Slightly smaller than the state of Massachusetts and the entire country of Albania, the southern Italian island of Sicily offers an exciting range of ancient sites to visit and culture to discover. As the largest and most densely populated island in the Mediterranean Sea, a great way to get around the island and discover all its beautiful coastal towns and cities is by taking a road trip! As this island offers a variety of places to visit we have put a wonderful road trip itinerary including some of the best coastal spots and cities in Sicily to stop by while enjoying the warm Mediterranean culture.
Let’s get started with a map of our proposed 1 week Sicily road trip itinerary:
We recommend starting off this road-trip in Catania, Sicily’s largest city which was famously hit by both an earthquake and a Mount Etna eruption in the late 1600s. This destroyed most of the city and as a result, Catania doesn’t offer as many ancient sites as other places in Sicily. The city does, however, feature plenty of Baroque buildings and expansive piazzas which allowed for Catania to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The next stop on the road trip itinerary is the world-renowned Mount Etna! Known as one of the largest and most active volcanoes in Europe and the world, Mount Etna features an incredible variety of landscape and territory due to its constant eruptions and lava flow. This volcano is perfect for active visitors as hikes up Mount Etna offer incredible panoramas over Sicily and the chance to visit many of its craters.
Next up is Taormina, perched up high on a hill in eastern Sicily. Offering some of the very best views on the island, Taormina is also greatly known for its Teatro Greco. A centerpiece of the city, the ancient amphitheater dates back to the 3rd century BC. From the very top, visitors are able to look out across the Mediterranean and even view Mount Etna. Taormina also offers a wonderful selection of medieval buildings, shops, and restaurants.
Located on the northeast corner of Sicily and sitting on the beautiful Ionian Coast, the city of Messina was originally named Zancle, from the Greek word for “scythe” due to its naturally curved shape. With its fair share of natural disasters and Black Plague, today this bustling port city is known for its incredible wine production, spectacular architecture, and orange, lemon and olive cultivation. The Cathedral of Messina is definitely a must see when visiting the city. Damaged by two earthquakes in 1783 and a bomb in WWII, the Norman cathedral has been completely restored and features beautiful interiors, exteriors, high ceilings, white columns, and religious paintings.
One of the most beautiful towns in Sicily, Cefalù features golden sandy beaches. Perfect for a relaxing stop, we recommend strolling through the town and exploring the pedestrian areas and squares. Sitting at the bottom of a massive rock, Cefalù’s position is one of the very best in Sicily for lounging by the beach and enjoying seaside shopping and dining. The Duomo is a must-see as it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its architecture and outstanding mosaics. Built by the Normans during their Sicilian ruling in 1131, the cathedral resembles a fortress on the outside and houses incredible works of religious art on the inside.
Situated a half an hour drive from Palermo, Monreale is a stunning hilltop town known for its famous Cathedral of Monreale. Part of the collective UNESCO World Heritage Site of Arad-Norman churches, this cathedral may be one of the most spectacular churches across all of Sicily. Featuring 130 mosaics, 200 carved columns and a massive 65-foot mosaic of Christ Pantocrator covered in an estimated 2 tons of gold, this site is definitely worth visiting.
Throughout the centuries Sicily’s capital Palermo has been influenced by a variety of European, North African, Roman, and Arab cultures. The city’s multi-culturalism is prominent and evident through the incredible architecture found all across the city as well as the vast cuisine selection. The Palermo Cathedral and the royal Palatine Chapel of the Norman kings of Sicily are breathtaking sites to visit. The Palatine Chapel is visited by tourists from across the world who wish to see the extensive gold mosaic covering the majority of the chapel.
ZINGARO NATURE RESERVE
Covering a coastal strip of about 7km, the Zingaro Nature Reserve is considered a paradise by many biologists and naturalists. Thanks to its wealth of endemic plants and wildlife, including several rare species of birds of prey, this nature reserve offers a grand variety of natural environments. Limestone mountains surround the nature reserve and its low cliffs offer deep stretches of sand lapping, clean and unpolluted views of the sea. The cave of Uzzo, a witness of the first prehistoric settlements in Sicily is also present in the nature reserve. Offering three paths: the coastal path, the middle coast pat, and the high path, the Zingaro Nature Reserve features a close connection with the sea, defining its beautiful landscape.
Next up on the road trip itinerary is the medieval town located on top of Mount Eryx, Erice. Known worldwide for its panoramic views across the sea and valley just below, Erice was ruled by numerous civilizations throughout the centuries such as the Elymians, Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans. These civilizations all influenced the city’s architecture and layout which are still very visible today. Erice is also home to some of Sicily’s very best cannolis!
Located between the two seas, at the foot of Mount Erice, near the archeological site of Selinunte and in front of the Egadi Island and salt marshes, the city of Trapani offers architectural, artistic and cultural sites to discover. Home to the Museo Delle Saline (Salt Museum), Trapani offers the chance to discover the in-depth process of salt making. It is also possible to see the mill at work as well as climb to the top of the mill to observe gorgeous views of the salt flats and sea below. The eighteenth-century Chiesa del Purgatorio in Trapani is also renowned for safeguarding the “Mysteries”, 20 sculptures made by local artists depicting the Passion of Christ.
Located on the western coast of Sicily, Marsala features ancient origins and a wonderful archaeological museum. Once a leading town of Arab Sicily, Marsala was an important port for traffic to and from Africa. Today the town of Marsala is known for its Marsala wine dating back to a time when the city became home to a prosperous wine trade. Marsala is also known as the landing spot of Garibaldi and his thousand men on 11th May 1860 which began a chain of events preceding Italy’s unification. All over the town, plaques commemorating Garibaldi and his men can be found.
One of Sicily’s great Greek archeological sites, Selinunte is located by the sea in the south-western corner of the island. The ancient ruins in Selinunte have stood completely abandoned for many years, allowing visitors today to clearly understand and imagine what the town of Selinus would have been like two and a half thousand years ago. The archaeological park is a wonderful site to visit as it includes Greek temples, ancient town walls, ruins of residential and commercial buildings, countryside paths and zones not yet excavated. For all history lovers, this is a great location to stop by to understand what Greek Sicily was like and its closeness to the sea provides picturesque views. There is also a selection of sandy beaches nearby for those wishing to catch a little bit of sun.
The town of Menfi is a small agricultural center sitting between Selinunte and Sciacca in southwestern Sicily. With its rolling vine-covering hills, dunes and white sandy beaches of the coast, Menfi is an authentic representation of a charming and working Sicilian town. Menfi’s history begins when Sicanian King Cocalo who founded the town of Inycon and built a palace there long before the first Greek settlers arrived in Sicily. Later, once the Arabs discovered Inycon they founded the village of Burgimilluso on the site of modern-day Menfi. The main focus of the town today is the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II. This is also where the rebuilt Cathedral Church stands which was built in the 18th century but destroyed by an earthquake in 1968. While only two towers remain today, Menfi’s most significant monument was once the Castle of Burgimilluso in the Old Town, erected to protect the medieval village.
The historic fishing port town of Sciacca can be found on the southern coast of Sicily. Known as a workaday town rather than a polished tourist spot, Sciacca is known for its ceramics, thermal baths, and religious festivals, as well as its large fishing fleets. Around the 7th century, BC Sciacca’s thermal springs became resorts for the Greeks of ancient Selinunte. For Sicily’s Roman rulers the town was not only a spa but also an important hub for their mail service and for the Arabs it was a trading port with North African connections. Today, Sciacca’s historic center features ancient churches and buildings worth visiting.
One of the island’s top tourist sites is The Valley of the Temples in Agrigento. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is surrounded by olive groves and almond orchards and houses an incredible list of Greek ruins above and below ground. The valley is known for some of the best-preserved Doric temples outside of Greece. This archeological park consists of six temples built between 510 BC and 430 BC. The Temple of Concordia has survived many earthquakes, the Temple of Juno and Temple of Heracles can also be visited, while there are three remaining columns standing from the Temple of Castor and Pollux. With a visit to Agrigento, it becomes clear how wealthy the ancient town of Akragas once was, becoming one of the most impressive cities of Magna Greacia due to its favorable trade agreements and position by the sea.
After a strong earthquake destroyed most of Sicily in 1693, the Baroque style architecture that Sicily is known for soon after emerged. The town of Ragusa was built on a grid plan after the earthquake and later readapted into a medieval street layout. Today Ragusa features two distinct sections, Ragusa Ibla below and the Baroque town of Ragusa Superiore above. One of the UNESCO-listed towns of south-eastern Sicily, Ragusa features an incredible archeological museum, charming shops, restaurants, and accommodations, as well as picturesque lanes.
Founded in the 1700’s, the small town of Noto in south-east Sicily is the heart of Sicilian Baroque. After being completely destroyed by the 1693 earthquake, the town of Noto was completely rebuilt. After 10 years of difficult work to raise and rebuild Noto’s cathedral, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In Noto, you can admire palaces, churches, balconies with wrought iron railings and cherubs that decorate the facades. The main street of Noto is Corso Vittorio Emanuele, which is accessed through the Arco di Trionfo, the royal gate. Here there are three squares: Piazza Immacolata, Piazza Municipo and Piazza XVI Maggio. Three churches that you cannot miss during a visit to Noto are: the Church of San Francesco, home to Antonio Monachello’s 1564 Madonna and Child painting; the Monastero del Santissimo Salvatore who’s windows are adorned with goose-breast balconies allowing ladies with large dresses to look out from the balcony and the Palazzo Ducezion and Cathedral in Piazza Municipio.
Lastly, before returning to the starting point, make a stop in the beautiful coastal city of Siracusa that is known for its remarkable historical heritage and charming old town, Ortigia Island. Connected to Siracusa by a small bridge, calm reigns over the mostly pedestrian Ortigia Island, featuring a traditional Sicilian charm. On the island not only can you admire beautiful views, but also the Arethusa fountain which features mythological origins. A must-see in Siracusa is definitely the Piazza del Duomo, the island’s main square, surrounded by white stone buildings. Here you can admire the cathedral of Siracusa, the Palazzo Beneventano, the town hall, and the Archbishop’s Palace.
While the suggested road trip itinerary can obviously be done also in the opposite direction, we hope that this list of towns, cities, and sites to visit can help you navigate across the beautiful island while discovering Sicily’s rich history and culture.
It is extremely easy to rent a car in Sicily as well as finding the perfect local accommodation for each stop. Websites such as WishSicily offer incredible luxury villas in Sicily for rent, perfect for enjoying a stay in beautiful locally owned villas.