8 incredible Sicily highlights
No need to hop through southern Europe to find the perfect holiday destination – Sicily has it all.
Never been to the football at the end of the Italian boot? Take this as your signal.
This captivating Mediterranean island of Sicily has it all; from a rich culture (shaped by various conquerors and so distinct from the mainland) to stunning coastlines, magnificent ruins, and unforgettable food and wine. Not sure where to start? Here’s our beginner’s guide to the main sites of Sicily.
From ancient religious monuments to bustling markets that teem with street food vendors, there is a never-ending stream of things to see and do in Sicily’s capital.
Eat at the Ballaro, Vucciria and Capo markets for a unique take on Italian cuisine, gobbling down hot ragu-stuffed arancini, as well as fried seafood and, if you dare, sticks of grilled stigghiola (guts).
Marvel at the golden ceiling and Byzantine-style mosaics of the Palatine Chapel, visit the mummified monks in their niches at the Capuchin Catacombs and recover from the sight over an evening Aperol spritz overlooking the grand Teatro Massimo.
If you have the time, you should also explore the fascinating No Mafia Memorial, an anti-mafia museum that tells the story of Sicily’s fight against organised crime.
A popular seaside escape just an hour away from Palermo on the train, Cefalú is perhaps most widely known by tourists for its beach holiday atmosphere, with the sea wrapping around the foot of its walled town.
But it is also home to the 12th-century Cathedral of Cefalù, a UNESCO World Heritage site that beautifully blends Norman architecture with Byzantine and Islamic art styles.
If you can tear yourself away from the beach for even longer, embark on a hillside hike leading to the mysterious Temple of Diana, dating back to the fourth century BC.
3. Trapani and the Egadi Islands
Serving as an ideal stop on your way to the Egadi Islands, Trapani has more than meets the eye as a low-key coastal destination.
Explore the Trapani port, with its morning pilgrimage of fishermen selling their catch, or head out to check out the saltpans and its windmills outside of the centre. Most days of the week, you can also take the funicular all the way up to the hilltop settlement of Erice.
Once you’re ready to go further, take the ferry to the Egadi Islands. Comprising Favignana (the largest and most popular), Levanzo and Marettimo, the islands are part of the largest marine reserve in the Mediterranean.
Perhaps it is this that contributes to the water’s impossibly turquoise colours. Spend your days here swimming, sunbathing, and devouring the island’s most famous export, fresh local tuna, prepared every which way.
On the south coast of Sicily, Agrigento is home to the awe-inspiring Valley of the Temples, one of Europe’s best-preserved sites of ancient Greek temples. The ‘valley’ (it is actually on a ridge), has half a dozen temples and other ruins.
Of particular note is the Temple of Concordia, a site that is so well preserved, in part because it was turned into a church. Explore this marvel with an audio guide or a guided tour, and immerse yourself in the stories of gods, sea invasions, and secret burial chambers.
If you have extra time, don’t miss the highly Instagrammable Scala dei Turchi (Stair of the Turks), the nearby white sea cliffs.
The pretty hillside town of Taormina on the eastern coast of Sicily is one of the most beloved places to visit on the island. Founded by settlers after the destruction of their original city, Taormina boasts a history that spans 2400 years.
Today, the town’s charming boutiques, gardens, and stunning views of the sea and Mount Etna attract travellers from all over the world.
Sunbathe at the lovely Isola Bella reserve, indulge in a picnic of homemade panini and mozzarella at the Villa Comunale di Taormina gardens, visit the Teatro Antico di Taormina amphitheatre and sit on a terrace with a mulberry granita, overlooking the awesome Mount Etna nearby.
As you can imagine for a hillside town, every day is ‘leg day’ when exploring Taormina. But you can always use the cable car or bus to save time – and your calves – to get around.
6. Mount Etna
Majestic and awe-inspiring, the expanse of the volcanic Mount Etna has shaped and defined the life of eastern Sicily. Not only with its super nutrient-rich soils that are ideal for farming, or its snow caps that aided the creation of one of Sicily’s favourite desserts – granita – but also through its unwieldy temper, as an active volcano.
One of the best ways to visit here is with a guide (though you can visit under your own steam up to 884 metres). Seeing the craters, learning about the magma flows, and discovering more about Europe’s most active volcano, is a must-do day trip from Taormina, as well as the cities of Catania and Messina.
7. Syracuse and Ortigia
Founded by the ancient Greeks, the city of Syracuse is a layer cake of Greek, Roman, Judaic, Arabic and modern-day history.
At its cultural epicentre is the island of Ortigia, whose winding, narrow streets hide an array of discoveries and historical landmarks.
Take a turn and you might find yourself among the Baroque architecture of Piazza Duomo, which is dominated by the Syracuse Cathedral, which was built on the bones of a thousands-year-old temple.
Or perhaps you’ll find yourself at Arethusa Spring, a natural spring lined with papyrus plants; or the space under the Chiesa di San Filippo Apostolo, which contains ac crypt and a Jewish ritual bathing place (mikveh), and a bomb shelter from the second world war.
Keen to take it slow? Stop off at Ortigia Market (one of the more open and relaxed of the Sicilian street markets) for some fresh oysters and local wine, or peruse the wide range of fruits, vegetables, olives and fish here.
8. Aeolian Islands
The northeastern archipelago makes for a popular escape from the ‘main island’ of Sicily. Consisting of Lipari, Vulcano, Salina, Stromboli, Panarea, Alicudi, and Filicudi, the islands have an array of natural beauty, opportunities for swimming, snorkelling and boat trips, countless beaches and archaeological museums, as well as the chance to see another active volcano.
Lipari is the liveliest, and the largest, while the smaller island of Salina is considered to be the prettiest, while on the island of Stromboli, you will be thrilled (and perhaps a little freaked out) to witness the frequent eruptions of the volcano. With all this, it will be hard to resist spending more time than you planned here.