Cloudy with bouts of sunshine, December is the rainiest month of the year in Sicily. Temperatures across the island range between an average low of 52˚F and high of 61˚F (11-16˚C) with the hills in the interior of the island being colder (sometimes seeing snow during cold spells), and mountainous areas over 3,300 feet (1,000 m) sometimes receiving an abundance. You’ll want to pack an umbrella with your sunglasses as well as warmer layers and winter gear if you’re planning on heading to the mountains.
And the truly brave may wish to bring their swimsuit as it's still possible to swim, the sea averaging 64˚F (18˚C).
Crowds & Costs
December is considered off-season here, so you can expect to source cheaper airfare and hotel prices with fewer travelers visiting cities, sites, and attractions. However, you’ll want to book your reservations in advance if you plan to come to the island after December 19 as you’ll be competing with Italian tourists holidaying over Christmas, noting an uptick in prices. Ski season is underway, though with other popular resorts north in the country, expect few crowds and inexpensive passes.
Leading up to Christmas, bear in mind that transportation services will be operating on a reduced holiday schedule and you’ll want to double-check hours for museums, monuments, and churches. As well as be aware of establishments and attractions that close for the season due to repair.
Where to Go
Syracuse is an excellent place to start your holiday with its cultural attractions: theaters, museums, restaurants, and festive Christmas Fair, the island’s most colorful holiday market. While every home and church across the island has its presepi (nativity scenes), you’ll want to venture to the small village of Scurati in Custonaci and into the enormous Mangiapane Cave to check out their living nativity scene (known as Presepe Vivente). And if you happen to be on the opposite side of the island in the province of Ragusa, you’ll want to spend a little time checking out their take on the Christmas tradition—make your way to the Ispica Cave in the Parco Forza area for close to forty re-enacted scenes.
Though ski conditions aren’t as favorable as later in the season (January and February), there is certainly a chance to hit the slopes for those who need a winter sports fix. Head to the Piano Battaglia resort in the Madonie mountains for several runs starting at 5,249 feet (1,600 m), or for a unique ski/snowboard experience get yourself to the north or south side of Mount Etna for a handful of runs of varying difficulty.
What to Do
Even though it’s still possible to don a swimsuit, December is better suited to cultural exploration and land-based activities, especially now that the hordes of tourists are away. Discover some of the world’s most significant archaeological sites. Wander amid ancient Greek and Roman ruins at many sites strewn throughout the island, like the sprawling archaeological park in Selinunte, the imposing ridge-top temples of the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, and the well-preserved and incredibly varied mosaics in Villa Romano del Casale. And if you’re in Syracuse venture to the Neapolis Archaeological Park for a mix of Greek and Roman ruins.
As Christmas approaches, every hamlet, town, and city across the island hosts its own festive Christmas market. Whatever town or city you happen to be in, wander the stalls for the perfect gift or souvenir, sampling Sicilian eggnog, zabaglione, made with Marsala wine, and winter treats like buccellati, large round cookies filled with almonds, pistachios, and other dried fruits. Consider Palermo's Piazza Unita d’Italia in the Politeama Theater for a tidy network of craft and food stalls. Or for something more immersive, the medieval mountain-top hamlet of Erice converts into a Christmas wonderland, where every inch is decorated and nearly every day there’s an exciting carnival, concert, or parade.
Toward the end of December, the focus shifts away from Christmas and to New Year's celebrations. Most towns across the region, like Palermo, Catania, and Messina, ring in the New Year with live local and international musical performances, fireworks, and food. If you plan on dining out, book in advance and prepare to be served a multi-course traditional cenone (feast)—lenticchie (lentils) will certainly make an appearance, as they are said to bring wealth and prosperity.
For a unique way to welcome in the new year and if the conditions are favorable, head to the Aeolian Islands for an organized hiking excursion of Stromboli, an active volcano that may just provide its version of a fireworks display.
Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Italians celebrate the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary each year on December 8. Of course, this is a national holiday, which means all public offices are closed and many businesses as well. Special masses are held in churches.
Festa della Santa Lucia. December 13 is Saint Lucy’s Day, the patron saint of Syracuse. She is celebrated with arancini (rice balls) and cuccìa (wheatberry pudding) to mark her saving the island from starvation in the 17th century.
Christmas Eve & Christmas Day. December 24 and 25 are celebrated in much the same way as they are in many English-speaking countries, with Italians spending time with their families. Although businesses and offices are closed for this national holiday, it's actually a relatively low-key affair. That's because the main Christmas holiday in Italy is Epiphany, which is celebrated on January 6 and signifies the end of Italy's 12 days of Christmas.
Saint Stefano’s Day. December 26 marks a national holiday honoring the martyrdom of St. Stephen and sees people heading out of home to celebrate with their friends and families. Expect island-wide closures.
Traveling to Sicily in December? Check out these great itineraries.
Best of Sicily - 8 Days. Start in Palermo to explore its colorful history and exceptional food scene—it's a festive spot to ring in the New Year. Continue to Taormina where you'll catch a performance at the Greek theater, see Sicily from the top of the Mount Etna volcano, and stuff yourself on delicious fried street food.
Explore Western Sicily - 5 Days. Explore western Sicily on this 5-day trip, from Palermo to Cefalù. You'll see medieval churches, tour the macabre Capuchin Catacombs, enjoy Christmas markets, and enjoy the quiet of the Palermo Cathedral.