When you picture yourself travelling through Italy, you might imagine sampling wines in Tuscany or strolling down the fashionable streets of Milan, but there’s a lot more to this exquisite country than just a few popular destinations. Life moves at a different pace on the island of Sicily. In 2021, this gorgeous place will be one of the hottest new destinations for travellers looking to combine history, culture and natural beauty. If you’re thinking of heading to this sunny island, these are the ultimate places to visit in Sicily.
A striking coastal city in the north of Sicily, the sun-drenched village of Cefalù should definitely score a spot on your bucket list. You’ll spend hours relaxing in the sunshine on beaches including the very popular Spiaggia di Cefalù, Kalura, Libera and Presidiana. Of course, there’s more to this town than stunning beaches.
The Duomo di Cefalù (Cathedral of Cefalù) is one of nine UNESCO World Heritage-listed Arab-Norman Palermo sights. The Normans incorporated Arab and Byzantine architectural styles into their buildings, which have a unique and beautiful look that showcases the long, complex history of Sicily. See it for yourself at the Cathedral, which is one of the most beautiful historical sights to visit in Italy. Keen to find out more about the many rulers of this beautiful city? Check out the local archaeology, art and heritage museum, Museo Mandralisca.
Perched on a hilltop on Sicily’s east coast, Taormina is one of the most popular places for travellers to visit. Old world charm meets vibrant nightlife in Taormina, which was founded way back in the 4th century and has been inhabited by Greeks, Romans and Normans.
History buffs and architecture nerds will have their fill, with the Piazza IX Aprile plaza, Madonna della Rocca church and the ancient Teatro Greco (Greek Theatre), which has incredible views of lush green mountains and beautiful beaches. Meanwhile, leisure-seekers will keep entertained in the trendy restaurants and bars of this unabashed resort town. Plus, it’s considered the home of delicacies like Arancini and Cannoli – making it the perfect stop for foodies.
The capital of Sicily, Palermo is a must-visit when travelling through the island. With Roman, Greek and Arabic influences, the city of Palermo offers countless historical gems with ancient palaces, royal tombs and churches to explore. From the stunning mosaics of the Cappella Palatina church to the Baroque style of the Piazza Pretoria and Praetorian Fountain, you’ll be kept very busy exploring the streets of the city. When you’re done with sightseeing, head to the Ballarò Market for an experience like no other, where you can sample fresh local produce and mingle with the Sicilian locals.
Experience the vibrant culture of Sicily in this seaside port city, with gritty local bars, distinctive drink kiosks around town and a unique food scene. Check out the Catania Fish Market, Piazza Carlo Alberto Market and La Pescheria for local street food and fresh produce.
See Baroque design features scattered around the city, with sights like the Piazza del Duomo, Cathedral of Saint Agatha, Palazzo Biscari, Church of San Benedetto, Basilica della Collegiata and the monastery of San Nicolò l’Arena. You can also explore the ancient Roman sights of Terme Achilliane (a historic bathhouse) and the ruins of the Roman Amphitheatre.
5. Mount Etna
A short drive from the towns of Taormina and Catania lays the stratovolcano Mount Etna. It’s the highest active volcano in Europe and is one of the coolest natural sights to see in the world. You can take a walking tour or bike ride along the trails, to take in the majestic size and power of the volcano. It comes as a surprise to many tourists, but the vast slopes of the volcano are actually so fertile, they’re also dotted with several wineries you can visit. Yep, this is one cool place to add to your Italian Bucket List.
One of the oldest cities in Sicily, Agrigento was one of the largest and richest colonies of Ancient Greece. That explains why some of the best sights to see are in the UNESCO listed Archaeological Area of Agrigento, which is known as ‘Valley of the Temples’ and is filled with temples and structures dating back to the 6th century BCE. Back in town, Via Atenea and Viale della Vittoria are two of the best shopping streets for tourists to stroll along, while the FARM Cultural Park offers exhibitions of unique modern artworks.
If you’ve got the time, drive just 20 minutes to see the Scala dei Turchi (Stair of the Turks), a white limestone cliff with breathtaking views of the sunset. It’s one of the best things to do in Sicily.
There’s a lot to love about the historic city of Erice, which is perched on a mountain top above the port of Trapani. The medieval town boasts castles, ruins and museums aplenty. The Castello di Venere is one of the most enchanting sights to see, with 12th century Norman architecture and views of the sea. The nearby Torretta Pepoli Villa and Chiesa Madre church are also worth a spot on your historic walking tour through Erice.
Of course, one of the best ways to experience a new town or country is to eat your way through local delicacies. Here in Erice, the Genovesi di Erice is the go-to dessert. Try one of these sweet Sicilian pastries – and other local desserts – at spots like Pasticceria di Maria Grammatico, Pasticceria San Carlo and Antica Pasticceria del Convento. When you’re done sampling each and every sweet treat in the town, be sure to check out the artisanal stores with hand-crafted ceramics and woven carpets.
8. Castellammare del Golfo
A short distance from Erice and Trapani lies Castellammare del Golfo, a seaside town that extends around a medieval fortress in the harbour. The castle is obviously one of the most popular things to see in town, with plenty of tours exploring the Norman-Arabic palace. The historic town is also home to some seriously beautiful churches, including Madonna della Scala and Church of the Rosario.
The ultimate way to spend time in the south of Italy is to kick back and enjoy the sunshine! Travellers favour the ease of the crescent-shaped Cala Petròlo beach (pictured below), which runs alongside the curved walls of the fortress. Other popular beaches to visit along the turquoise coastline include Cala Marina and La Plaja. Another popular seaside place to see is the Tonnara di Scopello hotel and open-air museum (pictured at the top of the article), a short drive from town and the perfect pit-stop on your way back to the Trapani Port.
The UNESCO-protected town of Noto is another spot famed for Sicilian Baroque architecture, with beautiful buildings everywhere you look. Enter the city from the east side to pass through the Porta Reale o Ferdinandea, an archway that leads you to the main thoroughfare, Corso Vittorio Emanuele. Noto is easy to navigate, with sights like the Nicolaci Palace, Saint Charles Church, Church of Santa Chiara, Palazzo Ducezio, Church of Saint Francis and, of course, 18th-century Noto Cathedral all in the centre of town.
Take a short drive and you’ll find yourself diving into crystalline waters, with Eloro-Pizzuta, Calamosche, Vendicari and Marianelli among the best beaches in the area. Treat yourself to the “best cannoli in Sicily” at Pasticceria Dolce Barocco Tardonato Di Giovanni, or sample some of the most delicious gelatos from the 128-year-old Caffè Sicilia. Life’s a dream in Noto!