Wooden boat floating off the coast of Sicily

From Sweeping Coastline to Crumbling Ruins: Touring Sicily by Car

Wooden boat floating off the coast of Sicily

From Sweeping Coastline to Crumbling Ruins: Touring Sicily by Car

Touring Sicily by car offers breathtaking views of historic architecture along its winding coastline. Discover the mystique of this ancient Italian island.

To tour Sicily by car is to experience the majesty of the sea, the progress of ancient civilizations, and the pleasures of contemporary offerings. With the windows down and your eyes on the lookout for the next attraction, you become a modern-day explorer, discovering iconic landmarks through your own unique lens.

The good road system and friendly natives make Sicily a wonderful area to explore from behind the wheel. Keep in mind, however, that driving in Sicily comes with many twists and turns that can get your heart racing. The reward for your daring adventure is a very memorable take on an ancient island.

Slip behind the wheel and get ready to hit the highlights, from Etna to Palermo and various parts in between. Be sure to orient yourself by reviewing a map of Sicily before beginning your journey, and allow plenty of time to step out of the car for in-depth sightseeing.

Fountain of shame on baroque Piazza Pretoria, Palermo, Sicily, Italy
Source: Shutterstock

City and Surf: Catania to Palermo

Begin your driving tour in the eastern coastal town of Catania, Sicily’s second largest city. Park your car in the heart of town to admire the Norman and Baroque basilicas, the 13th century Castello Ursino, and the Monastero dei Benedettini, a UNESCO World Heritage Site founded in 1558.

Pack up your swimsuits and towels and head north to San Giovanni Li Cuti, where you can walk along the black volcanic sands and soak in the breathtaking Ionian Sea. The area has a charming harbor with colorful boats and an assortment of restaurants and shops.

Toss your purchases in the car and travel into the center of Sicily. The topography of the island’s interior is diverse, and seeing it by car is an ideal way to take it all in. The Madonie Mountains surround you, offering opportunities to pull over and admire the view. Options abound for sightseeing and accommodations, from the plateau town of Piazza Armerina to the Piano Battaglia ski resort.

Moving north, steer your way to Sicily’s Mediterranean coast. Stop for shopping and sunning in Bagheria and Porticello, two areas popular with the locals. From there, it’s on to the capital of Sicily, Palermo. Discover Latin, Byzantine, and Islamic influences in the architecture, and indulge in some seriously delicious street food.

Pine and beech trees lining the front of a snow-capped mountain
Soure: Shutterstock

Wine and Water: Palermo to Agrigento

Heading west out of Palermo, you encounter the coastal town of Trapani. Tuna, salt, and olives have brought Trapani fame, along with vast wine production. Plan a day trip to one of the many wineries in the region, such as Marsala, an active winemaker for two centuries.

Traveling away from the coast, you enter the determined town of Gibellina. When the town was flattened by an earthquake in 1968, a new town was built next door to illustrate the community’s perseverance. Nearby Salemi offers more opportunities for wine tours and overnight accommodations.

Back along the coast, Selinunte features archaeological sites dating back to the city’s Greek beginnings in 409 BC. Equally historic is Agrigento, just south of Selinunte. It has its own wine scene, and the Valley of the Temples, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offers a memorable tour of Greek architecture and culture.

Sicily, Trapani wind mill
Source: Shutterstock

The Heart of it All: Agrigento to Cefalu

Although Sicily’s coast is well known, its interior remains somewhat mysterious. By car, you see quiet towns that boast their own history and charm. In Caltanissetta, centuries of magnificent architecture captivate the eye, while the Strat’a Foglia market, dating back to the 18th century, provides temptation with stand after stand of food and treasures.

Traversing through the Madonie Mountains, the culture turns to a rural lifestyle with distinctive flora and fauna and its own special cuisine. Take time to sample local foods and savor the wholesome atmosphere.

The final stop on this leg of the road tour leads you back to the Mediterranean coast. Cefalu is a beach lover’s paradise, offering seaside resorts and quiet nooks. Park your car and spend some time soaking up the sun, visiting the Norman cathedral, and sampling authentic Italian and Mediterranean cuisines.

Village at the bottom of Madonie mountain range in Sicily, Italy
Source: Shutterstock

Erupting with History: Cefalu to Mount Etna

By now you’ve mastered the mountainous Sicilian interior, so a drive through the mountains to reach one of Sicily’s most famous attractions won’t be a challenge. Discover areas for hiking and nature walks in the Nebrodi Mountains, or visit the Byzantine monasteries that dot the landscape around Trina and Nicosia.

This adventurous car tour leads to Mount Etna, the highest active volcano in Europe. You can drive all the way to the base of the mountain to catch a guided tour. Remember to pack the car with cold-weather gear, as the high reaches of Mount Etna are quite chilly, but the change in climate is worth it to experience the dramatic landscape.

Day trips from this area make it easy to capture more of Sicily’s flavor. Ancient ruins framed by the majestic sea define the coastal city of Taormina. Navigate your way from the Ionian coast up to the top of the city, where you can park your car and begin a day of sightseeing on foot. At the Tetra Greco, sit in one of the stone seats and enjoy the delicious seaside setting. Imagine the spectacular ancient games that took place as you admire the ruins of thick columns and a grand portico. In nearby Naxos, an ancient Greek village, drink in the sea air, rent an umbrella, and finish your visit to Sicily by purchasing memorable souvenirs in the old town district.

Wooden boat floating off the coast of Sicily
Source: Shutterstock

A car tour of Sicily is overflowing with options for scenic adventure. Have you discovered a little-known area of the island or found a charming hideaway in a more popular area? Share your Sicily memories with us on our Facebook page.

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