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
Here is a map which I suggest to download and keep it as a reference.
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 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.
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.
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).
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:
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.
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.
The major attractions in South Eastern Sicily are:
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.
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.
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 :
And if you visit Catania in winter you may even be able to ski on the Etna 🙂
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:
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.
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)
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)
I would consider 5 days a very short stay for Sicily. I would focus on a couple of destinations:
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?
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:
The choice is yours, based on all these benefits and drawbacks.
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
If you prefer to use the public transportation then I suggest to check one of the bus companies:
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”
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.
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.
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.
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:
If your gateway is the Catania airport than I would consider: