Visiting the Mediterranean island of Sicily is a bucket list for many a traveler. With its abundance of Greek Temples, turquoise waters, and scrumptious food it is a destination that offers delights for young and old. Yet the island can get expensive, especially in high season. Read on to find out the best 8 free things to do in Sicily that will ensure your bank account is not depleted once you are back home.
Before you even start booking activities, make sure to do thorough research on where to stay in Sicily. This is the number one factor that will contribute to your overall budget! If you are planning on exploring mainly the northern and western parts of the island then Palermo is the best place to stay. However, if you are included to check out the beautiful baroque villages in eastern and southern Sicily then contemplate Catania or even Ortigia as a base for exploring.
5 FREE THINGS IN NORTHERN SICILY
To ensure you can plan your budget trip to Sicily is super simple to plan, the various free things to do have been split into northern and southern Sicily. Starting off with the northern part of the island, which can be done by using public transport – though it will require a lot of patience.
The little town of Taormina is nothing if not oozing with quintessential Sicilian charm. It is the perfect day trip from Catania, a €7 ticket buys you access to the direct train from Catania to Taormina (ride time 55 minutes). Stroll down the beautiful Corso Umberto, lined with the latest fashion but also budget-friendly little trinkets and postcards. Walk up and down the tiny winding streets of the village, though best to come early during the day as Taormina tends to get very busy.
The most famous attraction in Taormina is the Greek Theater, which has been marveling locals and travelers since the 3rd century BC . Aside from a very impressive history, it also offers the very best sunset views over Mount Etna. The entrance tickets are set at €10/per person, which for a UNESCO World Heritage Site is surprisingly accessible.
Beach lovers will love heading to Isola Bella, which is one of the most famous beaches in all of Sicily. Sunbath, swim and people-watch until your heart is content. If you want to splurge a little or simply are a fan of your creature comforts, the beach is lined with lidos (€20/day for a deckchair and an umbrella).
Catania Fish Market
The Catania Fish Market, also known as the Pescheria, has a long history dating back to the 18th century. Originally located near the port, the market was moved to its current location in Piazza del Duomo in the early 1900s. It has since become a major attraction for locals and tourists alike, with its bustling atmosphere and wide variety of fresh seafood.
The market was heavily damaged by Allied bombing during World War II but was restored and reopened in the 1950s. Today, it remains an important part of Catania’s cultural heritage and a must-visit destination for foodies and seafood lovers.
The Fish Market is best visited early in the morning, preferably around opening time around 07.00 am when the fisherman come in from the sea to sell their freshly caught fish. This is also the time when the locals head out here to buy their fresh produce before the large tourist groups come in.
After a visit to the Catania Fish Market, make a beeline for the impressive Catania Amphitheatre. The amphitheater, also known as the Anfiteatro Romano di Catania, is a well-preserved ancient Roman amphitheater located in the heart of Catania, Sicily. The amphitheater is thought to have been built in the 2nd century AD and could accommodate up to 15,000 spectators.
The history of the Catania Amphitheatre is closely tied to the history of the city itself. It is believed to have been built on the site of an earlier Greek theatre, which was later transformed into a gladiatorial arena by the Romans. During the Middle Ages, the amphitheater was used as a quarry for building materials, leading to its partial destruction.
It wasn’t until the early 19th century that efforts were made to preserve the Catania Amphitheatre. Archaeological excavations began in the mid-20th century, revealing many of the amphitheater’s original features, including the elliptical shape, the arena floor, and the remains of the seating area. Today, the Catania Amphitheatre is a popular tourist attraction and is completely free to visit.
The bustling capital of Sicily, Palermo, is an absolute mecca for beautiful churches and budget eats. Fuel up on some of the best street food in Palermo before heading to the – surprisingly – free visit of Palermo Cathedral. It is worth mentioning that the beautiful architecture on the outside of the cathedral is in stark contrast with the white-washed walls you will find inside.
The oldest part of the Cathedral dates back to the 12th century, yet every one of the (many) rulers of Sicily has adapted/renovated the Cathedral over the centuries. As such, it is one of the few buildings in historical Palermo that fully reflects the complex history of the island. The architectural styles you can find on the outside are Norman, Gothic and Baroque.
Noteworthy is that entering the Cathedral is free, if you want to head up to the balcony (for the best views over Palermo and the famous “instagram spot”), or the crypts a ticket will need to be purchased at the entrance of the Cathedral. Ticket prices start at €5.
Also Read: Full Guide to Palermo Sicily
No Mafia Museum Palermo
Looking to learn a little about the struggles Palermo faced – and to some extent still faces – with the Mafia, then head for the No Mafia Museum. The museum is located a 3-minute walk from the Palermo Cathedral and is one of the numerous free things to do in Sicily.
The permanent exhibition chronicles the history of the Sicilian mafia and its impact on the island through photographs, documents and artifacts that offer insight into the workings of the mafia and the lives of those affected by it. Visitors can explore the roots of the mafia in Sicilian history and learn about the brave men and women who have fought against it.
One of the most striking exhibits in the museum is a collection of portraits of those who have lost their lives in the struggle against the mafia. The portraits serve as a poignant reminder of the human cost of organized crime and the need for continued vigilance and determination in the fight against it.
3 FREE THINGS IN SOUTHERN SICILY
Travelers visiting Sicily on a budget will want to set aside some budget for renting a car for southern Sicily. This part of the island is not serviced by public transport, making getting around the various tourist attractions virtually impossible without your own set of wheels.
A word of caution is merited for those brave souls embarking on the adventure of driving in Sicily, it is not for the faint-hearted. Motorbikes tend to appear out of thin air, 3-lane streets magically become 5-lane boulevards thanks to overzealous drivers and the use of the horn is a national sport. Keep your eyes open!
Marzamemi is a charming fishing village located on the southeastern coast of Sicily, Italy. It is known for its picturesque harbor, historic buildings, and delicious seafood. It might not seem like it, but this little bolthole dates back to the 10Th century when Norman fishermen settled here. Ten centuries later and the town is still mainly inhabited by local fishermen who make their living off the sea. The proof of which can be found by the myriad of colorful fishing boats lining the coastline around the town.
While it has grown in popularity in recent years, it still remains “off the beaten path” thanks to its remote location. Marzamemi is a great stop for an afternoon. Visit the main square, Piazza Regina Margherita with the baroque church before hitting the pristine beaches (Spiaggia di San Lorenzo and the Spiaggia dei Fiori).
If you are visiting Marzamemi by car, be very mindful of where you park. The little city center is closed off during the summer months, meaning the majority of locals and visitors park their cars in the surrounding streets. This can make finding a spot slightly tricky, patience is key here. Make sure to double-check if the area you are parking in is free, or if it requires a ticket to be purchased from the nearby machine.
Syracuse Cathedral is located on the UNESCO-classified baroque island of Syracuse also known as Ortigia. Baroque lovers will not want to skip spending a day, walking around the winding streets of tiny Ortigia, lined with the most sumptuous baroque façades.
The highlight of this trip is without a doubt the – free – visit to the Syracuse Cathedral, located at the very heart of Ortigia and once a Greek temple venerating the goddess Athena. The temple was converted into a Norman Church, sadly destroyed by the devastating earthquake that took out much of the island in the 17th century.
Reconstruction of the then Catholic church began in the 18th century, the results of which can be admired today. As you step inside the Cathedral, turn left and marvel at the original columns of the Greek temple that have been integrated into the current design of the Cathedral.
If Baroque architecture makes your heart sing, then a visit to wonderful Noto is a must. This little village has some of the island’s best Almond Granita (to be purchased from the Caffè Sicilia on Corso Vittoria Emanuele) and has been the scene for many a film, most recently the musical Cyrano starring Peter Dinklage.
Noto was founded in the 5th century BC but was virtually entirely destroyed in the devastating earthquake of 1693. A complete rebuild was undertaken, resulting in a town replete with the most ornate 17th and 18th-century Baroque palaces which planted it firmly on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
You might be surprised to learn that a visit to the beautiful Cathedral of San Nicolo is completely free of charge! During the summer season, local musicians convene at the steps of the Cathedral and regal visitors with their very best tunes in the hopes of a few pennies. Grab an almond-flavored gelato (not to be confused with a granita) and enjoy a free concert amidst the most stunning baroque architecture in all of Sicily.
ADDITIONAL TIPS FOR VISITING SICILY ON A BUDGET
Food is inexpensive all over the island. However, if you are looking for very budget-friendly options in Sicily to eat, never skip the chance to visit one of the many local markets as they are a treasure trove for the budget-conscious traveler. From arancina to spleen-sandwich, a few euros is enough to buy you a very filling portion of street food.
The beach is always free! According to Italian law, the first five meters of any beachfront need to be easily accessible and completely free for beachgoers. Sicilians tend to go to the beach early and spend the entire day. Therefore if you are looking to include a beach day during your trip, kick your butt out of bed early and try and hit the beach before 10.00 am to ensure a spot on the free portion of the beach.
Do not visit Sicily in August as the prices are sometimes double and triple of what you will find during other months of the year. Sicily is a beloved holiday destination for Italians, who tend to take their holidays in and around the 15th of August. Beaches are choc-a-bloc, hotels fully booked and the tiny baroque towns jam-packed with merry holiday-goers. Try visiting in May or October when the prices are low and the beaches are blissfully empty.
About the author:
Caroline is a full-time writer and photographer who spends her time between Belgium and Sicily. She advocates sustainable travel and finds the very best vegetarian restaurants on VeggieWayfarer. Take a peek at her socials to see what mouthwatering adventure she is up to right now.