Sicily is the southernmost region of Italy and being also an island with fewer connections with the mainland compared to Northern or Central Italy makes it often a secondary holiday destination for tourists on their trip to Italy. Most consider major cities like Rome, Florence, Milan, and Venice along with other parts of the Italian regions.
However, thanks to its strategic position, in the past centuries Sicily was considered as the heart of the Mediterranean sea and an essential seaside hub for all the ancient civilizations that have followed one another over the centuries.
As soon as you travel to this land, so rich in history and culture, you will witness the several ancient civilizations that dominated the island.
The Phoenicians colonized the island during the VIII century B.C. and the remains of this culture are still remarkable and can be seen in Motya (Mozia), a small island in front of Trapani.
The Greeks and Romans, whose inheritance and use of the island are so tangible as you can see from such panoramic places as the stunning Valley of Temples in Agrigento or the incredible archaeological park of Syracuse. These are just some examples of the architectural treasures of ancient ages that a visitor such as yourself can spend the whole day exploring.
Also, the Arabian people were very affluent in Sicily for a significant period (827 B.C. to 1091 A.C.), and their culture is still incredibly strong in Sicilian traditions. Did you know that the worldwide popular Sicilian oranges were introduced in Sicily by the Arabians to decorate their beautiful gardens?!
Last, but not least, it is worth mentioning also the Norman, Spanish and French inhabitants are visible in the many magnificent Castles perched above in several enjoyable Sicilian towns.
HOW TO GET TO SICILY
Sicily is quite a big island (9,927 square miles) and hosts two well-connected airports (Catania and Palermo) and other 2 smaller ones in Trapani and Comiso. Many low-cost airlines have added routes from several major international cities (check out Easyjet, Ryanair, and Vueling).
The island is connected with the rest of the Italian Peninsula via a narrow canal, called Stretto di Messina, which allows you to get into Messina town from Reggio Calabria in less than 1 hour on a ferry. It is worth mentioning that also cars, buses, and trains go onto the ferry, which connects the island with the mainland.
Of course, it is possible to reach Sicily also via boat/cruise or sailboat, with many harbors in the main cities such as Catania, Messina, Palermo, Milazzo, Syracuse, Trapani, etc.
BEST TIME TO VISIT SICILY
What is the weather like in Sicily? What is the best time of the year to go? These are the most common doubts when it comes to choosing the dates for a trip to Sicily, as this beautiful island is well known for its very mild weather all year round!
Having an average temperature of 17°/18° C (62.6 F/64.2 F) with the hottest months being July and August reaching up to 48° C (118.4 F) and the coolest months being January and February (5° C / 41 F), Sicily represents an ideal holiday destination during the whole year!
The great news is that regardless of when you go to visit Sicily, you will always be able to enjoy a lot of attractions and activities according to the weather of the period. From skiing on top of Etna Volcano in winter, to snorkeling at Isola Bella in Taormina in summer, or hiking across Nebrodi Mountain in autumn, and experience the Easter celebrations in inner Sicily during Spring!
When I plan a trip to Sicily for my customers, the first essential information required is the length of their stay because, usually, people think it is possible to visit the whole island in a week or so, but in reality, the region is very wide and a complete tour of Sicily requires at least 15 days (just focusing on the highlights!).
As a consequence, my advice is to focus on one to two parts of the island and consider a future trip to discover the other sides. By the way, bear in mind that in Sicily there are more than other 15 smaller islands you can also visit such as the Aeolian Islands archipelago, Lampedusa, and Egadi Islands. These are a stunning natural paradise well worth the trip out in the sea!
Must see places and things to do your first time
Following my advice above to plan your holiday considering just one side of the island, these are the top highlights to visit in Sicily that you cannot miss:
If your choice is to explore the East side of Sicily, this picturesque medieval town needs to be on top of your list. It is also known as the Pearl of the Ionian Sea and it has always been a tourist destination in its history because of the beauty of its architecture as well as its magnificent position. It is located on top of a hill with a breathtaking view overlooking the coast. Taormina can be visited in half a day or you can choose to stay longer and enjoy this place strolling among the many boutique shops or getting a boat ride at Isola Bella, a natural reserve just below the town.
2. Mount Etna
Mt. Etna is the highest active volcano in Europe and has also been a part of the UNESCO world heritage site since 2013. No matter if you are a mountain trekking lover or if active volcanoes are just not your cup of tea because we are talking about a very massive area where you can enjoy many other different outdoor activities, from guided hikes to the summit craters to going mountain biking, visiting a country wine resort and sampling the unique local tastes of this area.
If you want to enjoy Etna at your leisurely own pace, you can decide to stop at Rifugio Sapienza and walk among the Silvestri craters or decide to get into the cable car up to 2500mts (8202.1 feet).
The next stop we highly recommend as a must-see place in Eastern Sicily is by far Syracuse (Siracusa in Italian). An ancient Greek colony that still preserves some of the most important archaeological treasures of that period. The archaeological Park with The Ear of Dionysius and the amphitheater are some of the highlights as well as what makes the heart of this town, Ortygia island (Ortigia in Italian), which is connected to the rest of the city by a small bridge. It will capture your soul for its stunning Baroque-style Cathedral.
Tip: My suggestion for a smoother trip to East Sicily is to choose Catania city as a base for your stay and arrange day excursions to the different destinations. Catania is a very interesting Sicilian city and also having its airport makes it the perfect strategic spot for your holiday in Italy. There are plenty of accommodations in Catania, this is my favorite!
4. Valley of the Temples
Did you think that temples and monuments were located only in Greece?! You were wrong! On the contrary, Sicily was one of the most important Greek colonies in ancient times and the island is full of extremely important Greek remains in many of the cities, which are in most cases very well preserved.
The Archaeological Park Valley of the Temples is the most important example of the ancient Greek culture in Sicily and its visit is for sure a “must do” of each trip to this island. It is possible to reach the site by car or bus and the visit takes more than 2 to 3 hours to explore the whole site. You can find locally guided tours on go exploring on your own.
During the summer season, it is even possible to arrange night visits, which are very evocative because of the landscape and the lights over the temples in the dark.
Palermo, the capital of Sicily, is also the biggest city in the region with a strong cultural identity and very welcoming and warm people. You can appreciate the different cultures within Sicily just by walking in the historic center of the city.
You have The Norman Palace (Palazzo Reale dei Normanni), which hosts the Palatine Chapel, a precious art masterpiece of Byzantine in the unique Arab style; San Cataldo Church with its unique red domes recalling the mix of Arab and Norman architecture; Praetorian Fountaine (Fontana Pretoria) which is adorned with charming statues from XVI century and Politeama Teatre, a Neoclassic style building. Palermo has also a beautiful harbor and very folkloric markets which is recommended to try the typical Sicilian street food.
When it comes to planning a trip to Sicily and it can be quite challenging to find the correct information, be it on the web itineraries or the trustworthy villa accommodations or even just to get an idea of the real distances between the places and how much time is needed during the visits. But put in the time and it will be well worth all the effort once you get to this magical place and experience all the beauty and history.