Best places to visit in Sicily based on the town of your stay
Depending on where you actually stay, this guide will show you the best places to visit in Sicily.
Honestly, listing a place that takes most of the day to drive there is pointless.
Sicily is the biggest island in the Mediterranean Sea, with many winding roads that make travelling even more difficult.
For example, the unique baroque town of Noto is outstanding, however, it should not be visited while staying in Palermo. It takes at least 7-8 hours (return) to drive there.
I think you get the point. This is an actionable list, not an unfeasible one.
Without further ado, let’s get into it.
Table of Contents
- 1 Best places to visit in Sicily – In a nutshell
- 2 Best places to visit in Palermo and around
- 3 Best places to visit in Catania and around
- 4 Best places to visit in Agrigento and around
- 5 Best places to visit in Trapani and around
- 6 Best places to visit in Sicily for adventures
More reading on Sicily
- Where to stay in Sicily, the best areas (and the worst)
- Best itineraries of Sicily for 3 days, 4 days, 5 days, 7 days, 10 day or 14 days (with maps and daily plans)
- All you need to know about a Mount Etna Tour – do it yourself, with a car or with an organised trip
- How expensive is Sicily, with a daily budget table
Best places to visit in Sicily – In a nutshell
In this section, I go quickly through the places to visit in Sicily based on which city or town you stay
However, keep reading below for more information on every single attraction.
If you are planning to change accommodation on a regular basis, then I suggest visiting my Sicilian itinerary guide for 3, 5, 7, 10 or 14 days.
In a few cases, I mentioned a bus or train to get to a town or attraction. You can read more on the list of busses on my guide to get around Sicily.
Here below I have attached a map with all I have mentioned in this post (feel free to download the full resolution map for future reference)
- places to visit in Palermo: briefly, you should not miss the Royal Palace of Palermo (Palazzo dei Normanni), the Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele, the Palermo Cathedral, the Quattro Canti Square and of course the Ballaro Market even if you do not need to buy any food. If you have only one or two days in the city, you should also consider joining a Street Food and History Walking Tour or the exclusive Palermo Art Tour guided by a local, such a great way to be introduced to Palermo by an insider. Read more here on Palermo
- best places to visit from Palermo: catch the public bus (#389P in 45 minutes) from Indipendenza Square to visit the Monreale Cathedral and the Monreale Old Town. Take the bus to Scopello for the beautiful beach and access to the Riserva del Zingaro. Another great day trip is the 50 minutes train ride to Cefalù, one of the most charming towns in Sicily. Read more here on other possibilities from Palermo
- places to go in Catania: just have a walk in the old part of the city, full of baroque buildings. Don’t miss Duomo Square (right in the centre), the Roman Theatre, the Fish Market and for a quirky experience, go to Stesicoro Square to access the underground old city. Read more here about Catania
- best places to visit from Catania: one of the most popular experiences from Catania is the hike to the peak of the Etna Volcano, one of the most active volcanos in the world. You can join an organised tour or DIY to the Etna Volcano. An easy 40 minutes train ride will take you to the lovely Taormina. In just 1 hour by train, you can be in Siracusa and the medieval Ortigia Island. Catania is also the city with more organised day trips in Sicily. Read more here on other possibilities from Catania
- places to visit in Agrigento: the Valley of the Temples is obviously the biggest attraction in Agrigento, unmissable. You should also check out the Santo Spirito Monastery and the Santa Maria dei Greci Church right in the old part of the city with narrow alleys, small courtyards and the typical Arabian squares. Read more here about Agrigento
- best places to visit from Agrigento: from Agrigento, you can visit the unique Scala dei Turchi, a beach with an undulated white rock formation used by the pirates. You can also organise a day trip to Licata, a lovely old town on the south coast used also as a film set for the famous Inspector Montalbano Series. Once in Licata, spend some time at Marianello Beach and remember to visit the Paradise Cove.
- best places to visit in and from Taormina: the Amphitheater is a great starting point for any visit to Taormina, also because of its view of the bay, outstanding. Piazza IX Aprile is the centre of the town, lovely with the nightlights. But it’s not only about the town; there is so much more you can do from Taormina, including a visit to the Etna Volcano and it’s only 40 minutes by train to Catania for a great day trip. Read more about Taormina below.
- best places to visit in and from Trapani: the Old Centre of Trapani is one of the most underrated in Sicily. Start your wandering with the San Lorenzo Cathedral. Keep going direction Porta Botteghelle, for the view, and the Old Fish Market, for the experience. But it’s not only about Trapani. You can have easy day trips to the medieval Erice, perched on the hill and reachable by cable car, or to Marsala and the saltpans, to taste the famous Marsala liquor, or get a 30 minutes fast ferry to the island of Favignana for the best snorkelling. Read more about Trapani below.
- best places to visit in Sicily for adventures: sometimes the iconic places may become the real adventures, off the beaten path. It’s the case of Mount Etna if you decide to climb it from the north side starting at Piano Provenzana (read here more on info on how to, including a map). On the west side of Sicily, you should plan a day trekking through the fabulous Zingaro Nature Reserve, a 7km walk along the coast with spectacular cliffs, great beaches and charming coves to have a swim. Another activity you may want to plan is a sunset trekking to the top of the Stromboli Volcano, in the small island close enough to Sicily but with its own history and lush vegetation. Diving in Ustica, a small island north of Palermo, still a hidden gem and little paradise known by a few people, is another must. Finally, include in your list also some snorkelling in Scopello (south of Zingaro), because of its unique coastline. Read more details about these adventures below
- best places to visit in Sicily by car: hiring a car in Sicily will make your life much easier as you will have more freedom. Moving around will be also much quicker and that’s the biggest difference with public transportation, which tends to be slow and not fully reliable. You have different alternatives and those are based on the number of days you will be in Sicily and the airport of arrival. You can read more on a few options in my Sicilian itinerary for 3 days, 4 days, 5 days, 7 days, 10 day or 14 days. I have also listed 5 amazing scenic drives that you can do in Sicily
- best places to visit in Sicily for beaches: San Vito Lo Capo has one of the best beaches in Europe, stunning. Scopello has also a lovely beach, great spots for snorkelling and you would be next to the Zingaro Nature Reserve, a coastal national park where you can organise amazing walks to hidden coves and unique beaches. Mondello, just 10km north of Palermo and easily accessible with a direct bus (around 40-50 minutes). You can also check out the Vendicari National Park on the east coast for its beautiful unspoilt beaches. You can read more about Sicilian beaches here (including a handy map).
- best places to visit in Sicily in winter: all of the places I have mentioned in this post can be visited in summer as well as in winter, except of course the beaches that are way too cold for a swim. A unique experience that you may want to consider is skiing on the Etna, something you will hardly do again unless you are used to skiing on a volcano of course 😉
- 4 unique things to do in Sicily: wandering around the Valley of the Temples near Agrigento is one of the most unique experience you can have, one of the wonders of the world. The Etna climb to the absolute peak is also something different, especially when the volcano is active (read more on how you can do the Etna peak climb). Visit the sites where the Godfather was filmed and get to learn more about the history of the mafia from the locals is also an unconventional experience that has to be done in Sicily. If you are into TV series then you should also plan a trip to Modica and Scicli to see where Inspector Montalbano was filmed. These are two small towns rebuilt in 1693, after a big earthquake destroyed both of them, using the most popular style of that era, the baroque style.
- best town and villages in Sicily: Scopello is not only a fantastic place for snorkelling, but it’s also an amazing medieval village you should not miss. Cefalù has still the feeling of a fishing village although it’s becoming more and more of a well-known destination. Erice, reachable by cable car from Trapani, is a lovely old village still seating inside the fortified walls. Noto, surely not anymore a secret destination but still a town that should be included in anyone’s bucket list. Completely rebuilt in baroque style after the big earthquake, Noto is a real open-air museum that will leave you open mouth every corner you turn.
- how long to drive across Sicily: on the map above I have added the approx time to drive between the most important destinations. As you see it takes time, because of the distance itself and also because the roads are sometimes very winding and not well maintained. You can visit the Valley of the Temples on a day trip from Palermo or Catania but it will be a very tiring and long day. You can read more on my guide to get around Sicily.
Inside Palermo (the capital of Sicily)
Palermo is one of the most beautiful cities in Italy, not only for its architecture but also for the amazing street food you will find all around.
If you can fly to either Catania or Palermo for just a quick weekend, then I would personally suggest going for Palermo (but don’t say that to a “Catanese”).
Both cities are beautiful of course and it comes down to personal experience.
Palermo has one of the widest old centres in Europe where you can spend easily days discovering new lanes, squares, churches and historical sites.
Its architecture is one of the best examples of Arab-Norman style, included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Then make sure to add to your bucket list:
- the Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele, built in 1897, one of the largest opera houses in Europe
- the Cathedral of Monreale, an amazing example of Norman architecture reachable by public bus (#389P) from Indipendenza Square.
- the beautiful baroque square Quattro Canti (built over 400 years ago)
- the Capuchin Catacombs, for a grotesque experience
- the Ballaro’ Market, one of the best markets in Italy with amazing street food as well (great for lunch)
If you are a foodie (and even if you are not), you should join the Street Food and History Walking Tour for 3 hours of local food immersion.
Join this Palermo Art Tour with a private local guide if you are instead more into cultural sites
Are you after a beach to have a dive?
Palermo has one of the best in Sicily, in the Mondello neighbourhood (bus 806, 45 minutes).
This is a long and wide beach with beautiful turquoise water and white/brown thin sand.
Otherwise, have a walk to Rocky Beach for a more unique experience, just 2 km north of Mondello
The Zingaro Nature Reserve is a great national park that follows a 7km stretch of coast, one hour west of Palermo and just a few km from San Vito Lo Capo
You can park the cark at either Scopello, on the south side, or this parking area on the north side (the San Vito Lo Capo side).
From there, you can organise a fabulous day of trekking through amazing cliffs and spectacular views, stopping by one of the few charming coves for a swim.
Note that you cannot enter with just flip flops, you need proper shoes
Cala Marinella is one of the most popular coves, there is no sandy beach but you will be amazed by the water and for adrenaline junkers, you will find plenty of rocks to dive from
You can download maps and see suggested itineraries directly on the Reserve website
The Zingaro Reserve is reachable from Palermo with Russo Autoservizi, however, it takes twice as long as with a car.
San Vito Lo Capo has one of the most beautiful beaches in Europe, not only Sicily.
Real heaven, a long and wide beach with white sand and turquoise water.
San Vito Lo Capo is the perfect place if you are looking for a unique beach day or you are travelling with kids (shallow water)
From the beach, you can also have an easy walk to the Torre dell’Usciere, along the coast.
San Vito Lo Capo is reachable from Palermo also by bus with Russo Autoservizi
Scopello is a medieval village on the northwest coast famous for its amazing location and the wonderful Tonnara, the old fishery operating till a few decades ago.
There are a few beaches around, mostly public and free to access.
The Tonnara has an entrance fee of 7 Euro and includes a guided tour besides access to the local beach.
From Scopello you can also start one of the best adventures in Sicily, the trek in the Zingaro Nature Reserve that follows the coast and it will take you to hidden coves and beaches.
Cefalù is a beautiful town on the north coast with a great fishing village feeling
The most impressive thing is how the maze of buildings and streets suddenly end in the sea.
It’s a great romantic location with one of the best sunsets on the north coast.
Once there you should visit
- the Duomo, a Norman cathedral with Arabian influence
- the Castle, a great viewpoint at the end of a lovely walk, called Salita Saraceni, starting from the old centre
- the Medieval Lavatoio (wash house), an important landmark that will take you back to what a laundry used to be
- the Bastione di Capo Marchiafava, a small fortress built over 400 years ago seating on a cliff (magnificent view)
- the beach, right in front of the town, over 1km long, sandy and wide, very popular in summer with local and tourists alike
Cefalù is famous also for its fantastic restaurants. You will see a few around the old part of town.
One I would suggest is the Passafiume Cantina for its local cuisine and great location too, hidden and seclusive.
You can visit Cefalù by car, bus or train (about 50 minutes from Palermo) on your own.
Alternatively, to make it a full day trip, you can also join this organised day-trip that will take you also to the Monreale Cathedral with a guided tour.
- The Temple of Segesta, an ancient Greek temple site dating back to the 5th century BC. You can also think to join this great local tour from Palermo that includes Segesta, the Salt Pans of Marsala and the medieval Erice, making it a great day out
- The Ghost town of Poggioreale, emptied in 1968 after a deadly earthquake has left a mostly demolished town. It’s a quirky experience. I certainly not suggest entering any building, it can be really really dangerous.
- Corleone and the Mafia Museum, for a real insight on Mafia in Sicily which is not as glamour as Hollywood sometimes shows, in fact, it can be really cruel.
Catania is the second biggest municipality in Sicily, with more of a city feeling compared to Palermo.
It is a more chaotic destination, however, in saying that, it is still a beautiful destination you should add to your bucket list.
As a first stop, visit the unique Fish Market and let the noise that characterizes this place wash over you.
The Duomo is next, just meters away from the market. You will be awed by the columned facade and frescos in this stunning baroque cathedral.
Keep going along the Via Etna to check out the ruins of antique Catania (free entrance).
Head to Stesicoro Square to access the old streets, churches and structures under the city of Catania, a second underground establishment. A real quirky experience.
Catania is also famous for the huge variety of organised trips on offer.
You can plan different activities every single day. The likes of:
- in the city join the Street Food Tour and the Private Home Cooking Class with a certified local cook.
- Mount Etna Summit and Crater Trek: unmissable, such a great experience, such a brutal and dramatic view from the top
- Full Circuit of Etna in Mountain Bike: this is a unique experience, however, it requires a cycling experience. Organise it with a group for a better deal
- Taormina, Savoca, and Castelmola Guided Transfer: the easiest way to visit these lovely towns in a small group touching also the film locations of “The Godfather”
- Syracuse, Ortigia and Noto tour: another busy day touring from the UNESCO heritage site in Syracuse to the unique baroque town of Noto. You can also do it on your own using the public train, however, you would have to either choose to visit Noto or Ortigia (transportation by organised tour is more straightforward and quicker).
- Caltagirone and Piazza Armerina day tour: discover where the famous Sicilian ceramic art comes from. The UNESCO-listed Villa Romana del Casale is another destination of this tour.
- Valley of the Temples: I would personally suggest going and stay in Agrigento but if you are short on time you can join this tour that will drive you to the Valley of the Temple. A long day, but well worth it.
- Isola dei Ciclopi snorkelling tour: the perfect experience on a hot summer day to explore the underwater volcanic region
- The Godfather Filming Locations Tour: if you are a Coppola fan then this tour should be on top of your priority list
- Wine Tasting Tour: Sicily is the new kid on the block in the wine industry, it’s quite often referenced as the “New Tuscany”. Have a try and let me know
My biggest tip here is to book your accommodation in the Historical Centre, in my opinion, the best area to stay in Catania.
Taormina is the most touristy destination in Sicily.
And that’s because it is so beautiful, amazing, unmissable.
Its popularity goes back to over 2,000 years ago, with the senators and affluent people of the Roman Empire visiting it in the summer months.
You will not be alone, and between June and August it gets very busy, but it’s a small price to pay compared with the outstanding and stunning experience you will have in Taormina.
Getting lost in the maze of streets is one of the best ways to explore Taormina.
And it’s not only about the beautiful buildings, mostly restored to their oldest splendour, but also the view you get of the lovely Sicilian East Coast and the amazing Naxos Bay.
Once there you absolutely have to check out:
I also suggest this lookout, on the way down to the beach and the Isola Bella
Mount Etna should be one of the highlights of your trip to Sicily, does not matter which month you visit Sicily
In winter you can even ski on it, which is one of the most unique experiences, however, you will not be able to climb to the peak.
In summer, you can decide to reach Rifugio Sapienza at almost 2,000m either by bus, car or organised trip.
From there you have two options: visit the craters around the area (Silvestri Craters) or go to the summit (cable car + 4×4 bus + some trekking).
If you are more of an adventure-oriented person, you may want to plan your ascend from the north side, where you will meet mostly locals.
You will have to drive your own vehicle to Piano Provenzana and from there start the trekking.
You can even think to rent a mountain bike and follow the route to the Observatory.
I highly suggest checking out my most complete travel guide to Mount Etna, where you can discover how to experience it, either DIY or with an organised trip, and what to see.
If you have a passion for architecture than you must add Noto to your bucket list.
This is probably the most unique example of Baroque architecture in the world.
The whole town was fully destroyed in 1693 by a terrible earthquake.
It was then successfully rebuilt using the architectural style that dominated Italy in the 1600s, the Baroque Style.
The same style used to build the famous and popular St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City (built between 1656 and 1667)
Noto is the Baroque town par excellence, with not just a few buildings built in this style but the whole town
Highly decorative, almost theatrical style, with dramatic lines and rich colours.
Walking in the small streets is like visiting an open-air museum.
You will feel like a small kid in a toy shop that is looking forward to turning the next corner to discover new jewels.
You should not miss the beautiful Cathedral as well as the Ducezio Palace.
The San Domenico Church is another great destination, especially for its rich interior design.
And for dinner or lunch, you should try the Ristorante il Cantuccio where you can enjoy some of the best food in town in a lovely garden area. So romantic.
If you are staying in Catania or Taormina you may also opt to join this organised tour that will take you to Noto, Modica and Ragusa. Such a great day.
Siracusa is just over 1 hour by train from the Catania station.
The city is beautiful by itself, however, the main reason to come here is a visit to Ortigia Island, the Old Centre of the city connected to the mainland with two bridges.
From there, venture into Via Dione, one of the most characteristic streets on the island, direction Archimede Square.
Keep wandering around and get lost in the maze of small lanes, so much to see like:
- the Cathedral of Siracusa, built in the 7th century in baroque style
- the Santa Lucia alla badia Church, a baroque church with paintings of Caravaggio
- the Maniace Castle, erected in the 13th century to protect the city
- the Ipogeo Di Piazza Duomo, one of the most beautiful squares in Siracusa
Who has not seen the Godfather movie?
If you haven’t, then you should, absolutely stunning.
And once in Sicily, you can join this organised tour that visits the movie locations besides telling you all about the history of mafia (with a local view).
This is an experience that you can only do in Sicily
The tour leaves from Taormina
I am a great fan of the Inspector Montalbano TV series.
Because it showed me so many hidden corners of Sicily.
It helped me to find the less known part of this lovely island
Both towns were rebuilt following the 1693 earthquake, in perfect Baroque style, very similar to Noto, but much less popular.
From Catania, you can drive there in about 2 hours through the inland, making the trip an experience by itself
The city of Agrigento is quite often overlooked, almost in the shadow of the world-famous Valley of the Temple.
And this is a pity because Agrigento is a Marvellous City (the antique name of the city)
A visit to the city must begin in its historic centre, a maze of alleys and streets with Arab influences which is bear witness to its ancient past.
Located on the very edge of a cliff, you can find the 11th-century Cathedral of San Gerlando.
The church stands out from the crowd thanks to its beautiful example of Arab-Norman architecture.
Among the most beautiful medieval sights in the city, make sure to visit the Santo Spirito Monastery.
The Cistercian nuns still make delicious sweets, for sale, according to their ancient recipes.
You should also visit the Church of Santa Maria dei Greci, which is built on the remains of a Greek temple, some of them still visible.
Other attractions of the city not to be missed are the Pirandello Theatre and Cavour Square
The Valley of the Temples, just 3 km from Agrigento, is the biggest archeological site in the world.
You will have the possibility to visit some amazing and well preserved Greek temples, sanctuaries, necropoles, antique fortifications and so much more from the Greater Greece era.
There are 12 temples, of which the Lacinia, Concordia and Demetra ones are just spectacular.
You can easily spend the whole day in this archeological site, however, it can also be very tiring, especially if visited in the hot hours of the day.
I personally highly suggest allocating at least 3 hours, possibly in the latest part of the day when you will find fewer people around and it will not be as hot.
A great way to explore the archeological area is by e-scooter. It will make your life so much easier and you will not be exhausted by the end of the day.
With this organised E-scooter tour you will also have a guide that will explain all you need to know.
Do not undervalue the vastity of the archeological site, it’s really big.
Try to pre-plan your visit and, if you are not keen on the E-scooter experience, check out the Valley of the Temples website for maps and more information
Inside Trapani (for a real local experience)
Trapani is one of the most underrated, I may add luckily, places in Sicily.
The old centre is so beautiful and most travellers do not venture so far west which means you will share Trapani with mostly locals.
In this respect, I consider this small city one of the most genuine destinations that Sicily has to offer.
You would not go to Trapani for the amazing cathedral, or the outstanding palace or any unique historical sites.
It’s more about the whole experience
From Trapani, you can also plan an easy day trip to Erice by cable car or to Favignana Island by ferry boat.
It’s definitely another great base to visit the western side of Sicily.
Looking for a beach in Trapani to have a swim?
Head down to the lovely San Giuliano Beach.
Erice is a village stuck in the Middle Ages, just a stone away from Trapani, perched 700 metres high on the hill.
You can either drive there through the very winding road or take the modern cable car from Trapani (an awesome 10 minutes trip)
Erice was founded by the Phoenicians, colonised by the Greeks for a long time, then ruled by the Arabs and later by the Normans.
The beauty of this town is in the building design, a great mix inherited by the many dominations.
Walking in Erice is like going through a university lesson that describes the different architectural styles of the last 3,000 years.
The view from the castle is one of the best you can find in Sicily, extending from the countryside to the turquoise water of San Vito Lo Capo.
You can visit Erice on your own or, if staying in Palermo, you could join an organised day-tour that will take you also to Segesta (a Greek archaeological site) and the salt pans of Marsala.
This is a special place in Sicily, a lovely island with nice beaches and lush vegetation.
However, for adventurous people, the main reason to visit Stromboli island is the hike of the volcano.
Because this is one of the most active volcanos on earth and you will be quite likely to see possible small bursts of glowing lava.
One of the great adventures of Sicily and still unknown to the most.
Plan your trekking to the top of the Stromboli Volcano at sunset, the best time of the day.
Ustica is a small island 60km north of Palermo and reachable from there by ferry boat.
It’s still small heaven, with no sign of mass tourism.
It’s probably not the destination you are looking for on the first trip to Sicily but definitely a place you should keep in mind for a repeated visit.
Ustica is world-famous for its diving because of the unique seabed, made of black lava stone, the numerous caves, the abundance of fish and a few shipwrecks from WWII