That’s really noticeable in the art, architecture, traditions and even food: layer upon layer, those different civilisations like the ancient Greeks, the Normans and the Arabs have met in Sicily at some point in history, and are now permanently intertwined in Sicilian culture. That, together with the fact that it’s pretty isolated from the rest of Italy, is why this region has its very own distinct culture, that is certainly similar to the rest of Southern Italian culture, but has its own peculiarities.
In this itinerary, we’ll bring you with us to discover what the East coast of this charming island has to offer: whether it’s having a hike in the mountainside of the Etna volcano, while savoring a granita con brioche in a moment of dolce far niente (in italian: the essence of doing nothing and enjoying it) or swimming in the clear sea, we’re sure that Sicily will steal your heart.
Know before you go
Since we’re exploring the East coast of the Island, the best airport to get to would be the Catania-Fontanarossa airport, also known as Vincenzo Bellini airport, at about 4 km from Catania. Some of the airlines that fly into Catania are Ryanair, Volotea, easyJet, WizzAir and ITA airways.
In general, Sicily has a Mediterranean climate, with mild winters and hot, dry (and long) summers from the months of June to August. However near Mount Etna, it can definitely get cold and snowy in the winter months of November to February.
If you enjoy the sunshine and warm weather, go in July or August, the warmer months, where the temperature rarely gets below 30 °C. Those are also the most crowded months in terms of tourism.
If you want chiller weather and a more peaceful environment, go in the fall or in the spring: from May to June and from September to early November you’ll find milder temperatures (between 15 and 25 °C).
The winter is also a good option, as with the exception of Mount Etna, it rarely gets below the double digits in Sicily. Though keep in mind that it could get quite windy or rainy.
A car would definitely be the best option to get around for this Italian road trip: Sicily is bigger than it looks (it’s almost the same size as Belgium) and public transport unfortunately is not that efficient. If you don't have your own vehicle, renting a car would be the best option.
Stop 1 - Catania
Also called “the Milan of southern Italy”, Catania in Sicily combines an industrial spirit with a rich past. It’s the second biggest city in Sicily after Palermo and it has quite a peculiar history: it’s been destroyed 9 times as a result of earthquakes, eruptions and invasions. However, a bit like the mythical phoenix, Catania rose from its ashes, and every time it was rebuilt more beautiful than before.
Its Piazza del Duomo welcomes visitors with "O Liotru", a little elephant statue that is the symbol of the town. There are various legends surrounding this figure: some consider it as a magical protector from the eruptions of the Etna volcano. Stunning historical buildings such as Palazzo degli Elefanti (town hall), Palazzo dei Chierici and the Sant’Agata Cathedral frame the square.
And speaking of Sant’Agata, that’s a place you should definitely visit. Built on the ruins of ancient roman baths, the Cathedral has been destroyed and rebuilt several times, just like the square. Its current appearance dates back to 1761. We’re sure the majestic facade, made entirely of Carrara marble, and the gorgeous interior will captivate you.
Via Etnea, the most iconic street in Catania, starts right from this square. The large avenue takes its name from the fact that it goes in the direction of Mount Etna, which is always visible during the 3 km walk. Along the way you’ll find fashionable shops but also beautiful Sicilian Baroque buildings. Don’t forget to stop at the historic Pasticceria Savia to taste delicious typical desserts like cannoli and cassate.
While you’re en route, you shouldn’t miss out on visiting the baroque churches (especially La Collegiata). Via Crucifera is one of the other important places in Catania, in fact, so important that it’s a UNESCO heritage site. Among the many visit- worthy buildings in this famous street you’ll find San Benedetto’s church and its Scalinana dell’Angelo (angel’s staircase) and Villa cerami, an historical building which includes a lush garden oasis.
Where to stay in Catania:
Budget - B&B Catania centro
Mid-range - Palazzo Perrotta
Luxury - Palace Catania | UNA Esperienze
Stop 2 - Parco dell’Etna
If you love hiking, the Etna volcano natural park is the place to be. Mount Etna is one of the largest active volcanoes in the world, but have no fear - its frequent activity is actually a good thing! The common small eruptions tend more towards lava flows that cool down and stop before reaching the inhabited centres.
On the contrary, a slower activity would result in buildups of lava and gas that would cause major explosions. If you’re lucky enough to see one of those eruptions (from a safe distance), especially on a starry night, you’ll experience something truly unique and unforgettable: the branches of incandescent lava coming out of the volcano’s mouth offer a breathtaking show. However, if the volcano is not active, we definitely recommend hiking in the Etna regional park.
Among its characteristics, it is impossible not to mention the stunning nature making it a unique trip in Italy. There’s many small, picturesque villages like Zafferana Etnea, Belpasso and Biancavilla that are part of the park. You can choose to stop and admire it from there.
If you actually want to hike, the easiest thing to do is to reach the Sapienza refuge, on the South side of the crater. In the refuge you’ll find parking and tickets for the various services offered. You can then choose between independent trekking, semi-independent trekking and a guided visit. Since the terrain is very challenging and steep, the independent hike is only for very advanced hikes. Even then, you must have a basic knowledge of volcanoes and prepare.
Where to stay in or near Mount Etna park
Budget - Feudo Magazzeni
Mid-range - Etna royal view
Luxury - Edone hotel
Stop 3 - Taormina
Taormina, also known as “the pearl of the Mediterranean”, is a beautiful hilltop town to discover Sicily. The town is so beautiful that famous writers such as Guy de Maupassant and Goethe described it respectively as "a painting in which we find everything that seems to exist on Earth to seduce eyes, spirit and imagination” and “the greatest masterpiece of art and nature.”
Taormina offers breathtaking views, excellent gastronomy, and wonderful beaches all at once. You should definitely visit the most famous monument in town, the Greek Theater. Built in the third century BC, when Sicily was an Ancient Greek colony, the theater was purposefully designed on the scenic promontory, that serves as a spectacular setting for dramatic and musical performances.
The steps, which were directly carved into the rock, follow the natural structure of the hill. That means that if you go all the way up to the top you’ll be able to enjoy a stunning view of the coast with Mount Etna in the background.
After this full immersion in Greek and Roman history in this Sicily itinerary, it’s time to relax and stroll the Municipal Villa. This delightful public park was originally a private garden owned by Lady Florence Trevelyan Cacciola, a Scottish noblewoman who married the mayor of the town and lived there at the end of the 19th century. She wanted a typical English garden, but she also had exotic taste and was a passionate ornithologist. That’s why the garden has a great variety of plants coming from all around the world and peculiar buildings to observe birds.
Palazzo Corvaja and Palazzo dei Duchi di Santo Stefano are both perfect examples of the exquisitely Sicilian mix of Arab and Norman architecture. They were both originally fortresses, but nowadays they are both great places to visit if you like art.
End your day in Taormina by having a walk and doing a bit of shopping inthe most iconic street in town,Corso Umberto I, and having an aperitivo (pre-meal drink and finger food) in Piazza IX Aprile, a stunning terrace overlooking the sea and Mount Etna, framed by historic buildings such as San Giuseppe’s church.
Where to stay in Taormina
Budget - Hotel pensione Cundari
Mid-range - Jonic Hotel Mazzarò
Luxury - Hotel Continental
Stop 4 - Syracuse
When Sicily was a Greek colony, Syracuse was so important that it was considered the only city that could rival Athens. The Greek philosopher Plato thought it was the perfect city to found the ideal form of Republic.
As you travel Sicily, to have an idea of how influential this city was you have to visit the Archeological Park of The Neapolis, which is also a UNESCO heritage site. The park includes the biggest Greek Theater in Sicily, a Roman Amphitheater, Archimedes’ tombstone and the very singular Dionysus’ ear: that’s a cave with a particular letter ‘S’ shape.
The legend that surrounds it says that Dionysus, one of Syracuse’s tyrants, used to keep his prisoners there. He would use the special acoustic qualities of this place, which serves as a natural echo chamber and amplifier, in order to spy on the prisoners and hear them even from far away. Because of that and its special shape, the famous Italian painter Caravaggio gave it its current name.
Speaking of Caravaggio: did you know that his very last painting is also in Syracuse? To admire it, you have to visit the Santa Lucia alla Badia church in Ortygia, an island that is actually the historical city center of Siracusa. You’ll just need to cross Santa Lucia’s bridge to get there. The church is actually quite plain, but the painting is a masterpiece that you can’t miss.
Another church you have to visit in this Sicily itinerary is Syracuse’s Cathedral, which dominates Ortygia’s main square. This church has a unique history, and that’s the reason why it’s another UNESCO heritage site. Before becoming a church, it’s been a Greek temple, a Roman temple, a mosque and finally the very first Norman style church in Europe.
After an earthquake in the 17th century, the façade was rebuilt in Baroque style, but on the inside you can still see parts of the old Norman structure and even of the Greek Temple dedicated to Athena. Its columns in particular, have definitely stood the test of time. To close it off, take a walk in the suggestive Alfeo promenade, and enjoy the view of the beautiful Mediterranean sea at sunset.
Where to stay in Syracuse
Budget - Le Gorgoni B&B
Mid-range - Le Nuvole
Luxury - Terra&Mare B&B
Stop 5 - Noto and Marzamemi
Noto is another city that you can’t miss on the perfect Sicily road trip, as it’s considered one of the most accurate and beautiful examples of Sicilian baroque architecture. The Noto Cathedral steals the scene, with its majestic staircase and its warm colored exterior. Palazzo Ducezio, right in front of the cathedral, is also worth paying a visit.
Apart from the charming Sala degli Specchi, this palace, which is now also the town hall, has a terrace from which you’ll get the best view of the city and the Cathedral. If you go in Noto during the first weeks of May, you might be lucky enough to see the Infiorata. For a few days a year in May, artists deck various streets in the city with colourful flower carpets that are stunning works of art. Since the dates change every year, if you want to know more about when it takes place, visit the official website.
Not far from Noto, there’s the picturesque fishing village of Marzamemi. There’s not much to see in this small fraction, but we definitely recommend you to visit it: it’s an enchanting place, where the time seems to have stopped. Imagine warm and white coloured houses on the seaside and calm beaches where you can sunbathe or swim in the incredibly clear water. So sit back, relax and enjoy the beauty of this hidden gem.
Where to stay in Marzamemi
Budget - Hotel la conchiglietta
Mid-range - I gufi B&B
Luxury option - Hotel Villa Giulia
Stop 6 - Modica, Marina di Modica
Modica is renowned for its… chocolate! Yes, maybe you wouldn’t link Southern Italy directly to Sicily, but you absolutely have to taste this Sicilian specialty. The ancient original recipe uses manual grinding to give the chocolate a peculiar grainy texture and an aromatic flavour. Go visit the city’s Chocolate Museum to have a taste of it, see how it’s prepared and admire chocolate sculptures (there’s even a 9 m high one!).
San Giorgio’s cathedral, another of the many UNESCO heritage sites in Sicily, is also not to be missed. This baroque masterpiece welcomes you with a grand staircase and a 62 m high golden coloured façade. After that, go up one of the many staircases surrounding the cathedral, reach Pizzo Belvedere, and admire a jaw-dropping view of the city from this panoramic terrace.
Then, get ready for another change of scenery in this Sicily itinerary. It’s time to relax and forget all of your worries in Marina di Modica, another non-touristy hidden gem a few kilometres away from Modica. A large bay and a sandy beach surrounded by dunes, along with the spacious seaside where the market is held every Sunday are the perfect place to catch those Sicilian vibes. Enjoy more sun and sand under your feet, and don’t forget to stop for a delicious gelato along the way.
Where to stay in Modica
Budget - Hotel Via Longa Domus
Mid-range - Hotel le case barocche
Luxury - Palazzo Il Cavaliere B&B De Charme
Stop 7 - Ragusa
Ragusa has a double personality: after the same violent earthquake that destroyed part of the Syrcause cathedral in the 17th century, a part of the city had to be completely rebuilt. That’s why the city is divided into Ragusa Superiore, the new part and Ragusa Ibla, the old part.
We suggest you try to limit the use of Google Maps or any map in general for this part of the Sicily itinerary, and just get lost in the streets and the small alleyways of this magical city. A few places you should definitely check out are the lush Iblean garden and its villa, Santa Maria dell’Itria’s church with its cobalt-coloured dome and Palazzo della Cancelleria, a splendid baroque monument (another UNESCO heritage site). Don’t miss out on the panoramic view of the city near Santa Maria delle Scale’s church.
Where to stay in Ragusa
Budget - Hotel Niria
Mid-range - Hotel Pura Vida Iblea
Luxury - Hotel Itria Palace
Extra stop - the marvellous Aeolian Islands
If you have time on your ultimate Sicily trip, we definitely suggest stopping in the marvellousAeolian Islands too.They’re far up north, so you can reach them by ferry through Messina. These beautiful islands emerge from the blue sea as seven rocky reefs forged by fire.
The wild uncontaminated nature, the genuine life the inhabitants live, the ancestral traditions… they all make the Aeolians Islands such a special destination. Lipari is the biggest island, more urbanized than the rest. Get lost in its small characteristic alleys, explore Marina Corta square, go relax in its beautiful beaches.
Salina is the greenest island, with stunning, lush nature. While you’re there, you definitely shouldn't miss on visiting the suggestive Pollara, a cluster of old houses overlooking the sea, on the remains of an old (inactive) volcanic crater. In Vulcano and Stomboli you’ll find something incredibly rare and gorgeous: volcanic beaches, where the pitch black sand and the crystal clear water meet.
Alicudi and Filicudi are the most remote islands.
Where to stay in and around Lipari
Budget - Hotel Cutimare
Mid-range - Hotel Carasco
Luxury - Hotel Aktea
Map of East Sicily
Do you want to see the destinations plotted out? Here's a map of Sicily with the itinerary stops coordinated on the Eastern side of the island.