Sicily may be small, but it really packs a punch when it comes to variety of experience. One day you could be snorkelling in the turquoise ocean waters, and the next you might be climbing the highest active volcano in Europe. In between all that exercise you’ll be checking out historical towns with winding cobbled streets and hidden plazas, and exploring magnificent palaces, ancient temples and even Roman theatres.
You can fly into either Catania or Palermo and explore the whole island in a relatively short space of time. Most visitors come to Sicily for a week or two, and hiring a car for a bit of a road trip is really the best way to get around and see all the sites independently. Just be aware that some of the smaller towns have narrow streets, one-way systems and little parking, so do plan ahead accordingly.
Here are some of the top sights that we think you shouldn’t miss on your Sicily holiday:
Valley of the Temples
Not far from Agrigento, a vast archaeological park known as ‘Valley of the Temples’ makes a great half day trip. There are eight temples still visible here, dating back to the 5th century BC. The Temple of Concordia and the Temple of Hera are two of the best preserved ancient sites you’ll ever come across. It’s easy to walk around the whole site, but just make sure you take plenty of water and sunscreen as there’s little shade up here. The site is a popular destination on Sicily holidays with Voyage Privé, and should definitely be at the top of your list when travelling around the island.
Scala dei Turchi
This place really is quite bizarre, and undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places to visit in Sicily. Just a half hour drive from Agrigento, the white limestone cliff of Scala dei Turchi has been eroded by wind and waves over time to form some rather unusual ‘steps’. It’s a great place for scrambling, as well as finding a quiet spot to watch the sunset during the evening. There’s a beach here too so why not bring a picnic and spend the day here.
If you’re looking for unsurpassed ocean views with colourful hillside settlements and some of the best snorkelling on the island, then look no further than Taormina. It can get busy during the summer, but visit outside of peak season and you’ll soon see why this Sicilian gem is so popular. Don’t miss Isola Bella, which is a tiny island just off the mainland with a picture-postcard beach, or the famous Greek theatre that still stands proud on the hillside. The views of Mount Etna are breathtaking, and if you head up to the Madonna della Rocca church the panoramas are even better. Many visitors base themselves here for the duration of their stay.
Catania is the second largest city on the island, and a superb jumping off point for climbing Mount Etna. Many of the buildings here are unique, being constructed using lava rock from the volcano. It’s worth spending a couple of days in the city at the beginning or end of your tour, to explore the famous sights such as Piazza del Duomo, which is overlooked by the grand cathedral. Life here is laid back and easy, with lots of cafes and gelaterias for refreshing breaks in between all the sightseeing.
Being the largest active volcano in Europe, Mount Etna is visible from much of the island, and it’s a useful landmark if you ever need to get your bearings. Yet it’s not just a phenomenal geological feature, the volcano is actually one of the most popular sights to visit on a holiday in Sicily. Intrepid visitors can climb right up to the crater rim on a half-day trip from either Taormina or Catania. Most people ascend the mountain by cable car, finishing the last part by vehicle, so it’s really easy to get there without too much effort.
Over on the east coast lies the pretty historical town of Syracuse, which is a must-visit on any island road trip. There are lots of quaint squares, magnificent palaces and ancient churches to discover, as well as the delightful little Ortigia island a little way offshore. The Neapolis Archaeological Park is also a real highlight in this area, with both Roman and Greek ruins to enjoy. It’s very pleasant wandering around the port in Syracuse too, watching the boats bobbing up and down in the harbour and enjoying an ice-cream along the way.
Noto, Modica and Ragusa
The Baroque towns of Noto, Modica and Ragusa are listed UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and utterly charming in both appearance and temperament. Most visitors base themselves in Noto and take day trips out into the wider area. Life here is all about strolling at a leisurely pace through cobbled streets, admiring the architecture and checking out secret alleyways that always have something spectacular around every corner. Keep an eye out for churches, palaces and cathedrals!
Marsala Salt Pans
Not far from Trapani are the mesmerising salt pans of Marsala. You might recognise the iconic image of windmills set amidst the salt pools, and indeed it’s a very photogenic site. The light and colour is superb at sunset when the reflections really come into play, but a stop here is equally fun by day, when you can purchase small bags of salt to take home as a rather unique souvenir. The salt here is used in many restaurants across the island, so you may have already tasted it!