Home Europe Sicily Road Trip – Your 7-Day to 14-Day Itinerary

Sicily Road Trip – Your 7-Day to 14-Day Itinerary

by Andy Vanr

Our 7 to 14-day self-driving tour takes you to all of the best places on the Italian island of Sicily, including seven UNESCO sites.

From the unique cuisine in local markets to the architectural ruins of past Greek and Roman civilizations, Sicily has the perfect blend of culture and history.

Sicily Itineraries

We’ve created three Sicily road trip itineraries which explore the must-see sites of Sicily.  We recommend 14 days in Sicily to drive around the island.  However, choose which itinerary works best for the length of your stay in Sicily. 

14-day Sicily Itinerary

This 14-day self-drive road trip hits the island’s major attractions including all 7 of the UNESCO sites.  The maximum daily drive is 225 kilometres and most days are 100 kilometres or less.

This itinerary covers all of the Best Things To Do in Sicily.

Sicily road trip itineraries for 7, 10 and 14-day tours by AvrexTravel.
This chart compares the itineraries for the 7, 10 and 14-day Sicily Road Trips.

10-Day Sicily Itinerary

On this 10-day self-drive road trip, we’ve shortened the 14-day route, by excluding the western part of the island.  We still visit most of important places to visit in Sicily, including 6 UNESCO sites.

Like the 14-day trip, the maximum daily drive is not more than 225 kilometres but several days are over 100 kilometres. 

7-Day Sicily Itinerary

A shorter 7-day self-drive road trip of Sicily travels to the island’s must-visit attractions.  For one day, the drive is more than 250 kilometres, but most days are 100 kilometres or less.

Follow the same 10-day route, except visit Ragusa and Villa Romana del Casale in one day, skip Agrigento and visit Monreale on the same day as Valley of the Temples.

Map of Sicily Road Trip

Use our map as a guide on our self-drive tours of Sicily.

A map of the Sicily road trip routes with starred cities to visit.
Click on the map for an interactive version.

UNESCO Sites in Sicily

The island of Sicily is home to 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  Our road trip visits parts of all seven. (Note: Several have multiple locations within the same Heritage Site.)

  1. Siracusa
    Two areas of Siracusa, our first road trip stop, are included in the World Heritage Site called Syracuse and the Rocky Necropolis of Pantalica.  The first is the Island of Ortigia, Siracusa’s old town centre.  The second is the Archaeological Park of Neapolis.  Make time to visit both.
  1. Noto Valley
    UNESCO recognized eight late Baroque towns of south-eastern Sicily in the Noto Valley (Val di Noto) as a World Heritage Site in 2002.  Our road trip visits the towns of Noto, Modica, Scicli, Ragusa and Catania.  All towns were rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake, in the new Sicilian Baroque style, on top of or beside their original townsites.
  1. Casale
    The magnificent Roman Villa of Casale, near Piazza Armerina, was the centre of a large, country estate.  The site showcases one of the largest and most complex collections of Roman mosaics in the world.
  1. Valley of the Temples
    The Valley of the Temples, near modern day Agrigento, is what remains of the ancient Greek city of Akragas, the 4th largest city in the 5th century BCE.
  1. Palermo, Montreal and Cefalu
    In 2015, nine religious and civic structures, built during the period of the Norman Kingdom of Sicily (1130-1194), were recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Called the Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalú and Monreale, seven sites are in Palermo and the other two are the cathedrals in Cefalú and Monreale.
  1. Aeolian Islands
    The Aeolian Islands are a set of volcanic islands to the northeast of Sicily, recognized by UNESCO as an example of volcanic island-building. 
  1. Mount Etna
    The Mount Etna World Heritage Site (19,237 hectares in size) is strictly protected and the most scientifically important area of Mount Etna.  Europe’s more active volcano was recognized by UNESCO in 2013.  This is a must-see when visiting Sicily.

The first road trip stop is Siracusa on the southeastern coast of Sicily. 

Siracusa

The historic city of Siracusa (Syracuse) offers an abundance of ancient ruins and baroque architecture to explore.  In ancient times, the city was one of the major power centres of the Mediterranean world.  The Island of Ortigia, Siracusa’s small, atmospheric, old town centre, is recognized by UNESCO.  Its narrow alleys are lined with medieval palaces and grand Baroque cathedrals.  

Andy standing in front of the ornate Baroque Siracusa Cathedral.
Today’s Cathedral of Syracuse was once a Greek Temple topped by a statue of Athena. Today a statue of the Virgin Mary sits in that same prominent spot.

Piazza Duomo, the main square, is dominated by the imposing Cathedral of Syracuse (Duoma di Siracusa), originally a Greek temple dedicated to Athena built in the 5th century BCE. Inside, its columns still bear the marks from when it was converted into a church in the 7th century CE.  Its current Baroque façade was added in the late 1700s.  Visit Ortigia’s street market on Via Emmanuele de Benedictis.  Vendors sell fresh produce, cheeses and seafood from colourful stalls. 

To the north of Ortigia, on the western edge of modern Siracusa, visit the Archaeological Park of Neapolis, the other UNESCO protected area in Siracusa.  The Greek Theatre’s current appearance is from the 3rd century BCE but parts were carved out of rock in the 5th century BCE.  It is used now for performances.  Fairly nearby find the Roman Amphitheatre, thought to be from the 1st or 2nd century BCE, where gladiatorial combat and horse races were held.

An aerial view of the ancient Roman amphitheater in Siracusa Sicily
The many of the stones of the amphitheatre, believed built around the 1st century BCE, were moved by the Spanish to build higher walls around Ortigia.

Wander through the quarries at the north end of the park which were the source for the limestone for many of Siracusa’s buildings. Saltpetre, used in the production of gunpowder, was also mined here.  One of the resulting caves is called the Ear of Dionysius.  Its acoustic properties were so sensitive that Dionysius, a tyrant of Siracusa, is said to have used it to eavesdrop on the prisoners he held there.

The town of Noto is the next stop on our road trip route and the first of the UNESCO Baroque towns we visit.

Noto

This hilltop town’s magnificent Baroque architecture is on display on a walk down the main street, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, past a blend of palaces and churches.

The star of the show is the Noto Cathedral (Cathedral of San Nicolo) and the beautiful Paolo Labisi staircase to its front door.  It was built in the early 18th century after the 1693 earthquake.  In 1996, its dome collapsed forcing extensive renovation in the early 21st century and refocusing attention on the need to preserve the buildings of Noto. 

Piazza del Duomo, in front of the church, is the main plaza of the reconstructed 18th-century town.  Noto’s town hall, in the Baroque Palazzo Ducezio, is directly opposite.

An aerial view of Noto Cathedral, huge staircase and city around it.
The cathedral with its stunning staircase was the centre of ancient Noto.

Don’t miss the Church of Saint Clare (Chiesa di Santa Chiara) a block east.  Its entrance is tucked away on a side street.  The elaborate Baroque interior decorations are stunning. Find the 16th-century statue of the Madonna and Child. We visited the roof for a bird’s eye view of the Baroque town centre.

Similarly, the bell tower of St. Charles Church (Chiesa di San Carlo), on the west side of the cathedral, provides an impressive view. 

Theatre lovers shouldn’t miss the Tina Di Lorenzo Municipal Theatre (Teatro Tina Di Lorenzo). The 19th-century theatre has a stunning, curved facade and opulent interior.

Enjoy strolling Noto’s pedestrianized streets, lined with wrought-iron balconies and intricately carved doorways.  It’s like stepping into a work of art.

Between Noto and Modica, the next rebuilt Baroque town on our road trip, enjoy a detour to the archaeological site of a Roman villa on the bank of the Tellaro river.  Discovered by accident in the early 1970s, the floors of the Roman Villa of Tellaro are decorated with mosaics dated to the mid-4th century CE.  Full mosaic floors were discovered in some of the rooms.

A person standing above a mosaic floor at Roman Villa of Tellaro Sicily
The mosaic-tiled floor seen here is just a small part of the floors of a roman villa dated to the mid-4th century CE.

Modica

The town of Modica, a powerful town in the 14th century, covers both sides of a deep gorge.  The 1693 earthquake damaged buildings.  The town’s nobility ensured that many were rebuilt in the new Sicilian Baroque style.  

Discover beautiful churches, taste world-famous chocolate and experience authentic Sicilian traditions in this unforgettable town with layers of history and culture.

Modica’s highlights are throughout the town on winding, cobblestone streets.  Its centerpiece is the San Giorgio Cathedral (Duomo di San Giorgio) at the top of a 250-step, 19th-century staircase.  The butter-coloured church was reopened in 1738 after its reconstruction.  The interior has ornate altars, vivid frescoes, and 22 columns with Corinthian capitals.   Visit at noon to see the floor sundial in action.

Andy standing in front of the green facade of Antica Dolceria Bonajuto chocolate store.
Modica is known for its chocolate. Antica Dolceria Bonajuto is the oldest chocolatier in Modica. Andy couldn’t resist checking it out.

Wander the old town’s narrow streets along the hillside which are often connected by staircases.  Discover more architectural gems in numerous palaces and churches.  The impressive Church of Saint Peter (Chiesa di San Pietro), also damaged in the earthquake, was rebuilt over the next two centuries.  Life-sized statues of the Apostles line the staircase to the church.   Inside, its domed ceilings are covered in glittering mosaics.

Modica is famous for its chocolate making.  The method of cold processing cocoa was likely introduced after the Spanish conquest of Sicily in the 1500s. Visit Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, the oldest and most famous chocolate producer in town, to taste their decadent chocolate creations handmade in antique copper vats.  Learn about chocolate’s history at the Chocolate Museum of Modica (Museo del Cioccolato di Modica).

Our road trip continues through lovely southeastern Sicily to Scicli, another UNESCO protected Baroque town of the Noto valley. 

Scicli

This pretty place is a bit off the typical tourist route.  We found it quieter and more relaxed.

Explore Scicli’s historic centre on Via Francesco Mormino Penna. Walk past a couple pretty churches and attractive palaces-turned-museums, cafes, restaurants and small shops. We went into the Church of Saint John Evangelist (Chiesa di San Giovanni Evangelista).  Nearby Piazza Italia hosts Scicli’s lively morning fruit and vegetable market.

Val standing on a cobbled street in old town Scicli.
Scicli was such a pleasant surprise. It’s a beautiful quiet town which tourists don’t seem to have discovered. It is definitely worth a visit.

From the square, we walked uphill into a maze of quiet backstreets showing everyday Sicilian life.  We climbed to the abandoned Church of Saint Matthew (Chiesa di San Matteo) perched above the town.  The terrace offers breathtaking views over Scicli’s red-tiled rooftops.

Continuing west, Ragusa is another rebuilt Baroque town on our road trip.

Ragusa

A town has existed on the hillside here for centuries.  After the hillside collapsed in the earthquake, Ragusa Superiore was built on the plateau above the destroyed town.  Some residents rebuilt in the new town, but many of the aristocracy stayed and rebuilt on top of the old town, now Ragusa Ibla

Enjoy the winding cobblestone streets, alleys and grand staircases of Lower Ragusa.  We walked through the lovely, 18th-century Giardino Ibleo, a public garden with beautiful views over the valley below.

The St. George Gate (Portale di San Giorgio), all that is left of a 14th-century Gothic church destroyed in the earthquake, is the beginning of the Corso XXV Aprile.  This pedestrian zone and the Piazza Duomo come alive when residents fill the streets for their evening stroll, the passeggiata. 

Val standing in Cathedral of Saint George Ragusa Sicily.
The interior of the Cathedral of Saint George is trimmed in red which gives it a very rich, vibrant look.

Towering over the square is the magnificent Cathedral of Saint George (Duomo di San Giorgia), built in the mid-18th century.  See its beautiful dome, stained glass windows, and tall, central bell tower.

A walk between the two towns offers stunning valley views and a true sense of the area’s geographic setting.  Holy Souls in Purgatory Church (Chiesa delle Santissime Anime del Purgatorio) is on the western end of Lower Ragusa.  Climb the stairs at Via Gusti to St. Mary of the Stairs Church (Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Scale) in Upper Ragusa.  The view below of the lower town is worth the climb.  Both churches survived the earthquake and were updated to the new Baroque style of architecture in the 18th century.

For those wanting more Baroque towns to explore, Caltagirone, is on route.  Enjoy the Sicilian countryside as you continue west to the next stop, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a roman villa south of the town of Piazza Armerina

Villa Romana del Casale

Step back in time and learn about the opulent lifestyle of the Roman nobility and the site of one of the world’s largest collections of Roman mosaics.

Most of the Villa Romana del Casale was built in the 4th century CE above an older structure, eventually becoming the centre of a large settlement which was destroyed in the 12th century.  Repeated floods drowned the villa in mud and water and all evidence of it was lost.  Some of the ruins were discovered in the 19th century including parts of the mosaic floors.  Concerted efforts to preserve the mosaic tile floors, found in almost every room, began in the 1950s and continue to the present.

Long corridor's floor of mosaic tiles Villa Romana del Casale
The Ambulatory of the Big Game Hunt stretches about 60 metres from one side of the villa to the other.

Enter the ruins at the peristyle courtyard, a large area with the roof supported by columns.  The complex, with over 3000 square metres of multi-coloured mosaic floors spread over 40 rooms, unfolds from here. See mosaics depicting lively scenes of mythology, daily life, sports and hunting.

The vivid Ambulatory of the Big Game Hunt shows wild, exotic animals being captured and transported for Roman spectacles.  The display fills the entire room which is about 60 metres long.  Nearby, mosaics commonly called the “bikini girls” show athletes practising various sports.

Stay in Piazza Armerina if you are arriving toward the end of the day.  The Cathedral of Saint Mary ‘delle Vittorie’ is beautiful.  The view of the valley from the pretty street plaza is stunning.

The interior of Piazza Amerina Cathedral with dome and an ornate ceiling.
The light through the windows in the dome helps showcase the stunning cross above the altar in the Cathedral of Saint Mary.

The road trip route turns south toward the coast to the city of Agrigento.  Visit the Valley of the Temples, Sicily’s top ancient Greek site with stunning temple ruins.

Valley of the Temples

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the world’s largest archeological sites. 

The Valley of the Temples Archaeological Park includes the temple ruins on the hill as well as the Garden of Kolymbethra. The garden is vast, filled with orchards, olive groves, vineyards and many species of trees and shrubs within the valley both to the north and the southeast.  The entire area was the site of the city of Akragas.

Many people standing in front of the Temple of Concordia Sicily.
The extremely well-preserved Temple of Concordia was the model for the UNESCO logo.

The sturdy columns of the Temple of Juno stand tall on the highest point on the hill overlooking the valley. Nearby, the Temple of Concordia is one of best preserved Greek temples in the world (and the model for UNESCO’s logo). Both temples were built between 430 BC and 435 BC. The Temple of Hercules is the oldest, dating from 6th century BC.  Only eight of its columns remain standing.

Wander among the columns and foundations of these temples and others built over 24 centuries ago.  Climb the slopes for panoramic views over the entire archaeological park. The Valley’s excellent Archaeological Museum displays artifacts found at the temples and provides background on their historical significance.

After exploring the Valley of the Temples, Agrigento is a good place to relax and spend the night.  

Andy sitting at a table with a cup of coffee in Agrigento Sicily.
We enjoyed an afternoon cappuccino in a little cafe just east of Porta Di Ponte, the Bridge Gate.

Agrigento

One of Sicily’s busier, modern cities, Agrigento’s medieval centre is the perfect place to spend the evening. 

The main thoroughfare, Via Atenea, is a pleasant pedestrian street lined with graceful medieval and Baroque buildings.  It runs between Piazza Luigi Pirandello and Porta Di Ponte, the bridge gate.  Historic palaces hold shops, cafes and restaurants.  Lovely churches, like the 17th century San Lorenzo Church, are a pretty backdrop for the cafes in the squares.

The undisputed highlight of Agrigento is the majestic Cathedral Basilica of San Gerlando. The first church was built on the site in the 11th century.  Over the centuries it has been remodeled over and over again in a mix of styles. 

Stairs with potted plants in front of them lead to Agrigento Cathedral.
The church was built on the site in the 11th century and has been remodeled and updated many times over the centuries. It sits high on the hill with a tremendous view of the valley and the city of Agrigento below.

From Agrigento, the road trip route splits.  For those on the shorter road trips, your road trips continue north from Agrigento toward Monreale and Palermo.

Otherwise the full road trip continues west.

Make a brief stop at Scala dei Turchi (Stair of the Turks) to stretch.  This is a stunning, white, cliff formation on the southern coast. After it is on to the ancient Greek city of Selinunte. Built around 630 BCE, ruins sit on a rocky outcrop above the sea.

Andy and Val taking a selfie on a cliff overlooking the Scala dei Turchi and Mediterranean Sea.
The white rock cliff behind us is called the Stair of the Turks. Pretty beautiful against the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

Selinunte

The ruins of Selinunte, on Sicily’s southwest coast, are part of one of the largest archaeological sites in the Mediterranean.  The main attractions are the Acropolis, on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean and the inland Eastern Hill.

The layout of the main and secondary roads of the hilltop Acropolis is still clear.  There are a number of temple ruins, many just a jumble of broken columns.  The area is surrounded by huge stone walls which acted as fortifications.  Temple C, the oldest in the Acropolis, was constructed about 550 BCE to the God Apollo.  Of the original 17 columns along the north side, 14 are standing today.

On the Eastern Hill, there are three temples, E, F and G.  Temple E was built around 450 BCE to either the God Hera or Aphrodite.  It has been partially rebuilt.

Val standing in front of a large group of pillars of Tempe E at Selinunte Sicily
Val looks very tiny against the huge columns of Temple E on the Eastern Hill at Selinunte Archeological Park.

From the tops of the hills, enjoy panoramic views over the ruins, the sparkling Mediterranean and the river valley. The sheer size and detailed stonework of the temples hint at Selinunte’s power and wealth in the ancient world before its destruction by the Carthaginians in 409BCE.  After an attempt at an alliance failed, the city was never fully inhabited again. 

Our road trip continues to the west coast of Sicily and the port of Trapani. 

If you make your way along the south coast, stop in the city which is famous for its sweet dessert wines, Marsala. One of the city gates still stands, Porta Nuova.  Stretch your legs and walk the marble street, Via XI Maggio, to the Parish Church of St. Thomas of Canterbury.  It is in a pretty square with city hall opposite.

Trapani

The lively, west coast, city of Trapani offers a blend of history, culture and natural beauty.  Wander the historic centre and see elegant churches around every corner.  From the statue of Garibaldi in Piazza Garibaldi, walk a block to St. Francis of Assisi Street.  A block to the left is the 18th-century, Baroque Church of the Holy Souls of Purgatory (Chiesa Anime Sante del Purgatorio).  The church was severely damaged in World War II.  Twenty life-sized wooden representations of the Passion of Christ, carried in procession on Good Friday, have been housed in the church since 1960. 

Two blocks north is the massive Trapani Cathedral, also called the Basilica Cathedral of St. Lawrence the Martyr (Basilica cattedrale di San Lorenzo martire).  The church, with its stunning dome and bell tower, was built in the 15th century and restored in the 18th-century. 

Several statues of Jesus during the Passion of Christ stored in Trapani church.
Be sure to visit Trapani’s Purgatory Church. We almost didn’t and would have missed out on the incredible life-sized wooden representations of the Passion of Christ.

Stroll Trapani’s harbour promenade and explore the outdoor fish market.  See the day’s catch on colourful display, often on the back of the boat the fish was caught on.  Watch and listen to the vibrant banter of bartering often between fishermen and restaurant owners.  Regular citizens get in on the act too.

Just outside the city to the south, visit the Salt Pans of Trapani and Paceco (Saline di Trapani e Paceco), a protected area of wetlands and salt ponds. The salt, produced here for centuries, was considered the finest in Italy.  Artisanal producers are the only ones working the salt pans now.  Before leaving the area, don’t miss Trapani’s famous local delicacy, pesto alla trapanese, the Sicilian version of the well-known basil-pine-nut pesto.  In Trapani, the nuts are almonds and tomatoes and garlic add even more flavour.

North of Trapani, at the top of Mt. Erzy, sits Erice at an elevation of 750 metres.  If overnighting in Trapani, consider taking the cable car from Trapani to Erice to avoid driving the zigzag route up and down the mountain.

Erice

Walk the peaceful, cobblestone streets and alleys of the medieval, hilltop town of Erice lined with Gothic palaces and churches.  Enjoy its well-preserved historic character.

The Mother Church, St Mary of the Assumption (Chiesa di santa Maria Assunta – Chiesa Madre) is near the Trapani Gate at the southwest corner of Erice.  The Gothic church was built in 1314 by King Frederick III.  Inside, a museum displays religious artwork and sacramental silverware from the 15th- and 16th-century.  Next door is the cathedral’s freestanding bell tower (Torre di Federico). Climb the 108 steps of the spiral staircase to the top of the 28-metre tower for spectacular views over the rooftops of town.

Andy walking a cobblestone street with colourful rugs hung outside Erice shop.
Be sure to wander the cobblestone streets of Erice to really see its medieval character.

Walk uphill the full length of Viale Conte Pepoli to the southeast corner of town and Erice’s highest point.  This is the site of the legendary Venus Castle (Castello di Venere). The castle was built by the Normans, over the ruins of the 7th-century BCE Temple of Venus. It offers panoramic views over the countryside and sea below. Don’t miss the English Gardens of Balio next to the castle.

Throughout town, enjoy stopping to sample fresh homemade cookies, cakes and gelatos from local pasticcerias. Erice is renowned for its sweets and pastries.

The next road trip stop is less than an hour away.

Segesta

The highlights of the Segesta Archaeological Park are two ruins which are all that remains of the ancient city of Segesta.  New excavations are finding evidence of later occupation of the area by different cultures.

From the entrance, walk uphill a short distance.  The majestic Temple of Segesta, (Tempio di Segesta), sits at the edge of the hill.  The incredible Doric temple, built by the indigenous Elymians, in the mid-5th century BCE, was never completed.  All 36 of its columns are still standing today (6 on the short side and 14 on the long) remarkably preserved.  Some say they sing on windy days.

A short shuttle ride away is the Theatre of Segesta, (Teatro di Segesta), believed to be from the 2nd century BCE.  Carved into the side of Mount Barbaro, its tiered, stone seats overlook a peaceful, green valley.  The bulk of the ancient city of Segesta was on top of Mount Barbaro.  Climbing to the top reveals a sprawling view over the entire complex and rolling landscapes beyond. Modern theatre performances were first held in the theatre in 1957 and have been held sporadically since.

The ruins of an ancient amphitheatre built on a hilltop at Segesta Sicily.
The view over the valley from this 2000+year-old theatre is worth the trek. It is at the heart of what was the ancient city of Segesta.

The theatre and temple’s remarkable state of preservation and the stunning views of the area, make this a must-visit destination.

Our road trip moves from Sicily’s west coast to the north coast.  The next three stops on our road trip are home to beautiful structures, recognized by UNESCO and highlighting the successful blending of Western, Islamic, and Byzantine cultures. 

Palermo, a city over 2700 years old, is the first of the three. 

Palermo

The capital of Sicily, Palermo rewards visitors with a vibrant mix of culture, cuisine and history.  Its seven UNESCO-designated sites include the Palermo Cathedral, the Church of San Cataldo, the Norman Palace with its popular Palatine Chapel, two more churches, a palace and a bridge.  All are worth a look as you explore the streets of Palermo.

The interior view of elaborately ornate Palermo church with people sitting in the pews.
All the churches we entered in Palermo were stunning. I cannot imagine the amount of time involved to create such intricate beauty.

The Palermo Cathedral (Cattedrale di Palermo) is a must-see and a great place to start a walking tour of the city.  Its unique Arab-Norman architectural style is still visible after numerous reconstructions over centuries. Inside, don’t miss the royal Norman tombs and crypts containing sarcophagi dating back to the Roman era. For sweeping city views, climb to the cathedral’s roof terrace.  The Norman Palace (Palazzo dei Normanni) is about a 2 minute walk to the southwest.

Spend time getting lost in the maze-like Ballarò Market (Mercato di Ballarò) which covers several blocks.  The oldest and most authentic of Palermo’s street markets, it is a mix of noises, smells and lively street life.  It is always busy and overflows with fresh produce, cheese, meat and seafood.

A man is grilling meat on a barbecque grill while another fans the coals.
A visit to Palermo must include its street food scene. Grills like this were everywhere!

The UNESCO-protected San Cataldo Church (Chiesa di San Cataldo) is close to the heart of the historic city.  The area is full of stunning buildings and fountains.  12th-century San Cataldo is an iconic Palermo landmark with its three red domes and square blocky shape, blending Arab and Norman architectural styles. 

As the sun sets, join the locals on their evening passeggiata along the new waterfront promenade of Foro Italico Umberto I.

To see all of highlights of Palermo, including the UNESCO churches and bustling markets, check out our detailed article, One Day in Palermo – A Free Walking Tour Itinerary.

The word Palermo is added on top of the picture of the front of the ornate Church of St. Mary of the Admiral and Church of San Cataldo.

The hilltop town of Monreale is just southwest of Palermo.

Monreale

Inside the UNESCO-designated Cathedral of Monreale, one of Sicily’s greatest artistic treasures, nearly 6500 square meters of shimmering Byzantine mosaics cover the walls and ceilings. Biblical scenes, saints and angels are depicted in glittering, golden detail.  

Next to the cathedral sits the peaceful Benedictine Cloister with over 200 twinned, marble columns surrounding a lush courtyard filled with a beautiful garden. We also climbed up to the Cathedral Roof Terrace for some great panoramic views.  The cathedral complex was commissioned by William II in an effort to outdo his grandfather Roger II who was responsible for the Cefalu Cathedral and the Palatine Chapel in Palermo.

A woman is sitting on the mosaic floor of Monreale's cathedral.
The mosaic floors of the Monreale Cathedral are just as intriguing as its beautiful mosaic-covered walls.

After visiting the cathedral complex, explore Monreale’s small town centre. Stroll down Via Roma, stopping for a coffee or granita in one of the cozy cafes. The pedestrian-friendly streets showcase Monreale’s laid-back vibe and friendly local community.  The town makes an easy and rewarding day trip from Palermo.

Our road trip moves to the seaside of Sicily’s beautiful north coast.

Cefalu

The picturesque seaside town of Cefalù, midway along Sicily’s northern coast, combines a historic medieval centre, long sandy beach, and dramatic rocky coastline. Begin at the crescent-shaped Cefalù beach and old port with views of the massive headland Rock of Cefalù towering over the town. Relax on the beach or at one of the lounge bars before strolling along the beach promenade.

Explore the medieval centre of Cefalù, with its winding streets full of restaurants and boutiques.  Walk the main street Corso Ruggero past historic palazzos, churches and shops to reach the UNESCO-listed Cathedral of Cefalù.  Dating to 1131 CE, this impressive, Norman cathedral has elaborate, Byzantine mosaics covering its apse and a huge figure of Christ.

Several boats on a beach with Cefalu Sicily and hills in background.
We enjoyed the distinct and separate parts of Cefalu. Beginning at its beautiful old port, moving to the historic medieval centre and all of it dwarfed by the huge Rock of Cefalu.

Continue uphill, past sleepy piazzas and artisan workshops to reach the base of the rocky outcrop known as the Rock of Cefalù.  Climb the Salita Saraceni, a switchbacking staircase through the city walls up the craggy peninsula.  At the summit, find the ruins of an Arab fortress, a Norman castle and 4th-century BCE temple.  Enjoy panoramic views along the coastline and back to Cefalù’s red-roofed old town below. The staircase may be closed in poor weather (as it was during our visit).

In the evening, enjoy the town’s lively bars and trattorias abuzz with local families and couples enjoying the passeggiata.

The next stop on the 10-day road trip is Taormina. For those on the full tour, continue to Milazzo, the perfect place to overnight before heading to our next stop, the Aeolian Islands, off Sicily’s northeast coast.  Ferries run frequently between the islands and Milazzo, on the mainland.

Aeolian Islands

The Aeolian Islands offer stunning volcanic scenery, picturesque villages, and tranquil beaches. The seven inhabited islands are part of a 200-kilometre long volcanic ridge between the active volcanos Etna (Sicily) and Vesuvius (Naples Italy). Enjoy a great day trip to one of the three largest islands: Stromboli, Volcano or Lipari.  Two of these (Stromboli, Volcano) are active volcanos.

The island of Stromboli is one of the most active volcanos in the world.  Access is regulated, typically by organized hikes, which are a demanding 5 to 6 hours round trip.  Alternatively, enjoy an hour-long, self-guided hike to a lookout at the 400-metre level. 

Most of Vulcano’s activity is sulphurous steam being emitted from vents along the crater.  We hiked to its steaming Gran Cratere at the top for views of the whole island and nearby islets. Down below, soak in the healing sulphuric mud baths near the port of Levante (where the ferry arrives).  During our visit the mud baths were closed.  Travel a bit further to the small beach Spiaggia delle Acque Calde. Enjoy the natural “hot tubs” at the edge of the beach.

Vulcano Sicily's volcanic crater with steam flowing from its edge.
One of the highlights of visiting the islands, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is hiking to the top of Vulcano and looking down into the crater.

The island of Lipari provides a perfect base for longer stays or a great place to spend a couple hours.  While it is an active volcano, Lipari’s last eruption was in the 13th century. Enjoy this colourful harbour town lined with pastel buildings, lively cafes and shops. Explore the excellent Archaeological Museum to learn about the islands’ ancient history. The museum is a complex of buildings, including the Lipari Castle, Basilica of Saint Bartholomew, several churches and an amphitheatre. Take a boat trip around Lipari to admire the rugged coastline punctuated by obsidian cliffs.

Andy walking down a cobblestone street with yellow buildings in Lipari Sicily.
The main street Giuseppe Garibaldi leads from the old port through the main shopping area of the town of Lipari on the island of Lipari.

Enjoy the drive along the north coast to the resort town of Taormina on Sicily’s east coast.

Taormina

The hilltop town of Taormina was founded in 4th-century BCE.  Discovered by wealthy northern Europeans in the 18th century, it is now a very popular summer destination. 

Stroll along the lively pedestrian street Corso Umberto I.  Along the way, explore the pretty squares and their churches, flower stalls, restaurants and lively outdoor cafes.  Many of the shops and cafes are in historic palazzos. It is about 800 metres from Porta Catania (on the west side) to Porta Messina (on the east).

In Piazza Duomo, see the ornate, baroque fountain and the impressive 13th-century Cathedral of Taormina with its mix of architectural styles. See the delicate rose window.

People in Piazza IX Aprile watching street musicians in front of a Taormina church.
There are often street musicians entertaining the crowds in Taormina’s Piazza IX Aprile.

The Church of San Giuseppe anchors the pretty Piazza IX Aprile, Taormina’s lively hub. Grab a table at one of the piazza’s cafes for excellent people watching while admiring panoramic views of the ocean and Mount Etna. Don’t miss wandering through the flower-filled public gardens a short walk to the southeast.

Near Porta Messina at the east end of Corso Umbretto, turn south and walk to the end of Via Teatro Greco.  The Ancient Theater of Taormina (Teatro Antico di Taormina), built by the Greeks in the 3rd century, was remodeled by the Romans.  It is still used today.

If time permits, take a walk along the beach to see the nearby rocky island, Isola Bella.

On the east coast of Sicily, the next stop on our road trip is the tallest Italian mountain south of the Alps and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mount Etna.  This is the last road trip stop for those on the 7-day tour.

Mount Etna

A trip to Sicily is not complete, without a visit to Mount Etna.  Etna is one of the world’s most active volcanoes, in an almost constant state of activity, though typically not explosive activity.  The volcano has 4 summit craters plus fissures and old craters on its flanks.  There is an excellent infrastructure system to get visitors as close to the top as possible, regardless of physical abilities.  

The best access point is on the south side of Etna.  Drive to the Base Station at 1900 metres elevation. From here, take the cable car up to Top Station at 2500 metres.  Enjoy the Etna Cable Car Bar and check out the gift shop.  From here, there are options regarding the next stage of the climb to the authorized viewpoint areas nearer the craters.  

Andy standing in front of a snow covered Mount Etna volcano.
We spent quite a bit of time just enjoying the view of Mount Etna, such a beautiful, but stark, landscape.

From Top Station, hike up to the authorized viewpoint areas or ride up in a 4×4 minibus shuttle. A 40-minute guided hike to the highest accessible point is included with the shuttle ride.  Weather quickly changes on Etna.  In our short stay up top, Etna was visible and invisible a number of times.  Viewpoints change depending on Etna’s activity levels to ensure that visitors are always safe.

When you return to the Base Station, check out the old craters on Etna’s lower flanks.  We hiked the Goat Climb, to see its massive crater

Our final road trip stop and the last of the Noto Valley Baroque towns recognized by UNESCO is the port city of Catania, on Sicily’s east coast.

Catania

This lively town reveals its long history through magnificent monuments.  The best way to explore the city is on foot starting at its expansive main square, Piazza del Duomo. This is the centre of old Catania, rebuilt in the local Baroque style after the earthquake of 1693.  In the square is the 18th-century Elephant Fountain (Fontana dell’Elefante), built around a smiling black-lava elephant.

The square is dominated by the grand Baroque facade of Catania Cathedral (Basilica Cattedrale di Sant’Agata) built of black rock and trimmed with white limestone. This 18th-century church honours the city’s patron saint, Agatha, with ornate silver busts and crypt.  The church was originally a Norman fortress church. Most of it was destroyed in the earthquake and rebuilt in the Baroque style.  The Abby Church of Sainte Agatha sits to the north.  Climb to the rooftop terrace for great views of city.

A group of people walking in front of Baroque Palermo Cathedral.
Piazza del Duomo in Catania is the centre of the Old Town. The buildings around the square were reconstructed in the Sicilian Baroque style after the 1693 earthquake destroyed or severely damaged much of Catania.

Steps away, stroll through Catania’s enormous daily fish market (La Pescheria di Catania).  Fish have been sold here, every workday morning, for over 1000 years.  Vendors loudly hawk the catch of the day, from swordfish to sardines, in a riot of sights and smells. Nearby, the central food market and produce stalls overflow with local fruits, cheeses, and spices.  This is a great place to grab a bite to eat.

Evidence of Catania’s past as an ancient Greek colony appears periodically throughout the historic centre. The best example is the well-preserved Ancient Greek-Roman Theatre (Teatro Antico greco-romano) from the 2nd century BCE.  It was buried under lava and residential apartments were built over top.  Archaeological excavations eventually removed the majority of the apartments but some still remain.  What an interesting view they have. 

In the evening, join locals on a stroll along bustling Via Etnea with its chic shops and cafes.

Know Before You Go – Travelling to Sicily

Driving in Sicily

The best way to see Sicily is by car.  While public transport is available to many of the places in these Sicily itineraries, some are inaccessible without a car.  The best and easiest way to see everything is to rent a car.

You can easily pick up a rental car when you fly into the airports in either Palermo or Catania. 

Be aware that car rental costs in Sicily do seem higher than in other parts of Europe.  I’m not sure of the reason for this.  Some say that the local driving culture tends to be more ‘aggressive’, hence resulting in more fender benders which drive insurance costs up.  I’m not sure if this is the reason for the higher costs, but I can attest to the fact that drivers in Sicily were much more aggressive than I’ve experienced elsewhere.

In any case, car rental is definitely the best way to make sure you don’t miss anything when travelling in Sicily.

Best Time to Visit Sicily

The best time to visit Sicily is in the shoulder seasons of Spring and Autumn.  There are fewer tourists and visiting is more enjoyable.

During the summer, the temperatures can surge up to 38°Cs. The popular attractions become even more crowded.

We visited in April and had lots of sunny days and pleasant temperatures.  There was hardly any rain.  Accommodations were plentiful and relatively cheap.


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