An introduction to our 11-day Sicily itinerary
Palermo, Agrigento, Ragusa, Siracusa, Taormina — highlights and practical information
Long on the list of places in Italy we’d wanted to visit was Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean located across the Ionian Sea from the toe of the boot of the country’s mainland. With so much area to cover and activities to experience, we knew we couldn’t do it all, but we felt like we got a very good introduction to the best of Sicily. Although we’ve been to Italy several times, it was clear from the start that Sicily would be similar to other regions in some ways, but offer exciting differences as well.
How we got around
We flew into Palermo Airport (18 miles from the city) where we were met by the private driver I had organized in advance. Taxi, bus, and train service is also available. While in the city, we got around by walking and taking a few taxis. After our three days in Palermo, we took a taxi to the Palermo Airport where we picked up our rental car. From Palermo Airport, we drove to Agrigento, then to Ragusa, and finally to Siracusa where we dropped off our rental car. We took the train from Siracusa to Taormina (Taormina-Giardini station). On our final morning in Sicily, we had a private driver to take us from our hotel in Taormina to the airport in Catania, about an hour away.
Three days in Palermo
Palermo, the capital of Sicily, is an enticing city of vibrant squares, blended cultures, beautiful landmarks, and a gritty street scene. It was a great place to begin our exploration of the island.
Palermo highlights — find more information in “Intrigued by Palermo, Sicily’s Culture Capital”
- Palermo food markets and street food – Take a walking tour of the markets to sample Palermo’s famous street food and feel the gritty vibe. Be adventurous and try the veal spleen sandwich!
- Quattro Canti — Stand in the center of the intersection of major streets Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Via Maqueda which is the center of the historic area of Palermo and near many sights. Spin 360 degrees and also look upward to see the unique effect of the identical buildings with curved facades on each corner.
- Kalsa district — Roam around and visit the architectural landmarks, museums, galleries, shops, and dining establishments throughout the Kalsa district.
- Piazza Bellini – Find many historic buildings on the perimeter of this piazza, including two churches that are UNESO World Heritage Sites — 14-th century Chiesa e Monastero di Santa Caterina d’Alessandria (church, Dominican convent, the Ignazio Marabitti fountain in the cloister, rooftop terrace with views ), Chiesa della Martorna, Teatro Bellini, Palazzo Pretorio, and more.
- Chiesa della Martorana — Be in awe of the Byzantine mosaics of this 12th-century church built with the patronage of the Syrian Christian admiral George of Antioch to honor the Virgin Mary for her protection. It is also known as Chiesa di Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio (Church of St. Mary of the Admiral) and is one of the two UNESCO churches in Piazza Bellini.
- Fontana Pretoria — Spend time admiring the marble statues of this 15th-century fountain in Piazza Pretoria.
- Day trip to Mondello – In season, pack a towel and sunscreen for a day trip to this popular beach resort on this sandy coastline 12km north of Palermo. But even in the off-season, it’s pleasant to stroll the promenade and have lunch on the waterfront.
Where we stayed
Grand Hotel et Des Palmes — Via Roma, 398
Where we ate
- Sapori Perdut, Via Principe di Belmonte, 32
- Osteria dei Vespri, Piazza Croce dei Vespri 6
- GigiMangia Ristorante, Via Principe di Belmonte, 104D
- Bisso Bistrot, Via Maqueda, 172A
- Ristorante alle Terrazze, Mondello
One day in Agrigento
Our short time in Agrigento was limited to the main tourist site here, the Valley of the Temples, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is well worth a visit.
Agrigento area highlights
- Valley of the Temples (Parco Archeologico della Valle dei Templi di Agrigento) — Tour this beautiful tree-covered 13 sq km site with the best-preserved Doric temples outside of Greece, particularly the Tempio di Hera (Temple of Hera/Juno), Tempio di Ercole (Temple of Hercules), Tempio della Concordia (Temple of Concordia), each dating back to the 5th and 6th centuries BCE.
- Scala dei Turchi — Spend time climbing around the white rocks shaped like a staircase named for pirate raids by the Saracens during the Middle Ages and Barbary pirates perhaps incorrectly called Turks. During warmer months consider bringing beach attire because there is access to two sandy beaches below the stairs.
Where we stayed
Hotel Foresteria Baglio della Luna, Via Serafino Amabile Guastella
Where we ate
Accademia del Buon Gusto — the restaurant at Hotel Foresteria Baglio della Luna
Two days in Ragusa
Ragusa Ibla is the old city center of Ragusa, one of the eight Late Baroque towns in the Val di Noto of southeastern Sicily to be on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 2002. There is much to explore in this town that was largely rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake that devastated the region.
Ragusa highlights — find more information to come in “Going Baroque — 2 Days in Ragusa”
- Piazza Duomo — Capture the essence of Baroque Sicily in this piazza where Duomo di San Giorgio stands above the old palaces, restaurants, and shops.
- Palazzo Arezzo di Trifiletti — Tour this home at Piazza Duomo, complete with original furnishings and frescoes, of the Arezzo Trifiletti family to get a feel for the life of Ragusa nobility in the 19th century.
- Teatro Donnafugata — Imagine a performance in this very small theater (100 seats) and learn of its distinguished recognition and events.
- Cinabro Carrettieri — Step back in time as you see the ornate traditional Sicilian carts handcrafted and painted in this workshop and learn about the intricate and precise work of the woodworkers and painters.
- Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Scale — For fantastic over the rooftops of Ragusa Ibla and the surrounding countryside from Ragusa Superiore (the upper, modern town), take a taxi up the hill to this 15th-century church (located between Ragusa Ibla and Ragusa Superiore is this church reached by 340 steps that separate the two areas) and then return by foot to lower Ragusa Ibla.
- Giardino Ibleo — Walk around the paths of this lovely garden, first opened in the 19th century, on the edge of Ragusa Ibla.
Where we stayed
Aurà Guest House Iblea — Via Tenente la Rocca, 4
Where we ate
- That’s a Moro, Largo Camerina 5
- Trattoria La Bettola, Largo Camerina, 7
- Enoteca il Barocco, Corso XXV Aprile, 33
Two days in Siracusa (Ortigia Island)
Ortigia, the historical center of Siracusa, is a small island where we would recommend staying when visiting Siracusa. The beautiful old city, easily explored on foot, is filled with historic landmarks and intriguing character.
Siracusa highlights — more information to come in a future Siracusa post
- Duomo di Siracusa – Appreciate the beauty of the Duomo di Siracusa, formally the Cattedrale Metropolitana della Natività di Maria Santissima, from its architecture to numerous works of art.
- Boat ride around Ortigia – Explore the sea caves of Ortigia on a power boating excursion around the island on the clear blue waters of the Mediterranean.
- Ortigia markets – Relish the aromas and tastes of fresh seafood, local fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains of Ortigia’s markets. Have lunch at one of the restaurants by the markets.
- Fountains of Ortigia – While strolling the diverse walkways, streets, piazzas, and alleys of the island, look for the ornate Fountain of Diana and the Fountain of Arethusa, a natural spring named for the nymph Arethusa.
- Parco Archeologico della Neapolils — Marvel at the Greek and Roman ruins and natural wonders as you hike the expansive Parco Archeologico highlighted by the Teatro Greco. the Greek Theater of Siracusa, from 500 BC. It is one of the most important and complete monuments from antiquity.
Where we stayed
Ortea Palace Hotel (Marriott Autograph Collection) – Via Riva Nazario Sauro
Where we ate
- Osteria Sveva, Piazza Federico di Svevia, 1
- Kaleido Terrace, Via Pompeo Picherali, 10
- Fratelli Burgio, Piazza Cesare Battisti
Three Days in Taormina
Taormina is known as being one of the most picturesque places in Sicily. It is gorgeous and full of Mediterranean ambiance. It’s become especially popular (and expensive) in some part because of being the main setting of White Lotus series second season, but don’t let crowds deter you. It is definitely worth a visit.
Taormina highlights — more information to come in a future Taormina post
- Castelmola – Take in spectacular views from this hilltop village above Taormina. Take a taxi up the twisting road to the top.
- Piazza IX Aprile — Walk along Corso Umberto I and explore the side streets of Taormina, linger a while at this square to people watch, browse the shops, and take in the views of the sea and Mt. Etna.
- Teatro Antico — Walk around the up the steps of the ancient Greek theater to appreciate the beautiful sight of Mt. Etna from the seats.
- Isola Bella — Reached by cable car (in peak season), shuttle bus, or taxi, the walkway to this pretty island is packed with people sunbathing and eating at the outdoor restaurants along the beach.
- Day trip to Mt. Etna wine country — Savor the flavors of Sicily at wineries on the side of Mt. Etna where many of the best Sicilian white wines are produced.
Where we stayed
NH Collection Taormina – Via Circonvallazione, 11
Where we ate
- Casa Niclodi, Salita Alexander Humboldt, 2A
- Malvasia, Viale Apollo Arcageta, 8
Sicily itinerary tips:
Driving tips:– 1) Don’t drive in Palermo – it’s crazy and you won’t need the car while there anyway. We’ve driven in many places in Europe and avoid the cities when possible, but Palermo traffic is especially chaotic. If, like us, you are going to explore more of Sicily by car from Palermo, don’t rent the car within the city of Palermo. Rather, wait until you’re heading to your next destination. We took a taxi from our hotel to the airport rental facility. 2) Let the locals pass you. Move over slightly (if it is safe to do so) to the right if you’re being tailed. 3) Check to see if there are public transportation options for portions of your trip. 3) For day trips, find good local tour guides who provide transportation. 4) As always in Europe, get a small car if you can and reserve well in advance if you want an automatic transmission. 5) Do not enter ZTL (restricted) zones!
Souvenir tips: Shop for ceramics, olive oil, local wine, and Modica chocolate to take home as souvenirs and gifts.
Food tips: My favorite pasta dish was a Sicilian staple — Pasta alla Norma. It’s a simple pasta recipe of eggplant, tomatoes, garlic, basil, and ricotta. Mr. TWS loved all of the plentiful fresh seafood available, especially tuna and swordfish (particularly that from the Straits of Messina, north of Taormina). Be sure to have Ragusana cheese, a semi-hard cow’s milk cheese produced in Ragusa area since at least the 1500s. And don’t forget gelato and cannoli, a favorite of the Sicilian pastries that you’ll find everywhere.
PIN it for later!