Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, a shape kind of remind that of a triangle: due to its crystalline sea, it is considered as the top destination for holidays mainly for Italians, especially in summer, which in Italy includes the months of June, July, August and September.
It is probably off the foreign tourists path, because it is not very close to the main touristic attractions of the Bel Paese, such as Rome, Florence or Venice. But it is actually easy to get there by plane or even by ship. Once there, you will not regret it!
It is the ideal summer location for spending long days by the sea under the Sicilian sun, eating a fresh “granita”. But Sicily can offer an extremely rich travel experience, for its peculiar cultural tradition (Greeks, Romans, Arabs left their landmarks there), precious artworks and delicious food! It’s no coincidence that Palermo, the capital of Sicily, has been named 2018 Italy’s Capital of culture!
So, we selected for you the reasons that makes Sicily the ultimate destination for your summer holiday in Italy!
If you fall in love with the idea of visiting this beautiful island, ItalyXP also provides a huge selection of multiday vacation packages in Sicily!
The entire coastline of Sicily is full of dreamy beaches, from the very popular ones to hidden amazing spots. Sandy or rocky beaches, little bays or huge shores, there is something from everybody.
Among the unmissable stops there is Mondello beach, just outside Palermo: it is an extensive bay of soft light sand that slopes gently into a turquoise sea. Up in the North West of Sicily, there are at least two beaches worth a visit: San Vito lo Capo, a long stretch of white sand with transparent water, backed by the mountains and Scopello, a small beach famous for being framed by the imposing “faraglioni”, rocky walls is rising out of the sea.
Back in the South coast of the island, there are at least two recommended beaches: Scala dei Turchi, near Agrigento and the area of Syracuse. The Scala dei Turchi is always taken as a symbol of heaven landscapes of Sicily, with its unreal white rocks and blue sea; the name means “the Stairs of Turks”, as in the past it was attacked by the Turkish pirates and also because the cliff consists of a white limestone that, for simple natural causes, shaped a sort of stair that rises up to 50 meters above the level of the sea.
In the coastline near Syracuse, there is the nature reserve of Vendicari, where you will be enchanted by the incredibly transparent water of the beaches of San Lorenzo, a stretch of coast characterized by great beaches and small coves, and Cala Mosche, next to the archaeological site of Caloro.
We will dedicate a separate point (n.6) to the beautiful Sicilian islands with their amazing beaches!
2. Art and culture
Sicily has been crossed during its millennial history by a huge variety of different cultures and dominations, that is why today it boasts several artistic landmarks in the most important cities and not only.
The Greek times are still alive in Sicily, with imposing archaeological sites. Great temples were constructed in the Greek cities in Naxos, Taormina, Siracusa and many other settlements. The Greek theatre of Taormina sits atop a hill and gives a panoramic view of the beautiful blue Ionian Sea, while majestic Greek temples are housed in Agrigento, Selinunte and Segesta, even better preserved than those in Greece itself.
About the biggest cities, the historic center of Palermo was declared part of the UNESCO heritage: the centre represents the perfect symbol of the multi-cultural soul of the city. The majestic Cathedral was built in the 12th century, then reashed several times: it became a mosque under the Moors domination, then returned to be a Christian temple with the Normas, rebuilt with a mix of Medieval and Baroque decorations.
Furthermore, many Sicilian cities shine in the typical baroque style: the finest are Noto, with its impressive Cathedral and Ortigia, a town rich in charming buildings with golden sandstone facades. It is possible to visit both of them in a one day excursion from Catania to Syracuse, Ortigia and Noto.
A special mention for the Dome of Monreale, few kilometers away from Palermo: it is one the finest examples of Norman- Arabic architecture in Sicily, hosting large and beautiful mosaics inside.
Check our escorted tours covering all of these locations: 9 Day Tour of Sicily departing from Palermo in half board, 8 days tour from Catania or the shortest ones, 5 days escorted tours from Catania or departing from Palermo.
Probably there is no space enough here to summarize all the delicious dishes typical of Sicily! It is really difficult to list them all, but we can for sure specify which dishes you are obliged to try before leaving Sicily!
Sicilian food starts from…streets! Strolling around in the streets of Palermo or Catania, you may want to have a “light” snack with arancino (or arancina), a fried rice ball filled usually with tomato and meat sauce, peas and mozzarella. A visit to Palermo will not be complete without eating “pane e panelle”, bread filled with chickpea fritters or “pane ca meusa”, a sandwich of pork spleen, cooked in lard and served in bread rolls. You can discover (and taste) all the secrets of Sicilian street food with our Traditional street food tour in Palermo!
Sicily has much to offer also when it comes to pasta. The most popular one is probably the “pasta alla norma” short pasta making the most of local seasonal ingredients, such as tomatoes, aubergines, garlic, basil and ricotta salata, salted ricotta. Aubergines are the main ingredient also of “caponata”, another masterpiece of Sicilian cuisine: a very tasty mix of vegetables salted with tomato sauces.
Last but not least, Sicilian desserts: in summer, to cope with hot weather, “granita”- ice flavoured with fresh ingredients is definitely perfect, especially when put into a brioche! Among the several sweet snacks, “cannolo” has a special place: it is a crispy, fried pastry shell and ricotta-based stuffing, which can come with many kind of toppings and flavors. Ricotta is also the base of the “cassata”, where the cheese is melted with pistachios and candied fruits.
If you want to go back home with some authentic recipes, join our private Private cooking class in Palermo to learn how to make arancini and cannoli or the market tour in Palermo with cooking class to make pane and panelle and much more.
Sicily’s landscapes are hugely varied, from sandy beaches to rocky cliffs and nature reserves, that make the island higly attractive also for nature and trekking lovers.
First, Sicily is home to the Mount Etna, the highest active volcano in Europe (3300 mt) declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2013. Overlooking the city of Catania, the surrounding area is a National park, characterized by a rich variety of ecosystems, dense forests and desert areas covered by magmatic rocks. The mountain has been in a state of continuous eruption for half a million years and the periodic slight eruptions of lava (not dangerous), makes it one of the most spectacular parks in the world. The fertile volcanic soils of the lower slopes support the vineyards and orchards.
Visit the Mount Etna in a day, departing from Catania, Siracusa or Taormina, including a food tasting!
Located on the north slopes of Mount Etna there is the Alcantara Gorge, a very special place that is often overlooked by tourists, but very well known by locals. The river Alcantara over thousand years proceeded through Sicilian Apennine to carve a path amid the lava stone walls shaped by the lava of the Mount Etna, which form the Alcantara Gorges. Be careful, water is freezing!!
Join our tour to the Alcantara Gorges and the Mount Etna departing from Catania or Taormina.
On the western coast of Sicily, near Marsala, there is another unmissable Nature Reserve: the Salt Pans of Marsala, an area characterized by ancient windmills and a peculiar landscape made by piles of harvested salt. The salt production settlement of Stagnone is still in use today, even with one or two windmills. Highly suggested to go there at sunset to take unique pictures! A visit to the Salt road is included in the 8 days escorted tour of Sicily and Malta departing from Palermo.
Like many other areas of Italy, Sicily boasts also an ancient tradition of wine making, going back to the Greeks until nowadays. The island is a paradise for wine lovers, that can choose among a huge variety of wine!
The most renowned as a 100% Sicilian wine is certainly the Marsala, which takes the name from the production area, Marsala. It is a fortified wine, dry or sweet and it is unique due to its complex making process, which includes cooked grapes to give the deep brown color to the wine and a special aging system.
The production of red wine is particularly rich in Sicily: it includes "Nero d’Avola", typical of the town of Avola in the Syracuse area; "Syrah" and "Etna Rosso", from the fertile volcanic soil of the slopes of Mount Etna (we have a special wine tasting included in the Private day tour the Mount Etna from Taormina). A special mention for the Cerasuolo di Vittoria, made from a blend of Frappato and nero d’Avola, typical of the Ragusa area.
The “Bianco d’Alcamo” is the most famous white wine, that can only be produced in the area between Alcamo and Trapani.
As mentioned, desserts are a serious issue in Sicily, so it is mandatory to pair them with sweet wines: besides Marsala, there is also the Passito di Pantelleria, made in Pantelleria, the southernmost Sicilian island and Malvasia, produced in the Lipari island.
As mentioned, Sicily is the largest island of the Mediterranean Sea, but it also encompasses many smaller islands, that no doubts worth a visit if you are spending many days in Sicily.
The Eolian islands are located off Sicily’s Northern Coast, very popular holiday destinations among locals and Italians. The archipelago has been shaped in centuries by the volcanic activity and it offers a variety of landscapes and tourist environment: from the charming Panarea and Lipari, highly popular for VIPs with their yachts, with chic boutiques and cafès, to the out-of-time Alicudi, an island with no roads, no cars, only donkey taxis! Check our 6 days escorted tour of the Eolian Islands (Lipari, Panarea and Stomboli).
The Western Coast highlight is the archipelago of Aegadian Islands, composed by three bigger islands and 2 small ones, easily reachable by hydrofoil from Trapani. Favignana is probably the most known, followed by Levanzo and the most remote one, Marettimo. All of them are characterized by breathtaking landscapes and turquoise sea, rocky cliffs as well as sandy beaches. Less posh than the Eolian islands, you will find here a wilder soul of Sicily lifestyle! Dicover the best of the Aegadian island in one day, with the excursion from Marsala to Favignana and Levanzo.
Last, do not miss the Isola Bella, which means Beautiful Island, a small nature reserve off the coast of Taormina, known for its crystal sea and its untouched nature: try our snorkeling experience in Isola Bella!
6 +1: Small towns and villages
As in many other Italian regions, the big cities are not the only attraction, also if there is of course much to do in terms of art tours, nightlife, restaurants and so on. The small towns and villages are very nice and picturesque and often represents the true soul of Sicily, giving you the feeling to be wandering through ancient times!
Cefalù, not far from Palermo, is one of Sicily’s prettiest fisheries’ villages, perfect for those who want beach and swimming to come with charm and culture, strolling around the medieval streets and shops.
The South East of the island has plenty of beautiful locations, such as Ragusa and Modica. Ragusa Ibla is the oldest part of the town, set on the top of the hill is dominated by the baroque church of San Giorgio. The sight of the jumble of houses, churches and civic palazzi piled on top of each other, clinging to the walls of the gorge, is really breathtaking.
Modica is just few kilometers away, a small baroque jem, famous all over the world for the chocolate production, made with an ancient exclusive recipe.
Marzamemi offers the perfect spot for a stunning, typical picture: it is one of the oldest fishing villages of Sicily, set around the “Tonnara” (the rest of a tuna trap) with a picturesque colorful restaurant by the sea.
For cinema lovers, a mandatory stop will be Savoca, an enchanting medieval town near Messina, which is home to some frames of “The Godfather”: you can still see there the Bar Vitelli, where Michael Corleone used to sit in the movie.
For those who wish to visit Sicily at their own pace, we strongly suggest to take a self drive tour, including the car rental and accommodation: the 4 days self drive tour of Eastern Sicily departing from Catania or the 4 days self drive tour of the Western Sicily from Palermo.