Thinking of taking a Sicilian road trip? Sicily is one of our favourite islands, with a history rich in Greek and Roman architecture, incredible natural wonders and a modern day playground of superb hiking, water sports and vibrant cities, there is something here for everyone. How to road trip eclectic Sicily has all the information and travel tips you need to visit this incredible island!
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A Sicilian Road Trip
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Things to Know About Sicily
Sicily has a rich and varied history which has given the island many stunning archeological sites full of ancient ruins. It is also the birthplace of the Mafia, the image of Sicily which seems to have stuck and is still a menace on the Island. Poverty, mixed with the politics of apathy and a stagnant economy dominates Sicilian lives today.
Despite recent anti-mafia movements, particularly strong in Palermo, the Mafia still retains much of the power in administrative Sicily.
You may be asked to pay to stay safe if you wild camp in Sicily in a motorhome or campervan. If you are approached in this way, by far the best thing to do is pay what is being asked, usually €10-15. Once paid, you will not be troubled and can in fact go out knowing your home on wheels will stay safe. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!
If you’re fascinated by the Mafia, and many are, why not take a Godfather private tour which includes a visit to including a visit to the Castello Degli Schiavi?
The Sicilians don’t conform to carefree southern Italian stereotypes. Life has long been too hard and dominated, in the main, by poverty. Don’t expect the local nonna to share her pasta recipe whilst you enjoy lunch surrounded by beautiful bambino and song.
Sicilians can seem sullen, rude and at times, arrogant. Sicilian family life is a bubble and personal loyalty takes precedent. Little exists beyond that but if you persevere (and have the time) then you will see a different side of the Sicilian nature.
It helps to be able to speak even a little bit of the language, most Sicilian people really appreciate it when you make an effort even if you can’t pronounce ‘cinquecentocinquantacinque’ (five hundred and fifty five)!
Sicily is a stunningly beautiful country…apart from the piles of rubbish everywhere. Rubbish is dumped all along the sides of roads and on any rough ground. Much of the waste is old as this practice has been escalating for many years. We were told it was a protest against the mafia control of administrative monies because no provision is made for the proper disposal of waste. Yet, in towns we passed through we did see household waste collections taking place.
Driving any vehicle on a Sicily road trip is a nightmare, see our recent post here. It was hard work in a 8m long motorhome, you need to be a confident driver. Be mindful of this when renting a motorhome, campervan or car.
Driving routes in Sicily will often take you through small villages with narrow and twisting roads. Be prepared for the state of the roads and total disregard of other drivers for the value of your vehicle. It is usually worth it though, I promise!
Getting to Sicily
We toured the Sicilian coast and some inland sites in our motorhome but you could road trip in a car, campervan or motorbike.
There must be at least several dozen ways of getting to Sicily from the UK in a car or motorhome. The best inbound Sicily route will depend on where you are arriving from. Take some time to weight up the pros and cons as which ever way you choose to arrive will be time-consuming and potentially costly.
Driving direct from Calais will take you around 23 hours over 2260km. It will cost approximately €100 in tolls and €250 in fuel, assuming 25mpg. If you are in a car you can check using the Via Michelin website, a handy resource. That is if you want to go straight there and not meander down through France, the Alps and Italy!
Once you get to Villa San Giovanni, you will need to get a boat over, which cannot be booked in advance. There are crossings every hour or so from a number of providers, our observations were that many crossings were half empty. It takes around 30 minutes to cross to Messina and will cost around €90 for a 3 month open return in a motorhome, slightly less in a car.
If you are already on the continent, there are boats to Sicily from all over Europe. You can go to Palermo from Naples, Genoa, Sardinia, Civitavecchia, Livorno, Salerno and Tunisia. You can also sail into other ports but there are too many to list here!
If you choose to fly, you can head to Trapani, Palermo or Catania airports. Catania, on the east coast, is the best choice and a good road trip starting point, especially if you want to hire a motorhome or campervan on arrival. Check out Indie Campers, our choice for campervan hire.
When to Visit Sicily
April to early June and late September to October are the best times to visit Sicily and travel or road trip.. The temperatures are pleasant and you will have the added bonus of Sicily’s gorgeous wild flowers being in full bloom in the spring months. Avoid Easter as this is considered high season.
It becomes really busy around mid-June, when schools are closed. From July to mid-September, the coastal areas are extremely busy. Unless you plan to spend time at a seaside resort or on an island, avoid August; the heat is unbearable and most city businesses are closed as the locals take their holidays.
It is quieter from late October to mid-December. There are fewer tourists in the cities but sites and attractions do tend to close earlier and some will be closed altogether. Things pick up again briefly during the Christmas holidays, when many shops and museums have extended hours. It can also be quite chilly at this time of year and properly cold in the mountains so you will need to be winterised and have heating in your motorhome.
Where to Stay in Sicily
There are lots of places to camp and free camp if you’re road tripping in a motorhome or campervan. Use ACSI to find camp sites and Park4Night to find free camping. Read about touring Italy in a motorhome for more information on stopovers and what you need to be aware of.
Many campsites will provide self-catering accommodation such as modern static caravans and pods and we suggest booking these in advance if you are travelling in the summer months. Use this link and select ‘campsites’ as the property type to find this style of accommodation.
For bricks and mortar hotels at each destination, find the best deals and special offers with our partners, Booking.com.
Sicilian Road Trip Map
The Valley of the Temples, Agrigento
What an amazing entrance The Valley of the Temples made! We were driving our motorhome along the coast road heading west, we rounded a hill and there it was; perched along the top of a ridge, temples literally lined up waiting for us. It was one of those ‘wow’ moments when shock and awe hits you in equal measure.
There is parking in two designated car-parks; Temple of Giunone and Porta Quinta, where you can park your motorhome. Porta Quinta is further away from the main temple but quieter, especially if you make an early start, which we would recommend. The cost of parking is €3 for a car and €5 for a motorhome. You cannot park overnight here.
You can buy tickets online here. You may wish to take a tour, if you are interested in understanding the history and architecture, this is by far a better way to visit and you will come away with so much fascinating knowledge about those who lived and built here.
We spent an idyllic morning at this UNESCO World Heritage site, starting at 8.30am and having the eastern side of the archeological park to ourselves. We marvelled at the fact that you can walk through and around the temples and ruins and touch stone that was quarried and chiseled thousands of years ago. As we moved west it became busier with quite a few bus tours coming through although the site is so large it did not detract from the peace and atmosphere.
Yet another glorious temple and Roman amphitheatre on the site of Segesta. Easily accessible and set in beautiful rolling countryside, this was our favorite of the ancient sites. You can read our blog about how to visit Segesta here.
It works well to head for Scopello for lunch or dinner after a visit to Segesta. Scopello is a charming village with a small but beautifully formed bay, about 30 minutes drive from Segesta. There are also a number of excellent restaurants; make sure you book if you want to eat at a specific place. We had a lively and fun lunch at Made ‘n Sicilia, which specialises in Sicilian street food. There is a large car-park as you come into Scopello (there is only one road), where you can park a motorhome for €5 or a car for €3. It will be busy at the weekends.
Syracuse (or Siracusa) is a city on the Ionian coast, known for its ruins. It also has a vibrant and modern cafe culture, with lots of great bars and restaurants. We visited here and spent a lovely day wandering the old town, called Ortigia.
Ortigia island is connected to the new city by the Ponte Umbertino . Cross from new to old and you’ll find yourself in another world, with magnificent ancient churches, a temple (of course!) local markets and even a castle. There are also lots of small independent shops, bars and cafes where you can sit outside and indulge in people watching to your heart’s content!
Make sure to visit Piazza Duomo to see the Cathedral, a fascinating mix of pagan temple and Christian church. The Duomo stands on the ruins of a temple dedicated to Athena, built in 480BC. Behind the Baroque facade of the cathedral, Doric columns from the original temple are still visible.
Another must-see is the Fonte Aratuse, a fountain originating from a fresh water spring which creates a small semi-circular lake. Here there are fish, geese and ducks and the only naturally occurring Papyrus in Europe.
Motorhome and campervan parking is limited in Syracuse. Park4Night has options but the place we stayed recently changed the rules and will now ticket you for parking your motorhome. Ensure you check for signage and updates on Park4Night prior to parking.
Erice is a delightful and pretty medieval town which is a pleasure to wander through; the views are amazing. Standing at 751m high, on top of a huge lump of rock, Erice is know for the Castello di Venere and it’s numerous churches; there are rumoured to be 100 but is is definitely less than that!
All visits to Erice start at Porta Trapani at the top of the hill, where the car park and cable station are. If you’re travelling in a motorhome, you are unlikely to be able to park although you may get lucky. If the drive up isn’t for you, then get the Funierice (cable car) from Trapani and park in their car park. This will cost you €1.50 for the first three hours and the cost of the cable car is €9 return. Click here for more information.
You will need 3-4 hours to wander through Erice’s medieval, cobbled streets, visit a few churches and the castle. Throw in another hour or so for lunch! We had pizzas and a glass of wine for lunch at La Rustichella in Piazza del Loggia. The pizzas were excellent and reasonably priced, the service excellent.
The view from the castle ramparts and gardens is stunning; Trapani and the salt pans to one side, the tip of San Vito lo Capo the other. It goes without saying; try and go on a clear day!
Make sure to try some of Erice’s famous confectionary, made to ancient recipes of nuns in cloistered convents. If you like marzipan and have a sweet tooth you will be in heaven!
Taormina is a stunning and busy town perched on a hill on the east coast of Sicily. It sits in the shadow of the active volcano Mount Etna.
Taormina is quite touristy but also very welcoming. Visit the Teatro Antico di Taormina, an ancient Greco-Roman theatre still in use today. Close by, cliffs drop to the sea forming coves with sandy beaches and a narrow spit of sand connects the mainland to Isola Bella, a beautiful tiny island and nature reserve.
Taormina is well known for it’s welcome and hospitality. Here would be a good place to try some authentic Sicilian food and take a wine tour.
Ragusa is a hilltop city in southeast Sicily. Ragusa Ibla, the old town, is part of the Noto Valley World Heritage site listing. It is home to many baroque buildings, like the Duomo di San Giorgio a beautiful church with gorgeous paintings and colourful stained-glass windows.
There are impressive views from the Giardino Ibleo, a park with churches and fountains. In Ragusa Superiore, the city’s more modern part, is ornate Ragusa Cathedral, rebuilt in the centre of town after an earthquake in 1693 destroyed the original.
There is a motorhome service point here with parking which is ideal for visiting the old town. Be mindful of your route as Ragusa is not somewhere you want to be entangled with in a 7m+ motorhome!
Oh wow, did Sicily impress us with her incredible mountains, coasts and natural beauty. Sicily isn’t just about ruins, its about enjoying the amazing natural wonders on offer and Sicilian coastal road trip is the way to do it!
Stagnone, the huge lagoon between Marsala and Trapani on the west coast, is one of the best places in Europe to kite-surf; it is busy year round and ideal if you’re a beginner due to the shallow water and ‘clean’ wind. You can read more about kite-surfing at Stagnone below.
Scala dei Turchi
The Stair of the Turks, so called because marauding Turkish pirate ships were know to find shelter in the bay, is an incredible sight. On first inspection, the cliffs seem too perfect and too white to actually be real.
The cliffs are made of soft limestone and blinding white marl, shaped, smoothed and buffed over millenia by the sea and wind to look like a giant meringue, rising up from an impossibly blue surrounding sea.
It is possible to walk along the cliffs, situated to the south west of Agrigento (combine with the Valley of the Temples maybe?). To access the cliffs, you can park on the road which runs along the coast. There is free parking on the sides of the road and paid parking in specific car parks, they all cost €5 for the day. Accessible motorhome parking is available, depending on the length of your vehicle, also along this road.
Once parked, you access the Scala dei Turchi by following the signs and descending part path and part stairs to the beach below. There are many restaurants and cafes along the route. From the bottom of this path, turn right along the beach and walk for around 500m until you arrive at the bottom of the cliff. It is easy to walk along and quite safe but it is very chalky, so if you sit you will be covered!
If you are looking for the perfect photo opportunity, you will find it. Most people don’t stay on the cliff for long, so there are always times when there aren’t many people about; be patient and make sure you grab the opportunity, the colours will pop off your screen!
Mount Etna is the biggest natural wonder of them all! She is Europe’s largest and most active volcano and stands a mighty 3,350m high. After Kilaueu on Hawaii, Mount Etna is considered the second most active volcano in the world.
If that doesn’t put you off, you can get to the summit of Mount Etna, look deep into her craters and hear the rumbling magma stirring. Getting to the summit of Mount Etna is the most amazing and breath-taking (literally!) experience. Read about it in our guest post for well-known travel and adventure website, The Planet D.
There is a huge car park at Refuge Sapienza, where the cable car departs from, where you can park and stay overnight for €10. There is no automated payment system; if you get there after 5pm make sure to pay the next morning before heading up the volcano or you will be fined.
Monte Cofano is a distinctive, monolithic lump of limestone, which stands 659m high. We spent a six days motorhome wild camping in her shadow and could have stayed for weeks! We climbed up her and hiked around her and marvelled at her beauty at both sunset and sunrise. We fell in love with this, for us, the most beautiful part of Sicily.
We wild camped in the Gulf of Cofano which is enormous and so easy to lose yourself in! When we stayed it was quiet and out of season but we have heard that you have to pay to park here in season and sometimes it’s closed to motorhomes. Men come around in their battered old cars to sell fruit and bread; we bought the best cherries we have ever eaten here. Amazingly, they also come and collect rubbish from you (notwithstanding my earlier point!).
There are no services here but there is a good ACSI site nearby, El Bahira, with great amenities for €18 per night. You can rent mobile homes here if you like the area and are travelling in a car. Slightly odd showers but I’ll leave you in suspense until you visit!
As well as amazing hiking, the bay has two sandy beaches, crystal clear turquoise water and fantastic rock pools. We snorkelled here; you would also be able to kayak and paddle board. We could have stayed for weeks; this place just confirmed that a road trip to Sicily is not to be missed!
Stagnone, part of the Regional Nature Reserve of the Islands of Stagnone di Marsala, is a lagoon characterized by shallow waters from 1-2m and in some places not more than 20-30cm.
The lagoon was formed relatively recently due to sand movements because of underwater currents . This has caused the closure of a part of the sea that was originally open and therefore, as there are no currents necessary for replacement, the water has become more stagnant, with a temperature above normal.
This makes the lagoon an ideal place for kite-surfing. In fact, it is widely recognised as one of the best locations in Europe. There are approximately 30 kite schools along the northern coast of the lagoon, which are evident if there is any form of wind ; just follow the 100’s of kites!
If you are interested in learning to kite-surf there are always 3-5 day kite camps and private lessons on offer. We would recommend Ultimate Kite-Boarding, an established and local company who have a prime location on the lagoon and offer a variety of services from equipment rental to launch only for €7.
There is good wild camping in the area, opposite the famous Marsala salt pans. It’s a coach park by day but welcomes motorhomes at night. Not the most salubrious but in a great location! Find it here on Park4Night.
“Why was Palermo unexpected?” I hear you ask. We knew we should go during our visit to Sicily in our motorhome, but nothing we researched excited us. We went anyway because we had family visiting, and we were really surprised by how much we enjoyed Palermo!
Before you do visit, if you are driving, research parking thoroughly. We went in a hire car from the campsite we were staying at because we had family with us. I would not advise taking a motorhome into the city or trying to find parking, which was difficult enough in a small car. Palermo is manically busy with very limited parking…yes, we learnt the hard way!
You must, must, must visit the food market which is on every day and situated in the area around Via Porta Carini. Here you can buy fish, meat, fruit, vegetables and pretty much everything else. You can stop for a coffee and people watch, choose your fish and meat and have it cooked in front of you, to be eaten on a ramshackle table in the open air or simply wander and take in the colours, sounds and smells of this fabulous market.
If you need any more convincing, then these six seasons why you HAVE to visit Sicily’s crazy capital city should help!
You should also visit the cathedral, although we found it a little soulless and much less attractive than some other cathedrals we have visited. In contrast, the Catholic church of San Giuseppe dei Teatini just off the Quattro Canti is spectacular and very moving, even if you’re not spiritual. We really enjoyed the area around the Quattro Canti, lots of interesting shops and cafes and a great selection of geletaria! This is a busy and thriving part of the city with live music, street art and food stalls dominating the streets. We loved the atmosphere and people watching with a coffee.
We did the very touristy thing of taking a horse and carriage ride. Make sure you agree the price and how long your trip will take before getting in. Negotiate on the first price given; we paid €40 for 4 people for 45 minutes, even then we were asked for an additional €10 “for the horse”! The carriage ride was a good way of seeing the major sites of Palermo quickly, so that we could decide which ones most interested us.
One of the places the horse took us to see was a small park with HUGE Banyan trees, the biggest we have ever seen. Apart from not knowing that Banyan Trees even grew in Europe, the sheer size of them was unexpected. You can see these behemoths in the Gardinio Garibaldi.
We had a fabulous lunch at Trattoria ai Normanni delicious authentic food and perfect service. We paid €73 for four main courses, two desserts, two glasses of wine, two beers and the ubiquitous cover charge.
Search and book hotels in Palermo with Booking.com.
Salt Pans, Marsala
There have been salt pans in Sicily for over 2,500 years. The salt flats at Marsala have the perfect position; warm Saharan winds, shallow waters and hot summer sun. This is the perfect recipe to produce salt.
Production was at its peak in 1860, when 31 salt pans produced over 100,000 tonnes of salt a year. Much of this was exported across Europe and as far away as Russia and Norway. Demand is diminished now but there is still a market for salt produced in this way due to its 100% natural composition, which is said to enhance the flavour.
There is a small museum at one of the last working windmills, which you can tour. It is also possible to walk out amongst the pans as part of a guided tour, well worth doing at €15 per person for both windmill and tour.
The vista is immediately recognisable, with windmills dotting the horizon and piles of salt visible. We expected this but what was unexpected was the beauty of this flat and still landscape and how it inspired us visually. We spent an afternoon experimenting with camera and drone and loved the results!
Cefalù is a small town on the northern coast of Sicily. It is a ‘must-see’ in all the guidebooks and has a fine 12th century Norman cathedral at the edge of an attractive square. For us, we found it to be a modern day masterpiece of marketing over substance. It is pretty enough to wander round, and you could happily spend a day wandering and taking in the old cathedral and harbour; it would not be a hardship. We found the preponderance of over-priced restaurants and bijou independent boutiques was an unexpected disappointment.
Marsala is a thing…if it isn’t, it should be! We have tasted port, sherry and all manner of different wines during out time in Europe. Marsala was a totally unexpected (and delicious) surprise!
Marsala is made in much the same was as sherry and port but has a distinct flavour due to the requirement to use only certain varieties of grapes grown in and around Marsala. True Marsala contains flavours of vanilla, brown sugar, stewed apricot and tamarind.
This delicious fortified wine can be dry or sweet and many things in-between depending on how much cooked must is introduced to the wine. We loved it so much we bought several bottles!
It is possible to do a tour and tasting at all the large houses, we went to Pelligrino but would suggest that as they are in a new building, some of the atmosphere had been lost. Our first choice was Florio but as they only do one English speaking tour at 10.30am every day, it gets booked up quickly. The costs is usually around €10-15 for the tour and four tastings with local delicacies.