This Eastern Sicily itinerary is a guest post from Kasey Husk.
Ah, Sicily, you’re simply gorgeous.
While you may think this is a tiny island that can be knocked off your list in a few days, You’d be terribly wrong.
Eastern Sicily alone is home to Italy’s tallest and most active volcano, gorgeous beaches, ancient temples, Baroque churches and some of the best food on the planet.
Big Italian cities like Rome, Florence and Venice might come to mind most when people think of Italy, but Eastern Sicily has a little something for everyone.
So as you can probably see already, Sicily is a whole hell of a lot bigger than you’ve imagined.
I moved to here in October 2016, and even still I haven’t come close to seeing everything I want to check out around here. That said, 10 days in Sicily should give you some time to get a taste of everything in the Eastern part of the island, while trying to keep to a more “Sicilian” pace.
Try not to be in a big hurry on this island—no one else is and you’ll just end up frustrated. And remember, everything is always “va bene” (all right!).
This itinerary is designed to be done by car, with no more than a couple hours in the car on any given stretch.
I’ve assumed you’ll be visiting in summer or early fall, but if you aren’t going at those times you can easily replace beach days with other activities. With so much to do here in Eastern Sicily, filling the time is not an issue!
Sicily Itinerary Day 1: Arrive In Catania
After you grab your car, it’s time to hit the road! If you like cities, I’d suggested popping into downtown Catania to see its famous fish market, as well as the adjacent Cattedrale di Sant’Agata and Elephant Square.
After you’ve had your fill of the city, head for the mountain town of Nicolosi, your base for the next two nights.
Choose from several lovely B&Bs on the mountain and grab dinner at one of the city’s excellent restaurants. I recommend Antico Orto dei Limoni or Osteria Garibaldi.
If you are feeling adventurous, tackle a ropes course at the nearby Monti Rossi Adventure Park before dinner. If not, go hunt up some cocktails or coffee at the pastry shop Marialuisa until restaurants start opening around 7:30 p.m.
Accommodation in Nicolosi for the Next Two Nights:
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Sicily Itinerary Day 2: Mount Etna
You can’t say you’ve really seen Eastern Sicily without a closer look at one of her most recognizable landmarks! Start your day with a visit to Mount Etna, the largest of Italy’s three active volcanos and the second largest in all of Europe.
If you fancy hiking, there are several trails you can try. I recommend the Schiena dell’Asino trail (“Back of the Donkey”), which will take you to a gorgeous view of the Valle del Bove.
If hiking isn’t your jam, drive up to Etna Sud instead and walk a short way to see the Silvestri Crateri (crater) or hop onto the cable car to see how high up the volcano you can get! Renting quad bikes for a tour is also a fun (but pricey) way of seeing the mountain.
Later, recover from your exertions on Mount Etna by enjoying one of Sicily’s famous agriturismo meals, preferably paired with a wine tasting! If you are in town on a Sunday, I recommend driving about 30 minutes to Murgo Winery for a three-hour, multi-course lunch, and wine tasting. (Make a reservation by e-mailing [email protected]).
If you aren’t here on a Sunday, head there for dinner instead. Always end your meal with un caffe (espresso)!
Sicily Itinerary Day 3: Taormina
It’s time to head out for perhaps Sicily’s most famous town: Taormina (one hour drive). One of the most gorgeous towns in Sicily, Taormina has been a favorite of artists and authors since the 19th century. Come visit and you’ll see quickly see why.
[box] TIP: Park your car at the Parcheggio Lumbi, and wait outside for the shuttle bus that will take you up into the city where trust me, you can’t and shouldn’t try to drive. [/box]
If you take the shuttle bus, you’ll be dropped off right outside a stone archway that leads onto Taormina’s Corso Umberto I, Taormina’s Michigan Avenue.
I’d suggest heading first-thing for the Teatro Greco, the spectacular Greek theatre that is one of Taormina’s main attractions. As Taormina’s major attraction it can get busy, but heading there early is a good idea to beat the crowd.
From there, I’d suggest grabbing some granita—an Italian shaved ice of sorts—at Bam Bar. Don’t forget to ask for cream and brioche as well! While everywhere in Taormina sells granita, don’t settle for anything less than Bam Bar, which is far and away the best.
Lines can get long here in the afternoon, so going in the morning is your best bet.
Don’t worry, in eastern Sicily granita is often eaten for breakfast. (But don’t ask for it for breakfast in Cefalu, you’ll get some strange looks!).
I’d suggest from here heading back to Corso Umberto and start walking! You’ll pass a couple of churches and “the narrowest street in the world” – which will appear very much to be just a narrow staircase that leads up to a restaurant.
Shortly after that, you’ll enter the Piazza XI Aprile, a place that screams “Sicily” in every way. Take in a view of the sea and of Mount Etna, check out some local artists at work and listen to accordion players—of course—playing traditional Italian love songs. Bliss.
Grab some lunch at a nearby restaurant; if you don’t mind spending a little, I’d suggest grabbing an outdoor table in any pretty cafe– we haven’t had a bad meal anywhere yet. If you are looking for a cheap, quick Sicilian meal, consider popping by Da Cristina or StritFud for takeaway pizze, panini or arancini.
Midafternoon is a great time to visit the expansive Villa Comunale Gardens (just follow the signs), where you’ll find pretty landscaping, amazing sea views, World War II memorabilia and exotic birds.
You can stay overnight in Taormina today, but given my aversion to staying in places for only one night I’d suggest pressing on to Cefalu (2.5 hours away, nice scenic drive) in the late afternoon – unless, of course, you’d had a few too many cocktails!
[box] Note: If you aren’t going to be in Sicily for beach season, or aren’t interested in going to the beach, I’d suggest staying in Taormina longer—checking out Castelmola and Isola Bella—and skipping Cefalu.[/box]
Accommodation in Cefalu for the Next two Nights:
Sicily Itinerary Day 4: Cefalu
Today it is time to hit the beach—one of Sicily’s best beaches, in fact! And unlike what you probably noticed in Taormina, this will be a sandy beach. If you are already in Cefalu, great. If not, leave Taormina early so you can get a full day on the beach in Cefalu.
Once you arrive, I’d suggest heading to the beach and renting a chair at one of the many lidos. The umbrellas provide some welcome relief from the sun, you can order a drink right on the beach and they’ll keep an eye on your stuff if you leave for lunch—well worth the cost, in my mind.
When you need a break from the sun, take a walk in the heart of Cefalu. Pop your head into the old Roman baths (Lavatoio Medievale) as you walk, then watch some waves from the large fishing pier.
For dinner you’ll find plenty of great options with outdoor seating; I recommend Tivitti and Al Gabbiano.
Sicily Itinerary Day 5: Turkish Steps
Enjoy a leisurely morning having caffe and cornetti in one of the many picturesque cafes in Cefalu, and pop in to check out the 12-century Duomo di Cefalu. From there, it’s time to head to Agrigento (2 hours).
By now it is probably approaching the heat of the day, so I’d suggest heading out to nearby Realmonte to see the Scala dei Turchi, aka the Turkish Steps. The white marl cliff has been weathered to look like steps, and according to legend, the “Turks” (Saracen pirates/Moors) could park their boats here, climb the “steps” and raid the port city of Realmonte. How true this is, I couldn’t tell you.
You can bring your bathing suits, but be warned that you might find the beach a little seaweedy. Seeing the steps is worth the trip, however!
Accommodation in Agrigento for the Next Two Nights:
Sicily Itinerary Day 6: Agrigento
It’s time to see Agrigento’s most famous attractions: the Valley of the Temples!
Right off the bat, I’ll warn you that if you are here in summer or even fall, it is likely to be very hot. Beat the heat as best you can by heading out first thing in the morning, and be sure to bring water because you’ll be doing a lot of walking. I think you’ll find the place worth the effort.
Agrigento has been occupied for thousands of years, and hundreds of thousands of people were living in the then-Greek city—called Akragas at that time—as early as 580 BC. Its biggest attraction, the Valley of the Temples, includes the remains of seven Greek temples, including one of the best-preserved Doris temple in the world: the Tempio di Concordia.
Sicily Itinerary Day 7: Ragusa
Head to the town of Ragusa today, one of seven cities that make up the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Val di Noto.
You’ll want to head to Ragusa Ibla, pausing to take in the view of the city from the top of a cliff before following a winding road down into the city center.
Take some time to admire the picturesque city streets as you wander toward the Baroque Duomo di San Giorgio, the city’s most striking building.
After you see the church, linger in the lovely piazza just outside and consider stopping at Gelati Divini, an ice cream shop that specializes in wine-flavored ice creams (because, when in Italy, right?). Try the Moscato flavor—it is like nothing you’ve ever had before.
If you are tired of walking, consider catching the tourist train from the Piazza; it is a bit cheesy, but a nice way to take a look around (and rest those feet).
Accommodation in Ragusa for the Next Two Nights:
Sicily Itinerary Day 8: Modica
Pack your car, wear your stretchy pants, and head to Modica, because today is chocolate day! Modica, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, is only 30 minutes away from Ragusa and not to be missed.
I’d suggest booking a tasting and tour ahead of time to learn about the creation of the Modica-style chocolate, which is quite unlike most Europe-style chocolates. Rather than being melted with butter, milk, and sugar, Modica chocolate is ground together with sugar and flavorings and “cold-processed,” meaning the temperature never gets above 40 Celsius.
This process brought to Sicily by the Spanish, who acquired it from the Aztecs in the “New World,” gives the chocolate a distinctive grainy texture that makes it so interesting. Try everything, but be sure not to miss the vanilla-flavored chocolate!
Spend some time wandering and taking in the sights of Modica, including the fabulous Chiesa di San Giorgio, a church considered to be Rosario Gagliardi’s great masterpiece and “one of the seven wonders of the Baroque world.” Along the way, you’ll run into many more chocolate shops, all of which are offering free samples. Do with that information what you will!
While dining in Ragusa and Modica, be sure to indulge in the area’s signature hearty meat sauces. In Modica, I’d suggest trying either A Putia Ro’Vinu or Osteria dei Sapari Perduli, both of which are open for lunch.
From here, I’d suggest moving on to Siracusa/Ortigia (about 90 minutes away) for the evening to get a jump on the next day, but you could just as easily spend another night in Ragusa.
Sicily Itinerary Day 9: Ortigia
Congratulations, you are wrapping up your road trip in one of Sicily’s most fabulous places! Like much of Sicily, Siracusa has a long and varied past characterized by frequent changes in ownership. At one point, it was among the most powerful cities of the ancient world.
Straight off the bat, I’d suggest checking out everything on the island of Ortigia— which is connected to the rest of Siracusa by a pair of bridges. Leave your car at the Parcheggio Talete by the seaside, then from there, you’ll run right into the city’s bustling farmer’s market. From there, you’ll catch sight of the remains of the Temple of Apollo, which dates back to 570 B.C.
You won’t want to miss a visit to the Duomo di Siracusa, a fabulous cathedral that in many ways mirrors the history of Siracusa itself. The exterior is the lovely Baroque style that we see frequently on the east side of Sicily as a result of the 1693 earthquake that destroyed so much of the area.
On the inside, however, you find elements from its varied past, which included being built on the site of a Temple of Athena in the 7th Century, being turned into a mosque by the Moors, and then going back to being a church after the Norman conquest.
I’d suggest having either lunch or dinner at La Volpe e L’Uva (The Fox and the Grape), a trendy spot right across from the cathedral. Unlike most Sicilian restaurants, it has pizza during the day and let me tell you—they are fabulous. Try its namesake pizza, La Volpe e L’Uva. You won’t regret it.
There’s plenty more to see in Ortigia depending on your interests—see a post here for more details! But if you want to take in a bit more Vitamin Sea, it also close to several great sandy beaches. If you want a lido experience (beach chairs, restaurants, etc), drive about half an hour to Fontane Bianche.
If you’d prefer to just toss a towel on some sand – and feel like doing some cliff—try Cassibile Nature Reserve instead.
If you opt to hang around in Ortigia, you can check out Castello Maniace, an unfurnished castle that dates back to the 1230s and was built by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. You can also book a boat tour from Ortigia, which can take you around the island and even to see some nearby sea caves.
For dinner, you’ll find many highly-rated restaurants around; consider giving Da Salvo or Osteria Apollonion a try!
Accommodation in Ortigia for the Next Two Nights:
Sicily Itinerary Day 10: Siracusa
Before you head out of town, I’d suggest heading to Siracusa’s archaeological park (Parco Archeologico Della Neoplis) to see its 5th-century Greek theater, Roman theater, and the Orecchio di Dionisio, the “Ear of Dionysius.” It’s 10 euro to get in, but very interesting! Going in the morning is best, as it can get crowded.
Alternatively, you can use this opportunity to hit the beach (if you didn’t yesterday!).
When it is time to pack your bags for your next destination, the Catania airport is an easy 45 minutes of highway driving from Siracusa.
Exploring Sicily By Car:
Sicily by car is really, the best way to see it. There’s nothing quite like having the freedom to do what you want when you want. Sure, the driving may be a little be hectic from time to time and parking isn’t fun, but the freedom more than makes up for it.
Who is off to Eastern Sicily, Italy soon? Let us know your plans in the comments!
Kasey Husk is a travel blogger who lives in Sicily with her husband and two young children. She blogs about family travel at Babies With Backpacks, where she details her tricks and tips for making the most of a vacation with your offspring, as well as her family’s many misadventures.
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Nina Ragusa is an adventurer, messy bun master, breakfast fan, and full-time travel blogger. She’s been abroad and epically failing at the American Dream since 2011. Her sassy yet informative blog, Where in the World is Nina? is all about how to work abroad to live a more adventurous life. If you want to travel longer you have to work to wander.