Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, holds many treasures. Similar to Sardinia, the Italian sister island to the west, Sicily fuses centuries of influences by different powers into one captivating isle. The result is a vibrant mix of historic sites, charming hillside towns, rough natural beauty, and delicious Italian food, of course.
It is hard to come up with a similar destination, where the azure sea washes around both active volcanoes and tidily arranged umbrellas on the beach, where the charming disorder of buzzing Mediterranean cities is mastered so effortlessly, and where the landscape alternates between massive rock formations, orange trees as long as the eye can see, lush vineyards, and golden wheat fields. If you thought you knew Italy, Sicily will change your mind.
This Sicily itinerary is based on my personal experience as well as the extensive research prior to my trip, aimed at helping you maximize your precious time on this so distinctly (un)Italian island. Here is how to experience the highlights of Sicily in one week.
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Where to Stay in Sicily
Where to base yourself during your trip to Sicily is one of the most important strategic decisions when it comes to experiencing the highlights of Sicily in just one week. After all, the island measures 290 by 190 km / 180 by 120 mi – it is huge!
I have thought long and hard on whether to focus on any of the coastal regions or even book multiple accommodations. However, you are here to relax, too. This is why, for me, traveling with family, there was only one logical thing to do: booking a rental house in central Sicily. And what a house that was!
The charming traditional house has been used as a filming location for the 1987 movie “The Sicilian” and has apparently even been honored with a visit by Prince Charles himself. The baglio is located in Scillato, about a 1.5 hour drive both from Catania and Palermo Airport.
The house fits 11 people comfortably and boasts a large living area, a well-equipped kitchen, impeccable rooms, and several bathrooms. Adjacent is a massive private pool, from where you are granted extraordinary views of the central highlands. We felt like we had one plush resort to ourselves. If you are traveling in a group, staying at Scannale during your trip to Sicily will be an unforgettable experience in itself.
Should you be traveling by yourself or with fewer people, here is another warm recommendation. Close to Scannale lies the equally stunning 4* property of Il Vecchio Frantoio. This farm-house-turned-boutique-hotel, a typical agriturismo, offers both comfortable double rooms and a charming restaurant, where Stefano proudly serves only regional products.
Even if you decide for a different accommodation, enjoying a typical Sicilian dinner at Il Vecchio Frantoio’s restaurant is an absolute must-do experience when in Sicily. It sure was an absolute highlight for me. For a set price of 30 €, you will be served heaps of authentic and mouthwatering Sicilian cuisine – from finger-licking-good antipasti to homemade pasta, tender pork slices, local cheese and ricotta-stuffed pastry, even including regional wine. Sorry for getting off topic here.
Where was I? Right – it is all about location. And Scillato is strategically located close to the geographical center of Sicily, thus providing easy access to all regions of the island. If you are looking for more options beyond Scannale and Il Vecchio Frantoio, you could also focus on the coastal regions around Palermo, Catania, or Marsala. But keep in mind that this might mean cutting down on your list of must-sees, given the sheer size of Sicily and the distances between the individual sights.
How to Get Around Sicily
Let us also talk about how to best get around Sicily. The easiest and quickets way to explore Sicily is by car, which is why I would strongly encourage you to pre-book a rental car once you have secured your flights. This is even more important as rental cars are limited in Sicily and especially in peak months more affordable options tend to sell out quickly. Sicily is a perfect road trip destination after all.
Given their flexible booking options and very competitive rates, I usually reserve rental cars via check24.com. I am a big fan of the option to cancel reservations up to 24 hours prior to your arrival (plans can change!) as well as the possibility to add any necessary insurance in advance. On numerous occasions, this has made the start of my trips so much easier.
Best Things to See and Do in Sicily in 1 Week
Let us get one thing out of the way right away: In 7 days, you will not have enough time to circumnavigate and explore the entire island. At least not in a rewarding way. In short: If you, like me, need to juggle limited vacation days, you need to prioritize.
This is why I have broken down this balanced one week Sicily itinerary into 4 handy day trips. Each route has been strategically designed for you to experience some of the most rewarding sights and highlights of Sicily in a rather short period of time.
Each day trip focuses on one specific region of Sicily and combines cultural sights, places to eat, and activities to do that will give you a good feel for the island. In between, you have plenty of time to unwind, recharge, and simply enjoy that sweet Italian life.
Day Trip 1: Exploring the Tyrrhenian Coast and Palermo
📍 Palermo – Monreale – Cefalù – Playa degli Uccelli
🚘 92 km / 57 mi / 1h 45 min
This first day trip focuses on Sicily’s northern coastline, along the Tyrrhenian Sea, and serves as a perfect introduction to the island. Your first stop on this tour is Palermo, Sicily’s biggest and busiest city. The Greek, Roman, Arab, Norman, and Spanish have all taken control of Palermo at some point, thus making this a city packed with history and culture. But again, you need to prioritize.
A good point to start is Quattro Canti. The famous intersection lies in the heart of the old town and divides the city into its four neighborhoods. One of the streets leading towards Quattro Canti is Corso Vittorio Emanuele. The Corso is one of the more polished streets of Palermo, with lots of beautiful facades to marvel at.
If you have some more time to spend, take a break at one of the many cafes and do as the Sicilians do: order an espresso and a cassatta, a typical tart with sweetened ricotta, sponge cake, marzipan and candied fruit.
Next up is a visit to Market Ballaro, which is one of the highlights to experience in Sicily. Located close to the main station of Palermo, a walk across the market is an experience for all you senses, with vendors loudly advertising their fresh products.
This is your chance to try some typical Sicilian street food dishes, such as arancini, fried rice balls with fresh fillings, stuffed artichokes or a sweet cannolo, a typical pastry filled with ricotta cream. The latter even made their way to New York’s Little Italy.
No thorough exploration of Palermo is complete without a side-trip to neighboring Monreale – at least that is what the Sicilians say. The hillside town is only a short drive from Palermo‘s center and another rewarding stop on your first day trip in Sicily. Besides stunning vistas across lush mountains and the azure sea, there is a UNESCO-listed cathedral as well as a number of charming alleys to explore.
In the afternoon, it is time to make your way eastward, along the coast, to Cefalù. Once an old fishing village, Cefalù has turned into a popular beach resort. During the summer months, the town is also frequented by many Italians escaping the mainland.
If you are not yet oversaturated with picturesque alleys, this is a good place to roam some more. Beyond that, Cefalù invites you to lounge on its crescent-shaped beach or climb the distinct rock formation, La Rocca, against which the city is backed.
The final stop of the day is somewhat a hidden gem, that I only stumbled upon during my search for a more natural and deserted stretch of sand along the Tyrrhenian Sea. Only a short 10-minute drive east of the historic center of Cefalù lies Playa degli Uccelli. For me, the crystal-clear water and perfect sunset views make this one of the finest beaches in Sicily, and definitely a highlight worth considering on any tour across the island.
Day Trip 2: Roaming Central Sicily and Madonie National Park
📍 Madonie Regional Park – Collesano – Polizzi Generosa – Enna
🚘 117 km / 72 mi / 2h 15 min
En route to experiencing the highlights of Sicily, this second day trip takes you to some of the most beautiful towns and natural riches in the center of the island. If you are based in this region, for instance at Il Vecchio Frantoio, today, we are exploring your backyard. This means less driving and more venturing off into charming hillside towns and the Sicilian nature.
This day trip starts in the Madonie Regional Naural Park, which is located in the inland, between Palermo and Cefalù. The park includes some of the highest mountains in Sicily and serves as habitat for deer, fox, wild boar, and other wildlife. There is an extensive network of hiking trails, with one of the most prominent routes leading up to the park’s highest elevation, Pizzo Carbonara (1,980 m / 6,500 ft).
The park is home to several smaller communities, one of them being the picturesque town of Collesano, which is definitely worth a stop. Even if it is just for a quick lunch at Pizzeria La Laterna, which is located on the main road.
On the outer slopes of the Madonie Mountains sits the compact city of Polizzi Generosa, its roots dating back to as early as the 6th century BC. There is a reason why the town is dramatically located on a step hill: Polizzi Generosa once sat right on the frontline between the Greek part of Sicily to the east and the Phoenician part to the west. Make your way to the Chiesa della Commenda for the best panoramic views.
The final stop of the day is Enna, the city that forms the geographical center of Sicily, and, as such, is visible from afar. At 930 m / 3,000 ft above sea level, Enna is the highest Italian provincial capital and yet another highlight of any Sicily itinerary.
Even if this has been a busy day trip already, I encourage you two add two further sights to your list. For one, there is the Castello di Lombardìa, which ranks as one of the most important examples of military architecture in Sicily. The castle is named for the Lombard troops that defended it in Norman times. This is another great place to soak in scenic views across the surrounding countryside.
The second important sight in Enna is the Duomo, which was initially built in the 14th century and partially reconstructed after a fire in the 15th century. Even if you do not make your way inward, you get to marvel at the great Baroque facade, featuring an abundance of finely shaped decorative elements.
At the end of this packed second day trip, there is one final box to check: enjoying a(nother) typical Sicilian dinner. In case you have not yet taken advantage of the fantastic restaurant at Il Vecchio Frantoio, Enna is a great place to experience the culinary highlights of Sicily. Among the many options around, one place stands out: Trattoria La Rustica. The restaurant is carefully tucked away in a residential building, a short walk from the city center.
Munch your way through a full Sicilian dinner menu of finger-licking-good antipasti, fresh pasta, meat specialities, and dolcini. Part of the experience is the traditional and homey atmosphere of the place. Gaetano was also happy to engage in conversation and explain the dishes before us. A visit to Trattoria La Rustica in Enna is yet another highlight to experience in Sicily.
Day Trip 3: Exploring Sicily’s Ionian Coast
📍 Alcantara River Gorge – Mount Etna – Taormina
🚘 80 km / 50 mi / 1h 45 min
After a full day of roaming central Sicily, it is time to hit the coastal regions again. This third day trip focuses on eastern Sicily, the region just north of Catania. The first stop is the Alcantara River Gorge, which is located on the north slope of Mount Etna. The river, one of the few flowing year-round, is a perfect place to cool off during a hot summer day.
The gorge was created thousands of years ago during an eruption of Mount Etna. The water of the river quickly cooled and crystalized the lava, resulting in the distinct rock formations that are visible today. Be aware that there are several parking areas close to the gorge, the largest one belonging to the Gole Alcantara Botanical and Geological Park. This is a large visitor center offering various tours across the park. Here, you have access to the gorge via a lift, for a ticket price of 8 € per person.
However, there is a cheaper and better option. Steps away from the center lies the communal entrance to the gorge, where you can access the park via a short walk down the stairs for a ticket price of only 1.5 €. Right across the street form the small ticket office is a separate parking area. Keep an eye out for the sign that says “Gole dell’Alcantara – Ingresso comunale.” Once down in the park, feel free to wade through the cool water of the river and explore the different sections of the gorge.
After this refreshing first stop of the day it is time to explore one of the most prominent little villages of Sicily: Savoca. The village has served as location for scenes of “The Godfather”, which has brought the alluring hillside village international fame. Movie fans will be tempted to take a drink at Bar Vitelli, which is still a lively establishment in the village’s center. Another great place to unwind, and indulge in more Sicilian delights, is Pipispezzi Savoca, featuring spectacular outdoor seating.
The third and final stop of the day is Taormina, the plush hillside town on the slopes of the Tauro Mountain, throning high above smooth-pebbled coastline. There is no way to experience the highlights of Sicily without a visit to Taormina. Its popularity dates back to the Greeks and Romans who already vacationed here. The Hollywood stars who followed their footsteps centuries later brought the glitz and glamour, and the annual Taormina Film Fest. What has not changed is the dramatic backdrop against which all of the action is set.
Best viewed from the Ancient Theatre, Europe’s largest active volcano, Mount Etna, sits in the back, sometimes visibly spewing ash clouds. If views are your major concern, you might not want to pay for a ticket to access the theatre, which sets you back 13.5 € per adult. Instead, make your way to Piazza IX Aprile. Taormina’s central square grants similarly stunning views of Mount Etna and the Ionian Sea. End your day beachside, at Isola Bella, which is accessible via an aerial tramway.
Day Trip 4: Highlights of Western Sicily
📍 Erice – San Vito Lo Capo – Riserva Naturale Orientata dello Zingaro
🚘 80 km / 50 mi / 1h 45 min
This final day trip is designed to experience the highlights of Sicily’s western regions. Start your day with a visit to Erice, which is located on the same-named mountain, 750 m / 2,500 ft above sea level. The terraces surrounding the main town provide for scenic views across the city of Trapani, the western coast towards Marsala, the dramatic Punta del Saraceno, and the Aegidian Islands.
Once you have soaked up enough views, recharge at Pasticceria Maria Grammatico, before leaving Erice. The cafe will fix you up with some of the best sweet Italian pastries found in Sicily and is conveniently located in the heart of the old town.
From Erice, make your way to San Vito Lo Capo. The beach resort is omnipresent on lists of must-see sights in Sicily, which makes it hard to escape its call. Having visited myself, I cannot fully follow through on the hype. The positive: The water is clear and the sand pure and warm. And Mount Monaco looms dramatically in the background.
However, most stretches of the beach are sectioned off by beach clubs and restaurants, which makes paying for a sun bed almost inevitable. In short: If you are looking to spend a relaxed day beachside, San Vito Lo Capo, boasting a comfortable infrastructure and carribbeanesque surroundings, can still be a good choice.
If you are looking for a more natural stretch of beach, continue on to the Riserva Naturale Orientata dello Zingaro, the first natural reserve of Sicily, which was set up in 1981. The park stretches along 7 km / 4.5 mi of unspoiled coastline and is accessible from a northern and southern entrance. Parking is free of charge and the entry fee of 5 € is a good investment. In return, you will be rewarded with access to several small bays and a rich flora and fauna, set against steep cliffs.
Be aware that you will only be able to enter the park with regular shoes. Flip flops, for instance, are not allowed. This will be checked at the entrance gate. Any other regular sneakers, sport or water shoes will do. Also make sure to bring enough water, as the vegetation along the way does not provide much shade.
From the northern entrance gate, the first beach, Cala dell’Uzzo, can be easily reached after a short 15-minute walk along the well-signed trail. While the crystal-clear water will tempt you to simply unwind on this paradisiacal beach, the reserve invites further explorations, too. For me, this was one of the best experiences in Sicily and, in my opinion, deserves a visit on any tour across the island.
This marks the end of my balanced Sicily itinerary, designed to experience the highlights of Sicily in just one week – or even shorter. Do you have any further questions? Drop me a line in the comments below, I am happy to help.