If you have three days to visit Sicily you'll need to pick between arriving in Catania on the east coast or Palermo on the west coast. These two travel hubs are your gateways to the island and each offers a vibrant, energetic glimpse into Sicilian urban life. Many travelers prefer Palermo, a fast-paced city that is larger than Catania. Palermo is the starting point for trips to the wineries and unusual salt pans of western Sicily. Catania, home to the largest airport on the island, is rich in historic ruins and offers splendid views of Europe's largest volcano, Mt. Etna.
Both options feature urban adventures, culinary options and sites of historic interest. They also require travel to the countryside to experience Sicily’s natural wonders. Three days is enough to experience one of these cities and surrounding areas. If you have more time to explore the island, consider this seven-day tour or this two-week trip around the island.
East Coast or West Coast
It's easy to fly into Catania, which is located at the foot of Mt. Etna and features an interesting mix of architecture. Visitors walk the streets of the Unesco-listed city where Baroque piazzas are situated among ancient ruins and gothic cathedrals. This comparatively young city has been rebuilt several times, having been destroyed at various points in its history by volcanic eruptions and lava flows.
From Catania, travel to the seaside resort town of Taormina for one night. The popular resort destination is known for its archaeological sites and sparkling blue waters. On your third day on the island, use Taormina as a home base to to explore Mt. Etna, visit the beach or take a cooking class in town. You can also opt to visit the nearby town of Syracuse or the island of Ortigia.
East Coast Highlights and Top Sites
- Catania’s cathedrals and urban centers
- Mt. Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano
- Tour an ancient Greek theater in Taormina
- The island of Ortigia, the cultural and historic center of Syracuse
The bustling metropolis of Palermo is the larger and more dynamic of Sicily's two big cities. Spend a day getting to know the city by hiring a local guide to take you on a tour of its cathedrals and historical sites. He or she will navigate you through street food vendors and outdoor markets located in neighborhoods that meld new and old traditions in a vibrant clash of cultures.
On your second day, leave the city behind and explore the coastal towns of Trapani and Marsala. Both offer excellent wine selections where you can stay overnight. From this region, you can also explore the medieval village of Erice or tour the unique salt roads with their historic windmills.
West Coast Highlights
- The boisterous streets of Palermo with its food vendors and outdoor markets
- Fine wines bursting with flavor in the Marsala region
- The Salt Road near Trapani with its scenic windmills and terracotta tiles
- The turquoise waters of the west coast and the easily accessible Egadi islands
- The medieval village of Erice with its cobblestone streets
For a short trip such as this, it’s best to rent a car to maximize your time. You can also hire a driver, a good idea if you are not experienced in the rules of the road or don't speak Italian. Within the cities and villages, the best way around is on your own two feet.
Where to stay
Sicily’s boutique hotels and farmhouse-style villas are comfortable, charming, and well-accustomed to foreign visitors. When traveling in the country, look for places that offer meals and plenty of local culture. The cities offer lovely accommodations, placed within walking distance to restaurants, shopping, and historical sites for self-guided tours.