Get to the heart of Sicily on this 9-day road trip that explores cities, countryside, and coastlines. Venture into volcanic caves on Mount Etna, relax by the Ionian Sea in elegant Taormina, stroll the labyrinthine old town of Syracuse, and discover the Baroque highlights of the Val di Noto. After walking in the footsteps of the ancient Greeks in the Valley of Temples, your adventure draws to a close in the lively capital of Palermo.

Highlights

  • Join an exciting off-road excursion up Mount Etna
  • Sunbathe on the Ionian Sea in Taormina
  • Stroll the atmospheric island of Ortygia in Syracuse
  • Tour spectacular Greek & Roman ruins at Neapolis
  • Sample Modica's famous chocolate in the Val di Noto
  • Learn about ancient & contemporary history on a tour of Palermo

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Welcome to Catania! Catania
Day 2 Mount Etna Half-Day Excursion Catania
Day 3 Pick Up Rental Car, Drive to Taormina  Taormina
Day 4 Drive to Syracuse, Tour the Neapolis Archaeological Park  Syracuse
Day 5 Free Day in Syracuse Syracuse
Day 6 Drive to the Val di Noto, Tour Modica & Ragusa Agrigento
Day 7 Tour the Valley of Temples, Drive to Palermo Palermo
Day 8 Palermo Guided Walking Tour Palermo
Day 9 Depart Palermo  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Welcome to Catania!

Catania sits in the shadow of Mount Etna

Welcome to Sicily! Upon your arrival at the Catania airport, you'll be picked up and taken by private transport to your hotel. The island's second-largest city, Catania sits at the foot of Mount Etna and deserves its share of exploration. Having suffered from a massive eruption of Mount Etna in 1669, followed by an earthquake in 1693, Catania was largely rebuilt during the Baroque era and has some stunning buildings to show for it. Some recommendations to get you started today include:

  • Discover the impressive baroque Church of Sant'Agata al Carcere in Piazza Santo Carcere.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Go for a train ride on the Circumetnea Railway Line, built in 1889 to connect the city to Mount Etna.

  • Soak in the sunshine at the Lido Azzurro and San Giovanni Li Cuti beaches, the latter of which features unique black volcanic sand. 

Day 2: Mount Etna Half-Day Excursion

Mount Etna
The rugged slopes of Sicily's Mount Etna

Today you'll embark on an off-road adventure to Mount Etna, Europe's largest active volcano. After breakfast, you'll be picked up from your hotel by an expert guide and driven to the slopes of the towering volcano, passing lava flows, centuries-old forests, and scenic vantage points. Continue on foot for an easy 45-minute hike to explore the many craters and ancient lava formations, then don a helmet and grab a flashlight to discover underground lava caves.

After the 4-5 hour excursion, you'll transfer back to your hotel in Catania, where the rest of the day is at your leisure.  

Day 3: Pick Up Rental Car, Drive to Taormina 

Taormina's Ionian coastline

Set out on the first day of your Sicilian road trip this morning, picking up your rental car and heading for nearby Taormina, a sophisticated resort town located on the Ionian Sea. After checking in to your hotel, the rest of the day is yours to explore at your own pace.

The town's incredible views and ancient Greek theater, often used for operatic and theatrical performances, make it the perfect destination for fans of the arts. Visit the 10th-century Palazzo Corvaja, named after one of the city's most influential families, the restored 17th-century Catholic Santa Caterina Church, and stroll along the Vicolo Stretto—the narrowest street in town. Alternatively, consider these recommended activities to make the most of your time in this elegant city:

  • 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 theater 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 cafés.

  • Find your way to the main square of Piazza IX Aprile to rest and refresh with a glass of Mount Etna's famous wine at a local enoteca. 

Day 4: Drive to Syracuse, Tour the Neapolis Archaeological Park 

Greek theater ruins in Neapolis Archaeological Park

After breakfast hit the road for the 1.5-hour drive south to Syracuse, a historic city in southeast Sicily next to the Gulf of Syracuse. The city is renowned for its rich Greek history and architecture, particularly the many amphitheaters which decorate the city squares. With over 2,700 years of history and culture, Syracuse was long regarded as one of the major powers in the Mediterranean. 

Upon arrival, meet your guide at the Neapolis Archaeological Park for a fascinating tour of this open-air museum. Step back in time as you stroll through the park's incredible Greek and Roman ruins, exploring highlights like the Teatro Greco, a massive amphitheater built in the 5th century BCE. Classic plays were performed here in ancient times with seating for 16,000 people and it still comes alive each spring for theatrical reenactments. 

The rest of the day is free for you to relax and explore at your leisure. After settling into your hotel, head to the city's beautiful old town of Ortygia for some people watching and traditional Mediterranean fare.

Day 5: Free Day in Syracuse

A coastal promenade in Syracuse

Today is yours to discover Syracuse at your own pace. A great place to start is on the island of Ortygia, the historical heart of the city. Sometimes called Città Vecchia (Old City), Ortygia is chock-full of treasures waiting to be explored and comfortably done so on foot. Begin with a walk around the perimeter of the island before tucking into the tightly woven network of narrow and winding alleys and lanes, passing by churches and baroque palaces in various states of repair. You can't go wrong here, everywhere and everything is a visual treat. Other recommended activities include:

  • Take a leisurely passeggiata along Passeggio Aretusa to the shrouded-in-Greek-myth Fonte Aretusa (Fountain of Arethusa), a natural spring surrounded by stonewalls, planted papyrus, and quacking white ducks.

  • Uncover the layers of history, from ancient Greek and Roman times to the present day at the 13th-century Castello Maniace.

  • Discover Sicilian art at the Palazzo Bellomo Regional Gallery for paintings, sculptures, and artifacts ranging from Byzantine to the 18th century.

  • Relax at an outdoor café at Piazza Duomo taking in the stunning architecture, including the celebrated Duomo (Cathedral of Syracuse) where an eclectic mix of Ancient Greek, Norman, and baroque architecture and design is evident.

  • Haggle for your lunch at the bustling Ortygia Street Market.

  • Soak in the Sicilian sunshine on the beautiful sand and turquoise water of Arenella Beach.

  • Go underground to explore the honeycomb network of the San Giovanni Crypt and Catacombs, which date back to the 6th century.

  • Hop in your rental car and drive farther afield to the Vendicari Natural Reserve or the beautiful villages of Pachino and Marzamemi.

Day 6: Drive to the Val di Noto, Tour Modica & Ragusa

A colorful hillside in the Baroque village of Ragusa
Today you'll drive into the heart of the Val di Noto, a valley in southeastern Sicily famous for its exquisite Baroque cities. You'll visit two of these UNESCO-listed gems, starting with Modica. Built on the sides of a canyon, the city is a labyrinth of bustling streets and steep staircases, with stunning views over the Modica Valley. Modica is famous for its traditionally made chocolate that still follows an ancient Aztec recipe, and today you'll visit a local chocolate maker to learn about the traditional process and take part in a delicious tasting.
 
Continue to 30 minutes north to Ragusa in the afternoon, where you'll join a knowledgeable guide for a historic walking tour. Stroll the narrow laneways as you walk under elaborate balconies, stopping to relax in a café or gelateria. Climb the 250 steps to the 18th-century Duomo di San Giorgio to view the only example of a Catalan-Gothic style portal. And if you're up for the exercise, be sure to take the steep stairway to the upper town for breathtaking views over Ibla
 
Continue north up the island's west coast to reach your accommodation for the night, an idyllic agriturismo in the countryside outside Agrigento.

Day 7: Tour the Valley of Temples, Drive to Palermo

The Valley of the Temples in Agrigento

Today you'll visit another UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Sicily's most impressive archeological highlights, the Valley of Temples in Agrigento. Here you'll meet your knowledgeable guide for a tour of some of the world's best examples of ancient Greek art and architecture. A highlight of the valley is the Temple of Concord, which was built between 440-430 BCE and was still in use for over a millennium later. It's an impressive site in nearly perfect condition, and its immaculately preserved Doric architecture is often compared to the Parthenon in Athens.

After your tour, grab lunch at a local restaurant before you get back on the road, heading for the island's northern coast and the Sicilian capital of Palermo. Take some time to settle into your hotel and then head out to get your bearings. Palermo's historic old town is full of interesting sites, including the 12th-century Palermo Cathedral and the neoclassical Teatro Massimo. You can also visit the 9th-century royal palace, Palazzo dei Normanni, and the Byzantine mosaics in the Cappella Palatina

Day 8: Palermo Guided Walking Tour

View of the cityscape from the Palermo Cathedral rooftop

In the morning you will meet your guide for a private half-day tour of the Sicilian capital. Quattro Canti (officially known as Piazza Vigliena), Palazzo Reale, the 12th-century Duomo, and Marina Square are some examples of the architectural masterpieces you'll come across. You'll also visit the local markets, where you can stop for some lunch or a typical snack like panelle (chickpea fritters) and cazzilli (pan-fried potato croquettes). Along the way, your guide will share stories of Palermo's fascinating and colorful history. Run by a non-profit anti-mafia movement, the tour will also provide firsthand insight into the city's fight back against decades of mafia control.

In the afternoon, you might consider driving a short way to the town of Monreale. On the slopes of Monte Caputo, you'll discover what is thought to be the greatest example of Norman architecture in the world, the Cattedrale di Monreale. This 12th-century UNESCO Heritage Site is made up of ornate cloisters and gold mosaics featuring scenes from the Old and New Testaments. Admire the Norman-Byzantine art and architecture as you tour this national monument.

When you're ready, spend a little time wandering Monreale itself. Consider a stroll through the Belvedere public garden where you can enjoy a beautiful view over the Conca d'Oro below, a fertile valley abounding with citrus trees.

Day 9: Depart Palermo

Sunset over Palermo

On your final morning in Palermo, enjoy and leisurely breakfast and, if you have time, head to the Foro Italico. This large public garden along Palermo's seafront makes an excellent spot to soak in the sunshine before heading to the airport. 

Depending on traffic, it usually takes 45 minutes to an hour to travel from the center of Palermo to the airport. Best to arrive at least two hours before your international departure while allowing extra time to drop off your rental car. Safe travels!

More Italy Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Italy? Check out these other Italian itineraries, with outdoor adventures, cultural trips, and best-of tours to hit the highlights. 

Or, describe your ideal trip and we will connect you with a local specialist to make it happen.