You are used to seeing Rome’s Colosseum, the Amalfi Coast, and gondolas crisscrossing Venice’s hectic Grand Canal when searching for photos of Italy, but there’s so much more than the big hits.
Especially now, after over two years of Covid, during a time when we all crave space to freely breathe and roam, the most touristy destinations may feel a bit overwhelming, which is why you should consider these beautiful places to visit in Sicily.
Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean, is a great holiday destination, still maintaining a refreshingly under-the-radar feel. Though this 9000-square-mile island just off the southern coast of Italy boasts staggering natural beauty, archeological gems, and scenic UNESCO World Heritage sites, it is still very much unspoiled by mass tourism.
Strategically located where East meets West, this big, tri-cornered island at the very south of boot-shaped Italy has been ruled by everyone from the Ancient Greeks to the Normans over the millennia, as well as the Phoenicians, Romans, Saracens, Carthaginians, Bourbons, and Spaniards. No other place on Earth has seen such an extraordinary parade of civilizations leave their mark.
In sunny Sicily, you can really get the perfect trifecta of high culture, seaside relaxation, and delicious food made of the best ingredients in the Mediterranean. That’s why this gorgeous island all the way down off the tip of Italy’s boot deserves a place on your travel wish list for 2022. Here are our top picks for the best places to visit in Sicily!
1. Palermo, Northwest Sicily
The flamboyant, vibrant, and eclectic capital of Sicily, Palermo is the place to head to for an authentic slice of Sicilian life. Up-and-coming yet still preserving its fascinating off-the-beaten-track allure, Palermo is known for its unmissable architecture, great food and wine, vivid street life, and multicultural history. Ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Phoenicians, Arabs, Vandals, Catalans, and Normans have walked these streets before you.
Layers and layers of history are revealed through Gothic palaces and honey-hued Norman cathedrals rubbing up against Baroque monuments, Arabesque domes, modern Liberty-style villas, and medieval churches filled with treasures. Palermo is also home to Italy’s largest opera house, the neo-classical Teatro Massimo, built in the late 19th century. This is where the final scenes of The Godfather III were filmed.
One of Italy’s most beautiful and culturally significant cities, Palermo is not impossibly huge. It’s actually fairly easy to explore on foot this destination that’s one of the best places to visit in Sicily.
The capital of the Italian island of Sicily regularly ranks as one of the best places in the world to eat street food, which was part of the culture here long before it became trendy. The city’s thriving daily produce markets, bustling souq-like streets, and colorful stalls offer an authentic taste of Sicily. Venture beyond spaghetti and pizza. During your visit to Palermo, you definitely have to try a pani câ mèusa, a sandwich of chopped veal spleen simmered in lard, crunchy deep-fried arancini di riso stuffed with cheese and peas, and rectangular fritters made from chickpea flour called panelle. Are your taste buds ready? Dig in!
2. Taormina, North-eastern Sicily
Affectionately known as the Pearl of the Ionian Sea, the glamorous hilltop town of Taormina offers a little bit of everything, from a fine medieval quarter, castle ruins, and elegant piazzas lined with art galleries, upmarket boutiques, and Michelin-starred restaurants, to a beautifully preserved third century BC Greco-Roman amphitheater looking out over the coast and snow-capped Mount Etna volcano.
Wander the narrow street of the romantic, medieval centro storico, and take the cable car down to the beautiful bay of Mazzarò, where you can dine on fresh, superbly prepared seafood in atmospheric restaurants overlooking the water.
Isola Bella, a peaceful, UNESCO-protected pebbly beach near the bijou town of Taormina, can be easily reached on foot via a narrow isthmus from the mainland. A must-see in one of the best places to visit in Sicily this year!
3. Siracusa, South-eastern Sicily
An absolute must-see on the Ionian coast is the ancient city of Siracusa, now listed among UNESCO’s World Heritage sites. During ancient Greek times, Siracusa became one of the main poleis of Magna Graecia, nearly as prestigious as Athens.
Remains of the Magna Graecia colony – including the largest theater in the ancient world – can be seen at the Neapolis Archeological Park, and on the historic walled island of Ortigia, also known as the città vecchia. Linked to the mainland by two road bridges, Ortigia offers an enchanting ambiance of gleaming-white Baroque architecture, meandering cobbled alleys lined with fine restaurants, and a gorgeous seafront.
If you love the sounds, smells and vibrancy of a street market, look no further than the ancient Arab market of Ortigia, filled with colorful stands selling authentic regional produce, from bright-green Sicilian olives, dates, almonds, and ripe blood-red oranges, to deep purple eggplants, red chili peppers, tomatoes, pistachios, herbs, and spices of all types. A feast for the senses, it is held every morning but Sunday, so don’t skip it when discovering the most popular places to visit in Sicily.
4. Noto, South-eastern Sicily
Widely regarded as one of the most beautiful towns in the whole of Italy, Noto is so gorgeous you might mistake it for a vast work of art, except it is real. Located less than 20 miles south of Siracusa, this beautiful UNESCO-protected town in Sicily’s southeast corner contains some of the world’s finest examples of Baroque architecture.
In recent years, the resounding success of the Inspector Montalbano TV series, and the huge media impact generated by Italian fashion influencer Chiara Ferragni’s wedding in Noto brought tourism to this sun-drenched corner of the island, but it is still far from being a mainstream destination. Visit it now, before it gets too popular!
5. Menfi, South-western Sicily
Sitting at the center of a premier wine-growing district in southwest Sicily, the ancient town of Menfi, in the province of Agrigento, is one of the island’s best-kept secrets.
Menfi’s gently sloping hills blanketed in beautiful rows of lush vineyards descend right down to the shimmering azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea, where there is a seemingly endless array of pristine golden sand beaches, with mouthwatering seafood restaurants serving super fresh fish washed down with a good, local wine right by the sea.
A short drive west is the stunning acropolis of Selinunte, the largest archaeological park in Europe. The exquisite, wine-making town of Menfi is the perfect place from which to explore the southwestern corner of the island and get to know the real, authentic side of Sicily.
So dust off your passport and book a fun escape to the best places to visit in Sicily on this exotic island in the middle of the Mediterranean!
The best places to visit in Sicily are recommended by…
Mirela Letailleur is a Romanian travel blogger living in the South of France. She writes on The Travel Bunny travel blog about affordable travel in Europe, creator of unique free travel guides, and local travel expert. Problem solver. Wannabe coffee guru.
Article published in collaboration with Jessica Maggi.
After discovering the best places to visit in Sicily, you should read
10 most beautiful places to visit in Italy
20 essential things to do in Italy
Spending the best 2 days in Florence (48h itinerary)