Ancient Greek temples rub shoulders with relaxing lidos and bustling bakeries in this city in southern Sicily. Travellers come for the history, but stay for the cannoli – and it’s all bookable on Culture Trip.
The archaeological wonder of the Valley of the Temples is reason enough to make Agrigento your base for a few days while in the south of Sicily. Once you get through the less exciting outskirts of the city, the Old Town centred on Via Atenea is an elegant place to stay and explore. You’ll find ancient churches, grand palazzi (palaces), traditional trattorias and chic shops in the centre, and just a 20-minute drive will bring you out to miles of beautiful coastline and unspoilt countryside. Here are the best things to do in Agrigento, Italy.
The Agrigento lido – a palm-fringed beach back-dropped by guest houses, cafes, restaurants and bars – is around a 25-minute drive southwest of the city. Lido Azzurro is the ideal place to put your feet up with an aperitivo after a hard day or two hiking around the Valley of the Temples. Don’t get it confused with the other Lido Azzurro, on the eastern shore of the island in Catania – unless you want to buckle up for a much longer drive.
Originally created as a therapeutic garden for patients at the nearby psychiatric hospital, the Botanical Garden contains around 20,000 plants across its 7ha (17 acres). Its landscaped terraces, shady corners and hidden resting places surely offered some solace to the residents who wandered here, as it does for visitors today. In addition to the flora, there are several caves and archaeological curiosities to discover while exploring the maze of paths that wind through the garden. Then there are the splendid views over the nearby Valley of the Temples, and you can join in seasonal events such as the harvesting of the olives.
Instagrammers, take note. This vast, white-rock “staircase” that cascades down into the turquoise sea should be at the top of your list while in the area. Come early, though, as you won’t be the only one vying for that perfect snap. Named the Turkish Staircase after the Arab pirates who used to shelter here from violent storms, the smooth, white shelves are now bustling with sunbathers rather than buccaneers. A short walk further on brings you to a long sandy beach from which to escape the crowds and get another angle of this geological delight.
Agrigento is only a 30-minute drive away from the 760ha (1,878-acre) Torre Salsa Natural Reserve, which is managed by the WWF. The tranquil reserve includes 6km (3.7mi) of gloriously uncrowded beach and clear waters that teem with marine life – so don’t forget your snorkel. Because it’s a nature reserve, the landscape is preserved for the numerous species of animals and birds that call it home, rather than bars, restaurants and souvenir shops. That’s what makes this little corner of Sicily all the more special, but if you’re here for the day, you’ll need to come with plenty of supplies.
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, make a beeline for Infurna Pasticceria Giuseppe, a pastry shop on Agrigento’s main street, Via Atenea. First up is a typical Sicilian cannoli – a hard pastry tube filled with sweetened ricotta and pistachio cream – then delicious almond biscotti, stracciatella ice cream or citrus granita. But best of all is the most traditional of Sicilian desserts: the cassata. This mother of all cakes is for when you need a real sugar hit. Liquor-soaked sponge, layered with ricotta cheese and candied fruit… it’s like all the world’s desserts have been poured into one colourful extravaganza.
The best bit about this ancient Roman church is being shown around by a nun, who’ll be delighted to show you the excellent stucco work around the altar, point out the oldest and finest frescoes and offer you a sweet, made by hand from a traditional recipe in the nearby convent. For a small donation, you’ll be treated to an all-Italian tour that you won’t soon forget.
Dedicated to the Italian Slow Food movement, Terracotta is committed to using only local, seasonal ingredients. Enter through a beautifully restored Baroque church and make your way up to the terrace for views over the Mediterranean. Don’t skip the excellent homemade pasta, made from traditional Sicilian grain, for your primi piatti. And for secondi, the menu is small but varied. Choose from baby lamb chops, locally caught seafood and the rarest of steaks. Ricotta ice cream and tiramisu are just two of the sublime desserts, and the maitre d’ will be more than happy to share all his comprehensive knowledge of Sicilian wines to accompany your meal.
Head back to one of the best hotels in Agrigento, or discover where to stay in Sicily for a local experience, now bookable via Culture Trip. While you’re on the island, explore the best hiking trials there are and what else there is to do, then end your day in one of these bars in the capital, Palermo.