This ten-day itinerary will help you get the most out of a trip to Sicily. It features most of the important sights, museums, islands, and
activities that Sicily has to offer. Literally in the middle of everything, Sicily has been conquered and re-conquered by almost every Mediterranean power imaginable, from the ancient Greeks and Romans to Arabs from the Middle East and the Normans.
Each nation has left impressive buildings and cultural traditions, making Sicily a world unto itself. It is home to many of the world’s most impressive Greek ruins, and a unique cuisine that features couscous as much as risotto. You’ll also be eating pastas seasoned with rosemary, mint, and basil, street food with lacy fingers of melted cheese, and excellent seafood finished with olive oil and lemon.
This ten-day itinerary in Sicily was designed for car travel, but most of these sights can be reached by train or bus: just plan on spending extra time making your connections.
Day 1 – Arrive in Palermo.
Palermo, the capital of Sicily, is an untamed city with one of the most amazing cultures in Europe. You can find almost all of Sicily’s character in Palermo: utterly perfect cannoli, romantic beaches, dilapidated palaces, medieval mosaics, and pleasure gardens filled with citrus trees. If the city’s hectic traffic isn’t a cure for jet lag, I don’t know what is.
Spend the day strolling the streets and eating as much as possible. Visit the Duomo (Cattedrale di Palermo – free), which features Norman, Byzantine, Renaissance, and Neoclassical architecture. The Martorana church (Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio – free) will give you a first taste of Sicily’s famous mosaics, some of which are referred to as wonders of the medieval era. The city’s botanical gardens (Orto Botanico di Palermo – 5€) provide a relaxing environment away from the hustle and bustle of the city streets. Wealthy Arabs living in Sicily introduced the concept of the pleasure garden to Europe, along with a wide variety of citrus trees. The Catacombs of the Capuchins (Catacombe dei Cappuccini – 3€) is one of the creepiest sights in the world: fully dressed mummies from Palermo’s past.
Day 2 – Segesta and Monreale Day Trip from Palermo
Today, pick up a rental car and visit Sicily’s most impressive mosaic and the ancient Greek ruins in Segesta. Drive to Monreale (about 17 mins), home to the Duomo of Monreale (free). The mosaic inside the duomo is a combination of Byzantine, Arab, and Norman styles, with glimmering gold leaf and brilliant colors. This is one of the most important sights in Sicily, but you probably won’t need more than an hour to visit. Bring binoculars for an up close and personal experience.
Next, head southwest to Segesta (about 1 hr), driving through some of Sicily’s most beautiful countryside. Segesta (6€) was an ancient Sicilian city and today you can visit the Greek Temple of Segesta, which is incredibly well preserved, as well as other astonishing ruins. The temple’s massive Doric columns stand proudly among the area’s hills and valleys, providing perspective to incredible views of the sea.
Return to Palermo.
Day 3 – Tyrrhenian Coast, Cefalú, and Milazzo
Leave Palermo and drive east. Today will focus on the Tyrrhenian Coast, so make sure to stop and admire the coastal towns and impressive limestone formations along the way. About an hour in, stop in the town of Cefalú. The Cathedral of Cefalù (free) features Norman-style or Sicilian Romanesque architecture, and the interior features vivid mosaics. Tiny shops, cafes, and restaurants surround the cathedral, making Cefalù a great place to have lunch with a glass of Sicilian wine. Afterward, drive to the town of Milazzo (about 1 hr 45 mins) and spend the night in a hotel with quick and easy access to the ferry terminal. Prepare for a big day.
Day 4 – The Aeolian Islands and Taormina
The Aeolian Islands feature some of the most amazing scenery in Sicily. The best way to see the Aeolian Islands in one day is to arrange a guided tour. These tours leave from Milazzo harbor almost daily from April to October. I recommend visiting the islands of Lipari and Vulcano—two of the most famous Aeolian Islands—with black beaches and the famous mud baths. Two tour companies offering mini cruises and excursions to the Aeolian Islands are Blue Stone Sicily and Floral Tourist Services.
Most mini cruises return to Milazzo around 6pm. Drive from Milazzo to the most visited town in Sicily, Taormina (about 1 hr 15 mins), and spend the night.
Day 5 – Taormina
Spend the day relaxing, because a more picturesque Sicilian town is hard to envision. Overlooking a small island connected to a beach by a thin, golden arm of sand, Taormina is breathtaking. It is home to one of Sicily’s most impressive Greek amphitheaters, and the beach is great for swimming and sun bathing. The ancient Greek amphitheater, which is carved into a massive seaside cliff, is in excellent condition and the acoustics are worth testing yourself. There are hiking trails that run up the hillside behind Taormina, taking you to the elevated towns and providing views of the famous, active volcano, Mt. Etna. Make sure to try the famous, local cannoli.
Day 6 – Mt. Etna and Syracuse
Pack a picnic (prosciutto and smoked scamorza cheese are a good start), then drive up toward Nicolosi to Rifugio Sapienza on the Mt. Etna volcano (about 1 hr). Make sure to check weather conditions before leaving, as the volcano is regularly covered in snow. You’ll pass several small towns along the way, so stop in for the local atmosphere as well as an espresso and a breakfast pastry. Rifugio Sapienza is a small compound of buildings about half way up Mt. Etna, which includes souvenir shops and a cafeteria. A cable car, several hikes, such as the Philosopher’s Tower hike, and several excursion options, such as jeep excursions, leave from Rifugio Sapienza. You can also hike a small volcano cone nearby. Enjoy the views and the otherworldly atmosphere, then drive to Syracuse (about 1 hr 30 mins).
Day 7 – Syracuse
Once an unstoppable military power, Syracuse has an enthralling history that can be relived by visiting its numerous ruins and museums. The city’s Old Town is located on the island of Ortygia, which is connected to the mainland by bridges, and it is filled with classic Baroque buildings. The Duomo (Cathedral of Syracuse – free) was once the Greek Temple of Athena, and the original architecture is readily recognizable. This one building has been a temple, a mosque, and a church. Spend the day wandering and relaxing.
Day 8 – Parco Archeologico della Neapolis Day Trip from Syracuse
Begin your day with a visit to the Paolo Orsi Archaeological Museum (8€ – ask to purchase a ticket that includes admission to the nearby Archeological Park). The most thorough archeological museum in Sicily, it displays thousands of artifacts from prehistoric to medieval times. The Neolithic collection includes skeletons of dwarf elephants and the Greek collection includes classical statues, such as the Landolina Venus and bronze Ephebe, which dates to the 6th Century BC, as well as an extensive collection of painted vases. Expect to spend around two hours in the museum.
Next, head to the Archeological Park (Parco Archeologico della Neapolis), where a collection of Greek and Roman ruins awaits. The famous Greek Theater originates in the 5th Century BC, and it is preserved well enough that performances still take place. The Roman Amphitheater dates from the 4th Century BC, and gladiators once fought inside. It is one of the top Roman amphitheaters in all of Italy. The Ear of Dionysius is located inside of the ancient quarry, Latomia. Latomia is notorious because it is where the Syracuse military imprisoned a couple thousand Athenians who tried to conquer Syracuse. Many of these Athenian slaves died from the harsh environment inside the dim cavern. It is also called the Ear of Dionysius because the acoustics allow visitors inside the cave to hear the conversations of those entering the cave. Numerous smaller ruins are also inside the Archeological Park.
Day 9 Agrigento and the Valley of Temples
Drive to Agrigento on the main roads (about 3 hrs) and check into your hotel. After grabbing a quick bite, spend the rest of the day at the Valley of the Temples (Valle dei Templi – 10€). Alternatively, if you’re feeling a bit tired, consider relaxing in the afternoon and then taking a VIP Night Tour (900€ for 1-5 people). Likely the most impressive collection of ancient ruins that you’ll see in Sicily, the Valley of the Temples features seven Doric temples, the pyramid-shaped Tomb of Theron, city ruins, towers, and gates. The Temple of Concordia is one of the best preserved in the world. The self-guided audio tour is both fun and informative. Make sure to catch the sunset as it falls upon the ruins.
Day 10 – Return to Palermo
Taking main roads, return to Palermo (about 2 hrs and 40 mins). Spend the day shopping for souvenirs, eating your last cannoli, and drinking your last glass of Sicilian wine. Consider the fact that all this traveling has just made you even more ravenous for travel. Ah Sicily: Thank you.
Written by Mattie Bamman for EuropeUpClose.com