Last updated on February 19, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, founder of MEL365, following extensive travelling in Sicily

EPIC itinerary through 10 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Sicily

In this itinerary of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sicily, you’ll discover the 10 must-visit places on the island with a handy travel plan and a map.

It’s a beautiful drive, unmissable in my opinion. You can also decide to use public transportation but it will take more days. The entire trip can take between 7 and 14 days, based on your time and your travelling style.

But let’s just straight away to a quick summary table

The itinerary through the Sicily Unesco Sites – Key points

Below is a quick summary table of the full drive through the Sicilian World Heritage list. Click on the destination for more information or just keep reading the full guide. On a mobile swipe left or right to see the entire table.

DestinationDistanceFamous ForInteresting Fact
PalermoStart pointArab-Norman architectureEurope’s oldest royal residence
Monreale CathedralDay trip from PalermoNorman Cathedral with mosaicsHouses a piece of the Holy Cross
Cefalù Cathedral1 hour from Palermo by car/trainNorman Cathedral, seaside charmFeatures Christ Pantocrator mosaic
Mount EtnaApprox. 3.5 hours from Cefalu/PalermoEurope’s highest active volcanoDynamic history, mythological significance
Syracuse1.5-2 hours from EtnaAncient Greek history, Ortigia islandGreek Theatre in Neapolis Park
Necropolis of PantalicaDay trip from SiracusaPrehistoric burial siteOver 5,000 ancient tombs
Val di Noto1 hour from SyracuseBaroque architectureUnique Noto town
ScicliLess than an hour from NotoBaroque architecture, less touristyFeatured in “Inspector Montalbano” TV series
Villa Romana del Casale2 hours from ScicliRoman mosaicsFamous “Bikini Girls” mosaic
Valley of the Temples2 hours from Villa Romana del CasaleAncient Greek templesBest-preserved Greek Temple of Concordia
Aeolian Islands
(Hidden gem)
Off the northern coastBreathtaking beauty, geological diversityUNESCO World Heritage Centre
Itinerary through the Sicily Unesco Sites
The itinerary through the Sicily Unesco Sites
The itinerary through the Sicily Unesco Sites (check the interactive Google map)

This is one of the best scenic drives you can do in Sicily. True, get around the island also with public transportation but it will take much longer and you will need to take organised tours to visit for example the Necropolis of Pantalica from Siracusa, Mount Etna and Villa Romana del Casale.

My suggestion is to rent a vehicle in Sicily, the best way to enjoy and experience the island. My trusted car booking website is DiscoverCars, the AirBnb of car rentals (the easiest way to describe it) which offers also full insurance for just 8 Euro/day, a no-brainer.

Arab-Norman Palermo and the cathedral churches 

Palermo Cathedral
Palermo Cathedral

Palermo, the capital city of the island, serves as the ideal starting point for one of the most epic itineraries of Sicily that covers the 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

This vibrant city is a beautiful showcase of Arab-Norman architecture, a unique blend that emerged in the 12th century when the Normans conquered Sicily.

This architectural style beautifully marries the intricate and geometric designs of the Arabs with the robust and grandiose forms of the Normans, creating a visual feast that is as intriguing as it is historic.

As you traverse the streets of Palermo, the fusion of these two worlds is evident in the majestic buildings that dot its landscape. Here’s a glimpse into some of the most remarkable sites that embody this blend:

SiteDescriptionUnique ExperienceInteresting Fact
Royal Palace and Palatine ChapelRoyal magnificence with mosaicsStand in awe of golden artistryEurope’s oldest royal residence
Zisa PalaceIslamic-style Norman palaceRelish Arabesque motifsNamed ‘Zisa’ from Arabic ‘al-Azīz’
Palermo CathedralA mix of architectural stylesSee royal and imperial tombsHouses a piece of the Holy Cross
San Giovanni degli EremitiRed domes and cloistersTranquil gardens offer serenityReflects Islamic architectural influence
Santa Maria dell’AmmiraglioByzantine mosaics aboundMarvel at the intricate mosaicsKnown as ‘La Martorana’
San CataldoA church with Arabic marksObserve the tri-domed roofOnce a post office in the 19th century
Admiral’s BridgeAncient stone bridge over a riverWalk through historyA testament to Norman engineering
Palermo’s Architectural Gems

Each site offers a window into a time when different cultures merged and coexisted in Palermo, creating something truly magnificent.

Whether it’s the intricate mosaics of the Palatine Chapel, the serene gardens of San Giovanni degli Eremiti, or the stunning Admiral’s Bridge, Palermo is a city that not only narrates but also showcases the rich tapestry of its history.

I wrote a full guide about where to stay in Palermo. In short, here are two of my favourite hotels to stay.

The Natoli Apartments is a cozy and modern accommodation located in the heart of Palermo’s historical centre, just a few steps from the Quattro Canti and the Cathedral.

They offer the ultimate in comfort and convenience, with all the amenities you need to feel right at home. Once again, the location is unbeatable

The B&B Gallidoro is a charming bed and breakfast, the perfect retreat for travellers seeking comfort, style, and convenience in the heart of the city.

One of the highlights of this B&B is the delicious breakfast buffet featuring fresh and local ingredients, the perfect way to start the day in Palermo.

Where to stay in Palermo Italy

Monreale Cathedral

Just a short journey from the bustling streets of Palermo lies Monreale, a tranquil town that is home to one of Sicily’s most splendid treasures: the Monreale Cathedral.

This majestic cathedral, a shining example of Norman architecture, is an essential day trip for anyone visiting Palermo.

The Monreale Cathedral, officially known as the Cathedral of Santa Maria Nuova, was commissioned in 1174 by King William II of Sicily. It stands as a monumental testament to the cultural blend of Norman, Byzantine, and Arab artistry.

The cathedral is renowned for its breathtaking mosaics, covering about 6,000 square meters, depicting various biblical stories with stunning intricacy and colour. These mosaics are not just religious art; they are a narrative of medieval craftsmanship and storytelling.

Besides the cathedral, Monreale offers other intriguing sites that are worth exploring:

SiteDescriptionUnique ExperienceInteresting Fact
Cloister of MonrealeA peaceful medieval cloisterWalk among ancient columnsHome to over 200 unique columns
Monreale’s Old TownA historic Sicilian townStroll through medieval streetsRich in Norman heritage
Viewpoint of Monte CaputoPanoramic city viewsCapture breathtaking landscapesOverlooks Palermo and the sea
Benvenuto Cellini StreetArtisanal Sicilian craftsShop for unique souvenirsNamed after a famous goldsmith
Other places to explore in Monreale

Cefalù Cathedral

The lovely Cathedral in the Historical Centre of Cefalu
The lovely Cathedral in the Historical Centre of Cefalu

Nestled on the northern coast of the island, an hour by train from Palermo, lies the enchanting town of Cefalù, one of the most beautiful places to visit in Sicily.

Known for its picturesque beauty, romantic ambience, and stunning beaches, Cefalù is more than just a day trip destination.

Its charm and tranquillity make it an ideal spot for a longer stay, allowing you to immerse yourself in its peaceful atmosphere and interesting history.

Central to Cefalù’s allure is its magnificent cathedral, a masterpiece of Norman architecture. The Cefalù Cathedral, officially known as the Basilica Cattedrale della Trasfigurazione, was initiated in 1131 under the reign of Roger II of Sicily.

This awe-inspiring structure is a testament to the Norman influence in Sicily, with its imposing twin towers and splendid mosaics, particularly the Christ Pantocrator in the apse, a stunning piece of Byzantine artistry.

The cathedral’s interior is equally impressive, boasting a harmonious blend of architectural styles and art, including its famed cloisters and the beautiful mosaic of Christ Pantocrator.

The Historical Centre is one of my favourite places to stay in Sicily. It’s so beautiful and so romantic too, especially at night with its streetlights. I have actually written a full guide about the best areas to stay in Cefalù that you should check out before booking the hotel.

Here is a quick summary table of other places to check out once in Cefalù.

SiteDescriptionUnique ExperienceInteresting Fact
The Old TownMedieval streets and charmWander through historyHome to Norman and Arabic influences
La RoccaA historical hike with viewsClimb to ancient ruinsOffers panoramic views of Cefalù
Cefalù BeachScenic sandy beachRelax by the turquoise seaPopular spot for sunset views
Mandralisca MuseumRich in art and archaeologyDiscover ancient artifactsHouses the famous ‘Unknown Portrait’
Lavatoio MedievaleAncient public washhouseStep back in timeFed by a natural spring
Osterio MagnoA historical palaceExplore medieval architectureBelieved to be King Roger’s residence
Temple of DianaAncient megalithic structureWitness prehistoric SicilyDates back to the 9th century BC
Exploring Cefalù: Beyond the Cathedral

Mount Etna

View of the Etna peak from the Bove Valley
View of the Etna peak from the Bove Valley

Mount Etna, Europe’s highest and most active volcano, is an unmissable destination for anyone visiting Sicily. A journey from Cefalù or Palermo to this majestic natural wonder takes approximately 3.5 hours.

For those wishing to wake up to the breathtaking views of Etna, there are a couple of hotels near the start of the gondola (Corsaro Hotel&SPA and Rifugio Sapienza), providing easy access to the mountain.

Alternatively, staying in the picturesque town of Taormina offers a delightful combination of coastal beauty and easy access to Etna as a day excursion.

Etna’s history is as dynamic as its eruptions. It has been a source of both awe and inspiration throughout the ages, playing a significant role in mythology and folklore. The volcano has shaped the landscape, culture, and even the agriculture of the surrounding areas.

For a quick experience with Etna, take the local walk to the Cratères Silvestri. This relatively easy hike, starting from the parking area, offers a round trip of about two hours and provides stunning views of the two small craters and the diverse volcanic landscapes.

If you are seeking a more comprehensive exploration, the gondola ride up to 2,500 meters is a spectacular journey. From there, you can continue on a 4×4 bus to the Belvedere Valle del Bove and the Cratere del Laghetto on the way back. These tours offer unparalleled views of the mountain’s lunar landscapes and its smoking craters.

While the entire ascent can certainly be undertaken on foot, the combination of the gondola and the 4×4 bus tour offers a more accessible and time-efficient way to experience the grandeur of Mount Etna.

If you decide to rent a car in Sicily, then you can plan the full trip as you wish. Alternatively, join one of the many organised tours. There is also a daily early morning public bus from Catania (back at 4:30pm).

All you need to know to plan a Mount Etna Tour

Syracuse and Isola di Ortigia

Syracuse, an ancient city rich in history and culture, is a captivating destination for any traveller in Sicily. Located a mere 1.5-2 hours journey from Mount Etna or Taormina, it offers an intriguing blend of history, architecture, and Mediterranean charm.

When deciding to stay in Siracusa you have 2 options: the lively modern city centre or the more romantic and serene experience in Isola di Ortigia, the Old Town.

The story of this city stretches back over 2,700 years, having been a significant city in Greek and Roman times. Its historical centre, Isola di Ortigia, is a picturesque island connected to the mainland by bridges.

The streets and buildings in this area have a rich history that spans from ancient Greek ruins to medieval Norman structures. Below is a list of 7 places you should check out in Siracusa.

SiteDescriptionUnique ExperienceInteresting Fact
Neapolis Archaeological ParkAncient Greek and Roman ruinsWalk through historyHome to a Greek theatre
Ortigia MarketBustling local marketTaste Sicilian flavorsA sensory feast of colours and aromas
Piazza del DuomoBaroque squareAdmire architectural beautyBuilt over an ancient Greek temple
Fonte AretusaLegendary freshwater springSee papyrus plants growingConnected to Greek mythology
Castello ManiaceA fortress with sea viewsExplore medieval fortificationsNamed after Byzantine general Maniaces
Lungomare di OrtigiaScenic waterfront promenadeRelax by the seaOffers stunning views at sunset
Cala Rossa BeachSmall pebble beachEnjoy a beach dayA popular small beach in the Ortigia Island
Places to visit in the city

When travelling to Siracusa, I highly suggest staying on Ortigia Island where you will find the Hotel Henry’s House (boutique and unique) and the Maison Ortigia (great value for money).

Cathedral of Siracusa

Necropolis of Pantalica

Located less than an hour’s drive from Syracuse, the Necropolis of Pantalica is a unique archaeological marvel that stands as one of the most significant prehistoric burial sites in Europe.

The history of the Necropolis of Pantalica is as fascinating as it is ancient. Dating back to the 13th to 7th centuries BC, this site was a major centre during the late Bronze Age and the Iron Age.

The necropolis is home to over 5,000 tombs carved into the limestone rock faces of a deep canyon, creating a stunning and solemn landscape. These tombs, mostly chamber tombs, are an incredible testament to the early inhabitants of the island and their burial practices.

The area surrounding the tombs offers breathtaking natural scenery, with the Anapo and Calcinara rivers twisting through the lush, green canyon.

Noto and the late baroque towns of the Val di Noto 

View of Noto from the Chiesa di Montevergine
View of Noto from the Chiesa di Montevergine

A mere hour’s journey from Syracuse, Noto is a stunning town known for its late Baroque architecture, regarded as a gem among the other towns in the valley.

Though it’s feasible as a day trip, spending a couple of nights in Noto is nothing short of magical, especially when the city lights cast a golden hue on its buildings’ facades.

Noto, rebuilt in the early 18th century following a devastating earthquake in 1693, is a masterpiece of baroque architecture. Its streets and buildings, designed by the likes of Rosario Gagliardi, Angelo Italia, and Vincenzo Sinatra, display a perfect combination of elegance and magnificence.

The town of Noto and its neighbours in the Val di Noto – Ragusa, Modica, Scicli, and others – were collectively recognized as Heritage Sites for their exemplary art and architecture.

Here are some of the suggested places to visit in Noto

SiteDescriptionUnique ExperienceInteresting Fact
Cathedral of NotoArchitectural gemMarvel at the grand facadeRebuilt after the 1693 earthquake
Palazzo NicolaciOrnate noble residenceAdmire intricate balconiesKnown for its decorative balconies
Palazzo CastelluccioA blend of stylesWitness architectural fusionA mix of Baroque and Rococo
Teatro Tina Di LorenzoHistoric theatre in NotoEnjoy a cultural eveningNamed after a famous actress
Chiesa Santa ChiaraStunning church and conventGaze at the beautiful interiorsBoasts a magnificent cloister
Ducezio PalaceNoto’s Town HallExplore Sicilian civic architectureNamed after the ancient Sicilian king
Corso Vittorio EmanueleNoto’s main streetStroll and enjoy the ambienceLined with architectural masterpieces
Suggested places to visit in Noto

For a stay in Noto, I suggest booking at Ziolì (great value for money) or at Marla’s for a boutique experience.

Scicli, a unique town not to be missed

ZTL - Zona Traffico Limitato - in the beautiful Scicli
Entering the beautiful Scicli

Scicli stands less than an hour away from Siracusa or Noto making it another great day trip.

This unique baroque town, not as popular with tourists, offers a serene and authentic experience of Sicilian culture and architecture. A day trip to Scicli is certainly worthwhile, but staying a night or two allows for a deeper exploration of its charming streets and hidden treasures.

Unlike its more famous neighbours, Scicli boasts a quiet charm. Its history, while intertwined with the Val di Noto, has a distinct narrative.

The town was rebuilt in the Baroque style after the 1693 earthquake, much like its neighbours, but it has retained a more laid-back and untouched ambience.

Wondering through the below places is an easy and peaceful stroll, not a busy walk through the crowds of tourists.

SiteDescriptionUnique ExperienceInteresting Fact
Commissariato di VigataIconic police stationVisit Montalbano’s officeFeatured in the Inspector Montalbano TV series
Church of San MatteoOverlooks the townPanoramic views from the hillA church with a striking facade
Palazzo BeneventanoArchitectural marvelAdmire sculpted balconiesKnown for its ornate decorations
Via Mormino PennaScenic historic streetStroll the UNESCO-listed siteLined with beautiful buildings
Scicli’s Town HallElegant municipal buildingExplore civic historyHouses beautiful frescoes
Great places to see in Scicli

Villa Romana del Casale

Located approximately two hours from Scicli, Villa Romana del Casale offers a fascinating day trip into the heart of ancient luxury and artistry.

This remarkable Roman villa, nestled near the characteristic town of Piazza Armerina, is famed for its well-preserved and extensive mosaics, considered among the finest and most intricate examples of Roman mosaic art in the world.

Dating back to the 4th century AD, the villa is believed to have belonged to a wealthy Roman patrician. Its floors are adorned with vibrant and detailed mosaics, depicting various scenes from mythology, daily life, and exotic animals, showcasing the extraordinary craftsmanship of ancient artisans.

The most famous mosaic, “The Bikini Girls”, illustrates women participating in athletic competitions, a rare insight into the life and times of the era.

If you are driving from Scicli to Agrigento, a stop at Villa Romana del Casale beautifully breaks the journey, offering an interesting glimpse into Roman history.

Alternatively, you can also think of booking your accommodation in the charming town of Piazza Armerina (Giardino delle Zagare) where you can experience more of the typical Sicilian life.

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

Valley of the Temples and Agrigento

The Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, a two-hour drive from Villa Romana del Casale, is a must-visit for anyone exploring Sicily.

A stay of at least one night, preferably two, in Agrigento, will allow you not only to delve into the ancient wonders of the Valley of the Temples but also to explore the old city’s rich history.

The Valley of the Temples is one of the most outstanding examples of Greater Greece’s art and architecture. Dating back to the 5th century BC, it is a testament to the magnificence of Ancient Greek civilization in Sicily.

The area is home to well-preserved Doric temples dedicated to various deities, including the Temple of Concordia, one of the best-preserved Greek temples in the world.

Visiting the Valley of the Temples: Practical Tips

  • Best Time to Visit: Spring and autumn for mild weather and fewer crowds.
  • Getting There: Regular bus services are available from Agrigento. If driving, parking is available near the main entrance.
  • Main Sites: Temple of Concordia, Temple of Hera, Temple of Heracles.
  • Accommodation: Consider staying near the archaeological site (A casa di Mammì) for early access or in Agrigento’s historical centre (La Terrazza di Carolina) for a more immersive local experience.

Discover Agrigento Beyond the Temples with the below places

SiteDescriptionUnique ExperienceInteresting Fact
Agrigento Old CityHistoric city centerStroll ancient streetsRich in medieval and baroque architecture
Cannatello BeachPeaceful sandy beachRelax by the MediterraneanKnown for crystal-clear waters
Garden of KolymbethraAncient garden in the valleyDiscover flora and faunaA hidden gem among ruins
Museo ArcheologicoArchaeological museumSee ancient artifactsHouses famous ‘Telamon’ statue
Chiesa di Santa Maria dei GreciBuilt on a Greek templeExplore layers of historyFoundations from the 5th century BC
Discover Agrigento Beyond the Temples
View of the Valley of the Temples and Agrigento
View of the Valley of the Temples and Agrigento

Aeolian Islands – The Sicilian UNESCO World Heritage Centre

The Aeolian Islands, an archipelago of seven stunning islands off the northern coast of Sicily, are recognized as a UNESCO Heritage Centre.

While UNESCO Heritage Sites are landmarks or areas with cultural, historical, scientific, or other forms of significance, World Heritage Centres are dedicated to managing and conserving these sites.

The Aeolian Islands exemplify this by preserving their unique natural and cultural landscapes while offering sustainable tourism experiences.

These islands are famous for their breathtaking beauty, geological diversity, and rich cultural history. Each island has its own distinct character, making it collectively a remarkable destination.

IslandFamous ForUnique FeatureInteresting Fact
LipariLargest and most vibrantArcheological treasuresMost popular of the Aeolian Islands
VulcanoNatural mud baths, thermal springsActive volcanic phenomenaMythological ‘forge’ of Hephaestus
StromboliActive volcano, ‘Strombolian’ eruptionsContinuous volcanic activityNicknamed “Lighthouse of the Mediterranean”
SalinaLush landscapes, capers, Malvasia wineGreenest of the islandsSetting for film ‘Il Postino’
PanareaExclusive, picturesqueSmallest, fashionable nightlifeAncient shipwrecks nearby
FilicudiPeaceful, wild naturePrehistoric village remainsFeatures a submerged volcano
AlicudiRemote, untouched tranquillitySteep terrain, traditional lifestyleNo cars, only donkey paths
Exploring the Aeolian Islands
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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