It all started with a cannolo *opera music starts up in the background*, gazes fondly into the distance…
For the whole year I lived in Rome all everyone could talk about (gastronomically) was Sicilian food. Even if we were eating amazingly well in Florence, Bologna or Rome, people would pat their bellies and say, “Aaaaah but it’s not Sicilian food.” Jokes, Italians are way too proud to say another region’s food is better, but we know that they were thinking it. In September, I had some work to do in the northern city of Turin and thought that now would be the perfect time to visit Sicily. I bagged a €20 flight from Milan to Catania with Ryanair (found on Skyscanner) and landed, ready to eat, stare at volcanoes and enjoy the thirty degree weather.
Here is my guide to la dolce vita down south; the places below could comfortably fit into a one week itinerary in Sicily
Is travelling alone as a woman in Sicily safe?
Is the Pope Catholic?
I felt completely comfortable travelling alone as a woman and always felt safe. The hostel scene hasn’t exactly taken off in Sicily but using hostelworld you can find at least two hostels per major city. I went out late at night alone, travelled and used public transport alone, all a-OK.
Car or public transport?
In most destinations I would say that public transport is always best but with Sicily the public transport can be awkward. The route from Syracuse to Agrigento was impossible, I had to backtrack to Catania to get a connection that would take me on to Agrigento, which doubled the length of my journey. I took buses and coaches around the region and my bus ticket to Rome covered the cost of the ferry (the coach is parked on the ferry).
Getting to Sicily/ Leaving Sicily
Catania is the cheapest airport to fly into and if you plan to fly out of anywhere else be prepared to spend a bit more; flying from Palermo to Rome was around €100 so I got the twelve-hour night bus for €37 instead, direct from Palermo to the capital. It leaves at 6pm and arrives at Tiburtina station, Rome at 5am, this information isn’t available online and no hostel or travel agent seemed to know that this bus existed, so I’d recommend going directly to the ticket office of the main train station in Palermo. With flights, I’m sure if you book ahead you can get some pretty sweet deals from Palermo to elsewhere in Italy, the €20 flight from Milan to Sicily was booked just a few days before.
The island ended up being a lot more expensive than I anticipated and all of my hostels cost around €20 per night, with entrance to tourist sites costing close to €10. There are discounts to be had for students and EU citizens under 26. Pastries and coffee were super cheap (€1.50 would be a more expensive coffee and small cannolo combo, average was around €0.75-1) and meals (one course) around €10.
Make sure to take advantage of the amazing Sicilian dishes. Pasta alla norma (aubergine pasta) was my favourite, as were the pastries: cassatina and cannolo. When you go to buy a cannolo, make sure the ricotta is not already in the shell! This is a sign that the cannolo is probably soggy and for the tourists that a-don’ta know-a better. Make sure they fill the cannolo with ricotta when you actually buy it.
In terms of streetfood, the arancino is a godsend: a fried ball with rice, ragù (meat-based tomato sauce) and mozzarella cheese and peas, it is delicious. It comes with other fillings too. Make sure to try almond milk in any of the cafes and a granita, which is a semi-frozen dessert and comes in lots of different fruit flavours. It’s quite similar to gelato, but not the same!
Can I get by with English in Sicily or even basic Italian?
Not as easily. Unless your Italian is strong you will find it hard to understand the Sicilian accent and some of the vocabulary is different. I found it hard enough travelling around being fluent in Italian, but this was more due to the tourism infrastructure (or lack thereof), but hey it’s a challenge 🙂
Places to visit
If you’d like to climb up to the summit of Mount Etna you will have to visit Catania. Day trips, complete with guide cost upwards of €70 and for those who want to do it independently, the only bus that leaves for Etna departs from Catania around 5am, with the return bus coming back at 4pm.
I loved Catania because it was probably the least touristy place in Sicily and the food everywhere was excellent! I’d recommend spending around one day here if you’re not going to Etna.
Very pretty seaside town but in terms of levels of tourism, it felt like Barcelona on speed. I visited Taormina as a day trip from Catania, it takes one hour on the train.
The Greek ruins were a bit meh (much better in Agrigento, where you’re going next!) but the island of Ortigia was beautiful <3, it’s a small island in the historic centre of Syracuse. You could also do a day trip to Noto, a medieval village featured in the Montalbano series, filmed in Sicily.
This was my favourite stop in Sicily! The city centre was filled with multicoloured houses and olive trees and the city is basically one massive hill. I stayed in an incredible hostel with really young, friendly owners from Agrigento who had just opened; the place is a work of art and it’s one of the best hostels I’ve stayed in.
Visit the Valley of Temples (Valle dei Templi) which is a short bus ride from the centre of Agrigento. One hundred metres from the train station is the bus stop where you can catch the buses that go to the temples, of course, this being Italy you have to first buy the tickets for the bus at the train station 😉 Go to the newsagents in the train station and ask for a return ticket to the Valle dei Templi and then return to the bus stop to get the bus. Only two out of three of the buses that stop here actually go to the temples, so check with the driver and your hostel/hotel beforehand.
My least favourite stop in Sicily it felt more touristy and had a lot more traffic (though all of Sicily is chock full of traffic). I visited the main cathedral and walked around the centre, though some of the sights are quite far away, like the catacombs of the Cappuccino monks and the Cappella Palatina. The catacombs of the Capuccini monks house the skeletons of numerous Sicilian monks and the name ‘cappuccino’ derives from the monks’ brown habit and white hood (exactly like the foam on a coffee!) On a lighter note, Mondello beach is half-hour from Palermo and outside of high season is a lot nicer.
There you have it: my guide to Sicily. Write a comment if you have any other tips to add 🙂