Seasoned travelers know that Sicily has always been a bit different than the rest of Italy. This oddly shaped soccer ball at the end of the Italian boot has its own food, its own dialect and its own manners. When you visit the island, you’ll be assailed by incredibly chaotic cities, charmed by some of Europe’s most bucolic beaches and lulled into peacefulness as you explore old villages and ruins.
If you think you know Southern Italy, it’s time to pack your bags and let the food, culture, landscape and history of Sicily defy all your expectations:
ShutterstockTHE BIG DESTINATIONS YOU SHOULD SEE
Sicily’s capital city is a bit of a maze for foreign tourists, but one that’s worth puzzling out. The city can be chaotic and filled with terrifyingly aggressive traffic. Many grand old buildings need a touch of paint, but Palermo is the place to visit if you want a glimpse of Sicily’s multicultural heart. Just look at the buildings, or take a bite of a local dish and see for yourself the Arabic, Italian, French, Spanish and German influences that have waxed and waned over the years.
Taormina | July and August are moments of peak insanity for this gorgeous beach town, while November to April are completely dead, so plan your arrival date carefully. When you do get there, Taormina’s achingly blue waters, Greco-Roman ruins and mountainside views make it all worth it.
Siracusa | Siracusa, or Syracuse as it is sometimes known, was once a powerful Greek city that the Romans eventually took over. The main attraction is the Greek Theatre – which still puts on shows during the summer months. You’ll also get a gander at a Roman amphitheater, complete with a special drain for the blood and gore the spectacle generated.
Catania | Eruptions from Mount Etna and strong earthquakes have destroyed Catania numerous times throughout its history and after the last big shake-up in 1693, residents rebuilt their city from lava blocks. The gray stone gives Catania’s old town a look you’ll find nowhere else. Visit the city’s famous fish market before you leave.
ShutterstockTHE WORTHWHILE RUINS
The Greeks built beautiful, long-lasting architecture all over the island of Sicily. Selinunte is one of the most impressive remaining sites. Fueled by riches from the sea trade, the residents of Selinunte built up their city with dozens of temples and public buildings. Unfortunately for the Greeks, Hannibal and his invading army destroyed everything but the temples. The city lay abandoned for over a thousand years before English archaeologist started digging it up in 1823.
The Valley of the Temples | Don’t be scared off by the city of Agrigento – it’s not pretty, but it’s UNESCO-protected Valley of the Temples certainly is. You can stroll through the temples and tombs and marvel that they’ve stood here for over one thousand years.
Villa Romana del Casale | North African artists created the impressive mosaics that adorn this Roman patriarch’s hunting lodge. It’s hard to imagine this place used to be covered up by a landslide, but decades of careful excavation have uncovered the house and one of the best preserved collections of Roman mosaics. Keep an eye out for the most famous mosaic – Roman maidens exercising in the ancient precursor to the bikini.
Pantalica | A bit out of the way from Syracuse, Pantalica is a mountainside necropolis where the graves have been dug straight into the walls of a limestone canyon. You’ll hike through fields of thyme and giant fennel plants before coming to this stunning rocky canyon and its ancient city of the dead.
Gandolfo Cannatella | ShutterstockWHERE TO FIND MUMMIES
Palermo Catacombe dei Cappuccini | Yep, there are mummies on the island of Sicily. The practice of mummification of the city’s rich and famous only stopped about 1881. In the Catacombe dei Cappuccini you’ll can actually walk past the mummified bodies – their faces preserved in a mixture of quicklime and arsenic.
Eddy Galeotti | ShutterstockBEST BEACHES TO ENJOY
A quick trip from Palermo, Mondello is a popular, low-key beach with an art deco bathhouse. In Sicily as in other parts of Italy, bathing suits are only for the beach and most people change into their street clothes before leaving the beach.
San Vito Lo Capo | San Vito Lo Capo is frequently voted Sicily’s best beach. Its sugar-white sands and warm water are reminiscent of the Caribbean.
Cefalu | The fishing town of Cefalu has bobbing fishing boats, famous mosaics and a sandy beach that is a favorite with beach-lovers.
Aeolian Islands | Harder to get to than Sicilian beaches, these islands off the northeast coast have fantastic and uncrowded beaches. Take a hydroplane between the islands, or rent your own boat for the chance to drop anchor and swim wherever you want.
ShutterstockDELICIOUS FOOD AND WINE TO TASTESavory Plates |
Sicilians cook with ricotta and tomatoes, eggplants, olive oil and shellfish. Couscous, tagine and Arabic spices have made their way into the local pallet as well. It’s ok if you tell people you’re visiting Sicily for the beaches or the architecture or the history: everyone knows that the majority of visitors just want to dig in to the amazing local cuisine.
Sweet Treats | Arab influences are the main driver behind Sicily’s lovingly prepared deserts. Unlike many parts of Italy, Sicilians have an unabashed sweet tooth. Marzipan creations, dainty cakes, ricotta cream, cannoli, sweet pastries and citrus concoctions will have you nibbling from dawn til dusk.
Wine | Sicilian wine has a terrible reputation, but local vintners are changing the island’s reputation bottle by bottle. Some wineries even offer a wine tasting resort arrangement where guests taste wine and learn how to cook Sicilian foods on their vacation.
ShutterstockMOUNT ETNA’S SKI RESORTS
Rifugio Sapienza |
If you’ve always wanted to, you can ski and swim on the same day in Sicily. Mount Etna’s high elevation ensures snow, even as the gorgeous Ionian Sea stretches out from the island’s edge. With the tropical blue below you and the smoke trails of Etna above, you’re guaranteed to have a unique run on one of Rigugio Sapienza’s five ski trails.
Piano Provenzano | One trail leads down the north side of Mount Etna at Piano Provenzano. Luckily, ski passes are dirt cheap – usually only 15-25 Euro per day.
Ready to explore the Italian mainland instead? Skip Everything Except These 5 Places.
Join DreamPlanGo's Community
Join over 100,000 travel enthusiasts!
Get DreamPlanGo's latest articles straight to your inbox, plan your next trip, help answer other traveler's questions