Discover Sicily's highlights with this quick 7-day self-drive itinerary. Starting in the regional capital of Palermo, you'll spend time discovering the Norman-Byzantine Monreale Cathedral, before cutting across the island to explore the Greek temple ruins of Agrigento. Cap off the trip with four nights in Catania, the perfect access point to the Sicilian-Baroque cities of Ragusa Ibla, Modica, and Scicli, as well as the historic Syracuse and the elegant seaside town of Taormina.

Highlights

  • Roam ancient Greek and Roman ruins at Agrigento and Syracuse
  • Admire the ornate Sicilian Baroque architecture in Ragusa Ibla, Modica, and Scicli
  • Hike Mount Etna, Europe's largest active volcano
  • Walk to Taormina's Isola Bella to see a 17th-century palace and elegant gardens
  • Stroll through the beautifully landscaped gardens of Catania's Villa Bellini park

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 Catania; Visit Agrigento Catania
Day 4 Day Trip from Catania to Ragusa Ibla, Modica, and Scicli Catania
Day 5 Day Trip from Catania to Syracuse; Guided Tour Catania
Day 6 Day Trip from Catania to Taormina; Guided Mount Etna Hike Catania
Day 7 Depart Catania  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Palermo 

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

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. Spend a few hours in the Galleria Regionale to see medieval and Renaissance artwork or relax on Mondello Beach and enjoy the sand and azure water.

Day 2: Guided Tour of Palermo - Visit Monreale

Italy - Sicily - Monreale - Garden and cloisters of the Monreale Cathedral
Get up close to the intricate craftsmanship of the 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 panelle (chickpea fritters) and 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.

Day 3: Drive from Palermo to Catania - Visit Agrigento

Temple of Juno
Take in the ridgetop temples of Agrigento, like the Temple of Juno

This morning you'll cut across the island to Catania on the east coast, stopping first on the southern shore at Agrigento's UNESCO-protected archaeological site. Here you'll meet with a licensed guide to discover the ruins of the ancient city of Akragas in the Valley of the Temples, so named for its well-preserved Greek temples. One such intact gem is the Temple of Concordia, one of several ridge-top temples that once served as beacons for homecoming sailors. 

When you're ready,  continue your drive east to your hotel in Catania. The second-largest city next to Palermo, Catania sits at the foot of Mount Etna on the Ionian Sea 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. Discover the impressive Church of Sant'Agata al Carcere in Piazza Santo Carcere or visit the San Nicoló l’Arena, Sicily's largest church (famous for its unfinished façade).

After dinner, take an evening stroll through the beautifully landscaped gardens of the Catania Orto Botanico and Villa Bellini park for panoramic views of Catania.

Driving time (Palermo to Agrigento): 2.5 hours
Driving time (Agrigento to Catania):  2-3 hours

Day 4: Day Trip from Catania to Ragusa Ibla, Modica, and Scicli

Ragusa Ibla, Sicily, Italy
Climb the 250 steps to the Duomo di San Giorgio in Ragusa Ibla

Today is a free day to spend as you choose. You might light to make the most of your proximity to the incredible UNESCO-listed cities of Ragusa Ibla, Modica, and Scicli and set out on a day trip to explore their historic streets. In 1693 a devastating earthquake almost erased every town and city in southeastern Sicily after which the cities were rebuilt in the Sicilian Baroque style.

Drive south first 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.

Next up is Modica a little ways south (30 minutes). Built on the sides of a canyon, the city is known for its traditionally made chocolate that follows an ancient Aztec recipe. Wander its labyrinth of bustling streets and steep staircases, starting on Corso Umberto in Modica Bassa (Lower Modica) to get orientated. Explore the narrow alleys off of Corso Umberto as you make your way up to Modica Alta (Upper Modica) and its medieval quarter. Here you might like to head up to Pizzo Belvedere for stunning views over the Modica Valley. 

If there's time, travel south (20 minutes) 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

After a full day, make the return drive back to Catania.

Driving time (Catania to Ragusa Ibla): 1.5 - 2 hours
Driving time (Scicli to Catania): 2 hours

Day 5: Day Trip from Catania to Syracuse - Guided Tour

Italy - Sicily - Syracuse - Castello Maniace
Find your way to the 13th-century Castello Maniace at the tip of Syracuse's Ortygia Island

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.

Driving time (Catania to Syracuse): 1 hour

Day 6: Day Trip from Catania to Taormina - Guided Mount Etna Hike

Italy - Sicily - Taormina - 10th-century Palazzo Corvaja
Visit the 10th-century Palazzo Corvaja

Get an early start today and head 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 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. 

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.

And when it's time, make your way back to your accommodation in Catania.

Driving time (Catania to Mount Etna): 1 hour
Driving time (Mount Etna to Taormina): 1.5 hours

Day 7: Depart Catania

Fera O'Luni, Catania, Sicily, Italy
Roam the stalls of the Fera o'Luni market for last-minute gifts and souvenirs

If there's time before dropping off your car rental and catching your departure flight, you might like to enjoy one last granita (crushed ice dessert) and complete a little souvenir or gift shopping at the traditional Fera o'Luni market. Held daily in Piazza Carlo Alberto, the market sells everything from street food and produce to local crafts and antiques.

Depending on traffic, it typically takes 15 to 20 minutes to travel from Catania's center 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 - 7 Days
Map of Sicily Highlights Self-Drive Tour - 7 Days