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Sicily is a special Italian destination. The island is only a few miles off the western coastline of southern Italy and the largest in the Mediterranean Sea, but feels like almost a completely different country. Influences from the ancient Greeks, Romans and Arab traders have created a culture and environment that is endlessly fascinating. Start your trip planning with these 20 must visit attractions in Sicily.
Just outside of the town of Piazza Armerina, is an impressive Roman era villa that houses some of Italy’s most important and intricate mosaics. There is so much more than the famous Bikini Girls, with floors that depict sea life and the many different foods served at a Roman feast.
This open air market in the city of Palermo is a chaotic feast for the adventurous traveler. Located in the Norman quarter of the city near the train station, the market stalls are stacked with freshly caught fish and colorful produce. The sellers will shout and sing at passers by to lure them to their wares. Try a snack like Panelle, made from freshly fried chickpea flour or Sfincione, a thick crusted pizza slice.
This iconic symbol of Sicily is one of Italy’s three active volcanoes. The imposing mountain was once thought to be the home of Cyclops by the ancient Greeks. Take the approach up the mountain through very barren lava fields and at the top, you will find souvenir shops and trucks selling honey with free samples. Find a deep crater where the kids can slide or if you are visiting in the winter months, you can ski down the slopes.
Kind of the ugly stepsister of the Aeolian islands, Vulcano is worth a visit for the healing, sulphur rich mud baths. The pools near the sea bubble from below with volcanic gases to create a unique and pungent beauty treatment experience with a difference. Our word of advice, bring an old bathing suit or buy an inexpensive one from one of the stalls nearby.
This tiny island is attached to the city of Siracusa by two bridges and is almost like a separate world, despite it being so close to mainland Sicily. Ortigia is also called the Città Vecchia (Old City) and is home to historic sites like the Fountain of Arethusa, described centuries ago by the poet Virgil, and also the Duomo di Siracusa, which has ancient roots and a Sicilian Baroque facade. A few narrow streets away, visit the church Santa Lucia alla Badia to see one of Caravaggio’s last works.
This colorful town in southern Sicily is home to an impressive number of ceramic artists. The highlight of a visit here is the decorated Santa Maria del Monte staircase, where each of the 142 steps are inlaid with different ceramic design. Visit the town’s Regional Museum of Ceramics to deepen your knowledge of the history of ceramics in Sicily.
Eight towns in the southeastern corner of Sicily make up a UNESCO protected area that highlights the particular elaborate style of architecture known as Sicilian Baroque. After a catastrophic earthquake in the 16th century erased existing towns and villages, new cities were created. Visit the largest modern fresco painted in the 1990s in the restored cupola of San Nicolò, in Noto. In Scicli, find the crumbling Palazzo Beneventano, and climb the Via Scale to the upper part of the town for an view of the ochre jumble below.
The flight of 250 stairs in front of the main church in the Baroque town of Modica are as much of an architectural feat as the church itself. Inside, there are five separate naves and dozens of Corinthian topped columns, and paintings and sculptures by some of Sicily’s finest artists. Make note of the sundial inside that marks noon with a ray of sunlight.
The island of Favingana, in the Egadi archipelago, was once a center of the tuna fishing industry. This former factory owned by the Florio family pioneered the practice of canned tuna and today, serves as a museum to this important part of the island’s history.
On the western coast of Sicily, between the towns of Trapani and Marsala, are the fascinating and very photogenic salt pans. Like the Phoenicians centuries before, the people of this part of Sicily used the natural conditions of African coastal winds and still shallow seawater to harvest pounds of salt. The area near Stagnone is particularly pretty with characteristic windmills.
The star of this hill-top town a short distance from Palermo is the Duomo, or cathedral. The church stands out as an exceptional example of Norman-Byzantine architecture and is part of a clutch of 9 churches that have a UNESCO world heritage designation. Incorporating elements from Arab, Norman, Byzantine and Renaissance architecture, the mosaics inside astound and the cloisters comprised of over 100 decorated marble columns are a wonder.
The aristocratic family behind the Tasca d’Almerita label has been in the winemaking business for more than 100 years and is the largest producer in Italy. You can stay at the Malvasia growing estate in the enchanting island of Salina and organize a tasting, or a leisurely gourmet meal at the Regaleali Estate.
This coastal city in the southwestern part of the island sits at the feet of Mount Etna and is full of charm. With churches and palazzo for the architecture hunter and beaches for the sun lover, there are quirky museum collections like Collezione di Pupi Siciliani and the Historical Uniforms Museum. Relax in the central Piazza del Duomo with a coffee or gelato, or soak in a one of the area’s mineral rich thermal baths.
The aloof and exclusive island of Panarea is a jet-setter destination and in the high summer months, the super yachts pull in with their glittering owners. Stay up well past your bedtime at the world famous nightclub in the Hotel Raya. A DJ spins while patrons dance the night away on an outside terrace overlooking the sea and watch the intermittent volcanic fireworks from nearby Stromboli.
This dramatic natural wonder astounds visitors to Sicily. Found in a pristine natural park close to Taormina, the 150 foot high gorge flows with cold clean water from the Alcàntara river. There is an elevator or you can take the stairs down to a small beach and swim the cold refreshing water. Hike one of the trails to get a great view down into the massive rock formation. For the adventure seekers, there is body rafting in the rapids.
This scenic walled city that sits high above the port of Trapani was once the center of the cult dedicated to goddess of love, Venus. The narrow cobblestone alleys and the sweeping panoramas over the sea are a photographer’s dream come true. There is a castle to visit and don’t miss a taste of the town’s famous sweet pastries.
Sicily is world renowned for its sweet treats. Cannoli, granita, marzipan and cassata are just the start of your sugar binge opportunities. The historic Antica Caffe Spinnato in Palermo, in the central located Via Principe di Belmonte, is where the locals go for a strong cup of coffee and a bite of something sweet.
The long reach of organized crime throughout Sicily cannot be ignored, and a visit to the town of Corleone and its museum will clarify the depth of the problems and valiant efforts to resolve them. The Centro Internazionale Di Documentazione sulla Mafia e Movimento Antimafia is dedicated to telling the stories of victims of violence and history beyond the Hollywood stereotypes about the Mafia. English guides are available and visits must be booked in advance.
This sweet little town in northeastern Sicily is home to a much revered icon of the black Madonna. You can see her in the modern church and sanctuary on the top of a hill above Tindari. Other important sites to not miss here are a 4th century Greek theater and the interesting sand formation at Marinello Beach.