Follow our Sicily travel guide to help plan your trip to this beautiful volcanic island to the south of Italy. We cover everything from the best areas to stay, the top things to do and where to eat.
What does Sicily have to offer?
Known as the ball of Italy’s boot shape when looking at a map, Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean. We believe Sicily to be happy the medium between the bustling cities of mainland Italy and the laid back, seaside experience of the Mediterranean islands.
Its capital, Palermo, is a bustling industrial city with a historic centre. It has plenty of sights and museums, whilst the coastline is dotted with pretty seaside resorts and small villages.
In addition to the beautiful white sand beaches, delicious seafood and hot weather you’d find across the region, we believe the following make Sicily unique and worth a visit if you haven’t been before:
- The capital of Palermo has recently been awarded ‘Street Food Capital of Europe’. That’s quite a feat of accomplishment and gives you an idea of just how great the cuisine is. A local version of pizza called Sfincione was the most delicious dish we tried
- Sicily has a collection of ancient ruins, history and artefacts to rival Greece. Visit Syracuse if you want a taste of Ancient Greece, with excellently preserved ruins
- Being part of Italy, many would assume it shares the same culture. However, Sicily is very much in tune with its traditional identity before it joined Italy and you’ll find its way of life and people to be quite different.
- Being a volcanic island, you’ll find the beaches are varied. Black and red sands line the small islands to the north and brilliant white sand beaches are on the mainland. Did we mention the island is home to the largest active volcano in Europe?
When to visit
Sicily is a great place to visit in Spring and Autumn, maintaining temperatures between 20 and 30 degrees Celsius. With southern parts of the island on the same latitude as the North African coast, temperatures can soar, especially in the summer months. The light sea breeze makes the heat manageable, which is ideal for those who like the sunshine but don’t want uncomfortable levels of heat.
As with most European holiday destinations, July and August are more expensive months to visit. April to May and September offer an ideal compromise of cost to good weather. A lot of places may also close in August as locals choose to relax, stay out of the hot sun and enjoy a holiday themselves. Therefore, we recommend visiting out of the peak summer season.
How to get there from the UK
Sicily is a large island with 4 airports – Palermo, Catania, Trapani and Comiso. The 2 latter airports being the smallest of options, generally catering to low-cost European airlines. You’ll find regular flights from the UK to Palermo and Catania but some airlines such as Ryanair also fly to the smaller airports from Stansted. These flights are less regular. We recommend picking an airport closest to the corner of the island you’re staying on and you’ll be within one hour of your resort.
Where to stay in Sicily – area comparison
Although Sicily has popular resorts spread out across its coastline and smaller island destinations accessible by ferry, we’ve chosen the following holiday beach resort locations to base yourself. They each have excellent scenery, they’re clean, have plenty of things to do and are in accessible locations. Of course, you can always visit other resorts and areas of the island during your visit. We highly recommend taking a day-trip or renting a car.
San Vito Lo Capo
San Vito Lo Capo is one of our favourite areas to visit. It has two beautiful beaches, stunning scenery and is within a short drive of the historic city of Palermo – a must-see day trip if you’re staying nearby. Located to the northwest tip of Sicily, it’s surrounded by a picturesque coastline to its east and the legendary town of Trapani to the west. San Vito Lo Capo is known by the locals to have one of the best beaches on the island. It’s also one of the most popular summer break spots for both locals and foreigners.
Attracting celebrities and yacht owners to this vibrant area of Sicily, Taormina definitely has a glamorous feel to it. It has a medieval town centre surrounded by boutique shops and restaurants and an excellent selection of beaches. Our favourite is Mezzaro, a pebbled beach with plenty of amenities. Taormina is an ideal holiday destination for those who want a luxurious and relaxing visit to Sicily, within a short drive of many of the east coast attractions and sites. The majestic Mount Etna right on your doorstep!
Cefalu is located at the northern edge of the island a short drive from Palermo. It’s a quiet fishing village throughout the winter months but it comes alive in the summer as tourists from all over Europe flock to its large, impressive beach. The town itself is well looked after and has a number of Piazza’s and historic buildings to visit. A stunning Cathedral and a busy fishing harbour are well worth checking out when you’re not relaxing on the beach. Cefalu is great for both quiet family holidays or couples retreats and its location means you’re within a relatively short drive to both the Palermo and Catania areas of the island.
A note on Syracuse
If you’d prefer a cultural break away from the beaches, exploring ancient buildings, museums and Sicilian culture of Syracuse is an excellent choice. It reminds us of staying in the old quarter of many European cities.
The top things to do in Sicily
Our Sicily travel guide wouldn’t be complete without featuring some great things to do! Being a large island, the attractions will vary between areas, however here are our top 5 excursions in Sicily. Each are well worth visiting from wherever you’re staying.
Valley of the Temples (Valle dei Templi) – If you could only see one historical location in Sicily, the Valley of the Temples should be number 1 on your list. These wonderfully preserved ancient Greek ruins and temples take you back in time. They’re sure to impress all ages and interests!
Mount Etna – Europe’s largest active volcano (which recently erupted) is a short drive from Catania. Check out this monstrous but impressive natural wonder. Volcano Stromboli is also a great option if it’s closer to where you’re staying. We recommend joining a tour group to explore the area properly and gain an insight into the history and science of the volcano
Palermo – known as the ‘most conquered city in the world’, Palermo is the bustling capital city of Sicily, offering plenty of historic sites, small cafes and interesting museums to explore on a day trip. It also recently won the ‘best street food in Europe’ award, showing just how delicious the cuisine can be. Although you’ll find food stalls dotted around the city, the markets of Capo and Ballaro are the particular foodie hotspots.
Ortigia – Ortigia is the historical centre of Syracuse, which is one of our recommended places to stay. This stone walled and narrow street town stretches out into the ocean, offering tourists plenty of Baroque style buildings to gaze at. It also provides romantic walks through the medieval streets and bustling ‘piazzas’ of local shops, markets and food stalls.
Egadi Islands – take a ferry from Trapani to the east of the islands to the small Egadi islands. This collection of 3 islands showcases impressive scenery, a warm, turquoise ocean and amazing beaches to relax and enjoy the sunshine. The Egadi islands are best for those staying to the east of the island. It can be quite a trek to reach them from the Catania side of Sicily.
Consult our beloved Tripadvisor for all of the top recommended attractions on the island.
Our favourite beaches
Spiaggia di Macari
Macari is one of the main beaches in the popular San Vito Lo Capo area, which also appears in our ‘places to stay’ recommendations. Choose from an area of sandy, pebbled or rocky area of the beach and relax in the hot sun. The beach can get crowded in some area but it’s large enough to find a quiet spot if you want some downtime alone. The nearby San Vito Lo beach is also a good option.
Isola Bella is a beautiful, small island to the northeast Taormina area of Sicily. It’s adjacent to a coastline strip of beaches, coves and rocks and has a truly unique appearance. Take a stroll along the pebble beach, relax in the shade or take a hike to the top of the hill for stunning views and photos.
Although it’s not as pretty as the other beaches we’ve mentioned and is typical to a white sand beach you’d find in many Italian resorts, Fontane Bianche makes our list as it’s located in the popular holiday area of Syracuse. It has lots of restaurants and bars lining the coastline and is ideal for families as there’s lots to do.
Top traveller’s tips
- Roads in Sicily can be quite dangerous due to some erratic turns and chaotic drivers. However, car rentals are a great way of getting around if you plan on seeing lots of the islands. An alternative to car rental is the local train service or joining a tour group. These are good options if you only plan on venturing out around the island a few times during your holiday.
- The coastal resorts are the places to be on your holiday, perfect for relaxing and enjoying the beaches, however you should definitely travel inland to see some of the sights mentioned above. They include local villages, Greek ruins and great views! The seafood on the coastline is also the freshest and is quite inexpensive.
- As one of the food capitals of Europe exciting local desserts are commonplace everywhere you go and they’re delicious. Did we mention Palermo won an award for its street cuisine? The Cannoli’s are to die for and even the ice cream tastes better. Indulge and enjoy
- Unlike Italy, we found that a lot of locals didn’t understand English. Learn some local phrases before you go to make your trip easier and avoid confusion. We recommend the Duolingo app if you want to take your Italian to the next level.
Thanks for reading our ultimate Sicily travel guide. No matter which area of the island you choose, you’ll have a great time exploring this charming Italian island to its fullest. Put up your feet and relax by the beach or rent a car and go on an adventure to uncover the islands rich historic past…