Experience Sicily and Sardinia—Italy's two largest islands—in all their glory during this immersive three-week trip, which offers a nice mix of guided tours and free time to explore on your own. Highlights of your self-driving tour of Sicily include Palermo, a cultural melting pot with historic monuments and colorful local markets and Taormina, the elegant village famous for its Greek theatre and postcard views. You'll also visit Syracuse and Agrigento, with their archaeological treasures, and  Mount Etna—Europe's most active volcano. Finally, combine a city stay with beach trips in Sardinia for the last 4 days of your trip.

Highlights

  • Enjoy the lively atmosphere of Palermo
  • Discover ancient Greece at the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento
  • Taste the famous chocolate of Modica
  • Take a side trip to mighty Mount Etna
  • Relax and enjoy the beach in Sardinia

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Palermo Palermo
Day 2 The soul of Palermo Palermo
Day 3 The day of salt and wine: Mozia and Marsala Trapani
Day 4 Ancient history: Segesta, Erice, and Trapani Palermo
Day 5 Drive to Agrigento Agrigento
Day 6 Guided tour of Valley of the Temples Agrigento
Day 7 Self-drive from Agrigento to Ragusa Ragusa
Day 8 The Baroque Triangle: Modica, Ragusa, Noto Ragusa
Day 9 Self-drive from Ragusa to Syracuse Syracuse
Day 10 Highlights of Syracuse Syracuse
Day 11 Free day in Syracuse Syracuse
Day 12 Self-drive from Syracuse to Catania Catania
Day 13 The Cyclopes Bay: Acireale Coast Catania
Day 14 Self-drive from Catania to Taormina Taormina
Day 15 Highlights of Taormina Taormina
Day 16 Free day in Taormina Taormina
Day 17 Fly to Cagliari (Sardinia) Cagliari
Day 18-20 Free Time in Cagliari Cagliari
Day 21 Depart Cagliari  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Palermo

Seafood for sale at Vucciria market
Seafood for sale at Vucciria market

Welcome to Palermo! On arrival at the airport, you will be welcomed by your Personal Concierge who will accompany you to the rental car office. From the airport, it's about a 45-minute drive into the town center. Check into your hotel and get settled. 

Palermo is the regional capital of Sicily, the island kicked by the toe of Italy's "boot." It sits on the Gulf of Palermo in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Palermo is famous for its colorful history, beautiful architecture, earthy culture, nightlife, music, and cuisine. The strategically located area has been settled for millennia, and the city's written history starts in the 8th century BCE. Over the centuries, Palermo has played a vital role in Europe's history. 

These days, Palermo is a famous tourist town, thanks to its beautiful Mediterranean weather and Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque churches, palaces and buildings. Add to that its Arab–Norman buildings and Byzantine churches, along with the smells and color of the marketplace, and this Sicilian holiday destination is a one-of-a-kind experience.

Day 2: The soul of Palermo

Politeama Garibaldi Theatre, Palermo
Politeama Garibaldi Theatre, Palermo

After breakfast, meet your personal English-speaking guide in the lobby of the hotel and start your 3-hour tour of the highlights of Palermo. The tour includes all entrance fees.

Palermo, unmistakably the capital of Sicily, is an incredibly diverse and exciting city, where the influences of so many cultures—Italian, Norman, Arab and North African—seem to seamlessly blend. Here you will discover history, culture, architecture, and gastronomy. Starting with Via Liberta, the main boulevard of the city, you will pass the 19th-century Teatro Massimo and the massive Politeama Garibaldi Theatre, topped with a flamboyant statue of horsemen. Both of these are in the main residential and shopping district.

Then you'll head to Piazza Bellini in the heart of the old town and the church of San Cataldo, dating from the 12th century, with its distinctive red Saracen domes. Its simplicity contrasts with the far more elaborate church of La Martorana, nearby. From here, you will come to the Piazza Pretoria, the most important of the city’s many squares and then to the Piazza Marina, once the heart of the Arabian city. Finally, you will head to the Convento dei Cappuccini, with its extraordinary 16th-century catacombs. 

Day 3: The day of salt and wine: Mozia and Marsala

Mozia
Mozia

You're free today to explore on your own, but we suggest visiting Mozia and Marsala. 

Begin your morning with an American-style buffet breakfast at the hotel to prepare for a full day of Phoenician history and Marsala wine. Start your day with a visit to Mozia—a fascinating island with salt flats, windmills and a Phoenician archaeological site.

After your visit to the island, continue onto the mainland at Marsala, where you can visit the city and the famous Florio Cellars—one of Marsala’s most historic wine cellars.

You'll have dinner on your own and overnight in Trapani.

Day 4: Ancient history: Segesta, Erice, and Trapani

Typical Sicilian cannolo
Typical Sicilian cannoli

You're free to explore on your own today. We suggest visiting the nearby cities of Segesta, Erice, and Trapani. 

After a delicious American-style buffet breakfast at the hotel, prepare for a full day sightseeing with a driving tour of these three picturesque cities. 

Your first stop can be Segesta, which was one of the major cities the indigenous peoples of Sicily. Here, you can tour an unusually well-preserved Greek Doric temple—thought to have been built in 420 BCE by an Athenian architect. Then, you can proceed to the medieval village of Erice with its breathtaking views from the Balio Garden and then continue on foot through the narrow cobblestone alleys, passing charming churches and piazzas along the way. 

Of course, no tour would be complete without tasting some pastries in Erice: get a quick sugar fix with an almond cookie or a piece of marzipan.

After a leisurely lunch, you can head back to Trapani and sneak in some time on one of its beautiful beaches—San Vito Lo Capo and Castellammare are favorites.

Day 5: Drive to Agrigento

Sciacca
Sciacca

Today you'll drive to Agrigento and the Valley of the Temples, about 140 km (87 miles) due south of Palermo. We suggest taking the scenic coastal route, and stopping for a stroll, and maybe lunch or a snack in Sciacca, a pretty seaside town with pastel-colored houses. 

Running through Agrigento's medieval core is Via Atenea, an attractive strip lined with smart shops, trattorias, and bars. Narrow alleyways wind upwards off the main street, past tightly packed palazzi (mansions) interspersed with historic churches. A good range of restaurants, cafes, and accommodations make the town an excellent base to explore the good beaches further west along the coast.

Day 6: Guided tour of Valley of the Temples

Temple of Concordia, Agrigento
The Temple of Concordia, Agrigento

Today you'll have the whole day to explore Agrigento and its famous UNESCO-protected archaeological site in the Valley of the Temples—so named for its well-preserved ancient Greek temples. You'll meet with a licensed guide to walk through the ancient city of Akragas, as Agrigento was once called, 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. You'll discover that the so-called valley is actually a plateau, and learn how these ridge-top temples once served as beacons for homecoming sailors. 

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

Day 7: Self-drive from Agrigento to Ragusa

Ragusa Ibla
Ragusa Ibla

Today you'll drive to Ragusa, about 130 km (81 miles) southwest of Agrigento. 

Set northwest of the rocky peak of Modica, Ragusa is a town of two faces. Sitting on the top of the hill is Ragusa Superiore, a busy workaday town with sensible grid-pattern of streets and all the trappings of a modern provincial capital. Etched into the hillside further down is Ragusa Ibla, a sloping area of tangled alleyways, grey stone houses and Baroque palazzi on handsome squares. Ibla is effectively Ragusa's historic center and it's quite magnificent.

Day 8: The Baroque Triangle: Modica, Ragusa, Noto

Modica, Sicily
The Baroque city of Modica

After a relaxing cappuccino in one of a Ragusa's charming open-air bars, get into your rental car today and hit the road for a full day self-exploration of the famous Baroque Triangle—Modica, Ragusa, and Noto

Of all the towns rebuilt after the earthquake of 1693, Noto is undoubtedly the finest and most harmonious, so much so that it is classed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site—it is the Baroque at its most exuberant. You can start in the main square, where you can admire the imposing Palazzo Ducezio, Palazzo Vescovile, and Palazzo Landolina, each one a symphony to the Baroque. You may also wish to see the magnificent cathedral and the Church of San Domenico.

Arrive in Modica after a dramatic drive through rugged, bare-rocked hills, with the only vegetation clinging to the valleys below. The town itself is very un-touristy and you will feel that you are seeing the ‘real’ Sicily. The town divides itself into the ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ Modica and the upper town is dominated by the magnificent Cathedral of San Giorgio with its twin flight of steps.

You will then have time to visit Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, a famous local patisserie and chocolatier, and most importantly, have a taste of their delicious and very unique chocolate. They have been producing chocolate here for many generations and have a unique recipe, the so-called cold method, whereby the sugar doesn’t completely melt, giving it a grainy texture. Once upon a time, it was only made for noble families on festive occasions and to this day has only natural ingredients, with no chemical additives. 

A short drive will bring you back to Ragusa, where we suggest spending the rest of the day exploring Ibla, the old part of town. It was rebuilt after the earthquake of 1693 but follows the old medieval street plan and boasts secret shrines, family crests, and Baroque fountains. There are some substantial mansions with showy staircases and delicate filigree balconies, not to mention secret arches and a wealth of palm trees.

Day 9: Self-drive from Ragusa to Syracuse

Lido di Noto at sunset
Lido di Noto at sunset

Today you'll make your way to Syracuse (Siracusa in Italian). 

If you didn't get to Noto yesterday, we suggest a stop there on the way. Otherwise, if you're traveling during warm-weather months, consider a stop at one of the many fine beaches along the E45/SS115 road to Syracuse. Lido di Noto, Marina di Avola, and Fontane Bianche are all good choices. As with most beaches in Italy, there are paid areas where you can rent a lounge chair and umbrella. Smaller free beach areas (spiaggi liberi) are usually located on either side of the paid areas.

Day 10: Highlights of Syracuse

Entrance to the Ear of Dionysius, Sicily
The entrance to the Ear of Dionysius, Siracusa

After a relaxing breakfast at your hotel, meet your professional guide for a 2-hour walking tour to discover the marvels of Syracuse.
  
For 27 centuries the city of Syracuse has been of great economic and cultural importance, from the prehistoric populations to the Corinthians who founded the Greek city, to the introduction of Baroque architecture. The Greek Theatre in Syracuse is one of the most important examples of theatre architecture anywhere in the world and for centuries, it was the center of Syracusan life. The surrounding site also served as a stone quarry—see the vast chambers dug out of the rock including the Ear of Dionysius, a cave with amazing acoustic qualities.  A visit is completed with the Roman Amphitheatre, which, like its Greek counterpart, was carved directly into the existing bedrock. 

Afterward, you have the rest of the day to yourself to explore some of Syracuse and its Baroque center on adjacent Ortygia Island.

Day 11: Free day in Syracuse

Ortygia street market
Ortygia street market

Today is a free day to explore Syracuse. We recommend the following stops and activities:

  • Explore history at the Castello Maniace, a 13th-century citadel and castle situated on the far point of the Ortygia Island promontory  
  • See the Arethusa Fountain, a natural, spring-fed fountain located on Ortygia Island along the waterfront  
  • Pick up lunch at the bustling Ortygia Street Market
  • Soak in the Sicilian sunshine on the beautiful sand and turquoise water of Arenella Beach, about 20 minutes' drive from Syracuse.
  • Go underground to explore the honeycomb network of the San Giovanni Crypt and Catacombs, which date back to the 6th century

Day 12: Self-drive from Syracuse to Catania

Piazza del Duomo, Catania, Sicily
Piazza del Duomo, Catania

Today you'll drive at your own pace to Catania, just an hour up the coast from Syracuse.

Catania is noisy, chaotic and gritty, but there's something mesmerizing about it. Embued with youthful energy, this is a great city for nightlife. Catania's mix of ancient, Baroque and modern is equally enchanting—from 2,700-year-old ruins to Baroque piazzas to contemporary art, culture here is storied and colorful. Nearby, an occasionally grumpy and erupting Mount Etna looms large over Sicily's second-largest city.

Day 13: Cyclopes Bay - Acireale Coast

Aci Trezza islets
Aci Trezza islets

Meet your private English-speaking guide in the lobby of the hotel and head to the Acireale Coast (you will drive your rental car and the guide will be on board with you). Entrance fees are included with your tour today.

Today’s tour will take you through the Riviera dei Ciclopi and some of its enchanting villages, including Aci Castello with its imposing Norman fortress, built on a volcanic rock crag and towering above the sea. Just off the coast are Aci Trezza are three sharp-edged islets, known as faraglioni.  Homer mentions that the blinded Polyphemus slung rocks from here at Ulysses as he and his men escaped from the Cyclops in their ships.

You will then arrive at Catania, the second-largest city in Sicily and boasting a wealth of Baroque architecture, the result of the city being rebuilt after a huge eruption of Etna and a catastrophic earthquake in the late 17th century.

Day 14: Self-drive from Catania to Taormina

Hikers on Mount Etna
Hikers on Mount Etna

Today you'll drive north to Taormina. We suggest you stop along the way for a self-guided tour of Mount Etna. 

Dramatically set on a mountain overlooking the sea and Mount Etna, Taormina is one of Sicily's most popular beach destinations. Its center is touristy and overpriced, but there's enough to see here that Taormina merits a few days of your time. 

Taormina was founded by the Greeks in the 4th century BCE and was later a prosperous Roman city. After being conquered by the Normans in 1087 the city's prominence faded. It was only in the 18th century, when it became part of the European Grand Tour, that Taormina became a tourist destination. 

Day 15: Highlights of Taormina

Mount Etna viewed from Taormina

Today you'll enjoy a 3-hour guided tour of Taormina with its harmonious blend of nature and architecture described by Goethe as “a strip of paradise on Earth.”

A highlight of your tour is the well-preserved ancient Greek Theatre, which, thanks to its high elevation, offers breathtaking panoramic views of Mount Etna and a large swath of the sea and island.

Day 16: Free day in Taormina

View from the village of Castelmola
View from the village of Castelmola

Today is a free day to explore Taormina. To make the most of your time, we recommended these sights and activities:

  • Visit the Museo Tradizioni Popolari art museum, the Museum and Archaeological Area of Naxos, and the Casa Cuseni, a combination history museum and artist hotel
  • Walk along a seafront promenade and enjoy the beautiful old gardens of the Villa Comunale
  • Go shopping on the Corso Umberto, Taormina's main street with options for every budget, from luxury boutiques to small vintage storefronts 
  • Visit the Chiesa Madonna della Rocca to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the city and see the Greek theatre and small chapel, which is partially dug into the rock
  • Walk the spit of land to Isola Bella, a beautiful little island, to see the 17th-century palace, elegant gardens and fishing village 
  • Visit the ruined medieval castle and narrow, hilly streets of Castelmola, a small village located 3 miles (5 km) north of Taormina 
  • Explore Taormina Mare, an impressive stretch of coastline characterized by steep rocks and beaches, and a variety of restaurants and cafes

Day 17: Departure from Catania Airport and flight to Cagliari (Sardinia)

A view of Cagliari's historic center
A view of Cagliari's historic center

This morning, you'll drive to Catania Airport where you will meet your private assistant who will help you deliver your rental car. You'll fly from Catania to Cagliari, Sardinia. 

On arrival at Cagliari Airport, meet your driver for the transfer to your hotel.

Like so many cities in Italy, history is palpable in Cagliari, the capital city of Sardinia. The city's historic center is rich with ancient Roman ruins, museums that trace the island's prehistoric past, churches ranging from the early medieval to the Baroque, and elegant, faded palazzi. 

Days 18-20: Free Days in Cagliari

Santuario di Nostra Signora di Bonaria
Santuario di Nostra Signora di Bonaria

Enjoy free time to explore Cagliari. We suggest heading to one of the beautiful beaches set close to the city. From the city center, you can take a bus or taxi to Spiaggia del Poetto, or Poet's Beach, a long stretch of fine sandy beach.  Closer still is St. Elia, a smaller beach with interesting rock formations.

Alternatively, you can consider renting a car and heading south along Sardinia's stunning Chia Coast, stopping at the seaside archaeological site of Nora along the way. You'll find beautiful beaches all along the coastal drive—we suggest Spiaggia di Chia Sa Colonia, Spiaggia Su Giudeu, or, a little further on, Spiaggia di Tuerredda.

More suggestions for a full day of sightseeing: 

  • Visit the Santuario & Basilica di Nostra Signoria di Bonaria. Devotees come from all over the world to visit this understated, 14th-century Gothic church to pray to Nostra Signoria di Bonaria, a statue of the Virgin Mary and infant Christ that supposedly saved a ship's crew during a storm.
  • The Museo Archeologico Nazionale, or National Archaeological Museum, houses collections spanning thousands of years of human history on Sardinia, from the Neolithic through the Bronze and Iron ages to the Phoenician and Roman eras.
  • The elegant 13th-century Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta e Santa Cecilia is the Duomo, or the primary church of Cagliari and dominates the Piazza Palazzo.

Day 21: Depart Cagliari

Cagliari
Cagliari

Time to say arrivederci to Sardinia—for now! Head to the airport for your flight home.