Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean and within it are a multitude of things to see and do and eat and drink. The history of Sicily dates back thousands of years, and this is clearly seen today in both the architecture and the cuisine. Invaders from North Africa, Greece, mainland Italy, Spain, and France have all left their mark on the island. Mother nature has also been a forceful presence over the centuries and continues to shake the island’s culture today in the form of earthquakes and Mount Etna, Sicily’s volcano.
So are you wondering what to do in Sicily? There are hundreds of attractions worthy of a visitor’s attention. What follows are ten key highlights which offer an excellent introduction to the best of what Sicily has to offer.
Visit the Valley of the Temples at Agrigento
Set just outside Agrigento’s town on the south coast of Sicily, the Valle dei Templi is a UNESCO Heritage site comprising some of the best-preserved Greek Doric temples in the world. Dating back some 2,500 years, this complex of impressive ruins is one of Sicily’s most popular destinations.
Bear in mind that the Temple complex gets very busy and incredibly hot during the summer months. If you plan to visit in the summer, ensure you do so first thing in the morning before it goes too hot – the site is spread out and hilly. There is also a museum close by which is worth incorporating into your visit.
Eat the Best Meal of your Life at an Agriturismo
An agriturismo is an Italian farm that offers hospitality of some sort – this might be accommodation or a restaurant. The best agriturismos offer both. Sicily is a predominantly agricultural island, so chances are whatever you eat has not travelled far to reach your plate. For a truly authentic gastronomic experience, eat at an agriturismo – you will not be disappointed. Usually family-run, these farms offer very good value food, cooked fresh. Some agriturismos produce their own wine, others will have olive groves while plenty will grow tomatoes and other vegetables.
Go Wine Tasting
Sicily has been producing wine for thousands of years. Today, the island has some excellent wines, particularly reds – Nero d’Avola is the most well-known. If white is more your thing, the local Grillo grape variety is popular and is also used in a blend with other grapes to make the popular sweet Marsala wine.
The hills around Mount Etna have particularly rich fertile soil due to the volcano. There are some excellent wine tours to get a full appreciation of the island’s viticulture and of course, most restaurants will sell local wines.
Hike Mount Etna
Sicily’s volcano is one of the most active in the world. It is usually smoking and quite often erupts – a particularly impressive sight – if you are arriving at Catania airport you sometimes get an amazing view of the eruption.
There is a cable car to the summit of Mount Etna, but a more rewarding experience is to hike in some of the surrounding landscapes, away from the tourist crowds. Visit in winter or spring and hike to the snow line for epic otherworldly views over the volcanic landscape. On an organized tour, you can discover giant “lava bombs” which have been hurled from the cone during an eruption, and ice caves and lava tubes lie beneath the ground waiting to be explored.
Enjoy a Granita – Sicily’s Answer to Gelato
Granita is a particularly thirst-quenching alternative to ice cream. Made from water and sugar along with a regional flavoring, this dessert is perfect when sipped (or slurped) on a hot summer’s day. In Messina, you will find coffee-flavored granita while pistachio is typical of Bronte near Catania. For a proper thirst-quencher, it is hard to beat lemon granita.
One of Sicily’s typical desserts or midmorning snacks with coffee is granita in (or gelato) served with, or in, a brioche bun.
Take in the Views from Taormina’s Amphitheater
One of the most famous sites in Sicily, Taormina’s Greek-Roman amphitheater is perfectly positioned overlooking both the Mediterranean Sea and smoldering Mount Etna.
The structure seen today was built by the Romans, but the Greeks built an amphitheater on the site first with some of the current layout reflecting this. Theatrical productions are still held here ranging from classical music to contemporary music concerts.
Eat Street Food in Palermo
No trip to Sicily’s capital is complete without exploring the local markets and sampling some of the traditional street food.
There is something for everyone -plenty of bread-based snacks such a chickpea pancakes in buns and sfincione which is similar to pizza but with a much doughier base. For the more adventurous, Palermo has a strong tradition of using offal. stigghiola is a skewer of lamb or chicken’s intestines while another popular delicacy among those in the know is pani ca’meusa – spleen sandwich. If these offal delights sound awful, don’t worry, deep-fried balls of rice with cheese in the middle -arancini – are a widely available option.
Spend the Day at the Beach
There are some fabulous beaches in Sicily – people-watching beach clubs, rocky coves for clambering on, and empty stretches of sand in the island’s coastal nature reserves. If you are looking for a beach holiday, Cefalu on the island’s north coast is perfect – an arc of sand backed by a pretty town with narrow winding streets. Alternatively, try the beaches below Taormina on Sicily’s northeastern coast. They are pebbly but the water is beautifully clear and Taormina is a wonderful town to explore after a day at the beach.
Watch a Traditional Sicilian Puppet Show
No trip to Sicily would be complete without watching a traditional puppet show. Sicilian puppetry dates back some 200 years. Puppets are skillfully made by hand and the shows are perfect for children with lots of monsters, knights, and usually a convoluted plot involving multiple sword fights. Syracuse and Palermo are the best places to take in a show.
Be Dazzled by the Mosaics at Monreale
If you are staying in Palermo, ensure you pay a visit to the incredible 12th-century cathedral at Monreale, just outside the capital. The cathedral reflects the interesting history of Sicily with its Norman, Byzantine, and Arab influences. Together with a number of other Sicilian churches, it forms a UNESCO Heritage site. The interior of the cathedral is covered in golden mosaics. There are frequent buses to Monreale from the city center.
This guest post is by Annabel Kirk, owner of Smudged Postcard
After 10 years working in the travel industry selling and marketing holidays across the globe, Annabel decided to set up the Smudged Postcard blog to share her knowledge of family travel. The blog features adventure and cultural travel ideas with a focus on road trips and sustainable accommodation. Based in the UK, Annabel writes about where to travel in the British Isles with kids along with plenty of ideas for European holidays, with Italy being a particular focus. You can follow Annabel on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter