Italy's largest island is surrounded by the sea; three of them actually, the Ionian, Tyrrhenian and Mediterranean engulf Sicily and its smaller offspring, the little islands: The Aeolians, Egadi and Pelagie Islands, Pantelleria and Ustica.
Its rocky crust is peppered with archaeological sites and volcanoes, its streets lined with good things to eat. (For the frugal, the good things to eat aren't generally offered by celebrity chefs; the best of Sicilian cuisine is found in street food and in markets.)
And though you might not have thought about it, Wine travel is also very good in Sicily, especially in the west.
Sicilians build things like they will live forever and eat like they will die tomorrow. - Plato
Sicily is separated by the Straits of Messina; if you arrive by car you'll cross from mainland Italy to Sicily via a short ferry ride. On our map the red boxes indicate recommended beaches. There are many more, but you have to start to narrow down your choices, don't you?
The lines connecting the cities represent the rail lines of Sicily. Trains in Sicily are slow, but the distances short. You can get around Mount Etna on the Circumetnea, a narrow gauge regional line that circles the volcano for 110 kilometers starting from the station of Giarre - Risposto, marked on the map. For a description of the ride with some great pictures, see: The Circumetnea Railway - A Ride Around Etna.
Arriving at Messina, the port of entry to Sicily for cars and trains, you can take a train to Palermo for less than 20 euro. [Messina to Palermo by train or bus] but the journey of 118 miles or 191 km takes a tad over three hours.
Sicily's best beaches are marked by red boxes on the map. A very interesting corner of Sicily is the Val di Noto, marked on the southeastern section of the map.
Founded in 733BC, Siracusa was a mighty Greek colony about three times the size of today’s city. Siracusa has a castle, churches, a great fish market, catacombs, and several Greek and Roman sites, including a famous Greek theater and Roman arena. The Neapolis Archaeological park contains the Greek Theater of Syracuse and the cave called the Ear of Dionysus and we really enjoyed our visit. [tickets]
Palermo is the capital and most important city in Sicily. Once one of the top luxury destinations in Italy before falling out of favor with tourists, it is now crawling its way back into traveler's hearts through their stomachs as they rediscover the fine traditional gastronomy of this sunny destination. After a knockout lunch, you'll want to stroll the city from the Cathedral to the 12th century Capella Palatina and the Norman Palace to nearby San Giovanni degli Eremiti. Then it's on to those fabulous Palermo gardens or a walk along the beach. If you crave more beach, the charming resort town of Cefalu is less than an hour away by train; a ticket will cost you about $10.
While Palermo has its fine seafood, it has built a reputation on street food--and the king of that street food is Pani ca' Meusa.
Palermo has many hotels, so it doesn't have to cost a lot to stay a while. Visitors like the Bed and Breakfast Alba Camere for its location, comfort, wifi, and free bike rentals.
We spent a very fine week at Downtown House, a well-located, well-managed apartment in the heart of Palermo.
Taormina is an all time favorite city in Sicily Here's a bit of what's there:
It would be a shame to spend time in Taormina while lodging in a crumbling hovel. This is the place for a splurge and the five star Hotel El Jebel is the place to do it. Less expensive but still highly rated is the three star La Pensione Svizzera. If your pocketbook is not ready for a splurge, there are Taormina Hostels available, many with private rooms, that are quite nice.
Popular to visit are the Greek archaeological sites at Selinunte, Segesta, and the site of Erice, near Trapani:
Standing atop a mountain (around 750 metres above sea level) overlooking nearby Trapani and the beaches of San Vito Lo Capo, delightful Erice is almost something of a western Sicilian Taormina. There are some ancient Elymian and Phoenician walls surrounding the northeastern side of the city, and two castles, Pepoli Castle, with foundations dating from Arab times, and nearby Venus Castle, dating from the Norman period but built on ruins of the ancient Temple of Venus (or Astarte) where it is believed that ritual prostitution was practiced. Surrounded by a lush park, the hilltop castles alone are worth a stop in Erice, which offers charming old stone streets and several medieval churches. Pepoli Castle was at first a feudal stronghold, though Erice was eventually ceded to the Crown as a demesnial city. The view from the castle towers is stupendous. Though both castles have been modified somewhat over the centuries, they still have that distinctively medieval character one expects of such fortresses. (Pepoli Castle is now a hotel.) ~ The Best of Sicily
Pepoli Castle hosts the Torri Popoli Resort. Lodging tends to be inexpensive on this end of Sicily, so you'll find many options using the buttons below.
One of the most spectacular Roman sites outside of Rome is the Villa Romana del Casale just outside the town of Piazza Armerina. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is known for its mosaics. The sprawling villa--there are over 50 rooms--is one of the most luxurious of its kind; the bathrooms had underfloor heating. You can see the villa in the following video.
Sicily is a big destination for food and wine enthusiasts. Judy Witts-Francini, Divina Cucina, provides lively food and wine tours of the island. Highly recommended.
Street food in Sicily is considered some of the best in Europe, and Palermo is tops in the category. You can take a very reasonably priced Palermo Street Food Tour and eat the best.
If you have come to Sicily by Train or by air, you can still get around with one of the many Viator tours of Sicily. You can, for example, take a Mount Etna Day Trip from Taormina, or see the Valley of the Temples and Villa Romana del Casale on a Day Trip from Taormina from this list of the best of Sicily tours.
Sicily has three airports. The smallest is Trapani Airport. Larger are Palermo and Catania; you will probably be coming into Sicily via one of these. Viator offers a very popular private arrival transfer from Palermo Airport direct to your hotel.
Palermo's proximity to the sea gives it a very moderate climate with an extremely narrow range between the expected high and low temperatures. See the charts at Palermo Historic climate and Current Weather.
There's probably no better place to learn the vibrant side of Italian cooking than Sicily, and you can even find recipes for inspector Montalbano's favirite foods. See: Modica - What's cooking in Sicily.
We have a huge collection of Maps for every region and many historic territories and sub regions.