10 stunning reasons to visit captivating Sicily

Mount Etna from the Taormina amphitheatre

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Make no mistake. Sicily gets under your skin. The largest island in the Mediterranean is, of course, part of Italy but it has a unique character of its own. If you’re looking for things to do in Sicily then prepare for a barrage of choices.

Sicily is where natural beauty meets humanity in an incredible melting pot of culture, landscapes and cuisine. You’ll find a smouldering volcano, ancient ruins, a vibrant culture and towns where time stands still .

We spent a week on the island and found so many exciting things to do in Sicily. A week was not nearly enough. Read on to discover the highlights of a trip to Sicily. We hope it provides inspiration for your own travels.

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Top 10 ideas for what to do in Sicily

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DK eyewitness Sicily
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Rick Steves Sicily

1 | Discover ancient monuments

Top 10 things to see in Sicily - Temple of Concordia and fallen Icarus at Valle dei Templi Agrigento Sicily

Over the centuries Sicily was occupied by many civilisations and regimes.

The Ancient Greeks absolutely left their mark. At Valle dei Templi near Agrigento and Taormina, we walked through the ruins of temples and an amphitheatre that have stood the test of time and numerous natural disasters.

What secrets do these stones hold? Some we will never know, but I wonder whether the structures we build today will last as long.

You can visit the Valley of the Temples on a day trip from Catania or you can also take a tour from Palermo.

2 | Enjoy the unique and spectacular coastline

What to see in Sicily - Scala dei Turchei Sicily coastline

The diversity of Sicily’s coastline is a large part of its natural charm.

From the white stone formations of the Scala dei Turchei near Agrigento to the rocky shoreline near Taormina and beaches of the south coast, whatever your coastal preference you will find it in Sicily.

3 | Wander charming fishing villages

Marzamemi fishing village

If you like meandering along sea walls and checking out the catch of the day, there is a pretty seaside fishing village for you in Sicily.

We visited Marzememi on the island’s south-east coast and loved its pretty square lined with cafes and boutiques.

Cats lounged in the sun and looked for fish in crystal clear waters of the tiny harbour.

4 | Eat the freshest seafood

Seafood platter from seafront restaurant in Avola

Straight off the boat and onto your plate. Seafood doesn’t get fresher or tastier than that. The variety and quality of seafood on offer in Sicily is incredible.

This huge platter of local delicacies cost us €10 and was one of the food highlights of our trip.

5 | Explore elaborate Baroque towns

Bartoque towns of the Val di Noto

Sicily’s Val di Noto is the world’s largest UNESCO world heritage listed area. The cities of this region including Noto, Modica, and Ragusa were destroyed by a devastating earthquake in 1693.

They were rebuilt after this trauma in ornate Baroque style and are the perfect destinations for wandering and ducking in and out of churches and small streets.

Of course stopping off in cafes to enjoy the passing foot traffic is a must.

This region is one of my favourite places to go in Sicily.

6 | Discover ancient traditions

Messina Easter procession Sicily

If you visit Sicily at Easter time you are in for a treat.

Even if, like me, you are in no way religious, you will be in awe of the annual Good Friday processions that take place across the island.

In Messina, we watched groups of men haul huge and extremely heavy wooden floats representing the Easter story on their shoulders through the streets of the city.

7 | Try delicious sweet treats

Eat cannoli - Sicily what to do

Your vacation in Sicily would not be complete without tasting at least some of the island’s sweet treats.

These cannoli were the best I have ever eaten and were actually not too sweet. The cream in the middle is made with whipped ricotta.

Each town seems to have their own specialty, including many different types of granite – the Sicilian version of gelato.

8 | Cycle through fragrant lemon groves

Lemon groves in Sicily - best places to visit Sicily

The scent of lemon hangs in the air in Sicily. Lemon groves are found all over the countryside.

We stayed in an agriturismo or farm stay property that was part of a lemon farming business and enjoyed riding bikes to the beach through the beautiful groves dripping with fruit.

This property near Avola in the south of Sicily also had a fantastic restaurant, wine bar and pool. 

9 | Enjoy colourful Sicilian ceramics

Colourful Sicilian ceramics

Throughout Sicily, you notice the colourful Maiolica or Majolica Italian tin-glazed pottery everywhere.

On church floors, as shop signs and as colourful heads. There is quite a gory story or legend about the heads with the moral being to never slight a Sicilian girl.

Today artisans continue the tradition of Maiolica and you can find many exotic and creative pieces in shops across the island.

10 | Marvel at an active volcano – Mount Etna

Mount Etna - what to see in Sicily

Etna dominates Sicily. Even when you can’t see the volcano you can feel its presence. And Etna made her presence felt in 2017 when she erupted sending lava and ash into the air.

Volcanic activity has shaped the island and its history over the centuries so its no surprise that the volcano has been revered by the civilisations that have inhabited Sicily over many centuries.

Perhaps the most spectacular views of the volcano are through the frame of the amphitheatre in Taormina. The Greeks who built it certainly had a sense of drama.

A bonus Sicily highlight: Ortigia, Syracusa

Scenes from Ortigia Syracusa - sicily italy travel

We spent half a day in Ortigia, the old town of Syracuse and were utterly entranced.

Looking back at the photos and reflecting on our experience I think it is because Ortigia encapsulates all the elements I described before.

Syracuse was an important Greek city so there are ancient ruins to explore. In the maritime city we found the freshest fish and juicy lemons at the bustling market.

The Mediterranean Sea glistens against its rocky shores and is a few short steps from elegant piazzas and soaring Baroque architecture.

It might have been all those things but it was also in Ortigia where I had my first amazing Sicilian cannoli.

Even more things to do in Sicily

 

Sicily ceramic symbol - Sicily highlights

Sicily gets under your skin. It is Italy condensed into a heady mix of sun, natural beauty and ancient history but with its own flavour and rhythm.

This soul and passion belong to its citizens. The Sicilian people we met were warm, generous, spirited and helpful – especially after a few mishaps with our hire car. (You can read our tips for driving in Italy here)

Our time in southern Sicily left us wanting to explore so much more. On the list: Palermo, Cefalu, Catania, climb Etna, the northern coast and Trapani. And of course, a return trip to Ortigia and these other hidden secrets of this special region of Italy.

Until next time beautiful island in the Mediterranean. You stole my heart. 

In fact, I’m almost tempted to write a Sicily travel blog!


Dreaming of  Italy? Don’t forget to check my guide to planning your dream trip to Italy and wish list of top Italian travel experiences.


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