Sicily’s scenery makes a dramatic first impression with sandy beaches, quaint medieval towns and brooding mountain landscapes.
It’s no wonder that many films and television shows have used Sicily as the backdrop for their drama, like The Godfather Trilogy and Inspector Montalbano. This year Sicily has seen another rise in popularity due to the award-winning second season of White Lotus, which is set on the island.
However, Sicily isn’t just a great film location, it’s also a great place to go on holiday. With such a varied landscape, you can spend your days lounging by the sea, exploring its history, climbing volcanoes and wandering through citrus orchards.
Find out more about why Sicily should be on your bucket list with our travel guide:
The History Of Sicily
As the largest island in the Mediterranean, the culture has been shaped by the multiple civilisations that have claimed the island as their own throughout the centuries.
Its strategic location at the centre of the Mediterranean made the island a crossroads of history and a pawn of conquest. Over the centuries, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Abras, French, Germans, Spanish, Italians and British have called Sicily home, leaving a fascinating cultural mix. The Greeks settled in Sicily between the 8th and 6th century BC. In the 3rd century BC, Sicily became a Roman province passing from hand to hand until it formed a part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (or Naples) in the 12th century, which united the southern peninsula of Italy with Sicily. After a short British administration, the Bourbons rule through the 18th century before Sicily was united with Italy under a monarchy.
Mosaic fragment Roman Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily – Italy
Sicily Vs Italy
While Sicily shares a lot of customs and traditions with Italy, the varied mix of rulers and ethnicities has resulted in slight differences from the mainland.
The Sicilian Language
While Italian is the common language spoken by everyone on the island, Sicilian, or offshoots, is still used by many daily. The Italian language evolved from Vulgar Latin, which makes it close to Spanish, French and Portuguese. Sicilian, on the other hand, also has its roots in ancient Arabic, Hebrew, Byzantine and Norman, a callback to its tumultuous past.
Italy is famous for its pasta. Italian cuisine is known for its use of fresh simple ingredients, such as tomato olive oil and fresh herbs. However, as an island, Sicily is also a great place to enjoy seafood. Enjoy freshly caught fish with views overlooking the sea in the local restaurants, swordfish, tuna and sardines are popular here. Another staple of Sicilian food is arancini, said to have originated in the 10th century under Arab rule, a ball of risotto rice stuffed with delicious meaty sauce or mozzarella and crunchy breadcrumb coating.
Italy has had a significant global impact on art, music and fashion since the Renaissance and is the birthplace of Opera and Classical Music. The Sicilian culture is known for its vibrant celebrations and festivals, like the Feast of St. Agatha and the Carnival of Acrireale, featuring Folk music with instruments such as the tambourine and the accordion.
Sicily is a dramatic contrast to the rolling hills, green vineyards and soft, sandy beaches of Italy. It’s located on the junction of three tectonic plates, the African, the Eurasian and the Adriatic. The land in Sicily seems harder, where rocky volcanic coastlines give way to pebble beaches and neat vineyards are grown up rugged mountain tops.
The Sicilian landscape, Parco delle Madonie National Park – Italy
The Most Beautiful Towns And Cities In Sicily
There are too many historic cities, picturesque towns and quaint villages to list. However, if you’re looking for the best parts, this is where to go in Sicily:
With lively markets, medieval streets and grand architecture, you cannot visit Sicily without visiting the capital, Palermo.
Monuments dating back before 1861, when Sicily was an independent kingdom, and timeless piazzas pepper the streets. Near the city centre is Palermo cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage site showcasing a mixture of Western, Islamic and Byzantine styles. The nearby Norman Palace is Palermo’s undisputed artistic gem. Covered in some of the finest gold medieval mosaics in existence, the building reflects numerous architectural styles from its many transformations over Sicily’s long history.
Famous on film: Check out the Monreale Cathedral, overlooking Piazza Bellini, famed for its glittering mosaics, which featured in the film The Talented Mr Ripley in the scene where Smith-Kingsley (played by Jack Davenport) rehearses the Stabat Mater.
Clinging to the base of a huge rocky outcrop on Sicily’s northern coast is a city dominated by terracotta-coloured roofs. The jewel of Cefalù is the Norman Cathedral, famous for having the oldest and best preserved Byzantine mosaics in Sicily featuring Christ Pantokrator and tiers of royal figures and bishops. The maze of medieval streets hosts a selection of shops, cafes and bars to relax in and soak up the laidback ambience of Sicilian life.
Famous on film: Cefalù beach was recently featured in White Lotus.
Aerial view of Cefalù, Sicily – Italy
Taormina towers 250 metres above the coastline below. This little town on the eastern coast offers panoramic views of the sea to one side and Mount Etna to the other. Its quintessential Sicilian atmosphere made it the perfect setting for season two of White Lotus, which shot many scenes in the seaside resort. The ancient theatre has drawn in visitors for centuries playing host to performances from musicals to gladiatorial battles.
Famous on film: A short distance from Taormia, is Forza d’Agrò one of the key spots from The Godfather trilogy, home to the church where Michael Corleone married Apollonia.
This beautifully preserved medieval town sits at 751 metres above sea level on the rocky west coast of Sicily, offering breathtaking views. Passing from one invader to the next, the architectural footprints from several ancient cultures can be seen all over this small town. Visit Venus Castle, built by the Normans, and Peopli Castle, built by the Arabs to see the true impact of invaders.
Famous on film: While Aquaman didn’t film here due to budget constraints, this scenic town was the inspiration for the location of the fight scene with Manta in the first film.
Erice Castle, Sicily – Italy
Boasting a wonderful collection of limestone buildings dating back to the 17th and18th-century, Siracusa was once one of the richest and most beautiful cities in the ancient world. There’s an extraordinary Baroque Cathedral, incorporating an old temple, and just opposite is Bosco Palace. The old port area is a must-see here, full of small fishing boats.
Seafront Promenade in the historic center of Syracuse – Italy
Valley Of Temples And Agrigento
Founded in the 6th century BC, Akragas developed into one of the leading cities in the Mediterranean world. While the city is now gone, six Doric temple ruins remain as a reminder of its power and prosperity and the area is protected as a UNSECO world heritage site. The best preserved, Concordia, is designed similarly to the Parthenon in Athens with only the roof missing. Agrigento, the modern Akragas, is a maze of stepped streets and quiet shady piazzas looking over the Mediterranean in the distance.
Temple of Concordia Agrigento – Italy
Visit the Palermo, Taormina, Siracusa and Valley of Temples on our Sicily tour.
The Best Beaches In Sicily
Known as the Pearl of the Ionian Sea, Isola Bella is a charming beach near Taormina. The bay is a pebble beach, boasts lovely vegetation and links the mainland to the Island. Venture onto the island for a walk through its lush vegetation and visit the Naturalistic Museum of Isolabella.
The fine sand and shallow, calm waters around Mondello are perfect for families and sunbathers. For those who love adventure, there are opportunities to try your hand at water sports such as kayaking, surfing, paddle boarding, sailing and windsurfing.
Calomosche is one of the most beautiful beaches in Italy, with crystal clear waters and soft sandy beaches. The sea here is almost always calm, protected by two rocky promontories. These headlands are riddled with caves to explore, and the waters offer the perfect conditions for snorkelling.
You can visit the Aeolian Islands, Palermo, Erice and Cefalù on our Western Sicily, Palermo and the Aeolian Islands tour.
The Inside Scoop:
Riviera’s team are passionate about travel crafting the perfect itinerary based on first-hand experience. Product Assistant, Miren, visited Sicily recently on ‘the Classic Sicily solo tour’Here’s what he had to say about this picturesque island:
What Was Your Favourite Place To Visit In Sicily?
My favourite place was Mount Etna, the views are breathtaking. The journey up Mount Etna is just as exciting as you navigate the winding roads, you will see the remnants of lava flows.
What Was Your Favourite Thing About Sicilian Culture?
It’s probably the influence that various cultures have had on Sicilian culture itself. The island has a unique culture, you’ll find mixtures of Roman, Greek, and Moorish, to name a few, and that has shaped all areas of the island, including art, food and architecture. You definitely won’t miss this as you travel around the island!
What Local Delicacies Do You Recommend?
I would recommend the arancini di riso (rice balls). You will find them at almost every café, restaurant or bakery in Sicily. They can be filled with almost anything, but the most popular filling is ragu which is meat, rice, tomato sauce and cheese. Of course, those with a sweet tooth must try the cannoli pastries filled with ricotta.
What’s Your Top Tip For Anyone Planning A Trip To Sicily?
Try and mix with the locals. Sicilian people are extremely friendly and approachable. Also, make sure you pack a camera. The views that we experience throughout the tour are incredible – it is almost impossible to take a bad photo in Sicily!