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After 10 years of visiting the island, you could say I’ve become a little bit of an expert on the best places to visit in Sicily. There is so many destinations and must-see-sights that it can be hard to narrow it down and know which ones to visit, especially if you’re a first time visitor to the island. So I’ve listed below some of my top suggestions to help you and ensure you don’t miss any of Sicily’s highlights and I’ve included the best way to visit too!

1. Taormina

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Idyllically perched on a rocky promontory high above the sea, Taormina has been one of the best places to visit in Sicily for a couple of hundred of years and is one of my favourite places to head to in the early evening when the sun is setting and you get this amazing view.

Beautifully restored medieval buildings, breathtaking views around every corner and a giddy network of winding streets strewn with shops, bars, and restaurants make it a great place for a stroll around, with an authentic Italian atmosphere. At the very back of the town lies a Teatro Greco. As the name suggests it’s a Greek theater estimated to of been built around the 3rd Century. The views from the theater are spectacular, taking in a (usually) smoking Mount Etna and the Bay of Naxos down below.

You can drive to Taormina and park your car at the bottom of the town where there is a large multi-story car park. There is also a train station in Taormina, but this is right at the bottom of the down and you’d have to take a bus to the top or make the steep walk uphill. 

2. Mount Etna

Mount Etna Eastern Sicily Italy

The most active volcano in Europe and by far the biggest dominating attraction in Eastern Sicily, Mount Etna is a must visit and easily one of the best places to visit in Sicily. It is an easy day trip from Catania or Taormina by bus or by car (although car is recommended). You can also take a guided tour.

If you head to Etna Sud you have the option to walk around some of the older craters on foot or take a cable car ride to 2,900m, from there it is a 2-4 hour round trip to the summit craters, although there is no need to go that far to get a good feel for the majesty of the mountain. The other point of departure is Etna Nord (Piano Provenzana) from where you may walk or take 4X4 buses up to the observatory at 2,400m. You may walk to the summit craters from there. I would highly advise to not go venturing to the main craters of Etna without a qualified guide.

3. Agrigento – Valley of the Temples

If you’re looking for the best places to visit in Sicily, then make sure you include a visit to Agrigento. The Valley of the Temples is a UNESCO archaeological park consisting of eight temples (and various other remains) built between about 510 BC and 430 BC: the Temple of Hera, the Temple of Concordia, the Temple of Heracles, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Temple of Castor and Pollux, the Temple of Hephaestos, the Temple of Demeter, and the Temple of Asclepius (the God of Medicine).

Agrigento can be visited as a day trip from Catania or Palermo although an early start is recommended. During the summer, I also recommend wearing a hat and bringing plenty of water as shady is minimal.

4. Piazza Armerina and Villa Romana del Casale

Another of Sicily’s top tourist attractions lies in Piazza Armerina, a small town in the middle of the island which I recommend visiting from Catania and by car. Some of the worlds best-preserved mosaics can be seen at the famous but remote Villa Romana del Casale ( a car is definitely needed to reach here). Schedule half a day to see and visit the entire estate.

Built in the middle of the 4th Century AD as a hunting lodge by a Roman patrician, here you can see some of the most extensive Roman mosaics. The villa is one of the most luxurious of its kind. It is especially noteworthy for the richness and quality of the mosaics which decorate almost every room; they are the finest mosaics still intact in the Roman world. The site is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and entry is around 10 Euro per person.

5. Syracuse (or Siracusa)

Greek Amphitheater Siracusa one of the best places to visit in Sicily

Siracusa is one of those places in Sicily that you have to visit. Without visiting would be like missing an essential part of the island. This city has an incredible amount of archaeological sites and some great architectural buildings.

It is by far my favourite city in Sicily. The archaeological site, situated in the northwest of the town, is home to a staggering number of well-preserved Greek (and Roman) remains. The main attraction is undoubtedly the Greek theatre that dates back at least until the 5th Century BC. There is also remains of a Roman theatre and the famous “Ear of Dionysius”, a 20m-high, slender pointed arch cut into the rock face that develops inwards for about 65m.

There are also the famous Catacombs of San Giovanni. Although not a massive highlight they are worth seeing if you have time. Running for kilometres under the city, these catacombs were excavated for the most part between 315 and 360 A.D. and remained in use until the end of the 5th century. Unfortunately, after thousands of years of looting, what survives is only the “bare bones” of the building, stripped of coloured plaster, mosaics, stone slabs, and even small objects that were incorporated into the enclosures to distinguish one tomb from another.

6. Ortigia – Siracusa’s island heart

Ortigia Siracusa - One of the best places to visit in Sicily

The best way to see the island of Ortigia is just to wander. It’s difficult to get lost (it measures just 1 km by 500 meters and has lots of little streets that all look the same) but packed with over 2,500 years of history. We often come here at night as it’s a great place to soak up some Italian nightlife, wander past the harbour showcasing the yachts and sailing boats of the elite and also drop by the famous fountain of youth (La Fonte Aretusa).

Half a dozen Greek poets wrote the tale of the nymph Arethusa, who was bathing in the Alpheus River in Greece one day when the god of that river took a liking to her. She begged for deliverance from his advances, and Artemis in pity turned the nymph into a spring, allowing her to escape underground. She travelled under the sea to emerge here, in Siracusa. Alpheus, though, was hot on her heels and came gushing out in the same spot, mingling his waters with hers for eternity. Apparently this, to the Greeks, was romantic. They used to say you could toss a goblet into a spring at Arcadia in Greece and it would pop up here.

7. Palermo

Palermo's Cathedral in Sicily | https://thewanderingwanderluster.com/10-must-see-places-in-sicily

Palermo, the regional capital of Sicily, is one of those cities with its own very distinct, unique character, a city of mystery where reality often outperforms the traveler’s imagination and preconceived stereotypes.

Visiting Palermo is still somewhat of an adventure in a world where so many places have become tourist-friendly to a fault. You won’t find many restaurants with menus translated into 5 different languages, you may have trouble communicating in English in many places, and some parts of the old town center have remained untouched since they were bombed during the war.

Nonetheless, Palermo is in my opinion another of Sicily’s best places to visit and if you happen to visiting the top half of the island or are visiting for a short time, its a great place to base yourself, with a myriad of day trips from Palermo within easy reach of the city.

8. Catania

Sicily’s second largest city is Catania. It lies on the Eastern side of the island along the Ionian coast, sitting in the shadows beneath Mount Etna. In 1669 Catania was covered in lava from Mount Etna and then, just 24 years later in 1693, an earthquake shook the town down to its foundations.

Most of the old town was rebuilt, and as ever resourceful was rebuilt using lava, therefore Catania is described as being a rather dull and grey city. There are a couple of nice piazzas and the Duomo is worth a visit. The atmosphere is what really brings you to the city, the bustling fish markets, the people and the smells. There is a place in the city that is also renowned for horse meat if that’s your thing! Or if not give it a try..although the signature dish of Catania is Pasta alla Norma, that consists of fried chunks of aubergine, a rich tomato sauce, and salty ricotta cheese….. Buon appetito!

Catania is the ideal city base for those looking to hit up the Eastern and Southern coast, and with so many day trip options you’ll never get bored!

9. Isola Bella

Located at the foot of Taormina, this small pebble beach is one of the most iconic beaches in Sicily. You could easily spend the day there snorkelling in the crystal clear waters of the Ionian sea, rock pooling amongst the rocks, relaxing on the sun loungers or even taking a short boat trip to the caves near by. 

The islet is connected the mainland beach by a very narrow strip of pebbled beach. At high tide it is covered in water but at low tide you can walk straight across. 

There are two beaches here, a public beach where you can lay down your towel or a paid beach where you can hire sun loungers with umbrellas and use the lido services. 

10. The Aeolian Islands

If you’re visiting Sicily for the first time, then you may not want to leave the mainland but a day trip to the Aeolian Islands just north of Sicily are not to be missed! These seven small inhabited islands are somewhat unspoiled and are very much steeped in history, myths and legends.

Most day trips to the Aeolian Islands leave from Milazzo. We took a day trip to the islands of Vulcano, Lipari, and Salina using the public ferries. Most day trips will drop you off at one of the ports on the islands. Getting around is fairly simple, you can walk around the ports and small towns easily, however, we hired a scooter so we could see as much as we could in the short 3 or 4 hours you have on each island. It allowed us to get to some remote beaches and drive through some of the small picturesque towns.

The island of Vulcano is famous for its mud baths (‘fanghi’) and its still smoking main crater. Depending on the wind, you might be immediately hit by the characteristic sulphurous smell coming from the hot springs. (Smells of rotten eggs! Yuk!) A swim in the shallow shores on the beach is also good fun, with thermal hot water seeping through the rocks bubbling to the surface. It is almost like a natural jacuzzi.

I would advise bringing water shoes here as the rocks can be quite slippery and sharp. There’s a shower on the beach if you want to have a rinse and the sulphur smell sticks to your skin! It’s 1 Euro for about 60 seconds. There also isn’t a great deal of choice in restaurants. We bought a small packed lunch with us anyway and 2 bottles of water with us in a backpack!

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Best Places to visit in Sicily | Top places to visit in Sicily for first timers | Top Sights of Sicilt

34 thoughts on “10 Best places to visit in Sicily for first time visitors

  1. shussey27 says:

    Thank you! Sicily is the perfect place for self drive holidays. There is so much to see and so much history. It often gets missed out on peoples lists! Glad I have inspired you to go…I can’t wait for my next visit in August 🙂

  2. Brad Frankel says:

    My friend is from Sicily and we spent three weeks there but I was about 14 and didn’t appreciate it for a second, although i did have my first calzone…would love to go back now 😉

  3. Nicola says:

    How easy is to to drive there? We are staying in a town called Scicli and we realized it isn’t on the most popular side of the island, any suggestions? Love your posts

    • The Wandering Wanderlusters says:

      Hey Nicola! It is super easy there to drive and in fact hiring a car is the easiest and best way to get around. Scicli is a nice place, and I wouldn’t say it is on the wrong side of the island. You’re not too far from Syracuse (great beaches and historic city of Ortigia) and some really fascinating catacombs, and Greek ruins. You also have Agrigento not too far to the west and Caltagirone to the north (about an hour) which is famous for ceramics. Worth a visit for their famous steps. Feel free to email me if you want any advice 🙂

  4. MaryAnn Salem says:

    Four of us are planning a trip to Sicily in May. We want to try to visit on our own instead of doing a tour. We will start in Palermo and end in Catania and plan on visiting most of the places you mentioned in the best 10. Any recommendations of where to stay in Palermo, Agrigento, Syracuse, and Taomina (please include Agriturismos)?
    Also, are we better off getting a driver in each city we visit? Or should we rent a car and drive ourselves?

    • The Wandering Wanderlusters says:

      Hi MaryAnn, May is a great time to go to Sicily (not so hot!). My first question would be how long are you planning on spending there? If you are starting in Palermo and ending in Catania then you’ll need a minimum of 10-14 days. Sicily is small but the distances are long as there are mountains you have to go around 😉 I would suggest:
      2 Days in Palermo
      2 Days in Agrigento (you need a full day to see the Temples or half day is your speedy – bring plenty of water and sun hats!) – and a full day for Piazza Armerina.
      There is also Caltagirone (worth stopping at).
      Then base yourself in Siracusa for 3 days or so so you can visit the beach, Ortigia and Cava Grande (you must be very physically fit to go there). And then finally in Catania so you can do the other sites.
      I highly recommend just renting a car. In May it won’t be expensive especially if split between 4 people. It is really the most convenient and cheapest method of getting around in Sicily. Just be prepared for tolls (so have change and coins with you always) and bad driving! As for accommodation – feel free to email me your dates or your trip and I’ll be more than happy to find suitable accommodation for you. I know too many to list here! 🙂

        • Samantha Hussey Barbagallo says:

          Well Sicilian’s dont have the best reputation for driving but in the 9 years I’ve been going we have never had any damage to our car rentals ever. Sure there are posts out there that warn you of it because like in any place – damage can happen at any time. Also don’t be too worried about it. As long as you have insurance on the car you’ll be fine.

        • Brad says:

          The rental agency tried to charge us for bogus damages to wheels. I advise taking video and or photos of car when you pick it up and allow ample time when you return it. I was able to get the charges removed by contesting the credit card fee.

    • Shannon says:

      We love the Verdura in Sciacca near Agrigento. The Turkish steps is a must too! Visit the restaurant for the ambiance and experience! Scalia deco Turchi.. Yummy ! We rented a car and it was very reasonable.

  5. Shelley says:

    I live in Sicily and there’s a lot more to it than the main towns. If you travel west from Agrigento you have Sciacca, Marsala, Menfi and many beautiful places overlooking the sea.

      • Ina says:

        Hi there! Thank you so much for all your posts-I find them really helpful!Could you please give me some advice: myself and 2 teenage girls are going to Sicily on June. The flight is to Palermo. We are staying for 10 days and would like to spend say 5 days just to chill out on the beaches and 5 days to see the island (sure, Etna etc). How would you advice to organise out trip, to make we got the spirit of Sicily?:)Thank you so much! Ina

        • The Wandering Wanderlusters says:

          Hi Ina, If you are arriving in Palermo I would spend at least one day there because it is truly a magnificent city and it would be a shame to skip it. You could then hire a car and head west to one of the beaches near Scopello, Trapani or near San Vito Lo Capo. 10 Days is a short period of time to see a lot of the island, especially if you plan on spending 5 days on the beach. If you want to see Etna, I would suggest basing yourselves near Catania. If you’re not a city person, try Acireale, or Taormina (beautiful place) but be warned this area can be expensive in June. From there you can see Etna, Taormina, and Syracuse.

          The other option would be to skip Palermo altogether, hire a car and drive directly down to Syracuse, base yourselves there as they have beautiful beaches there and then use the evenings and late afternoons when its not so hot to explore nearby towns. Perhaps you’ll see more of the Eastern side of the Island this way, and save West for another visit since travel times can drain a lot of your precious time. Feel free to email me at samantha@thewanderingwanderluster.com if you have any other questions 🙂

    • Sharon Leighton says:

      Shelley I am wondering if you know the area of Acquaviva Platani …I am not sure I have that spelled correctly. A group of 5 of us are looking to visit Sicily in October and are hoping to look up our father’s roots there. We understand it is in the middle of the island so are trying to figure out what other areas we should visit and how long in each area. Of course we also need to figure out if we should rent a car. Some are saying there is often little parking and with 5 adults we are wondering if we will be able to fit into a small car or if they have larger cars/vans? WE are exploring lodging options now. I’d appreciate any help you can give me.

      • The Wandering Wanderlusters says:

        Hi Sharon, I do not know the area but its relatively close to Agrigento (half an hour) where the Valley of the Temples is located. That can be easily done in a day. You need a car to get around Sicily for sure. Public transport is sparse. There are a lot of car rental companies for Sicily, which can be picked up at Trapani, Palermo or Catania airport (Palermo is probably the best for you). You may find it easier to find lodging in or around one of the bigger cities, near Agrigento or Palermo and drive in perhaps. I do not know the area so I can’t advise. Regarding other places to visit, I would first pick an area of sights you are most interested in seeing, and how long you will be in Sicily first. If you’re there for a week or two, then choose between West & Palermo or East & Catania. Feel free to email me with your itinerary and I’d be happy to help and advise.

  6. Tanya says:

    Hello,
    My Husband and I are traveling with to teens to Sicilia in October.
    Would that be still warm enough to swim and which beaches you would reccomend.
    Thank you
    Tanya

    • Samantha Hussey Barbagallo says:

      Hi Tanya, I have never been to Sicily in October, but the weather should still be decent (low 20s degree Celsius). Locals still swim in the water up until November, although the water will be a little chillier than September. I would recommend heading to Siracusa area. They have some wonderful beaches in this area and some great things to do should the water be too cold or the weather turn. Hope this helps! 🙂

  7. Ben Squires says:

    I’m heading to Catania for work for two weeks in mid May and bring my wife, 9 yo daughter, and 7 yo daughter. We plan to stay the first two nights in the center of Catania but want to mix it up for the remainder of our stay. I have one weekend off from mid afternoon Friday until Monday morning. Working typical 8-4 schedule throughout stay. Our first time to Sicily. Recommendations for food, lodging, adventure, etc!? We are open for all ideas. Thanks. The Squires Family

    • John Marciniak says:

      Depends on whether you want to tour or relax. With two yungins I would think a Beach is in order. Taormina is a great place to spend the weekend. You have a bit of archeology , culture, town life., and one of the best views in Europe – there is a saying that goes dying and going to Taormina. Several hotels have pools, or alternatively you can stay below (Giardino) and bus. If you stay in Taormina there is a gondola to the beach. For tourist adventures try a hike to Etna, which is Galway between Catania and Taormina

  8. John Marciniak says:

    Erice? Segesta? And do not go the Castellammare del Golfo – its too crowded (as Yogi used to say). Agrigento at night by the lights is a must. Enna is worth visiting. And Marsala is not bad itself.
    BTW, Bono is from Sciacca – we met his cousin there a few years ago at a Cantanti. (I probably have it misspelled)

  9. Kerry says:

    5 adults and one baby are looking to do a tour around Sicily next year. We have been to Taormina before and loved it. We are looking to find “reasonable” priced accommodation in the centre of Taormina, with parking for 2 cars. At least 3 bedrooms. Do you have any recommendations? Happy to go a bit further out if necessary.

    Thanks in advance!

    • Samantha Hussey Barbagallo says:

      Hi Kerry – I would look at some villas that are located close by in the area – they can actually work out cheaper than a hotel in some cases. I know of a few and can book them for you. Just let me know and I can send you some prices. Otherwise, there are hotels close by in Giardini Naxos that are reasonably priced and suitable for families.

  10. dora says:

    I need to know wher to go Palermo or Catania I only have 4 days can you please help me I will rent a car and i want to see the most beatufull places

    • Samantha Hussey Barbagallo says:

      Hi Dora – In my opinion, both are great options. If you want to visit the top sights like Etna, Siracusa, Taormina then I suggest going to Catania. If you want Cefalu, San Vito Lo Capo, and smaller towns and Trapani then go to Palermo. Feel free to email me if you want me to help you plan your trip. I’d be happy to help. Samantha 🙂

  11. Lindsay says:

    Hi there! I have been dreaming of going to Sicily for years and finally have the trip booked for May. Looking to spend 6 days and definitely have a more is less mentality. We love outdoor activities whether active or taking in beautiful sights, exploring small hidden gem towns and trying all the best food spots. I would love your advice on how to structure a great trip where we can soak up Sicily and get a great taste without spreading ourselves too thin. Thank you!!

    • Samantha Hussey Barbagallo says:

      Hi Lindsay, Firstly I would ask where you are flying into as with 6 days I would recommend either sticking to the north or the south. If you are flying into Catania, then you could easily take in Taormina, Siracusa, Noto, Catania and Etna for example. Etna is great for the adventure, there is also the Caba Grande (also quite adventurous) or the Gole Alcantara. For food, basically anywhere in Sicily, you will find good food. Taormina is a little touristy, so if you’re looking for somewhere not so busy, drive to Castiglione di Sicilia or Noto, Modica…6 days isn’t a lot of time but base yourself either in the North or the South (I wouldn’t attempt to do both). In the north, you have Palermo, Cefalu, Monreale, Scopello and San Vito Lo Capo. If you want, feel free to email me personally and we can discuss your itinerary is better detail 🙂 samantha@thewanderingwanderluster.com

  12. Josephine says:

    Hi! I enjoyed reading your post. I’m planning a last minute trip to sicily first week of September (7 days, we’re a couple and we arrive at Catania). We like both beaches as well as activities but want to be realistic in what we plan to see in 7 days. We”ll stay in the south / east probably? Any advice and tips for airbnb / agriturismo? Thanks!!!

    • Samantha Hussey Barbagallo says:

      Hi Josephine, I don’t have any tips for airbnb’s in Catania unfortunately (as I only know hotels). Agriturismo’s are more likely to be out of the city in the countryside which can be nice if you are close to Etna. You might find a few near Giarre or Milo (just up from Catania). Its a great spot, close enough to the city, but you can easily visit Mount Etna, Taormina, Syracuse and other points of interest from there as it has easy access to the highway. In terms of beaches, you have Isola Bella near Taormina and Giardini Naxos as well in this area. There are smaller local beaches as well all along the coastline (drive from Giarre to Giardini and you’ll find loads of lidos). It won’t be as busy either! 🙂

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