The question of what to do in Sicily could likely be met with near infinite responses. Which could leave you a little overwhelmed when it comes to compiling a ‘things to do in Sicily’ itinerary. Naturally, there are some must–sees – but the best things to see in Sicily are those a little left of ordinary. On this island, do expect plenty of dark tourism – along with the chance to find treasure, skip among some of Europe’s finest ruins and ski down a volcano. An eclectic mix with one constant: gourmet-level food and wine at almost every turn. Buon appetito!
Explore the caves and catacombs of the Parco Archeologico Della Neapolis
You’ll no doubt find yourself adding Syracuse to your list of things to do in Sicily. Amphitheatres, ancient ruins, medieval alleyways and baroque buildings have the kind of pull no traveller can resist. And, by all means, be wowed by the Piazza Duomo and Tempi di Apollo – but spare some time for the archaeological wonders of the catacombs and caves.
Marvel at the acoustics in the Ear of Dionysus, learn about the intriguing burial rituals in the catacombs of San Giovanni Evangelista and compare the enormous greek theatre with the compact and quirky stage in Latomia dei Cappuccini – the stone quarry that built the city.
Beachcomb for Sicilian amber
On Sicily, the beaches are already legendary. So being able to forage for actual treasure on their sandy shorelines tips them over into something approaching mythical. Neverless, beachcomb hard enough and you could be the proud owner of a piece of Sicilian amber. Your only other option is to browse the Simetite jewellery in Sicily’s jewellery stores. Expensive, and rare, the amber has been known to contain prehistoric bugs, adding a nice Jurassic Park touch to your treasure hunt. Focus your foraging on the aptly named Contrada Chiappa on the Amber Coast. The best time to go? Just after a storm.
Peer into the creepy Capuchin Monastery Catacombs
Like to dabble with a little dark tourism on your travels? On Sicily, catacombs are the place to really put your taste for the macabre to test. More specifically, the body-lined walls of the Capuchin Catacombs. It’s here, in this rather ordinary-looking Palermo building, that thousands of bodies were preserved via natural mummification. Originally intended as a place to bury the monks of the cemetery, a need for space demanded that monks originally buried in the early 16th century had to be exhumed. When they were unveiled, 45 of the monks were found to be incredibly well preserved.
Believing this was an act of God, the very-much-alive friars decided to display the departed along the walls of the catacombs. The tradition – and various mummification processes led to bodies being interred here right up until 1920. If you’ve got the stomach for it, this is an intriguing glimpse into a very particular way to deal with life after death.
Browse rare remnants of the Spanish Inquisition
Back in Palermo, and we’re still in dark tourism territory. Stepping a little further back in time for this one though, at the Palazzo Steri. Built in the early 14th century, the palace bumbled through time under the ownership of wealthy families until the 17th century. Under control of Spanish viceroys, the grand and gothic building took a dark turn. It became a prison for those questioned and imprisoned by the Tribunal of the Spanish Inquisition. Today you can still read and browse the desperate and angry illustrations left by the prisoners.
Separate mafia fact from fiction in Palermo
Expect to see films like The Godfather and Goodfellas celebrated in certain spots across Sicily. And, while it’s interesting to see where Francis Ford Coppola recreated 1940s Italy for The Godfather, there’s also a harrowing history to be mindful of. Understandably, residents aren’t too keen on Hollywood’s interpretation of their experience – and the subsequent glamorisation of the mafia. To learn more about how Sicily’s residents are rebelling against the protection rackets and dig deeper behind the mafia myths, Palermo’s No Mafia tour is an essential peek inside the anti-mafia movement – and a huge slice of Palermo history.
Visit the Valley of the Temples
Seen Rome? Ambled around the Acropolis? They may just pale a little alongside the Valley of the Temples. This huge archaeological wonder in Agrigento dates back to 6B.C. A time when the Greek colonising parties liked their temples on the massive side. The fact they’ve somewhat survived through earthquakes, volcano eruptions, wars makes them all the more mesmerising. Pop along, grab a selfie amidst the columns and over-turned statues and ponder how these mammoth buildings were ever made without access to a scientific calculator.
Orbzii tip: Pleasingly, Valley of the Temples has made huge efforts to make the park accessible to all. Free electric wheelchairs can be hired at the entrance – giving access to 85% of the park for visitors with mobility issues.
Ski down Mount Etna
There are many ways to scale, slide down and generally scamper about on one of the world’s most active volcanoes. So, if you’re in the market for an adrenaline rush, Mount Etna’s the answer. And, out of all the options, skiing is the most accessible. Sand boarding could be a shout – but there’s the tricky business of getting your board to the slopes in the first place. Helpfully, when the snow falls, Etna’s two ski resorts deliver on all the alpine essentials, Though a lingering whiff of sulphur leaves you in no doubt that you’re skiing a volcano. Did we mention it’s still very much active? Still keen? Pop your salopettes on and head for either Nicolosi or Piano Provenzana.
Orbzii tip: Etna’s ski season carries on into April, which means you could tie in a piste or two with the a sunny few days on Sicily’s beaches.
Feast on Sicilian flavours
One of the best things you can do in Sicily? Book a space on a top-notch food and wine tour. Yes, you could trawl Google for hidden gems and off-the-beaten-track restaurants. But sometimes, having a genial guide to point you to all the very best nooks of a town – and provide wine tastings and nibbles on route reveals far more about a place. Start with the Siracusa food and wine tour from Sicilian Activities for inspo. Over 2.5 hours, they’ll share Siracusa’s secrets, whisk you to family run tavernas (always the BEST kind of taverna) and ply you with liqueurs, wine, homemade Sicilian pastries and more. Blissful.
Swing by the archipelagos
There’s a whopping list of things to do in Sicily which could keep you busy for months. But, with the Aeolian Islands so close by, it’d be a shame to miss them. Each one is a UNESCO protected slice of la dolce vita – with a huge helping of adventure on the side. Whether you choose to trot up to the tip of Stromboli’s crater, hurl yourself into Lipari’s hustle and bustle or seek solitude in the sleepier Pollara, there’s much here worth sacrificing a day or two of your Sicily itinerary for.
Hike through the Vendicari Nature Reserve
Sicily ladles on the history, architecture, archaeology and gourmet eats in such quantity that a casual stroll almost seems wasteful. But don’t let that FOMO deter you from strapping on your hiking boots. There are walks for all levels of determination on the island, but the Vendicari Nature Reserve provides the kind of holiday strolling that’ll suit everyone. Keen ramblers will have whizzed around the entire trail and be mapping out a mountain trek before families have even got their little ones suncream on, while weekend wanderers will be somewhere along the 6km coastal path rummaging through their picnic.
The highlight? On the blue trail, the path leads to Calamoshe. A wild and isolated spot that often finds itself on the silver screen – such is its beauty.