Hello, we are planning our first trip to Sicily and need advice. We plan on starting in Palermo and stopping in the main towns. The places we definitely want to visit are Palermo, Trapani, Catania, Taormina, Isnello, Santo Stefano Camastra, Messina. We would like to visit other towns as well, but having a hard time figuring out how long to stay at each place and where we can visit on day trips. Also, we are coming from the states and have heard it is better to fly into Rome then fly to Palermo and vice versa. Or would it be better to fly straight into Palermo? We would like to rent a car to go around the coast. Should we rent the car before leaving Palermo?
You should take a look at RS Sicily Tour to see where he takes those folks. We took that tour last year and really enjoyed it.
Thanks so much. I will take a look. :)
Same advice on checking the route if the Best if Sicily tour. I doubt you’ll find direct flights from the US to Sicily. Most folks would fly through Rome arriving in Palermo and departing Catania. Please consider staying on the island of Ortigia in Siracusa. I would not bother with Messina and only make a day trip to Taormina. Add Agrigento to your list as well as visiting the Roman Villa outside Piazza Armerina. On my BOS tour we also visited Ragusa, Modica and Scicli.
Awesome, thank you!
When do you plan to take this trip? How many nights will you have in Sicily?
Rick has recently published his first guide book to Sicily. I didn't have the benefit of that book when I made my 2015 trip. I'm sure it will be very helpful.
I'm not aware of stuff to see in Messina and have not previously heard of Isnello and Santo Stefano Camastra. Perhaps you have a family connection to those places, which would be a good reason to go there.
I agree that Siracusa and its historic area of Ortygia are top destinations. The Baroque towns nearby (Ragusa, Noto, Modica and Scicli) are interesting stops in the interior, Ragusa being the largest; I wish I had spent a night or two there.
Taormina is a gorgeous town in a gorgeous location but swamped with visitors. Folks have different reactions to it. Some love it and want to spend several days there. I'm one of those who was glad to leave after a few hours. In any case, you need not stay in both Taormina and Catania. There's good rail and bus service between them. The nearest train station is at the bottom of the hill, below Taormina. There's bus service from there up to the town.
If you go to Trapani, be sure to see Erice as well.
You will not want to drive in Palermo, but your car will be useful in visiting Monreale either before dropping it off or after picking it up as you leave Palermo. This is also bus service to Monreale if that seems better to you for some reason.
Although fourteen days is a decent length for a trip, it will not be long enough to see all of Sicily. You will have to be ruthless to keep your itinerary manageable. Palermo has several days' worth of sights all by itself, and Sicily's attractions are widely scattered, so you'll need to change hotels fairly often. Obviously, having a car will help.
The largest airport in Sicily is actually in Catania rather than Palermo. For many itineraries it works best to fly into one of the airports and out of the other. However, much will depend on flight options and costs from your particular origin. The two cities are just 125 miles apart, so it wouldn't be fatal to fly in and out of the same airport. You could cut through the interior of the island and use that opportunity to see the Villa Romana del Casale near Piazza Armerina.
Hello ACraven, Thank you for your in depth post. Awesome information.
We are planning our trip for next September 2020. We would like to spend 13-14 nights in Sicily. Isnello and Santo Stefano Camastra Is where my husbands Grandparents are from and he is interested in visiting those areas. I think he mentioned Messina for the same reason. I think we will take your advice and visit Ortygia. Do you think spending a night in Siracusa is adequate? And we would like to visit Ragusa with the smaller nearby towns. Should we stay 1-2 nights in Ragusa? We have heard the same thing for Taormina-should we at least pass through? Would you recommend a night in Catania? Your ideas have already been a huge help.
I think one night would not really be sufficient for Ortygia/Siracusa, because by the time you arrived and got settled in your hotel you'd have only about half a day left. You can spend a good bit of time walking around the historic district; take at look on Google Maps to see how large the peninsula is. There's a good archaeological museum elsewhere in Siracusa, and an archaeological park near the museum. I liked the park (with Greek theatre and a cave), but I'm not big on classical ruins and that's the only such area I visited in Sicily. If you're heading to Agrigento, Segesta and/or Selinunte, the archaeological park in Siracusa may be superfluous for you. In that case, perhaps one night and a mid-day departure the next day would be OK since you plan to visit the baroque villages from a different base. But it will feel rushed, and Ortygia sure is a pleasant place to wander around.
I don't stay anywhere for just one night unless I'm in transit to somewhere else and the one-night stopover is a small town with very little to see and no logical side-trips I'm interested in. My preference would be 2 nights in Siracusa and 2 or 3 nights in Catania, to include a side-trip to Taormina.
I wouldn't skip Taormina. You might be among the folks who love it. And there's the Greek theatre. Catania has a lively market, a worthwhile cathedral and a nice historic area. You're unlikely to need more than one full day for Catania itself, and I'm sure some folks would spend just a few hours there. But just staying two nights (depending on what time you arrive from your previous stop) might be a bit short for covering Taormina as well. Some people also like to go to Mount Etna, perhaps even climb it. I just took the train around it. If the weather is reasonably clear, you'll have a nice (though distant) view of Etna from Catania, and I personally don't think you have to spend a half day or so to go there.
Since you need time for Messina and the two ancestral villages, you're going to be more pinched for time than other visitors. Something's going to have to be cut. Purely from the geographical standpoint, I'd omit Trapani/Erice. Another possibility would be Siracusa and the baroque towns, but on balance I think there's more to see there than in Trapani/Erice. However, there are things over in the SW I didn't see--salt flats, beaches, Segesta.
I'm betting you'll fall in love with Sicily as many of us have and will return to see some of the things you won't have time for on this trip.
To parrot what acraven said, you may have more flight options flying into Catania. Since you plan on renting a car, since public parking car be difficult to find, consider looking up where the public lots are in the towns you plan on visiting, and plug their addresses or coordinates into your GPS. Might save you some stress when entering a place you're unfamiliar with.
There are some seasonal non-stop flights to Palermo, but they may or may not work well from your home city. If you were to fly round-trip directly to Palermo, then I suggest you leave Palermo until the end of your trip, visiting Monreale before returning the rental car which you won't need in Palermo. Head straight to Trapini which is only about an hour drive. If you have to connect, for example in Rome, then my suggestion above would make less sense. You'd be better off trying to connect into Palermo and out of Catania or vice versa.
Cefalu might be a good base for visiting Isnello and Santo Stefano di Carnastra.
Acraven, we definitely don’t want to rush things. I think we are going to cut out Messina. Everything you wrote makes perfect sense. From all the reading I am doing about Sicily, it sounds like we are going to have a wonderful time. Here is what I am thinking:
Palermo 2-3 nights with a side trip to Monreale and possibly Marsala?
Trapani 1 night and visit Erice
Agrigento 1 night?
Siracusa/ Ortygia 2 nights in Siracusa and visit the nearby baroque villages Noto, Modica and Scicli and Ragussa and spend 1-2 nights
Catania 2 nights with side trip to Taormina
And lastly Cefula as base to visit Isnello and Santo Stefano before heading back to Palermo ?
Do you think the above would be okay in the time frame of 13-14 nights?
Jaimeelsabio, great advice, thank you.
Frank, I think adding Cefalù as a base for the other two towns is a great idea ! We are still lost on getting to and from bit it is sounding like flying into and out of Rome is the best option.🤔
I definitely wouldn't want to move faster than you are proposing. Take a look at driving times to and from Trapani and consider how much time you'll need to see a bit of Trapani and Erice. One night will require pushing, I think. And there's a great deal to see in Palermo.
ACraven, do you think 3 nights in Palermo and 2 nights in Trapani? Do you think we still are pushing things? Should we cut out another area?
If in Trapani, do not miss Segesta!
Villa Romana Casale and Agrigento should be at the top of your list along with Ortigia..
Check Air Italy for direct flights US to Palermo-PMO.
We flew Volotea from Bari to Palermo as we were in Puglia before Sicily. Look at Volotea's routes as well.
Lucky you, planning a trip to Sicily, a wonderful place. One of the real highlights of my own trip there back in 2014 was my 2-night stay in Erice. The very misty early mornings and late evenings in this ancient (Greek name was Oryx) stone hill town were magical. I also had some of my most memorable cuisine there, including the unique “couscous de pesce.”
I don’t know where you will be traveling from, but I flew JFK in NYC to Munich to Palermo on Lufthansa and its regional line Air Dolomiti. The flight from Munich to Palermo was 2 hours. Of course, all that may have changed since 2014.
Thank you Suki.
It's hard for me to judge since you'll have a car and I did not. But Palermo has a couple of atmospheric markets (of which I assume you'd want to see at least one), an excellent archaeological museum, many beautiful churches and chapels of different styles, and the totally gorgeous (I'd say not skippable) cathedral outside the city at Monreale. Except for Monreale those are sights you'd be walking or taxiing to, and Palermo is not a small city, or one without traffic.
I'd guess Isnello, Santa Stefano Camastra and Cefalu altogether will require a bit more than a full day.
Sicilian food is very good. I don't see you wanting to run from sight to sight and wolf down fast food along the way to save time.
I am not the world's expert on Sicily; we need some input from other folks--ideally from some who've driven around the island rather than being dependent on trains and buses.
Larry, we are from Maryland. I am super excited about this trip, and wish we could spend more time then 14 nights. There seems to be so many wonderful places to visit and things to do it makes for a tough decision.
Acraven, I am all about the markets, and you are right, we definitely want to see a couple of these. I love history. The churches, chapels and museums are top on my list. We would love visit restaurants where the locals go. I can not wait to try all the food, however, i think i better loose 20 pounds before leaving on our trip. Lol. Perhaps we should add another day to Cefula. If any one else can give advise about driving around the island, that would be great. Also, recommendations for where to stay at our base stops would be greatly appreciated, as well as places to eat in each area.
Acraven, i did order Ricks Steves guide book that you mentioned in an earlier post. It should be arriving tomorrow form Amazon.
Hi all, we finally came up with a game plan, I think for our upcoming Sicily trip in September. Could you let me know if this Itinerary seems doable.
Palermo 3 days (fly into)
Trapani 2 days
Agrigento 2 days
Ragusa 2 days
Syracuse 3 days
Taormina 2 days
Cefalu 2 days (drive back to Palermo on 3rd day)
These will be our home bases with side trips.
Be sure to go to some of the many ceramics shops in Santo Stefano di Camastra --- the pottery there is unlike any we have seen in Sicily or the rest of Italy. A lot of it is bright orange and red all over with a bit of blue-green. Twenty years ago we carried home all we could and when we visit Sicily again, we are heading to that town again.
I think that's a reasonable plan with a car. (Without one, I wouldn't want so many 2-night stops.) The only thing I'd change would be to combine Palermo and Cefalu. I am perhaps unusual in preferring to stay in larger cities with lots of sights rather than small coastal towns. I spent just a few hours in Cefalu, no doubt missing some things, but I'd have been bored with more than one day there, and it's easy to reach from Palermo by train. But as I say, I'm sure there are some others who would differ.
If you get antsy in Cefalu, you can drive into the interior for a day. Piazza Armerina and the Villa Romana del Casale would require a lot of driving, though.
So our plan is to rent a car and drive the coast. Starting in Palermo and last stop Cefalù before heading home, we figured maybe some time to relax and if I am looking at the map right, Isnello and Santo Stefano Camastra are close enough for day trips from Cefalù. We are interested in these areas due to my husband’s Grandparents were from these areas.
Nancy8 ...looking forward to Santo Stefano. My husbands Grandparents were from there. Definitely will look for the pottery shops.
Yes, Isnello and Santo Stefano Camastra look totally doable as day-trips from Cefalu, and you wouldn't want to be day-tripping by car from Palermo because of the driving/parking hassles in the city. I see that ViaMichelin.com has the road to SSC marked as scenic (highlighted in green), as is part of the route to Isnello. It looks as if it would be worthwhile to make a loop through Castebuono when you go to Isnello.
Re: flights. Some times of the year there are direct flights to Sicily from US, NY airports.
What is the best credit card with no foreign transaction fee? Also, is it best to use GPS on our phones?
"Some times of the year there are direct flights to Sicily from US, NY airports."
Alas, Air Italy (which used to fly from JFK to Palermo twice a week for a few months each year) has folded. The only flight now is from Newark to Palermo, and I'm not sure when it starts and ends, or how many days a week it goes.
If you can't utilize the EWR to PMO flight, you will have to change planes somewhere.
"What is the best credit card with no foreign transaction fee?"
Many here are fond of Capital One. They offer a wide variety of cards - I chose one that gives cash back and has no annual fee. If you're a frequent traveler, there are other cards that have fees but give perks (such as free access to airport lounges, free checked bags, or more miles for certain purchases).
"Also, is it best to use GPS on our phones?"
Will you have cellular data in Italy? If not, can you figure out how to use your phone's maps offline (apparently it's not hard, but you do have to prepare before the trip)? As with so many things, you have to define "best" to get the answer for your particular needs.
@scelsic. Bella Donna. You are working very hard on planning the logistics for your trip. I hope your husband appreciates all your efforts.
My daughter-in-law has just organised a villa near the beach at Scopello for 23rd to 28th Sept. First time to Sicily for my wife and me. Your posters have been most generous with their suggestions and advice. Hope you can make good use of them. I know I will be.
Fortuitously this happens to coincide with the non-competitive Targa Florio car rally around Palermo and surrounds on Saturday and Sunday. Also, my boys are planning on going to Corleone on one of the days. An offer I can’t refuse.
Best wishes for your trip. Ron