Sicily (Italian: Sicilia) is a rugged and beautiful island (the largest one in the Mediterranean Sea) on the southern tip of Italy, and is one of the country's 20 regions. It is separated from the mainland region of Calabria by the 5-km Straits of Messina. It can get very hot during the summer, so it is better to visit during spring and autumn, while it is still quite pleasant during winter.
The archaeological remains of Greek antiquity here are among the main tourist attractions of Italy.
Tourism here is the least developed in Sicily, which provides opportunities for the more adventurous traveller.
|Metropolitan City of Catania |
Mount Etna (the highest active volcano in Europe) is a highlight of a visit to Sicily.
In the only province that is not adjacent to the sea, the Villa Romana del Casale in Piazza Armerina is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
|Metropolitan City of Messina |
The gates to the island, also famous for Taormina and its Greek Theatre.
|Metropolitan City of Palermo |
A popular tourist destination, in particular the city of Palermo with its monumental art and culture, and the beaches of Mondello and Cefalù.
The baroque towns of Ragusa, Modica and Scicli.
The beautiful city of Syracuse, Noto and Palazzolo Acreide, and the archaeological site Pantalica, all included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The picturesque town of Erice and the impressive archaeological park of Selinunte.
- 1 Palermo – the throbbing capital city is noted for its history, culture, architecture and gastronomy; it is over 2,700 years old
- 2 Agrigento – to the south and particularly noted for the Valle dei Templi (Valley of Temples) (UNESCO World Heritage)
- 3 Catania – busy university city and economic centre, great for nightlife, the gate to Mount Etna (UNESCO World Heritage)
- 4 Gela – one of the most important old Greek cities, archaeological centre and sea resort on the south coast
- 5 Marsala – interesting museum, home of the famous wine
- 6 Messina – busy city and link to the mainland
- 7 Ragusa – impressive baroque architecture (UNESCO World Heritage)
- 8 Syracuse (Siracusa) – attractive old town mostly based on the small (1km by 500m) island of Ortigia and Greek ruins (UNESCO World Heritage)
- 9 Trapani – attractive city and gateway to Pantelleria and the Egadi islands
- Val di Noto – a region at SE of the Sicily, famous for its Baroque art. 8 towns are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List: Caltagirone, Militello in Val di Catania, Catania, Modica, Noto, Palazzolo Acreide, Ragusa, and Scicli.
- 1 Aegadian Islands (Isole Egadi) – relaxing islands off the west coast
- 2 Aeolian Islands (Isole Eolie) – beautiful group of volcanic islands (UNESCO World Heritage)
- 3 Madonie – Madonie National Park, the national Park in the Heart of Sicily
- 4 Mount Etna – an impressive 3323m, Europe's highest active volcano
- 5 Mozia – ancient Punic city built on the island of Mozia overlooking Marsala
- 6 Pantelleria – Arab-influenced solitude
- 7 Pelagie Islands (Isole Pelagie) – most southern, in the Mediterranean Sea
- 8 Segesta – another Greek temple, theatre and ruins
- 9 Selinunte – another group of impressive Greek temples and ruins of Greek city
- 10 Sciacca – small port town in the province Agrigento.
Sicily has a long history of foreign domination, from the Phoenicians to the Greeks and the Romans, Arabs, Normans, and Catalans. The result is a mixed culture where every single domination left something to see, to taste, and to hear.
Sicily is a huge island where every little city seems to have its own culture. You will find a great variety of local specialties in all cities over the island.
The Sicilians are a proud people. Though most are somewhat conservative, they are open-minded to visitors.
Being the overall hottest region in Europe, Sicily has a Mediterranean climate, with very hot, long and dry summers and very mild to warm winters. Sicily is very sunny, even in winter. Most cities only receive 40 days of precipitation throughout the year (with the exception of the quite rainy Messina) and when it does rain, it usually happens in winter. Humidity is generally low.
The only exception to the stereotyped climate of Sicily is the little city of Enna (as well as some villages in the mountains), which is foggy and relatively cold in winter. This is due to the altitude of the city, the highest in Italy for a provincial capital (931 m). Enna is also the foggiest city in Italy, with about 140 foggy days a year on average.
|Climate chart (explanation)|
Natives of Sicily speak Sicilian, an ancient Romance language that is a separate language from Italian (even if it's called dialetto). The official language is Italian, and almost all Sicilians speak it, often with a strong Sicilian accent.
English is taught in all schools but few people can speak it. People who are more likely to speak English are the ones who work in the touristy areas; also, young and educated people usually can speak at least basic English, but with a funny pronunciation and a strong accent. That's because in most schools the teachers focus on grammar rather than pronunciation. People who study languages in university generally have a good pronunciation. Most people above 50 never studied English in schools and they are extremely unlikely to know more than a few words.
- 1 Catania International Airport (CTA IATA) is the larger/busiest airport, with domestic flights to most parts of Italy, some international routes and many charter flights.
- 2 Palermo Airport (PMO IATA) is the second airport, with a good range of domestic flights and international budget flights.
- 3 Trapani Airport (TPS IATA) is the third airport which is served by low-cost Ryanair.
- 4 Comiso Airport (CIY IATA) near Ragusa is served by Ryanair.
- There are also two other smaller airports in Sicily on the minor islands. These are 5 Pantelleria Airport (PNL IATA) and 6 Lampedusa Airport (LMP IATA), which connect to Italy.
- 7 Palermo-Boccadifalco (ICAO:LICP) is a military airport open to national civil traffic.
From Naples, it usually takes 8 hours, 10 from Rome, the train stops at Villa San Giovanni train station for about 10-15 minutes. Then it's rolled down to the Villa S.G. ferry dock, where wait about 20 minutes before the train rolls onto one of the ferries. On the ferry, you should get on the deck and watch the sea. It's a wonderful view, but don't forget the number of your train.
The 2010 timetable offers these direct trains:
- IC Roma - Napoli - Messina - Palermo / Siracusa 2x daily
- ICN Roma - Palermo InterCity Notte: Nighttrain, Seats, Couchette and Sleeper
- ICN Roma - Siracusa InterCity Notte: Nighttrain, Seats, Couchette and Sleeper
- E Venezia - Bologna - Firenze - Palermo/Siracusa Espresso: Fast-Train with Sleeper and Couchette only
- E Milano - Bologna - Firenze - Palermo/Siracusa Espresso: Fast-Train with Sleeper and Couchette only
- E Turino - Genova - Palermo/Siracusa Espresso: Fast-Train with Sleeper and Couchette only
- E (Milano - ) Roma - Catania - Agrigento Espresso: Fast-Train only seating accommodation; from Milano 3x per week; from Roma daily
But you don't have to take a direct train. You can also take a train from Rome to Villa San Giovanni, and walk onboard the rail ferries (or another BLUVIA ferry), and take a local train from Messina centrale to Palermo and Catania
Detailed information is available at:
Car-train There are running car-trains from Venezia and Rome to Catania and Palermo. This is great offer for those who don't want to ride a car all day. you park your car onto a train. And some hours later, you can get your car at the Catania train station or Palermo, depends on what city you bought a ticket to. The car trains also run along with the night trains, so this is a great option.
Be aware: some trains on the island are very slow, for example it takes more than 7 hours between Siracusa and Trapani and it's about 450 km. But the IC (InterCity) trains that travel between Sicily and other Italian cities, run at much greater speed.
Large, cruise-ferries link Palermo with Civitavecchia, Naples, Genoa, Livorno, Sardinia and other Mediterranean destinations (Be sure to reserva a place for your car, or yourself, if you are a pedestrian.) Because only the Messina Strait ferries are open without reservation. There are also car ferries between Milazzo, the Aeolian Islands and Naples, and between Trapani and Tunis. From Catania you can reach Naples and Malta. From Messina you can reach Salerno. See all current ferry connections at TraghettiWeb.it [dead link] or Ferrylines.com .
Across the Straits of Messina, there are at least hourly ferries between Messina on Sicily and Villa San Giovanni (14 km north of Reggio di Calabria) on the mainland. There are at least twenty of them, so don't worry about timetables or waiting too long. If you only drive a car, you can also drive on-board the BLUVIA rail/train ferries. There are also several hydrofoils each day between Messina and Reggio di Calabria.
If you do worry about timetables, which is not necessary, check carontetourist.it:
- This one takes you right into Messina city and connects you to the Palermo - Catania highway:
- And this one takes you to Messina Sud (Tremestieri) And does also connect you to the highway. This route is more for the people driving towards Catania:
Although public transport is very good during the week, there are not many services on Sundays - check the timetable carefully and ask the locals.
The main roads are good, with four motorways (Catania-Palermo, Palermo-Mazara and Catania-Noto which are toll-free and Messina-Palermo where you have to pay). Little roads, mainly in mountain zones, are slower but offer great views.
For some regions you need to have snow chains in your car. For instance around Mount Etna you need them on board from 1 December until 31 March. These roads are marked "transito con catene". Fines start at €80.
- A18 Messina - Catania (toll)
- A18 Catania - Siracusa
- A18 Siracusa - Ragusa - Gela (under construction - open from Siracusa to Noto)
- A19 Palermo - Catania (free)
- A20 Messina - Palermo (toll)
- A29 Palermo - Mazzara (free)
- A29dir Alcamo - Trapani (free)
Trains on some routes can be infrequent and slow so it's worth checking times in advance and having a plan B. Sometimes a service listed on a station timetable is actually a bus service leaving from outside the station.
As in the rest of Italy, tickets must be validated in the yellow machines found at stations - conductors may be lenient to tourists who didn't know this, but not necessarily.
The bus network in Sicily is quite extensive and cheap. The main hubs are Palermo and Catania, but routes link most of the main towns frequently and most small towns at least once a day. From virtually any town you will be able to get a bus direct to Palermo. For the AST company, go to the website and click on 'Autolinee'. There is also Interbus.
There are regular ferries and hydrofoils from Sicily to its islands, although services are somewhat reduced during Spring and Autumn and even more so during Winter. Individual companies: SIREMAR , Liberty Lines and NGI. The main routes are:
- The Aeolian Islands from Milazzo. A few also run in Summer from Napoli, Cefalu, Palermo and Messina.
- Ustica from Palermo.
- Trapani to the Egadi Islands and Pantelleria.
- Porto Empedocle (near Agrigento) to Lampedusa and Linosa
See locations pages for respective list of attractions. Check with the region's tourism web pages for updates.
The Parks and the Nature Reserve are not very well organized but for this reason you'll have the opportunity to enjoy and discover the Sicilian Mountains and nature. There are some wonderful treks on which to enjoy the beauty of the main Sicilian sites such as the Nebrodi mountains, Madonie mountains, Etna volcano.
Making the most of its island coasts, Sicily has one of the world's best cuisines to offer. Much of the island's food is made with creatures of the sea. Unlike in the northern parts of Italy, cream and butter are hardly used for typical dishes in Sicily. Instead, the natives usually substitute tomatoes, lard (rarely) or olive oil. The cuisine uses many spice, and has a number unique flavours. Sicilians cultivate a uniquely Sicilian type of olive tree, which they affectionately call the "saracena". The food is typically Mediterranean but there are strong hints of Arabic and Spanish flavour (Sicily was conquered by many peoples during its long history). Sicilians like spices and have particular affinity for almond, jasmine, rosemary, mint and basil.
Sicilians notoriously have a sweet tooth and are among the best dessert-makers in Italy. Try 'cannoli' (tubular pastries filled with sweet ricotta cheese), 'granita' (ices mixed with real crushed fruit and juices), and their most famous export, 'cassata' (Arabic-inspired cake). Make sure to try the very popular pine-nut and almond biscuits.
'Arancini' (sometimes Arancine), fried rice balls with fillings, is a Sicilian fast food that is relatively cheap. They can be hard to find outside Sicily, so try them while you're there.
Sicilians are not big alcohol drinkers (Sicily has the lowest rate of alcoholism in Italy) although the island is home to more vineyards than any other Italian region and has one of Italy's most progressive wine industries. Noted mainly in the past for strong bulk wines and often sweet Moscato and Marsala, the island has switched its emphasis toward lighter, fruitier white and red wines.
Sicily is divided into three main producing wine districts:
- Trapani province in the west;
- Etna in the east;
- Noto and Ragusa on the southeast tip.
Best known Sicilian wines: Marsala, Nero d'Avola, Bianco d'Alcamo, Malvasia, Passito di Pantelleria, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Etna Rosso, Etna Bianco.
Some Sicilian wine producers: Planeta; Cusumano; Tasca d’Almerita; Tenuta di Donnafugata; Feudo Principi di Butera (Zonin); Morgante; Duca di Salaparuta; Benanti; Palari; Firriato; Marco De Batoli; Salvatore Murana; Icone.
Sicilians enjoy a fruity lemon liqueur called Limoncello during the long, hot and dry summers.
The well-known mafia, which is also present in most parts of Italy, is never involved in crimes against visitors.
Most of Sicily's small/middle-sized cities and villages are completely safe. Big cities like Palermo, Catania and Messina are also safe but you should be aware of pickpockets and scammers in touristy areas. Some suburbs of Palermo (Zen, Brancaccio, Borgo Nuovo) and Catania (San Cristoforo, Librino) are quite dangerous, but are never visited by tourists.
Driving habits in Sicily (and in most of the south of Italy) are very different from what you may be accustomed to, especially in big cities. Turn signals are not used, and parking is haphazard. Driving outside the big cities is OK, especially in highways (Autostrade) and in the main roads in general. Provincial roads in the interior of the island can be in bad condition.
In the train, especially during the night, keep your wits about you, and try to stay with other passengers.
Even if it's constantly decreasing, the Mafia is still active in some parts of Sicily, causing many problems and damaging the region's economy. Most Sicilians know that and are very upset about it; they are also very aware of the mafia-related crimes that have happened in the region. Most organisations, like AddioPizzo and Libera have been founded specifically to fight mafia. Do not make jokes about mafia, and never say that all Sicilians are "mafiosi", even if it's a joke.
In general Sicilians are quite conservative and religious, although most young and educated people are becoming fairly liberal, especially in big cities. However public displays of affection between LGBT couples are best avoided: even in big cities, stares and whispers are almost always guaranteed, and sometimes something more can happen. Shorts and clothes showing much skin are OK everywhere but in churches.
Although quite common in the centre and north of Italy, blasphemies are definitely not cool in Sicily. Most people in Sicily are Catholic and expect visitors to respect their religion.
Why not explore neighbouring Sardinia? You have the chance to visit the second-largest island in the Meditteranean.
You can also explore more of what Southern Italy has to offer.