Sicily is a place apart even in the context of Italy, with a distinct look and a turbulent history shaped by a number of different cultures. There is plenty to see and explore on this wonderful island, including several prime destinations, of which Palermo enjoys a separate entry in this space. For the rest, see below.
If you come to Agrigento, most likely you are targeting a visit to the Valley of the Temples ♥♥♥. It is an unmissable highlight of Sicily and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It offers a couple of relatively well-preserved temples, Juno and Concordia, plus a couple of less well-preserved, Hercules and Zeus, as well as a number of minor additional attractions. Not a small area to cover, it requires quite a bit of walking (although, there is a shuttle from one end to the other at €3 one-way). The two main temples are very impressive, and the views from many spots are tremendous. Easily accessible parking, refreshments, and there are a few drinking water fountains on the premises.
Other attractions in the area include Museo archeologico regionale Pietro Griffo, and Kolymbethra Gardens. About an hour westward on the coast can be found Stair of the Turks, an impressive natural feature.
Villa Romana del Casale
Villa Romana del Casale ♥♥♥ is an entirely unique masterpiece on the account of its well-preserved and varied floor mosaics. Mind-blowing, and even a bit overwhelming, compared to many other places that have some remnants of ancient art. Unmissable on a Sicilian itinerary. There are several refreshment options, of which the one near the parking lot provided the best quick lunch for us.
The villa is located outside of the town of Piazza Armerina, which comes up as a great sight from distance, and possibly an interesting place to see. It does not feature in any recommendations we found before our trip and, therefore, did not make our cut.
Syracuse is one of the major cities in Sicily, with plenty of interesting sights on offer. Its historic core, Ortygia Island ♥♥♥, is a walkable delight of historic streets. From its street market ♥ to the Temple of Apollo to the Fountain of Diana to Fonte Aretusa to viewpoints ♥ near Castello Maniace, there is plenty that you can see while staying outside. There are several important churches (we stepped into the Cathedral ♥ and the nearby church of Santa Lucia alla Badia ♥) and a number of museums (the aforementioned castle, Palazzo Bellomo, Jewish Mikveh, Papyrus Museum, Museo Archimede e Leonardo – we actually did not go to any).
In another part of the city, additional attractions include Neapolis Archaeological Park (which is part of the same UNESCO World Heritage site as Ortygia), Tecnoparco Archimede, and Museo Archeologico Regionale Paolo Orsi. Half an hour out of the city, there is yet another part of the WH inscription, Necropolis of Pantalica.
Place to Eat
A completely random choice for lunch, Il Blu ♥♥, at the edge of the Old Jewish Quarter, offered us a seat on a small square with a sea view and a welcome breeze. Both pasta with shrimp and fresh seafood carpaccio were fantastic. Damage: €45 for two, with two glasses of prosecco. Last visit: 2021.
About 15 minutes from Syracuse center, Fontane Bianche ♥ is on a large bay with a wide sandy beach, separated into paid club areas and free public ones. Fully developed, all amenities, a couple of parking lots on the nearest parallel street.
Part of the UNESCO-inscribed Val di Noto World Heritage site, Noto ♥♥ is both picturesque and monumental in its reasonably compact historic center which is built on a grid pattern. Lots of examples of Baroque, which is the basis of WH inscription. Interestingly, the Baroque churches are actually a bit understated on the interior, not without interesting details, but relatively bare when compared to some of the churches in Palermo; exteriors are always impressive. We stepped into the Cathedral ♥, San Carlo ♥, San Francesco d’Assisi ♥, and Montevergine ♥. At San Carlo, climbing the tower ♥♥ is an additional highlight.
A couple of palaces are worth a visit. Palazzo Nicolaci ♥ has a number of reasonably decorated rooms, headlined by the beautiful Ball Room. Look at the balconies when outside – the supports are varied and amazing. And make sure to step outside onto the balconies when visiting. The interior of Castelluccio Palace ♥ is actually more impressive, with a dozen of well-furnished rooms and a couple of outer spaces, but minus the balconies.
Late at night, quieter Noto is especially charming.
Places to Eat
Brief notes on the places we had meals at while in Noto. All visited as a couple in the fall of 2021.
Trattoria Geranio ♥♥ on Via Ducezio was a recommendation of our B&B host. Simply great, from tomato salad to different kinds of pasta (we tried spaghettoni with mussels and rigatoni with swordfish and tomatoes) everything was incredibly tasty. Amazing house-made cannoli as well. Damage: €84, with a regularly-priced bottle of wine.
Trattoria Giufa ♥, conversely, was a travel forum recommendation. Great setting in front of St Francisco d’Assisi, very nice service, we came in fairly late and were graciously accommodated. Meatballs on a beanstalk got high marks, but recommended rabbit recipe is not for everyone’s taste; the “deconstructed” cannolo was excellent. Damage: €69, with a regularly-priced bottle of wine.
Vicaria Pizzeria ♥, right next to Geranio, was a random choice. Excellent selection of antipasti “Vicaria”, a nice pork dish, succulent roasted fish, amazing cannolo. Friendly service and the total cost came to less than €50, including a carafe of wine.
Caffe Sicilia, on the main pedestrian street, has become famous due to its association with Chef’s Table TV program. It is probably too popular and touristy to warrant a rating, and we only had coffee and prosecco there anyway.
In the fall of 2021, we stayed at B&B Novecento Siciliano ♥♥ (link), literally around the corner from the cathedral. The location is on the top floor of a historic building (manageable 53 steps): a nice room with views and a modern shower. A very friendly and ready-to-assist host. Parking needs to be found a few blocks away (but we managed without much of a problem). Noise from the street is not too bad, but trash disposal operations of nearby cafes are certainly bothersome after midnight. Breakfast is pretty good: fresh bread and cheese, a couple of local delicacies, croissants, fruits, juice, coffee.
Ragusa ♥♥♥ may be the most impressive of all of the Val di Noto World Heritage towns, especially if you consider the sight of Ragusa Ibla (the historic core) from the viewpoints of Ragusa Superiore (the newer town). It is not exactly compact, and walking around (especially going to Ragusa Superiore) requires quite a lot of stair climbing.
Ragusa Superiore is more modern and more Baroque, with a visible grid pattern in its central area. The Cathedral of Saint Giovanni ♥♥ is the highlight, as is the Santa Maria delle Scale ♥, which is part medieval and part Baroque. One of the best viewpoints ♥♥♥ is by the latter.
Ragusa Ibla is more medieval, with narrower streets, and many staircases as well. We only stepped into the Cathedral of San Giorgio ♥, and walked by a number of other points of interest, such as Palazzo della Rocca (check out its balconies even if you do not have time for a proper visit).
Place to Eat
We sat down for aperitivo at a random cathedral square cafe, Biancomangiare ♥. A number of small sandwiches provided an interesting selection of snacks, but not all were to our liking, so we supplemented with the meat & cheese board. Damage: €25 in total.
A favorite of many, Scicli ♥ offers a compact historic center full of Baroque buildings, much smaller than in Noto, and also comparatively deserted; it is a bit off the beaten path, even though part of the same World Heritage site. Palazzo Benevento offers an amazing exterior, but cannot be visited. All churches were closed at midday. A palace open to visitors, Palazzo Spadaro, is comparable to Palazzo Nicolaci in Noto.
Place to Eat
Donna Luisa ♥ is on the main pedestrian street. We had a couple of selections from the appetizer list (a nice trio of arancini and an octopus salad), but there is also a full pizzeria menu in addition to the local specialties. Damage: €32, which included a glass of wine.
About 20 minutes from Scicli by car, the beach at Sampieri ♥ is long and wide, with tiny soft sand, and showers and foot-wash fountains in the public section. Large parking lot right by the beach.
Palazzolo Acreide ♥♥ almost did not make our itinerary but we were glad that we managed to fit it in. It is a great-looking small town, with an attractive Baroque-tinted core and two significant churches that are part of the UNESCO Val di Noto site. Both churches – San Sebastiano ♥♥ and San Paolo ♥♥ – are very much worth the visit; in San Paolo, we were the only visitors, and a local guide, Franco, gave us a whirlwind tour of the church and even introduced us to the padre; of course, he then demanded a contribution to the church.
A few other churches are seemingly worth a quick look – we looked into San Michele ♥.
The central square, Piazza del Popolo ♥♥, is exactly what you would expect from a hilltop town.
Place to Eat
We only had time for coffee and prosecco at J’Live right on the main square. Aforementioned Franco suggested it as a great place for a meal, which we will have to check the next time we are in town.
Other towns in Val di Noto
Three more towns of the UNESCO Val di Noto site were cut from our itinerary. Caltagirone is the ceramic capital of Sicily and offers a number of points of interest in addition to its Baroque center. Modica looked dramatically positioned in a mountain gorge from a distance. Both Modica and Militello in Val di Catania are on the UNESCO inscription not as whole towns but rather on account of a couple of specific churches, and we’ll look to visit them in the future.
The historic center of Catania is also part of the Val di Noto site, and there are truly many impressive Baroque churches and palaces around. The Cathedral Square ♥♥ is gorgeous, and the town looks a bit cleaner than Palermo. In addition to Baroque edifices, attractions such as Castello Ursino, Palazzo Biscari, Museum of Contemporary Art in Sicily, Monastero dei Benedettini, Teatro Romano, could all be worth visiting given sufficient time. Our plans allowed for just a few hours in town, and at midday, every single point of interest was closed. We did catch the tail end of the famous fish market, which is around the corner from the cathedral square.
The city is also big and busy, getting to the historic center by car is no mean feat.
Place to Eat
A very random choice for lunch, Cuore Fresco ♥, on a street connecting with the cathedral square, serves a nice selection of sandwiches, burgers, and various appetizer-type plates. €18 for a pretty tasty lunch that includes a glass of prosecco is not a bad deal.
Taormina ♥ is a resort town with the core part sitting on mountain slopes high above the sea. It is a bit overcommercialized – pretty, with lots of attractive buildings, and tons of picture-worthy angles, but every inch of the street level is taken by restaurants and shops. There are a few churches with minor interesting features (Santa Caterina ♥ is quite lovely, San Giuseppe on the main square is not bad, and the Duomo is not too special). Villa Comunale ♥ public gardens are worth some exploration. Roman Theater ♥♥ is the top sight, very impressive, especially the perspectives of its remaining structure combined with the town behind; it is also somewhat overpriced for what you get.
Late in the evening many of the restaurants in Taormina center offer live music. Passerby can easily get a concert-worth of entertainment.
Down by the sea level, several small bays are where the beaches are found, with dozens of hotels lining the main seaside road. Isola Bella is a minor attraction here, a small formerly private island that can be reached on foot at low tide.
Getting a couple of hours in the sea on a boat with aperitivo ♥ in the late afternoon is a very nice diversion. The sea may occasionally be a bit rough, but there are places where it remains tranquil. You go into a couple of caves, take a dip in a warm bay, and generally look at the shore points from the water.
Cable car by the Mazzaro Bay connects the sea level with the Taormina town core at the eastern edge of town (by the Messina Gate) – it is quite efficient and open until 1am even in the shoulder season. If you want to drive up to town, Porta Catania parking is a large multi-level lot that puts you a few steps away from the western edge of the town core.
Places to Eat
Brief notes on our meals in Taormina in 2021, all as a couple.
Trattoria Tiramisu ♥♥♥ near the Catania Gate is probably the most accomplished restaurant we visited on our Sicily trip. Amazing food, efficient and practically impeccable service. We had appetizer specials, and then two pastas from the main menu, linguine ai frutti di mare and tagliatelle mare e mundo, all fantastic. For dessert, obviously, tiramisu, also among the best ever. Damage: €102, with a regularly-priced bottle of wine.
Il Ciclope ♥♥, on the main street closer to Catania Gate. Started with bruschetta and a selection of fried seafood – great already. Followed it up with fetuccine ai funghi porcini (the only thing that was just good rather than stellar) and a daily special of the red snapper filet (amazing). Finished with a homemade cake with pistachio cream and wild strawberries and panna cotta with strawberry sauce – both outstanding. Great service, understated ambiance. The manager offered us a typical Sicilian digestive on the house. Damage: €106, with a regularly-priced bottle of wine.
A good place for a quick bite is L’Arco – About Pizza ♥, next to the Porta Catania. Large selection of artisan pizzas and other staples, such as arancini. We spent €11, including soft drinks. Another similar place recommended to us was Rosticceria da Christina, near Piazza Duomo, but we did not manage to eat there.
Hotel Gallodoro ♥ on the “sea level” – close to the cable car, nice views over Mazzaro Bay, overall good ambiance, and a full-service restaurant and pizzeria that we did not take advantage of. A very small room with a tiny bathroom; most of the amenities are there (but no bidet, which is rare in Italy), plus a personal terrace overlooking the sea. Onsite parking charged at €10 per night – not a huge lot, but we pulled out and then parked again on three occasions without a problem; then, when we were leaving, two cars had to be moved to clear the way, and it was quite a challenge even after. Breakfast consists of fresh pastry and bread, plus coffee and juice; on the second day, there was additionally cheese and cured meat.
Castelmole ♥ is a tiny picturesque village high above Taormina. You could probably see it all in 20 minutes or so, but the drive up and down demands that you linger at least an hour at one of the belvederes or in a cafe or a shop.
A natural phenomenon very much worth exploring (and a UNESCO-inscribed World Heritage site), Mount Etna ♥♥♥ can be toured in a variety of ways, with or without guidance. Silvestri Craters ♥, for instance, is a fairly easily reachable highlight. We actually hired a guide with a Jeep, which allowed us to visit some of the less accessible areas, including a lava tunnel called Grotta Cicirello.
We only gave ourselves about an hour to check out Acireale, which boasts several impressive churches and palaces around Piazza Duomo ♥. We did not go into any but instead strolled around a bit, and then had drinks in a cafe. Definitely, a place to come back to.