Palermo, the island’s capital, is located on Sicily’s northwest coast and is a spectacular showcase of the region’s history. It is set within the folds of a mountainous terrain and is home to the large, crescent-shaped Mondello Beach, which connects the town to the sea. It’s the ideal site to start any trip to this beautiful island, especially if you want to see Sicilian architecture. A noteworthy example is the 16th century Church of Casa Professa, whose Baroque interior is a lesson in breath-taking luxury. Palermo is also home to the Lyric Opera, Italy’s largest theatre and the third largest in Europe (after the famous Paris Opera and Vienna State Opera). In town, street cuisine and historic markets abound, and it’s easy to pick up on a bit of local culture by simply roaming around these vibrant places. Stay in a ritzy hotel in the historic district or someplace more budget-friendly near the beach.
Practically in the shadow of the towering Mount Etna, Catania – set on the island’s west coast – is the second largest city in Sicily. But it certainly doesn’t come second in the number of historical sites on offer. In fact, Catania’s old town is Italy’s largest example of Baroque architecture.
The central square of Piazza del Duomo is home to the city’s marvel of a cathedral, built by the first Norman king of Sicily in the 11th Century on the site of Roman baths. The square also hosts the fish market – La Pescheria – which is a bustling spectacle of life and food.
Being so close to Etna, it’s possible to hike up trails that lead up the volcano’s slopes, making Catania a great destination for keen fans of the outdoors. Accommodation is more spread out and more affordable than in Palermo, giving you more options to choose where you want to stay in the city.
Syracuse, founded as an ancient Greek colony 2,700 years ago, was once a great city-state in its own right and is one of the best locations to visit in Sicily if you are interested in ancient history.
The remnants of an Apollo temple may be discovered on the little island of Ortygia – the city’s ancient centre and where it was formed — the temple was converted into a church under Byzantine authority and a mosque under the Moors. The ancient Greek theater has one of the largest cavea (tiered seating) ever built and is a sight to behold.
Just south of Catania, there are several budget hotels in Syracuse, as well as on the heritage-rich island of Ortygia, making a stay in this Sicilian city relatively affordable.
Taormina, a hilltop town to the north of Catania, is another Sicilian settlement near Mount Etna. As a result, hiking options in the neighboring hills abound, making it ideal for anyone who enjoys getting out in nature. Taormina is also recognized for Isola Bella, a little island just off the shore that is both an iconic sight and a wildlife reserve in its own right.
Beaches dot the bottom of Taormina’s rugged cliffs, yet they are easily accessible thanks to a cable car system that began in 1992. Tours of the grottos, which carve out holes in the rocks, are also available. All of this adds up to a fantastic location for wildlife enthusiasts.
Cefalu, on Sicily’s northern coast, is one of the most picturesque cities on the island. It is a group of structures assembled beneath La Rocca – or simply, ‘The Rock.’ There was a fortress here during the city’s Moorish reign, but when the Normans arrived, it was modified into their style. The remnants of this can still be found on the high rock that overlooks the city. Another example of Norman ancestry in Cefalu is its Sicilian Romanesque-style cathedral, which is a sight to behold. Beaches can be found to the west of The Rock.