Extending off the toe of Italy’s boot-shaped coastline, Sicily stands out as destination worth exploring. While planning our upcoming trip to Europe, Sicily was firmly in our sites. Rumbling volcanos, hidden beaches, layers of history and hearty food washed down with a glass of Malvasia sounded mighty appealing. Yet, we still needed a little more intel to craft an itinerary.
I decided to call upon the brains trust of my fellow travel bloggers to get a lay of the island. So with thanks to some of the best travellers in the business, I’ve collated their most recommended spots to visit in Sicily for 2019. We hope you get to visit these in an upcoming adventure and, like us, eventually get to give each place your own stamp of approval.
1. Valley of the Temples
Recommended by: Katy Clarke / Untold Morsels
Over 2,000 years ago the Greeks ruled Sicily and left their mark. You can walk among some of the best preserved Greek ruins in Europe at a site known as The Valley of the Temples near Agrigento.
This area, once the ancient city called Akragas, was home to around half a million people before being abandoned after the fall of the Roman Empire. These days you can walk among the ruins of their civic buildings and even a huge bath house. Rising majestically over the site is the incredible Temple of Concordia that celebrates the goddess of harmony.
The park is open from 8:30am till 19:00pm daily. Start at the Temple of Giunone entrance and walk the 2.5 kilometre path to the Porta Quinta Sant’Anna gate. Make sure to bring plenty of water and a hat. The site is exposed with little shade and is very hot, especially in summer.
2. Villa Romana del Cásale
Recommended by: Talek Nantes / Travels with Talek
I’ve traveled to over 100 countries and seen many sights. I’d have to say that among the top five is the beautiful Villa Romana del Casale, close to Agrigento in southeast Sicily.
The “villa,” it’s actually more like a palace, is a well excavated Roman structure dating from the 4th Century CE, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It houses the most complex, largest and best-preserved collection of Roman mosaics in the world.
The history surrounding this area is almost as interesting as the ruins themselves. It was damaged at various times until it was totally abandoned in the 12th century when a landslide covered the main sections and buried it. Teams of archeologists excavated the villa throughout the 20th century and unearthed the mosaics that had survived relatively intact.
Today the mosaics and the villa have returned, perhaps not to their former glory, but at least close enough that we can see what a marvel this place must have been in its heyday.
3. Madonie National Park
Recommended by: Gemma Johnstone / A girl and her dog on the road
If you are visiting Sicily and you are looking to get away from the crowded beaches and enjoy some tranquillity and hiking or horsack riding then I would recommend visiting the Madonie National Park.
Make sure that you also allow time to stop and explore some of the traditional old hilltop villages in the area. Gangi should be at the top of your list. Often referred to as one of the most beautiful villages in the whole of Italy, yet I found it to be relatively untouched by tourists, and that was in the Summer too.
I stayed in the aparthotel Cuore Della Valle at the entrance to the Park and ten minutes drive from the historic beach town of Cefalu. After a busy day, it was a welcome peaceful retreat.
Make sure you pack the insect repellent though, hiking the trails in the summer is not pleasant otherwise!
Recommended by: Samantha Barbagallo / The Wandering Wanderluster
Sat on a bluff above the Ionian Sea, Taormina is Sicily’s most famous tourist destination. It magical and mythical atmosphere has enchanted visitors for centuries, a luxuriant stop for those on the Grand Tour of Europe and the preferred summer residence for aristocrats and bankers since the Greek times.
Its beautiful buildings along its main street “Corso Umberto I” along with the breathtaking views over Mount Etna and its close network of streets strewn with boutique shops, bars and restaurants serving the best of Sicily’s delicacies are just a few things that make Taormina the “Pearl of the Ionian”.
Easily accessible by car, Taormina is just 1 hour north from the city of Catania and 1 hour south of Messina for those who arrive by ferry.
5. Island of Stromboli
Provided by: Claudia Tavani / My Adventures Across the World
Stromboli is one of the prettiest and most interesting places to visit in the Aeolian Islands of Sicily. It can only be reached by hydrofoil – it’s the kind of place that remains isolated for days when the winds blow too strongly and the sea conditions are adverse.
Stromboli is most famous for the volcano that gives it its name, Volcano Stromboli. It’s the most active volcano in Europe, and one of the most active in the world, with volcanic activity – explosions and eruptions – occurring daily at (almost) regular intervals.
The best way to appreciate Stromboli is on a volcano hike. Guided treks depart from the village daily in the afternoon (the timing varies depending on the season), in time to reach the crater for sunset so as to get the most of the views and to be able to properly see the explosions. The hike back down to the village is after dark – make sure to carry a torch for that.
The hike is a medium difficulty one – the main issue is walking on the sandy terrain. It’s a steady uphill on the way up, and a steady downhill on the way back. It is completely worth the effort as the view and the experience are just incredible.
Provided by: Wendy Werneth / The Nomadic Vegan
Noto is one of several small towns near Siracusa that were completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1693. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because the towns were then rebuilt in the flamboyant Baroque style that was in vogue at the time.
Noto is considered to be the most beautiful of these Sicilian baroque towns and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town is small and compact and can easily be visited in a couple of hours.
Most of the ornate churches and palaces are concentrated along Corso Vittorio Emannuele. Two of the most beautiful churches are the Cathedral and the Chiesa del Santissimo Salvatore.
Provided by: Danila Caputo / Travelling Dany
Cefalù is one of the most beautiful little villages in Sicily (Italy). This attractive historic town is also among the finest beach destinations in Italy, for solo travellers, couples or families. The sandy Lido di Cefalù is in fact not only a famous snorkeling spot (thanks to the crystal clear water), but also a clubbing area. During the day there are kids playing on the sand and it’s pretty quiet. Yet at night it lits up with clubs, shops and restaurants: it’s pretty different from other sleepy villages in Sicily!
One of the best beaches in Sicily is Salinelle beach in Cefalù. Entrance is free and since it’s always pretty windy, it’s the favourite spot for the windsurf lovers.
The best time to go is early spring, because it’s cheaper. Sicily is always pretty warm so you will be able to get a tan without having to fight your way through the crowds!
8. Palermo Market
Provided by: Steph Edwards / The Mediterranean Traveller
If you’re heading to Sicily don’t miss the famous food markets of Palermo (or Catania, if you happen to be at the other end of the island). A mad and colourful riot of fruit and veg stalls and sizzling street food, Palermo’s three outdoors markets are known throughout Italy for the freshness of their produce as well as the theatre of their vendors.
You can feel the similarities to the souks of nearby North Africa. One of the highlights of Palermo, the street food here is an institution that has grown up around its large port and immigrant community. The markets squeeze their way into the narrow backstreets of Palermo old town – one of the largest in Europe – tucked away behind grand Baroque churches.
Don’t miss the sfincione, a kind of spongy pizza minus the cheese. Come early with an empty stomach and a full wallet.
9. Island of Ortigia
Provided by: David Angel / Delve Into Europe
Ortigia is a tiny island and the ancient heart of Siracusa, or Syracuse, in the south-east of Sicily.
The city was once the foremost power in the Mediterranean, centuries before the Romans came along. Most of the ancient Greek ruins are on the outskirts of the modern city on the mainland.
Ortigia somehow seems a world apart from the rest of the city. Many of the island’s streets are pedestrianised, and lined with slightly crumbling late Baroque era houses. It’s a beautiful time warp, and we spent days wandering the back streets and alleyways, not to mention the walkway around the island’s coast.
The best of Ortigia is the Piazza del Duomo, the main square with the serene Baroque cathedral on one side. We gravitated here every night for a week, sitting in one of the most beautiful squares in Europe, enjoying gelato for a third of the price in Piazza San Marco or Piazza Navona.
Siracusa is easy to reach by train or bus – it’s just over an hour from Catania. There are hotels in Ortigia and the mainland, with a mixture ranging from expensive to budget in each. If you’re self-catering, the Ortigia food market is fantastic, and you can eat superbly for very little cost.
Provided by: Jerome Shaw / Travel Boldly
Siracusa is a 2,700-year-old city on the southeastern side of the island of Sicily. Siracusa was once a great naval power whose influence reached out into the Ionian Sea and across the Mediterranean. The peninsula and island where much of ancient Siracusa was built are densely packed with places of interest for travellers.
I recommend crossing the bridge to Islola di Ortiga / Ortiga Island and wandering down the narrow streets until the street opens and you are standing in Piazza Archimede where you find the beautiful Fontana di Diana, a classical fountain with a statue of Diana at its center.
Pick the street that veers southwest out of Piazza Archimede and turn left at your first opportunity. Follow this street until you reach Piazza Duomo. There stands the Cathedral of Santa Maria delle Colonne more commonly called simply the Duomo di Siracusa / Cathedral of Siracusa. This beautiful structure with its imposing columned facade is adorned by some of the most beautiful relief carvings and statues in all of Italy. The style of the Duomo is Sicilian Baroque with Roman influences. Don’t miss the cathedral interior and the detailed stained glass window depicting the last supper.
The piazza is so large that it can be filled with people milling about and still seem spacious. If you are fortunate there will be a musician sharing their gift with passers-by or maybe even an open market.
Siracusa has a population of about 120,000 and as such is a manageable size for even just a one day visit but if you have more time to linger here are a few more other sights to add to your itinerary.
- Tempio di Apollo
- Ortygia Market
- Castello Maniace
- Latomia del Paradiso
- Chiesa di San Giovanni alle Catacombe di Siracusa
- Siracusa Museo Archeologico
- The Greek Theatre
- The Roman Amphitheater
- Latomia dei Cappuccini