Located in southern Italy, in the heart of the Mediterranean, the island of Sicily has a rich history spanning centuries. With influences from the Greeks, Romans, Moors, Normans, and Italians, the island has a unique character shaped by the tapestry of conquerors who have landed on its shores.
Sicily, rich in ancient beauty and stunning architecture, offers a unique fusion of history and modernity, making it an ideal destination for history lovers and leisure seekers. With its rich history and diverse range of attractions, Sicily invites adventurers to discover its secrets and guarantees an experience that will be cherished forever.
Best Time to Visit Sicily
The Italian island of Sicily is one of the few European destinations you can visit year-round as the sights don’t close in the shoulder or off-season.
The best months to visit Sicily are April, May, June, and October when crowds are smaller and temperatures mild. Sicily’s off-season (November-March) is cold and often rainy, but you’ll have the island to yourself and save money on accommodations.
July and August can get unbearably hot and crowded. September is the most crowded and expensive month to visit Sicily.
Things To Do in Sicily, Italy
Sicily has something to offer every type of traveler. Those looking to relax can enjoy the island’s pristine Mediterranean beaches. History lovers will marvel at the ancient cities, cathedrals, and Roman ruins dotted across the island. Foodies can taste Sicilian delicacies like arancini and cannoli at the local markets.
Palermo is Sicily’s vibrant capital city with a rich history and deep culture. With influences from a wide array of conquerors, spanning Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, and Normans, Palermo offers a unique blend of architectural styles and cultural influences.
Palermo’s Cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Palermo and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The cathedral’s architecture reflects Palermo’s many cultural influences under different rulers, incorporating Norman, Arabic, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles.
Beyond the Cathedral, Palermo is also home to numerous churches, each highlighting a different cultural influence in the city’s past. From stunning Byzantine mosaics to simple Moorish designs and intricate Baroque flourishes, these sacred sites offer a glimpse into Palermo’s heritage.
The culinary highlight of visiting Palermo is the Ballarò Market, a vibrant and colorful bazaar full of fresh produce and delicious street food. Taking a guided tour of the market will introduce you to foods you wouldn’t think to look for, like spleen sandwiches and lamb intestine skewers.
This stunning cathedral is one of Sicily’s most important religious sights. Located on the hills above Palermo, this gilded cathedral is easy to reach via public transit from the Sicilian capital.
Monreale Cathedral is famous for its interior, which is covered in golden Byzantine mosaics. These mosaics are larger than life: the hand of Jesus in the Christ Pantocrator Mosaic above the apse measures 6 feet. This grand scale means visitors on the ground floor can easily see the high-up mosaics.
After touring the inside of the cathedral, visitors can hike up to the roof terraces for views of Palermo and the Mediterranean Sea, or take a peaceful stroll in the cloisters.
Valley of the Temples, Agrigento
The Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, Sicily, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the best-preserved examples of Greek temples outside of Greece.
The site includes the ruins of seven temples, all constructed in the Doric style during the 5th and 6th centuries BCE. The most famous among them is the Temple of Concordia. This remarkably well-preserved building has been standing for over 2,000 years.
At the entrance to the site, visitors can stare downhill at the seven temples lining the road. It’s a remarkable archaeological site that leads visitors amongst the towering columns of the ancient ruins.
Mount Etna holds the title of Europe’s most active volcano. Despite its long history of eruptions that have destroyed the city of Catania six times in recorded history, the mountain is one of Sicily’s top tourist attractions.
Visiting Mount Etna is the perfect activity for adventure seekers traveling to Sicily. Various hiking trails cater to different fitness levels, as well as a cable car ride and jeep tours to the summit. The guided summit tours are led by knowledgeable guides who will teach you the history and geology of the volcano.
Throughout the Etna Valley are farms and vineyards, many family-run for multiple generations, offering visitors the chance to try local wines and produce. The volcanic terroir gives the wines a mineral edge. The region is best known for three grape varietals: Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, and Carricante. There are many local wineries offering tastings and tours of their facilities. Some notable Etna wineries are Filippo Grasso and Tenuta delle Terre Nere.
Beneath its rough and gritty exterior, Catania contains a unique charm. This Sicilian city is not for everyone, but those adventurous enough to visit will be rewarded with a treasure trove of historical gems and experiences.
Catania is famous for its cathedral which is crafted from volcanic stone. The city also holds an ancient Roman amphitheater and one of Italy’s few World War II museums. Yet the highlight of a visit to Catania is a stroll through its lively fish market.
Operating daily, the market brings together local fishermen who present their daily catch. This market is a symphony of sights, sounds, and smells and the perfect place to experience an authentic slice of Sicilian life.
Ortigia is a small island located in Syracuse and famous for its ancient Greek and Roman roots. It’s a fascinating destination for travelers interested in ancient history. The main attraction in Ortigia is the cathedral, which was built utilizing the ruins of a Greek temple. This repurposing of structures highlights the deep historical layers of Sicily, where different eras and cultures overlap.
Ortigia is full of narrow laneways that spill out towards the waterfront, with stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea. This atmospheric old town offers visitors the perfect blend of history, charm, and tranquility.
The small town of Taormina on the east coast of Sicily is a popular getaway for Italians and other Europeans. The town is built into the steep hillside offering breathtaking views of the Ionian Sea.
While Taormina is known as a glitzy seaside shopping destination for mainland Italians, the town has more to offer than boutiques and restaurants.
The main historical draw is the Greco-Roman Theatre. Built into the hillside to take advantage of the natural elevation gain, with a backdrop of Mount Etna and the Ionian Sea, this is one of the most beautifully situated Greco-Roman theatres in the world.
With its charm, history, and picturesque location, Taormina is the perfect place to base yourself to explore eastern Sicily.
Mosaics at Villa Romana del Casale
Located near Piazza Armerina in central Sicily, the mosaics at Villa Romana del Casale are another of Sicily’s many UNESCO World Heritage sites. These intricate and well-preserved Roman mosaics are considered one of the most significant examples of Roman art in the world.
The villa’s mosaics cover the floors of numerous rooms and halls, depicting various aspects of Roman life. Themes include hunting, mythological narratives, daily activities, and exotic animals. The villa, likely constructed in the early 4th century CE, showcases the wealth and artistic patronage of its owner, believed to be a Roman aristocrat.
The villa is a worthwhile destination but hard to reach on public transit. The best way to get there is by renting a car and driving in Sicily. Despite being hard to reach, these detailed mosaics are well worth the effort to get to them.
Baroque City of Noto
Noto is a planned city in central Sicily famous for its baroque architecture. After a devastating earthquake in 1693, the entire town was rebuilt in the Baroque style. Today, Noto is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and celebrated for the churches, palaces, and public buildings with their complementary architecture and ornate facades.
Strolling through Noto’s streets, you can’t help but admire the unity and harmony of the Baroque designs. At sunset, the town’s honey-colored limestone buildings glow warmly, making this town a popular destination for photographers.
Neapolis Archaeological Park, Syracuse
The Neapolis Archaeological Park in Syracuse is a major Sicilian landmark and home to the largest ancient Greek theater in the world. This immense structure overlooking the bay of Syracuse once held 15,000 spectators.
During the time of the Ancient Greeks, locals came to the theater to watch plays and hear political speeches. When the ancient Romans came along, they altered the theater so they could flood the stage and hold ship battles for spectators. Today, visitors can enjoy regular showings of traditional Greek plays performed in Italian.
Temple of Segesta
The ancient city of Segesta was home to the Elymian people, one of three indigenous groups that inhabited Sicily before the arrival of the Phoenicians in the 11th century BCE. Outside the ruins of this ancient city stands a well-preserved Doric temple shrouded in mystery. The temple was never completed, abandoned before it was finished, but no one knows why.
The Temple of Segesta archaeological site also includes a Roman amphitheater with seats for 4,000 spectators. During the summer months, the theater hosts live concerts and plays.
The archaeological site is located 30 minutes outside the city of Trapani and is an easy day trip if staying in the region. Visitors must take a moderate hike to the temple or pay a fee to ride the shuttle bus.
This volcanic archipelago of seven islands off the northern coast of Sicily offers a tranquil getaway that contrasts with the chaotic energy of Sicily’s large cities. With breathtaking scenery and rich culture and heritage, these picturesque islands are perfect for travelers looking to get off the beaten path during their trip to Sicily.
Lipari is the largest island and where most travelers base themselves for exploring the region. The islands offer a considerable number of activities for outdoor enthusiasts. Go snorkeling with dolphins and sea turtles in the island’s pristine waters, hike Stromboli volcano, or take a boat excursion through the pristine blue waters.
The northern Sicilian town of Cefalù is famous for its gold sand, Norman cathedral, and medieval town center with cobblestoned streets. For beautiful views, visitors can take the steep hike up to La Rocca, a popular viewpoint that dominates the town and was once the site of a Norman castle. Along the way are the ruins of the Temple of Diana. The origins of the temple have been lost to time, but archaeologists believe the ruins date back over 2,000 years to the 4th or 5th centuries BCE.
Cefalù’s charm lies in its historic streets. Take time to wander the medieval town center, lingering over an Aperol spritz or gelato in the town square while staring up at the imposing Duomo.
Perched on a mountain-top in the very center of Sicily is Enna. The city is perhaps best known for its proximity to Pergusa Lake, Sicily’s only natural lake and a migratory stop for thousands of birds flying between Europe and Africa.
Within the town, visitors can explore Lombardy Castle. This medieval castle is one of the largest in Italy and has been under the rule of Byzantines, Arabs, and Normans. Enna is also home to some beautiful churches, including the Baroque Duomo and the Church of San Marco, built on the remains of an old synagogue.
Foods To Try In Sicily
Sicilian food is unique from food in the rest of Italy, heavily influenced by Arab conquerors. The Arab influence can be felt best in the region’s delicious deserts, which are sweeter than those in mainland Italy. The best-known Sicilian dessert is cannoli, a hard-fried shell-shaped tube stuffed with a sweet ricotta filling and topped with chocolate chips or pistachios.
Another popular Sicilian dish with a heavy Arab influence are Arancini. These fried rice balls are seasoned with saffron and stuffed with ragu, mozzarella, and peas for a delicious and hearty appetizer. The dish originated in Palermo, the capital of Sicily, while under Arab rule.
Vacationing in Sicily, Italy
From exploring ancient Greek and Roman ruins to indulging in Sicilian cuisine bursting with fresh flavors, your time in Sicily will be rich with cultural immersion. Whether you lounge on gorgeous beaches along the Mediterranean coast or wander through hilltop villages, vacationing in Sicily, Italy, is a one-of-a-kind experience.
Tamar Marder runs World by Weekend where she helps others transform brief getaways into deep, culturally-rich adventures. When not writing, she's busy exploring Europe with two kids in tow.