Towering over the cities of Messina and Catania on Sicily’s east coast, Mt. Etna is Europe’s highest active volcano and one of Italy’s most photographed natural wonders. Whether you want to get your adrenaline pumping or simply marvel at the views, here’s how you can explore.
Things to do in Sicily
Welcome to Sicily
Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean, is full of the beauty and history that gives Italy its reputation as a top-tier destination. Separated from the mainland by the narrow Strait of Messina, across which ferries travel regularly, the island boasts a strategic location in the Mediterranean, making it a desirable prize for many a conquering culture—that may help explain Sicily’s dizzying variety of architectural and culinary styles. Food is a serious pastime here, and a food tour (which often also includes wine) of cities such as Taormina, Syracuse, Palermo, or Catania will acquaint you to regional delicacies, as will a cooking class. To make sense of the busy, regional capital of Palermo—which boasts historic churches and the gilded mosaics of Monreale—take a guided walking or bike tour. Taormina, by contrast, has been a popular seaside resort for centuries—there's even an ancient Roman theater overlooking the town center, to which some guided tours provide skip-the-line tickets. Near Taormina, the massive volcano of Mount Etna looms over the landscape and makes the soil perfect for growing wine grapes—see for yourself on a tasting tour. The oldest part of Syracuse is the small island of Ortygia, on Sicily's eastern coast, that's designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the southern part of Sicily, the ancient Greek ruins in the Valley of the Temples near Agrigento are also UNESCO listed. The island is ringed by beaches, making Sicily a beloved summer vacation destination for Italians and visitors alike.
Top 10 attractions in Sicily
The most impressive vestige of medieval Catania is the formidable Castle Ursino (Castello Ursino), built by Emperor Frederick II in the early 13th century and now home to the Museo Civico (Civic Museum). Originally built high on the sea cliffs to guard the Sicilian coast, the castle was encircled by lava after the 17th century eruptions of the Mt Etna volcano and now stands 500 meters inland on the cusp of the modern city center. Today, the landlocked castle houses an impressive array of artwork and artifacts, many taken from the personal collections of Prince of Biscari and including a series of Sicilian school paintings, a Hellenistic statue of Polyphemus, a Roman ‘Gladiators’ relief and sizable exhibitions of weaponry, sculptures and porcelain....
The city’s most memorable architectural and navigational landmark, Piazza Duomo is the buzzing center of downtown Catania and a strategic starting point for walking tours of the city. The UNESCO-listed square is encircled with grand buildings, the creative vision of local architect Vaccarini and a prime example of the acclaimed Sicilian Baroque style. Dominating the northern edge of the piazza is the ornate Palazzo Degli Elefanti, now housing the City Hall, while the palatial Cathedral of Sant’Agata looms to the east, flanked by the elegant Bishop’s Palace and the arched walkway of the Porta Uzeda. At the center of the square is Duomo’s star attraction - Giovanni Battista’s Fontana dell'Elefante, a monumental fountain crowned by the city’s emblem - a statue of an elephant carrying an obelisk, sculpted from volcanic rock and dating back to 1736....
You may have heard about the various cultures that have ruled Sicily over the centuries, right? When you look at the Palermo Cathedral, you can see the evidence of each one of them in the crazy assortment of architectural styles on the building. The Palermo Cathedral (officially called Santa Maria Assunta, and sometimes known simply as the Duomo) dates from the late 12th century, built on the site of a temple dating from Ancient Rome. As later conquerors took over from the original Norman builders, they imprinted their own styles on the still-growing building. The exterior includes examples of Norman, Byzantine, Renaissance, and Baroque architectural elements, and they seem to be slapped on top of one another rather than incorporated as parts of a whole. In other words, the cathedral has a somewhat strange patchwork appearance that makes it look like the designers couldn’t make up their minds....
Palermo’s beautiful opera house, the Teatro Massimo, is the largest opera house in the entire country. It’s an important landmark in the center of historic Palermo, and even if you don’t like opera you may be familiar with the theater’s imposing front staircase. The Teatro Massimo was built in the late 1800s, opening in 1897 with a production of “Falstaff” by Giuseppe Verdi. The original plan called for seating for 3,000 in the audience, but the theater seats 1,350 today. There are seven levels of theater boxes in a semi-circle around the seats on the floor, all pointed toward the stage - a design very typical of opera houses at the time. As mentioned, it’s the largest opera house in Italy - and it ranks third in size in Europe....
Palermo’s most famous piazza, the Piazza Pretoria, is just a few steps from the busy Quattro Canti - but a world away in terms of the kind of piazza experience it delivers. The centerpiece of the Piazza Pretoria is the fountain, known as the Fontana Pretoria. It’s huge, designed in the 1550s by a sculptor from Florence named Camilliani. The fountain was originally commissioned for a private villa in Tuscany, but was gifted to the city of Palermo in 1574. City officials had razed several homes to make way for a grand fountain, meant to show off Palermo’s impressive city plumbing, but locals weren’t quite prepared for the fountain’s decorations when it was unveiled. There are 16 figures on the Fontana Pretoria, all of which are entirely or partially nude, that circle the fountain. There is no side from which you can simply enjoy the water itself without seeing a nude statue - which many Palermitans in the late 16th century found scandalous....
One of the best ways to get to know a city is through its food and markets. Mercato di Capo, located near the old city walls, is one of the best markets in Palermo, Italy on the island of Sicily. The stalls in this market sell a wide variety of food including local specialties, fruits and vegetables, meat and fish. The vendors selling local delicacies can be found along Via Volturno. Non-food items can also be found here, such as clothing and souvenirs. When you walk through the market, you will hear vendors yelling or chanting in their Palermo dialect as they try to sell their goods. It is said that the sounds, smells, and sights of this market are some of the best preserved of Sicily's Arab traditions. The market dates back to the times when there was a lot of Muslim influence in this port city, and it has become an important part of the culture. Exploring and shopping at this market is the perfect way to experience Palermo with all your senses....
Some Italian piazzas are picturesque squares where locals stroll in the evenings, or watch their children play, or gossip with the neighbors. And sometimes, as is the case with Palermo’s Quattro Canti, they’re busy intersections. Despite the fact that the Quattro Canti - also known as the Piazza Vigilena - is an intersection that’s often full of cars, it’s still one of the attractions visitors seek out in the city. This is largely because of the four buildings that sit at the four corners of the intersection - “quattro canti” means “four corners” - which are Baroque buildings dating from the early 17th century. The four buildings are almost identical, save for a few details. Each of the four buildings is slightly curved, giving the piazza a rounded footprint, and there are statues in niches that represent the four seasons, the four Spanish kings of Sicily, and the four patron saints of Palermo. Each building is connected to a different Palermo neighborhood....
The church known most commonly as “La Martorana” is an architectural example of Sicily’s changing allegiances over the centuries. The facade alone features three different architectural styles. The Martorana (Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio is the official name) dates back to 1141. You can no longer see the original Norman facade, but you can still see the typical Norman red dome from the exterior. Thankfully, once you’re inside the church, the original 12th century mosaics still shine in all their Byzantine glory. These mosaics are the highlight of a visit to La Martorana, and if you want to see them at their best, go first thing in the morning. Back outside the church, you’ll notice that over the old Norman facade there is now a Baroque facade and a Romanesque bell tower. After the church was completed in the mid-12th century, it was later given to a Benedictine nun by the name of Eloisa Martorana....
Often called the Casa Professa, the Church of the Gesù (Chiesa del Gesù) is one of the most important Baroque churches in Sicily. Built by the Jesuits in the late 16th century on the edge of Palermo’s Jewish Quarter, the church took almost 50 years to build, with help from hundreds of artists and artisans. Inside, visitors will find colorful frescoes, intricate stone carvings and marble reliefs in a stunning setting for reflection and worship. Many of the church’s frescoes were replaced after being destroyed in World War II, but are impressive nonetheless. Look for the paintings covering the dome’s vault, as well as those in the side chapels on the right, such as a depiction of the Adoration of the Magi and of St Paul the Hermit. Marble reliefs from the 18th century depicting the Adoration of the Shepherds and the Adoration of the Magi both survive....
Top activities in Sicily
Frequently Asked Questions
The answers provided below are based on answers previously given by the tour provider to customers’ questions.
What are the top things to do in Sicily?
What are the top activities in Sicily?
Top activities in Sicily include:
Discover the top things to do in Sicily.
- Etna Morning Trip
- Private Agrigento & Scale of the Turks Tour, from Palermo area
- Syracuse, Ortygia and Noto one day small group Tour from Catania
- Taormina and Castelmola from Messina Small Group Tour
- Private tour of Etna Volcano and Etna Winery Visit with Food and Wine Tasting
Discover the top things to do in Sicily.
What are the top things to do near Sicily?
What do I need to know before visiting Sicily?
Things to do near Sicily
- Things to do in Catania
- Things to do in Taormina
- Things to do in Palermo
- Things to do in Agrigento
- Things to do in Syracuse
- Things to do in Messina
- Things to do in Trapani
- Things to do in Amalfi Coast
- Things to do in Puglia
- Things to do in Lazio
- Things to do in Mellieha
- Things to do in Valletta
- Things to do in Abruzzo
- Things to do in Ionian Islands
- Things to do in Sardinia