This 13-day grand tour of the Sicilian island perfectly blends culture and history with adventure. Start in the regional capital of Palermo and wander the historic centers of Trapani and Erice before spending a little time on the Aegadi Islands. Visit the impressive Valley of the Temples and sprawling mosaics of Villa Romana del Casale, discover ornate baroque architecture in Noto, Modica, and Scicli, and lose yourself in the maze of narrow streets and underground passageways of Syracuse's Ortygia Island.

Highlights

  • Marvel at the Norman-Byzantine architecture of Monreale Cathedral
  • Hike Mount Etna, Europe's largest active volcano
  • Meander narrow laneways and steep staircases in the baroque town of Ragusa Ibla
  • Dine on fresh seafood in sophisticated Taormina
  • Relax on the inviting golden-sand beach of Cefalù's Lungomare beach

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Palermo  Palermo
Day 2 Guided Tour of Palermo; Visit Monreale Palermo
Day 3 Drive from Palermo to Trapani via Scopello and Zingaro Nature Reserve Trapani
Day 4 Day Trip from Trapani to Aegadi Islands; Visit Erice Trapani
Day 5 Drive from Erice to Agrigento; Marsala Wine Tour Agrigento
Day 6 Guided Tour of Valley of the Temples Agrigento
Day 7 Drive from Agrigento to Modica; Guided Tour of Villa Romana del Casale Modica
Day 8 Drive from Modica to Syracuse; Visit Ragusa Ibla & Scicli Syracuse
Day 9 Guided Tour of Syracuse Syracuse
Day 10 Drive from Syracuse to Taormina; Guided Mount Etna Hike Taormina
Day 11 Taormina Cooking Class Taormina
Day 12 Drive from Taormina to Palermo; Visit Cefalù Palermo
Day 13 Depart Palermo  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Palermo 

Massimo Teatro, Palermo, Sicily, Italy
Catch a performance at the Teatro Massimo

Start your adventure in Palermo. Sicily's regional capital boasts beautiful Mediterranean weather, colorful history with strong ties to its Roman, Byzantine, Arab, and Norman past as evidenced in its architecture, culture, music, and cuisine. Upon arrival at the airport, you'll pick up your rental car and drive the 45 minutes to your hotel in the heart of the city to settle in. The rest of the day is yours to spend as you like.

The historic city center and medieval streets are easy to navigate by foot with many attractions and restaurants within walking distance. To get your bearings, take a stroll or passeggiata along the narrow Via Maqueda, a pedestrianized thoroughfare that connects the north of the city to the south. A good place to start, and for fine examples of baroque architecture and sculpture, is at the Fontana Pretoria (fountain) in Piazza Pretoria. See art at the Stanze al Genio tile museum and Palazzo Abatellis, haggle for lunch or the perfect pair of jeans at the Ballaro Market, or relax on Mondello Beach and enjoy the azure sea.

Day 2: Guided Tour of Palermo - Visit Monreale

Monreale Cathedral, Palemro, Sicily, Italy
Stroll through the garden and cloisters of the ornate Monreale Cathedral

In the morning you will meet your guide for a private half-day tour of the Sicilian capital—a smart way to experience the city's vibrant culture and artistic and architectural points of interest. Quattro Canti (officially known as Piazza Vigliena), Palazzo Reale, the 12th-century Duomo (the Palermo Cathedral), and Marina Square are some examples of the architectural masterpieces you will come across. You'll also visit Capo Market, a great spot to pick up some lunch or a typical snack like cazzilli (pan-fried potato croquettes).

After the tour, you'll have the afternoon to yourself where you might like to consider making the short drive to visit 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 (Monreale Cathedral). The 12th-century UNESCO-listed cathedral is made up of ornate cloisters and bright gold mosaics that feature 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 loaded with citrus trees.

Day 3: Drive from Palermo to Trapani via Scopello and Zingaro Nature Reserve

Tonnara, Scopello, Sicily, Italy
Tour Scopello's historic tonnara

Today you'll venture west along the Tyrrhenian coastline to the port city of Trapani. En route, you can stop to visit one of Sicily's popular parks, Zingaro Nature Reserve, Sicily's first. Stunning at any time of the year,  this national park stretches along the northwestern coastline of the Gulf of Castellammare between San Vito Lo Capo and Scopello and offers the perfect sea-nature destination. The reserve is home to steep cliffs, a series of tiny bays, a network of walking paths, and pristine azure and green waters. It's also home to a large variety of endemic plants, rich fauna, and close to 40 species of bird. 

Access the reserve through the southern entrance at the charming seaside village of Scopello, stopping to visit the 13th-century tonnara (tuna fishery) before entering the park. Here, you can enjoy a hike, choosing from one of three clearly marked paths to traverse the reserve from one end to the next. The popular coastal path grants easy access to the inlets and extends close to 4 miles (7 km). Though for a slightly more moderate trek, consider the mid-coast or the high path for gorgeous panoramic vistas. 

Afterward, continue further west to Trapani where the rest of the afternoon is yours to explore the historic city and its wonderful coast at your own pace. Shaped like a sickle, Trapani sits at the foot of Mount Erice, along the western tip of Sicily and acts as a gateway to the Aegadi Islands. Settled in the 13th century BCE by the Elymians, its Old Town and port is easily walkable by foot and includes a number of notable monuments and churches, most of which date back to the late medieval period or 17th and 18th centuries. 

Driving time (Palermo to Scopello): 1.5 hours
Driving time (Scopello to Trapani): 1 hour

Day 4: Day Trip from Trapani to Aegadi Islands - Visit Erice

Erice, Sicily, Italy
Navigate Erice's narrow cobbled streets

Spend the early morning navigating the narrow streets of the historic Old Town making your way to the harbor to take a hydrofoil to one of the three Aegadian (Egadi) Islands. Consider scheduling a tour to visit either the larger Favignana, famous for its wonderful beaches and bike paths or the smaller, Levanzo, to seek out the prehistoric Genovese Cave.

After spending the morning exploring, make your way inland to the nearby medieval hilltop town of Erice. For a unique way to transfer to the town, consider riding the funivia (cable car) from Trapani. Erice is perched on a rocky cliff and offers magnificent views over Trapani, the Aegadi Islands, and San Vito Lo Capo, where a visit to the Norman Castle of Venus offers top-notch panoramas. Wander the cobbled streets off the main drag for a mouthwatering selection of restaurants, cafés, and pasticceria (pastry shops) for dinner, an aperitif, and dessert. 

Driving time: 30 minutes

Day 5: Drive from Erice to Agrigento - Marsala Wine Tour

Scala dei Turchi, Sicily, Italy
Climb the naturally formed steps of Scala dei Turchi

In the morning, continue your drive south along the western edge of Sicily toward Marsala, taking in the all-encompassing vistas of the dazzling salt pans that edge the sea as you enter the Saline di Trapani. Dotted with historic windmills, saltwater lagoons, and mounds of harvested salt, the salt flats create a chessboard pattern evoking an otherworldly landscape. Spend a little time walking the tourist paths that run the length of the basins filled with slowly-evaporating seawater, before reaching Marsala.

A city well known for its fortified wine of the same name, you'll have the pleasure of touring a popular local cellar to meet the wine producer as well as to sample a varietal or two. From here, stop to check out the limestone cliffs of Scala dei Turchi (Turkish Staircase) before proceeding to Agrigento, a hilltop city on Sicily's southwestern shore.

After checking into your accommodation, set out to explore your surroundings. Stroll through Agrigento's densely-packed historical core, finding your way to Via Atenea, the main thoroughfare lined with shops, restaurants, and bars. Leading off Via Atenea, you'll climb your way upwards through a maze of cobblestoned narrow alleys and side streets past 18th and 19th-century palazzi (noble homes or mansions). Visit the 11th-century Arab-Norman San Gerlando Cathedral and the 12th-century Church of Santa Maria dei Greci, and treat yourself to a local delicacy: ricotta-based pecorino ice cream.

Driving time: (Erice to Marsala): 1.25 hours
Driving time (Marsala to Agrigento): 1.5 hours

Day 6: Guided Tour of Valley of the Temples

Temple of Concordia, Agrigento, Sicily, Italy
Visit the Temple of Concordia, an imposing intact-gem

Today you'll have the whole day to explore Agrigento and its popular UNESCO-protected archaeological site in the Valley of the Temples—so named for its well-preserved ancient Greek temples. Less a valley and more a ridge, you'll meet with a licensed guide to walk through the ancient city of Akragas with the option to spend a little time at the popular archaeological museum. Stop to marvel at the temples of Hera (Juno), Concordia, and Herakles as you listen to your expert guide share stories that bring the ruins to life. Here you'll learn how these ridge-top temples once served as beacons for homecoming sailors. 

After the tour, you'll have the rest of the day to spend as you like.

Day 7: Drive from Agrigento to Modica - Guided Tour of Villa Romana del Casale

View over Modica from the steps of Cattedrale di San Pietro
Meet the life-size sculptures on the steps of Modica's Cattedrale di San Pietro

After breakfast, you'll make the drive east toward Modica, stopping at the elaborate UNESCO-protected Villa Romana del Casale just outside the town of Piazza Armerina. Here you'll meet with a licensed guide to discover some of the world's best-preserved and varied Roman mosaics as you explore the grounds of this ancient Roman villa. Incredibly luxurious and built on a vast scale, Villa Romana del Casale was probably made for a member of ancient Rome’s elite. 

When it's time, you'll continue south to the UNESCO-listed baroque jewel of Modica in Sicily's southeastern corner. Settle into your accommodation before taking the rest of the afternoon to wander its labyrinth of bustling streets and steep staircases. As many of Modica's treasures are spread around town, you'll get a workout in before you sit down to your evening meal. Head to Corso Umberto in Modica Bassa (Lower Modica) to get orientated and find a selection of restaurants amid elegant 18th and 19th-century buildings before making your way up to Modica Alta (Upper Modica) and its medieval quarter.

Driving time (Agrigento to Villa Romana): 1.5 - 2 hours
Driving time (Villa Romana to Modica): 2 hours

Day 8: Drive from Modica to Syracuse - Visit Ragusa Ibla & Scicli

Ragusa Ibla
Trek up the 250 steps to the Duomo di San Giorgio in Ragusa Ibla

Today is a free day to spend as you choose and you might light to make the most of your proximity to two other incredible UNESCO-listed baroque destinations: Ragusa Ibla and Scicli. 

Start with a 30-minute drive north to Ragusa Ibla and spend a few leisurely hours meandering 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 climb up the steep stairway to the upper town for breathtaking views over Ibla. Alternatively, there's the option to board the trenino (little train) from Piazza Duomo for a casual ride along the city's main streets.

From here, travel south to the often-overlooked ancient town of Scicli. Follow the elegant pedestrianized Via Penna for pretty views of baroque palaces and churches where if the mood for refreshment strikes, you can choose one of the outdoor patios. You won't want to miss a visit to possibly one of Sicily's most beautiful baroque buildings, Palazzo Beneventano on nearby Via Duce d'Aosta. And if there's time, take the zig-zagging path to the abandoned San Matteo church perched on an overhanging cliff to enjoy the sweeping vistas of Scicli below or visit the (also abandoned) cave settlement in Scicli's old Chiafura district. 

When it's time, continue up the coast to your hotel on the island of Ortygia, the historical heart of the city of Syracuse. 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. 

Driving time (Modica to Ragusa Ibla): 30 minutes
Driving time (Ragusa Ibla to Scicli): 45 minutes
Driving time (Scicli to Syracuse):  1.5 hours

Day 9: Guided Tour of Syracuse

Neapolis Archaeological Park, Syracuse, Sicily, Italy
Discover the 2nd-century Roman Amphitheater in Neopolis Archaeological Park

Dedicate the morning to explore the ancient ruins of the Ionian coast on a guided tour of Syracuse (about three hours). Venture to the Neapolis Archaeological Park for a stroll among the ruins and ancient relics together with your expert guide. Learn about the region's Greek and Roman history as you explore the architecture and then continue the walking tour through Ortygia—Syracuse's beautiful old town, located on a spit of land which extends into the Mediterranean. 

The afternoon is yours to spend at your own pace. Lose yourself in the winding streets, stumbling across tucked-away gems, like the late 19th-century noble residence, Palazzo Impellizzeri, done in the indulgent Rococo style, the Temple of Apollo in Piazza Pancali, or go underground to explore the honeycomb network of the San Giovanni Crypt and Catacombs, which date back to the 6th century. Alternatively, if you're in need of a little relaxation and less sight-seeing, soak in the Sicilian sunshine on the beautiful sand and turquoise water of Arenella Beach, just 20 minutes south of Syracuse.

Day 10: Drive from Syracuse to Taormina - Guided Mount Etna Hike

Taormina and Mount Etna, Sicily, Italy
Take in views of Taormina and smoking Mount Etna

Get an early start today and head up the coast before cutting inland toward Europe's largest active volcano, Mount Etna. You'll start in the Rifugio Sapienza, the southern access point to the volcano for your guided hike to Torre Del Filosofo. Rent any walking equipment you may need and then proceed to ride the cable car up 9,500 feet (2,900 m) to Torre del Filosofo. Take in the breathtaking vistas of solidified lava flows, fumaroles, and views that reach the Mediterranean.

Upon your return to your car, you'll continue the day's drive to Taormina, a sophisticated and famous resort town located on the Ionian Sea. 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 restored 17th-century Catholic Santa Caterina Church and stroll along the Vicolo Stretto—the narrowest street in town. Discover the 10th-century Palazzo Corvaja, named after one of the city's most influential families and be sure to visit the Chiesa Madonna della Rocca for a bird’s eye view of the city.

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.

Driving time (Syracuse to Mount Etna): 1.5 - 2 hours
Driving time (Mount Etna to Taormina): 1.5 hours

Day 11: Taormina Cooking Class

Oranges, Taormina, Sicily, Italy
Seek out fresh produce for your meal prep

Enjoy a leisurely morning, starting the day's activities with a private cooking class. Join your chef as he leads you through a guided market tour. You will visit the fruit and vegetable vendors to find out what’s in season, and the fishmonger to choose the best fresh catch of the day in Taormina’s historic fish market. After the market tour, you'll return to the kitchen for your hands-on cooking class for the preparation of a full Sicilian menu and a typical dessert. Lunch, accompanied by local wines, will follow featuring the foods prepared in class.

The rest of the day is yours to explore Taormina at your own pace.

Day 12: Drive from Taormina to Palermo - Visit Cefalù

The seaside town of Cefalù
Stroll along Lungomare beach in Cefalù

Start the day early and make your way to Cefalù, a popular seaside resort town with a rich history, for a day of self-guided exploration. Head to the city center to see the city's top sights and start at the Lavatoio Medievale, a 16th-century washhouse that funnels the River Cefalino through a series of stone basins. Nearby is the Porta Pescara, a small gate that opens onto a view of the Cefalù beach and the coastline to Palermo. Take a walk down to the old harbor and stroll along the seaside promenade. The city's sandy Lungomare beach is a popular destination for visitors and locals. 

On the way to the Duomo, take a detour to the 17th-century Bastione di Capo Marchiafava, one of many old defensive fortresses located along the coast. The view from the top of the Bastione is a real treat. Visit the 12th-century Duomo Basilica Cattedrale (Cefalù Cathedral) to see the Norman-Arabic architecture that is typical of that time period. And if there's time, climb the Rocca, the promontory above the city. A steep staircase winds through layers of city walls before emerging onto a rocky outcrop with stunning views of the city and open water. 

When it's nearly time to continue west to Palermo, stop at a beachside bar first for a relaxing aperitivo.

Driving time (Taormina to Cefalù): 2.5 - 3 hours
Driving time (Cefalù to Palermo): 1 hour

Day 13: Depart Palermo

Excedra, Villa Giulia, Palermo, Sicily, Italy
Enjoy a walk through Villa Giulia

If you have a free morning before departing, head to the Foro Italico. A large public garden along Palermo's seafront is an excellent way to soak in the sunshine and sea breeze before heading to the airport. You may like to first explore Villa Giulia, a sprawling 18th-century complex of botanical gardens and sculptures, then stroll along the Foro Italico to Porta Felice, a 16th-17th-century monumental gateway to La Cala (Old Port).

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 the airport at least two hours prior to your international departure (and with some extra time to drop off your rental car).

Map

Map of Sicily Highlights Self-Drive Tour - 13 Days
Map of Sicily Highlights Self-Drive Tour - 13 Days