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Things to Do in Sicily - page 3

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Taormina Cable Car (Funivia)

While Taormina is best known as a famous beach resort, the town itself sits high above the water and the beaches. So it may not be surprising to learn that one of the main attractions in town turns out to be the cable car connecting the town with the beach - the “Funivia.”

“Funivia” sounds a bit like it’s the name of an Italian amusement park ride, but it’s simply the Italian word for “cable car.” The Taormina Funivia connects the town center with the beach at Mazzaro. It makes getting down to the beach or back to your hotel easy and quick, even if you get all the way to the beach and realize you’ve forgotten sunscreen or your book.

There are eight cable cars in the Taormina-Mazzaro Funivia system that are in near-constant rotation, depending on the season. During the busiest months, cable cars run every 15 minutes, and the trip from one end to the other takes less than five minutes.

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Mt. Etna (Monte Etna)
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Mount Etna, on the island of Sicily, is Europe’s tallest active volcano. Not only that, it’s one of the world’s most active volcanoes and, as of 2013, is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a small wonder, then, that this mountain has shaped much of Sicily’s past and continues to impact life on the island today.

The volcano sits near the eastern coast of Sicily, not far from the major port city of Catania. Eruptions from Mount Etna have been responsible for serious damage to cities and towns lying close to it, including one in 1669 that destroyed the villages that had been built on the mountainside. People continue to inhabit the mountain, however, partly because the rich volcanic soil makes an excellent base for crops. You’ll find not only fruits and vegetables growing on and around Mount Etna, but also grapes - there are many wines that owe their prominence to the volcano.

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Valley of the Temples (Valle dei Templi)
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You could be forgiven for getting a little bored of seeing one ancient Roman ruin after another in Italy - they’re everywhere, after all. But in Sicily’s Valley of the Temples near Agrigento, you get to see something particularly interesting - some of the best-preserved ancient Greek ruins anywhere.

Like the ancient Romans, the ancient Greeks got around - and for some time this part of Sicily (along with other coastal areas of southern Italy) was part of Magna Graecia. The town that is now Agrigento was once the Greek city of Akragas, and the Greeks built several impressive temples on a ridge just outside of the city. The remains of seven of those temples are still impressive enough to draw visitors to the site thousands of years later.

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Villa Romana del Casale
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Should you grow tired of sunbathing all day on Taormina’s gorgeous beaches, there are great day trip options you can take, either with your own rental car or by signing up for a tour. One excellent excursion takes you to Villa Romana del Casale, with some of the best examples of ancient Roman mosaics anywhere.

Sicily’s Villa Romana del Casale is a little less than two miles from the town of Piazza Armerina, in the southern part of the island. It’s roughly 92 miles from Taormina. The villa was originally built in the 4th century A.D., but it wasn’t until the early 19th century that the remains were excavated - they had lived underground, under fields used for farming - and the mosaics discovered.A landslide in roughly the 12th century A.D. covered the villa, which was bad news for the inhabitants but good news for archaeologists - because it meant the mosaics survived in much better shape than they would have had they remained exposed.

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Aeolian Islands (Isole Eolie)
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The Aeolian Islands are a collection of eight islands off the northeastern coast of Sicily. The archipelago takes its name from the Greek god of wind, Aeolus, and the islands themselves are the result of volcanic activity hundreds of thousands of years ago.

The largest of the Aeolian Islands - collectively, a UNESCO World Heritage Site - is Lipari, which is also the name of the main town on the island. There’s a year-round population on Lipari of more than 10,000. The next-largest is Salina, with three distinct towns, followed by Vulcano, with a population of less than 500 people. Many of the islands have active volcanoes on them, or, in some cases, are made up almost entirely of a volcano. Stromboli, for instance, is a conical island that consists almost completely of Mt. Stromboli, a still-active volcano.

The Aeolian Islands are incredibly popular during the summer months, when their beaches draw sun worshippers from Italy and elsewhere in Europe.

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More Things to Do in Sicily

Alcantara Gorges (Gole dell'Alcantara)

Alcantara Gorges (Gole dell'Alcantara)

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A volcano can create some pretty interesting terrain, and Sicily’s Mt. Etna is no exception. Some of the geographic impacts of Mt. Etna aren’t even visible above ground, as is the case with some of the Alcantra Gorges. The Alcantra River runs from Mt. Nebrodi, roughly 32 miles inland from Taormina, and feeds into the Ionian Sea near Giardini-Naxos. Because the river runs through and around volcanic rock, it has carved some intricate paths along the way. Most of them are open and visible, while others snake underground.
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Gambino Winery (Vini Gambino)

Gambino Winery (Vini Gambino)

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From a road winding through the Sicilian countryside, family owned Gambino Winery appears atop a hillside in the Etna wine region. The unique climate and soil of the area produces some of Italy’s tastiest wines, both white and red. Most wines are derived from either Nerello mascalese or Nerello cappuccio grapes, many of which are given DOC designation. Innovative winemakers in this region are making some of Sicily’s best wines, and while not all are available to taste Gambino Winery allows you to sample quite a few.

Mount Etna being an ancient volcano (the largest in Europe,) views from the winery are scenic and the surrounding landscape is beautiful to take in. There’s nothing like drinking a glass of wine right in the place in which it was produced, and there’s no shortage of great wine or views at Gambino. The winery also serves delicious food, cheeses, and local olive oils.

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Scicli

Scicli

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Messina Cruise Port (Terminal Crociere di Messina)

Messina Cruise Port (Terminal Crociere di Messina)

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Messina is the 'door of Sicily'. A busy port town located on the narrow Strait of Messina, famous for its unruly waters and conflicting currents, it is the closest city to mainland Italy and often a first port of call for travelers from other parts of Europe.

The city has endured many tests over the centuries: revolt against the Spanish in 1678, which burnt the city to the ground; earthquakes in 1783 and 1908 (this one sank the shore half a meter and killed 80,000 people); and World War II bombing in 1943. Also, the famous volcano Mt Etna smokes and breathes daily in the hills behind the city. Despite all this, Messina thrives as a noisy, crowded port city.

The cruise port is right in the heart of downtown Messina and it is easy to walk straight off the ship and into the Piazza del Duomo, the heart of the old town area and the part you'll want to explore.

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Church of Santa Chiara (Chiesa di Santa Chiara)

Church of Santa Chiara (Chiesa di Santa Chiara)

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Officially known as the Church of Santa Maria Assunta, the Chiesa Santa Chiara is one of several examples of Sicilian Baroque style architecture in the town of Noto on the Italian island of Sicily. Designed by architect Rosario Gagliardi around 1730, the church was modeled after elliptical shaped churches built by the Romans in the 16th and 17th centuries. The interior is considered one of the most beautiful in Sicily, with decorative stucco, gold gilding, a wooden choir with decorative inlays, 12 columns featuring the figures of the apostles and a main altar made of marble from ancient Noto. Also on display inside the church are important works of art such as a picture of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica painted by Salvatore Lo Forte and a sculpture of the Madonna and Child made of marble. Visitors are well advised to climb up to the rooftop terrace of the adjoining convent to enjoy panoramic views of Noto.

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Palermo Cruise Port (Terminal Crociere di Palermo)

Palermo Cruise Port (Terminal Crociere di Palermo)

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The contrast between impressive mountains and slate-coloured sea is the first thing that strikes visitors to this coastal town in Northern Sicily. But there’s more to this great city than spectacular views. Whether it’s a tour of Palermo’s historic centre, sampling world-famous cuisine and regional wine, or wandering shops selling hand-painted ceramics, docking in Palermo will likely be a highlight on any Mediterranean cruise.

Cruise liners berth at the Stazione Marittima, which was built in 1950. Taxis and horse drawn carriages are usually waiting at the exit of the port to take travellers around the city. The small winding streets of Palermo make it ideal for exploring on foot, but many cruise companies also offer shuttle buses to the centre of town.

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Monreale

Monreale

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Overlooking the Golden Valley (Conca d’Oro) on top of Mons Regalis, the medieval village of Monreale earns a spot on the travel map for its magnificent mosaic-filled cathedral, built by William II and completed in 1184. The grand Duomo, considered to be one of the best examples of Norman architecture in Sicily, is filled with mosaics depicting scenes from the Old Testament, covering some 68,889 square feet (6,400 square meters) of the interior.

Beside the cathedral is the abbey cloister, built around the same time as the church and expanded in the 1300s. This portion of the structure is best known for its 200-plus intricate double columns decorated in glass mosaic. Each column’s capital depicts a different aspect of medieval Sicily.

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Taormina Cathedral (Duomo) and Piazza del Duomo

Taormina Cathedral (Duomo) and Piazza del Duomo

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As is the case with most small Italian towns, Taormina’s main street will lead you to the town’s main church. In Taormina, that means when you walk along the Corso Umberto, you will eventually arrive in the Piazza del Duomo and at the Duomo itself.

Taormina’s Duomo, dedicated to San Nicolò di Bari, was built in the 13th century and its design is typical of many churches of its era - the exterior more closely resembles a fortified castle than a house of worship. For this reason, it has the nickname of the “fortress cathedral,” or “cattedrale fortezza.”

The Duomo was built over the ruins of a small existing church, and some of the signature Taormina pink marble used in the construction of the columns appears to have been taken from the ruins of the Teatro Greco that sits above the town. The main door was rebuilt in the 1630s in the Renaissance style, and a rose window added in that same wall.

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