As the largest Italian island, Sicily has endless options when it comes to places to see. Boasting a wonderful selection of archaeological sites, dreamy beaches, paradisiacal islands and quaint towns and villages, there won’t be a blank spot in your itinerary. The travel experts at Plum Guide have done all the research (which involved eating bowlfuls of pasta) so that you don’t have to worry about missing any of the island’s must-sees. With that being said, pack your stretchiest pants and take a look at our guide to the best places to visit in Sicily.
The ancient Greek theatre of Taormina
Want to hang out where the chic crowds go? Taormina is one of the most popular Italian summer destinations, a picturesque resort town set on the side of a mountain overlooking Sicily’s magnificent coast. It’s best known for its ancient Greek theatre, originally built in the third century and rebuilt a century later by the Romans. The theatre still plays host to dramas, concerts, symphonies, operas and ballet performances, as well as music festivals in the summer. The town itself is made up of pretty streets lined with romantic buildings, including the main street of Corso Umberto with its boutiques and open-air cafes. Many of these streets lead out onto squares and terraces where you can catch breathtaking views of the surrounding sea and mountains. One of our favourites is the Piazza IX Aprile, with its chequered floor and historical churches along its borders.
Agrigento and the Valley of the Temples
No trip to Sicily would be complete without exploring its ancient wonders. Sprawling out along a rocky promontory is the Valley of the Temples, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest archaeological site in the world. Built by the ancient Greeks in 500 BC, these beautifully preserved Doric temples once formed one of the largest cities in the world and are the most important remains of ancient classical culture in Sicily. History geeks may find it difficult to drag themselves away, but it’s worth paying a visit to the nearby city of Agrigento to mooch around its medieval centre, where narrow alleyways wind their way past grand mansions and old churches. End the day with a cold drink at one of the trattorias and bars which line Via Atenea.
The coastal city of Cefalù
What better paints a picture of a lazy Italian summer than lounging on a beach in a charming little seaside town? Set on Sicily’s northern coast, Cefalù is one of the island’s most wonderful seaside breaks, characterised by honey-hued stone buildings, narrow cobbled streets and its impressive Arab-Norman cathedral. Spend your days under a colourful umbrella on the crescent of yellow sand, getting up only to cool off in the calm waters. Take a wander through town, stopping for a gelato or drink in the quaint Piazza Garibaldi. Continue with a visit to the spectacular Duomo, home to stunning mosaics depicting Cristo PantocratoreI, or Christ All-Powerful. If you’re feeling powerful yourself, why not hike up La Rocca for spectacular views of the coastline? Alternatively, the old harbour is equally as charming with its rows of fishing boats and buzz of activity.
What would a trip to Sicily be without visiting its beautiful capital? Get lost in the maze of Palermo’s streets, lined with romantic old buildings, splendid medieval churches, including the distinctive Palermo Cathedral, and shady squares where you can stop for a refresher at an alfresco wine bar. Wander towards the city’s markets—Capo, Ballarò and Borgo Vecchio—and see what bargains you can find. Gourmands will be in their element as Palermo is home to the country’s best street food. Snack on panelle (chickpea fritters made from chickpea flour, water and spices), arancini (a deep-fried rice ball filled with ragu sauce or beef, ham, peas and cheese) and crocche (deep-fried potato fritters).
View of the Aeolian Islands
No jaunt around Sicily would be complete without setting sail to the Aeolian Islands. This archipelago in the Tyrrhenian Sea has plenty to offer, from Salina’s lush vineyards and Lipari’s vibrant street life to Stromboli and Vulcano’s volcanic drama. If hiking up to the craters of active volcanoes sounds like living a bit too much on the wild side, perhaps the islands’ gorgeous blue waters will lure you in—kayaking, diving, and snorkelling are popular activities. Reward yourself with a glass (or three) of Malvasia wine, a naturally sweet wine which tastes of sultanas ripened in the warm Mediterranean sunshine. Come nightfall, cosy up and enjoy a star-filled sky thanks to the absence of street lights.
Ever dreamed of quitting your job and starting over in a small Italian town, drinking wine and eating your body weight in pasta? If so, then Erice is one of the best places to visit in Sicily if you’re looking for inspiration. Perched atop the sacred peak of Eryx, this medieval town is a labyrinth of stone-paved streets, cosy little squares, grand churches and noble palaces. To fuel your wanders, pick up some dolci ericini (almond sweets) from the renowned Pasticceria di Maria Grammatico. Continue onto the Castello di Venere, a 12th-century Norman fortress built on top of an ancient Roman temple. Admire panoramic views of the coast from the Garden of Balio next door, a beautifully landscaped garden.
Riserva Naturale dello Zingaro
The natural reserve Riserva naturale dello zingaro
If you need to burn off all those Sicilian delicacies, a ramble in nature should do the trick. Riserva Naturale dello Zingaro is the island’s oldest nature reserve and a hiker’s paradise. Set out across a rugged coastline which stretches almost seven kilometres, the reserve is home to hiking trails which take you past pristine coves, through orchid-dotted meadows and blossoming almond trees. There’s plenty of wildlife to spot, too, including the rare Bonelli’s eagle and 40 other bird species. End your hike with a well-deserved dip (you can even snorkel) in the crystal-clear waters of one of the pretty pebbled beaches.
The Fountain of Arethusa in Syracuse
Visiting the thousand-year-old city of Syracuse is like stepping back in time. In the 8th century, it was the largest city in the ancient western world, where the Greeks founded Parco Archeologico della Neapolis, one of Italy’s best archaeological sites. The city’s ancient island and historical centre of Ortygia (connected by a bridge to the mainland) is a jumble of medieval alleyways. It’s the best place to get lost, one minute finding yourself in the Piazza Duomo gazing up at the majestic cathedral, and the next finding yourself at a bar with a Negroni in hand (oops).
For more fun by the sea, take a half-hour boat ride from Trapani to the magical Aegadian Islands. Surrounded by the crystalline waters of your dreams, this group of three islands offers the opportunity for activity-packed days or to simply do nothing. Favignana is the largest and busiest island, best for spending the day cycling around and going from swimming spot to swimming spot. Discover prehistoric cave paintings on picturesque Levanzo, or return to nature on the secluded Marettimo. Spend long, lazy days living out la dolce vita relaxing on fine golden sands, visiting historical attractions like the famous tuff queries, pottering around villages, rambling down country lanes, or exploring the caves, shipwrecks and rich sea life in the protected marine reserve around the islands.
Greek amphitheater ruins in Taormina with a view towards Mount Etna
How could we possibly leave Mount Etna off this list of best places to visit in Sicily? Now, before you decide that it’s too much of a challenge, you’ll be pleased to know that there are cable cars and even a narrow-gauge railway which takes you up to the top, so you won’t even have to break a sweat. Those keen to put their legs to good use can take one of the various hiking trails which take you past sleeping craters, lava flows and hot springs. At over 3,000 metres (its height is never certain as it changes with each eruption), you can imagine just how incredible the views from the top are.