Sicilians consider themselves Sicilian first, and Italian second—discover the source of their fierce pride on this beautiful 11-day itinerary.  Start in culturally rich Palermo, voted by Forbes as the 2015 European food capital. See a variety of churches, from 12th-century to modern-day, and learn to make a traditional 4-course meal. Head to Taormina, where art and theater dominate the region. Catch a show at the Greek theater overlooking the Ionian Sea, then end your trip in bustling Catania—the perfect place to try finger-licking street food and enjoy views of Mt. Etna.

Highlights

  • Experience the hustle and bustle of the busy La Pescheria fish market
  • Hike to the top of Mount Etna
  • See thousands of preserved corpses at the Cappuccini Catacombs
  • Explore the beautiful little island of Isola Bella in Taormina
  • Sample local specialties, like granita, arancini, and cartocciata 

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Palermo, Evening Guided Tour Palermo
Day 2 Palermo Segway Tour & Cooking Class Palermo
Day 3 Palermo Catacombs & Monreale Cathedral Palermo
Day 4 Free Day in Palermo Palermo
Day 5 Palermo to Taormina Taormina
Day 6 Mount Etna Tour Taormina
Day 7 Free Day in Taormina Taormina
Day 8 Taormina to Catania, Self-Guided Exploration Catania
Day 9 Walking Food Tour of Catania Catania
Day 10 Free Day in Catania Catania
Day 11 Goodbye Italy!  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Palermo, Evening Guided Tour

Seafood for sale at Vucciria market
Seafood for sale at Vucciria market

Welcome to Palermo! From the airport, it's about a 45-minute transfer into the town center. Check into your hotel and get settled. 

Palermo is the regional capital of Sicily, on the southern tip of Italy's "boot" on the Gulf of Palermo. The city is famous for its colorful history, beautiful architecture, vibrant culture, nightlife, music, and cuisine. The strategically located area has been settled for millennia, and the city's incredible written history starts in the 8th century BCE. During this time Palermo has played a vital role in Europe's history. 

These days, Palermo is popular among travelers, thanks to its beautiful Mediterranean weather and Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque churches, palaces and buildings. Religion is prominent on the island, and the feast day for the island's patron saint, Saint Rosalia, on July 15th is arguably the most significant social event of the year. 

The Arab–Norman buildings and Byzantine churches, along with the smells and color of the marketplace, make this Sicily holiday destination a unique experience. Top city sights include the 9th-century Palazzo dei Normanni, the oldest royal residence in Europe, and La Martorana Norman Church, an Italo-Albanian Catholic Church. 

In the afternoon head out for a 3-hour guided tour of the city's historical sites. Tour stops include the Piazzas Bellini and Pretoria to see their Arab, Norman, Byzantine, and Spanish art and architecture. Centuries of seafaring travel and influences from different cultures have resulted in eclectic and diverse architectural styles. You'll see a lot of these influences during your stay in the city. 

The tour continues across Palermo's oldest street, the Cassaro, whose name comes from the Arabic word for "fortress". The street is also known as Via Vittorio Emanuele II. On the opposite side are the 13th-century San Francesco Church (Chiesa di San Francesco d'Assisi) and the Piazza Marina. Take a walk around the plaza and the adjoining Garibaldi Garden to see ancient palaces used by the Spanish Inquisition. Tour the nearby Santa Maria dello Spasimo Church, a roofless 16th-century building with a quiet and contemplative atmosphere. You'll also see Palermo's massive Ficus tree, which stands in the Piazza Marina. 

Street food is common in Palermo, and you’ll find irresistible pastry specialties and mouth-watering flavor combinations.  Enjoy lunch and afternoon nibbles as you walk around, then find a small restaurant for a traditional seafood dinner accompanied by local wine. After, head to an airy bar to enjoy a cocktail on the terrace while taking in the sunset.

Day 2: Palermo Segway Tour & Cooking Class

Fresh vegetables for sale at the Vucciria market
Fresh vegetables for sale at the Vucciria market

Palermo's narrow medieval streets make automobile travel tricky, so start your morning with a guided Segway tour of the city's top landmarks.

Head through the Capo Market, a bustling street food market that's popular with visitors and locals shopping for dinner. Pass by the Gallery of Modern Art and Palace of the Normans at the Piazza della Vittoria, admiring the varied architecture in the city center. End your Segway tour at Palermo's seafront gardens, Villa a Mare to enjoy beautiful views and a refreshing sea breeze. 

In the afternoon you will learn how to prepare traditional Sicilian dishes during a 4-hour hands-on cooking class. Start your day by shopping for fresh, seasonal ingredients at the market, then head to a well-equipped home kitchen in an 18th-century building to start your lesson. Much of what is sold at the markets—from seafood to tropical fruit— comes from the island, so you have a wide local selection to work with. 

Learn how to prepare an authentic 4-course meal, including dessert. Afterward, sit down to enjoy your creation along with a glass of local wine. Buon appetito!

Day 3: Palermo Catacombs & Monreale Cathedral

Monreale, a Norman-Byzantine cathedral
Monreale, a Norman-Byzantine cathedral

Spend the day discovering two of Palermo's favorite attractions on this 5-hour half-day tour. Head first to the Capuchin Catacombs, a somewhat macabre attraction and final resting place for thousands of mummified bodies. The mummies, many of whom were priests, are preserved in period dress starting from the 16th-century through the early 20th. 

Break for Sicilian coffee and sweet treats before heading to the 12th-century UNESCO-listed Monreale Cathedral, famous for its Norman and Arabic architecture. The Cathedral is famous for its ornate cloisters and bright gold mosaics, which feature a variety of biblical stories. 

Enjoy lunch at an open-air cafe in a medieval piazza, then spend a lazy afternoon browsing for souvenirs and enjoying the sunshine in a city park or on the beach.

Day 4: Free Day in Palermo

An aerial view of Mondello Beach
An aerial view of Mondello Beach

Today is a free day to enjoy the city. Make the most of your time there with these recommended activities: 

  • See art at the Museum of tiles Stanze al Genio and Palazzo Abatellis
  • Catch a performance at the Teatro Massimo, Italy's largest opera house  
  • Haggle for your lunch or the perfect pair of vintage jeans at the Ballaro Market, Palermo's largest open-air food market
  • Soak in the sunshine and sea breeze at the Foro Italico, a large public garden along Palermo's seafront
  • Explore the Villa Giulia, a sprawling 18th-century complex of botanical gardens & sculptures 
  • Relax on the Mondello Beach and enjoy the sand and beautiful clean water 
  • Spend a few hours in the Galleria Regionale, a 15th-century neo-Gothic castle, to see medieval and Renaissance art pieces 
  • Explore the Museo Archeological Regionale to see one of the richest collections of Punic and Ancient Greek art in Italy, as well as many Sicilian historical artifacts
  • See a performance at the Teatro Massimo opera house, the largest in Italy
  • Go shopping in the colorful Vucciria Market to buy lunch and fresh seafood

Day 5: Palermo to Taormina

View of Mt. Etna from the Greek theater
View of Mt. Etna from the Greek theater

After breakfast head out for Taormina, a sophisticated and popular resort town located up the coast from Syracuse, on the Ionian Sea. The town's amazing views and ancient theater, which is often used for operatic and theatrical performances make it the perfect destination for fans of the arts. 

In the afternoon go for a 3-hour guided walking tour of the city. Highlights include the 10th-century Palazzo Corvaja, named after one of the city's most influential families, the restored 17th-century Catholic Santa Caterina Church, and the Vicolo Stretto—the narrowest street in town. 

Skip the line to see the Greek theater, which boasts views of Mt. Etna and Giardini Naxos. From here head to the main square of Piazza IX Aprile to rest and refresh with a glass of Mt. Etna's famous wine at a local enoteca. 

Day 6: Mount Etna Tour

People even ski on Mt. Etna!
People even ski on Mt. Etna!

Spend the day exploring Europe's largest active volcano on this day trip to see Mount Etna. The 8-hour tour starts in the Rifugio Sapienza, which forms the southern access point to the volcano. Here you can rent any walking equipment which you may require (such as boots). From here take a ride on the cable car to 9,500 ft (2,900 m) above sea level to get to Torre Del Filosofo, where you'll climb aboard a Jeep for the final stretch. Walk up to 10,990 ft (3,350 m) to get to the top, where you will be surrounded by eruptive fractures and active vents and feel the heat of the lava beneath your feet. The views of Sicily from here are breathtaking, making this one of the most rewarding and exhilarating tours of the trip. 

On your way down you'll see some of the larger volcanic craters such as Cisternazza, as well as the Valle del Bove, the valley where the lava from Mount Etna typically flows.

Day 7: Free Day in Taormina

View from the village of Castelmola
View from the village of Castelmola

Today is a free day to explore Taormina. Make the most of your time with these recommended activities:

  • Visit the Museo Tradizioni Popolari art museum, the Museum and Archaeological Area of Naxos, and the Casa Cuseni, a combination history museum and artist hotel
  • Walk along a seafront promenade and enjoy the beautiful old gardens of the Villa Comunale
  • Go shopping on the Corso Umberto, Taormina's main street with options for every budget, from luxury boutiques to small vintage storefronts 
  • Visit the Chiesa Madonna della Rocca to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the city and see the Greek theatre and small chapel which is partially dug into the rock
  • Walk the spit of land to Isola Bella, a beautiful little island, to see the 17th-century palace, elegant gardens and fishing village 
  • Visit the ruined medieval castle and narrow, hilly streets of Castelmola, a small village located 3 miles (5 km) north of Taormina 
  • Explore the Taormina Mare, an impressive stretch of coastline characterized by steep rocks and beaches, lidos—public outdoor pools—and a variety of restaurants and cafes

Day 8: Taormina to Catania, Self-Guided Exploration

Vie Etnea with Mt. Etna
Vie Etnea with Mt. Etna

In the morning head out for the hourlong transfer to Catania on the east coast of Sicily, on the Ionian Sea. Catania sits at the foot of Europe's tallest active volcano, Mount Etna, which erupts frequently, depositing nutrient-rich lava and ash onto the fertile fields below. Thankfully the lava follows a similar path each time, avoiding the cities and villages which dot the landscape around the volcano. 

Unfortunately, Catania has not always avoided the lava flows and a 17th-century explosion leveled the town. Many of the town's famous Baroque buildings were erected during the period of rebuilding and growth that followed. 

Today Catania is a flourishing port town and is a favorite with Italian and international tourists. The city has something for every traveler, from buzzing nightlife and the bustling business district to quiet, secluded city parks and leisurely promenades by the water. 

After settling in, head out for your first look at the city. Pick from the following suggestions to create your perfect day: 

  • Dive into history at the Museo Storico dello Sbarco in Sicilia 1943
  • See the Fontana dell’ Elefante, a fountain made from lava rock in the city center
  • Tour the 16th-century UNESCO-listed Monastero dei Benedettini
  • Explore Aci Trezza, a small seaside resort and see the Faraglioni, oceanic rock formations known as the  “Rocks of Cyclops”
  • Visit the San Nicoló l’Arena, Sicily's largest church (famous for its unfinished façade)  
  • Relax in the beautifully landscaped gardens of the Catania Orto Botanico and Villa Bellini park, enjoy panoramic views of Catania, and see the Botanical Clock—a display made entirely of planted flowers

Day 9: Walking Food Tour of Catania

Watermelon granita
Watermelon granita

Spend the day discovering Sicilian culinary traditions and exploring Catania's highlights on a half-day tasting tour. Sample some of the region's finger-licking specialties, such as granita (a refreshing shaved ice), Sicilian brioche, local cheeses and olives, arancini (fried rice balls), cartocciata (a popular street food of dough wrapped around mozzarella cheese and other fillings), and much more.

Stroll along the seaside, visit the Duomo Square, explore the narrow streets of the Old Town, and learn about local history. Take in the views from 13th-century Ursino Castle, part of the Kingdom of Sicily during Emperor Frederick II's time. Five hours isn't enough to see everything, but this tour is a great place to start!

In the evening, stroll down Via Etnea, Catania's main street where you can find shops, restaurants, and cafes. The street gets its name from the direct views of Mount Etna to the north of the city. Get dinner at an open-air cafe and enjoy people watching as you sip a glass of Mount Etna wine.

Day 10: Free Day in Catania

Historic Circumetnea train
Historic Circumetnea train

Today is a free day to explore the local attractions. Enjoy the following recommendations: 

  • Experience the hustle and bustle of the busy La Pescheria fish market
  • Visit the 2,200-year-old Teatro Romano, which features the main seating area and a smaller adjacent Odeon theater
  • Go shopping for everything from street food and produce to local crafts and antiques at the Fera o’luni, a traditional market held daily in Piazza Carlo Alberto
  • Go for a train ride on the Circumetnea Railway Line, built in 1889 to connect the city to Mount Etna
  • Have fun at the Etnaland Fun Park, which features waterslide attractions and an amusement park
  • Explore nature and get an adrenaline rush at the adventure parks of Milo, Nicolosi, and Ragalna, which feature a high-ropes course, hiking, and picnic tables 
  • Soak in the sunshine at the Lido Azzurro and San Giovanni Li Cuti beaches, the latter which features unique black volcanic sand 

Day 11: Goodbye Italy!

Little details of life in Rome
Little details of life in Rome

Time to say goodbye to the country of love! After one last cappuccino over breakfast, head to the airport for your connecting flight home. Safe travels!

Map

Map of Best of Sicily: Palermo, Taormina, Catania - 11 Days
Map of Best of Sicily: Palermo, Taormina, Catania - 11 Days