Enjoy cultural and historical experiences on this 9-day circuit of Sicily beginning in the regional capital of Palermo, a cultural melting pot, and ending in lively Catania. Along the way, you'll visit stunning landscapes, like the limestone cliffs of Scala dei Turchi, roam ancient Greek and Roman ruins at Agrigento and Syracuse, and learn to cook a traditional Sicilian meal in Taormina.

Highlights

  • Play in the sun and surf at Palermo's Mondello beach
  • Climb the limestone steps of Scala dei Turchi en route to Agrigento
  • Hike Mount Etna, Europe's largest active volcano
  • Admire the ornate Sicilian Baroque architecture in Ragusa Ibla and Scicli
  • Relax in the beautifully landscaped gardens of the Villa Bellini park in Catania

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 Marsala; Marsala Wine Tasting Marsala
Day 4 Drive from Marsala to Agrigento; Guided Tour of Valley of the Temples Agrigento
Day 5 Drive from Agrigento to Syracuse; Visit Ragusa Ibla & Scicli Syracuse
Day 6 Guided Tour of Syracuse Syracuse
Day 7 Drive from Syracuse to Taormina; Guided Mount Etna Hike Taormina
Day 8 Taormina Cooking Class Taormina
Day 9 Drive from Taormina to Catania; Depart  

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 is at the Fontana Pretoria (fountain) in Piazza Pretoria. See art at the Stanze al Genio tile museum and Palazzo Abatellis, catch a performance at the Teatro Massimo, Italy's largest opera house or relax on Mondello Beach and enjoy the sand and the azure water.

Day 2: Guided Tour of Palermo - Visit Monreale

MOnreale Cathedral, Sicily, Italy
Close up of the intricate stonework of the Norman-Byzantine 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 Marsala - Marsala Wine Tasting

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

This morning you'll drive southwest along the western edge of Sicily toward Marsala, taking in the stunning views of the dazzling salt pans that edge the sea. 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 and your hotel. After checking in, set out to explore your surroundings. 

A city well known for its fortified wine of the same name, its baroque old town center is pedestrian-friendly and offers pretty views of baroque buildings, peppered with elegant piazzas. Find your way to a local cantina to meet the winemakers as well as to sample a varietal or two paired with regional specialties. Afterward, consider joining a walking tour of Marsala and start from the impressive Piazza della Repubblica (also an excellent place for restaurants, cafés, and shopping) to delve into the historical attractions, like Chiesa di San Tommaso, the Palazzo VII Aprile, and the ornate 16th century Chiesa del Purgatory.

Driving time (Palermo to Marsala): 2 hours

Day 4: Drive from Marsala to Agrigento - Guided Tour of Valley of the Temples

Scala dei Turchi
Scramble over the limestone cliffs of Scala dei Turchi

In the morning, continue your drive southeast along the coast to Agrigento. En route, stop at the chalk-white limestone cliffs of Scala dei Turchi to stretch your legs and admire views over the sea. Resume your journey until you reach Agrigento, a 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. 

At the end of the tour, you'll make the 5-minute drive to your hotel in 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).

Driving time (Marsala to Valley of the Temples): 2 hours

Day 5: Drive from Agrigento to Syracuse - Visit Ragusa Ibla & Scicli

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

Today you will drive from Agrigento to Syracuse, stopping first to explore two incredible UNESCO-listed baroque destinations: Ragusa Ibla and Scicli. 

Start with a drive south 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 further 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. 

When you're ready, 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 (Agrigento to Ragusa Ibla): 2.5 hours
Driving time (Ragusa Ibla to Scicli): 45 minutes
Driving time (Scicli to Syracuse):  1.5 hours

Day 6: 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 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 7: Drive from Syracuse to Taormina - Guided Mount Etna Hike

Taormina, Sicily, Italy
Enjoy views of Mount Etna from Taormina

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 or visit the Chiesa Madonna della Rocca to enjoy 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 8: Taormina Cooking Class

A local market in Taormina
Shop for gifts and souvenirs in a local market 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 at your own pace.

Day 9: Drive from Taormina to Catania - Depart

Sant'Agata, Catania, Sicily, Italy
Visit Sant'Agata al Carcere for ornate baroque embellishments

After breakfast, make the hourlong transfer south to Catania. The second-largest city next to Palermo, Catania sits at the foot of Mount Etna and deserves a little exploration if there's time before dropping off your car rental and catching your departure flight. Enjoy one last granita (crushed ice dessert) and consider a visit to the impressive baroque Church of Sant'Agata al Carcere in Piazza Santo Carcere or the San Nicoló l’Arena, Sicily's largest church (famous for its unfinished façade).

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 - 9 Days
Map of Sicily Highlights Self-Drive Tour - 9 Days