The 8 best places to visit in Sicily [+ where to stay]
July 26, 2022
The Mediterranean island of Sicily is a treasure trove for beach bums, adventure nuts and foodies alike. Greek temples in the South, Baroque beauties in the East, sparkling beaches in the North, and pink salt flats to the West, there are so many beautiful places to visit in Sicily. Among all the best things to do in Sicily, these 8 places represent the very best this Italian island has to offer.
But before we start our list of Sicily must-see places, let’s talk about traveling to Sicily. When planning your trip to Sicily, keep in mind that transportation is as important as accommodation.
You will find some practical tips on getting around Sicily below. The things to do and the hotel suggestions are listed together with the best places in Sicily to visit. This way, you can plan your trip wisely and make the most of your time in this incredible region ofItaly.
Getting around Sicily attractions
Sadly the public transportation network in Southern Italy is spotty or simply nonexistent. Therefore the easiest and most time-efficient way to get around the island is by renting a car.
Check outRentalcars andAuto Europe websites, they offer a wide range of car rentals, from budget to luxury vehicles. You can compare prices and choose the car and the insurance coverage that suits your Sicily holiday.
Driving in Sicily is not for the faint-hearted: stopping at red lights is optional, the right of way is always taken, and motorbikes whizz by at all hours of the day.
It doesn’t matter your itinerary of where to go in Sicily, be assertive. Always look thrice and never take your eye off the Vespa drivers and you should be good as gold.
Practicalities for renting a car in Sicily
Drivers outside of the EU will be required to carry an International Driving License with them at all times.
Ensure the rental car comes with Collision Damage Waiver Insurance (mandatory by Italian law)
Bring the car back with a full tank
Talking about insurance, not only your car needs coverage. Having comprehensive travel insurance is always a good idea, especially if you are up to some adventurous activities in Sicily or if you are traveling from abroad.
To maximize your time on the island, your choice of which area to stay in Sicily is important. Eastern Sicily is best explored from Catania, while Western Sicily is perfect for exploring using Palermo as a basis.
Sicily might look small on a map, but do not let size deceive you, driving from one end to the other end of the island can quickly turn into a 3-hour drive.
So here they are, Sicily’s best places to visit.
1. The largest city on the island – Catania
Catania is the largest city on the island and the entry point for many travelers into Sicily. Flying into Catania, you will catch amazing views over Mount Etna, located on the city’s doorstep.
With a buzzing historical center, thriving street food scene, and a plethora of palazzi to visit, there is more than enough to do in Catania. Stroll down Via Etnea, lined with Baroque palaces and ending in the most impressive views over Mount Etna. Traverse the Piazza del Duomo and pop into the beautiful Duomo. The entrance fee of €7 includes entry to the cathedral, the museum, as well as the Thermal Baths.
Savor some of the city’s best street food at the local markets: A’ Piscaria Mercato del Pesce or Fera ‘O Luni (Mercato di Piazza Carlo Alberto). Try the queen of all street food, Arancino. A rice ball filled with ragu (meat) or butter (vegetarian-friendly) and fried to perfection. When walking around the markets, keep your belongings close as pickpocketing is known to occur.
If aguided tour to Mount Etna and/or Taormina is on your bucket list, Catania is a great place to start from. Plenty of tours offer pick-up and drop-off from your hotel in Catania at very affordable prices. All the details about visiting Mount Etna and Taormina are listed below, so you can plan your trip to Catania first and then see these other two incredible places.
Where to stay in Catania, Sicily:
Now that you know what to do in Catania and how to make the most of your visit to Mount Etna, let’s talk about the best places to stay in Sicily. You can stay in Catania for a few days to explore the region, as there are plenty of accommodation options in the city.
Check out our top picks for accommodation in Catania:
(click on the name of the hotel for photos and room rates)
2. The Greek amphitheater of Taormina
The village of Taormina is wonderfully quaint and offers spectacular views of Mount Etna. A wander around the little streets of the old town is enough to warrant a visit. Add to that the second largest Greek Amphitheater in Sicily (the first being in Syracuse) and it skyrockets to the number one spot on places to see in Sicily.
The Greek Theater dates back to the 3rd century BC and was initially built to host theater spectacles. During Roman times, it was transformed into an Arena where games and gladiator fights were held.
These days the theater has returned to its roots and is once again a Theater. During select months of the year, Greek tragedies are performed on this very stage.
Taormina is a very popular place to go in Sicily. As the town is small, it tends to get crowded in the summer months. The best way to circumvent the hordes of tourists is to come early in the morning. Visit the amphitheater right when it opens at 09.00 before heading into town to explore.
Here are a few tours you can join to get a more in-depth understanding of this Sicily top attractions and experience a unique side of Taormina:
(click on the name of the experience for more info)
Where to stay in Taormina, Sicily:
Spending the night in Taormina can be a good idea if you want to catch the sunrise and be the first one in the amphitheater, or maybe join an early morning boat trip to the Blue Grotto and Isola Bella.
Here are a few options of hotels in Taormina for you.
(click on the name of the hotel for photos and room rates)
3. The capital Palermo
No trip to Sicily is complete without a visit to its beautiful capital. The Historical Center of Palermo has undergone a massive transformation in the last 10 years. Palazzi have been restored to their former glory and tourism infrastructure has been added (hello English signs!). On top of that, the Government has cracked down severely on petty crime, making a stroll through the center a pleasant and safe activity.
There are plenty of things to do in Palermo. Ideally, you spend at least two full days taking in everything the city has to offer. The UNESCO World Heritage site of Norman Palace at the entrance of the Historical Center is the perfect place to kick off your first day. Nestled in the inner folds, the Palatine Chapel in all its glory awaits.
From the Norman Palace, head to the Cathedral of Palermo, the outside is spectacular, but the interior is rather stark. The entrance is free, but a visit to the rooftop (highly recommended) requires a €5 ticket.
If you are a lover of churches, make sure to add the Baroque beauty Chiesa Santa Catarina to your list. Try homemade sweets from the nuns of the cloister and climb the stairs to the roof of the church for the best views over the Historical Center of Palermo.
Palermo is home to the very best street food the country has to offer. A spleen sandwich is the perfect hangover cure after a night on the town. Grab yours is the Vucceria market or off-the-street vendors in Corso Vittorio Emmanuele.
Here is our recommendation for unique activities in Palermo:
(click on the name of the experience for more info)
Palermo is your getaway to Sicily’s West Coast. The key to planning an incredible itinerary in Sicily is to think about your travel goals. You can plan a road trip between the small villages and medieval towns, staying in a different place every night.
Or you can stay in Palermo for longer and plan daily trips to Sicily’s famous beaches and attractions like Castellammare Del Golfo, San Vito Lo Capo and its ancient sites, and also to Zingaro Nature Reserve that offers stunning views and beaches, a paradise for swimming.
Where to stay in Palermo, Sicily:
You probably will stay in Palermo for a couple of days, so choosing good accommodation is key.
Check out these hotel suggestions for a good night of sleep in Palermo.
(click on the name of the hotel for photos and room rates)
4. The prettiest village on the island: Ortigia
The island of Ortigia is located right off Syracuse. It is connected to the city by a set of two bridges that traverse the Mediterranean Sea. The island itself is tiny, the full loop around is a mere 3.5 kilometers. Yet despite the seemingly small size, there is plenty to do on Ortigia island to keep you busy for at least a full day.
Together with Noto and Ragusa, Ortigia is known as one of the “Baroque Beauties” or “Baroque Towns”. Walking around the center, it will quickly become clear why. The sheer amount of amazing baroque architecture packed on the facades and balconies of the buildings is unlike anything you are likely to encounter anywhere else.
The highlight of Ortigia is the Cathedral of Syracuse (despite the name, it is very much located in Ortigia on Piazza Duomo). This ancient Greek Doric temple was “converted” into a church around the 7th century AD. On the same square, the Church of Santa Lucia alla Badia stands to the right of the Cathedral and is equally worth popping into.
During the summer months, Ortigia has plenty of pop-up Lidos (beach bars and restaurants)dotted around the shores of the island. Combine a visit to the little town with a relaxing afternoon by the sea.
Check out these activities and plan the perfect visit to Ortigia combining history, architecture, sea and food:
Where to stay in Syracuse and Ortigia:
Along with Ortigia, Syracuse is also a must-visit place in Sicily. You can stay in both cities and get around them easily. When it comes to choosing the best place to stay, Syracuse will have more options than Ortigia. But if you want to wake up in a fairytale-like city, Ortigia is the perfect place for it. Click on the name of the hotel for photos and room rates.
Here is our pick for hotels in Syracuse:
And here is a unique place to stay in Ortigia:
5. The Arab-Norman Cathedral & Cefalu Beach
The sleepy fisherman village of Cefalu is one of the most popular places to visit in Sicily both for locals and tourists alike. The Historical Center is a wonderful maze of little streets dotted with little stores and eateries. Allow yourself the luxury of a languorous stroll (Google Maps is very spotty in these little streets, so you might as well save yourself the frustration and not turn it on!).
When the weather gets too hot, the heat-averse traveler has three options. Option one is a visit to the UNESCO-classified Arab-Norman Cathedral of Cefalu and marvel at the byzantine mosaics. Make sure to climb the towers for the best views over Cefalu and, if you are lucky, to find a refreshing breeze. Tickets for the Cathedral will set you back €5 and an additional €5 if you would like to visit the treasury and cloisters. You can visit it by yourself orjoin a guidedwalking tour to learn more about this incredible Sicily landmark.
Option two is to simply strip down and make a beeline for the beach. Cefalu is located right on the sea and has a long stretch of sandy beach perfect for swimming breaks. The beach does tend to be a very popular option for many travelers and thus, you will most likely be sharing your little swath of sand with quite a few other people.
When it comes to staying in Cefalu, you can choose between hotels, Bed & Breakfasts and private apartments.
Here are our suggestions for accommodation in Cefalu, click on the name of the hotel for photos and room rates.
6. The Cathedral and Cloisters in Monreale
Monreale is located just outside of Palermo, in fact, the village of Monreale has not only a UNESCO-classified Arab-Norman Cathedral it also offers the very best views over the bay of Palermo. While the Cathedral is, in theory, free to enter, purchasing a €6 ticket will grant you access to the rooftop terraces, the Ruano chapel and the cloister.
While the Cathedral might look stark from the outside, upon entering, the first thing you will notice is the ornately decorated interior. A whopping 3500 square meters of golden Byzantine mosaics cover the ceiling and the naïve depicting various biblical scenes.
Aside from the Cathedral, do not skip the Benedictine Cloister located just around the corner. The inner courtyard has the most intricate column, each decorated slightly differently and narrating scenes from the Old and New Testaments.
Here is an interestingguided tour in Monreale that will help you navigate through the Cathedral and all the details of the place.
Where to stay in Monreale
Monreale is a very small little village and is, therefore, best combined with either half a day at the beach (the closest beach being Mondello) or Cefalu. As for accommodations in town, there aren’t many, so check out our suggestion of places to stay in Palermo. It’s the biggest city close to Monreale and will offer better options for hotels.
One of the best places to visit in Sicily for the active traveler is, without a doubt, Mount Etna. At 3.357 meters, it is the highest volcano in Europe. The good news is, despite the fact the volcano is still active (the last eruption dates back to 2021), it is perfectly safe to visit the volcano.
It is possible to visit Mt. Etna solo until 2900 meters. The trek between 2900 meters and the summit at 3500 can only be done with an organized tour (legally, for safety reasons, this part of the volcano cannot be visited without a knowledgeable guide).
Park your car at Rifugio Sapienza (1935 meters above sea level), and from there, pay €35 euro (one way) for a cable car ride to take you up to the summit station (2500 meters). Upon reaching the summit station, a 40-minute hike will take you up to the last viewing point at 2900 meters.
Most organized tours will start from the visitors center in Rifugio Sapienza. Certain tours include the ticket price for the cable car and offer visitors the option to rent windbreakers and other gear. Be sure to ask in advance what is included in the price for the tour.
Below are some of the best-rated Mount Etna guided tours offered on theGetYourGuide website. You can book them online and in advance so you save time when you are in Sicily.
8. The very best Greek temples outside of Greece in the Valley of Temples
The archeological site known as the Valley of Temples covers an impressive 1300 hectares, filled with Almond trees, 8 very well-preserved ancient Greek temples, and a variety of different ruins. The Valley of Temples in Southern Sicily is one of the most impressive UNESCO World Heritage sites in Sicily, truly the most unique place in Sicily. Some say the Greek Temple of Heracles (Hercules) is the best preserved Greek Temple in the world (yep, you read that right!).
Getting around the park is done on foot (bring good walking shoes) or by taking the little shuttle that runs between the various temples. The shuttle functions as a hop-on/hop-off bus and costs €8.
Download the park’s app to get both a map and plenty of interesting historical facts about the various temples and the park itself.
Tickets cost €10/person and can be bought at the entrance. If you come by car, park your car in the allotted parking opposite the entrance and make sure to bring coins to pay for the parking before you leave (no cards accepted).
Agrigento is the closest city to Sicily’s Valley of Temples, and from there, you can reach the park by public transportation, taxi or driving. But you can also visit the Valley of Temples as a day trip from other towns in Sicily and even from Palermo if you don’t mind spending hours on the road.
Where to stay in Agrigento
Agrigento is the best place to stay near the Valley of Temples, here are our recommendations.
Wrapping up our Sicily must-see places guide
One could spend a lifetime exploring Sicily and still come up short of time. Think of the Aegadian Islands near Trapani city that you can visit, the sports activities and boat trips you can do, and all the beautiful beaches you can visit.
Architecture lovers and history buffs would be lost among the ancient cities, archaeological sites, and charming seaside towns. As you can imagine, Sicily is one of those destinations where you finish your holiday already thinking of your return trip.
The extraordinary amount of natural and historic beauty to be found in Sicily is unparalleled anywhere else in Europe. Combine that with excellent traditional Sicilian cuisine (Pasta à la Norma all day every day) and some of the best beaches in the Mediterranean and it will become abundantly clear why Sicily is Italy’s & the rest of Europe’s favorite vacationing spot.
Are you planning to travel to Sicily soon? Which of these cities and attractions are in your Sicily itinerary?
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Author: Caroline Muller
Caroline is a full-time travel writer & photographer. She is based out of Brussels but spends many months in Sicily each year, keeping warm and discovering the island’s foodie delights.