By Rick Steves
Formats and Prices
- Trade Paperback $21.99 $27.99 CAD
- ebook $15.99 $20.99 CAD
Inside Rick Steves Sicily you'll find:
- Comprehensive coverage for spending a week or more exploring Sicily
- Rick's strategic advice on how to get the most out of your time and money, with rankings of his must-see favorites
- Top sights and hidden gems, from Mount Etna and the Byzantine mosaics of Monreale to the Ballarò street market and Siracusa's puppet museum
- How to connect with culture: Savor seafood-centric cuisine made from ancient recipes, catch an opera performance at the Teatro Massimo, or sample authentic Marsala wine
- Beat the crowds, skip the lines, and avoid tourist traps with Rick's candid, humorous insight
- The best places to eat, sleep, and relax with a glass of local Nero d'Avola
- Self-guided walking tours of lively neighborhoods and incredible museums
- Detailed maps for exploring on the go
- Useful resources including a packing list, a historical overview, and useful Italian phrases
- Over 450 bible-thin pages include everything worth seeing without weighing you down
- Complete, up-to-date information on Palermo, Cefalù, Trapani and the West Coast, Agrigento and the Valley of the Temples, Ragusa and the Southeast, Catania, Taormina, and more
Make the most of every day and every dollar with Rick Steves Sicily.
Expanding your trip? Check out Rick Steves Italy.
Welcome to Rick Steves’ Europe
Travel is intensified living—maximum thrills per minute and one of the last great sources of legal adventure. Travel is freedom. It’s recess, and we need it.
I discovered a passion for European travel as a teen and have been sharing it ever since—through my tours, public television and radio shows, and travel guidebooks. Over the years, I’ve taught thousands of travelers how to best enjoy Europe’s blockbuster sights—and experience “Back Door” discoveries that most tourists miss.
Written with my talented co-author, Sarah Murdoch, this book offers you a balanced mix of Sicily’s lively cities and cozy towns, from bustling Catania to sleepy Cefalù. And it’s selective: Rather than listing dozens of archaeo-logical sites, we recommend only the best ones. Our self-guided museum tours and city walks give insight into the island’s history and today’s living, breathing culture.
We advocate traveling simply and smartly. Take advantage of our money- and time-saving tips on sightseeing, transportation, and more. Try local, characteristic alternatives to expensive hotels and restaurants. In many ways, spending more money only builds a thicker wall between you and what you traveled so far to see.
We visit Sicily to experience it—to become temporary locals. Thoughtful travel engages us with the world, as we learn to appreciate other cultures and new ways to measure quality of life.
Judging from the positive feedback we receive from readers, this book will help you enjoy a fun, affordable, and rewarding vacation—whether it’s your first trip or your tenth.
Buon viaggio! Happy travels!
A Sweet Trip Through Sicily
Sicily’s Top Destinations
Map: Sicily’s Top Destinations
Planning Your Trip
DESIGNING AN ITINERARY
Sicily’s Best Two-Week Trip by Car
Map: Sicily by Car
Sicily’s Best One-Week Trip by Bus and Train
Trip Costs Per Person
BEFORE YOU GO
Stick a Guidebook in Your Ear!
Sicily is a fertile mix of geology and culture. Eruptions from its volcano, a glowing sun, generations of hard work, and wave after wave of civilizations storming through over the centuries—they all come together here, giving visitors a full-bodied travel experience that engages all the senses.
If Italy is one of the most dramatic, flamboyant places in Europe, Sicily is its distilled and intensified sibling—pure passion set in wild beauty. To those who have traveled in other parts of Italy, Sicily may feel similar—but it’s not the same. The beauty is more rugged, the food is more flavorful, and the highs and lows of human history are more extreme. Coming to this island requires not only patience and a sense of adventure, but a willingness to be open to its seductions.
Sicily floats just off the toe of Italy’s boot, like a soccer ball about to be kicked. At about 9,900 square miles, the island can be driven end to end in three hours—a journey that traverses a variety of landscapes, climates, and cultures. This is the only place I can think of where you can marvel at a well-preserved Greek temple, wander through Carthaginian ruins, listen to the Arab-influenced sales pitches of market vendors, dine on African couscous, and admire the glittering mosaics of a Norman cathedral...all in a single day.
Western Sicily is home to Palermo, the busy capital. Ringed by mountains and citrus groves, the once-elegant city has a 19th-century center spiced with fragments of Arab and Norman buildings from a thousand years ago. Nearby is the magnificent Norman cathedral at Monreale. Outside Palermo, this region is quiet and untamed—and often wet and windy—with rolling hills punctuated by jagged mountains and aquamarine waters lapping at windmill-sprinkled salt flats. On the southwest coast is Agrigento, home to an amazing ensemble of cliff-hanging Greek temples.
Twilight Palermo, cradled by mountains; eye-catching ceramics in Erice
Things get drier as you move inland, with rolling fields of wheat. In the island’s arid midsection, dusty medieval hill towns crown peaks scattered along dry riverbeds. Burrowed here, in the middle of nowhere, is the ancient, mosaic-rich Villa Romana del Casale.
Sicily’s sunny eastern side is dominated by Europe’s most active volcano, Mount Etna. From her smoking peak, the mountain slopes gently down to the southeast coast. Surrounding Etna are thriving cities (earthy Catania, historic Siracusa, and resorty Taormina), ancient wonders, and a tropical natural beauty. This side of the island bustles with shopping centers, factories, urban sprawl, and traffic. To the south, deep valleys and rolling green hills lead to a sunny coast strewn with ancient artifacts and wide sandy beaches.
Sicily’s location at the center of the Mediterranean made it a strategic base for successive waves of long-ago invaders—each conquest leaving a mark on the culture and landscape. And that too has had an effect on Sicily’s regional differences.
Carthaginians from North Africa used the west side of the island as a trading base. Meanwhile, the Greeks settled the east side. Ancient ruins lie just beneath the surface all along this coast—remnants of Greek colonies that grew to surpass their homeland in splendor. Today, a cultural divide still remains. The west has traditionally been poorer and more rural, and the east more affluent and cosmopolitan.
The people of Sicily are warm and treat visitors almost as a curiosity. Although English is spotty outside of big cities, that’s never a barrier to conversation, as most Sicilians speak more with their hands than with words.
Sicilians live outdoors, flooding piazzas and outside café tables. Early evening is the time for the ritual passeggiata promenade up and down the main drag. Sit in the town square and soak in the atmosphere, eavesdropping on the spirited conversations. Most people are talking about the same thing: food.
While food may be an art form in Italy, it’s more like a religion in Sicily. Even if you know Italian food well, Sicilian cuisine will surprise you with its complexity—a legacy of its multicultural background. Sicily grows everything from citrus to nuts to tomatoes, and feeds the rest of Italy with its harvests. Produce is fresh, cheap, and plentiful—and sold at markets that more closely resemble an Arab souk than a European marketplace.
Segesta’s photogenic Greek temple; Baroque lava-rock buildings in Catania
Taormina, in Mount Etna’s shadow; locals celebrating one of Sicily’s many religious processions
Family has always been the thread that holds this cultural tapestry together. Several generations often live in close proximity. Most Sicilians can say they reside within a few miles of where their great-grandparents lived. Sundays are set aside for family, with a big lunch or a drive in the country.
Sicily, like Italy, is almost entirely Roman Catholic. Attendance at Mass has sharply declined in the past 20 years, but that hasn’t dampened a spirited participation in religious festivals. Every city has a patron saint who is celebrated effusively with processions, fireworks, and of course, eating.
Sicily lags behind mainland Italy in terms of modernization, but is quickly catching up. Some travelers are put off by the chaotic traffic, broken infrastructure, garbage, and graffiti. Public transit is spotty, opening hours change without notice, and Wi-Fi works when it wants to. Things won’t go the way you expect, and “island time” is firmly in effect.
Rather than seeing these as problems, use them as an invitation to enjoy il dolce far niente (“the sweetness of doing nothing”), and surrender to the island’s charms. Slow your pace, linger over a glass of wine, and breathe the sea air. Embrace, rather than resist the chaos, and open yourself up to the wonders of a place that lives by its own rules.
Sicily’s Top Destinations
Mamma mia! There’s so much to see in Sicily and so little time. This overview breaks Sicily’s top destinations into must-see sights (to help first-time travelers plan their trip) and worth-it sights (for those with extra time or special interests). I’ve also suggested a minimum number of days to allow per destination.
Sicily’s top cities show off the historical and cultural diversity of the island. For the best quick visit, focusing on these two destinations will give you a sampler platter of ancient Greek, Arab, Norman, and late Baroque Sicily, set against a modern backdrop.
▲▲▲Palermo (1-2 days)
Sicily’s sprawling capital is gritty on its face, but its colorful markets and bustling shopping streets signal a fun-loving city in regeneration. Top activities include eating your way through the thriving Ballarò or Capo street markets, touring the massive Teatro Massimo, marveling at glittering mosaics at the Palatine Chapel or La Martorana Church, visiting the eerie Capuchin Crypt, and simply exploring the city’s maze of back streets.
▲▲▲Siracusa (1-2 days)
Once the greatest ancient Greek city on Sicily, today’s Siracusa centers around the lovely, historic island of Ortigia, boasting shabby-chic lanes, a grand Baroque piazza, and a lazy seafront promenade, plus a charming puppet museum/theater and a unique cathedral built on the skeleton of an ancient temple. Even the drab, urban, mainland part of town is worth a visit for its ancient sites, archaeological museum, spooky catacombs, and modern church.
Opposite: Byzantine mosaics of Monreale
This page: Palermo back street, Siracusa beach, Ballarò street market, and Siracusa’s Puppet Museum
Opposite: Inlaid mosaic columns of Monreale’s cloister
This page: Monreale Cathedral, mosaic floor at Villa Romana del Casale, picturesque Cefalù hugging the coast, and a golden sunset in Trapani
You can weave any of these destinations—rated ▲ or ▲▲—into your itinerary. It’s easiest to add destinations based on proximity (if you’re going to Palermo, Cefalù is next door), but some out-of-the-way places can merit the journey, depending on your time and interests.
▲▲Monreale Cathedral (half-day)
An easy side trip from Palermo, this hilltop cathedral is known for its well-preserved interior, wallpapered with golden Byzantine mosaics, and an adjoining Benedictine monastery.
▲▲Cefalù (1 day)
This fishing-turned-beach-bum village, an hour from Palermo, has a charming old town center with a Norman cathedral, fine seafood options, and an inviting, sandy beach.
▲Trapani & the West Coast (1-2 days)
The laid-back port town of Trapani, famous for its nearby salt flats, makes an easy home base for day trips to the hilltop village of Erice, fishing island of Favignana, Carthaginian ruins at Mozia, and ancient ruins of Segesta and Selinunte.
▲▲Agrigento (1 day)
This town, on the southern coast, is home to Sicily’s premier ancient attraction: the Greek ruins at the Valley of the Temples, with a fine archaeological museum nearby.
▲▲Villa Romana del Casale (half-day)
Deep in the middle of the island, this remote palace ruin has the largest collection of Roman mosaics ever found in situ—with 32,000 exquisite square feet detailing wild animal hunts, myths, and chariot races.
▲▲Ragusa & the Southeast (1-2 days)
The southeastern corner of Sicily is packed with rolling hills and picturesque towns—the finest being Ragusa, with higgledy-piggledy stone homes blanketing two adjacent hilltops. From here, Modica (famous for chocolate), the valley village of Scicli, the scenic southern coastline, and the showcase Baroque city of Noto are within reach.
Sicily’s second city and the de facto capital of the east, workaday Catania is most useful as a transportation hub. Still, its rejuvenated Baroque city center is worth a visit for its splashy fish market, hidden Roman theater, and rare-in-Italy WWII museum.
▲▲Mount Etna (1 day)
The most active volcano in Europe is also the top tourist sight in Sicily. Activities include hikes in a lunar landscape, a visit to the steaming summit, and tours and tastings at up-and-coming wineries on its north slope.
▲Taormina (1 day)
Perched cliffside overlooking the sea, this cushy resort town with a Grand Tour vibe offers enjoyable views of Mount Etna, a dramatic Greek-Roman Theater, easy access to the island’s east side, and the chance to rub shoulders with high-end tourists.
Catania fish market; a view of stair-stepped Ragusa
Planning Your Trip
To plan your trip, you’ll need to design your itinerary—choosing where and when to go, how you’ll travel, and how many days to spend at each destination. For my best advice on sightseeing, accommodations, restaurants, and transportation, see the Practicalities chapter.
DESIGNING AN ITINERARY
As you read this book and learn your options...
Choose your top destinations.
My recommended itineraries (see the next page) give you an idea of how much you can reasonably see in one or two weeks, but you can adapt the plans to fit your own interests and time frame.
City lovers could spend three or four days in Palermo, taking in the 19th-century atmosphere, exploring the churches and many interesting museums, and day-tripping to nearby sights. Wine connoisseurs could spend several days in the countryside (especially along the slopes of Mount Etna) sampling regional vintages. And beach bums could easily lose a week idling on the sandy beaches at Cefalù.
Decide when to go.
Sicily is one of the few European destinations that is open year-round. March through June and October are ideal, with few crowds, lots of festivals, and mild weather. The days leading up to Easter are full of celebrations, and worth planning around. July and August are hot and can be crowded—especially at beaches and resorts. September is the busiest (and most expensive) month. Note that even at its liveliest, the island is far less crowded than the big, mainland Italian cities.
- On Sale
- Dec 5, 2023
- Page Count
- 496 pages
- Rick Steves