Sicily Travel Guide
Sicily truly has something for everyone--adventure, ancient history, unique cuisines, relaxation and beauty around every corner. This small island is a short distance off the tip of the boot of Italian mainland--so close that you can see mainland Italy from eastern coastal cities of Messina and Taormina. Located in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea, Sicily has a rich history touched by various civilizations over thousands of years. You can see, feel, taste and touch the mark of ancient Greek, Roman, Arabic and Norman conquerers that have all ingrained themselves in Sicilian culture. The markets, architecture, cuisines, language and people all have a uniquely authentic allure that has drawn visitors for many years to this magical island. Often viewed as an off the beaten path destination, Sicily is a great choice for travelers looking for less crowded, but nonetheless beautiful, adventures in the Mediterranean. If a trip to Sicily is in your future, these are the cities, hotels, restaurants and activities that we recommend.
WHEN TO GO
Sicily typically has mild weather in the spring and fall, with very high temperatures in July and August and rainy season from October through December. We visited in early June and had wonderful weather and no rain. We recommend visiting in late May through June, or during the month of September. This is the best time to avoid the crowds and the unruly heat, which can reach above 120F during the months of July and August.
WHAT CITIES TO VISIT
Despite appearing relatively small on a map, Sicily is packed with vibrant metropolitan cities, countryside towns and mountaintop villages, beachside cities and archeological destinations. Some of the most popular areas to visit include:
The Aeolian Islands
During our 2022 trip to Sicily, we visited Noto, Siracusa, Ortigia, Taormina, and the Aeolian Islands, so we'll keep our recommendations to those areas. We flew into Catania airport and a driver took us on the one and a half hour drive to Noto.
Noto is a small town located near the southeastern coast of Sicily and rich in history, culture, and baroque architecture. The original town was completely destroyed by the 1693 earthquake and was rebuilt a distance away in the classical baroque architecture that we see today. The lack of tourism has allowed this small Sicilian enclave to retain its charm and unadulterated feeling. This town is absolutely beautiful and is only a short 20 minutes drive from Siracusa, known to be the greatest and most beautiful of all ancient greek cities.
Siracusa is an ancient city founded by Greeks in around 734 B.C. Between then and now, it has been taken over by Romans, Byzantines, North Africans, Normans, and other ancient conquerers. With each changing of hands, each culture lefts its mark that we can now see through ancient archeological sites.
Taormina is a picturesque hilltop town on the eastern cost of Sicily and sits close to the one and only, Mount Etna. This city is home to a famous ancient greek theatre and overlooks cliffs dropping off to the rocky beaches off of the Mediterranean sea. Beauty is everywhere you look in this quintessential Sicilian town.
The Aeolian Islands are made up of seven small islands off the northeastern coast of Sicily. The archipelago was formed by volcanic eruptions over hundreds of years and is made up seven islands each with its own distinct identity -- Lipari, Vulcano, Salina, Panarea, Stromboli, Filicudi, and Alicudi. The islands can be reached by a short Hydrofoil trip or private boat. During our trip, we stayed in Vulcano island. Vulcano is one of the only islands with an active volcano on it and during on-season you can enjoy the natural volcanic hot springs and mud baths. The other islands can easily be visited on day trips.
WHERE TO STAY
While much of Sicily has retained its authentic charm, there is no shortage of luxury accommodations for every type of traveler. During our stay in Sicily, these are the hotels and resorts we visited:
Seven Rooms Villadorata (Noto) - a luxury boutique hotel in the heart of the city of Noto. Everything is walkable from this hotel and the service is impeccable. Each room feels like a mini apartment.
Theresia Resort Sea & Spa (Vulcano, Aeolian Islands) - a five star resort with four restaurants on the property, including one michelin star restaurant, multiple pools and excellent service.
San Domenico Palace, Four Seasons Hotel (Taormina) - a spectacular property situated on the hilltop overlooking Mount Etna, this former convent turned hotel does not disappoint. The property boasts vast gardens filled with orange and lemon trees, lavender fields and beauty around every corner. The service is impeccable at the hotel and it's centrally located to walk throughout the main town.
WHAT TO DO
Baroque Architecture - visit various sites of baroque architecture. This city is unique in that is feels like you are transported back in time, without evidence of modernization or impacts of tourism. Be sure to stop in San Nicolò Cathedral as a prime example of baroque architecture typical of Noto.
Tour Palazzos - take a self-guides tour of 18th century palazzos (Italian palaces) that were once home to Sicilian royalty, political powers and aristocrats. Some notable ones include the Palazzo Castelluccio and Palazzo Ducezio. Also worth visiting is Nicolaci di Villadorata, which also houses the Seven Rooms Villadorata hotel where we stayed.
Day Trips - Noto is perfectly situated between various nearby towns and villages just a short drive away. Rent a car or arrange for a driver to take you to nearby Siracusa, Ortigia Island or Marzamemi for beautiful water views. We took a private tour of Siracusa and Ortigia Island, where we learned about the rich history of the area, saw the oldest ancient Greek temple in Italy and tasted local cuisines.
The Aeolian Islands
Soak in the scenic views of the islands - our resort had a large infinity pool and we found ourselves relaxing with a book in hand most days.
Boat Rental - arrange with your hotel for a full or half-day boat rental to visit nearby islands.
Hot Springs and Mud Baths of Vulcano - Isola di Vulcano boasts natural hot springs and mud baths that are known for their healing properties.
Hike or Bike - go for a hike or rent bikes to explore the beautiful terrain of the islands.
Greek Theatre - built in the third century, B.C., this landmark is a highlight of any trip to Taormina. Come visit for the ancient Greek ruins but stay for the best view of Mount Etna, which can be seen from the ruins perched on the mountaintop and perfectly framed in the skyline by a gap in the ruins.
Stroll Corso Umberto - the main street of Italy featuring narrow cobblestone, winding roads and open air cafe's that look like they are straight out of a movie. Walk, shop and admire the jewel tone florals draping down the walls until you stumble upon a cafe to stop at for lunch.
Villa Comunale - the public gardens of Taormina are worth a visit. They were created by an Englishwoman and her Victorian touches and unique species can be seen throughout.
Swim at Isola Bella - this unique island that barely connects to the mainland is a popular swimming spot for locals and tourists alike. There are beach clubs where you can rent chairs and have service or you can simply spread your towel out on the public portion of the rocky beach and enjoy.
WHERE TO EAT
Sicilian food is distinct in its flavors and cooking techniques, steeped in local tradition and flavor that can only be found on the island. Almost all of the food is locally harvested and bursting with fresh flavor. The dishes are lighter than typical mainland Italian cuisines, often featuring olive oil over butter or cream, seafood instead of heavy meats, and an abundance of local fresh produce. While in Sicily, I recommend you try the local delicacy of tuna bottarga, which is fermented fish eggs and is often shaved over simple fresh pasta or incorporated in other seafood dishes. The restaurants in Sicily do not disappoint and there is an endless amount to choose from. Below is the list and my rating out of 5 stars for the restaurants we dined at during our latest visit.
Manna Noto - 4/5
Anchi Gli Angeli - 5/5
Ristorante Crocifisso - 4.5/5
Cafe Sicilia (cocktails) - 5/5
Casa Niclodi - 4/5
Osteria Rosso di Vino Taormina - 5/5
Vicolo Stretto - 3/5
Hotel Metropole (cocktails) - 4/5
Bam Bar (Granita) - 4/5
Vulcano Island - We ate exclusively at our resort, so we don't have restaurant recommendations for the Islands.
Things to Try
Granita - semi-frozen dessert local to Sicily
Pane Cunzato - a seasoned bread often topped with local vegetables and proteins
Sicily has stolen our hearts and we will definitely be back!