Sicily holidays

Experience Sicily

Experience [destination]

Best Places to Visit

Visitors spending their holidays on the beautiful Mediterranean island of Sicily will most likely land in Catania. The city is not just a transport hub as it features a young and lively nightlife, as well as a lavish, Baroque architecture. The city is also the gateway to exploring Mount Etna, an active volcano that is one of Europe's most famous natural landmarks.

Palermo has a rich culture, having been occupied by a number of civilisations over the centuries, such as the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Arabs and even the Normans. What has been left behind is a city full of historical structures and relics, such as the grand Palermo Cathedral and the eerie Capuchin Catacombs which house well preserved bodies dating from the 16th to the 19th century, and are an attraction to tourists of the more macabre persuasion.

No other landmark exemplifies this potent mix of civilisations better than the Palermo Cathedral mentioned above. This religious site which started as an Anglo-Norman church later became a mosque under the Saracens and was restored as a Catholic cathedral during the Renaissance, with Baroque and Gothic elements added later on, and it now stands as one of the grandest buildings on the island.

For a taste of Ancient Greece in Sicily, tourist are recommended to visit Syracuse, a city described by Roman philosopher Cicero as the most beautiful of Greek cities. The archaeological sites here feature the Apollo Temple and the Old Town of Ortygia Island. Further south, visitors will find the small yet beautiful coastal city of Agrigento, also popular for its Greek ruins and offering a very tourist-friendly day trip that is slightly off the main beaten track.

Far towards Sicily's western regions is Trapani, another scenic coastal town which is considered the jump-off point to Sicily's islands in the west. The famed 16-hour Easter Procession of Trapani is reason enough to visit the town during spring time, for a chance to take in the endurance spectacle.

Pantelleria, off Sicily's southwest coast, is known for its distinct Arab influences, being very close to Northern Africa. Those looking to see Sicily's more rugged and remote side can head to the Aeolian Islands, off the northern coast of the mainland. This small archipelago lying in the Tyrrhenian Sea is home to scenic volcanoes jutting out from the water as well as beaches and mud baths.

Top Landmarks

Being situated at the maritime crossroads of the Mediterranean, Sicily has been invaded and ruled by a number of great civilisations throughout its thousands of years of history. The remnants of many of Sicily's conquerors can be seen in the architecture and landmarks still standing today, some of which have already been touched on above.

The Ancient Greeks made their mark in Syracuse when they constructed the Apollo Temple, the Old Town of Ortygia Island, the Greek Theatre and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Even in their varying states of ruin, these ancient relics are still a powerful reminder of the long history of Sicily, and provide history buffs with a great selection of day trips and sightseeing opportunities.

The Valley of the Temples in Agrigento is another testament to Sicily's Greek heritage. This landmark features five temples, which together are considered among the best examples of classic Greek architecture. It is only natural that this landmark has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site, and arguably one of the best in Europe for anyone with a passion for classical architecture.

As far as natural landmarks in Sicily go, Mount Etna takes first prize as the destination with the most to offer. At 10,922ft, it is the highest active volcano in Europe. It is located in the eastern region of Sicily and can be accessed via the cities of Catania and Taormina. A popular attraction in Taormina is the Greek Amphitheatre, which features a stunning view of Mount Etna.

Entertainment

The major cities of Catania, Palermo and Taormina are the best places to find night-time entertainment in Sicily in the form of bars, pubs and clubs. The transport hub and busy economic centre of Catania is especially popular among the young crowd as night-time venues here cater to students of universities and other educational institutions in Catania.

The most happening place is Via Crociferi, an area with lots of bars and clubs, and which is very close to the centre of the university district. A good night spot here is Barrique Club, which is popular with locals and visitors alike for drinks and live music.

In Palermo, the market area of Borgo Vecchio, close to Piazza Ucciardone and Piazza Sturzo, is a popular gathering place for those looking for great night-time entertainment. The most popular party and dance venues can be found in the city's financial centre where the music does not stop thumping until the early hours of the morning. Another good spot to find not only great parties but fantastic food is Piazza Olivella as well as the streets that jut out from behind Teatro Massimo.

The upmarket resort town of Taormina is especially popular for its party scene, frequented not only by tourists but by locals. The dance venues here do not get going until 22:00 so visitors are advised to grab dinner and drinks before diving into the action. Some of the most popular spots here are Panasia Beach Taormina, Il Septimo Taormina and La Giara Taormina.

Dining Out

As with the rest of Italy, Sicily treats food with high regard and dining is considered an important social event. Options cover a broad range of budgets, from street snacks to delectable multi-course meals, as well dining experiences in simple cafes and high-end restaurants. The smaller villages, meanwhile, usually have trattoria which serve highly authentic local cuisine and are often run by local families who cook using recipes passed down from one generation to another.

Sicilians are proud of their distinct cuisine, which is heavily influenced by the many civilisations that passed through the land. The cuisine is said to be typically Mediterranean but unlike in the rest of Italy, the locals here use less butter and cream, and more tomatoes, olive oil, jasmine, mint, rosemary and basil.

A meal usually begins with a simple caponata salad, made with local aubergines, celery, olives and capers, and tossed in a sweet vinegar dressing. Sicilians take advantage of the abundant seas that surround them, and thus a typical meal will include fish and seafood. Cuttlefish is usually served with pasta and a dark sauce, while the quintessential Sicilian favourite, sardine, is usually made deliciously aromatic and full of flavour with fennel leaves.

Beach

With the Mediterranean on all sides, Sicily has a number of beautiful beaches that entice holidaymakers from all over Europe. A favourite beach destination is Mondello, which is just a short bus ride from the major city of Palermo. Close to Trapani, the beaches of Triscina and San Vito Lo Capo are good options.

Romance

The Baroque architecture of Ragusa, in Sicily's southern region, is a good place to feel that old world romance. Cefalù, on the other hand, combines Sicily's coastal charm and medieval beauty. Away from the main tourist spots, Pantelleria, an island off the coast of southern Sicily, is a good place to spend every minute of the day with your significant other.

Family

Families who choose to spend their holidays in Sicily can take their children up the cable car to Taormina, where sightseeing and walking around the town's Greek Amphitheatre is possible. Madonie Adventure Park is another destination the kids will enjoy. Here, they can climb trees with rope ladders, do cable slides, bike through the wooden areas or simply have a picnic with the rest of the family.

Adventure

At Mount Etna, visitors can soak in the desolate and sulphuric landscapes and rivers of lava onboard a four-wheel drive or via guided tours on foot. In winter, the slopes of the volcano are popular with skiers and other winter sports enthusiasts. Volcano-themed adventures can also be had in the Aeolian Islands, off Sicily's northern coast. On one of the islands, Stromboli, visitors can trek to a volcanic crater at night when the spectacular lava eruptions are best viewed.

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Need to know

Need to know [destination]

Language

The language spoken in Sicily is Sicilian, a Romance language distinct from Italian with its unique sounds and vocabulary. However, most locals are able to speak Italian proficiently. Older-generation Sicilians, however, might not be able to. English is spoken by the young generation in varying fluency. Those in the tourist industry usually speak a combination of English, German and French, so you should have no problem holding a conversation to a good level in the tourist areas, or really anywhere on the island to a reasonable extent.

Currency

Sicily is a region of Italy and in Italy, the official currency is the euro. Banks and exchange bureaux are available, while ATMs are widely available in major cities as well as in small towns and villages with bank branches. Visitors are advised to check with their home bank regarding charges for foreign withdrawals. In addition, visitors will need a four-digit PIN as six-digit PINs don't work here. Credit cards can be used in big establishments, with MasterCard and Visa being the most widely accepted cards, or prepaid currency cards offer an alternative if your own bank card is not compatible.

Visas

Italy is part of the Schengen zone and nationals from Schengen-member countries do not need a visa to enter the country, including Sicily. However, a passport or a national ID card is required. For nationals of the UK, the US, Canada and Australia, a passport is required with at least three months of validity. Nationals of other countries are advised to contact their nearest Italian diplomatic mission for details on tourist visas.

Climate

The Italian peninsula, from which Sicily is separated by only a narrow strait, enjoys a Mediterranean climate wherein summers are hot and dry while winters are mild and rainy. Summer, July to September, is considered high season and is when Sicily's coastal cities fill up with tourists and temperatures hover between 25 and 30°C. The best time to visit is April to June and September to October. These shoulder seasons are when the main tourist areas are not packed with people and the climate is overall pleasant.

Main Airports

Sicily's main airport is located in its second largest city, Catania. Catania-Fontanarossa Airport is the busiest airport in Sicily, receiving flights from many Italian cities as well as the rest of Europe. The secondary airport is Palermo Airport, which also receives numerous domestic and international flights from Europe. A tertiary airport now receiving an increasing number of low-cost carriers is Trapani-Birgi Airport.

Flight Options

There are a number of major and budget carriers connecting Sicily to the rest of Europe. British Airways and EasyJet fly daily from London-Gatwick to Catania. Both EasyJet and Ryanair serve Palermo, from London-Gatwick and London-Stansted respectively. Ryanair flies seasonally from London-Luton to Trapani, a major tourist stop in Sicily's western region. Typical flight time from London to Sicily is around 3 hours.

Travel Advice

Low-cost carriers are now making inroads into Sicily and may be a good option for those on a budget. Leading the pack is Ryanair, which serves both Palermo and Trapani year round. However, it is worth watching out for deals on EasyJet flights from the UK to Palermo or Catania. Advance bookings with these budget carriers usually garner the best discounts.

Other Transport Options

Long-distance buses from Rome and Naples take passengers to Catania or Palermo, while trains originating in the same mainland Italian cities reach Sicily via rail ferry, with the journey taking between 8 and 10 hours. Ferries frequently run between Sicily and mainland Italy, while catamarans come in from Malta.

Getting Around

While flights can be used to explore the smaller Mediterranean islands off Sicily's southern coast, they aren't practical for getting around Sicily. Buses are the preferred means to get around, while trains are also cheap and reliable. Road conditions are generally good and car rental is widely available.

Train

Trains are another cheap and reliable way of getting to and from the many tourist stops in Sicily. Palermo, Trapani, Catania, Messina, Taormina, Syracuse and Agrigento are well connected by the rail network. Tickets can be bought up to two months in advance and Eurail passes can be used.

Air

Sicily's major tourist stops are not connected by air. However, flying is a fast option for those wanting to explore the small Sicilian islands in the Mediterranean, or the Aeolian Islands.

Bus

Buses are the primary mode of transport to get around the main destinations in Sicily. The major hubs, such as Palermo in the north, Messina in the east, Trapani in the west and Agrigento in the south, are well serviced by the bus network. Fares are reasonable. AST is the largest bus carrier followed by SAIS, Interbus and Cuffaro.

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SICILY`S WEATHER TODAY

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FACTS

  1. Sicily is the Mediterranean Sea's largest island with about 600 miles of coastline. It's roughly round, and takes about 2.5 hours to cross north to south, or 3.5 hours east to west.
  2. The island may eventually be connected to the mainland - at the Straits of Messina it's only about two miles from Italy, but plans to bridge the gap have repeatedly been delayed.
  3. Sicily is also home to the term 'mafia', the 'family' mob system known worldwide through movies like The Godfather. Don’t worry - you’re very unlikely to encounter that on your holiday!

FACTS

  1. Sicily is the Mediterranean Sea's largest island with about 600 miles of coastline. It's roughly round, and takes about 2.5 hours to cross north to south, or 3.5 hours east to west.
  2. The island may eventually be connected to the mainland - at the Straits of Messina it's only about two miles from Italy, but plans to bridge the gap have repeatedly been delayed.
  3. Sicily is also home to the term 'mafia', the 'family' mob system known worldwide through movies like The Godfather. Don’t worry - you’re very unlikely to encounter that on your holiday!

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