Are you going to visit Sicily and the charms of Italy? Here is our selection of 17 must-do things to do in Sicily!
Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea – 25,709 km² -and situated off Calabria and bordered by the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is the largest region in Italy and has a population of 5,032,818 inhabitants (2017). It is an autonomous region of Italy and is the only Italian province with two of the country’s ten most populous cities: Palermo and Catania. Sicily, a leading tourist destination in Europe and just two miles from the continent, has a colossal historical, cultural and architectuparal heritage.
Anyone who has the chance to come and visit Sicily will quickly realize that with its dream climate, heavenly beaches, delicious traditional cuisine, volcanoes – including Etna – and haikable mountains, museums, churches and historic buildings, bars and restaurants where you can celebrate, Sicily has something for everyone. So what should you do in Sicily?
1. Zingaro Nature Reserve
This is one of Sicily’s most famous gems: the Zingaro natural reserve, located in the Gulf of Castellammare between San Vito Lo Cap and Scopello (province of Trapani). The reserve extends along 4 miles of coastline, covering an area of 1,700 hectares. It is home to 650 plant species, some 40 of which are endemic and extremely rare. Also, 39 species of breeding birds live there, including the Bonelli’s Eagle and the Peregrine Falcon. You will find sublime beaches bathed in turquoise, green and crystal clear waters. Nature lovers, come here to enjoy the unique fauna and flora and be delighted: the Zingaro is not to be missed during a visit to Sicily!
The island’s capital is an open-air museum and a mosaic of cultures. Founded in the 8th century BC by the Phoenicians, Palermo concentrates countless historical buildings with multiple influences: Roman, Byzantine, Muslim, Norman, Germanic, Aragonese, Austrian and Italian.
To visit Sicily, do not miss Palazzo dei Normanni – the Norman Palace (pictured above), the Catacombs of the Capuchins, the Cathedral of Palermo, Teatro Massimo, the Ballaro Market and the Cathedral of Monreale.
Also take advantage of your stay in Palermo to take a gastronomic tour of the city: at the markets and street-food stands, discover the culinary traditions of this charming city. With its renowned street food with multiple influences, stopping at a cart and getting a fresh fragrant delicacy is one of the first things you’ll want to do in Palermo.
Also read : The 14 best things to do in Palermo
To visit authentic Sicily, direction Erice. A small medieval village perched 2500 feet above sea level in the heights of Trapani, Erice is home to heritage treasures that are worth a visit. To reach the village and visit it (ideally plan for half a day), you have the choice between planned excursions from other Sicilian cities such as Palermo, driving, or using the cable car from Trapani which will give you a superb view of the surrounding countryside.
Once there, lose yourself in the small medieval streets of Erice, go to its Castle and make a small detour to its church. Also enjoy the different views of the village before enjoying a drink on the terrace or a pastry from the famous Pasticceria Maria Grammatico.
4. The Roman villa of the Casale
Looking for what to do in Sicily? Go to the center of the island in the interior, to visit a Roman villa dating from the 4th century BC: the Roman villa del Casale.
Villa Romana del Casale has about thirty rooms decorated with 3,500 m² of mosaics. Destroyed in the Middle Ages by a fire and a landslide – occupied until 1160 – it took 800 years for archaeologists to rediscover it in 1950. The mosaics, which are all authentic and original, are among the best preserved remains of the entire Roman Empire’s heritage and nowhere else will you find such a large and rich collection all in one place. From hunting scenes in Africa, to erotic or sports scenes, rediscover a new testimony of the daily life of Romans throughout Antiquity.
An old medieval fishing port, Cefalù offers a seizing Sicilian decor that is so picture worthy you will probably recognize it from postcards. Located east of Palermo, this small village, perched between an immense rock and the waves, testifies to the prosperity enjoyed by Sicily in its feudal era.
Today, it is a popular seaside resort for tourists who come to bathe in the calm and crystal clear waters of the port and rest on the fine sandy beach, one of the most beautiful you will see when visiting Sicily. The beach will be crowded in summer, but Cefalù itself is also worth a look, from its shops and restaurants in the old town to the Norman cathedral and the cliff of La Rocca.
Also read : The 12 best things to do in Cefalù
Located northeast of the Etna mountain range, Taormina is one of the most popular cities in the world and has been a prized destination for the wealthy and European aristocracy for centuries. Look no further if you are wondering what to do in Sicily! Perched on the heights overlooking the Catania plain, it offers breathtaking views of Etna and Isola Bella, making it one of the most visited cities in Italy: it is therefore recommended to go there in low season, especially to enjoy the sunset which offers a superb view of Mount Etna.
Walk along the east coast of the island to visit Sicily, and enjoy a swim in Isola Bella. Head to the Greek theater and go up to the Madonna della Rocca church for a superb view of the surroundings.
Also read : The 6 best things to do in Taormina
7. Mount Etna
The largest active volcano in Europe – reaching an altitude of 11,000 feet – Etna has experienced more than 100 eruptions during the 20th century, making it one of the most active volcanoes in the world. It is possible, in summer and winter, to climb to the crater on sunny days from Catania. From the south or north side – at Piano Provenzano -, walking or taking a bus to an altitude of 8,000 feet. You will observe the fumaroles that continuously escape from the crater in an extraordinary lunar and arid landscape, a basalt desert shaped by lava and one of the most spectacular things to do in Sicily.
The second largest city in Sicily and tenth most populated city in Italy with 315,576 inhabitants, Catania is a dynamic, vast, festive, colorful city with a rich historical heritage. It is nicknamed “the black city” because of its basalt stone constructions.
Don’t miss the Roman amphitheater of Catania (pictured above) – fused into the setting between ancient past and present -, the Norman castle Ursino, Piazza del Duomo (Duomo Square), Fontana dell Elefante (Elephant Fountain), Duomo di Catania (Catania Dome) and the “Rochers du Cyclope” in Aci Trezza (35 minutes from Catania).
Also read : The 8 best things to do in Catania
9. Val di Noto
If Catania has charmed you, then you will surely be seduced by the region, or rather the area surrounding it and to which the city belongs. Val di Noto, located in the south-east of Sicily, is dominated by the Hyblaean mountains.
If the said region is well-known, it is mainly because it echoes the history of 8 cities destroyed during the 1693 earthquake. Thanks to a cohesive community, the historic centers have since been rebuilt: a collective momentum that allows the cities of Noto, Ragusa, Scicli, Modica, Palazzolo Acreide, Caltagirone, Militello and Catania to enjoy a second life. Today, however, they all have one thing in common: the Baroque style that inspired their rebirth makes them a picturesque and exuberant region that surprises as much as it seduces, making visiting them one of our favorite things to do in Sicily. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2002, Val di Noto promises travelers a trip through the history and culture of Sicily.
In Val di Noto, in addition to discovering the historic centers of each city, you can also enjoy the beaches and natural reserves of places such as the Vendicari Reserve.
Located in the south-east of Sicily, Syracuse is an ancient city founded in the 8th century BC by Greek settlers from Corinth. It was once a powerful Greek city, that defeated Athens and caused its downfall, known to have been the site of Hannibal of Carthage (modern day ) and Archimedes’ fierce struggle against Roman invasions in 213 BC (during the Second Punic War).
Listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List since 2005, Syracuse is an essential stopover for anyone visiting Sicily. The city opens onto the sea and the island of Ortigia and concentrates ancient remains such as the Greek theater, the temple of Apollo, the temple of Athena, the fountain of Arthusa, or the Roman amphitheatre. Also take the opportunity to be in Syracuse to visit the artificial cave called the Ear of Dionysius.
Also read : The 6 best things to do in Syracuse
One of the oldest cities in Sicily, lost and resurrected many times under different names, Agrigento is not to be missed on a trip to Sicily. First of all, you should visit the Valley of the Temples and the extraordinary exhibitions presented in its Regional Archaeological Museum to better understand that Agrigento (founded in 581 BC by Greek settlers from Crete, to become Akragas in the following century) was one of the most radiant centers in the Mediterranean. That is why, in 1997, UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site.
12. Scala dei Turchi
From Agrigento, continue on your way towards Scala dei Turchi. After the Valley of the Temples and its man-made treasures, a natural but equally breathtaking spectacle awaits you: a memorable stop on a trip in Sicily, the Scala dei Turchi, its beach with its azure waters and its limestone cliffs will plunge you into a lunar world….
Legend has it that the Scala dei Turchi (which means “Stairs or ladders of the Turks”) was used as an anchor point by Saracens and pirates from Turkey who, after leaving their boats in the bay, reached Sicily by these famous natural stairs carved by the wind. Since then, history has lost none of its magic: it must be said that the landscape has enough to charm all those who cross its path. If, for safety’s sake, the stairs are now inaccessible, the fine sandy beach, its blue waters and the belvedere of the site perpetuate themselves for a moment out of time. To enjoy this exceptional site in an equally exceptional setting, head there for sunset….
13. Torre Salsa
Visiting Sicily is also about deserving its treasures. Discreet and rather poorly indicated (it is located between Agrigento and Selinunte), the Torre Salsa nature reserve is one of the island’s small paradises hidden from mass tourism, and for good reason. While accessing it is not the easiest thing to do in Sicily, it is well worth it and a highlight of our trip. You can reach it with your 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.
It is in the heart of the Island, more precisely in its center, that the other face of Sicily is hidden. Perched at an altitude of 3000 feet, Enna, known as the “navel of Sicily”, sits in her eponymous region. Renowned for hosting a large number of lakes, Enna simply has that little something that other parts of the island do not have, starting with the natural lake of Pergusa, Sicily’s one and only lake. The city of Enna, for its part, is seducing through its authenticity and charm of yesteryear. From the historical center to Enna Cathedral (Duomo), continue your walk towards the Castle of Lombardy. From its main tower, the monument offers a breathtaking view of Mount Etna!
What is there to do in Sicily, if not perpetuating discoveries off the beaten path? The Aeolian Islands aren’t even on a path as you will have to get on a boat for about 1h30 to reach this volcanic archipelago. It is known for the 7 islands (and small islets) it hosts. Among them, Lipari, Stromboli, Vulcano (yes this volcanic island is literally named “volcano”) and Salina are popular for the diversity of the activities they offer: relaxing on the beaches, hiking, mud baths, permanent volcanic eruptions and walks in the rocky landscapes, all in a preserved natural landscape.
16. Sicilian beaches
Of course, a visit to Sicily without going through its beaches would be unthinkable. Large sandbanks, small creeks, crystal clear waters and pebbles paint a portrait of some of the island’s little corners of paradise. Whether you are relaxing or trying out a snorkeling session, here is a small selection of Sicily’s most beautiful beaches that will make you happy, irregardless of your tastes and preferences.
- San Vito Lo Capo: a large beach with turquoise waters, San Vito Lo Capo benefits from a large stretch of sand with a public and a private side.
- Spiaggia dei Conigli: far from everything, this island nicknamed “Rabbit Island” (pictured above) was elected the most beautiful beach in the world and will plunge you into a real paradise with turquoise waters.
- Scala dei Turchi: we couldn’t write about Scala dei Turchi and recommend it as one of our favorite places to go in Sicily without also mentioning the nearby beach! As a reminder, Scala dei Turchi is famous for its superb sunsets and limestone cliffs, which make it a unique and truly magical place.
- Isola Bella: snorkellers will be seduced by this small pebble beach where various fish species live.
- Forgia Vecchia: on Stromboli, this beach has a real postcard setting. Its black sand and blue waters make it a unique and contrasting place that is really worth a visit.
- Spiaggia dei Faraglioni: as an invitation to travel, the Spiaggia dei Faraglioni transports you to its universe where rocks and turquoise waters have given birth to this beach that calls for disconnection and relaxation.
- Lido Mazzaro: here again, Lido Mazzaro symbolizes the beauty of Sicily. Located on the Isola Bella peninsula, it is a bit like the eldorado of visitors. Isolated in the middle of turquoise waters, Lido Mazzaro is accessible via a strip of sand that connects it to the coast: the setting is simply breathtaking.
For more details about beaches in Sicily : Sicily beaches – 20 Best beaches in Sicily
17. More things to see and to do in Sicily
If you are still wondering what to do in Sicily, here are some additional essentials to add to your trip:
- The cellars and salt marshes of Marsala
- Monte Cofano Nature Reserve
- The Pelagic and
- Lampedusa Islands
- The temples of Selinunte
- Trapani and its culinary specialities
How to get to Sicily?
About 3h away from the UK, you have direct flights from London (Gatwick and Stansted) Glasgow or Manchester. Depending on what you want to visit in Sicily, the choice of your airport in Sicily is important, as the island is very large. To find a cheap flight to Sicily, you can just compare flights using Skyscanner.
You can also travel to Sicily by ferry. It takes about 10 hours to travel to Sicily by boat, which will allow you to travel freely on the island with your own car. Ferries leave from France and other Italian ports. You can book your ferry to Sicily online on the DirectFerries website.
How to get around Sicily?
It is better to have a car (or motorcycle) to travel in Sicily. Public transport on the island is both difficult and slow, but can still be a solution. If you wish to visit several parts of the island during the same stay, it is recommended to come by car or rent one on site. If you are flying in then we suggest you rent a car directly at the airport.
For more details about car rentals in Sicily : Car rentals in Sicily: How to avoid scams?
Where to stay in Sicily?
Sicily is a big island and you will need to pack your bags in several cities if you want to visit Sicily as a whole. Staying in Sicily will be relatively easy outside the holiday period. You can find a cheap hotel in Sicily by searching a online booking service or you could also book an apartment or homestay via Airbnb.
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