the best places to visit in sicily

The 12 Best Places to Visit in Sicily

In this blog post, we will explore some of the best places to visit in Sicily – focusing in on the east coast. From the vibrant city of Catania to the stunning beaches of Siracusa, there is no shortage of wonderful places to explore in this region.

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This past summer I decided to book a last minute vacation to Sicily, which basically launched me into a full fledged love affair with the island. I even went back again this past spring. I’ve become totally obsessed and can’t wait to go back for another trip, but in the meantime I figured I’d channel that energy into a post for you guys on the best places to visit in Sicily. So get your notebook or Google My Maps ready and let’s do some trip planning!

Trip map courtesy of Wanderlog, a road trip planner on iOS and Android

Delve into Sicily

In case you’re unfamiliar, Sicily is the totally beautiful and diverse island that makes up the “football” off the toe of the boot of Italy. It’s the largest island in the Mediterranean and is best known for its rich history, stunning landscapes, and delicious cuisine – as well as being the setting of both The Godfather, and season two of The White Lotus.

The first thing to note is that just because Sicily is an island doesn’t mean that it’s easy to see in one go – it’s actually fairly massive as far as islands go.

I highly recommend choosing between the East and West sides of the island for your visit. Especially if you plan to be in Sicily for less than two weeks, trying to see the entire island will feel like a saga. Plus, why not leave yourself wanting to go back? In this post I’ll explore the best places to visit in Sicily on all sides of the island, to let you make your decision for yourself!

The eastern part of the island is particularly notable for its picturesque Baroque towns, stunning beaches, and ancient ruins. From the vibrant city of Catania to the stunning beaches of Siracusa, there is no shortage of wonderful places to explore in this region. Whether you’re looking for history, culture, or just a relaxing beach vacation, eastern Sicily has something for everyone. Western Sicily, on the other hand, feels more “Sicilian”, if you will. It’s better if you want to experience culture, and the grittier, less organized side of Sicily. Palermo is the main event on the west/northwest side, and there aren’t nearly as many popular options on this side, but Palermo might just make up for that lack all on its own.

the best places to visit in sicily

What is the most beautiful part of Sicily?

Ultimately, the most beautiful part of Sicily is a matter of personal preference. However, if you ask me I would tell you that aesthetically the Eastern side of the island is the most beautiful and has the majority of the best places to visit in Sicily. Not only will you find some of the most beautiful and relaxing beaches, you’ll also have no shortage of stunning Baroque cities to explore. Not to mention that the East of Sicily is home to the incredible Mt. Etna, an impressive active volcano, as well as the surrounding Etna park.

Obviously that’s not to say that the rest of Sicily isn’t also beautiful, but I think that when you take everything into consideration, the Eastern side really shines, and that’s why I recommend it so highly. If aesthetics are your main concern when planning your trip to Sicily, then the east is probably you best bet.

What is the best part of Sicily to stay in?

There are countless incredible parts of Sicily to stay in, and ultimately the best choice will depend on what kind of vacation you’re looking to have. For example, if you’re looking for a beach vacation, the eastern coast of Sicily offers tons of cute little cities and towns with great beach access, like Taormina and Siracusa.

However, if you’re looking to get more of a taste of Sicilian city life, Catania or Palermo are certainly worth considering. Both are still well located to the beach and other small towns, while giving a more lively home base. Regardless of where you choose to stay, the best places to visit in Sicily are all easily accessible from anywhere since the island is well connected by highways and train.

What is better, Palermo or Catania?

I think that the best way to answer this question is to consider which side of Sicily you most want to explore during your stay. While it’s technically possible to bop between the East and West coasts of Sicily to hit all the best places to visit in Sicily, I don’t usually recommend it.

Palermo and Catania are both amazing cities, and both equally worth visiting, so think about the surrounding areas and what matters to you on your trip. I like to recommend Catania and the East because I think it gives you the most well-rounded trip possible if you’re wanting to visit the most places during your stay. However, I personally prefer Palermo to Catania, so if we were to just purely rank the two cities, I would have to give it to Palermo. I just wish that Palermo was closer to the east, then my life would be perfect.

The best way to visit any new location is always to try to value quality over quantity, and if you’re trying to pack too much into your trip, you’ll definitely compromise on quality. Slow travel is always my preferred method of travel.

the best places to visit in sicily

How many days in Sicily is enough?

It’s almost impossible to truly answer this question, first of all because it’s a bit subjective, but also because I personally think you could probably spend over a month checking out all the best places to visit in Sicily and not get bored!

The amount of time you spend in Sicily should depend on your interests of course, but a week is probably a good start for any kind of vacation or travel itinerary. Ultimately, you can make any length of time work, it might just take a bit of planning and flexibility to your schedule. Personally, I recommend taking more time if possible, because I think you need at least a week to truly immerse yourself in the local culture and see as many of the best places to visit in Sicily as possible.

Is Taormina or Catania better?

Listen, I’m sure there are tons of people who might disagree with me on this, but I’m okay with that. I think Catania is a million times better than Taormina.

Taormina, in my experience, was a bit of a tourist trap. I’m sure there are plenty of nice sights and things to eat, but none of them felt worth the absolute swarm of people you had to fight through to navigate the town. It did have some amazing views, and there’s an ancient amphitheater which is very cool, but honestly my day in Taormina felt like a chore. That being said, I went in the height of summer, so I’m sure that impacted my experience quite a bit! It’s on all the lists of the best places to visit in Sicily for a reason, I assume!

On the other hand, I wished we’d had even more days in Catania.

Catania doesn’t have millions of sights or views to offer you, but it does have a really fun and exciting vibe that made me want to explore it for days on end. There were so many cool bars and restaurants I wish I’d had time to visit, and museums all around the city. Not to mention that it’s well located to beaches and Mount Etna.

I’m sure you can find other blogs telling you something totally counter to this – in fact I know you will, because I read them and listened to them – but I really disagree. Both are worth visiting, but Catania deserves more time for sure. In my opinion, the island’s second city is one of the very best places to visit in Sicily.

Which part of Sicily has the best beaches?

I mean if I’m being honest, you can definitely find amazing beaches no matter where you’re staying in Sicily, especially if you have a car.

Some of the best beaches in Sicily can be found on the northeastern coast, particularly near Messina, Cefalù and Taormina. if you’re staying further south or more central on the east coast though, the area around Sciacca is also known for its beaches, and the areas around Siracusa and Ortigia are also gorgeous.

Do you need a car in Sicily?

Technically no – you could plan a trip to Sicily without a car, but I think it would be an incredible hassle, and absolutely not worth the effort. If you want to make sure you really get to see all the best places to visit in Sicily, I think a car is the move.

There is a train in Sicily if you’re really wanting to avoid getting a rental car. The train serves many of the best places to visit in Sicily mentioned below, but as expected leaves a ton of the island untouched. So if you’re wanting to get off the beaten path, the train might not be your best option.

The only time I would say that you don’t necessarily need a car instead is if you’re going for a weekend trip or short trip between only two cities that you know are accessible by train, such as Catania and either Taormina or Siracusa, or Palermo and Cefalù. Otherwise – book a car!

We always book with Discover Cars when we’re in Sicily (or anywhere in Europe for that matter). Not only is it a great search engine for filtering by transmission type, size, brand, etc., but we also always find it to be as cheap or cheaper than any other platform.

A word of advice on booking car rentals in Sicily:
We always choose Enterprise (know as Locauto in Italy) whenever we rent a car in Sicily because a close Italian friend implores us to avoid Sicily By Car, Autonoleggio, and any other company that seemed very “local”. These brands boast prices well over half of what the “big name” car rental companies charge but apparently they look for every single opportunity to charge you extra through “damages” when you return the car.

the best places to visit in sicily

P.S. When you book using my links, you help support Rachel IRL at no extra cost to you. It’s a win-win!

Best Places to Visit in Sicily

1. Catania

best places to visit in sicily: catania

Of course the first choice of best places to visit in Sicily would be Catania. Catania is Sicily’s second largest city, and is a great starting point for your trip given its central location on the coast near tons of nice beaches, and its proximity to both Mount Etna (the largest volcano in Europe) and the airport. We started our trip here and were so impressed that we didn’t want to leave! Catania has an amazing energy to it and there are endless bars and restaurants to explore.

Catania is well known for sporting impressive Baroque style architecture – much like the rest of the eastern coast, and is famous for being a lively and “alternative” city, though we didn’t find it to be much more “alternative” than Budapest or Prague, for example. The fish market is quite famous and absolutely worth a walk around, and will give you a glimpse of the daily life and routine in this city. I’d highly recommend a walking tour if you have the time – this way you’ll be sure to hit all the important cultural and historical spots – like the Roman amphitheatre.

We stayed at Asmundo di Gisira and couldn’t recommend it more. Each room is decorated with an individual theme: the Proserpina (Persephone) room was a highlight of our trip, and the staff was amazing – plus the Aperol Spritzes were strong!

As for eating, I highly recommend Razmataz Wine Bar for dinner and drinks, Me Cumpari Turiddu where Stanley Tucci ate when he was in town, Panetteria Pacini for arancini and other street food, Pasticceria Savia for world famous cannoli, and Comis Ice Cafe for some of the best gelato and granita we had on our entire trip. If you’re feeling daring you could even try horse meat in Catania – a local delicacy. I didn’t personally try this on our trip, but maybe next time. And while you’re here, be sure to check out my full Catania guide.

2. Savoca

best places to visit in sicily: savoca

Savoca was a surprise hit for us when we visited Sicily, which is why it ranks so high on my list of the best places to visit in Sicily. We were slightly worried after deciding to stay here because we’d heard that it can be swarmed by tourists who flock to the town due to the fact that it was a filming location for The Godfather. However, we were surprised to find it remained relatively quiet during the three days we spent there, and we very much enjoyed the quaint, relatively local feel that we got from the town! Savoca is well located near Taormina and other northeastern towns as well, making it a great base for the region.

While in Savoca you should appreciate the unbelievable views – we stayed at Resort Borgo San Rocco which provided the insane views from the rooms, pool and dinner terrace pictured above. (If you do decide to stay at this hotel too, be aware that Google Maps is inaccurate; you access the property by driving on a private road that Google doesn’t recognize which is reached from the central piazza in the center of Savoca. We found it easiest to estimate driving times to our day trip destinations using Savoca as the starting point and adding 5 minutes!)

There are also a number of nice restaurants in town which also allow you to dine with some of the most amazing views, including Osteria del Borgo and Ristorante Gelso Nero. If you’re looking for something cheap and quick for either lunch or dinner, I also recommend Panificio Il Buon Pane for insanely good focaccia pizza.

The stunning church at the top of the hill is one of the major filming locations from the movie “The Godfather,” and so long as there isn’t a service, you can go in and poke around on your own. I’ve never seen the film, so personally it didn’t mean much to me, but it’s beautiful on the outside regardless.

For me, Savoca absolutely topped the list of best places to visit in Sicily—check out my post all about Savoca for more!

3. Noto

the best places to visit in Sicily

The best places to visit in Sicily couldn’t be complete without a note on Noto—a beautiful town that sits on the southern part of the east coast of Sicily, known for its beautiful Baroque architecture and rich cultural heritage. Noto might also sound familiar as its appears in a couple White Lotus episodes when Harper and Daphne stay overnight in a palazzo away from the hotel.

We stayed close to Noto, but personally I think you only need about a day to check out the town. It’s an absolutely stunning place to visit, but aside from the charming streets and restaurants, there’s much more to see in the surrounding areas than in Noto itself. I wrote a whole post dedicated to Noto, if you want more information!

While you’re there, be sure to block some time to just wander the streets to get a real appreciation for the architecture and beautiful winding streets. You’ll be sure to find lots of cute shops to pop into, and of course save room for plenty of gelato, granita and arancini. If you’re planning to grab dinner in town, I highly recommend Cavour, we ate here one evening and were absolutely floored by the quality of the food.

4. Siracusa and Ortigia

best places to visit in sicily: siracusa ortigia

Syracuse and Ortigia are a bit of a package deal as far as the best places to visit in Sicily. Ortigia is an island just next to the city of Syracuse that has been a thriving trade center since it was established by the Ancient Greeks almost 3000 years ago. The two cities blend together seamlessly and are typically grouped together. I completely fell in love with Syracuse and Ortigia for their charmingly winding streets, beautiful architecture, and stunning views of the sea.

If you want to get a deep dive on Syracuse and Ortigia, check out my Syracuse & Ortigia guide!

While there you can hit up the beaches, take a boat trip, or stay firmly on land and eat and drink to your heart’s content. Be sure to check out Pasticceria Artale for the perfect granita and brioche breakfast and Fratelli Burgio or Antica Giudecca for lunch.

Also, if you want to take the same boat tour we did – I literally couldn’t recommend it more if I tried and you can see if there’s availability during your trip dates on the widget right next to this paragraph.

We were so completely blown away by this experience of having a gorgeous 30-foot sailboat to ourselves for the entire evening. Although the experience was scheduled to be 4 hours, we ended up being with our guide, Salvo, for nearly 6 hours as we chatted the evening away until dark.

He advertised “aperitif” but, in fact, he really fed us an entire meal of local goodies from burrata to salsiccia to caponata to eggplant parmigiana. Not to mention the afternoon delights of sparkling wine, oysters, beers, fruit… you name it, Salvo had it! Not to mention the excitement of sailing and deep sea swimming with the beautiful island of Ortigia in the background with the setting sun behind it.

We would do this experience again in a heartbeat and recommend it wholeheartedly – if you’re going to splurge on something in Sicily, make it be this experience!!

5. Taormina

Okay. Real talk. If you’ve looked at any blog post about the best places to visit in Sicily, they’re gonna tell you to go to Taormina, so of course I feel that I would be remiss in excluding it from my list. Of course, it’s also the primary setting for The White Lotus.

That being said… I kind of hated Taormina. I know, I know that’s not what anyone wants to hear, but if you wanted to hear the same carbon copy from every other blog then you wouldn’t be here! I just don’t think Taormina is one of the best places to visit in Sicily… by a long shot.

Listen, I’m sure there are nice parts to Taormina, but I surely didn’t find them amidst the unbelievable throngs of people that are in every single direction you look while trying to walk around. Taormina is packed with tourists, like to a capacity that felt unreasonable. I felt like I was at Disneyland… during a parade. We also considered heading down to the beach below the city and one look at the crowd sent us driving back to the sanctuary of Savoca.

If you’re undeterred and feel like it’s worthy of a spot on the list of the best places to visit in Sicily, make sure to go to Isola Bella and Mazzaro for beaches, as well as Bam Bar for granita. And be sure to catch a glimpse of the ancient amphitheater – or better yet, see a show at the venue!

If you want to know more about my thoughts on Taormina, check out my dedicated guide to Taormina!

6. Mount Etna

the best places to visit in Sicily: mount etna

Mount Etna is the largest volcano in Europe, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and an obvious choice for the list of best places to visit in Sicily. If you’re in Catania or the surrounding areas, you quite literally cannot miss its imposing and beautiful peak, with a constant stream of vapor and steam emanating from the top. If you’re going to be in the region, it would be criminal to not at least experience some of Mount Etna.

Hiking and skiing are popular activities on the volcano, as well as visiting the Silvestri Craters and Alcantara Gorges. You can also take a visit to the Volcanological Observatory of Mount Etna, which is located on the southern slope of the volcano and offers visitors an insight into the volcano’s activity and history. If you’re nervous about tackling a volcano on your own, don’t worry—plenty of tour operators can bring you along in a safe and expert environment.

If you’re not the adventurous type (hello, it’s me), then I recommend exploring the nearby towns to see a nice view and sample local wines and foods.

7. Bronte

the best places to visit in Sicily: Bronte

Bronte is a small town located in the province of Catania that probably doesn’t often make the list of best places to visit in Sicily, but I think it’s worth the trip! Mainly because it’s incredibly well known for its production of pistachios – and let me tell you, you can taste the excellence here. Bronte is also the birthplace of the famous 19th century poet, Vincenzo Bellini (yes, like the drink).

I think you only really need a half day or so in Bronte, so don’t worry too much about needing a ton of time. While you’re there you can check out the Bellini Museum to learn more about the poet, and explore the beautiful and historic town center. But honestly, the most important part of your trip to Bronte is the food!

I also recommend a visit to a local farm to sample all the food this town has to offer. We toured I Lochi and not only did we learn a a lot about pistachio production, but we also got to taste the most delicious pistachio arancini I have ever tasted. The pistachios are truly some of the best in the world, and you’ll find them in all kinds of dishes, from arancini to granita to pasta – I particularly recommend Caffeteria Luca for this.

Not too many tourists find themselves in Bronte, so you’ll be able to get a nice, authentic taste of one of the best places to visit in Sicily.

8. Modica

the best places to visit in Sicily: Modica

Modica is another beautiful Baroque town located in the southeastern part of Sicily, and made the list of best places to visit in Sicily for one reason in particular: the chocolate. Modica is famous for producing a very particular type of chocolate that uses traditional Aztec methods dating way back to the introduction of chocolate to the region in the 16th century.

We went to the Antica Dolceria Bonajuto chocolate shop and loaded up on chocolate—which was shockingly cheap—and learned a bit more about the history of the chocolate from the friendly salesperson who was keen to share everything she knew. Honestly, Modica was worth it for this alone. The chocolate is soooo good and unique. We immediately looked up how to ship it to us and were gutted to learn that it would cost an arm and a leg, so be sure to stock up.

The town itself is also gorgeous and worth a wander around. When we went there was also an antiques market happening on the main street, which was very cool and gave us a chance to once again feel like locals for the morning!

9. Ragusa

the best places to visit in Sicily: Ragusa

Ragusa is one of the most beautiful cities in Sicily, which is why it of course made the list of best places to visit in Sicily. Like so many of the beautiful Baroque towns in the east, I highly recommend spending time just wandering and experiencing everything there is to see. Ragusa’s old town is a wonderful maze of narrow streets and colorful buildings to get lost in and appreciate the beauty.

You can also visit the Iblean Archaeological Park to see some incredible ancient ruins, or the Museum of the Mediterranean Baroque, to learn more about the region’s history. Last but not least, a visit to the Cathedral of San Giovanni Battista will offer you some stunning views of the area.

10. Palermo

best things to do in palermo

Moving up and over to the northwest side of the island we can finally cover one of the absolute best places to visit in Sicily: Palermo. Palermo is best known as being the largest city in Sicily, as well as the capital city. It showcases so much of Sicily’s history through the different styles of architecture and landmarks throughout the city, where you’ll see Arab, Norman and Spanish influence. Palermo is widely known for its famous street food too, with arancine, sfincione and panelle being the main attractions.

If you can only visit one place in Sicily and don’t want a rental car, I think Palermo is your best bet. The only annoying thing about Palermo (in my opinion) is that it’s not at all close to all the wonderful places to visit on the east coast, so geographically it poses some issues if you’re trying to plan a multi-city trip to Sicily.

Palermo is perfect as a city break, or as a stop on a wider Sicily trip to break up the small towns and beach vibes. Stopping in Palermo offers you a chance to see all the different dominations Sicily has experienced through over the years, from Greeks and Romans, to the Arabs and Normans, and finally the French and Spanish. It also has some of the most famous markets in Sicily, and is the best place to learn about the current and past influences of the Mafia in Sicily.

If you want more details about Palermo, and all my top recommendations, check out my Palermo guide!

11. Cefalù

Cefalù is one of the best beach towns nearby to Palermo, and it works well as a daytrip, or a dedicated stop on a larger vacation! The clear waters and idyllic beaches are picture perfect and ideal for summer. Furthermore, if you aren’t really a city person, but want to explore Palermo without being overwhelmed, I think Cefalù is the best choice for accommodation.

Cefalù manages to toe the line between too crowded to be pleasant, and too dead to be interesting, making it the perfect amount of lively to be exciting and relaxing at the same time. The beach is lovely and the energy of the town is perfect for a relaxing getaway, so I highly recommend it as a stop on any Sicily trip that’s prioritizing the northwest area.

12. Agrigento

the best places to visit in Sicily: agrigento

Last but not least on my list of best places to visit in Sicily is Agrigento.

Agrigento and the Valley of the Temples is an ancient city on the southern side of the island that has some incredible ancient Greek ruins. I think it’s absolutely worth going to, and if you’re able to make it happen during golden hour, it’s stunning. I also would not recommend going during the middle of the day, because it’s completely exposed to the sun from all angles and it gets so hot in the summer.

It’s a bit out of the way of, well, everything else in Sicily, so it’s best to do if you have a car available to you and you’ll be in Sicily for a while. The Valley of the Temples shouldn’t take longer than a few hours to visit in full, but Agrigento itself is also a charming small city near the southern coast’s stunning beaches!

P.S. When you book using my links, you help support Rachel IRL at no extra cost to you. It’s a win-win!

Ready to explore the best places to visit in Sicily?

I hope this post of the best places to visit in Sicily has been extensive enough for you to plan a totally perfect and jam packed trip to Sicily. To be honest, there’s no bad way to visit Sicily though, so I’m sure you’ll be fine.

Between the unbelievable food, stunning views, clear blue waters and welcoming people I’m sure you’ll fall in love with Sicily as quickly as I did, just be prepared to come back with 50% of your bloodstream made of pasta and wine!

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