Explore the highlights of Sicily as you circumnavigate the Italian island starting and ending in the regional capital of Palermo, a cultural melting pot with stunning monuments and vibrant markets. Along the way, you will explore ancient Greek, Roman, and Norman ruins, medieval fortressed towns dotted with ornate baroque buildings and stunning beaches. You'll trek coastal trails in the beautiful Zingaro Nature Reserve, sip fortified wine in charming Marsala,  and dine on fresh seafood in sophisticated Taormina.

Highlights

  • Marvel at the impressive Monreale Cathedral in Palermo
  • Roam ancient Greek and Roman ruins at Selinunte and Agrigento
  • Hike Mount Etna, Europe's largest active volcano
  • Stroll through the elegant streets of Noto, famed for its baroque buildings
  • Discover Sicily's unique food scene on a street food tour of Palermo

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 Natural Reserve Trapani
Day 4 Day Trip to Aegadi Islands; Visit Erice Trapani
Day 5 Drive from Trapani to Menfi; Marsala Wine Tour Menfi
Day 6 Drive from Menfi to Agrigento, Visit Selinunte Agrigento
Day 7 Guided Tour of Valley of the Temples Agrigento
Day 8 Drive from Agrigento to Modica; Guided Tour of Villa Romana del Casale Modica
Day 9 Day Trip to Ragusa Ibla & Scicli Modica
Day 10 Drive from Modica to Syracuse; Visit Noto Syracuse
Day 11 Guided Tour of Syracuse Syracuse
Day 12 Drive from Syracuse to Taormina; Guided Mount Etna Hike Taormina
Day 13 Taormina Cooking Class Taormina
Day 14 Drive from Taormina to Palermo; Visit Cefalù Palermo
Day 15 Palermo Street Food Tour Palermo
Day 16 Depart Palermo  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Palermo

View over Palmero at sunset
Take in the setting sun over Palmero

Welcome to 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, 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. Alternatively, Relax on nearby Mondello Beach, shop for fresh seafood at the Vallero Market, or catch a performance at the Teatro Massimo, Italy's largest opera house.

Day 2: Guided Tour of Palermo - Visit Monreale

View of the Palermo cityscape from the Palermo Cathedral rooftop
Enjoy views of the Palermo cityscape from the Palermo Cathedral rooftop

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 panelle (chickpea fritters) and cazzilli (pan-fried potato croquettes).

Afterward, 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.

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

Scopello, entrance to Zingaro Nature Reserve
Visit charming Scopello before entering the Zingaro Nature Reserve

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. 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.

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. You may like to bring a packed lunch with you to enjoy a picnic, after which you'll 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. 

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

Levanzo, Sicily, Italy
Explore the smaller Aegadi Island of Levanzo

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 access 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 Trapani to Menfi - Marsala Wine Tour

Evaporating salt ponds near Marsala
Walk amid the evaporating salt ponds near Marsala

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, you'll proceed to the town of Menfi, a couple of miles north of the southern coast of the island.

Sadly, much of Menfi was destroyed in a 1968 earthquake, including the 13th-century Swabian Castle (also known as Federick's Castle),  leading its citizens to redesign many historic buildings. The new center is now built on a modern grid system, with two main thoroughfares, Via Garibaldi and Via della Vittoria, for your choice of restaurant, bar, cantine (wine cellar), and access points to a number of historic palazzi (noble homes or mansions). Settle into your hotel amid lush gardens and peaceful environs before taking the rest of the afternoon and evening to wander this wine-making town.

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

Day 6: Drive from Menfi to Agrigento - Visit Selinunte

Temple of Hera (Temple E) in Selinunte archaeological park
Visit the popular Temple of Hera (Temple E) in Selinunte archaeological park

Get an early start today and make the short drive first to Cave di Cusa, an ancient stone quarry, and then continue on to the ancient Greek city of Selinunte. Housed in Europe's largest archaeological park, you'll have the option to join a tour or explore on your own, either way, allow yourself three to four hours. The park can be divided into five sections, with the Acropolis at the center, Gaggera Hill in the West, Mannuzza Hill in the north, the East Hill in the east with temples, including the reconstructed and impressive Temple of Hera (Temple E), and the necropoleis throughout.

As you wander the isolated ruins, through ancient streets of houses and shops, past cemeteries to temple ruins, it's easy to imagine how Selinus (its Greek name) would have been two and a half thousand years ago.

Grab a bite of lunch in Marinella di Selinunte, a small fishing town just outside the entrance to the park. Next, drive 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

Driving time: (Menfi to Selinunte): 30 minutes
Driving time (Selinunte to Agrigento): 1.5 - 2 hours

Day 7: Guided Tour of Valley of the Temples

Demeter and Persephone sanctuary (formerly Temple Castor and Pollux)
Look over the ridge of temples to Agrigento

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 (an imposing intact gem), and Herakles as you listen to your expert guide share stories that bring the ruins to life. 

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

Day 8: Drive from Agrigento to Modica - Guided Tour of Villa Romana del Casale

Villa Romana del Casale
Explore the many in-situ mosaics at Villa Romana del Casale

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. 

Continue south to the UNESCO-listed baroque jewel of Modica. 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 as well as check out the town museum and find a selection of restaurants amid elegant 18th and 19th-century buildings before working 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 9: Day Trip from Modica to Ragusa Ibla & Scicli

Ragusa Ibla
Climb 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 like 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. 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. 

Return to Modica in the evening and depending on energy levels, either tramp up to Modica Alta for a selection of restaurants or stay closer to Modica Bassa.

Day 10: Drive from Modica to Syracuse - Visit Noto

View over Noto and its cathedral
Sample granita from Caffè Sicilia as you stroll Noto's Corso Vittorio Emanuele

This morning you'll set out for Syracuse along the east coast of Sicily, stopping first to visit a nearby winery. Enjoy the peaceful setting of olive and carob trees as you sample local wines paired with regional specialties. From here, you'll carry on to Noto to explore this postcard-perfect baroque city. In a couple of hours, you can easily cover the town on foot. Stroll Corso Vittorio Emanuele and walk beneath Porta Reale (Royal Gate), taking in the embellished architecture at every turn, like the Chiesa di Santa Chiara, and end your walk at the spectacular 18th-century limestone Noto Cathedral.

From here you'll 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 Noto): 1 hour
Driving time (Noto to Syracuse):  45 minutes

Day 11: Guided Tour of Syracuse

Ruins of Ancient Greek Theater in Neapolis Archaeological Park
Discover the Ancient Greek Theater in Neapolis Archaeological Park

Dedicate the morning to explore ancient ruins on a guided tour of historic 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 as you like. 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 12: Drive from Syracuse to Taormina - Guided Mount Etna Hike

Mount Etna's colorful landscape
Explore the colorful slopes of 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 before retiring to your accommodation for the night.

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

Day 13: Taormina Cooking Class

A local market in Taormina
Find yummy eats and souvenirs at local markets in Taormina

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 on your own.

Day 14: Drive from Taormina to Palermo - Visit Cefalù

The seaside town of Cefalù
Take a walk 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, starting with 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 15: Palermo Street Food Tour

Street vendor sells pastries
Taste fresh-made cannoli at a local street vendor

One great way to experience Palermo is to join a street food tour. Snack your way through narrow streets, visiting backstreet markets, modest bakeries, old bars, and food stalls for delicious sweet and savory eats. You'll meet your guide in the morning to meander your way to the Vucciria and Capo markets, two bustling open-air markets reminiscent of Arab souks. You'll discover how Sicily’s unique culinary history informs its street food scene as vendors of local produce and seafood promote their goods.

Get in line at neighborhood bakeries, cafés, and food stalls to try a variety of popular Sicilian street snacks: pani câ meusa (sesame-flavored soft bread, stuffed with chopped lard-fried veal and spleen), panelle (chickpea fritters) and arancini (deep-fried balls of rice stuffed with meat, vegetables, and cheese). Sip on sweet Sicilian wine to wash it down, before digging into a seasonal dessert, like cannoli (deep-fried pastry cylinders filled with sweetened ricotta cheese), gelato, or a refreshing granita (a fruity semi-frozen treat).

Day 16: Depart Palermo

Palermo's Porta Felice is an impressive baroque gate in La Cala
Palermo's Porta Felice is an impressive baroque gate in La Cala

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 - 16 Days
Map of Sicily Highlights Self-Drive Tour - 16 Days