Italy’s largest island, Sicily has a rich history and culture all its own, with locals usually considering themselves Sicilian first, Italian second. With glittering beaches, bustling cities, charming little villages, a mountainous interior, and archeological sites, Sicily has something for everyone. Here’s our curated guide to five places not to miss.
Sicily’s bustling capital is the best place to immerse yourself in the island’s history and culture. Start with a visit to the Cattedrale di Palermo, a mishmash of Norman, Moorish, Gothic, Baroque, and Neoclassical architecture reflecting Sicily’s many conquerors over the centuries, and the ogle the gold Byzantine mosaics at the nearby Palazzo dei Normanni’s Cappella Palatina. Then head to one of the markets like Ballarò or Vucciria for street food specialties like arancini and panelle.
Where to Stay: Villa Igiea
Purchased in 1899 by the influential Florio family, this seaside villa exudes Belle Epoque glamour. Rocco Forte Hotels recently restored it to its former glory, and its Florio Restaurant—helmed by acclaimed chef Fulvio Pierangelini—is now the city’s hottest place to see and be seen.
The reason to visit Agrigento, on Sicily’s southwestern coast, is to see the incredible Valley of the Temples, which dates back to the ancient Greek era. Plan to spend at least a couple of hours exploring the massive archeological site, which is beautifully illuminated at night. Then make a detour to the Scala dei Turchi, a dramatic white cliff overlooking the sea. Grab a seat at the Lounge Beach bar to watch the sunset while sipping on an Aperol Spritz.
Where to Stay: Verdura Resort
Located about an hour north of Agrigento up the coast, this sprawling resort run by Rocco Forte Hotels combines sleek modern design with Sicilian flair. When you’re not out exploring Agrigento, relax at the private beach or head into the center of Sciacca to shop for artisanal ceramics.
Perched on a cliff high above the glittering Mediterranean Sea, Taormina was an important stop on the Grand Tour—and it’s not hard to see why. Stroll through the center of town, whose streets are lined with shops, cafes, and restaurants (some more touristy than others) and be sure to visit the lovely Villa Comunale gardens for panoramic views of the coast. Taormina also dates back to the era of the Ancient Greeks and has an ancient amphitheater to prove it.
Where to Stay: San Domenico Palace, a Four Seasons Hotel
Four Seasons spared no expense when renovated this 14th-century monastery-turned-hotel. In its heyday, this grand dame hosted royalty, movie stars, and heads of state. Settle into a lounge chair by the infinity pool overlooking the sea, wander the gardens replete with 40 types of citrus trees, and savor Sicilian sushi at the casual restaurant Anciovi.
One of Sicily’s most beautiful Baroque towns, Noto comes alive on summer evenings, when people stroll up and down Corso Vittorio Emanuele, the pedestrianized main street. Pop into boutiques like Colori del Sole, which sells hand-painted textiles, clothing, and accessories and be sure to have breakfast Sicilian style with almond granita and brioche at Caffè Sicilia of Chef’s Table fame.
Where to Stay: 7 Rooms Villadorata
This independently run boutique hotel gives you the rare chance to sleep inside the private wing of Palazzo Nicolaci, Noto’s most stunning Baroque palace. Rooms and suites feature soothing monochromatic color schemes, tile floors, chandeliers, and antiques. The restaurant Manna is a local favorite.
The historic part of Siracusa, Ortigia is an island separated from the mainland by a couple of small bridges. The best way to experience it is to wander through the streets and piazzas, stopping to admire the magnificent Baroque cathedral, the mythical Fonte Aretusa, a freshwater spring where Egyptian papyrus grows, and the ancient Temple of Apollo. Head to the bustling market to buy fresh fruit and sandwiches made with local cheese and salumi at Fratelli Burgio.
Where to Stay: Algilà Ortigia Charme Hotel
Spread out in two Baroque palaces, this charming boutique hotel boasts sea views and rooms decorated with Sicilian antiques and majolica tiles. Alluding to Sicily’s Arab heritage, the main palazzo has a mini riad-style courtyard with a fountain.
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