Thinking of a beautiful Mediterranean island for your next holiday? Perhaps one that sits off the toe of Italy? Seductively beautiful and perfectly placed in the heart of the Mediterranean, Sicily should be at the top of your list.
Sicily is the largest of the Italian islands, and has long seduced travelers with its natural wonders and cultural treasures. It boasts wonderful weather, and a diverse range of culinary influences.
Natural wonders abound here, and the juxtaposition of sea, volcano and mountain scenery makes a stunning backdrop for outdoor activities. The island is full of history, bursting at the seams with ancient artistic and architectural gems.
There are many incredible reasons to visit Sicily. The following are just to name a few!
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5 Reasons You Should Visit Sicily
The beaches in Sicily are some of the best most beautiful in the world, and with wonderful weather year round, it’s warm enough to visit the beach for half the year. Glorious summers stretch all the way from May into October, and the mild winter very quickly becomes a warm spring.
With over 280 stunning beaches on Sicily, it’s hard to pinpoint a favorite. They come in all forms, and many colors, from town beaches to secluded inlets and coves, and with sparkling azure waters, rugged coastal landscapes, and powdery white sands.
That said, the long beach at Cefalu (pictured above) is a popular favorite with a gorgeous historic backdrop. If you’re looking to escape the crowds though, visit Calamosche; a beautiful, unspoilt beach sits with great snorkeling.
If your main reason for visiting Sicily is to spend time at the beach, there are plenty of villas in Sicily to rent, most on the Western coast within 5 minutes of the shore.
The Western coast is a great base as there are also a number of beautiful nature reserves (Stagnone, Salt Pans of Trapani and Marsala), as well as access to stunning islands like the island of Favignana.
Best Time of Year For Beaches in Sicily
Being a Mediterranean destination, the great thing about Sicily is that it’s perfect for a beach vacation all year round. Even in the dead of winter (January), the average temperatures on the coast hover around 13°C, and when the sun comes out you can still walk around in T-Shirts.
Summers in Sicily are hot, dry, and warm, so you’ll definitely be going swimming! Winters (December through March) are rainy, though still warm (though the southeastern regions are drier than the northwestern, which has higher altitude due to its mountains).
The average temperature in summer is 26°C, which drops to around 24°C by September. The water temperature for swimming sits around 27°C in August, and around 25°C by September – perfect for swimming!
Summer sees 13 – 14 hours of sunlight per day, and 8 in winter, which is incredibly high compared to the rest of Europe. Overall – the weather is mild year-round, so there’s no wrong time for a beach visit!
Walking through Sicily, history unfolds at your feet. There are an abundance of historical sites, churches, and museums, and many of the cities are some of the best UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy due to their dramatic architecture from various time periods.
First there is Ragusa; a UNESCO World Heritage Site at the southern tip of the island. Clinging to a steep hillside with incredible views, you’ll find romantic winding streets, narrow cobbled walk ways, charming historic churches, and dramatic medieval architecture throughout.
Other baroque towns in the south with the same UNESCO status include Val di Noto, Modica, Noto, and Scicli.
Then there’s Syracuse, a beautifully preserved historic town, and another UNESCO Site. Syracuse is a dramatic mix of the old and new. It was once a key city in the Greek empire, and ancient Greek ruins are spread all over town. Those searching for Greek architecture should also visit the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento.
There are also the Temples of Selinunte; a 7th century settlement which has somehow survived (major pieces of it anyway), despite being wrecked by the Carthaginians, conquered by Rome, and devastated by an earthquake in the Middle Ages. Tour the ruins and vividly imagine how big the temples once would have been.
Food and Wine
Sicily is a haven of culinary delights, and foodies, wine lovers and those with a sweet tooth will fit right in. It doesn’t matter where you go, or what you choose eat, from street food to fine dining, the food is guaranteed to be incredible.
“Always fresh and always seasonal, the temptation to eat your way through Sicily is overpowering.” And with an emergence of local wineries like Tasca d’Almerita and Planeta, the great wine traditions of Sicily have been reborn.
Both Sicily and the regions in Sicily have their own local specialties, though one particular dish deserves a mention of its own. From the Italian for “little tube,” Cannoli is Sicily’s best-known dessert.
It is a cone shaped delight filled with mouth-watering sugary vanilla ricotta cheese, provocatively dusted with powdered sugar and sometimes even chocolate ganache.
“The true difference between a store-bought Cannoli in any other country and one here is the essential magic ingredient –Succade – the candied peel of any citrus fruit.” – Neecey Beresford.
In terms of markets, there are plenty across Palermo, and you’ll find fresh produce at Vucciria and Ballarò. That said, our favorite is the Capo street market, which remains virtually unchanged since the time of Arab rule.
This is a true-to-life representation of street markets through Sicilian history. The entire atmosphere rivals that of a circus, complete with some incredible feats and sights to be seen.
You’ll see heads of swordfish, stacked wooden crates that seem to defy your understanding of gravity, and even be serenaded by local vendors that cannot carry a tune in a bucket!
If hiking Europe’s tallest active volcano sounds like something that would excite you, you’re in the right place to do it!
Mount Etna sits at 3,323m, and erupts quite frequently, usually sending a dramatic amount of ash in big, puffy clouds ascending over the island and beyond. There are plenty of opportunities to hike the volcano, with treks for all skill levels, and panoramic views which make the journey worth it alone.
While snow caps are an unlikely image to pair with smoke and spitting lava, during winter you can choose to ski down the north face of the volcano and jump over lava bumps. But note that excursions on the mountain are often disrupted by volcanic activity.
If you’re lucky enough to witness an erupting Etna, there’s nothing more spectacular (it may just take you a little while longer to fly home!) Bubbles of fire and pods of ash shoot from the depths of this volcano and reach an incredible 11000 feet high up in the air.
Photo credit: Dean Hochman (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
One of the best things about Sicily is its authenticity. The island today is what Italy used to be; “a preserved slice of old-world travel that is hard to find these days.”
The island has not been overly developed for tourism, so travel here offers a very real and unscripted experience. It’s the true definition of off the beaten path. There are predominantly mom-and-pop businesses, very few luxury resorts, and “no one seems keen on (or good at) ripping off visitors.”
“At Mount Etna, one of the world’s most renowned wine-making regions, there are few organized tasting rooms. But if you ask, everyone has a friend who can make an appointment for a much more personalized visit.” – Simone Girner.
It’s a good idea to learn as much Italian as you can before traveling to Sicily. Locals are kind hosts who are eager to show off their island and make travelers feel welcome, though very few speak English. English is only spoken in touristy areas, and once you get out into more rural areas, the locals speak in Sicilian dialects.
The Best Time to Visit Sicily
The best time to visit Sicily is April to June and September to October. This is shoulder season, and during this time the temperatures are mild and you will find far fewer crowds.
Summer is peak season in Sicily, though it is very hot and dry, busy, and SUPER crowded, especially in the tourist areas. We highly recommend avoiding travel during August as this is the height of summer.
How to Get to Sicily
The best way to get to Sicily is by plane, and you can choose to fly in domestically from mainland Italy (there are two domestic airports), or fly internationally into Catania, Palermo, Trapani or Cosimo (the last two are typically your low cost airlines).
From Rome you’re looking at a short 1.25 hour flight, from Naples it’s only an hour, and from London a short 3 and a half hours.
Despite being an island, you can drive to Sicily, by driving onto a ferry in Genoa, Naples, Salerno or Reggio Calabria on the Italian mainland. You can also catch a ferry from Tunis in North Africa and from the islands of Sardinia and Malta.
This can be a great option as the best way to get around once in Sicily is by car – public transport isn’t the greatest, and having your own vehicle opens up the whole island for you to explore. It’s a relatively small island, where you can drive north to south in 3-5 hours.
There are also trains, buses and sailing options for getting to Sicily; you can book trains via Intercity or Eurostar, and you don’t have to disemark as the train goes on the ferry. Bus companies like Interbus run routes from major Italian cities.
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Pinterest images: by Tommie Hansen (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr