There’s much more to Sicily than its dubious reputation as the home of the Italian Mafia. As the largest island in the Mediterranean, Sicily isn’t short of attractions and activities. Whether you’re there to learn more about history, laze around on a beach, get active in nature, sample delicious local cuisine or get your fill of vino, this island offers something for everyone. Our travel experts here at Plum Guide have been and done it all, and we’ve put together an expert guide to help you discover the best things to do in Sicily.
Hike up Mount Etna
Cable cars leading to the top of Mount Etna
That’s right; we’re suggesting you conquer one of the most active volcanoes on earth. At over 3,000 metres (its height is never certain as it changes with each eruption), it watches over the island with its often-smoking cone. To get to the top, various hiking trails take you past sleeping craters, lava flows and hot springs. It can be a challenging climb, though it’s well worth the effort for the otherworldly views. But we’ll let you in on a secret: you don’t have to hike for the vistas—cable cars and a narrow-gauge railway do all the hard work for you.
Chill out at the beach
View of San Vito Lo Capo beach with Monte Monaco in the background, Sicily
Surrounded by the azure Mediterranean, Ionian and Tyrrhenian Seas, it’s hard to resist dipping your toe into Sicily’s waters. Take a day out of your busy schedule to relax on the island’s many beaches, where warm, clear waters lap against the shore, and bronzed bodies recline under photogenic clusters of colourful parasols. Sicily has its fair share of undeveloped beaches, such as the pristine Torre Salsa, which lies inside a World Wildlife Fund nature reserve. Backed by white chalk cliffs, its clear waters are filled with marine life—an excellent spot for snorkelling and diving. Sheltered by a majestic headland, the idyllic San Vito Lo Capo is another fantastic beach boasting soft white sand and swaying palm trees.
Admire Villa Romana del Casale
Built during the fourth century, Villa Romana del Casale is one of the best-preserved villas from the Roman Empire. In the 12th century, a landslide buried the villa, only for it to be rediscovered in the 19th century. Found almost intact, the villa contains some of the most beautiful and complex Roman mosaics. Over 3,500 square metres of mosaics have been unearthed so far, and you can take a guided tour to admire the detailed scenes from mythology and contemporary life. Make sure to see the thermal baths with their colonnaded courtyard.
Explore Riserva Naturale Orientata dello Zingaro
Any nature lovers looking for things to do in Sicily should explore the Orientata dello Zingaro nature reserve. Set up in 1981, this was the first nature reserve in Sicily and consists of a mountain chain and a coastline stretching almost seven kilometres. Only accessible on foot, take a leisurely ramble through the park and along the coast, keeping your eye out for several bird species, such as peregrine falcons and owls, which make their home here. The nature reserve also offers access to several coves so you can reward yourself with a cooling dip after your hike.
Indulge in Sicilian cuisine
Close-up of delicious traditional Sicilian pastries
We hope you’ve brought your comfiest pair of sweatpants because you’ll need them if you’re eating your way around Sicily. With influences from Arabia, Africa, Spain and Italy, Sicilian cuisine is a melting pot of flavour. Start with soft and crispy arancini—what’s not to love about deep-fried balls of creamy risotto? Head to Catania on the island’s east coast and tuck into pasta alla norma, arguably the best representation of Sicilian cuisine. Made with local tomatoes, aubergines, garlic, basil and fresh ricotta, this pasta dish will have you asking the chef for a refill. Finish strong with two of Sicily’s signature desserts, the cassata siciliana, a sponge cake soaked with fruit juices or liqueur and layered with ricotta and candied fruit, and the classic cannoli, tubes of fried dough filled with creamy ricotta.
Catch a show at Teatro Massimo
Paying a visit to the elegant Teatro Massimo, the largest opera house in Italy, is one of the best things to do in Sicily for culture vultures. Built between 1875 and 1897, this neoclassical building is a distinctive landmark in Palermo. It’s a massive architectural complex, and the various halls, galleries and grand staircases are adorned with rich ornaments like antique mirrors, golden ornaments and Murano chandeliers. Guided tours are offered daily, but we highly recommend checking out their timetable and sitting in on an opera, ballet or classical music concert.
Visit Taormina and its Greek theatre
Ancient Greek theatre in Taormina, Sicily
On the east coast of Sicily lies the picturesque hilltop town of Taormina. It’s known for its magnificent ancient Greek theatre overlooking the sea, which was originally built in the third century and rebuilt a century later by the Romans. The theatre remains in fantastic condition and still hosts dramas, concerts, symphonies, operas and ballet performances. While you’re in town, take the time to wander around the maze of streets which lead out onto squares and terraces, each one with breathtaking views of sea or mountain (the chequered Piazza IX Aprile, bordered by gorgeous historical churches, is one of our favourite piazzas).
Marvel at Gole dell’Alcantara
Picturesque view of Alcantara Gorge, Sicily
Sicily isn’t short of natural wonders, and the Alcantara Gorge is one of its finest offerings. Located in the Gole Alcantara Botanical and Geological Park, this towering gorge was created by lava centuries ago. The magma percolated along the Alcantara River, creating a series of horizontal and vertical basalt walls, some as tall as 50 metres. Today, the crystal clear waters of the river run through this unspoiled landscape, making for an exciting day out. To get the most of the views of this incredible place, take a hike on one of the trails which lead you past beaches and waterfalls. Thrill-seekers can take it a notch further and go kayaking or body rafting in the rapids.
Sip wine at a vineyard
Vineyard with view of Castiglione di Sicilia in the distance
What could be more representative of la dolce vita than sipping wine in the sunshine? Oenophiles will be pleased to know that despite its size, Sicily is home to an impressive 450 wineries. Unless you have the time and dedication to visit every single one (we’re jealous), this makes it difficult to narrow down. However, some of our favourites include Planeta, one of Sicily’s best-known winemakers; Casa Vincola Fazio, which runs on entirely renewable energy; and Barone di Villagrande which is set on the eastern side of Etna and boasts incredible views of the sea and countryside.
Have an adventure in the Valley of Temples
View of the Temple of Concordia and surrounding greenery, Sicily
Channel your inner Indiana Jones and explore the sprawling complex of the Valley of Temples. Measuring around 1,300 hectares, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is the largest archaeological site in the world. Located just outside Agrigento in a beautiful valley with flowering almond trees, this is Sicily's most important remains of ancient classical culture. This collection of eight temples dates back as far as 500 BC, and while each is significant, the Temple of Concordia is particularly important as it’s one of the most perfectly preserved Greek ruins in the world.
Bag a bargain at the local markets
Busy street market with local traders in Sicily
To really get a feel for the culture of a place, the best thing to do is visit the local markets. Sicily has regular markets in most towns on the island, while smaller villages tend only to have them a couple of times a week. Starting in Palermo, the capital, you’ll find some of Italy's most famous food markets. Ballarò is one of the oldest, a loud and frenetic place where you’ll find everything from fresh produce to street food delicacies. La Pescheria, the lively fish market in Catania, is the best place to pick up the freshest range of seafood. There are many seafood restaurants in the surrounding streets where you can enjoy super-fresh delicacies like zuppa di pesce (seafood soup).
Set sail to the Aegadian Islands
Sailing boats off the coast of Levanzo Island with towering cliffs above
A half-hour boat ride from Trapani takes you to the magical Aegadian Islands. Whether you choose to spend time on the lively Favignana, discover the prehistoric cave paintings on the picturesque Levanzo, or get back to nature on secluded Marettimo, it’s the perfect spot for island hopping. Spend your days relaxing on fine golden sands, visiting historical attractions like the famous tuff queries, pottering around villages, hiking up slopes and down country lanes, or exploring the caves, shipwrecks and rich sea life in the protected marine reserve around the islands.