Although it offers many of the perks of traveling in mainland Italy, Sicily remains an under-the-radar destination for many travelers. I joined my husband’s family on a heritage trip to Sicily, which is how we decided on this Italian vacation destination. While researching the trip, I didn’t find many travel bloggers posting about trips to Sicily, so I didn’t really know what to expect.
While it doesn’t have the same name recognition or knowledge as other Italian destinations, after my 2 weeks traveling in Sicily, I can assure you it is full of incredible experiences to please any kind of traveler! Hopefully this post will help any other travelers interested in exploring Sicily to planning an awesome trip to this amazing Mediterranean island!
These are my top 10 things to do while vacationing in Sicily.
1) Hike Mount Etna
As the most active volcano in Europe, Mount Etna is a popular stop for tourists on a vacation in Sicily. You can choose to hike the entire length of the trail, drive a portion of it, or ride a cable car for a portion of it. The trail is easy enough for beginners or people who aren’t in the best shape, but it is important to remember that hiking on an active volcano does pose some challenges, such as loose gravel and the constant smell of sulfur. The views are well worth the slight risk! Plus, there is the option to take the cable car like half way up or take a car like 3/4 of the way up, which makes this a great activity for a wide range of people. Although I didn’t go all the way to caldera at the top, the views of nearby Catania, Taormina and the ocean are truly remarkable. I was lucky enough to be there on a clear day with the sun shining, increasing the visibility!
2) Eat Gelato
Like all good Italian vacations, eating gelato should be an every day thing while you’re traveling in Sicily. Who cares about diets, you’re on vacation! During our two weeks in Sicily, we ate gelato almost every day and never got bored of it! There are so many different shops to choose from and they all have roughly the same selection with a few special surprises at each shop. I often got fruta del bosque (mixed berry sorbet), pistachio or chocolate, but you really can’t go wrong with any of the creamy, delicious flavors.
3) Wander the Streets of Ortigia
Just on the south side of the city of Siracusa, the small island of Ortigia is a tourist’s paradise. There are winding alley ways and narrow streets every where, and most of the island is pedestrian-only, making it a wonderful place to simply wander and explore. You’ll find yoruself feeling like a travel photographer here, pulling out your camera all the time to snap beautiful photos of this picturesque town. The roads will open up into a hidden plaza or end at a cathedral! There is a large variety of small shops to visit, including art galleries, tourist shops, boutiques and small gelaterias. It is easily navigable in one day on foot, so wear comfy shoes. A must see is the Duomo Siracusa, a beautiful preserved cathedral with a stunning facade overlooking a pristine white plaza.
4) Visit a Farmer’s Market
Living in Madison, I am constantly spoiled by farmer’s market and I have developed a love & passion for local, fresh food. That feeling does not change when I’m abroad. Farmer’s markets are an educating and interesting experience for any foreigner, because you get a chance to see the things that real Sicilians eat, as well as introduce yourself to new foods that you might not be familiar with. We stopped at the farmer’s market in Ortigia and wound up spending hours exploring and sampling delicious meats and cheeses, as well as fresh produce. Surrounded by smells of fresh blood oranges, recently caught fish and baked bread from the morning, you are humbled by the slow pace and truly authentic approach to food that Italians take. Pick up a few things and make yourself a lovely dinner one night with your market finds. I guarantee it will be one of your most delicious meals of the trip.
5) Explore Palermo by Taxi
I am not nearly brave enough to bear the streets of Palermo behind the wheel. I don’t like driving as it is, and those narrow streets and crazy turns would make me too nervous. But from taxi, it is an awesome experience. Palermo is a chaotic, loud and exciting city to explore by car, especially when you aren’t the one worried about making the tight turns. It’s a great way to check out the sprawling metropolis as well. You never know what random fountain or fruit stand will pop up in your field of vision next.
6) Swim in the Mediterranean Sea
It seems obvious, right? Sicily is an island after all. But so many people overlook this simple recommendation. I loved how the beaches around the island varied depending if you were on the north side, east side or south side. We saw black sand beaches, long wide beaches, rocky beaches. But all of them were special, and taking the time to run in the water and enjoy the crystal blue waters along the Sicilian shores was one of the highlights of my trip. The water may be cool, but I promise your body will adjust. You will come out relaxed, rejuvenated and with that wonderful beach hair.
7) Enjoy a Winery or Vineyard Tour
Italy is known for wine and Sicily has some of the best and most unique vineyards in all of Italy. They have grapes that are indigenous to the island, creating wines that taste different than other wine-growing regions in Italy. The soil composition from Mount Etna add a rich and unique flavor to the red wines. We had an awesome time sampling wines while overlooking the vineyards at Gambino Winery outside of Taormina.
8) Tour the Valley of the Temples
Some of the best preserved Greek ruins in Europe, the Valley of the Temples is an archeological site that is well worth a visit, even if you only to capture the views from the city of Agrigento. The site is literally in the center of town, so it is easy to navigate your way there. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and features several different temples across the compound. The most famous and impressive temple is the Temple of Concordia, which to me, looked just like the Acropolis in Athens with about half the crowds. The city lights up these temples at night and you can see them both from the upper city on the bluff, or from the coastal side of the city. It makes for a nice southern destination if you are doing a loop around the island.
9) Soak in the Sun at Cefalu’s Beach
One of Sicilians (and Europeans!) favorite beach towns in Sicily is Cefalu. On the northside of the island and only a few hours from Palermo, this is a popular weekend spot for locals and tourists alike thanks to the wide white sand beaches and calm natural harbor. The town hides in the shadow a towering rocky outcropping that forms the backbone of the city, and offers a tough hike if you’re interested.
10) Relax & Enjoy Sicily
Relaxing, eating, drinking, sun-bathing, whatever it is you like to do on vacation, just enjoy it in Sicily. Sicily has such a wide variety of things to do and see, that there is literally something for everybody. Take a moment to just slow down, and enjoy being in a beautiful place with beautiful food and beautiful people. To me, Sicily is Italy at it’s best. No matter what you decide to do in Italy, your vacation is sure to be one filled with sun, delicious food, friendly people and a relaxing culture. Even thought I’ve explored mainland Italy before, Sicily might be my new favorite Italian hot destination.
Thinking about planning a summer trip to Sicily? Comment with your questions and I can help!