The Ultimate Sicily Road Trip- 12 Days Around Sicily

My compact rental car in front of the Salt Flats of Trapini in Sicily
My Smart Car rental in front of the Salt Flats of Trapini, Sicily on our road trip.
My cute rental in front of the Salt Flats of Trapini

Before arriving in Sicily, my friend Liz gave me some really valuable advice, rent a car.  Public transportation is rare and the trains are unpredictable.  I spent the first few days in Palermo and after taking the train to Cefalu, I decided the rental car really is the best option.  Playlists ready and a new friend to join, off we went on our Sicily Road Trip!!!!

This road trip itinerary is not exactly how it went down, rather how I would do it all again. I went to Cefalu by train. My travel companion turned out to be not so great, and included an inconvenient detour to the closest train station after 5 days (see Travel Romance and And the Universe Will Provide). And on my last afternoon, I was brought back to the Palermo Airport rental car office via tow truck with a flat tire from the top of a small village parked in a narrow lane with no spare tire in the car. Not all goes as planned, but these travel experiences make you stronger with better stories.

Road Trip!

Here is a well- rounded 12 day itinerary, taking you around the island through the bigger cities, small baroque towns, gorgeous beaches, mountains, nature reserves, UNESCO sites, archeological ruins, street markets, magnificent churches, town squares, botanical gardens, wine regions, and the rest is for you to wander and discover at your own pace. One day I hope to return to Sicily and travel slower.

Each city and region is unique and charming in its own way. Below are hit lists, photos, and incredible sites worth seeing. All the delicious foods of Sicily have been dedicated to it’s own post and market galleries another.

Sicily has a vibe and you just need to feel it out. Sometimes you linger and other times it’s best to move on. All accommodations were booked on arrival in each city through hostelworld.com, booking.com, AirBnB or word of mouth for agritourism.

What has sat with me over the years and that I loved most about Sicily was the people. There is a curious and extraordinary culture with a complex cocktail of generosity and deceit. It is remarkable. If there is one take-away I would implore specifically for Sicily is to engage with the locals, talk to everyone, listen to their stories, enjoy the company, go with the flow and stay a wee-bit skeptical of overly kind gestures.

For current tourism information, history, and events visit the Sicily Tourism Board and for up to date COVID travel regulations to Italy click here.

Day 1 & 2: Palermo

Eat the street food, meet the people!

Street Markets on Monday- Saturday 7am- 8pm

  • Mercato Ballaro
  • Mercato del Capo
  • Mercato Vucciro

Churches & squares

  • Cattedrali di Palermo
  • Cappella Palatina
  • Capuchin Catacombs
  • Fontana Pretoria
  • Quatro Canti
  • San Giovanni degli Ermiti
  • Church of San Cataldo
  • Piazza San Domenico

Theatre and Museums

  • Teatro Massimo
  • Palace Normann – UNESCO site

And the fascination & charm of this frayed city

Day 3: Palermo to San Vito Lo Capo

Drive time: 1.75 hours, 110 km

Swim the clear waters and climb the tall rocks.

Castellammare del Golfo

  • Baglio Di Scopello
  • Tonnnara di Scoppello

San Vito Lo Capo

  • Some of the best rock climbing in Italy with roughly 1200 routes.
  • Riserva Dello Zingaro
  • Macari Beach
  • San Vito Sanctuary
  • The Faro- Lighthouse

Day 4: San Vito Lo Capo through Trapani to Castelvitrano

Drive time: 2.75 hours, 123 km

Charming windmills, pink salt pans & sweet wine.

  • Salt Museum and Salt Flats of Trapani
  • Masala wine tasting
  • Cave of Cusa
  • An extra day, I would have loved to have taken a boat to the Aegadian Islands. Levanzo looks incredible.

Day 5: Agrigento

Drive time: 1.5 hours, 109 km

Grecian temples and Turkish stairs.

  • The Valley of the Temples- UNESCO site
  • The Gardens of Kolymbethra
  • Scala dei Turchi

Day 6: Ragusa & Modica

Drive time: 2.75 hours, 156 km

UNESCO cities, botanical gardens & chocolate.

Ragusa

  • Duomo Di San Giorgio
  • The Chiesa di Maria delle Scale
  • Cathedral of John the Baptist
  • Giardino Ibleao

Modica

  • Duomo Di San Pietro
  • Palazzo Polaro
  • Palazzo Napolino Tommasi Rosso
  • Belvedere di Modica
  • Chocolate tastings

Day 7: Noto & Syracusa

Drive time: 1.85 hours, 96 km

Sicilian Baroque at its best & secret swimming holes.

  • Church of St. Charles Borromeo
  • Chisea di San Francisco d’Assissi
  • Corso Vittoro Emanuele
  • Church of Santa Chiara
  • Palazzo Landolina
  • Church of Santissimo Sal Vature
  • Porto Reale
  • Noto Cathedral
  • Palazzo Ducezio
  • Palazzo Nicolaci di Villadorata
  • Special in May:  Infiorata di Noto

Both cities have been classified as UNESCO sites

  • Gorges in the Riserva Naturale Orientata Cavagrande del Cassibile, near Syracuse

Day 8: Catania

Drive time: 1 hour, 66 km

Volcanic soot covered city, street art, & fish markets.

  • Saint Agata Cathedral
  • Piazza Duomo with the Fontana d’Elefante
  • Via dei Crociferi
  • Roman Amphitheater
  • Benedictine Monastary
  • San Nicolo l’Arena
  • Porto Garibaldi
  • Castello Ursino
  • Museo Civico
  • Etna Promenade
  • Giardini Bellini
  • Catania Botanical Garden
  • Fish market

Day 9: Mt. Etna

Drive Time: 1 hour; 34 km

Highest active volcano in Europe.

Day 10: Taormina

Drive Time: 1.25 hour; 55 km

Tourist destination for shopping, cafes, & beach clubs.

  • Roman Teatro
  • Porta Catania
  • Corso Umberto
  • Fountain Piazza Duomo
  • Church of Catherine of Alexandre
  • Cordaja Palace
  • Piazza Aprele
  • Church of San Guiseppe
  • Madonna del Rocca Church
  • Taormina Castle

Day 11 & 12: Cefalu

Drive Time: 2.5-3.25 hours; 180-215 km

It has my heart, the magic, & the vibe.

  • Cefalu Cathedral- UNESCO site
  • Museo Mandralisco
  • Rocca di Cefalu
  • Lavatoio Medieval
  • Porte Pescaro
  • Cefalu Beach
  • Piazza del Duomo
  • Old Harbour

Day 12: Palermo

Drive Time: 1.2 hours; 70 km

Back where we started…maybe a few kilos heavier.

And back where we started…maybe a few kilos heavier 😉

Helpful tips for a successful road trip:

  1. Book a car in advance. The airport usually has cheaper options.
  2. Get travel insurance. Car crime is high in Sicily, best to have your belongings insured and lock the car. When leaving belongings in the car, put them in the boot with the cover over- less temptation when it can’t be seen.
  3. Size matters. Get the smallest car available.
  4. Watch for sharp, tight turns. Drivers will whip around these extreme, winding mountain roads, including buses. Watch out!
  5. Never assume others will stop for you– even if you have the right of way.
  6. Speed traps. While everyone and their mother seems to speed, look out for the speed cameras. My mother was sent my speeding ticket about 3 months after I left.
    1. Highways = 130km/h
    2. State roads = 110km/h
    3. local roads = 90km/h
    4. urban roads = 50km/h
  7. Narrow roads. Most of these small villages have roads only wide enough for a wheelbarrow. Make sure not to get stuck in the labyrinth of precarious side streets.
  8. Manual or Automatic. If you are uncomfortable with a stick shift- this is not the place to learn. Spend the extra money for an automatic.
  9. Driver’s Insurance. Before dishing out extra money for rental car insurance, check if you are covered by your home driver’s insurance.
  10. Avoid driving in the cities. Find a safe place to park and walk around.
  11. When parking:
    1. White lines = DO NOT PARK HERE
    2. Yellow lines = DO NOT PARK HERE
    3. Blue lines = YAY!!!! BUT YOU HAVE TO PAY.
      1. Find the ticket machine that works.
      2. If not, find a tabacchino shop that is open and buy a ticket.
      3. If the tabacchino shop is closed, find another or you’re basically screwed and try to find a garage.
  12. Paper maps. When it comes to directions Google maps, maps.me, and waze are not always reliable. A paper map is ideal.
  13. Sicilians are very kind and helpful, so much so, when asking for directions they would rather give you wrong directions than say they are not sure.

EAT

EVERYTHING!

SPEAK

Italian

Hello – Ciao

Please – Por Favore

How much? – Quanto?

Thank you- Grazie

SPEND

Euro

INSPIRE

Cinema Paradiso

The Godfather

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