This Mediterranean island is home to an immense number of historical sites, as well as stunning beaches, volcanoes, and unforgettable flavors. Combine this with sunny weather, easy access, and a robust tourist industry, and you’ll understand why Sicily is one of Europe’s leading holiday destinations.
For an Italian holiday with a difference, it has to be Sicily.
Why visit Sicily?
The island of Sicily is wonderfully distinct from mainland Italy. This large island suits every type of holidaymaker. From sun-soaked beaches to sites of historical significance, jaw-dropping natural landmarks, and vibrant cities of Sicily, there’s something for everyone in Sicily.
The island’s location in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea has shaped it significantly over the last three millennia. For thousands of years, waves of different groups have left their mark on the island.
Once a Grecian stronghold, it has also been ruled by the Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, and Spanish. The result of all this is the unique character of Sicily.A place with a truly distinct culture, tradition, language, and cuisine. Even the weather is different from mainland Italy.
It’s the perfect destination for history buffs but also for sun worshippers, nature lovers, and foodies. Families also flock to Sicily, thanks to its blend of beach and city activities, as well as its established tourist infrastructure.
Easy to reach from mainland Italy and Europe. There have even been direct flights from the US to Palermo as well.
What are Sicily’s most famous landmarks?
These are some of the most famous landmarks in Sicily that we recommend you check out.
Archaeological Park of Neapolis
This extensive site is home to a dizzying array of landmarks. This includes the ruins of the city of Syracuse, Ancient Greece’s unofficial capital in the West. This city, said to rival only Athens in terms of importance, was once hailed as even more beautiful.
Highlights include the Greek Theater of Syracuse, one of the finest Greek theaters in the world. The seats are built directly into the stone of Temenite Hill.
As well as Greek sites, there are multiple Roman ruins, such as the Roman Amphitheater, the third largest in Italy.
Valley of the Temples
This site near Agrigento on the southern coast is one of the most important historical sites in all of Sicily. Like the sites at Syracuse, it is evidence of the island’s importance during the Greek era. In fact, it’s not just one of the most important Greek sites in Sicily, but in the world.
The site includes eleven Doric temples, as well as gates, sanctuaries, and catacombs.
The three volcanoes and the Aeolian Islands
Not satisfied with just one, there are three volcanoes on Sicily; Etna, Stromboli, and Vulcano. All three are active, most notably Etna, which is one of the most active volcanoes on Earth, and the highest in Europe.
Etna is located on the mainland to the east of the island. The slopes themselves, and the surrounding Mount Etna Park, are very popular with hikers, cyclists, and skiers.
To visit Vulcano and Stromboli, visitors need to travel by boat to the Aeolian Islands. These UNESCO-protected islands are located off the northwest coast of Sicily. The highlight of Vulcano is actually the soothing mud baths, which leave the skin silky smooth and rejuvenated.
The Andromeda Theater
Unlike the millennia-old Greek and Roman theaters, the Andromeda Theater is less than fifty years old, although visitors say it feels like it’s been there forever. It was built by a shepherd-cum-sculptor in the 1970s, who noticed how relaxed his sheep were in this spot.
Stop for a while in one of the 180 stone seats that represent the stars of the Andromeda Galaxy and consider your place in the universe. Many visitors have a deeply spiritual experience at the Andromeda Theater.
Palermo and Monreale Cathedrals
Long after the Greeks and Romans left their marks on the island, the Normans made it their most southerly stronghold in the 11th Century. In the 12th Century, Palermo Cathedral was erected on the site of an earlier mosque and basilica.
Thanks to centuries of additions and renovations, this stunning building incorporates Gothic, Moorish, Baroque, and Neoclassical elements. However, visitors should also head out of the capital to visit Monreale Cathedral. This building was erected nearby, some say in direct competition with Palermo Cathedral.
The interior ceilings consist of amazing gold mosaics. It is considered to be one of the most spectacular cathedrals in the world.
Top festivals and events in Sicily
These are some of the popular festivals in Sicily:
- Procession of the Mysteries of Trapani (Trapani, Easter Weekend)
- Flower Festival (Noto, 3rd weekend in May)
- Carnival (Island-wide, Mardi Gras onwards)
- Pistachio Festival (Bronte, late Sep/early Oct)
- Almond Festival (Agrigento, early March)
Getting around Sicily
A public transport network of buses and trains makes for an affordable way to get around, although many visitors find it easier to rent a car. Remember that in Sicily, like Italy, cars drive on the right-hand side.
Driving within Palermo is not easy, but most of rural Sicily is pleasant to drive around. Those staying in Palermo, will actually find that much of the city is navigable on foot.
For day trips, there’s always a good choice of air-conditioned coaches that head out to the major landmarks.
Top Sicilian foods
Sicilian cuisine certainly shares a lot with Italian cuisine, but it also has its own unique characteristics. Arabic and Spanish influence brings much to the menu, which is spicier than generic Italian cuisine.
Seafood, vegetables, pasta, rice, and couscous make up much of the main dishes, and Sicilian cuisine is less bread-and-cheese heavy than the rest of Italy.
Must-try dishes in Sicily include:
- Cannoli pastries
- Almond pastries
- Pasta alla Norma
Plan your Sicilian adventure
There’s so much to see and do in Sicily, so we advise you to plan your itinerary before you go. Make sure you include at least some classical sites, as well as a visit to the capital, Palermo.
Nature lovers should include a trip to the volcanic islands and Mount Etna, but also leave plenty of time to relax at the beach. Accommodations and flights get booked up quickly in August and July, so do plan ahead.
Visiting in Spring or Autumn means milder weather, lower prices, and fewer crowds.
So, what are you waiting for? The beautiful island of Sicily awaits.
How long should I stay in Sicily?
While it's possible to cover the most important landmarks in a short time, you really need a week or two to do this island justice. It can take just a few days to cover the most famous sites, but ideally, you should spend a few more exploring the island at your own leisure. Those looking for a weekend city break should choose one location, such as Palermo, Catania, or Agrigento, and concentrate on nearby highlights in the time they have.
When is the best time to visit Sicily?
Unlike Northern Italy, Sicily has a Mediterranean climate. During the peak summer months, July and August, the temperature can get very hot and sometimes humid. The crowds also swell at this time. Therefore, it’s best to visit in May, June, or September when the weather is still warm, and the numbers are slightly reduced. Having said that, the weather is often fine all the way from April through to October. If you arrive in early Spring, you may even experience Carnival or the Easter parades. Some holidaymakers enjoy Sicily best in winter when fine days are still likely and the holiday crowds have all but gone. During Winter, there are even skiing opportunities in the mountains.
What do I need to know about traveling to Sicily?
Sicily is one of Italy's 20 regions and, therefore, part of the EU. However, the island enjoys a large degree of autonomy from the central government. Compared to the liberal cities of Milan or Rome, Sicily is much more traditional and conservative. This means unruly behavior will not be welcome. The native language is Sicilian, so as well as learning some Italian phrases, it would be respectful to learn a few simple Sicilian phrases too. Whilst most people can speak Italian, some of the older and more rural population only speak Sicilian.
Where is the best place to stay in Sicily?
Those looking for peace and solitude should seek out accommodation in the northwest of the island. However, those looking for the beat of city life, the finest restaurants, and good access to museums are better suited to the capital Palermo. The second city of Catania is a good choice for those who want a quieter city option with good access to the Archaeological Park of Neapolis. For families, the resort towns along the east coast offer a good blend of beaches and facilities.
How do I get to Sicily?
Those arriving from Italy can board a ferry or even take a train. But if you're not traveling from mainland Italy, the easiest way to arrive is by plane. There are several international airports across the island. The busiest are Catania, Palermo, and Trapani.