I’m not sure what percentage of travelers who visit Italy end up visiting Sicily. I’ve been to Italy twice and only hit Sicily on my second trip, but in my opinion it’s worth a visit in and of itself. Think hot salty air, gorgeous views of the countryside and the sea, and a slow yet spicy pace of life. Although Sicily became part of Italy in 1860, it is considered its own autonomous region and has its own unique cultural history. This largest island in the Meditterranean is typically associated with agriculture and Don Corleone, and there is plenty to offer in the way of cultural sites to visit. In high summer, when I visited, there were considerably less tourists than in mainland Italy, which was a welcome change. Sicily has its own distinct language, Sicilian, but I didn’t have any trouble using my spotty Italian with the locals.
Palermo, the capital city, certainly has a different feel than the rest of Italy. Visit the Vucciri market for incredible fresh seafood, produce and a real slice of Sicilian life. Palermo is a real beach city; Mondello is the most popular and the most crowded, but also the most fun, in our opinion. There are many, many gelato shops and stands in Mondello, too. Our favorite flavor is zabaglione (egg custard), but you can’t go wrong with a classic cioccolatto (chocolate), either.
The first step in creating the ultimate Italian meal.
We also recommend visiting the shrine to Santa Rosalia, the patron saint of Palermo. Perched high on Mount Pellegrino where the saint was said to have hermited herself in a cave, this church and shrine is a gorgeous site to behold. There is a real sense of serenity here, despite the tourist stands hawking Godfather t-shirts just a few feet from the sanctuary’s door.
Ceffalu is a bustling, colorful village not far from Sicily, and was one of our favorite sites in all of Sicily. The ancient city now boasts tons of upscale shops, delicious restaurants, and a nightlife worth staying a night for (or so we hear; we took a day trip from Palermo which is also doable!).
Seeing Mt. Etna was without a doubt one of the coolest things we did on our trip to Sicily. Travel up and up, around and around, eventually reaching the top of the largest active volcano in Europe where you can hike to higher points, collect lava rocks or enjoy a slice of pizza overlooking the craters. If you’re around during the Giro de Italia, the yearly cycling race, there’s a leg that travels from popular tourist city Messina to Etna, too.
If you go to Sicily, you simply cannot miss the epic Greek ruins at Selinunte and Agrigento. Selinunte, the smaller of the sites, consists of five temples overlooking the radically beautiful Sicilian coastline. You can climb on a few of the ruins, and we recommend going in late afternoon, when the setting sun turns the ancient stone to a fiery orange.
Great job by this girl of ruining the picture!
Agrigento, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was founded as a Greek colony in the 6th century, is a much larger site with a much more organized tourist system, including guided tours, an archealogical museum, modern sculptures throughout, and more. The ruins are equally as beautiful and breathtaking; you won’t easily forget seeing “The Valley of Temples.” Agrigento is also a modern city, albeit a small one, with a few sites in its own right: an old Roman quarter, some tourist shops, and a large cathedral.
If you’re planning a trip to Italia, definitely consider a trip down south. We promise you won’t be disappointed with Sicily’s incredible scenery and rustic charm.