THE LOVE FOR TRAVELLING, THE PASSION FOR PHOTOGRAPHY (MADE IN MELBOURNE AND AROUND THE GLOBE)

TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY

Best places to stay in Sicily

Best places to stay in Sicily 2018 [itinerary for 7 days or more]


You may not know that Sicily is quite a big island, half the size of England.

This is why it is so important to plan and book the best places to stay in Sicily considering the time you will spend there as well as the airport you will arrive.

In this guide, you will find some of the best areas to stay in Sicily with reference to the best beaches, restaurants, nightlife (if applicable) and also the family-friendly locations.

And the best is that it’s all updated to the 2018 (no old stuff)

Are you thinking about renting a car?

It’s a great idea. It’s easy to drive around (except in the cities) and you can decide where to stay in Sicily, even in the small towns, experiencing more of the local life.

Do you really need to rent a car?

No, you can book your hotel in one place and move around with local transportation or tours. There are also buses and trains that connect the major towns.

Let’s get started

Best areas to stay in Sicily

Here is a map which I suggest to download and keep it as a reference.

Where to stay in Sicily on a map

Where to stay in Sicily on a map (download full resolution map here)

I tried to group the best areas to stay in Sicily based on location. I also added the distances in hours. Keep it as an indication but not as a rule.

Obviously, you can build your own trip that goes through a few or all of these areas. I will suggest a few Sicily itineraries later in the post.

Here are the best areas to stay in Sicily starting from Palermo in anticlockwise direction:

  • Palermo: capital of the island and probably the most beautiful city in Sicily. It’s a great place to spend a few days visiting the many historical sites and the famous Ballarò market. You have easy access to a few beaches, perfect for a weekend. Palermo has one of the two international airports (the other one is in Catania)
  • West Coast: easy accessible either through the Palermo airport or the rather small Trapani airport. It’s one of the most beautiful and characteristic parts of Sicily. A few spectacular beaches like San Vito Lo Capo and interesting towns as Trapani and Erice. Easy 45m ferry to the island of Favignana for a day trip
  • Agrigento: the valley of the temples is one of the most beautiful archaeological sites in Italy and it should be on anyone bucket list. The city has such a fascinating history that goes through so many cultures like the Greek, the Normann, the Roman and the Arabian. The architecture is just a reflection of the different empires. So unique.
  • South-East Coast: beautiful beaches and, again, amazing architecture. Noto and Siracusa, both in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites for their amazing baroque architecture, are such amazing destinations. Ortigia island, off Siracusa, is unmissable. This area is easily accessible through the Catania airport.
  • East Coast: Catania has the best nightlife in Sicily (but nobody from Palermo would agree 🙂 ). You get more of a city feeling, compared to Palermo. It’s a great base to visit the Etna volcano. Taormina is unmissable, probably the most popular town in Sicily and for a good reason, so beautiful.
  • Aeolian Islands: this archipelago, just 2.5 hours from Milazzo, has everything in a micro cosmo. Amazing sea for both diving and snorkelling, easy and challenging trekking up to the volcano, exclusive locations (designers Doce & Gabbana have here a holiday house) and beautiful nature in every direction.

Palermo, the capital of Sicily

Palermo is such a romantic city, a bit melancholic and definitely chaotic however always full of surprises.

You can easily access the city from the Falcone-Borsellino Airport, which is around 30km from the city. You can choose between a train (every 90 minutes) or a bus (every 30 minutes) to get into the city centre (40 minutes trip). A taxi will cost around 50 Euro (make sure the taxi meter is working).

Palermo has been able to maintain the own Sicilian identity without being “corrupted” by the globalization process that has invested most of the cities around the world.

Main attractions of Palermo

On your bucket list you should add these attractions and destinations of Palermo:

And if you are after some beach time then have a look at Mondello, the most popular between the locals, a real beauty.

Sicily West Coast

This part of Sicily is a real treasure of this beautiful region. 

And you know the best part?

Most of the attractions are within 1 hour by bus or rented car, or a short ride with a cable car.

The only airport in this region is in Trapani. It’s a small one with mostly flights from within Italy (but it’s opening up to the international tourism). You can also take a flight to Palermo and from there you can catch a bus or rent a car (1.5-2 hours).

Highlights of the west coast

Trapani is a great base and the historical city centre is a good place to stay in Sicily to explore the west coast. The major attractions on the west coast are:

  • San Vito Lo Capo: nice town and one of the most beautiful beaches on the west coast of Sicily
  • Riserva Dello Zingaro: for a beautiful walk, a bit of hiking and some hidden beaches to swim (less hidden in July and August). Running shoes are enough for this walk
  • Scopello: a lovely ancient village with pristine beaches nested in beautiful coves (the feature photo is from Mondello). This is an area that was also used as a film set in the famous “Inspector Montalbano” TV series

  • Trapani historical centre: it’s an open air museum based on a multitude of architecture. Byzantine, Arab and Baroque are the most striking. It’s a great town to be based if you are planning just a few days in Sicily
  • Erice: an ancient village reachable by cable car from Trapani. Besides the amazing view of the city and the west coast, I suggest to just get lost within the historical street, lanes and alleys of this unique town, absolutely a gem.
  • The Island of Favignana, just a 45 minutes ferry from Trapani. The turquoise colour of the water is really something it will be difficult to forget, for a long time. Rent a bike if you want to explore it (easy flat ride). The beach is mostly a long stretch of rocks, not ideal for kids, but amazing for a dive and some snorkelling.
  • Marsala: nice little town famous for its fortified wine. Have a taste session in one of the small bars around the centre. Just remember that the Marsala wine for the locals is not actually fortified, it’s more of an everyday wine, a bit sweet too.
San Vito Lo Capo bay

San Vito Lo Capo bay

Agrigento and the Valley of the Temples

The Valley of the Temples should be on anyone bucket list, especially if you are interested in archaeological sites.

The great thing is that you can visit it also after sunset with a nice sea breeze and without the strong sun over you. In fact, in July and August, I would probably not even suggest a visit during the day. It can be really hot.

I suggest visiting the Valley of the Temples website to pre-plan your visit, build your itinerary in this massive are and possibly join a guided tour.

The Agrigento old town is another gem of Sicily. I would personally not spend a full holiday here but certainly a few days.

Of course, the Valle of the Temples was also used as a film set for the “Inspector Montalbano” TV series.

Beautiful beaches and nightlife can be found in San Leone, 10 minutes from Agrigento.

For a trip from Palermo or Catania budget 2-3 hours by car, a bit more by bus.

Unique Scala dei Turchi beach close to Agrigento

Unique Scala Dei Turchi beach close to Agrigento

South Eastern Sicily

This is a part of Sicily which is quite accessible from the Catania airport (1-2 hours)

Interesting enough, most of the towns in this area were fully rebuilt after the catastrophic earthquake in 1693.

This explains the beautiful late baroque style used in most of the town in the Val di Noto, now in the Unesco World Heritage List.

Attractions in South Eastern Sicily

The major attractions in South Eastern Sicily are:

  • Siracusa and the beautiful connected island of Ortigia, both creating a boutique place to see and experience. 
  • Noto, completely rebuilt in a baroque style over 300 years ago, a real open-air museum
  • Ragusa, another great destination for the architecture lovers, but not only
  • Castello di Donna Fugata, a beautiful white castle 15km from Ragusa
  • Modica and Scicli, both widely used as a film set for the Inspector Montalbano, both rebuilt in 1693 in a beautiful baroque architecture.

And let’s not forget the beautiful beaches all around, from Fontane Bianche to Punta Secca, used as the location for the Inspector Montalbano home. 

Noto beautiful streets

Noto beautiful streets

Sicily east coast

This is probably the most popular part of Sicily with the airport in Catania getting busier than ever with national and international flights. There are local buses to the city (~1 euro) and to the major destinations in the area.

Catania itself is more city than Palermo, more chaotic but still a beautiful destination to visit and possibly be based.

The Roman theater in Catania

The Roman theater in Catania

But the popularity of this area is certainly due to the gem of the east coast, Taormina. A beautiful town to visit and experience, certainly to share with many other tourists but this does not take anything away from its beauty.

The usual question is: should I book my accommodation in Taormina?

I say yes.

Many locals obviously say that it’s too much touristy, and probably it is true, especially between June and August. But they live there and they can experience it in better times of the year, like in winter. As travellers, we can’t (unless you plan it that way)

It’s like saying you should not visit Venice or Amsterdam if this makes sense. 

View of Taormina

View of Taormina

My only suggestion here is to try to enjoy it as early as possible in the morning, just after sunrise for a beautiful walk in a still fresh time of the day. Then head down to Giardini Naxos for a swim.

The Sicily east coast is also famous for the Etna, not only the most active volcano in Europe but also in the world. It can be climbed with an organised tour, a real unique experience.

Other places to visit and see are :

  • Caltagirone, an inland town stuck back in time and world famous for its ceramic
  • Villa Romana del Casale: for its perfectly preserved Roman mosaic
  • Castelmola: another beautiful town close to Taormina
  • Siracusa and the Ortigia island

And if you visit Catania in winter you may even be able to ski on the Etna 🙂

Etna in winter (altitude of 3,300 meter)

Etna in winter (altitude of 3,300 meter)

The Aeolian Islands, fashionable and secluded

This is probably an area of Sicily you would visit on a second or a third trip. Or maybe if you have a few days as part of a long stay in Sicily.

There are direct ferry boats from Milazzo, that will take you to Vulcano, the first island in the Aeolian archipelago, in about 2.5 hours. This is a great island for trekking, beaches and mud baths.

The other islands are:

  • Lipari, the main island with the biggest population
  • Salina, for a relaxing stay between locals
  • Panarea, famous for its nightlife
  • Stromboli, for the great volcano view
  • Alicudi and Filicudi if you are looking for a secluded place
Vulcano in the Aeolian Islands

Vulcano in the Aeolian Islands

Sicily Itinerary

I have tried here to organise a few itineraries for a short and medium stay in Sicily. 

My suggestion is to take them as a starting point. You may want to modify or integrate them into your plan.

Sicily itinerary in 7 days

Seven days is a small holiday to think about travelling all around the island. I would focus only on one area based on which airport you arrive (Palermo or Catania)

  • Palermo and the west coast: 1 day in Palermo, 3 days in Trapani (city centre, Erice, Favignana and Marsala), 3 days of nature and beaches (San Vito Lo Capo, Scopello and the Riserva Dello Zingaro)
  • West Coast for families: Arrival at Palermo airport. Book your 7 nights in San Vito Lo Capo. From there you can do trips to the local attractions
  • 7 day of architecture and historical sites: 3 days in Agrigento and the Valley of the Temples. Then based on your arrival/departure airport:
    • if Palermo then 1 night in the city, 1 in Cefalu and 2 in Trapani/Erice
    • if Catania, then 3 nights in Noto to explore all the beautiful towns around protected by Unesco and 1 night in Siracusa
  • South East Coast of Sicily: 1 day in Catania, 2 in Siracusa/Ortigia, 2 in Noto e 2 in Fontane Bianche for some beach time
  • South East Coast for families: Arrival at Catania airport. Book 7 nights at Fontane Bianche (beautiful beach). (half)Day trips to Noto and the other baroque towns
  • Taormina: 1 day in Catania, 3 days in Taormina, 3 days at Giardini Naxos for some beach time and day trips to Etna, Caltagirone and Castelmola
Taormina square

Taormina square

Sicily itinerary in 10 days

Ten days is starting to leave you more options, especially if you rent a car. Here are a few possible itineraries based on which airport you arrive (Palermo or Catania)

  • West of Sicily: 1 day in Palermo, 2 days in Scopello or San Vito Lo Capo, 3 days in Trapani (Erice and Favignana), 3 days in Agrigento (Valley of the Temples), 1 day in Palermo
  • Palermo to Catania: 1 day in Palermo, 3 days in Agrigento (Valley of the Temples), 3 days in Noto, 2 days in Fontane Bianche, 1 day in Catania
  • East of Sicily: 1 day in Catania, 3 nights in Taormina, 3 days in Noto (or Siracusa if you prefer the coast), 2 days in Fontane Bianche, 1 day in Catania
Duomo in Siracusa

Duomo in Siracusa

Sicily itinerary in 5 days

I would consider 5 days a very short stay for Sicily. I would focus on a couple of destinations:

  • Palermo/Trapani: Palermo 1 day, Trapani 3 days (Erice and Favignana) and final day back in Palermo
  • The Archeological trip: Palermo 1 day, 3 days in Agrigento (Valley of the Temples) and final day back in Palermo
  • Catania/Taormina: Catania 1 day, 2 days in Taormina and 2 days in Catania(inclusive day trip to Etna)
  • Catania and Baroque valley: Catania 1 day, 3 days in Noto and 1 day in Ortigia
Saline in Marsala

Saline in Marsala

Longer stay, 14 days and over

If you rent a car, you can probably even drive all around the island in two weeks. 

I like more to spend 2/3 nights each site and visit around, but that’s my way of travelling, slower than probably should be 🙂

You can merge some of the above itineraries and add also two destinations I have still not mentioned: Cefalu and the Aeolian Islands.

What are the 6 destinations in Sicily that should not be missed for a few days stay?

  • Palermo
  • Trapani
  • Agrigento
  • Noto
  • Catania/Siracusa
  • Taormina
Charming streets of Erice

Charming streets of Erice

Getting around Sicily without a car, and by car

You can get around Sicily without a car however things get a little bit easier if you rent a car. 

Before renting a car or booking your bus ticket you should consider a few things:

  • renting a car is relativity cheap
  • it is much quicker to visit attractions with the own vehicle than public transportation (unless the attractions are uniquely in the city)
  • driving through the island is an experience by itself with beautiful sceneries and amazing small villages all scattered around
  • it’s easy to drive around Sicily, however, Palermo and Catania are very busy and I personally suggest to avoid them unless you are used to the chaotic traffic
  • roads may be quite narrow and if you have a truck in front of you it may be hard to overtake it in some cases (no worries on the major roads)
  • you will find approx driving time from/to the major locations in my map (add another 30 minutes if you want to be safe)
  • in Italy, they drive on the right side and usually cars are not automatic (you need to request it)

The choice is yours, based on all these benefits and drawbacks.

A walk in Noto

A walk in Noto

Getting around Sicily by car

What is my suggestion?

If you visit the west coast (Palermo, Trapani etc) then I would rent a car but I would not venture inside Palermo. Book a hotel outside the city or even better, explore the city for 1-2 days and book a car back at the airport to visit the rest of the area.

In case you land to Catania and you just want to see the city, Taormina and Giardini Naxos then do not rent a car. The bus network is good enough and non-stop from the airport.

However, if you want to explore the South-East coast (Siracusa, Nota, Ragusa, Modica etc) then I suggest renting a car. It will make your life so much easier.

The website I use and I would suggest when renting a car is CarRentals.com (it’s a company of Booking.com). They give the best deal analysing all the current prices from more than 30 rentals companies. Great unbeatable prices

Check the best price at CarRentals

The lovely Erice from a drone view

The lovely Erice from a drone view

Getting around Sicily without a car

If you prefer to use the public transportation then I suggest to check one of the bus companies:

  • Sais Trasporti: they have busses within Sicily and to other cities as Roma or Napoli
  • Interbus: they book also international connections, besides the local trips

This is a great page with all the other bus companies in the island beside the connection from the Catania airport to the major destinations

Check on the Trenitalia website if you plan instead to travel by train. It may work better between major cities/towns. Expect some delays, however, on the small scale, 15-20 minutes. 

Generally speaking, buses work better and they are more reliable but trains are more “nostalgic”

Where to stay in Sicily for best beaches

The beaches generally are rockier or with pebbles on the west coast and sandy on the east coast.

This is not a rule of course.

On the west coast

San Vito Lo Capo is a real jewel with an amazing coral sandy beach. This is a place I would recommend to any beach lover, especially if you land in the Palermo airport.

From San Vito, you can also organise day excursions to Scopello, for the boutique town and the lovely sea, and to the Riserva Dello Zingaro for a walk and some time spent in one of many coves swimming in the turquoise water.

Also consider a day trip to Favignana, a great destination for snorkelling.

On the east coast

Fontane Bianche is a great beach town south of Catania (1.5 hours from the airport). Absolutely pristine water with a white/brownish sandy beach. A dream destination also close to many places as Noto or Siracusa, for a half day trip.

Punta Secca is another great spot, especially if you are a follower of the Inspector Montalbano. This is his hometown. You can have a swim on his beach and take a photo next to his balcony

The Giardini Naxos beach is also a great destination, especially if you want to visit Taormina but not really staying there. It becomes also cheaper than staying in Taormina itself.

The beautiful town of Cefalu

The beautiful town of Cefalu

Where to stay in Sicily with a family

Sicily is a great place for families. You will notice how the locals are so open heart with the kids.

If you are visiting the west side of the island (landing at the Palermo airport)I would suggest staying in two destinations:

  • Mondello (the beach side of Palermo) to explore the city and have also some time for a swim and a few castles at the beach
  • San Vito Lo Capo as a base because of the great beach, the small size town, more livable. You can organise (half)day trips to everywhere. So convenient.

If your gateway is the Catania airport than I would consider:

  • Ortigia to explore the island and Siracusa (2-3 days) 
  • Fontane Bianche for the beautiful beach and to explore the Val di Noto
  • if you are not into beaches I would stay in Noto instead. Great baroque town
  • Marina di Ragusa or Ragusa itself to explore Modica and the Castello di Donna Fugata besides the beautiful beaches around
Food is king in Sicily

Food is king in Sicily


USE OF IMAGES

All images are Creative Commons, Non-Commercial
Details and licensing rights

Related Post

Stefano Ferro
Photographer
Stefano is a travel and landscape photographer with a background in cycling, movie and lifestyle photography. When in Melbourne, his hometown, you will see him cycling around at sunset or sunrise looking for the best spot for a photo of this beautiful city. It is quite amazing how much photography gear he can pack on his bike :o

    By clicking on the "Submit your comment" button you are giving permission to store your data (name, email and website, if added). You can always send a request to delete or collect your stored data anytime in future. Read more information on the Privacy Policy. This message has been added to conform with the European Union GPDR Policies 

    Leave a Comment