Last updated on March 24, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, founder of MEL365, following extensive travelling in Sicily

Is Sicily safe to visit? Is Mafia a safety concern? Read this before you travel

I love travelling to this island but is Sicily safe to visit in 2024? How is the crime rate? Is the Mafia going to be a problem? What places should I avoid and is there any dangerous animal I must be worried about?

In this article, you will find everything you need to know about safety, including all the precautions. Basically, all the answers to your questions.

Let me answer first just in a few words, Sicily is a safe place to travel in Italy, in fact, safer than many other regions not only in the country but also in Europe, but let’s jump to the key points

The beautiful Cefalu
The beautiful Cefalu

Is Sicily Safe – Key Points

  • Sicily’s Mafia impact on tourists is minimal; be vigilant about petty crimes like pickpocketing in crowded areas.
  • Avoid risky neighbourhoods in Palermo and Catania; areas like Ballarò at night and Brancaccio are known for higher crime rates.
  • Beware of scams targeting tourists, including petty theft, fake police, overpriced tours, and counterfeit merchandise.
  • Sicily is generally safe at night; stick to well-lit, populated areas and avoid secluded spots.
  • When driving, beware of parking scams, avoid peak traffic hours, and opt for full insurance coverage.
  • It’s also a good idea to use anti-theft bags and be vigilant in crowded places to prevent pickpocketing.
  • Choose accommodations wisely; prefer places with good security measures like personal lockers and 24-hour reception.
  • Be aware of natural hazards like earthquakes and local wildlife such as venomous snakes and wild boars.
  • Respect cultural norms, learn basic Italian phrases, and prepare with comprehensive travel insurance for a smooth Sicilian trip.
The unique Salt Pans in the Marsala Lagun
The unique Salt Pans in the Marsala Lagun

Mafia and crime in Sicily

When considering a trip to Sicily, it’s crucial to understand the role of the Mafia and its impact on crime. The Mafia, a notorious criminal organization, has its roots deeply embedded in Sicilian history.

However, its influence on tourists is often exaggerated in popular media. The reality is that while this organised crime does exist, it primarily influences local businesses and politics, and while this may shape the overall environment of Sicily, it doesn’t translate to a direct threat to tourists.

The Mafia’s presence should not deter you from visiting the island of Sicily, but it’s wise to stay informed about the areas you plan to visit.

The most direct way the Mafia might affect a tourist is through petty crimes like pocket-picking and theft.

These are not necessarily carried out by organised crime, but by local criminals who operate independently. It’s important to be vigilant, especially in crowded places like markets and tourist hotspots.

My huge tip here. Avoid engaging in illegal activities such as buying or consuming drugs can lead to dangerous encounters. Not only are these actions illegal, but they also potentially put you in the crosshairs of law enforcement and criminal elements, including those connected to the Mafia. Steering clear of such activities is a key precaution.

The unique landscape of the Riserva Naturale Orientata dello Zingaro
The unique landscape of the Riserva Naturale Orientata dello Zingaro

Places to avoid in Sicily: Palermo, Catania and other cities

In the city of Palermo, certain neighbourhoods pose higher risks, especially at night. The Ballarò area, one of the best street markets in Sicily, so characteristic during the day (definitely one of the places to visit in Sicily), can be precarious due to potential safety concerns after dark.

Similarly, the Brancaccio neighbourhood is considered one of the more dangerous parts of Palermo, so it’s best avoided.

In Catania, some areas, like the Stesicoro area, are advised against due to higher crime rates.

Other cities in Sicily also have neighbourhoods that might be riskier

  1. Messina: Certain parts of Messina, particularly the outskirts, can be less safe due to petty crimes.
  2. Trapani: While a beautiful coastal city, some parts of Trapani have been known for minor thefts and scams.
  3. Agrigento: Despite its rich history, Agrigento has neighbourhoods that are best avoided after dark due to safety concerns.

All of the above places to avoid in Sicily are typically on the outskirts of the cities (except Ballaro at night), areas that do not have any attractions and you would not visit anyway. Every big city in Europe has problematic neighbourhoods, even finding a safe area to stay in Paris outside of the historical centre can be challenging in this respect.

Keep also in mind that, based on statistics collected for crimes by region, Sicily is actually safer than most of the north of Italy and cities like Milan or Bologna. 

Street food in the Ballaro Market
Street food in the Ballaro Market – safe during the day, less so at night

Sicily is generally a safe place, most of the crime is petty theft and carjacking. If you are renting a car in Sicily, which is a great idea by the way, make sure to have full insurance, and more importantly park the car in a safe place at night, possibly in the private parking of the accommodation or in a garage. I will talk more on this subject later.

If still concerned, safer and more tourist areas on the island are:

  1. Cefalù: Known for its picturesque beaches and historical sites, Cefalù is a great place to stay for travellers
  2. Taormina: Offering stunning views and a rich cultural experience, this is probably the most popular town on the island. My tip: finding accommodation in Taormina can be challenging, book well in advance.
  3. Syracuse: Rich in Greek history and architecture, Syracuse is a very safe choice to stay, and it’s also well connected to Catania
  4. Noto: one of the famous Baroque Towns of Sicily, Noto is so peaceful and safe, perfect for leisurely exploration.
  5. Ragusa: With its UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sicily, Ragusa is not only breathtaking but also a secure place for tourists.

These towns have a very low crime rate

Syracuse Cathedral
Syracuse Cathedral

Scams to Be Aware Of when visiting Sicily

When visiting Sicily, being aware of common scams targeting tourists is crucial for a safe and enjoyable trip. One prevalent scam is petty theft, especially in crowded areas like street markets and when you get around Sicily with public transport.

Be vigilant about your belongings and, if possible, use anti-theft bags or money belts. Make sure in the busy places to carry your bag on the front and not on the back.

Another common scam involves fake police officers who may ask to see your passport or money. In such cases, always ask for official identification and verify with local authorities if needed.

You should also be cautious of overpriced tours and excursions. Research and compare prices beforehand to avoid paying excessive amounts. Furthermore, be wary of street vendors selling fake or low-quality merchandise as souvenirs. No point in buying a low-cost copy that is broken in no time.

Another common scam is with taxi drivers. They do not start the taximeter (fare metre) when they begin the drive. They typically cover it with a small towel or they pretend they forgot about it. If this happens, just ask to start it or leave the taxi because they will scam you.

Lastly, watch out for restaurant scams where eateries in touristy areas might charge exorbitant prices for mediocre food. Always check online reviews and menus before dining. Google Maps works very well in this respect. I tend to avoid any place below 3 stars.

Like in any other place in the world, if something seems too good to be true or overly insistent, it’s best to walk away.

Exploring the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento
Exploring the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento

Is Sicily Safe to Visit at Nighttime

Generally, Sicily is safe at night, especially in well-lit and populated areas. Avoid walking in secluded or poorly lit areas. If you’re out late, consider travelling in groups and always stay aware of your surroundings.

While violent crime is rare, petty crimes can occur, so keep your valuables secure and be vigilant. It’s also advisable to plan your route in advance and have a mobile phone handy.

For solo travellers, especially women, it’s essential to be extra cautious and avoid engaging with strangers who seem overly persistent.

My tip: avoid the train stations at night, especially in the big cities. They tend to become dodgy. This is quite common in most of Europe, by the way. On my last trip to Sicily, I arrived late at night at the airport. I didn’t even check if the train was still available, I just got a taxi to my accommodation, so much quicker and safer. This is not where I suggest saving.

The unusual pay tolls in Sicily
The unusual pay tolls in Sicily

Driving in Sicily – Important tips for Parking and Traffic in Sicily

Let me say first that renting a car in Italy for an itinerary of Sicily is one of the best ideas you can have. You can explore so much of the island, there are a few amazing scenic drives that are absolutely stunning.

In saying that driving in Sicily comes with its own set of challenges, particularly when it comes to parking and dealing with traffic.

Here are some crucial tips to keep in mind:

  1. Beware of Parking Scams: In many urban areas of Sicily, particularly in cities like Palermo and Catania, you might encounter ‘parking assistants’. These people direct you to parking spots and then demand a fee, usually a couple of Euros. While this may seem like a small price for convenience, it’s often an unofficial operation. I personally recommend using official parking lots, however, if there are no alternatives, don’t argue, just pay the small amount otherwise they may scratch your car when you are not there (I know, it’s annoying but a tiny amount at the end of the day).
  2. Avoiding Traffic in Major Cities: The major Sicilian cities can experience heavy traffic, especially Catania/Palermo during peak commuting hours. To avoid getting caught in traffic jams, plan your travel outside these times. Early mornings or late afternoons are usually less congested.
  3. Opt for Full Insurance Coverage: When renting a car in Sicily, choosing full insurance coverage is a wise decision. The narrow, winding streets, especially in historical centres and rural areas, can be challenging to navigate, and minor scrapes or dents are not uncommon. Full coverage insurance can save you from unexpected expenses later on. You can read more about how car insurance works in Italy.
  4. Driving Etiquette: Sicilians when driving, especially in big cities, can be seen as aggressive compared to other parts of Europe. Be prepared for sudden lane changes and minimal signalling. Patience is key.

I personally believe that it is so worth it to rent a car in Sicily. You will get to experience so much and, honestly, outside of the big cities, I never experienced any drama.

Safety Precautions Against Pickpocketing

Pickpocketing in busy tourist spots is a common concern in Sicily, as in many popular travel destinations.

To keep your belongings safe and enjoy a hassle-free visit, consider the following tips:

  1. Stay Vigilant in Crowded Areas: Tourist attractions, public transportation, and crowded markets are hotspots for pickpockets. Always be aware of your surroundings and who is around you, particularly in these areas.
  2. Use Anti-Theft Bags: Consider using anti-theft travel bags or money belts that are designed to be more secure against pickpocketing. These often have lockable zippers and hidden compartments which make it difficult for thieves to access.
  3. Keep Valuables Out of Sight: Avoid displaying expensive jewellery, gadgets, or large amounts of cash in public. If you need to carry valuables, keep them in inner jacket pockets or secure compartments of your bag.
  4. Be Cautious While Using ATMs: It’s important to take into consideration the area around you when withdrawing money and be mindful of people standing too close. Cover the keypad when entering your PIN and put your money away securely before leaving the ATM.
  5. Stay Alert in Crowded Public Transport: On buses or trains, where close contact is unavoidable, pay extra attention to your pockets and bags.
  6. Secure Your Bag: If you’re carrying a backpack, consider wearing it in front of you in very crowded areas. For handbags or shoulder bags, keep them in your sight and grip them firmly.

How to stay safe in the accommodations – My best places

I wrote extensively about where to stay in Sicily with some of the best and most secure accommodations.

Here are my typical suggestions:

  1. For Solo Travelers and Backpackers: Hostels are a great option. Look for hostels with good security measures like personal lockers, 24-hour front desk service, and secure entry. Keep in mind that pickpocketing happens also from other fellow travellers that you barely know. So, keep the same precautions as you would in the streets of the city.
  2. For Families and Couples: Consider renting vacation homes or apartments through trusted platforms like Airbnb or Booking.com. These often offer more privacy and security. Ensure the property is in a well-regarded, safe neighbourhood and check previous guest reviews focusing on safety.
  3. For Luxury Travelers: Opt for well-known hotel chains or reputable boutique hotels. 

My tip: Regardless of the type of accommodation, avoid displaying expensive items or leaving valuables like gold, expensive watches, or jewellery unattended. Use hotel safes for important documents and valuables.

Natural Hazards and Local Wildlife

Sicily, with its rich natural beauty, also has certain natural hazards and wildlife to be aware of:

  1. Earthquakes and Volcanic Activities: Sicily is home to Mount Etna, a unique place to visit but also one of the world’s most active volcanoes. They may close Catania airport because of the smoke, so, if you have the choice, Palermo may be an easier airport to land and depart.
  2. Local Wildlife: While exploring Sicily’s natural landscapes, be cautious of local wildlife. In rural areas, you might encounter wild boars, which can be aggressive if provoked. If hiking in the mountains, be aware of the presence of possible venomous snakes and take precautions like wearing appropriate footwear.
  3. Marine Life: When swimming or snorkelling, be mindful of jellyfish, especially during the summer months. Most are harmless, but some can sting. 

Cultural Etiquette and Local Laws

Generally speaking, Italians value politeness and formal greetings. When entering shops or restaurants, a simple “Buongiorno” (good morning) or “Buonasera” (good evening) is appreciated. Dress modestly, especially when visiting religious sites, where covering shoulders and knees is often required.

In terms of legal considerations, drinking in public places is regulated, and the legal drinking age is 18. Additionally, it’s illegal to buy counterfeit products, which are often sold by street vendors. 

These are all rules that are often broken by the Sicilians, but that shouldn’t mean you should break them too.

Preparing for Your Trip to Sicily

And finally, a few tips that are as simple as helpful when travelling to Sicily.

  • Travel Insurance: Organise comprehensive travel insurance covering theft, loss, medical emergencies, and trip cancellations.
  • Car full insurance: When renting a car make sure to add also full insurance. It’s a great peace of mind. I usually hire my car on DiscoverCars, a website that compares local and international rentals giving the best deals around; moreover, it offers full insurance for just 8 Euros/day, a real bargain.
  • Managing Cash: Credit cards are widely accepted. When travelling in Sicily, I usually use my Wise debit card which is so convenient, so much better value, especially if you need to change currencies. In saying that I always suggest carrying some cash for small purchases but avoid bringing with you large sums of money.
  • Learning Basic Italian Phrases: Knowing basic Italian phrases enhances your travel experience. Phrases like “Dove è il bagno?” (Where is the bathroom?) and “Quanto costa?” (How much does it cost?) are helpful.
  • Research and Planning: Research the places you wish to visit, understand local transportation options, and familiarize yourself with local customs and festivals. Check for any travel advisories or special requirements, like entry visas or driving permits. A good starting point is my Sicilian Travel Guide.

I personally don’t think that safety in Sicily is a concern, however, like in most of the world, take your precautions

Stefano Ferro - MEL365.com Founder and Editor

About the Author

Stefano is a seasoned travel expert and the visionary founder of MEL365.com, a leading travel website with traffic across 6 continents. With a rich background in the travel industry, Stefano spent four pivotal years at Amadeus Travel Distribution System, gaining invaluable insights into travel technologies and distribution.

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