If your trip to Sicily involves a visit to the fascinating Aeolian Islands to the north, there are a few ways to get to the chain of islands, and almost all of them involve a boat. There are year-round ferries and hydrofoils from the Sicilian town of Milazzo and seasonal boats from Messina and Palermo. From the mainland, ferries and hydrofoils travel to the Aeolians from Naples, Salerno, Reggio Calabria, and Sapri, but most run only in the summer. If you're visiting the islands without a car, hydrofoils are the fastest means of transport, though they cost more and are considered less comfortable than ferries. If you're bringing a car or wish to save money on the journey, ferries are the better option.
Duration: 1-2 hrs
Hydrofoils are rather odd-looking boats that, once they pick up speed, glide across the surface of the water on ski-like apparatus. The hydrofoils connecting Sicily and mainland Italy to the Aeolian Islands are much smaller and faster than conventional ferries and are intended for foot passengers only. Because of what can be a bumpy, wet ride, hydrofoil passengers must remain inside the enclosed portion of the boat and remain seated at all times. Liberty Lines is the largest carrier to the Aeolians, with daily year-round departures for the Aeolians from Milazzo and Messina. The majority of sailings are from Milazzo to Lipari, the largest of the islands. This is the shortest route, at 1 hour, 5 minutes. Many of these itineraries include a first stop at Vulcano, the closest island to Milazzo, then Lipari, then the other Aeolian islands of Stromboli, Panarea, Alicudi, Filicudi, and Salina. Hydrofoils also travel from Messina to Lipari, with a travel time of 1 hr, 50 minutes. Note that from about mid-September to late May, the frequency of daily sailings is greatly reduced.
Consider this 16-day Sicily itinerary, which includes a tour of the Aeolian Islands and a self-drive around Sicily.
Duration: 1.5-10 hrs
Siremar runs year-round ferries from Milazzo to Lipari. The 2-hour, 15-minute journey is an option for those wishing to take a car to Lipari. Note that cars are only permitted on Lipari, Vulcano, Salina, and Filicudi. During the peak months of July and August, non-residents can bring a car to the islands only if they've reserved accommodations for 7 nights or longer. N.G.I. also offers year-round ferry service from Milazzo to the islands, but tickets are currently not bookable online.
Liberty Lines runs year-round fast ferries from Reggio Calabria on the mainland, as well as seasonal rides from the mainland port of Vibo Valentia on the mainland. Travel time from Reggio Calabria is 1 hour, 40 minutes. Travel time from Vibo Valentia is 3 hours, 15 minutes, and the trip is currently offered on Thursday and Sunday only from Jun to September.
From Salerno on the mainland, Alicost offers seasonal ferry service to the Aeolians, with a travel time of 4 hours to Stromboli and 6 hours to Lipari. Alicost ferries to the Aeolians currently leave only on Friday and Sunday, with return trips on Saturday and Monday.
From Naples, Siremar runs one daily overnight ferry to Lipari, which first stops at Stromboli and Panarea. The journey time is 10 hours. Seasonal Alilauro and SNAV ferries reach Lipari from Naples in about 6 hours, 30 minutes.
This volcano-focused tour of the Aeolian Islands concludes with a climb up Mount Etna, one of the world's most active volcanoes.
Duration: 90 minutes
The only way to reach the Aeolian Islands by air is via helicopter. Air Panarea offers both direct transfers and sightseeing tours from airports at Catania, Reggio Calabria, Palermo, and Lamezia Terme.