So I wrote this Travel Guide for a holiday in Sicily, with insider-tips to discover the most enchanting places, the culture and food of my island.
Sicily Travel Tips
You can cover both Western Sicily and Eastern Sicily in two weeks as long as you have a car. If you have only one week it’s better to choose between the east and west of the island and dedicate time to one of the two parts.
The airports of arrival can be Catania, Palermo or Trapani. Ferries and hydrofoils allow to reach the islands. To travel Sicily the best choice is to rent a car. Sicily falls foul when it comes to public transport.
Then from Trapani you can admire the panorama of the Egadi islands nearby Erice, you can dive in the waters of San Vito Lo Capo, make an excursion to the Zingaro Nature Reserve and visit the Temple of Segesta.
Let’s start with the most unmissable historical sites in the western part of Sicily, the temples.
Valley of the Temples – Agrigento
Agrigento is one of the most beautiful archaeological areas in the world, second only to the Acropolis of Athens. In the valley there are 8 temples that can be visited, but the 2 best preserved are undoubtedly the temple of Concordia and the temple of Hera.
Temple of Segesta
One of my favorites: the temple of Segesta dominates the surrounding countryside from a green hill and offers an uninterrupted view of the surrounding environment. You can admire the beautifully preserved temple and the theater, which is still used during the summer to host concerts and theatrical performances.
Temples of Selinunte
The archaeological park is divided into 2 different sites. There are numerous temples with the sea view that can be seen. Some are very well preserved, including the acropolis, necropolis and a series of temples from the Greek era in excellent condition, among which the Temple of Hera.
Palermo (the city where I am born), is the capital of Sicily and the largest city on the island. The city is chaotic but has the Arab charm of a southern city like perhaps no other in Sicily.
Unfortunately in recent years also dirty, but it would be a shame not to see the Baroque and Arab arts that blend with Medieval art and architecture. Palermo is famous for its merchants and excellent street food. The Capo Market and the colorful Ballarò Market are places out of time that are worth visiting.
Palazzo dei Normanni – Palermo
The Palazzo dei Normanni has a long history. It rises in the highest place of the city, where the Carthaginians and then the Romans had built their defenses.
Later arrived the Arabs, who occupied Sicily and made Palermo their capital. Finally came the Normans who expelled the Arabs and rebuilt it again. From 1555 the palace became the residence of the Spanish viceroys.
Cappella Palatina – Palermo
The star of the Palazzo dei Normanni is the Palatine Chapel. The sparkling gold color of the mosaics that decorate the dome is the distinctive element of the interior of the church.
The Byzantine mosaics of the Palatine Chapel tell stories from the Old and New Testaments. The wooden ceiling is typical of Muslim architecture.
Quattro Canti – Palermo
The Quattro Canti represents the intersection of Palermo’s 2 main streets, Via Vittorio Emanuele and Via Maqueda. They have all been built with the same elements: a fountain that represents the seasons; the statues of the kings of Palermo while at the last level, the 4 patron saints of Palermo.
Teatro Massimo – Palermo
Teatro Massimo of Palermo, inaugurated in 1897, is the largest opera house in Italy and the third largest in Europe. It is preceded only by the opera houses of Paris and Vienna, and quickly turned into one of the most famous theaters in Italy.
Capuchin Catacombs – Palermo
If you are looking for a somewhat unusual visit during your trip to Palermo, you should definitely visit the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo.
Originally, the monks were buried inside the Catacombs of the Capuchin Monastery, but over time, many Sicilians from noble families, asked to be buried there. The almost 8,000 mummies have remained very well preserved.
The most famous and best preserved mummy in the world is Rosalia, a 2-year-old girl who died of pneumonia.
Duomo of Monreale
Not far from Palermo, the Cathedral of Monreale and its immense gold mosaics is one of the most famous places in Sicily. 2200 kg of pure gold were used to make them, depicting scenes from the New and Old Testaments.
Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it represents an architectural masterpiece, where Northern European styles and Arab art are combined.
Cefalù is a small seaside village attractive both for its beaches, and in particular for the very romantic panorama that can be enjoyed from the old port, as well as for the typical medieval streets of its historic center.
The Norman Cathedral of Cefalù is part of the Arab-Norman circuit that became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015. You should also not miss the ancient Tempio Siculo and La Rocca di Cefalù.
Trapani is the largest city located near Palermo. The ancient part extends along a point surrounded by the sea and the destinations not to be missed from Trapani are Erice and the Egadi Islands.
The medieval village of Erice, all built in stone and perched on a rocky cliff overlooking Trapani, offers breathtaking views of the city and the sea, up to the Egadi Islands. In this town you can find Phoenician, Norman and Roman influences.
Scopello, at the gates of the Zingaro Reserve, is a seaside village with typical low buildings and light colors. There are several beaches and bays along the coast, with crystal clear waters alongside large and beautiful sea stacks in front of the suggestive tonnara (now abandoned).
Zingaro Natural Reserve
The Zingaro Nature Reserve, one of the most beautiful nature reserves in Sicily, is easily accessible from Scopello or Trapani. The landscape is breathtaking. The reserve is full of small coves and swimming beaches. For the round trip from one end of the Zingaro Nature Reserve to the other, it takes about 4 hours.
Catania, the second largest city in Sicily after Palermo, is located at the foot of Etna. Some of the things to see, in addition to the excursion on Etna, are Piazza del Duomo which is the emblem of Catania, the Elephant Fountain, the Cathedral of Catania, and the “Faraglioni” at the seaside resort of Aci Trezza, near to Catania.
If you are taking holidays in Sicily, a trip on the Etna volcano is impossible to miss. It is the largest volcano in Europe and still active, one of the main attractions of the island and should definitely be included in a tour in Sicily. Excursions up to 3000m can be organized.
Taormina is nicknamed “the Pearl of Sicily”. This city is famous all over the world for the magnificent panorama on the plain of Catania, on Etna and on Isola Bella. Taormina is known for its natural landscape, its archaeological wealth, the marine beauties and its historical monuments,
On the east coast of Sicily there is the city of Syracuse. The Greek Amphitheater and the Ear of Dionysus in the Neopolis Park, Fonte Aretusa, the Baroque Cathedral and the Maniace Castle on the Island of Ortigia are unique rarities.
The small Island of Ortigia encloses the historic center of Siracusa. Between restaurants, small craft shops, fountains and the ancient acropolis of the Greek city you can breathe a fairytale atmosphere.
Noto, Modica and Ragusa
The Baroque cities of Noto, Modica and Ragusa are all present on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. If among the best places to visit in Sicily you are looking for those that will make you discover the Baroque architecture, then do not go further. The town of Noto is the flagship of the Baroque in Sicily.
Scala dei Turchi
Scala dei Turchi in Agrigento, is a white limestone cliff, famous for its particular shape: it gives the impression that erosion has created steps. The turquoise color of the sea and the fine sandy beaches that surround it make Scala dei Turchi a well-known place.
Equally beautiful as the Zingaro Nature Reserve, we find the Nature Reserve of Monte Cofano, which is less famous. It is a path that runs along the sea, but the vegetation and the landscape are very different from the Zingaro. For more expert hikers, the reserve offers a second path that allows you to climb to the top of Monte Cofano, using of ropes and chains.
The Alcantara Gorges near Castiglione di Sicilia, were created over the centuries due to seismic events and it is possible to cross the Alcantara river, which flows in its lava bed, equipped with appropriate suits and boots that will be given to you on the spot.
Top 5 Coasts of Sicily
- San Vito lo Capo (North Trapanese coast)
Among all the beaches along the west coast, San Vito lo Capo stands out. Dream beach and crystal clear waters like the Caribbean make this location a true paradise to visit.
- Custonaci (North Trapanese coast)
- Erice (North Trapani coast)
- Noto (Gulf of Noto, Syracuse)
- Portopalo di Capo Passero (Gulf of Noto, Syracuse)
Top 10 beaches of Sicily
A dark blue water, for its deep and rocky seabed, and the sea stacks make this beach one of the most suggestive of the whole island. The many varieties of marine flora and fauna that can be admired with a simple mask.
Oasi di Vendicari, Siracusa
The Vendicari nature reserve is located between Noto and Marzamemi, important for the presence of numerous birds that stop here during the migration. It is also very interesting because here different types of scenarios coexist: from rocky to sandy, from the Mediterranean scrub to the salt pans.
Located in the center of the Northern coast of Sicily, Cefalù beach is very suitable for family holidays, because it has a shallow seabed. Some equipped beaches offer a bar service and, in some cases, restaurants, but in most of its length it is a beach with free access.
Punta Secca, Ragusa
Famous for being the set of the fiction of “Il commissario Montalbano“, this beach in the province of Ragusa, also houses a small seaside village. Near the beach there is also a lighthouse built in 1853 and 35 meters high.
Capo Passero, Siracusa
Here the Mediterranean and Ionian seas meet, creating one of the most suggestive beaches in Sicily. It is the ideal destination for those who love sunbathing, but also for those who want to dive, since it presents beautiful backdrops in the Mediterranean.
Zingaro Nature Reserve, San Vito lo Capo
The Zingaro Nature Reserve near San Vito lo Capo, is between Castellammare del Golfo and Trapani.The transparent backdrops are rich in underwater fauna and therefore perfect for diving lovers.
The island of Levanzo, is one of the smallest islands in the Egadi facing Trapani. It has very few inhabitants, and most of the roads are unpaved. Here the wildest beach is Cala Minnola, where divers will have the opportunity to visit the remains of a Roman wreck.
Cala Rossa, Favignana
Its name derives from the blood that colored its waters during the Punic wars, but today it is known to be one of the most beautiful beaches on the island of Favignana. The cove is accessible only by a steep path and therefore, is not taken by storm by the mass of tourists.
Le Saline, Marsala
Located near Trapani, Le Saline constitute an enchanting scenery that presents an expanse of mountains of salt and mills. In this area, between Marsala and Mazara del Vallo, you can find many beaches with crystal clear waters.
Marina di Ragusa
A few kilometers from Ragusa, to the south, there is this beach well known by tourists. It is highly appreciated for its fine golden sand and crystal clear waters. For some time now, it has also taken measures for sustainable tourism.
The Islands of Sicily
The main islands of Sicily are the Aeolian islands, the Egadi islands, the Pelagie islands, with Ustica and Pantelleria not least in importance. Pantelleria is in fact it is the largest island in Sicily. The easiest to reach from Trapani or Milazzo, are the Egadi and the Aeolian islands respectively.
The Aeolian Islands
The Aeolian islands are located in the province of Messina and here you can find the islands of Panarea, Stromboli, Lisca Bianca, Strombolicchio, Filicudi, Salina, Lipari (the largest), Alicudi, Vulcano, Basiluzzo. The beaches are beautiful and the cuisine is unique, especially if you love seafood, fish and capers.
The Egadi Islands
The Egadi islands are located in the province of Trapani, and here you can visit the islands of Favignana, Levanzo, Maraone, Formica, Marettimo, Preveto. They are perfect for long walks, bicycle rides and swimming breaks in their coves. The use of cars is highly regulated, so there is hardly any.
The Pelagi Islands
The Pelagie islands are located in the province of Agrigento and are made up of the islands of Lampedusa, Lampione, Linosa and Ciclopi. Lampedusa is the largest of the Pelagie Islands, and there is the Spiaggia dei Conigli which in 2013 was voted the best beach in the world on TripAdvisor.
Sicily is not made for those on a diet, and it is in family homes and the street food that Sicily’s cuisine gives its best. Sicilian cuisine is strongly connected to the dominations that have made Sicily a culturally varied land, making the culinary delights a mixture of spices, citrus fruits, dried fruit, herbs and flours.
Arancina (or arancino in Catania) are fried Saffron balls of breaded and fried rice with peas, generally stuffed with ragù, peas and caciocavallo, or diced cooked ham and mozzarella.
The fried chickpea flour pancakes can be eaten both seasoned with salt and lemon and served inside a sesame bun. Panelle, like many other dishes of the Sicilian tradition, are also a legacy of Arab domination.
The Sfincione is a high and soft pizza seasoned with tomato sauce, onion, anchovies, oregano and pieces of cheese, usually caciocavallo. In Bagheria the variant wants it without tomato but with tuma or ricotta, onions or anchovies.
Pani ca ’Meusa
A soft sandwich stuffed with pieces of spleen, lung and sometimes veal trachea, sautéed in saimi (lard) and eaten in the vastedda (typical round sandwich dusted with sesame seeds).
Fish and seafood
It would be almost a sacrilege, not to eat fish at least once in Sicily, which offers excellent seafood dishes and delicious fresh fish. In addition to the traditional seafood delicacies, try octopus, pasta con le sarde, or spaghetti with sea urchins.
The cannolo is based on an Arabic recipe for a dessert made with ricotta, almonds and honey reworked with the Roman recipe. At the end of the the Norman kingdom, the disappearance of the harems, the tradition believes that one of the women converted to Christianity and brought the recipe with her to the monastery, causing her to never die.
Sicilian cassata is a cake made with sweetened sheep’s ricotta, sponge cake, pasta reale and candied fruit. This cake’s origins date back to the Arab domination. The Arabs in fact introduced sugar cane, lemon, cedar, bitter orange, mandarin, and almond to Sicily.
Visiting Sicily you can not forget to taste the Sicilian granita, proposed in different flavors, among which lemon and coffee, definitely unforgettable.
Other Sicilian Specialties
Among the many typical Sicilian specialties, pistachios from Bronte, and the almond paste are definitely worth trying. In the Norman period, the Pasta Reale was created at the convent of the Martorana in Palermo. The Spanish later introduced chocolate, which became famous with the chocolate from Modica.
Sicily knows how to fascinate its visitors. And yet, these are just some of the many attractions of the island, which is why every visitor will be able to discover his “own” Sicily.