Choosing the best area to stay in Sicily is not an easy task, as it is a large island with many cities, towns and coastal resorts with great charm and tourist attraction.It was a historical crossroads between the western and eastern Mediterranean, but also a passage between the north and the south, between Africa and Europe. The synthesis of this geographical situation can still be felt today in the multiculturalism, in the colours of the ancient and present culture of the Italian island.
For this reason alone, Sicily is worth discovering in its natural environment.
The best areas to stay in Sicily
Palermo, Catania, Cefalù, Taormina, Trapani, Messina, Syracuse, Noto, Agrigento, Ragusa and Milazzo are the most attractive destinations to know Sicily in depth, from coast to coast, from end to end.Palermo is the capital of Sicily, a chaotic city, chaotically attractive.It is situated on the northwest coast and in its urban and periurban area 1.3 million inhabitants are concentrated, it is a very old place of occupation, some caves in the area go back to their origins 10.000 years ago.Since the 1980s, Palermo has experienced a growing development, based, above all, on tourism and the service sector.
The city has preserved this long multicultural past in a rich heritage on the border between Europe and Africa. In Palermo, you can’t miss its cathedral, with its curious Moorish decoration on the façade, its treasure chamber and the tomb of Emperor Frederick II.The Capella Palatina, located in the centre of the city, is a very well preserved example of Byzantine architecture (12th century) and a prodigy of artistic creativity. The Palazzo dei Normanni was the palace of the Norman kings of Sicily and is one of the oldest royal palaces in Europe.
And if the idea is to go through the whole past of this part of Sicily stone by stone, a recommendation, to approach the Archaeological Museum of Palermo. It is a permanent exhibition with a very didactic approach and with which it is easy to discover every historical period through the traces left by every people and civilization.
But to let you be surprised, the Martorana, that of the Cathedral of Santa Maria dell’Admiral, which offers a collage of styles in Piazza Bellini, where the famous Font Pretoria is, near Piazza Quatro Canti.The Martorana leaves no one indifferent.
As does the Capuchin Abbey and its catacombs.The catacombs contain a total of more than 8,000 remains.
A visit to the small church of San Giovanni degli Eremiti, built in the 6th century, is recommended.
For those who are looking for the green of nature in a unique place, the recommendation is to leave Palermo and go to Monte Pellegrino, a place where the people of Palermo come in search of tranquillity.A bus service covers the distance between the city and the mountain on a regular basis from Politeama.
Another memorable experience is to eat at the popular markets of Palermo.Noise, aromas, fresh fruit, local vegetables, cakes and sweets are guaranteed.
In summer, you can feel the Mediterranean at the best beach in the area, Mondello beach, 15 minutes from downtown.Palermo is a good choice to stay in Sicily if you want to enjoy the culture, the beaches in a summer holiday and the local gastronomy.
To move in Palermo, the best is to do it by bus (yellow and red lines), to do it quickly, the subway, whose convoys pass every thirty minutes (from the Central Station).It is also advisable to rent scooters and bicycles, but not rental cars to move around the center, the traffic jams are as monumental as Palermo itself.
Palermo offers a wide range of accommodation in Sicily at reasonable prices, including holiday rentals and apartments.
– Accommodation in Palermo
Catania follows Palermo, the second most important city in Sicily and even more so if you consider it as an economic centre, located on the east coast of the island and with a very old occupation.
Carthaginians, Romans and Ostrogoths lived in Catania during the Renaissance and it is one of the most influential cities of that period with remarkable buildings and a heritage that can be seen in its museums.
From Catania you can see on the horizon Mount Etna, one of the few active volcanoes in Europe.In Catania, do not miss a visit to the Cathedral of St. Agata, a masterpiece of Norman and Baroque architecture.The square is near the port and is a meeting place for the people of the city. In the centre of the square, you can see two monumental fountains, the Fontana Dell’Elefante and the Fontana Dell’Amenano, behind which is the Palazzo degli Elefanti which is an option to visit if you have extra time.
Sicily has several castles, the most important one in Catania is the Ursino, a relic of the 13th century, which contains the very interesting Civic Museum that has a collection of pieces from all the ages and that help to understand the sense of presence of the civilizations that settled in the area of the city.
A place to visit in Catania is the Monastery of the Benedettini which is one of the largest of its kind in Europe.It dates back to the 16th century and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Inside, look for the so-called Marble Cloister, the Red Hall and the Basilica of San Nicolo, which are simply stunning. The best views of Catania can be seen from the top of the dome of the monastery’s basilica.
To see a lot of Catania in a small space, the best thing is to go to Via dei Crociferi, which is between the Roman Theatre and Giardini Bellini, where you can see four churches that are very representative of the art of the city: San Francesco Borgia, San Benedetto, San Francesco Assisi and San Giuliana.
Other optional visits in a travel guide to Catania, can include the church of San Nicola l’Arena, the Roman Theatre, Porta Garibaldi and the urban parks of Giardini Bellini, the Orto Botanico and Parco Maestranze which are perfect for airing and shading a day of sun and heat.
The Lido Azzurro is a beach near Catania to cool down in the Mediterranean under the same environmental conditions.
But to stay in Sicily and to stay in Catania just to see the Etna from far away, does not make much sense.You have to experience it, feel its vibrations, hear its roars, and there is nothing better than making an excursion to the volcano from Catania itself.
The bus is a good option to move between neighborhoods and districts in Catania.
The best area to stay in Sicily in Catania is undoubtedly the historical centre near the Duomo, or, if necessary, in the reasonably priced medium-low level hotels near the bus station (via Archimede).
– Accommodation in Catania
Cefalù is a Sicilian city also north coast of the island.It has a beautiful fishing port and an interesting ancient shell. The original settlement of the city was built on a rock, the Rocca di Cefalù, in Phoenician times.The rock is partly covered by pines and is 269 meters high above sea level.
And after the Phoenicians, came the Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and Normans who left their mark on the area.One of these marks in stone is the cathedral, which is one of the most important medieval buildings in Sicily, the temple is a somewhat chaotic mixture of styles, but perhaps that’s why it’s worth seeing in all its details.
One museum that should be seen is the Cathedralisca near the Piazza del Duomo and the cathedral.It gathers remains found in different archaeological excavations. The best thing is its collection of Greek and Arab ceramics.
A unique location in Cefalù is the Temple of Diana, a megalithic environment formed by piles of stones without mortar that is a religious center of Sicily.
A curiosity, the Lavatoio, a kind of medieval laundry with water supplied by 22 taps and where clothes were washed in the urban centre, today in via Vittorio Emanuele.
A recommended activity in Cefalù, also on hot days, is to go to the Lungomare Giuseppe Giardina, the most important beach in the town, which is just a stone’s throw from the historic centre.
Recommended visits, if you have more time in Cefalù, are those to the Church of Santo Stefano which has an extraordinary baroque façade; the Church of Marta SS della Catena of the 18th century, in Piazza Garibaldi and the Hosterium Magnum, the official residence of the Norman King Roger II in the 14th century.
Four city bus lines connect Cefalù with its neighbourhoods and with other nearby towns.The train station of Cefalù, which connects the town with other Sicilian towns, is about ten minutes walk from the town centre.
At bedtime in Sicily and in Cefalù, there is a good relationship of small hotels run by local families which are an extra attraction to feel at home.
Taormina is a town on the east coast of Sicily that also has Etna on its horizon. Taormina is popularly known for its well-preserved Greek theatre, but its baroque churches must also be on any travel list.The most commercial streets, the urban gardens and its castle, of course, are there too.
The Greek Theatre of Taormina is the main course.it was built in the 3rd century BC, but it was rebuilt in the Roman style in the 2nd century BC.it could hold more than 5,000 spectators and its diameter is impressive, 109 metres.its original acoustics are still preserved, you just have to clap your hands.
The streets of Taormina seem to have been made for walking. Everything is within walking distance.
The Cathedral of San Nicola mixes a very evident medieval style with contributions from the 17th century that are peculiar adding all the parts of the outside of the temple.Inside, there are two capital paintings, the 15th century Visit to the Virgin Mary and by Antonio Giuffrè and the Madonna and Child with Saints by Antonello da Saliba, painted in 1504.
One of the best views of Etna and the bay can be seen from Piazza IX Aprile, in the area of the church of San Giuseppe, a temple with a baroque exuberance reminiscent of the scrolls of a cone ice cream.
A recommended combined physical and cultural activity is to follow, or rather climb, the Via Circonvallazione, a street that runs parallel to Corso Umberto, a stepped street that ascends to the Castle of Taormina at almost 400 meters above sea level, to see the fortress.
You can also visit as an extra in Taormina, the Palazzo Corvaja, from the 15th century, which hosted the old parliament of the Sicilian nobility and the gothic church of Sant’Agostino.
The best accommodations in Taormina are not luxurious but located. The best places to stay in Sicily in this area and to wake up with incredible views are the small hotels and apartments in the area of the cliffs over the sea.
– Accommodation in Taormina
Trapani is a city on the western edge of Sicily.Trapani is a city that seems to have been taken from the other side of the Mediterranean. Trapani seems African just by counting the turns that the narrow streets of its laboratory historical center.
The main street of Trapani and where the traveler has to put the axis of his compass is the via Garibaldi that was organized urbanistically in the eighteenth century by the Aragonese who sat their commercial real in those days in this part of Sicily.
But the street to be taken into account when shopping is the Via Torrearsa. Further on, in that street, there is the bustling Pescheria, the local fish market where tuna is king.
The nearby Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, in the same area, is once again reminiscent of Africa with its palm trees. In the street Corso Vittorio Emanuele – Rua Grande for the locals – is that of the (baroque) palaces, such as the Palazzo Senatorio, the 17th century town hall, which is decorated in pink marble.
On the route, you can visit the Cathedral, which is dedicated to San Lorenzo. Another important church in Trapani is Santa Maria del Gesù, in via San Pietro, with a façade that incorporates Gothic and Renaissance elements.
The construction dates back to the first half of the 16th century and the extraordinary Madonna degli Angeli by Andrea della Robbia can be seen inside.
If you have time, you can also include other historical sites of value such as the church of Sant’Agostino, in Piazzetta Saturno, near the local tourist office; the church of Purgatorio, also from the 17th century and the Santuario dell’Annunziata, which houses the main museum of the city.
A charming place near Trapani is the area of the salt mines, exploited since ancient times and part of the value of this coast for those who historically settled here.The Trapani bus station is located in the port area, the train station is in via Giuseppe Mazzini, near the port area.When it comes to finding accommodation in Sicily in the Trapani area, the offer of small hotels and seaside apartments are the most recommended for trips in summer and with family or friends.
– Accommodation in Trapani
Most of the travellers who arrive by sea to Sicily do it through the port of Messina.Messina is a worthy gateway to discover what the great Italian island has to offer.
Its position in the channel that separates it from the Italian mainland has made it a commercial city developed around tourism and the cruise sector, far ahead of the export of agricultural products.
The sweet climate of the city and the great value of its historical sites, especially its architecture, is a combination as favourable to curious travellers as it is unavoidable. To open your mouth in Messina, start by visiting the cathedral.
The cathedral suffered the ravages of the Second World War and had to be rebuilt on the original design and with the same materials.The square where the cathedral stands is another of the city’s attractions with its Orione Fountain, the church’s bell tower and its shops, cafes and popular restaurants.
If the cathedral had to be rebuilt, the church of Santissima Annunziata dei Catalani remains with its original Norman style appearance not far from the square.
We recommend you to visit the Regional Museum of Messina, where you can discover the historical evolution of the area and it deserves attention also the Cemetery, which is said to be the most beautiful cemetery in Italy.
The train to move to the other important cities of Sicily and the bus to do it inside the city, are the two perfect combinations to guarantee the mobility in the area.
In Messina, the most modern urban hotels stand out for being good for a accommodation in Sicily, comfortable and reasonably cheap to be located in the area of the historical center and the port.
– Accommodation in Messina
Syracuse is located south east of the Sicilian coast.It is one of the most ancient cities of the Mediterranean and today it breathes like a provincial capital proud of its catalogue of historical sites: the Greek Theatre, the Temple of Apollo and the Maniace Castle are the three attractions to be marked with a cross.
The Greek Theatre is part of an archaeological site that can be visited in the western part of the city, built in the 5th century BC and in its cavea were seen works by legendary figures of Greek literature such as Aischylos and Sophocles.The whole is one of the best preserved in Sicily.
Near the theatre, you can see the Roman amphitheatre, well preserved as well.
The Temple of Apollo is located on the island of Ortigia -the historical centre of Syracuse- and was built in the 6th century B.C. It is the oldest in Sicily and has been preserved thanks to its later reuse.
The Castle of Maniace, the other great star of Syracuse, is also located on the island of Ortigia and was built in the 13th century with stones from the quarries of Latomia.
The bus station and the railway station are near the port. Stay in Sicily in the area of Syracuse, better if in hotels near the coast, ideal to combine beach, good weather and Mediterranean.
Noto is a small town in the hinterland of southern Sicily, a very rural location. De Noto is rightly said to be the capital of baroque Sicily. The town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for the value of those historical buildings that are built in the city.Only ancient churches add up to 36 temples.
Noto is also, as all the guides say, a small provincial town that lives slowly and settles in the Asinaro Valley, among olive, orange and almond trees.
A place to stay in Sicily and to live it from inside in small hotels like the ones that are often used as bed & breakfast among its streets, ideal for ecotourism.
Via a via, the main street of Noto is Corso Vittorio Emanuele, where there are 3 squares: the Immacolata, the Municipality and the XVI Maggio.It can be reached through the Royal Door, inherited from the Bourbon dynasty.
Within these streets, the church of San Francesco with its impressive staircase and, inside, the painting of the Madonna and Child of great artistic value, is to be seen.Another impressive staircase is that of the cathedral which is near a palace of great interest, Palazzo Ducezio.
Every year a curious flower festival is held in via Nicolaci, the \’Infiorata di Noto\’, which attracts visitors from all over the world who do not want to miss the mosaics formed by flower petals (first Sunday in May).
– Accommodation in Noto
Agrigento is a Sicilian town on the south-east coast of the island, a touristic town on a series of hills overlooking the Mediterranean, Agrigento is famous for its «Valle dei Templi», the only visit made by the cruise ship passengers who set foot in its port, but Agrigento offers much more than this popular excursion.
A more complete itinerary should include the local archaeological museum, the Duomo and the church of Santa Maria dei Greci but it is necessary to go in parts: the Valley of the Temples -which is actually a hillow- is a group of ruins that belonged to the Greek cities of Akragas and Agrigentum successively.
The Temple of Hercules is the oldest of all, dating from the 6th century BC and was built shortly after the Greeks founded the city.The temple that follows in an order of visit is that of the Concodid, which is said to be one of the best preserved in the world.
Then follows that of Hera which preserves a huge altar and masonry steps with the traces of a fire that destroyed it in 406 BC.Then follows the temple of Zeus the Olympian, which is one of the largest built in Greek times (110 meters long) and whose ruins extend over a very large area.
To see the temples, you can take the local bus lines 1, 2 and 3 which are quite frequent.About other things to see in the city, the above mentioned, you must see the Archaeological Museum of Agrigento, which is an invaluable complement to understand the impact of Greek and Roman cultures in this part of Sicily and in its contemporary Mediterranean.
The cathedral, on the other hand, must be discovered in the most ancient part of the city, among its network of narrow alleys and streets, as steep as they are picturesque.Santa Maria dei Greci has the charm of letting you see the foundations of the Greek temple dedicated to the goddess Athena on which it stands.
– Accommodation in Agrigento
Ragusa is a small town in the south of Sicily, also rural and surrounded by fields that invite you to discover the surroundings.Ragusa rose from its ashes after the devastating earthquake of 1693, a circumstance that left a good sign: the temples that were built with the popular fervour of those times were built under the sign of the last baroque.
Today, the churches of Ragusa are an open-air art gallery and, quite rightly, as a whole they are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the city, you have to drop in on Ragusa Ibla, the old town, a conglomerate of narrow, winding streets that hides its treasures.
From Piazza della Repubblica, a long flight of steps leads to the baroque church of Anime in Purgatory and to the vicinity of two palaces of extraordinary architecture, Cosentini and Bertini.But we must not leave behind the Cathedral of San Giovanni which is not in Piazza di Duomo, in its most logical place, in that square, we can see the Church of San Giorgio.
The Cathedral of San Giovanni is a construction that pays homage to the rococo, the most persistent baroque in its genre.The list of Baroque churches in Ragusa includes Santa Maria dell’Itria, Santissime Anime del Purgatorio, San Giuseppe and Santa Maria delle Scale.
For those who want to know more about the monuments in the area, we recommend that you visit the town of Modica, which also suffered from the earthquake and was rebuilt in style.It is 15 kilometres from Ragusa and there are regular buses connecting both towns.
In Ragusa, it is worth staying in small hotels.Mobility in the area is assured by the occasional bus services from the bus station at the other end of via Zama.
– Accommodation in Ragusa
Milazzo is an important town on the north-eastern coast of Sicily.It is west of Messina and is one of the best known (and most visited) for its beach and historic centre. It is also a good choice for accommodation in Sicily.
On entering the historical centre, the first thing the visitor comes across is the Sanctuary of San Francesco di Paola which dates back to the 18th century and was built on the site of an earlier 15th century church.Inside, in the chapel of Jesus and Mary, there is an altar decorated with carved and gilded wood, in the centre of which is the Madonna and Child by Domenico Gagini.
A little further away, you can see the 16th century Palazzo del Vicerei, which was enlarged in the 18th century with Baroque balconies.Following via Santo Domenico, you reach the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of the XVI century.
A monument not to be missed is the XVI century Castle of Milazzo, characterized by three lines of walls.
The Lower Town is the most recent ancient part of Milazzo and dates back to the 18th century, revolving around Piazza Caio Duilio.in via Cumbo Borgia, there is the New Cathedral, a building dating back to the 1930s in which there are some valuable paintings by Antonello de Saliba and other religious paintings attributed to Antonio Giuffrè (14th century).