Sicily is the biggest island in both Italy and the Mediterranean Sea. Planning a trip to Sicily is fantastic, but can be a bit overwhelming too. There’s so much to do and see on the island. We’re here to help you out and made this list of the best cities in Sicily.
The best cities in Sicily are:
- Taormina (great beaches)
- Syracuse (historical sites)
- Messina (historical sites)
- Cefalù (Hidden Gem)
- Agrigento (Valley of Temples – Unesco World Heritage)
- Trapani (Gateway to the Aegedian Islands)
- Ragusa (Historical hilltop town)
- Marsala (renowned for its wines)
- Monreale (wine country close to Palermo)
- Lipari (Aeolian Islands)
Every city has its own charms, history, and unique things to do. We recommend planning a roundtrip around the island so that you can get to enjoy the Sicilian beauty at his best. Let’s find unique things to do in the different cities in Sicily.
Best Cities in Sicily
The island’s capital is a must-visit while you are in Sicily. Palermo is a vibrant city. It can feel a bit rough sometimes, but that’s because you still can find the remains of the massive bombings during World War II. Don’t let that scare you away, though. The city is completely safe, and it is one of the best places where you can discover in what way the island was influenced by the many different cultures over time.
Sicily has a great history, that dates back all the way back to 2500BC during the Ancient Greek civilization. You can read about the Sicilian history here.
The best things to do in Palermo are
Visiting Palermo Cathedral
Also known as the Cathedral of assumption of the Virgin Mary. This huge Cathedral dates back to the 12th Century AD. And over time it was reconstructed a few times, but every another civilization was in charge at Sicily (Greeks, Romans, Arabs, etc.). Therefore you can see significant differences in building structure, which makes it a fantastic place to visit.
Norman Palace, Palatine Chapel
When you’re into history and like to see the ancient churches and chapels, don’t skip these! Both are dating back to the 12th Century AD, during to Norman time in Sicily. Amazing to see the craftmanship from that time!
Piazza Pretoria – Fountain of Pretoria
You can’t miss this square. It is in the middle of the center. With the beautiful fountain of Pretoria in the middle of the square, it is a fantastic place to visit and enjoy the vibe. At night the fountain is even more beautiful with all the amazing lights around the statues, which gives a tremendous vibe.
Visit the Palermo Markets
Every district in Palermo has its open-air markets. These fresh markets are the best place to get to know the local Palermo vibe. And they’re amazing to taste and buy local products like wine and cheese.
Palermo is also a great place to start your trip to Sicily. It is easy to get around the island from Palermo.
Catania is located on the south-east part of Sicily, closeby the famous volcano Mount Etna. Catania is the second-largest city of Sicily, and over the years it had to deal with a lot of earthquakes and eruptions. The worst eruption, which destroyed a lot of the historical city, took place in 1660.
Mount Etna is the most active volcano in Europe and erupts on average once a year, but most eruptions aren’t dangerous for the local people. You can even walk up the mountain of Mount Etna to visit the volcano, which is a fantastic thing to do while in Sicily!
Catania is a great place to start your trip to Mount Etna. And when you’re not keen on hiking, there are other possibilities to visit the volcano. You can take a cable car almost to the top!
There’s a lot more to see and do in Catania. The city is known for its rich history and unique culture. It is impressive to walk around the city and enjoy the beautiful old buildings. A must-see is the Roman Theater, which was built in the 2nd Century BC.
Taormina is 55 km from Catania. Around halfway to Messina. It is a beautiful coastal town, which is shadowed by the big Mount Etna. Taormina is excellent for a day visit, and can also be the place where you start your trip to Mount Etna.
It is a typical coastal town, with lots of small cozy streets, shops, and excellent restaurants. During the peak season between July and August, it can be crowded in Taormina. But the whole island of Sicily is more crowded in these months.
Taormina is known for its white sandy beaches and crystal clear sea, which you find almost everywhere in Sicily. It is great to hang out at one of the beaches in Taormina, make sure to check out Isola Bella. This spectacular beach is right next to the town, so you’ll reach it quickly and once you there, you’ll have amazing views over the beautiful coastline.
Visiting Sicily is visit both to history and for amazing times on the beautiful Sicilian coast. Syracuse is perfect to combine those two. The city is around 67 km south from Catania. Easy to reach with both car or public transport. We recommend staying at least two days in Syracuse, which is short but enough if you plan it. You can enjoy the beautiful historical landmarks and have enough time to relax on the beach.
The most famous landmarks in Syracuse are;
- Greek Amphitheater (built-in 430BC)
- Quarries (Latomia)
You can find several spots where the ancient Greeks mined for stone. A lot of the stones were used in the historical buildings you still can visit today.
- Temple of Apollo (Dates back to 570BC )
Syracuse is also known for its amazing beaches. So after a day of sightseeing and enjoying the historical sites, make sure you visit one of the beaches, Fontane Bianche and Arenelle Beach are both recommended for a perfect beach day.
When you like to stroll around markets to find some locally produced products, don’t skip the Ortygia market, which is the best place to find local food in Syracuse.
Messina is the closest city to the mainland of Italy. When you’re reaching Sicily via the mainland of Italy, you’ll arrive in Messina at first. The town is located at the north-east part of the island.
For a lot of people traveling overland, their first stop in Sicily will be Messina. It’s a great city to spend a day, or maybe even two when you have enough time. It is not the most beautiful city in Sicily, but because of its historical role, still a famous town you don’t want to miss.
In Messina, you’ll find a lot of historical buildings, the big port which connects Sicily with the mainland of Italy. Driving around the countryside of the city, you’ll spot beautiful nature along the coastline. You’ll see less building dating back from centuries BC. The town struck by a massive earthquake in 1783, which destroyed a lot of the ancient buildings. It is interesting to see how the city is rebuilt after that. Messina feels like the most modern city in Sicily.
This small northern coastal town, located 68km east of Palermo. A lot of tourists skip Cefalù during their visit to Sicily, which makes the city also less crowded during the peak season in July and August. However, we recommend you to visit this cozy town.
The city is known for its Norman Cathedral, with two big towers at the entrance, which feels like a fortress and is built in the 12th century AD. While walking around Cefalù, you’ll explore a few other historic buildings. The city is also known for its beautiful beaches, which you’ll find outside the center.
Cefalùs best thing to do is to enjoy the small restaurants in the city. Cefalù is known as its local cuisine, great wines, and hospitality. It is probably one of the best places where you can try traditional Sicilian cuisine.
Agrigento (Valley of Temples)
A visit to the Valley of Temples in Sicily should be on everyone’s bucket list. This valley is according to Unesco World Heritage organization, one of the best-preserved historical sites in the world. The archaeological site is listed a Unesco World Heritage site since 1997.
The Valley of Temples exists out of 20 separate archaeological sites. The valley of Temples, during the ancient Greek times, known as The City of Akragas, was already referred to as the most beautiful city inhabited by men, by the Greek poet Pindar in 580BC!
A few fantastic landmarks in the valley of Temples are;
Temple of Hera Lucinia (JUNO), Temple of Concordia, Temple of Heracles, Temple of the Olympian Zeus.
Many people say that the Valley of Temples consists out of more beautiful historical landmarks then you can find in Greece. I think both Greece and Sicily have amazing historical buildings. In Sicily however, it’s especially the Temple of Concordia that is in such great shape. It is probably the best-preserved Greek Temple you’ll ever see.
You’ll find Trapani on the west coast of Sicily. It is a small coastal town, where you can catch a ferry to Sardinia, the other autonomic Italian island. Trapani is excellent for a day visit and wanders around, but it’s mainly its surroundings, which makes it worth a visit.
From Trapani, you can easily reach San Vito Lo Capo, the most northern point of the island of Sicily, which is a must-visit. The beautiful coastline views and beaches nearby are perfect for relaxing and hiking.
Trapani port is also your gateway to visit the Aegadian Islands, a beautiful island group near to the coast of Sicily. Favignana is the biggest of the island and the most attractive to visit during your trip in Sicily. When you go to Favignana, it is best to leave your car in Trapani and take the ferry to the island. It is possible to make your car to the island, but the island is more fun to explore renting a bicycle. And during the high season, there are limitations in taking a car, to make sure not too many people bringing a car to the small island.
Favignana island is great for exploring the beautiful beaches. You’ll find even a more crystal clear sea on this island then you’ll see around the beaches of Sicily.
Getting away from the coastal parts of Sicily is sometimes a bit difficult. The roads are easy, but there’s so much to see and do along the coast, many people forget to visit the places more inland.
The small town is located on a hilltop and around 100km southwest from Syracuse. It is known for its historical architecture and a town with two faces. In 1693 there was a big earthquake in Sicily that destroyed many buildings on the island. Ragusa was hit as well. Nowadays you’ll find the old town, and new town, with many buildings built after the earthquake. It is interesting to see the difference in architecture.
It is easy to walk around Ragusa and enjoy the small streets and historical vibe. Many historic buildings are listed as a Unesco World Heritage site, so you can do a short walking tour around these buildings to explore more history of the city. The town is great for a half-day or day visit during your trip in Sicily.
The city is known for its world-famous fortified Marsala wine. Which is more like a strong port wine, but there’s more to this city then fortified wine.
During the Arab time in Sicily, Marsala was one of the biggest port cities of the island. Nowadays it is beautiful to visit and explore the ancient buildings, walking around the cozy streets and relax on one of the many beaches near the city.
You’ll find many quality restaurants and bars in Marsala. The biggest landmark in the middle of the city is Piazza de Repubblica. This historic square is the heart of the town and great for enjoying some locally produced food and Masala wine.
When you want to visit the beaches near Masala, you have a lot the choose from. The most famous beaches are Marakaibo, Sibiliania, Tiburon. Another great place to visit is Salina Della Laguna, beautiful salt lakes.
For kitesurfers, this is the place in Sicily where you want to be. Massala is known for its great kitesurfing spots.
A city close to Palermo and a bit more inland as well. Known for its production of wine, oranges and olive oil. The most famous site to visit here is the Cathedral of Monreale, which dates back to the 12th Century AD.
This small town, which is easy to reach from Palermo is excellent for a half-day visit to explore the Cathedral and maybe try some local food or winetasting.
Lipari (biggest of the Aeolian Islands)
It is great to spend a day or two in Lipari and enjoy the beautiful historical buildings, but most of all, relax on the beaches.
While in Lipari, make sure to hike up Mount Chirica, which gives you a fantastic view of the whole Archipelago.
Lipari is popular among many travelers, and during the peak season, it can be very busy on the island. When you’re looking for a more relax stay on Lipari, make sure to book a boat tour around the island. You can visit several caves and secluded beaches, which are great for relaxing and snorkeling.
Best Way to Get Around Sicily
Sicily is great for traveling around, but when you visit the island, we recommend that you plan an island tour. Sicily has so much to offer, and you don’t want to stay in one place.
Getting around the island is straightforward. Sicily has excellent public transport, connecting the biggest cities by train and buses. You can also rent a car and explore the island for yourself. That’s our favorite option. We would recommend you to rent a car and start your new Sicily adventure. We love to drive around ourselves. It gives you so much freedom, and you can stop wherever you want.
The roads in Sicily are in good condition, and it is safe to drive around the island. In the cities, it’s sometimes a bit busy, but nothing to worry about.
A must visit during your trip in Sicily are some of the neighboring islands like Favignana or Lipari. There are many more islands to visit, depending on how much time you’ve on your hands. The ferry connection to the islands is excellent.
When you’re visiting the island during the high season in July and August, it is recommended to book a few things in advance.
Best Time to Visit Sicily
Sicily is a year-round destination, but the best time to visit Sicily is between May and June, and September – October. Both periods have good weather. Temperatures around 25 celsius and almost no rain. These months aren’t as busy as during the peak season, however, you’ll find other tourists as well. Visiting Sicily during the peak season in July – August is also great to do, but it can be bustling, and prices tend to rise a bit during this season.
When you’re still deciding when you want to visit Sicily, make sure to read this article. We tell you all about the best times to visit Sicily and the different cultural activities throughout the year.