Many travelers find themselves drawn to the beautiful island of Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and one of the most historically and culturally rich regions in Italy.
Known for its cuisine, stunning beaches, and a plethora of ancient ruins, Sicily seems to have it all. Others say that Sicily is overrated. So is this Italian destination worth the hype?
In today’s article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of visiting Sicily, and help you decide if it’s the right place for your next Italian adventure.
Is Sicily overrated? What’s so great about Sicily?
Sicily has fantastic food and wine
First and foremost, Sicily is a food lover’s paradise. Here, you’ll find some of the best pizza, pasta, seafood, and street food in Italy, with unique flavors influenced by Arab and African cuisines. Sicily is also known for its wine, particularly the red and white wines from around Mount Etna, and the Marsala wine from the west coast. However, there are good winemakers outside this area as well.
Sicily has some great beaches
In addition to the food, the island boasts beautiful beaches, such as Mondello beach, Cefalu beach, and San Vito lo Capo beach, each with crystal clear waters and breathtaking views. However, not all the beaches are especially picturesque. It’s important to do your research to find the beaches with the best views, and the services you may need like restrooms, showers, and food. There are plenty of good options but you can’t necessarily just go to the nearest beach and expect it to be stunning.
Sicily has impressive historical architecture
Another big draw is the architecture of the island, particularly its ancient ruins and stunning baroque churches and palaces. History buffs will love exploring the Valley of the Temples and the ancient Greek cities of Syracuse and Agrigento. The Greek temples in the archeological park are impressive. However, note that there is a pretty long walk to the archaeological park – I suggest going early in the day before it’s too hot.
You can drive there from Southern Italy
Another cool thing about visiting Sicily on a longer Italian road trip is that you can bring your car. A car ferry leaves from Villa San Giovanni in Calabria, so you can take your car on a quick boat ride from the ‘toe’ of Italy’s boot over to Catania on the east coast of Sicily. You can drive right off the boat and continue your exploration of Sicily by car.
What’s not so great about Sicily?
There can be crowds during summer, especially August
One of the biggest downsides to visiting Sicily for some people is the high level of crowding. During peak tourist season, major attractions can get extremely busy, particularly in the evenings. In addition, the prices of accommodations, restaurants, and activities can be quite high, especially in popular areas such as Taormina and Palermo. However, the same could definitely be said about many other well-loved destinations around western Europe, including other Italian destinations like the Amalfi Coast. If you’re visiting in August and following the same Lonely Planet guide or main Instagram spots as all the other tourists, you can expect to run unto crowds.
There is public transportation in some of the major cities like Palermo and Catania. However, when you get out to the small towns and villages of the countryside transportation infrastructure can be lacking, and you may need a car to get around. That said, some of my favorite places in Sicily are out in the countryside. I don’t view this as different than many other destinations where public transport is not to be expected and driving a car is just part of life (when you’re out in the country and not in a major metro area).
It takes time to get there, and to get around
This isn’t a knock on Sicily, but I think some people imagine that it’s a small island where they can see the entire island in a week. In reality, some of the big attractions are spread out on different parts of the island
For that reason, I think it’s better to plan for a longer trip in Sicily and slowly move around the island. It’s not realistic to see the whole island in a week. If you only have a week or less, it’s better to pick one area of the island to focus on vs. trying to see it all. For example, base yourself near Mount Etna for wineries, base yourself in the South East for beaches and baroque towns, or base yourself in Palermo for city life.
A note on day trips
Expanding on my points above, if you’re staying in one place and planning to make a day trip to another area of the island, make sure to do some research on how long it takes to get from one place to another. The roads can be windy in spots, so it’s good to make sure you’re onboard with the amount of time you’ll realistically spend in the car.
Is Sicily Too Crowded?
Honestly, after visiting Sicily myself I still have to laugh at the idea that Sicily is too crowded. It’s actually a huge island, with plenty of room to escape the crowds if you’re seeking somewhere more quiet. Yes, the island is a tourist destination and there will be crowds if you go to certain popular spots in the summer, but that is to be expected.
While Sicily can indeed be crowded during peak season, travelers can still enjoy a relaxing vacation by venturing off the beaten path and exploring some of the lesser-known areas of the island. Head to the Aeolian Islands for some of the most beautiful coastline and charming traditional villages in Italy.
Alternatively, wander off the main streets of Palermo and discover the city’s quirky and colorful street art. If you’re looking for peace and quiet, consider visiting during the shoulder season, preferably in April-May or September-October when the major attractions are less crowded and accommodations are more affordable.
Is Sicily Too Expensive?
Sicily can be expensive in the high season, but travelers can save money by staying in smaller towns or villages and by seeking out local restaurants and street food vendors.
Some of the best local food can be found in the local markets, such as the Ballarò market in Palermo and the Vucciria market in Catania.
Alternatively, consider booking a vacation rental or apartment rather than a hotel, as this can save you money on food and lodging. Whatever your budget, remember to set aside some money for the famous seafood platters, cannoli, and granita that Sicily is known for.
Why Some Travelers Are Disappointed In Sicily?
While there are plenty of amazing things to see and do in Sicily, some travelers may be disappointed if they have unrealistic expectations. Keep in mind that Italy is not as organized as some other countries, and you may encounter traffic, delays, or unexpected closures that aren’t always posted clearly online.
On the other hand, you might come across amazing and local festivals as I did. For two of them, people showed up from all over town (and even other towns) even though there was practically no information about them online. The spontaneity adds to the adventure.
In addition, the island has a unique culture that can take a little time to adjust to, particularly in terms of service standards. I found the service friendly and helpful almost everywhere I went, but it wasn’t always fast. Many stores close in the middle of the day for a kind of siesta, and they may or may not stick to the posted hours you see on Google maps.
If you’re looking for a fast-paced, perfectly-tuned machine of a vacation, Sicily may not be the destination for you. However, if you’re open to experiencing a relaxed and laid back way of life, strolling beautiful baroque towns with gelato in hand, Sicily can be an unforgettable adventure.
My Sicily Trip Report
I recently spent almost a month in Sicily, and on that trip I focused mainly on the east coast and southeast side of the island. I had a great experience and can confidently say I love Sicily.
I’ve spent a lot of time in some of the foodie capitals of the world like New York, San Francisco, and Paris yet I can say that some of the best food I’ve had was in Sicily. You can eat fantastic food at restaurants executing at a very high level, for much less than you would spend in one of the major cities I mentioned above.
I also like to learn about local wine when I travel, and I got to visit some amazing vineyards around Mount Etna. A local chef that I met while having dinner at a local restaurant connected me with some other wineries to visit and they all turned out to be great.
I enjoyed taking a small road trip each day between the baroque old towns on the southeast part of the island. It didn’t feel crowded to me even though I was there in summer (my trip was mainly in June, not in August, and locals tell me there is a big difference between the two).
Although many local people speak a Sicilian dialect, it’s considered polite to speak standard Italian with people you don’t know. I tried practicing my very limited Italian, and people were friendly and patient with me. In the larger towns, there was no problem finding people who speak enough English to get through daily vacation life.
Conclusion: Sicily is Not Overrated
In conclusion, Sicily is not overrated. If anything, quite the opposite. More people may have heard about Sicily than in years past, but the island has a lot to offer.
Sicily is a destination that offers something for everyone, from the food and culture to the beaches and ancient ruins. It has similarities to other parts of Southern Italy, but the still unique.
Yes, it can be crowded and expensive if you don’t time your trip and select the right spots to visit. But travelers who are willing to do some research and planning can find ways to enjoy this island without breaking the bank.
Above all, for your first trip it’s important to approach Sicily with an open mind and a willingness to go with the flow. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing beach vacation or a cultural adventure, Sicily is a laid back destination that is sure to leave you with unforgettable memories.