Italy’s largest island, Sicily, is famous for many things, among them its storied history and stunning volcanic landscapes. For many, the main ports of entry are the cities of Palermo on the north coast, and Catania, in the shadow of the fuming, grumbling Mount Etna, to the East.
While both cities hug a shoreline and are filled with grand architecture and preserved ruins from the Ancient Greek era, the countryside in between is not to be missed. One of the best ways to experience Sicily is on a tour that can bypass the often unpredictable local transport and access the best bits the island has to offer. Tours from Palermo and Catania leave on a regular basis and can last from a couple of days to over a week. Here are five of the best.
Sicilian Secrets 5 day tour
From: €628/per person
While the masses head to the Ancient Greek ruins and Mt. Etna, some of the prettiest landscapes and most under-appreciated Sicilian towns remain relatively peaceful and thus retain an air of authenticity. Departing from Palermo, this tour heads west taking in the Norman cathedral at Monreale, through salt marshes to the Ancient Greek ruins at Selinunte, and to a Roman villa at Piazza Armerina to see the preserved mosaics. The final day of travel heads through an area where baroque architecture is ubiquitous, before ending in Catania.
Small Group Siracusa, Ortygia Island and Noto tour
From €100/ per person
This excellent day-tour explores the highlights of Sicily’s eastern coast. Over the course of nine hours the tour, which starts and ends in Catania, takes in the Ancient Greek ruins at Syracuse, such as the theatre and Temple of Apollo, and then on to nearby Ortygia island where Ancient Greek, Christian and Arabic heritage intermingles. Finally, the tour heads to Noto, a small, sandy coloured city famed for its baroque architecture which is found throughout its UNESCO-listed historic centre. Group size is capped at eight people.
New Tour of Sicily from Palermo
From €1,351/ per person
During the course of eight days it is possible to complete a rather comprehensive loop tour of the entire island of Sicily. Taking in the major sights of both Palermo and Catania, plus many of the island’s major spots too, the tour price includes all accommodation, meals, transportation and a tour guide. Highlights of the itinerary include a trip up Mount Etna, the charming town of Taormina with its Greco-Roman theatre, and a whole host of UNESCO-listed sites including the Valley of Temples of Agrigento, Modica’s baroque churches, Noto, and Armerina.
4-Night Western Sicily Tour from Palermo
From €648/ per person
For aficionados of Sicily’s culture and its colourful past, including the notorious mafia history, this four-day tour provides plenty of balance and experience for its guests. Including a cooking lesson, a mafia presentation – both in Corleone – and a wine tasting event in Marsala, the tour also takes in some of the island’s fine architecture at Monreale, the Royal Palace of Palermo and the Temple of Segesta. While entrance fees to most of these spots are not included, the experiences, classes, accommodation, transportation and most meals are.
Tour of Sicily and the Aeolian Islands
From €1,584/ per person
An alternative eight-day tour option substitutes the volcano of Etna and some of the more heavily touristed east-coast sights, like Taormina, for the little visited Aeolian Islands. While first visiting many sites around the coast of the island, like Selinunte and Agrigento, the latter days of the tour are devoted to the picturesque cluster of volcanic islands, primarily Lipari and Panarea, with their crystal clear waters and rugged coastlines. The tour begins and ends in Palermo and includes rooms, board, guide and transport.