Being the largest island in the Middle East, it is no wonder that Sicily has attracted people, statesmen, armies, and intellectuals of the highest order for thousands of years. The strategic location of Sicily, west of the southern coast of Italy, close to Malta and North Africa, made it an ideal destination for repeated conquests by the great armies that operated in the region.
In addition to its strategic location, Sicily is endowed with some of the most impressive natural and man-made wonders in Europe. Among other things, you will find here Mount Etna, the highest in Europe, amazingly beautiful beaches, small islands that are adjacent to it and are an attractive vacation destination no less than the Caribbean, temples and other monumental buildings that were founded there by the many empires that ruled it throughout history, and much more.
There is a lot to do in Sicily, whether you come to it for a week or a month, whether you love beaches and belly-back vacations, or whether you are heartbroken that you can’t sit for more than five minutes in a row. We will try to review here the best options for spending time on this amazing island, to give you the most comprehensive picture.
As has been said, Sicily is at a very strategic point in the Mediterranean, so it has attracted armies and empires throughout history, like moths to a flame. It suffered many battles, was found for centuries in continuous rivalry with the famous Carthage and found itself under Byzantine, Norman, German, French and other rule. Among the famous names that came out of it are the Greek Archimedes, the current president of Italy Sergio Mattarella, and many others.
Palermo is the capital of Sicily and its largest city. Nearly one and a half million people live in its metropolis, and its settlement dates back to the eighth millennium BC. All this is said just to explain the ear and illustrate how diverse and rich this city is in activities, historical sites, and points of interest. Here are the most prominent ones:
The Norman Palace (Palazzo dei Normanni)
One of the most suitable places to get an impression of Palermo’s varied history. It was founded in the ninth century by the Muslim emir of Sicily and was later used by the Norman kings of the island, as well as those who came after them. It is one of the oldest palaces in Europe and has both Moorish and European motifs. For history buffs and those who want to learn about Sicily’s heritage, this is a must-see.
Four Corners Square (Quattro Canti)
A square is very reminiscent of the Piazza San Ignacio in Rome, near the Pantheon. It is a beautiful and impressive place built at the beginning of the seventeenth century, which you can visit as part of the trip to the center of Palermo. It is built of four buildings centered in one piazza, whose corners are rounded and in which there are large marble statues. The curves of the buildings create unique acoustics for the piazza, and the style of the surrounding buildings is particularly beautiful.
The Archaeological Museum of Palermo (Museo Archeologico Regionale Antonio Salinas)
A true paradise for history buffs. Due to the ancient and rich history of the city of Palermo in particular and of the island in general, the museum is home to many archaeological items found here. It is easy to move around, as it is divided into sections according to the periods to which the finds are dated, and the variety in it is extremely impressive.
The Catacombs of the Capuchins (Catacombe dei Cappuccini)
This is perhaps the most bizarre and macabre tourist site you will ever be on, and the only thing that rivals it is the church of the same Christian order located in Rome. The place used to be a monastery of the Capuchin order, a Franciscan Catholic order whose members advocate a life of celibacy, simplicity, and poverty. In addition, the members of the order preserve the bodies of their comrades, wrap them in their brown robes, and put them on display around the site, in order to remind themselves and visitors of the transience of life on earth. Not for the faint-hearted.
It is one of the most significant cities in the history of Sicily in particular, and the Mediterranean basin in general. The city, located in the southeastern corner of Sicily, was one of the oldest cities in the basin in antiquity, with several hundred thousand inhabitants. It has archeological and historical sites for the most part, and it can support a whole day of travel with fun. In addition, its location by the sea guarantees you spectacular views. Syracuse is known as the birthplace of the Greek goddess Artemis (the goddess of the hunt), and also as the birthplace of the renowned Greek engineer Archimedes, the more down-to-earth.
A unique phenomenon that exists in Syracuse. An island separated from the mainland by a narrow channel and connected by an ancient bridge. It is considered part of the old city of Syracuse, and you can also find many tourist gems there.
Street of the Jews (Via della Giudecca) Via Nizza (Via Nizza)
In addition to the general tourist depth of the city, Syracuse is one of the cities with the most Jewish History you will find in Sicily, and in Europe in general. The Jewish community was founded here already in the Roman period and has known alternating ups and downs throughout history. The ancient origins of the community and the ghetto are evident in that they lived in Ortigia, the oldest and preserved part of the city. To this day, you can see the streets that surrounded the Jewish ghetto that was there, until the expulsion of the Jews from the city in 1493, as part of the events of the expulsion from Spain. These streets are two of the three streets that surrounded it. A number of important buildings in the city that have a Jewish past are the Church of John the Baptist (a former synagogue), the Palazzo Montalto, and the Monastery of San Rocco, whose facade still bears the Star of David.
Another site you can visit as part of your trip to Syracuse, and a must if you are a fan of history and medieval wars. It is located right at the edge of the small island of Ortigia and was built over 8 years during the first half of the 13th century, by the king of the German Empire. However, it is named after the Byzantine general who conquered Syracuse in the 11th century. Over the years the citadel was used as a royal residence for many of the kingdoms of Sicily, as a fortified prison, and even as a citadel protecting the city.
The beautiful town of Taormina, located right next to Mount Etna in all its glory, has been one of the most important cities in Sicily for thousands of years. It was one of the few cities that gained autonomy even under the rule of the Roman Empire, the Muslims invested a lot of effort in order to conquer it in the Middle Ages, and in the centuries that followed it changed many hands. Its historical sites and beautiful buildings have been amazingly preserved, and a trip there feels like a leap into the past. Among these sites, we can name the Corvaja Palace, the Baroque Fountain in Duomo Square, and more.
In the 19th century, Taormina became a favorite vacation destination for many Europeans, and among the big names who visited it, we can name Nicholas I, Czar of Russia, Goethe, Oscar Wilde, and more. It was also the place where Nietzsche wrote his famous book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra. It became famous, among other things, because of the nude photographs of the photographer von Golden, because of Goethe’s writings about the place, and because of Gelang’s paintings of the city.
When you come here, don’t miss a visit to the ancient and well-preserved Greek theater, which is one of the tourist sites of Sicily. This is a piece of the past that has been amazingly preserved and is still used for performances and concerts with high frequency.
Valley of the Temples (Valle dei Templi)
Paradoxically, the Valley of the Temples is not a valley at all. It is one of the most impressive archaeological sites in Sicily and in Europe as a whole, and it is located on a mountain range near the town of Agrigento. This is one of the most beautiful examples of the greatness of the Greek Empire in the old city, and due to the importance of the place, it was recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site.
There are 7 Doric-style Greek temples on the site, all built around the fifth century BC. In addition to the temples, there are also ancient gates, catacombs, ancient residential buildings, and more. Except for one temple (the Olympeion), the names of all the temples were only given to them during the Renaissance, long after they had fallen into disuse. Of course, the various temples are at different levels of preservation, but they certainly preserve the splendor of one of the most powerful empires of antiquity.
Val di Noto
This valley is a must-see for anyone coming to Sicily, especially if he or she is a lover of history and architecture. The settlements in this valley are such a refined concentration of baroque architecture that they were recognized as a world heritage site by UNESCO. The great uniqueness of the place is characterized by the fact that all the towns in it were almost (or completely) destroyed to the ground by an earthquake that struck the area at the end of the 20th century. 17-17, and they were all rebuilt in the baroque style that dominated at the time. The destruction of the towns allowed the baroque architects to realize their dream and build cities from scratch, in accordance with the styles of building and landscape architecture that were in vogue at that time.
In this valley, which stretches over many kilometers, there are quite a few cities and towns that were built in the Baroque style after the earthquake. It is recommended to visit several of them, but if you don’t have time we recommend the new town of Noto. This city was built after the destruction of the ancient city of Netum, and the city’s nobility and religious buildings all moved to the new area. The baroque artists and architects of the period knew how to make good use of the mountainous topography of the settlement and the natural treasures around it, and created a city of spectacular beauty. Visit both the old and the new Noto, so you can experience two significant periods in the life of Sicily at once.
Attractions and Points of Interest in Sicily
Sicily is a significant center of attraction for vacationers from all over the world, of all types and of all shades. Therefore, it is no wonder that it does not offer its visitors only museums and historical sites. There are dozens if not hundreds of bathing beaches in Sicily, and the Mondello beach described below is just an example. In addition, it is impossible to visit Sicily without learning about the Sicilian mafia, the first modern mafia in the world, which originated in Corleone.
Mondello Beach (Spaggia di Mondello)
For anyone who loves beaches, Mondello Beach is a must-visit place. This is the most popular beach in Palermo, the capital of Sicily, and for good reason. The beautiful beach embraces the Bay of Mondello and stretches between Mount Pellegrino and Mount Gallo (Monte Gallo). The beach is about 11 kilometers from the city center and can be reached on foot or by public transport. The walk to it will take you about two to three hours, but it can be extremely enjoyable if you choose the right route.
The uniqueness of the beach is that it combines advanced beach services, along with houses in different styles and architecture reminiscent of a European holiday village. The beach itself is characterized by both beautiful white sand, and crystal clear water that is a stunning turquoise or green color. During the year the beach is relatively empty, so you can enjoy it with maximum intimacy. However, in the summer months it becomes the ultimate entertainment center for everyone who comes to a vacation in Palermo (and there are a lot of them), so don’t expect peace and quiet.
If you come to Palermo in the summer and are looking for peace, it might not be the ideal place for you and you should find another beach. However, if you arrive at any other time, or are ready to enjoy the frenetic and lively atmosphere of the summer beach, don’t waste time and get there as soon as possible.
Being the largest island in the Mediterranean, Sicily boasts more than 1,000 kilometers of coastline. Therefore, it is no wonder that it is an international center for water activities and water sports. You will find here a huge variety of water attractions, suitable for water lovers of all kinds. Here are some examples:
The Riviera of the Cyclops (Riviera dei Ciclopi)
It is a destination that attracts divers from all over the world. It is located in the marine nature reserve of the town of Aci Trezza near Catania, in the center of the eastern coast of the island, and presents to divers a wonderful world of underwater volcanic geology, which originates from Mount Etna, which is not far away. The name of the Riviera was given to it on the basis of the Greek legend, which version that the black rocks sticking out of the water was thrown by the Cyclops Polyphemus, who tried to prevent the escape of Ulysses.
Stagnone Nature Reserve
is right on the other side of Sicily, a little north of the city of Marsala. The bay of the Gardens of Naxos (Giardini Naxos) in which it is located is characterized by clear and beautiful waters, which are difficult to find in the immediate vicinity. Here you will find a variety of businesses that will allow you to flyboard or barboard on the water, an experience that will stimulate your blood flow and is intended for extreme enthusiasts. On top of that, you can take advantage of your stay in the nature reserve to go kite surfing, which is especially popular in the more southern parts of the reserve, near Marsala.
If you prefer to have the work done for you, while you mainly enjoy the water and the view, we can recommend parasailing on the beaches of Palermo (and also on other beaches throughout Sicily). The comfortable weather allows this sport to be practiced throughout most of the year, and the number of providers that will offer it to you is huge. This is the reason why the price of this attraction is usually reasonable and accessible to every pocket.
Corleone and Its Museums (Corleone)
Anyone who has read the book (or seen the movie that followed) “The Godfather”, knows the name Corleone. The dubious name of this town comes from being the base town of many of the Sicilian bakeries, which are notorious on an international scale. The bakeries burdened and continue to burden the local population (both in Corleone and in Sicily in general), and the interaction between the residents and the bakery people is not positive, to say the least. Freedom Day, which began on April 11, and the naming of a street with that name, commemorates the day of the imprisonment of the legendary mobster Provenzano, who operated there for more than 40 years.
Despite its dubious past (and present), the town located in the center of Sicily has become a popular tourist destination in recent years. Two particularly interesting tourist destinations are the two parallel museums, the Mafia Museum and the Anti-Mafia Museum. These museums help the town overcome its problematic heritage, without ignoring it and leaving it behind. There is no doubt that this can be an interesting and really unusual day out as part of your trip to Sicily.
This small, medieval village is a center of attraction for tourists from all over Sicily, those who want to spend a relaxing day in the lap of history and the spectacular views from the village. The village is located on a hill in western Sicily, a little northeast of Trapani. The impressive castle on its walls, the historical buildings, and the spectacular views of the Mediterranean Sea seen from the village, all of these can fill a day of a relaxing and fun trip for you.
Being completely physically separate from Italy, and for most of its history not even connected to it in any way, it is no wonder that in Sicily separate and unique traditions and celebrations have developed, and the Italian ones are also celebrated here in their Sicilian way. There are tons of events throughout the whole year all over Sicily, both religious (ie Christian) and non-religious. We have brought here a sample of some of the best and most unique of them, but those interested are advised to read more.
Carnivale Acireale in Catania
All the cities in Italy celebrate the carnival (Carnivale) from the end of January to the middle of February, but the carnival held in Achirale is the most famous in Sicily, without a doubt. The giant paper puppets, the street performances, and the festive atmosphere, all these are something you don’t want to miss.
Almond Blossom Festival (Sagra del Mandorlo)
At the beginning of February, two festivals mix here, creating a particularly fun harmony. The first is the Almond Blossom Festival, which signifies the beautiful white trees that bloom here everywhere, and the second is the International Folklore Festival held here every year. Combine the visit to the festival together with the Valley of the Temples, and you have a perfect experience.
Taormina International Festival of the Arts
The Greek theater (although it is really Roman) of Taormina hosts in the summer months a particularly impressive international festival of a variety of arts, starting from Italian and international pop stars, to theater actors from all over the world and ending with classical orchestras that perform here with the best works. Come to Taormina in the months of July to September, and you will not be disappointed.
Festival di Morgana
For two weeks in November every year, Palermo, the capital of Italy, turns into a live theater stage. On every corner and every street, you will find spectacular shows of puppet theater, performed by the best Italian and international artists. This festival has been held for more than forty years, and beyond its ten main stages, you will also find plenty of booths and smaller shows.