Travel Guide to Sicily
The biggest Mediterranean island is an isle for the world. Visit it once, and you will fall in love with its intoxicating blend of history, culture, and wondrous nature. The grouchy volcano of Mount Etna will excite the adventurer, and the ancient Greek temples will stimulate you history buffs. Sicilian food, street markets, sandy beaches, and seductive architecture will stun you.
The trouble with travel guides is that there is so much to see and do in a place like Sicily that there is no way to include all of the wonderful things in one article. Instead, we’ve highlighted our favorites and included a good mix of leisure activities and locations with a selection of adventure and exploration activities. Travel guides are meant to stimulate your curiosity and help you to plan your adventures, so read on to find some inspiration for your next visit to Sicily. You’ll be amazed at how much there is to see and do on this little island!
A Little Background Information about Sicily
Sicily is a beautiful island in the Mediterranean Sea, off the toe of the ‘boot’ of Italy on a map, and the birthplace of the Cannoli, those wonderful little fried pastries filled with creams. The weather is what you would expect on a Mediterranean island and it is perfect for visits from the peninsula of Italy. Home to an amazing culture rich in history, art, music, and culinary delights, Sicily is a must for any visitor to the south of Italy. The landscape features rolling hills where much of the land has been cultivated over the years, and it makes for a breathtaking drive through the countryside.
This island has some of the most spectacularly preserved Greek ruins. The temple ruins at Agrigento and Siracusa even find their names in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The next big thing in Sicily is the sea, where the beaches are year round hotspots. Sicily is also the home of a massive volcanic mountain, Mount Etna, the largest in Europe. This could be a great destination for hiking and other adventures. And when it comes to culture, there’s a lot to explore especially if you are an art lover. Theaters are also a-plenty for those of you who enjoy watching live performances. Here are the top attractions of the island:
What to See and Do in Palermo
The capital of Sicily is Palermo, with a population of just under one million people. This 2,700 year old city is full of history, and it will amaze you with its Arab-Norman architecture. The old city is filled with baroque palaces with facades rich in art carvings. But it’s also well known for its culinary experiences by tourists. You’ll definitely want to check out the food markets while you are there.
Highlights you shouldn’t miss include the Palermo Cathedral, the opera (imagine, Italian opera in Sicily!), and if you are into history and seeing things that are a bit off the beaten path, the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo are a must see: the atmosphere in this catacomb preserves bodies without burial. It’s pretty impressive.
Don’t forget to feast your eyes on what was previously a Muslim mosque and now a Christian cathedral, the Palazzo Dei Normanni, one of the most beautiful palazzos of Sicily.
You’ll also want to check out the Quattro Canti, which is known as the center of the main streets in Palermo. Standing in the middle, you’ll be surrounded by four nearly identical buildings that house statues and fountains.
The Ballaro Street market, which is thought to be over 1000 years old, is worth checking out. You’ll find fresh fish and a wide range of goods and services to enjoy.
Weekday mornings are the best time to shop at some amazing street markets in Piazza Ballarò, Via Sant’Agostino, and Piazza San Domenico.
Apart from these attractions, the general street life is vibrantly decorated with facades and alive with street artists at every old square. You’ll always be amused while walking around!
For you sun lovers, Palermo has some great beaches as well including Mondello Beach, Aspra Beach, Cefalu Beach, and several more… take a pick!
As for the nightlife, you’ll find a number of nightclubs and restaurants that begin serving dinner at 8 p.m. Piazza Olivella is a good spot for younger visitors and Bar Fiera Vecchia is known for its interesting cocktails and for dancing.
What to See and Do in Catania
It will be hard to miss the towering volcano that sits on the edge of Catania as you approach the city of almost 400,000 citizens. Mount Etna is a very real active volcano that draws visitors from all over the world. It constantly overshadows the city and it is hard not to want to go see it. Etna is the biggest volcano in Europe and among one of the largest volcanoes in the world. This is a must do for any Sicilian visitor.
There is also an incredible amount of Italian architecture throughout the city that is worth visiting, for example, Terme della Rotonda is an old roman bath house that looks like it could crumble at any moment, but its beauty prevails.
Stroll along the Via Etnea, the main street that draws tourists for some good shopping and eating experiences. You’ll also want to check out of the many historic churches that boast multiple styles of architecture, such as Baroque and Rococo styles. The Fera o Luni and The Piazza Carlo Alberto are the largest markets in Catania and they’re known for their wide variety of vegetables and seafood, which are different from those found in Palermo. The fontana Dell Elefante, or Elephant’s fountain, is a famous stop for visitors because of the myths and legends associated with it. Also worth a visit is Catania’s fish market at Piazza Pardo and The Ex Benedictine Convent, a palace-like building that has beautiful gardens and kiosks to rest and read.
For the Adventurous
If you are looking to get out of the main part of the Sicilian cities, check out some of these unique Italian experiences:
Mount Etna: THE place for an adventure. Climbing or hiking down the highest active volcano mountain of Europe is a real thrill. There are regular hikes organized and you can choose yours depending on the level of difficulty.
Taormina: the location of the most engaging resorts in Sicily. The hillside hotels and villas give you a splendid overview of the Mediterranean. The hill-spot is connected to Mazzarò beach via a cable car, with Mount Etna standing behind the town. This is the place where artists and writers stay and create.
Siracusa: with its Neapolis Archaeological Park that offers visitors’ day passes to see a variety of stone structures from the 5th century B.C. It’s about 10EUR per adult.
Agrigento: Features a wonderful collection of Greek and Roman artifacts dating back to the 1st century B.0 – talk about old! Visitors can enter the museum for about 8EUR per adult. Also a must is Valle Dei Templi or the Valley of the Temples which dates back to the 5th century BC, wher you can explore a number of preserved ruins of ancient Greek temples. The most notable ones would be the Temple of Concord and the Temple of Hercules.
The castle in Aci Castello: located within driving distance to Catania. Visitors will be delighted by the cliffhanger castle that draws thousands of tourists every year.
When you are ready to start planning your next trip, consider making the voyage to Sicily. It’s a great way to start or end your Italian adventure. With architecture dating back to basically the beginning of humanity, it’s an incredible place to see. Basque in the rich culinary delights and enjoy a Gelato for breakfast – one of the top things to do in Sicily!
There’s no other place that promises such a variety of things to do, see and eat. The island is small enough that visitors can get around fairly easily with a few day trips here and there, but it is immense it what it can offer travelers and the effect it will leave on them… Happy travels!
The Etna Experience: An enchanting trek through the incredible nature of the volcano.
Recommended Places to Stay
A Casa Di Amici (Palermo) : A super friendly atmosphere located just a few steps from Politeama Theatre in the middle of Palermo city center, in a detached building of the 19th century.
Ostello Degli Elefanti (Catania) : Located in a 1600’s palace, one of the oldest in town with some outstanding frescos, this place is in the center of the old town and its historical markets.