Needless to say, I was a little upset when I left Sicily after only spending month there- it felt like there was so much more that I still needed to see. Most people would jump at the chance to spend an extended amount of time in any region, let alone somewhere as gorgeous as Sicily, but even with all that time I didn’t feel like it was enough. You could easily plan a trip that would allow you to hit all the main places in Sicily without sacrificing too much travel time elsewhere, but for me part of the fun is being able to explore without having everything planned out.
It’s tough to say what the most picturesque location in Sicily is because it varies from person to person. The same idea goes for suggesting activities – everyone has unique hobbies and things they enjoy, so there are a lot of possibilities! On the other hand, I can make some tips about where providing accommodation during your stay in Sicily.
I’ll tell you a few of the things I believe you may find useful. Some may appear self-evident, but if I were returning to Sicily for the first time, these are the topics I’d want to understand.
1. Different to Mainland Italy
One of the appealing aspects about traveling in Italy is that you realize how unique each region is. Sicily, to be precise. I often found myself thinking, “I’ve never seen anything like this before in Italy,” which says it all, doesn’t it? Many of the reasons for Sicily’s uniqueness will be discussed in greater depth below. One of my favorite aspects about Sicily is the architecture. I know that not everyone shares the same sentiment, but once you lay your eyes on UNESCO-recognized Val di Noto with its picturesque Baroque buildings like Noto and Ragusa, you’ll understand where I’m coming from.
My point is, if you’re expecting or wrote off Sicily because “you’ve seen Italy,” then stop thinking that way immediately. Sicily deserves to be appreciated as its own unique place.
2. How to Get There
You have a few different options when travelling to Sicily from other areas of Italy or Europe. The most common methods are flying or taking a ferry, but you could also take the train.
Flying is the most apparent option for getting to Sicily for the majority of tourists. Trapani, Palermo and Catania all have airports that fly into them from both budget carriers and national airlines. However, Catania and Palermo are more widely known. Additionally, flights to Sicily can occasionally be very affordable which was part of my reasoning for finally going when I did.
We next have ferries to Sicily, both domestically and internationally. Naturally, there are ferries to the mainland, with Naples and Villa San Giovanni being the most popular stops. The latter is located on the Strait of Messina, which separates Sicily from the mainland, and it is the quickest sea crossing if you don’t want to use boats.
However, if you want to combine Sicily with Malta in a journey, there are ferries to other islands as well as one that goes all the way to Malta.
For the train, you may purchase tickets from mainland Italy to Sicily directly. What actually happens is that the train travels by boat across the Strait of Messina, which sounds like an adventure.
3. Getting About
After spending time travelling in Sicily, I’ve learned that it isn’t as easy to get around as one might think. Throughout my trip, I used public transportation and ran into quite a few difficulties. In retrospect, renting a car would have helped me out vastly; however, that then brings the challenge of driving in Italy. If you don’t want to deal with any issues at all, another option would be taking a guided tour of Sicily.
It’s a pain, no matter what. And, believe it or not, I’ve never had any trouble with the trains in Sicily. Trains are more useful for traveling along the coast than on the island’s interior, although they aren’t necessarily slow. Due to their meandering routes through hilly terrain, some parts of them aren’t as quick as others.
Bus travel was definitely the trickiest part. People would push ahead of me in line, so by the time I got on the bus, there was no room left. And then trying to plan my bus trips–that was a real nightmare. Buses in Sicily are operated by a bunch of different companies, and good luck finding accurate timetables for them online.
Timetables for large bus companies are accurate more often than not, but smaller businesses inevitably have less reliable information. This was a problem I encountered when traveling from Piazza Armerina to Agrigento; the ticket office gave me incorrect information on two occasions. To steer clear of future issues, stick to popular routes and ask locals for help in areas that see fewer tourists.
4. Fantastic Sicilian Food
If you’re seeking for a reason to visit Sicily that isn’t simply “why not?” may I recommend its amazing food? That’s usually one of the reasons people go to Italy in the first place, but Sicilian cuisine is unique and delicious. Even if you’ve spent a month seeing all over mainland Italy, when you get to Sicily, you’ll find new and interesting things to try.
And with so many Sicilian specialties to experience, my advice is to dive right in. If you stick to eating the typical dishes from Italy while in Sicily, you’ll be missing out on some great food. I spent a lot of time exploring the food scene in Syracuse and Catania and was very pleased with what I found. Another way to discover the local cuisine is with a food and wine tour like this one out in the countryside.
Now, certain Sicilian recipes are more well-known internationally than others. Arancini are a popular dish in other countries, and cannoli is the most famous sweet treat on the island. However, even these well-known foods come in a bewildering number of varieties and tastes; particularly all of the stuffing you can find throughout arancini from one location to the next.
There are also a number of less instantly recognized foods discovered across Sicily that you’ll soon discover are just as popular, such as Pasta alla Norma with its delicious eggplant sauce and granita, the delightful icy dessert available at kiosks around. One of my favorite new experiences was eating busiate pasta in Agrigento, which is a type of spiral pasta from Sicily I haven’t seen elsewhere.
5. Remarkable History
I love learning about a destination’s history, as you may guess. Sicily is especially interesting to me because it has such a rich historical past. When you go on vacation in Sicily, you’ll be able to see all sorts of historical sites since the island has had such a complex and varied history.
You can find thousands of years of Sicilian history just by exploring a few ancient ruins. Start with Agrigento to learn about the island’s Greek settlement, then visit Villa Romana del Casale to see exquisite Roman mosaics. You can also tour Syracuse to get a sense of both the Arab and Norman influence on medieval Sicily. Finally, end your trip in Palermo by visiting some key landmarks from that era.
Then there are the destinations that feel trapped in time, allowing a glimpse into what 17th-18th century Sicily was like. You must go to the Val di Noto, which I previously mentioned. These may be the most beautiful areas to explore in that period, but trust me, there are many more. The point is that you’ll be spoilt by the end of your trip to Sicily; it’s certain.
6. Surprising Mountains
With its location in the center of the Mediterranean, one might think that the beaches are Sicily’s best natural asset. And if you’re looking for a beach vacation, then you won’t be disappointed. But I find mountains to be much more interesting and appealing than Sicilian beaches.
The island’s most well-known peak is Mt. Etna, which is also its highest volcano and the largest in Europe. Even if I didn’t visit during my trip to Sicily, one of the finest places to go is Catania because of the nearby volcano. Its looming, occasionally smouldering presence adds a lot of drama to the island’s eastern shoreline. I’m looking forward to seeing it up close once I’ve had more time.
The Madonie Mountains are an area that I now find just as appealing as any other, but it is far less known. These mountains are located in the center of a natural park on the north coast of the island. When I was planning my trip to Sicily, I didn’t know anything about them. By the time fellow travelers had recommended them to me as a great place for hiking, it was too late to change plans.
I asked a nearby family member about it, who also said how lovely it is. After a little research, the mountains rose up on my must-see list. As a result, I’m mentioning them now so that you can be aware of them before you go and maybe consider them into your itinerary.
7. Sicilian Pride
It should not come as a surprise, but it’s difficult to convey how satisfied the islanders appear to be with themselves. Even when performing the most basic tourist activities, you can sense the passionate pride in Sicily and everything Sicilian. The distinctive ceramics of Sicily are prevalent, as are its flag flies everywhere, but that is only the beginning.
When you converse with Sicilians about Sicily, it becomes readily apparent. I met and ate with an Australian/Sicilian guide from Piazza Armerina who has been leading tourists around for decades during my stay in Piazza Armerina. I was genuinely surprised by how much he extolled the virtues of everything about Sicily, from its heritage and culture to the product and people. He didn’t dwell on the bad history of previous connections between organized crime and Sicily, instead choosing to focus on the good.
If you applied this same level of patriotism to a country, you would call it unwavering. However, Sicily isn’t presently considered its own country. I’ve never experienced such regional pride in a place that doesn’t have a strong separatist movement like Catalonia.
I find that type of intense, passionate pride difficult to swallow because every place has issues, but it did make me consider everything I’d seen and appreciate just how strong the Sicilian culture is.