If you’re interested in the best things to do in Sicily and want to know more about the unique southern region, check out this ultimate guide to Sicily below.
The largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, a trip to Sicily offers a satisfying experience for every kind of traveler. You’ll find beautiful beaches on the coast of Sicily, as well as some of the tallest mountains in Europe.
Dubbed the “Crossroads of the Western World,” the island’s location in the Mediterranean makes it a cultural hub for surrounding cultures. And if you love exploring the ruins or street food of Rome and Tuscany, Sicily Italy will not disappoint!
In my Sicily travel guide, you’ll learn about the best things to do in Sicily Italy, as well as the top places to stay. If you want to live out your White Lotus dreams at an ultra-luxury resort with spectacular views of Mount Etna, you can do that!
Or even if you’re curious what traveling in Sicily is like, let this Sicily guide persuade you to book your next trip to this fascinating island.
Why Go to Sicily?
So, what’s so special about Sicily when compared to Venice or Rome? Those interested in history will feel like a kid in a candy store with dozens of ancient ruins, baroque towns, and UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
If you’re an outdoor thrill seeker, Sicily’s active volcano, Mount Etna, is a must-see attraction and a popular ski destination. The island is home to nature reserves with fascinating ruins and great hiking. And one of the most popular things to do in Sicily try out the endless water activities.
A big reason people come to Sicily is the ease of access to the island and affordability of top-rated resorts and hotels. It’s possible for you to have the vacation of your dreams in Sicily. If Sicilia Italy sounds as amazing to you as it does to my family, keep reading!
A Brief History of Sicily
Silicy’s prime location as the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea has always made the island a popular place for explorers. The Adduara Cave Drawings found in northern Sicily in the 1940s are the earlier proof of human inhabitants, possible as far back as Europe’s Paleolithic era 1.4 million years ago.
Following that, experts in Sicily have found several fascinating sites called dolmens. They’re understood to be tombs or monuments that date back to around 2500 BCE and prove the presence of a handful of tribes from both northwestern Europe and possibly the Middle East!
For the next 2500 years, ancient history plays like a game of musical chairs across the whole island. There were the Phoenicians, then Ancient Carthage ruled the west coast while the Ancient Greeks ruled the east.
After the fall of Rome, Sicily belonged to Germanic tribes, followed by the Byzantines and the Arabs. The Normans, the French, Spanish, British, and Austrians all had a foot in Sicily before Italy captured the island in 1860.
Italy had unification as the Kingdom of Italy in 1860, and Sicily was made part of that kingdom the following year. Those early years were relatively quiet for the island, though this was when the Sicilian Mafia developed.
The early 20th century was when Italy experienced fascism under Mussolini and became one of the Axis Powers in World War II. The Allies invaded Sicily in 1943, and in 1946, Italy was declared a Republic.
Over the next 50 years, Italy and the government of Sicily worked to strengthen itself. Today, the beautiful island of Sicily is home to 5 million residents, including immigrants largely from nations in North Africa, Eastern Europe, and South Asia.
The island has a complex history and diverse population, unlike you’ll see anywhere else in Italy. You see the influence of each people group in the Italian language, the flora and fauna, art, and even popular Sicilian food.
The Best Time to Go to Sicily
The best times of the year to visit Sicily are the shoulder seasons of April through June and September through October. Come in the late spring to enjoy balmy days that are perfect for outdoor activities like exploring ancient ruins or hiking a nature reserve. May and June still allow you the opportunity to island hop or live in the water, but without the stifling temperatures.
The fall shoulder season is September and October and the best chance to enjoy the best things to do in Sicily. Temperatures for both months average 75 degrees and the rain doesn’t pick up until the late September. And you come in September, the water is still warm enough to catch a few beach days!
Summers are hot with clear, sunny days, and may be humid sometimes. The high season is July and August, which offers the best chance to hit the beach and try all kinds of water activities. Temperatures in the summer usually stay in the 80s, but the hottest days can reach over 100 degrees.
Winter is the off season, when the temperatures are cool, and the island gets the most rain. Temperatures across most of the island hover between 50 and 60 degrees all season. And snow falls on Mount Etna from November through April, which makes for great skiing and great views on hikes.
When to Visit Sicily to Avoid Crowds
While traveling to Sicily in the summer months of July and August is amazing for water fun, it can be crowded and expensive compared to other times of the year. August is also the month of Ferragosto, when a lot of Italians close up shop and go on holiday. This could mean fewer hotels and restaurants to accommodate the crowds.
To beat the crowds, come during shoulder seasons of April through June and September through October! Prices everywhere will be lower, including airfare. April and the fall shoulder season still have great local festivals for a more authentic Sicilian experience, but with fewer tourists. And there’s just more elbow room so you don’t have to fight for a lounge chair on the beach!
How to Get to Sicily from Mainland Italy
You can take a quick direct flight to the island of Sicily from most major cities in Mainland Italy for an excellent price! Trains and ferries give you great views, but they take up more of your time. And many people decide to go with a rental car for a bit more freedom, though it takes longer to drive to Sicily.
Fly to Sicily
Most people fly into either the Palermo, Catania, or Trapani. It’s easy to find direct flights for around $50 from cities with major airports, including Naples, Rome, and Milan. If you’re traveling from further away, this might be the best way to go. Jump on a plane and you’re in Sicily in 1 to 4 hours!
Travel by Train to Sicily
I prefer train travel in Italy over other forms of transportation! With train stations in many large cities, it’s a popular way to see the country! There are several different trains that go to Sicily, including comfy Eurostar trains from Pisa, Rome, and Naples. Once you arrive at Villa San Geovanni on the west coast of Sicily, the entire train goes on a ferry to Messina.
Just keep in mind that this is not the most affordable option, and it’s a full day trip to Sicily. For example, Rome to Messina takes 8 to 9 hours. First class tickets start at $90 and second class starts at $45, but this also depends on where you’re coming from and what train you take.
Take the Ferry to Sicily
If you’re in Southern Italy, you can take a ferry that runs several times a day in less than an hour from Villa San Giovanni. If you are traveling by train or car, you’ll also take the ferry here across the Strait of Messina for the last stretch of your trip to Sicily.
There’s also the option to take long haul ferry routes from other west coast ports, including Genoa, Livorno, Naples, and Salerno. Ferries travel to Palermo and Messina, but also ports on the west and south coast as well.
Boarding a ferry on-foot is going to be cheaper than driving onto a ferry. Walk-on travelers can take 20-hour trip from Genoa to Palermo that runs 4 times a week. It costs around $100 and you get a cabin. Naples to Palermo takes about half that time and costs $50 or less. You can go with a numbered seat or upgrade to a cabin.
Drive to Sicily
Add a Sicily to your road trip itinerary for a scenic Italian adventure. Many people agree that traveling by car is the easiest way to travel to Sicily. The whole country is connected by a network of highways with gas stations and electric charging stations along the way.
If you’re taking a day trip to the island, you’ll need to take a ferry. You can simply transport your vehicle from Villa San Giovanni to Messina for $50 to $65 dollars. Though not all of them offer car transport, you can also find ferries going to Sicily from northern ports that do.
How to Get Around Sicily
Once you’re in Sicily, the easiest way to get around is by car. Four major highways connect the major cities with minor roads in between. Basically, you can get anywhere by car in Sicily.
The important thing to remember when driving in Italy is that you need your International Driving Permit to rent a car. Fun fact, I’ve actually been denied a rental car because I didn’t have one! It’s easy to get one in advance and it just costs a small fee.
Getting around Sicily with kids is so much easier with a rental car, but don’t forget about car seats. Rental car companies in Italy offer them for rent with the car, but I recommend bringing your own. By law, all private cars are required to have children less than 150 centimeters tall and weighing less than 36 kilograms (or under 12 years) in an age-appropriate car seat.
You can skip the rental car and use the bus, but I don’t recommend taking the train while in Sicily. It unreliable and can be a major headache unless you’re super familiar with the island or you’re desparate!
There are 3 bus companies (SAIS, Interbus, and AST) that go between the major cities. Just compare bus schedules for each company to choose the best route. Sicily also has taxis, but they’re best for moving around the cities.
Ferries also go to the Egadi Islands and Aeolian Islands, if you plan to go island hopping. Routes to the Egadi Islands leave from Marsala and Trapani, and routes to Aeolian Islands launch from Messina and Milazzo. But don’t worry about bringing a car. On many of these smaller islands there are rules for cars, and you can easily walk the islands or ride a bike.
Accessibility in Sicily, Italy
While Italy has really focused in recent years on making transit more accessible, you’ll find that Sicily has a long way to go. However, new and remodeled buildings are required to be easily accessible, including hotels and restaurants.
There are wheelchair accessible taxi services in Sicily, but you should call ahead to book them. And you can’t depend on accessible accommodations across most of the train and bus system on the island.
Palermo is the most accessible city for wheelchair users and those who find stairs difficult to navigate. The city boasts wide, flat, paved streets and attractions that are easy to get to. Messina is another city that’s easy to maneuver around in. Hillside towns like Catania and Taormina are going to be tricky unless you have transportation.
You can find a handful of companies that offer accessible Sicily tours in cities and to historic sites that wouldn’t otherwise be an option for you! A great company is Sicily Accessible Tours, which offer all kinds of excursions, including to Mount Etna, the amphitheater at Taormina, and the Alcantara Gorge.
Strollers and Kids
Sicily is a family-friendly place to visit. I suggest flying there and using a rental car. My biggest tip for exploring Sicily with small kids is to bring a stroller, but also your favorite baby carrier. At some point while sightseeing, you’ll end up using both! The major cities tend to be easier to navigate with a stroller, but when in doubt, stick with the carrier.
Regions of Sicily
Sicily is its own region that’s divided into 9 provinces. Palermo is the capital and largest city, followed by Catania, Messina, Syracuse, and then Trapani.
Most people split the island into East Sicily or Western Sicily. That’s mainly because you either start off on the eastern or western ends. East Sicily has Palermo, Messina, and Catania. It has the most attractions and ancient ruins, and it’s where most tourists stay. Western Sicily has Trapani and the Valley of the Temples, but it’s also more rural and authentic.
Sicily is hilly with mountain ranges along the northern coast and southern coast. There are white sand beaches and rocky cliffsides along the coast of Sicily. Inland, you’ll find forests, farmland, plains, and rugged nature reserves. Currently over 10,000 feet, Mount Etna in West Italy is the largest active volcano in in Europe.
Around Sicily are the Aegadian Islands, the Egadi Islands, the Aeolian Islands, Pantelleria, and Lampedusa. There are more active volcanoes on the Aeolian Islands, as well as an underwater volcano off Sicily’s southern coast.
Sicily as a Day Trip
You can rent a car and do a month-long road trip to Sicily, or you can easily do a day trip to the island as well! I’m a fan of taking at least a few days to immerse yourself in the culture of a new place. But if you only have a full day in Sicily, it’s still worth the trip.
For a day trip, I suggest looking for things to do in Sicily in one of the major cities with lots of attractions. Take an early flight in and spend the day wandering Palermo trying street food and visiting a UNESCO World Heritage Site like the Palermo Cathedral.
If you prefer a knowledgeable local guide to give you the full experience, look for guided day trips. Travel to Catania and take a small group tour to hike Mount Etna.
Sicily from the Water
Some of the best things to do in Sicily Italy happen on the water! You could have a wonderful time just visiting the beautiful beaches to be found on every side of the island, each one unique.
If visiting Sicily during the warmer months, you can go sightseeing off the coast to see Sicily in a different way. Snorkel off Taormina to admire the craggy cliffs on the southeastern coast and see the Mediterranean’s vibrant sea life.
Take a mini cruise from Trapani to the Egadi Islands. You’ll enjoy a Sicilian lunch on board and swim at the small islands most famous beaches.
Vulcano Island in the Aeolian chain is quite a sight, shaped from violent volcanic rock. You’ll meet a private guide on the beach there for a half day of kayaking and swimming. Explore stunning lagoons, lava tunnels, caves, and thermal springs!
Or if scuba diving is on your Sicily bucket list, why not do it in the breathtaking waters of the Catania Gulf? Join a marine biologist guide and see what few people get to: an underwater lava rock bed covered in colorful sea life!
5 Must-See Towns in Sicily from North to South
History has shown that Sicily was usually conquered from east to west, so the majority of cities and ancient ruins are on the east coast. But Western Sicily is worth a trip with it’s fascinating natural attractions and archeological parks.
And between the large cities across the whole island are medieval towns just waiting to be explored! Here are just 5 of the best cities in Sicily.
The region’s largest city, Palermo is understandably a very popular destination, where you’ll find a wide range of things to do in Sicily. The city’s Old Town is one of the largest historic districts in Europe and contains the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sicily. Here are some of the best things to do in Palermo Sicily:
· Palermo’s food scene: The capital city of Sicily is known for its great street food, street markets, and wine tasting bars.
· Sicilian puppet theater: Both kids and adults will love seeing an Opera dei Pupi show. UNESCO recognizes the art form as an essential part of Sicilian culture.
· Fascinating historic sites: Palermo is the most conquered city in Europe. You’ll see the influence of the Normans, Arabs, and more in the squares and cathedrals.
If you love architecture and churches, you’ll love Erice. It’s a small medieval town in Western Sicily that sits high on a mountaintop overlooking Trapani and the Egadi Islands. Come here to explore ancient ruins and Erice’s steep, winding streets. Here are best things to do in Erice:
· Castello di Venere: In the 12th-century, the Normans built this massive castle over remains of Roman temple. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Tunisia from the top!
· Chiesa Madre: there are 60 churches in Erice, but the Mother Church is a favorite. Built in the 1400s, this magnificent cathedral is a beautiful example of the Gothic style.
· Shop Erice: a must-do while in Erice is explore all the little artisan shops, pasticerrias, and antique stores. It’s a great place to pick up handcrafted, authentic souvenirs.
Cefalu is a small town an hour east of Palermo. Dating back to the 12th century, this fishing village is a quiet retreat, even though it’s a common tourist destination. Cefalu is also popular with families. Here are some of the relaxing things to do in Cefalu:
· Cefalu Beach: Head to the favorite swimming spot in town, where you can rent lounge chairs, wade in calm waters, and go kayaking.
· La Rocca: Hike La Rocca for the very best views of Cefalu!! Halfway up is a viewpoint or go all the way to the top to see Roman ruins.
· Ancient Roman Baths: This hidden gem is near Cefalu Beach. You can visit the restored wash house from the 1500s to see how laundry was cleaned!
· Piazza Duomo: Head to this beautiful piazza that opens up to the Cefalu Cathedral. Grab some gelato or visit the 12th-century church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The second largest city in Sicily, Catania sits on the east coast, nestled against the base of Mount Etna. There’s a little bit of something for everyone in this ancient city, with millennia of history and interesting natural features. Check out the top things to do in Catania Sicily:
· Teatro Antico Greco-Roman di Catania: This Roman amphitheater is one of several in Catania. This one actually has seats made from lava brought down from Mount Etna!
· Mount Etna: Check off climbing Italy’s highest volcano from your Sicily bucket list. You can find dozens of different tours that will take you to the summit’s smoking craters.
· Spiaggia San Giovanni Licuti: Catania has great beaches, but none quite like this one. It’s quite a sight, with black volcanic rocks and sand!
· Via dei Crociferi: Get all your sightseeing in by visiting this gorgeous street in the heart of Catania. It’s lined with 18th-century churches, the San Benedetto Arch, and more.
Syracuse was founded by the ancient Greeks in 734 BCE and was an important cultural center that shaped the world around it. Syracuse is a treasure trove of history, ruins, and Greek architecture. Here are just a few of the places to visit in Syracuse Sicily:
· Neapolis Archaeological Park: take half a day and explore this massive site that includes a famous Greek theatre, a Roman amphitheater, and other sites.
· Museo Archeologico Regionale Paolo Orsi: Come here for more about the full history of Syrcuse. See ancient artifacts and learn about the earliest inhabitants of the east coast.
· Temple of Apollo: You’ll find the Temple of Apollo on Catania’s Ortigia Island. It’s oldest Greek temple on Sicily, dating back to the 6th century BCE.
· Castello Maniace: This 13th-century fort at the southernmost tip of Ortigia Island is worth a visit. You can tour the interiors which often host modern art installations.
Where to Stay in Sicily
You can stay in the most beautiful places in Sicily for surprisingly affordable rates! If you want to go all out, the island has several high-end resorts that are all-inclusive with private beaches. But there are also wonderful hotels with amazing locations, many for less than $100 a night.
Most Italy hotels readily accommodate 2 to 3 people. If you have a larger party, you’ll need to confirm with your location that they have space for you. Another option is booking one of Sicily’s apart-hotels, B&Bs, or vacation rentals.
Stay near all the best things to do in Sicily when you stay at one of these great hotels.
Stay in the heart of Palermo at the Alma Hotel. This cheerful hotel is near great shopping, restaurants, and the most popular things to see in Sicily. Enjoy complimentary breakfasts and shuttles to the airport.
Grand Palladium Sicilia Resort & Spa
The Grand Palladium Sicilia Resort & Spa is an all-inclusive resort halfway between Palermo and Cefalu in Campofelice di Roccella. Choose between rooms, suites, or stand-alone bungalows with private entrances.
Hotel Le Calette
You’ll feel right at home in the Hotel Le Calette‘s rooms, suites, and bi-level villas. This Sicily hotel is great for families. It’s close to quiet, sandy beaches on a protected bay, and you’re just a short walk to Cefalu’s historic sites.
Mazzarò Sea Palace
For the ultimate luxury experience in Sicily, stay at the beachfront Mazzarò Sea Palace in stunning Taormina. A stay here means tons of top-notch amenities, 4 different onsite restaurants, and a full-service spa.
Archinuè Suite & Apartments
If you’re looking for an affordable apart-hotel in Syracuse that’s great for large parties, the Archinuè Suite & Apartments are it. A group of 6 can spread out in a bright, clean apartment not far from Ortigia Island.
What to Eat in Sicily
The food in Sicily is an event in itself! The island has a special food culture influenced by agriculture, the Mediterranean climate, and history. The most dominant influences are flavors, ingredients, and preparations introduced by the Spaniards, Greeks, and Arabs.
The countryside is dotted with olive trees, pistachio trees, fig trees, and citrus groves. In Western Italy, most heavily shaped by Greece, you’ll find fragrant Sicilian red oranges. And East Italy have a strong Arab and North African swing. That’s where the small town of San Vito lo Capo outside of Trapani hosts a Cous Cous Festival every September!
Of course, you’ll find Italian classics, like gelato and olive oil. But when you’re in a patisserie, look for sfinci, a very Sicilian fried ricotta donut. And while you’ll find all the classic pasta dishes at popular restaurants, the seafood dishes shine here.
If you ask the right people where to go in Sicily for street food, they’ll tell you to head to Palermo’s historic district! Throughout the massive street markets, you’ll find sfincione, or Sicilian-style pizza. If you’re looking for potato croquettes, their called crocche in Sicily! And make sure to try pane e panelle, a crispy fritter made with chickpea flour.
While technically not a food, wine should get a special note here! In the east, the soil of Mount Etna combined with Nero d’Avola and Grillo grapes that originated in ancient Greece create some of the island’s most famous wine. And then there’s Marsala wine from Marsala on the west coast!
Best Things to Do in Sicily: Visit Archeological Sites
When planning what to do in Sicily, you realize very quickly that you can find a large number of ancient ruins in a relatively small area. An easy way to see several is to plant yourself in one place and move outward. Or consider take a car or guided tour out to the more remote locations.
Palermo is a good place to start. Explore baroque churches, visit the absolutely stunning Palazzo dei Normanni, or visit the the archaeological site of Solunto just outside the city. The ancient Greek rule of Syracuse can be seen today in the beautifully maintained ancient Greek ruins. And Catania boasts the best preserved Greek temples in Italy.
Further out on the southwest coast is the Valley of the Temples, one of the must sees in Sicily. Outside of the small hilltop town of Agrigento is a massive archeological park featuring the eerie and majestic ruins of the ancient city of Akragas. And then there’s the isolated ruins of Selinunte outside Marsala. Where Agrigento feels like a museum, Selinunte feels forgotten.
More Top Things to do in Sicily Italy
The list is endless when it comes to the best things to do in Sicily! To really experience the
Visit a Museum
I’ve already mentioned historical sites, but museums are different. You’ll find museums in every major city, but in small towns as well. It’s the best way to see Greek and Roman artifacts up close or learn about the unique culture and traditions of mountain town.
Cities like Catania and Palermo each boast a dozen different museums, including art museums. You can see works by Spanish artists from the Renaissance, Sicilian Baroque art, Art Nouveau, and modern art too!
Visit the Trapani Salt Pans
Take an easy 2-hour tour of one of the most unique things to do in Sicily. You’ll visit the salt preserves on Sicily’s Western Coast and learn all about the process of salt making. You’ll visit the salt museum and even do a salt tasting!
Visit the Beautiful Beaches
The dramatic cliffs around Taormina make for some breathtaking beaches. White sand gives way to turquoise water and everything is backed by rugged, craggy rockfaces. And many of Sicily’s beaches have calm, shallow pools thanks to curved coves.
What makes visiting the beach one of the top things to do in Sicily is the variety. You could visit a different beach every day! There are the soft, sandy dunes of Sampieri Beach and the otherworldly limestone cliffs of Scala Dei Turchi.
Attend Carnival in Sicily
Many people have Carnival season on their Sicily bucket list. What makes it one of the most popular things to do in Sicily are all the unique traditions of each city in the region! Carnival coincides with Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday in the spring.
Every town celebrates in a little bit differently. Palermo hosts a float parade, and Syracuse hosts public feasts and dances in the city’s squares. Agrigento’s Carnival dates back to ancient Rome, featuring the Sicilian-born tradition of paper-mâché!
Visit Godfather Film Sites
Fans of the Godfather movies will want to check out the Sicily film locations tour! One of the most fun things to do in Sicily, you can enjoy a cool drink at the Bar Vitelli and take pictures at iconic sites. Your passionate guide will provide you with entertaining information while you make several stops on this full day tour.
Go Hiking in Sicily
Outdoor lovers will not be disappointed on the mountainous island of Sicily. You can find a variety of hiking trails for every skill level, all with amazing views. Avid hikers should head to the rugged Nebrodi Park, a nature reserve in the wild Nebrodi Mountains of northeast Sicily.
If you’re looking for affordable things to do in Sicily, hiking is a great option. Many areas, like the Vendikali Nature Reserve in Syracuse also features archeological sites along the way. Mount Etna offers hiking trails all the way to the summit, and Trapani’s Zingaro Reserve offers hikers stunning ocean views and cool caves to explore.
FAQ about Sicily
Is Sicily Italy worth visiting?
With things to do in Sicily for every interest, you won’t regret the trip! Sicily is a cultural center, historically unique, a great foodie destination, and a playground for the outdoorsy type. Enjoy stunning views, active volcanoes, snowcapped mountains, and white sand beaches.
Is Sicily different from Italy?
Sicily is an autonomous region with its own history and culture. There are traditions and festivals unique to the island. If you’re looking for places to stay Sicily, you’ll find that it’s much more affordable than the rest of Italy. And it’s a great place to come for a high concentration of attractions in a small area.
How many days in Sicily is enough?
While you can easily do a day trip from many parts of Mainland Italy, aim for 5 days. That way you can get settled and still have a few days for sightseeing, shopping, and a full beach day. But I recommend spending a week for the best experience.
Where should I stay for the first time in Sicily?
Stay in Palermo. It’s a beautiful town with some of the best places to see in Sicily. You can find direct flights and ferries there. And the town is easy to navigate with a large historic center. Save exploring the smaller remote towns and islands for your next trip!