Visit Agrigento: what are the best things to do and see in this beautiful city located in the South of Sicily?
Agrigento, located in the center of the southern coast of Sicily, just South of Palermo is one of the most visited tourist sites on the Italian island, and for good reason: Agrigento is home to the famous valley of Greek temples, the Valle dei Templi. Agrigento is a city of 60,000 inhabitants, perched on the heights, and founded in 582 BC by the city of Gela. If the modern city is not in itself particularly interesting, a visit to the old city and especially to the Valley of the Temples is essential. Take the opportunity to discover the surroundings around the city, because the region has lots of seductive assets : its beaches, its landscapes and its typical small villages.
In August of 2018, we decided to stop to visit the Valley of the Temples on our tour of Sicily. Here is our travel diary, and a selection of things to do in Agrigento and its surroundings.
Also read : The 17 best things to do in Sicily
Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Valley of the Temples site is located below the modern city of Agrigento. It is an archaeological park composed of 12 temples built in the time of ancient Greece, from the 6th century to the 2nd century BC, many are better preserved than the ones you can see in Athens . To visit the site, you have the choice between an archaeological museum + Valley of the Temples ticket , or a ticket solely for the valley of the temples. It is essential to bring water and cover your head in summer as the temperature can go above 100F° and there is little shade.
Between June and September, go there in the morning, to have a beautiful natural light on the temples, and to avoid being trampled by a crowd of tourists. It should be noted that it is not really a valley, the site being located on a promontory above the sea. You can admire the following Doric temples:
- the Temple of Hera and its columns (circa 450 BC)
- the Temple of Concord (circa 440 BC)
- the Temple of Heracles (circa 500 BC)
- the remains of the Temple of Zeus of which only a few stones remain
- the Temple of the Dioscuri.
2. The old town of Agrigento
If you don’t like steps and stairs, you might as well just skip this section and skip the old town of Agrigento as it a labyrinth of enclosed streets and maps of it look like the ball of wool you would need to escape it. The old town of Agrigento is perched on the hills, but allows for some fantastic hiking. Take a walk if you like old churches and cobbled alleys dating back to ancient times. Via Atenea is the main street crossing the historic center. Don’t miss the underratedmonastery of the Holy Spirit (the monastery has an adjoining Bed&Breakfast run by the nuns of the monastery, if you want a truly unique experience during your stay in Agrigento). You will fnind many other religious buildings in the Old Town of Agrigento, notably San Gerlando Cathedral, the Episcopal Palace and the Church of St Mary of the Greeks, which are among the most emblematic monuments in the historic center.
3. Scala dei Turchi
This is the second most popular place for tourists who have come in large numbers to visit Sicily and Agrigento: the Turkish stairs, Scala dei Turchi in Italian. Unavoidable, but unfortunately also very popular. These majestic limestone stairs flowing into the sea are located in the village of Realmonte and are so contrasting (the spotted white joining the turquoise blue of the sea) that they make for a prized spot for photographers. There were so many people there when we visited that the place was inaccessible during our visit, however the beaches nearby are beautiful and worth a trip in their own regard, and we ended up staying there most of the day. Definitely plan ahead and think about going there in the off-season or at alternative hours as despite the beauty of the site, the large crowds there can tarnish your experience and it would be a shame to miss out on such a beautiful site.
Everyone that visits Agrigento and Sicily also stops at the villages and beaches along the coast. Near Agrigento – on the way there or on the way back – the village of Sciacca is another unmissable part of the South of Sicily. (We didn’t go there ourselves unfortunately, as we decided to spend much more time than planned on those beautiful beaches near Scala dei Turchi) The village has many historical monuments to visit: the cathedral, the Luna castle, the enchanted castle, the Steripinto palace or the Santa Margherita church. Sciacca is famous for its thermal baths, where you can take a mud bath at over 50°C in the natural caves of San Calogero.
5. Torre Salsa
A discreet and rather poorly indicated site, a short drive West of downtown Agrigento, the Torre Salsa nature reserve is a hidden treasure still preserved from mass tourism. It is not the easiest place to get to but is worth the extra effort and patience. You can reach it by car by driving down the path that leads to the reserve, which will take about 20 minutes (be careful to be well equipped because the path is very rocky and the ride quite bumpy). For the most courageous, you can also walk there! At the end of the road, the beach: large and rarely visited, it offers a privileged setting for swimming and relaxing.
What to do in Agrigento if there are too many people to swim on the beaches? After visiting Scala dei Turchi or if you want to visit another naturally beautiful spot, albeit admittedly less stunning, go to the village of Zingarello. It is the Scala dei Turchi without the limestone stairs and without mass tourism. If the village might not seem that inspiring at first, after going through it you will reach a majestic cliff overlooking the sea. At the end of Viale Miramare, there is a small but free parking lot to access the beach below (you can also park at the top, on the cliff). This beach has the advantage of being frequented by locals, and few tourists even come to it even in early August. You will enjoy some peace and quiet in the evening and you will be joined by the local youth who come to swim and enjoy the warm waters. This is where to go in Agrigento if you are looking for places that are not very popular and not well referenced by tourist guides. Note that the sunset is simply magnificent!
7. Punta Bianca Nature Reserve
If you enjoyed Zingarello and Torre Salsa beaches, and want to go even further off the beaten path, then Punta Bianca will be the perfect place for you! It is an uncomfortable bumpy ride to get there, with little to no signalization, but as you can expect, it is also rather deserted and you will get the whole beach almost to yourself. And what a beach! The white limestone makes for a lunar setting and the sea has eaten through, softening it and rounding it out to create smooth and pleasant shapes, while also creating a beach with snow-white sand. Make sure to bring a trash bag and pick up any of your litter. Both tourists and locals here tend to be very respectful – with good reason- of this preserved area and will uphold you to their standards, which have kept this place pristine and an absolute delight
How to get to Agrigento?
Agrigento is located on the south coast of Sicily and is connected to the rest of the island via a good network of roads and railways. It is about equidistant to Palermo and Catania, where the two main airports are situated. Many airlines fly to Palermo Catania from major UK cities, yu will find direct flights from London (both Luton and Stansted), Glasgow or Manchester, with easyJet or Ryanair most often offering the best prices, you can just compare flights using Skyscanner. If you are flying in then we suggest you rent a car directly at the airport.
If you do rent a car or if you choose to travel to Sicily on a ferry and have your own car, you can leave from Palermo, following the A19 motorway towards Catania, exiting at Villabate and continuing on the National 121 for 118 km until you’ve reached your destination.
From Taormina, take the A18 highway to Catania, continue on the A19 towards Palermo until the Caltanissetta exit and finally continue on the National 640 to Agrigento.
From Syracuse, you can follow the coastal route on the National Road 115 through Noto, Ragusa and Gela until you reach Agrigento.
For more details about car rentals in Sicily : Car rentals in Sicily: How to avoid scams?
Where to sleep in Agrigento?
Agrigento is located on the south coast of Sicily and you will certainly want to swim and enjoy nature. To live a truly bucolic experience, the ideal choice for you may be to choose accommodation that offers beautiful views and a quiet and charming setting, as you can find on Airbnb for example. However, if you are looking for closer contact with the local people and the dynamism of Agrigento, you will not be disappointed by the old center. You can find a cheap hotel in Agrigento by searching on a online booking platform and you can also find homestay accomodation on Airbnb.
Also read : The best areas to stay in Agrigento
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