One Week Sicily Travel Itinerary
Itinerary by Andrew Mattison (a scholar, gentleman, and writer at First Time Visiting).
Sicily attracts those far and wide to its beautiful picturesque island landscape. With so much to offer, from active volcano tours to leisure by the beach and a troth of Roman, Greek and Arab cultural relics and influences, it may seem hard to decide how to maximize any amount of time on this unique island. This article provides a one week Sicily itinerary, focusing your time in the beautiful cities of Taormina, Palermo, and Syracuse (the places you must visit while in Sicily).
How do I get there?
You have two options: fast or slow.
First of all, you can find a flight to Palermo or another Sicilian city. However, Palermo is the only city in this article we will cover that has an airport. Catania, on the eastern side of the island, is a great option to fly into if you’d like to start near Taormina and Syracuse.
Train or Driving from Mainland Italy Plus Ferry
Your second option is taking a train or car through mainland Italy to Villa San Giovanni and then taking a ferry from Villa San Giovanni to Messina. The ferry ride will take 20-30 minutes and the train (or car) ride will be several hours depending on where you are coming from. Expect a long ride (around 4 or more hours) if coming from Naples… Check Train Italia’s website for more information. The ferry leaves about every hour so there is always a way to get over. Check out the Villa San Giovanni Ferry Schedule for more information and prices.
Note: To save money, try to buy your train tickets at least a few days in advance. However, you can only buy your ferry tickets at the port.
Where should I begin?
Depending on your mode of transportation, you should either start your Sicilian trip in Taormina or in Palermo.
If you decide to fly, you should either begin in Taormina (fly into Catania) or Palermo (Palermo has an airport). Both options include large airports, meaning flying to either can be pretty easy. However, there are no direct flights between these cities so you will either need to rent a car or take a train to cross the island. It’s about a two and a half hour drive or a 3 to 4 hour train ride. Once you’ve made it to Catania, getting to Syracuse or Taormina is super quick and easy, taking only about 30 minutes by train.
Train or Driving from mainland Italy Plus Ferry
If you’re coming by train or car from mainland Italy, your decision is quite simple… Start in Taormina - it’s the closest city in this itinerary to the ferry terminal (in Messina).
I’m in Taormina
Taormina is an ancient Sicilian town built into a hillside overlooking the majestic Mt. Etna (an active volcano) and an excellent choice for kicking off your adventure! There is a lot to do here - I recommend staying one night and two days.
You can easily get to Taormina from the train station by taking a taxi or bus up the winding roads, but the unique and picturesque ride in the gondola or Funivia is my favorite. Traversing the hillside with sweeping views it is, quite frankly, a prime photo taking opportunity.
Funivia schedule: The gondola runs about every 15 minutes Tuesday through Sunday from 8AM to 1AM and Monday 9AM to 1AM, which means you can stay at the beach even after midnight and still catch a ride back up! (Note: in winter, the cable cars stop running at 8PM instead of 1AM)
Funivia pricing: Single trip - €3, daily pass - €10, weekly - €50, monthly - €100.
The Greek Theater and Naxos Archaeological Park
The first thing you will want to do in Taormina is visit the ancient Greek Theater and Naxos Archaeological Park, which offers unbelievable views of Etna and Sapphire Coast. On occasion they host live events, so be sure to not miss out if you have the opportunity.
Tickets for entry into the Greek Theater can be bought online. The hours of operation vary by season, but during the summer months (May to August) it is open every day from 9AM-7PM. Tickets range from €5 to €10, depending on your age and whether you’re a European Union citizen.
Afterwards, make sure you wander through the City’s Gardens (they are close by the Greek Theater), which feature an interesting set of older villas that have been re-purposed to fit the garden’s exotic ambiance. As an added bonus, this beautiful garden is free to enter!
Piazza IX Aprile
The town’s square, Piazza IX Aprile, is a great place to catch the local vibes and get a feel for what its like to live like a Taorminan.
During the night you will want to cruise along the town’s main road, Corso Umberto, which is lined with fine dining and luxury shopping. Although Taormina is a sleepy town, there are also a few clubs and lounges to share conversation and drinks with friends.
On the second day, make sure to take in the awesome view from the hillside one last time. Head down the gondola to the seaside to spend a good portion of your day on the Isola Bella. The Island, which you can actually reach by walking, shows off an exotic landscape and two adjacent bays with warm blue waters.
Say goodbye, head back to the train station (make sure to check the schedule so you are not late) and buy your ticket to Syracuse or Palermo.
I’m in Palermo
If you decide to fly, Palermo will likely be the first city on your itinerary, which provides a great introduction to Sicily. With a sprawling urban landscape alongside beautiful Mediterranean coasts, this city has a ton to offer!
Although you’ve likely just arrived in southern Italy and are probably ready to find a sunny beach to tan your mozzarella hide, make sure you don’t miss spending at least an hour or two in Palermo’s Botanical Garden (tickets & info here), which is open from 9AM to 7PM most days. This lush garden features local and international plant species and is curated by Palermo’s university. Amazingly, while spending time here, its not hard to feel truly disconnected (even though you’re in the heart of Sicily’s biggest city)!
If you’re a Renaissance art fan, make sure you check out Palazzo Abatellis on you way back to the center. Admission is €8 and the museum is open weekdays 9AM to 6:30PM and weekends 9AM to 1PM. The gallery is only a short distance from the Botanical Gardens and the collections are striking. Depending on your art fascination levels, you may end up spending a lot of time getting lost in the brush stokes here.
Lunch at Pani Ca’ Meusa
For lunch, I suggest you head to the harbor for one of the best sandwiches you’ll ever taste (seriously though). Due to the restaurant’s popularity, you may have to be assertive to fight the crowd and actually place an order. The restaurant is named Pani Ca’ Meusa, which literally translates to “bread with spleen”. If you think you might not be a fan of spleen, pretend like you don’t know what it is and when you bite into this sandwich you will be in heaven (sorry I said anything in the first place - my bad). They also serve other Sicilian classics like meatballs with rice, but I strongly suggest you go the Pani Ca’ Meusa route and wash it down with a Peroni (Italian beer).
Cathedral di Palermo and San Giovanni degli Eremiti
On your second day, head inland to see some exquisite architecture influenced by the Arab control of the region. The Cathedral di Palermo and San Giovanni degli Eremiti are both incredible and not too far from each other. San Giovanni degli Eremiti tickets are €6 and is open Monday through Saturday 9AM to 7PM and Sunday 9AM to 1:30PM. The noticeable red domes at Eremiti provide a vivid depiction of how the tides of empires and individuals literally shaped the Sicily we see today. If you’re interested in guided tours, check out Tours By Locals.
I’ve made it Syracuse!
Syracuse is a great place to conclude your time Sicily. The mellow ambiance of island vibes and romantic European architecture is a perfect mixture for relaxation and site seeing. Nearby, Catania provides you with an international airport only about 30 to 45 minutes away by taxi.
Island of Ortiga
I suggest you spend your first day in Syracuse on the Island of Ortigia. Ortigia has so many incredible places to explore and getting lost is half the fun. Narrow and somewhat confusing roads always seem to lead you to something interesting. You should take this opportunity to visit some of Ortigia’s spectacular museums, such as the Bellomo Palace which features Sicilian paintings and sculptures (tickets are €8 and it’s open 9AM to 7PM Monday through Saturday and 2PM to 7:30PM on Sunday). Alternatively, if you are fascinated by the works of Leonardo Davinci, there is a brilliant interactive exhibition of his works north of the town center open everyday from 10:30AM to 7PM for €6.50.
The town center is full of many other archaeological treasures too, the 7th century cathedral or Faro Castello Maniace are just a few to mention here. Take a moment to explore also the vibrant commercial areas with many local shops and stop by one of the incredible local restaurants to try delicious traditional seafood specials. Tickets are about €4 and it stays open 8:30AM to 1:45PM for regular weekdays.
Bonus! I would be truly remiss if I didn’t mention the crystal clear shores on the eastern side of the city. Not only are these waters beautiful, but taking a dip is also SO lovely.
Syracuse’s Archaeological Park
The next day I encourage you to make your way to Syracuse’s Archaeological park. Here you will be able to explore both Roman and Greek ruins. The Greek Theater here is the biggest ever built by their empire and the park occasionally holds events in the summer. Click here for the schedule of events this summer! Prices for tickets are €10 and the park is open daily from 8:30AM to 7:30PM.
Make your way into the gardens of the Archaeological park and you will find the legendary Ear of Dionysius. This natural limestone cave is a true geological marvel and has for centuries provided those near and far the chance to take part in story and myth. It’s form also provides ample acoustics.. So if you have some talent, let your voice be heard!!
By this time you have made it to the end of your trip in Sicily (or hypothetical trip in Sicily). The diverse cultural and natural landscapes are truly something to behold! For those interested in more Sicily suggestions, please message us for more info. Thanks for reading this First Time Visiting article: ‘Sicily. A one week itinerary’. Catch you next time!
Written by Andrew Mattison
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