little town is just to wander and take in all the charm, the stores, the restaurants and its many historical sites. The main things to visit are the fountain of Arethusa, a clearwater stream that legend holds is the Arcadian nymph Arethusa who sought the help of the Goddess Artemis to help her escape the advances of the river God Alpheios; the beautiful Piazza del Duomo with the cathedral built on the temple of Athena; and the ruins of the Temple of Apollo.
When you are done with all your sightseeing, head to the Fontane Bianche, a beautiful stretch of white sands and turquoise water just south of Siracusa and a short 20 minute drive. Stop in at one of the many lidos, pay for deck chairs and umbrellas and enjoy one of Sicily’s best natural offerings, the Mediterranean Sea.
Taormina: Taormina is called the pearl of the Mediterranean and will lift even the most jaded soul with its quaint windy streets and spectacular views. Taormina is situated on a cliff high above the sea and draws tourists from all over the world including celebrities like Woody Allen and Francis Ford Coppola. If you are looking for high-end shopping in Sicily, you will find it here, as well as gourmet restaurants such as Andreas, founded by two Michelin-starred chef of the same name.
It’s easy to get lost in the charm of Taormina and forget to visit its most important site: the Greek Theater. This theater is the second largest of its kind (after Siracusa), and like Siracusa is still a concert venue today. The theater is spectacular with sprawling views of the Mediterranean sea below it and a memorable visit for all.
The Aeolian Islands: This small group of islands to the north of Sicily was name after Aeolus, the god of winds. Each one varies in character and offerings and most tour operators will focus on a few of the seven with Panarea and Stromboli or Vulcano, Lipari and Salina being the most popular routes. We did the latter. The black sands of Vulcano are truly spectacular, the seafood at Lipari was as fresh as can be, and Salina, the greenest of the islands has the best granita in all of Sicily!
These islands off the island are a wonderful day trip from Sicily. If you are looking for a private boat hire, I can recommend Sicilyspot, whose service and boats were excellent!
Admittedly there is a lot more to see in Sicily. We missed the baroque towns of Noto, Ragusa and Modica which are known to be stunning as well as some of the northern ports like Cefalu. Oh well, it’s reason to go back, as if we needed one!
Where to Eat in Sicily:
If you love italian food, in Sicily you may feel like you’ve died and gone to heaven. However, like any tourist destination, there is the potential for culinary mishaps as well. Here are some of the restaurants we highly recommend:
Punto/G, Ortygia: We stumbled into this place after being turned off by many of the touristy-looking places in Ortygia and what a treat it ended up being. It’s small, casual and quick, but the food is absolutely something to write home about. I had the pasta with prawns and pistachio sauce which was one of the best dishes I’ve ever had. The recipes are inventive and the flavors are fresh and popping! Even the chicken nuggets were perfectly fried and crispy! Check out the little terrace in the back or their board games for the perfect break from the Siracusa heat!
Ristorante Boccaperto, Linguaglossa: We were staying in a hotel near Linguaglossa which is why we ended up looking for a restaurant in the area but you can stop by on your way to/from Etna as well. This small, family-run restaurant is home-cooked Sicilian cooking, gourmet style. Linguaglossa is known for its sausage and my dish was simply magnificent. The service too, was warm and friendly, with the host pulling together two chairs to allow our little one to continue napping while we enjoyed our scrumptious meal.
Amare, Sciacca: Amare is located in the Verdura Resort and is a bright and charming modern-looking seafood restaurant. Pick your fish and it will be cooked most delicately with olive oil and lemon and you will leave completely satisfied!
La Terrazza degli Dei, Agrigento: If you are looking for an upscale meal with fantastic views, this is the place for you. La Terrazza degli Dei is at Villa Athena, a boutique luxury five-star hotel in Agrigento and a few minutes away from the Valley of the Temples making it the perfect place to eat before or after a visit. The food is spectacular, the service, impeccable and sommelier, well-versed in Italian wines.
Al Pirata, Lipari: There is no fresher seafood than this little waterfront restaurant in the Aeolian island of Lipari. Everything literally comes fresh off the boat and is prepared with as little interference as possible. Try the salt-crusted seabass, a Sicilian specialty!
Things Sicily is Famous For:
Greek ruins, pistachios, olives, wine, tomatoes, seafood, ceramics, the Godfather, granite, arancini, pizza!