Cities in Sicily vie for your attention with baroque palaces, ancient ruins or – perhaps more tactically, irresistibly crisp, creamy cannolis. But, some of the best places in Sicily deliver on all three counts. Others, swerve the historic angle and instead provide a place for you to work off the mountain of carbs you’ve inhaled in the 10 minutes after your plane landed. We’ve brought you a mix of Sicily’s top spots. Use the list for inspo or carve out an itinerary. Just don’t miss the Valley of the Temples. It’s Sicily at it’s very best.
Sicily’s capital is intense. The head-spinning mix of Italian architecture, contemporary art, exquisite food and smattering of Sicilian churches will tick all of your nomadic boxes. But as elegant and statuesque as the city’s facade is, something a little darker stirs. There’s a decidedly different approach to death at the Capuchin Monastery Catacombs. One of the more gruesome things to see in Sicily, the bodies that line the walls contrast the style and artistry you’ll find elsewhere. It’s all part of Palermo’s dizzying allure. At each turn, the city can delight or dismay – depending on your appreciation of Norman cathedrals or urban art. Beauty’s in the eye of the beholder in Palermo – and, despite the chaotic streets, it’s unmissable.
Orbzii tip: Palermo’s Mafia history is the unspoken elephant in the room for some. For others, it’s an opportunity to make bank glamourising a dark period of this charming city’s past. Palermo’s No Mafia Tours do a great job of exposing the extortion rackets – and supporting the shopkeepers making a stand.
While all eyes are firmly on Sicily’s mainland, turn your gaze towards the outlying islands. More specifically, the volcanic island of Ustica. Clocking in at just over 3 square miles of Sicilian heaven, it just misses out on a place on the hidden gem list. Mainly because every Sicilian and Italian in the know bookmarks this idyll for their summer hols. That said, it’s still relatively under the radar for outsiders and delivers on the dream island lifestyle. You can mooch through history-laden streets blissfully unaware of the raucous past lived by babarians, pirates, Romans Greeks and Carthaginians – or you can dig deep into the archaeological artefacts in Ustica’s museums. As you’d expect on an island, caves, coves and inlets are a big deal – and pebble beaches with shallow shores are ideal for families looking to paddle and play an afternoon away.
But the walks are Ustica’s real treat. You can trot around the whole island in a day.
Orbzii tip: Before you step off the ferry from Palermo onto Ustica’s shores – consider getting your PADI cert. The diving here is exceptional, with amberjacks, barracuda and bream all enjoying life in marine protected area on the shoreline.
Of all the cities in Sicily, Noto is the one that makes Instagrammers, travel types and anyone seeking a certain Sicilian aesthetic go weak at the knees. The architecture, the artisan bakes that waft gently down the golden streets and the daily passeggiata ritual that you can set your watch by are all reason enough to drop in. But it’s the rustic glamour of Noto that really stays with you. Rebuilt from the rubble of a 17th century earthquake, the city has a polished edge to its shabby chic. There’s a palpable sense of pride from the residents that live here – and a warm welcome, if you seek out the spots where they shop for their perfectly imperfect cannolis. Expect to experience a holiday romance with Noto. These streets will woo you like no other.
Etna’s on every ‘best places in Sicily’ list – and rightly so. The powerful volcano, and surrounding wine estates, bring an unusual mix of high octane thrills and luxe viticulture to your island stay. But don’t miss the nearby Alcantara Valley. This frankly epic canyon sits right at the foot of the volcanoes slopes and comes with views, trails and adventures to suit all activity levels. The valley formed 300,000 years ago, with a little help from Etna’s eruptions in the last 8,000 years and, the topography is as jaw-dropping as you’d expect. Waterfalls, lakes and 25m high gorges. What’s not to like?
If your stay revolves around seeing as many Sicily beaches as possible, put a pin in the map next to Donnalucata. At first glance, the vintage fishing villages vibes light up the fairylights strung around your travel heart. And then you clock the beaches. Two stretches of golden sand – Micenci and Ponente – pair up with a charming promenade to form a coastal triple threat. Add in the trattorias making magic with the best of the local catch and you’ll be wishing you’d found this spot sooner. Despite the amenities and the smidge of regeneration that only tourism Euros bring, Donnalucata still feels unmistakably Sicilian.
If, by now, you’ve had your fill of baroque palaces, we’ve unfortunate news. Syracuse’s Piazza Duomo is surrounded by them. Don’t let that put you off though. There’s a reason we’re adding this one to the mix of cities and towns in Sicily. And that reason is the Neapolis Archaeological Park. Home to the ancient world’s largest Greek theatre, it’s also where you’ll find a pretty impressive Roman amphitheatre. Play out any dreams of Shakespearian stardom you’re harbouring. Bust out a well-rehearsed soliloquy or simply stare in awe at the toil and graft that would have gone in to constructing these mammoth ruins. Elsewhere in the park, ancient paintings, catacombs and caves with dubious pasts combine to make a glorious open air museum.
Orbzii tip: Just outside Syracuse, you’ll find another sight that’s far removed from the intricacies of Sicily’s palaces and churches, the 5,000 tombs of Necropolis of Pantalica. Carved into rock, the archaeological site shared by the Greeks and Romans dates back to 13 B.C.
This is the city to come to if you’re in the market for some serious Etna views. Away from Sicily’s stunning coastline, Enna’s USP is its mountain top location. And, when the clouds part, this elevated outcrop gives you the chance to have a solid peer at Etna’s crater – from within Enna’s medieval streets. That is, of course, if you haven’t been distracted on route by yet more historical buildings, along with Enna’s castle and cathedral. Foodies: Enna is a focal point for agritourism. Get your fill of low food mile treats while you’re in town.
Orbzii tip: Enna has one more ace up its sleeve – Pergusa Lake Nature Reserve. Sicily’s only natural lake provides a home to the endemic Sicilian lizard, marsh harriers and the Sicilian rock partridge.
If the ruins and theatres of Syracuse wowed you, add Agrigento to your Sicilian itinerary. But don’t be put off by the cosmopolitan side of the town. You’re here for the Valley of the Temples. Spanning 1300 hectares, this UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the world’s largest archaeological sites. You’ll find huge temples amidst forests of olive, carob and almond trees. And, though the imposing Greek ruins are the showstoppers, the trees themselves have a heritage and history that’s secured them a protected place in the valley. Wander the trails, swing by the Living Almond Museum and consider doing a few lunges in the ancient gymnasium.