Sicily: an island guide

Sicily, an island packed with enchanting adventure, bustles with myths, legends and irresistible Italian charm. The culture, art, architecture and food is informed by centuries of tussles between political and cultural superpowers; Norman, Arabic, Byzantine and Baroque styles and influences can be found across the island. The variety and character of Sicily makes it a compelling proposition for an island escape; discover our top picks for places to see across the island, from gorgeous coastal towns to enticing cultural experiences.

Palermo
The capital of Sicily is a riot of centuries-old cultural influence, a city nestled in the heart of the ancient world. Walk its streets and stumble upon souk-style markets and Arabesque domes, casually nestled against Baroque piazzas and Norman cathedrals. The mix of east and west, new and old, is a heady one; discover trendsetting bars and chic new eateries to help with the intoxicating draw of this magnetic city.

Ortygia
The ancient centre of Syracuse, Ortygia is an island awash with archaic splendour, a place of myth, ruin, and incredible architecture. White-marble palaces sit resplendent with ancient ruins, hiding bars and restaurants that exude effortless chic. From the Temple of Apollo to the Fountain of Arethusa (home to the myth), Ortygia is a classicist’s dream – birthplace of Artemis and home of Calypso, revel in the myths and legends.

Ancient Theatre of Taormina
Probably one of the most stunning classical sites in Sicily, if not the whole of Italy. This ancient amphitheatre of Greek origins, sits resplendently on the edge of the hillside. The cavea faces the stunning panorama that this lofty viewpoint offers,adding a fitting drama to the fading ruins. To this day, the space is kept alive through a series of events, making for enchanting evenings high in the Sicilian hillside.

Catania
As the second biggest city on the island, Catania is a true local’s city. You’ll still find the baroque grandeur you’d expect, but you’ll also find a youthful spirit that plays itself out in the cool bars and buzzing happenings when the sun goes down. Great food is also to be had, being the home of Sicily’s famous Pasta alla Norma.

Valley of the Temples
The Parthenon may be one of the most impressive Greek temples in existence, but Sicily’s Valley of the Temples is a serious contender. With the coast on one side and mountains on the other, a chain of ancient Greek temples line the ridge of a hillside. Most are still standing, offering an incredible glimpse at ancient Greek life.

Mercato di Ballarò
This colourful, vibrant street market is an unmissable stop in Palermo – quite literally, as it winds through several of the city’s main streets. A riot of colours, noise and smells, this bustling market is a great place to pick up a cheap lunch, with a few vendors dotted around serving up freshly-cooked specialities and great prices.

Castello di Venere
This vast Norman castle is perched high on the tip of this mountain, with the medieval splendour of Erice falling on the plateau behind it. Built on the former Temple of Venus, it is flanked by towering stone walls said to have been built by Daedalus himself. Take a small bottle of wine, and enjoy astounding panorama over the island.

Taormina
Scaling the hillside sits one of Sicily’s most traditional resort towns. It’s sheer beauty has been a draw for centuries, particularly after it was rediscovered during the Grand Tour of the 18th century. DH Lawrence was a particular fan and it’s not hard to see why; it exudes charm in abundance, with a host of restaurants, shops and bars adding classic Italian seaside glamour to Sicily’s coastline.

Volcanic Landscapes
The towering hunk of Mt Etna is a constant reminder of the fragility of this great island. Europe’s largest active volcano, it has carved a unique landscape into the surrounding area. Take the funicular to near the top, explore the isolated idyll that is Pantelleria, or hike through Madonie and Nebrodi parks.

Alacantara River Canyon
Don your swimmers and cool off in this dramatic natural scene. A narrow water passageway is encroached by two towering walls, formed of unique volcanic product. You can walk, neck high at times, through this passage, for a truly unforgettable experience. Guided tours are available and recommended.