Epic Places in Sicily Every Local Is Proud of

Cefalù is a popular destination on Sicily's north coast
Cefalù is a popular destination on Sicily's north coast | © Katarzyna Cairns / EyeEm / Getty
Photo of Gillian McGuire
13 September 2021

The Italian island of Sicily is a world unto itself, where ancient Greek temples and miles of gorgeous beaches mix with Roman ruins, volcanos and bustling cities. Here’s our pick of places you’ll want to visit.

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Valley of the Temples

Archaeological site
Map View
Valley of the Temples, Agrigento, Sicily, Italy. Image shot 03/2018. Exact date unknown.
© Zoonar GmbH / Alamy
Perched atop green rolling hills (not a valley at all!), with a view of the sea, this collection of Greek-era temples is awe-inspiring. There are seven temples in varying states at this extraordinary archeological site. A few thousand years ago, this was the Greek city of Akragas, settled by citizens from Crete and Rhodes, and the Temple of Concordia is one of the most intact Greek temples in the world.

Mount Etna

Natural Feature
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Hiking over  the top of mount Etna
© Giulio Ercolani / Alamy

Mount Etna is often referred to as the most active volcano in Europe. It is certainly the highest in Europe, reaching a height of more than 10,000ft (3,050m) at the summit. Eruptions have been documented as far back as 3,500 years ago. The mountain dominates the skyline of eastern Sicily like a grand skyscraper. You can hike its trails, take a train around its base and, in season, even ski down its slopes.

Cavagrande

Natural Feature
Map View
View of Laghetti di Cava Grande in Avola near Siracusa, Sicily F2HYWE
© Giuseppe Anello / Alamy

This nature reserve near Syracuse offers hiking trails and a famous limestone swimming hole with cold fresh water. You will need hiking boots to really explore this canyon; the hour-long hike downwards can be slippery, and the walk back up is a vertical challenge, but you’ll be rewarded with glimpses of colourful butterflies and silvery lizards along the way.

Aeolian Islands

Natural Feature
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The Aeolian Island of Panarea
© Rod Jones / Alamy
This group of islands that dot the deep blue waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea off the coast of Sicily are a challenge to get to; you must take a combination of trains, planes and/or ferries to reach them, but the effort is well worth it. There are seven islands to choose from, each with a distinct personality and vibe. Lipari is a big city with cars and a busy port, Panarea is a low-key jet-set destination, and Stromboli has a volcano that lights up the night sky.

Puppet Theatre

Museum, Theater
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Handmade Sicilian puppets at the Teatromuseo dell Opera dei Pupi Cefalu Sicily Italy
© Chuck Pefley / Alamy
Sicilian puppet theatre (opera dei pupi) has been a popular form of entertainment dating back to the Middle Ages. A more correct term would be marionettes to describe the intricate figures that are painted and elaborately costumed and controlled by a series of strings. The melodramatic stories include knights, dragons, pirates, damsels and princes. Visit the International Museum of Marionettes in Palermo to learn more about the history, and seek out a performance at the small but lively Figli d’Arte Cuticchio.

Markets in Palermo

Market
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The Ballaro Market in the Albergheria district of central Palermo, Sicily, Italy.
© Peter Eastland / Alamy
The beautiful and chaotic city of Palermo is very much alive. Residents do their daily shopping at open-air markets that are scattered throughout the city. La Vucciria is the most well-known, but now, actually, has little more for sale than trinkets. Look for Mercato del Capo, Ballaró and Borgo Vecchio for a noisy and colourful dive into authentic Sicilian life.

Marsala

Museum
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Saltpans and windmills in the Stagnone lagoon between Marsala and Trapani, on the west coast of Sicily, Italy.
© Peter Eastland / Alamy
Marsala is the most westerly city on Sicily and probably evokes thoughts of sweet wine and chicken dishes. The name of the town, where, on a clear day, you can see Africa, comes from the Arabic, meaning “Allah’s port”. This was where Garibaldi’s troops landed in 1860 and the unification of Italy began. You can taste the famous wine, visit the Archeological Museum Baglio Anselmi and explore the nearby salt flats in Mozia.

Ustica

Natural Feature
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Scuba Diver at Reef with Fan Corals, Paramuricea clavata, Ustica Island, Sizilia, Italy
© WaterFrame / Alamy
The waters off the coast of the island of Ustica are some of the very best in the Mediterranean Sea for diving enthusiasts. The entire island, which is really the tip of a submerged volcano, is a protected nature reserve, and, with the mild temperatures, you can dive from May through October. The area is rich in fish and corals, with tunnels and caves to explore.

Cefalù

Cathedral
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Cefalu, Palermo, Italy, July 2020. Detail of this little sea town and of its nice beach
© Eugenio Pingo / Alamy
This popular destination lies on Sicily’s northern coast. The ochre-coloured houses blend into the golden sand and make a gorgeous contrast with the intense blue water. Fishing boats in a rainbow of colours line up along the shore, and the narrow cobbled streets are perfect for meandering. The imposing Sicilian Romanesque-style cathedral will keep history buffs busy with its important mosaics.
These recommendations were updated on September 13, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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