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itinerary help for 14 days on Sicily

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My husband, adult daughter and I will be visiting Sicily in late September/early October. We fly into Palermo and home from Rome. We are thinking it best to fly Catania to Rome the day before our flight home. We will have 15 nights on the island of Sicily. We prefer to stay several nights in one place rather than moving every day or two. We plan to rent a car but not drive in Palermo or Catania. Our interests are many: culture (including music, art, architecture and cuisine), nature and especially meeting the people. We are not speedy travelers, preferring to see less places more thoroughly.

Please comment on the rough itinerary below. We welcome all suggestions. I have spent the last week reading many, many postings on this site and I appreciate all of you who have guided past travelers and now me! We feel very fortunate to be able to take this trip and of course want to make the most of it.

Palermo 3 nights

Selinunte 2 nights

Arigento 1 night

Modica 2 nights

Syacuse 3 nights

Taormina 3 nights

Catania 1 night (before we fly to Rome)

Would it be better to combine some of these to have less moves or does this seem reasonable? Would it be better to stay outside of town in some cases (ie Taormina) to not need to drive in town? Or is it safe to assume we can drive to our accommodations and walk or use public transportation while in town? We often rent apartments or stay at inns, but never in big, fancy hotels. I have not made any reservations yet. I like the idea of the agritourismo but we had a bad experience at one in Italy (near Pisa) years ago. I would be willing to try again. It was before the days of the internet and I didn't know what I was getting us into! Do you recommend other towns as bases instead of these? Are there particular roads or drives we should take as we cross the island?

Thank you very much in advance for your suggestions and insight!

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    It all depends on personal preferences, but I find your one night for Catania not enough. It is an elegant, agreeable and interesting city. I'd say you should move one night for Siracusa to Catania.

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    Obviously, a successful itinerary depends on YOUR interests, so please take my comments as just things to consider.

    Palermo is a city with an extraordinarily rich array of things to see and experience. Are you sure that 3 nights will give you enough time to see what YOU want to do there? Do make sure you give yourselves time for Monreale’s cathedral (and cloisters) – easily among Sicily’s most awesome treasures!

    • I think your balance between Selinunte and Agrigento depends on timing: I saw everything I wanted to see in Selinunte on the same day on which I left Palermo, and I stopped in both Segesta AND Selinuntue ON MAY WAY TO Agrigento in time for dinner. Lots to see, hard to tell how to allocate your time… I shoud add that I thought Agrigento deserved a VERY full day (for the ruins, museum, medieval town), so for MY interests, two nights there would have made sense – particularly if staying at one of the places that affords views of the temples at night….

    I loved Ortygia (Siracusa) and think you are wise to give it at least 3 nights! You might want to look at the L'approdo delle Sirene
    http://www.apprododellesirene.com

    I am not a fan of Taormina – I thought it beautiful, but so mobbed by tourists as to be frankly unpleasant until evening. JMO.

    I don’t see the Villa Romana del Casala in your plan – do consider a way to make time for it, as it is one of Siciliy’s greatest highlights!

    Don’t even think of picking up a rental car until you leave Palermo, Return it as soon as you can. Make sure you can park it at any lodgings you book before finalizing your plans. (You should be able to identify your parking options on booking.com) As just one example, if you retain your plan to visit Taormina before Catania, you could probably return the car before reaching Taormina – depending on your plans, you might not need it after then. In fact, you might not need a car after reaching Siracusa! But, of course, it depends on your final plan….

    Hope that helps!
    Sicily is awesome!

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    I find it balanced.
    I would skip Catania and directly go to Rome and spend a full day there
    I had one prob with the car in Palermo but didn't have one in Taormina.
    Not been to modico.
    I guess the roman villa is throne iCal villa casale with spectacular mosaics. Motto be missed indeed.

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    I'll add more comments later as I just got back from a 2-week trip to Sicily. If you click on my name, you'll see a trip report (almost done!) with photos that should give you a good idea of what some of the areas look like. We did not go to Taormina, however, so I can't compare, but we went east to Erice, which has a wonderful medieval charm and great views.

    Initial thoughts, in no particular order:

    1) you do not need a car in Palermo. Pick up a car when leaving and drop it off in Syracusa, taking a cab 60-70 euros) to the airport or to Catania.

    2) 3 nights in Palermo is a good amount of time

    3) I like your itinerary overall but would add Piazza Armerina for the Villa Romana and probably drop Agrigento.

    4) unless you really love Greek/Roman ruins, I would drop Agrigento but go to both Selinunte and Segesta.

    5) loved kja' recommendation for L'Approdo delle Sirene.

    6) Favorite place to stay during the trip: Villa Sogno in Selinunte. Wonderful B&b, great hosts, beautiful property.

    Will add more thoughts later, but do look at my TR if you want to get a feel for some of the locations.

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    Thank you all for your thoughtful replies. We are planning a late flight out of Catania so we will have most of the day before we leave. Perhaps we should still give a night from Taormina to Catania instead of from Syracuse. We are not fans of crowded places!

    After reading your very helpful trip report, progol, we are now considering staying in Noto or Scicli instead of Modica. It seems that we can visit several towns from either one. It also seems that we should stay the night at Piazza Amerina to have more time for Villa Romana del Casale. But I don't know where to take the night from! Perhaps from Taormina instead of giving that night to Catania. Will we be able to see the Villa en route from Arigento to Noto?

    We do plan to visit Monreal but again, en route to Selinunte. We also hope to stop in Segesta on that drive. Is this reasonable? Google maps says it is 2:48 driving time from Palermo to Selinunte, via Monreal and Segesta.

    We were hoping to be able to get to Erice and Trapani but I don't see anyway that we can add that in. Maybe we should skip Taormina altogether as progol did. We do want to visit Mt. Etna, however, so we need to stay somewhere in that area.

    Two weeks is obviously not enough time!

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    I forgot to say that I looked at L'Approdo delle Sirene but we are a group of three and they have only double rooms available for our time. It looks beautiful though! Do you recommend that we stay on Ortygia instead of in Siracusa? Will we have trouble finding a place for our rental car?
    Thank you again!

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    Sorry you weren't able to book L'Approdo delle Sirene, but definitely stay in Ortygia rather than any other part of Siracusa! If you've already gotten your car by then (you might not need one until you leave Siracusa), you will definitely need to make sure that your hotel can make arrangements for your car. I think booking.com now lets people specify parking as a search option, but even if so, I would be sure to confirm with your lodging.

    Noto is less than an hour from Siracusa and easily visited by public transportation. I chose to spend a night there because I don't mind one-night stays, and OMG, I was so glad I did -- the golden stone and humorous carvings of Noto can be joyous during the day; they are enchanting in the evening! :-)

    Whether you can see the Villa Romana del Casale en route depends on two things: (1) your level of comfort with leaving your belongs in your car (I took all the "usual" precautions and was OK with that; not everyone is) and (2) how the rest of your day works out. So, for example, I didn't finish up with Agrigento until about 4 p.m., so that wouldn't have worked for me. Had I visited Agrigento the day before and so been able to leave early, it would have worked out just fine.

    I could not have visited Monreale and Segesta and Selinute on the same day -- but if you are asking whether you can visit Monreale and Segesta on one day, arriving in Selinunte with the idea of visiting that magnificent site the next day, yes, that could work.

    BTW, you might want to check viamichelin for its estimates of travel times -- IME, google maps underestimated driving times by as much as a 1/3, so I've quit using it for that purpose, but I've been told that they are getting more accurate....

    When you say you want to see Mt. Etna, do you mean (a) going to the top (or nearly so) or (b) touring some of the wineries on its slopes? They are very different experiences....

    You are right -- with 2 weeks you cannot see all of Sicily's highlights. Tough choices, but no wrong ones (IMO)!

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    On the last night of our visit in Sicily, we stayed in an Agritourismo near Taormina with the intent of returning our rented car the next morning in Catania (we had a 10:30 flight to Rome). The highway to the Catania airport was fast and easy to negotiate. The car return is a bit chaotic compounded by the fact there are many more cars then spaces available in a confined return area. Also, there is no shuttle available to the terminal so prepare yourself for an interesting 300+ yard stroll to your gate.

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    jjmmll,

    I wouldn't use Noto as a base, as it is a bit further from the Baroque towns. As kja has pointed out, Noto is an easy trip from Ortygia. Modica, Ragusa (very pretty, too), and Scicli are within a relatively short distance from one another, so the three combine easily to explore. I loved Scicli but will also say that I have difficulty with steps, so Modica (where I had originally considered staying) would've been hard for me to manage. We ultimately decided not to visit Noto, as we just didn't have the energy -- another recent trip report mentioned that it, too, is becoming very touristy and crowded. There will be tourists at all these places - they are popular for good reason.

    Yes, definitely stay in Ortygia over Siracusa! Ortygia is charm itself! Siracusa is more of the "modern" city while Ortygia is the old town. It does get crowded, too, but crowds are easily lost by wandering. It is large enough that there are many areas to explore.

    Monreale is easily visited from Palermo as well as on your way out of the city. I would probably not visit Monreale with luggage in my car, but we were taking a cautious approach, given the warnings we've received. As kja points out, it's important to know your comfort level for sightseeing with luggage in the car.

    Seeing Agrigento after Segesta and Selinunte would, for me, be a letdown. The first 2 are much more beautifully sited and each have wonderful qualities. I think you could bypass Agrigento altogether and stay a night at Piazza Armerina (Villa Clementine is lovely). I would definitely try to see the Villa Romana -- the mosaics there are exquisite -- and, if you've already seen Segesta and Selinunte, you've already seen some beautiful Greek ruins.

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    Your detailed advice is just what I need! Thank you all for the time you are taking to help me! I posted on trip advisor as well and have had no replies.

    Great tip about returning the car in Catania which is most likely what we will be doing.

    We do plan to stay in Selinunte for 2 nights so we will have a whole day there. So we will visit Monreale and Segesta on the way to Selinunte. The next day we had planned to go to Agrigento but now maybe we will skip it and stay in Piazza Armerina instead, as progol suggested. It's just that I keep reading about seeing the temple at night and eye witness includes it in the top ten "must see" sites.

    I am also now wondering if we should skip Taormina and Mt. Etna and go to the Aolean Islands instead. Does that seem reasonable? When we first thought of this trip we were excited about going to the islands but then it seemed like too much. Or maybe we should just spend longer in Palermo
    and go to Erice and Trapani.

    Another thought occurred....would it be wise to stay longer in Ortygia and do a day trip or two to the Baroque towns?

    Thank you again for your thoughts!

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    Don't second guess yourself too much! I liked Erice a lot but I don't think they're comparable. If I were to do my itinerary over, I think I would've included Taormina. I can't speak to the Aeolian islands tho I do tend to agree that it's probably a bit too much.

    Again, I think 3 nights in Palermo in a 2-week trip is just right. It's a hectic, urban city, and takes a bit of energy.

    Re: the temple at night at Agrigento. We went to a restaurant recommended by our B&b precisely for the view, and we couldn't figure out what the fuss was about. It wasn't that bright from what we could see and not worth going out of the way for. Maybe it was the night, or the location was too far, but it was rather ho-hum.

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    I must admit that my reaction to Agrigento was different that progol's -- I saw it after Segesta and Selinunte, and still thought it stunning, not only for the ruins (which were sufficiently different, to my eye, than the others), but also for the setting, which I thought dramatic and again, that I thought sufficiently different from the other settings to be worth savoring. Too, I could see the temples lit at night from my room, and again, thought that awesome. JMO. FWIW, Agrigento also has a good archeological museum and an interesting medieval district.

    And yet another example of the ways in which travelers differ (and that, I think, is a very good thing!): For some, Palermo is a hectic city that takes a bit of energy; to others, including me, Palermo is a dynamic, energetic, and energizing city that has a wealth of worthy sites. No right or wrong answers here; just different opinions. Either way, remember that if it's your first destination, you may need to plan on losing some time to jet lag.

    Taormina & Mt. Etna vs. the Aeolians ... apples vs oranges! Taormina is stunningly beautiful, but can be unpleasantly crowded during the days. There isn't a lot to see in Taormina, but there are some worthy sites (including, of course, the Greek Theater), and you can go uphill to Castelmola or downhill to Isola Bella to escape the crowds. If you are going to Mt. Etna to see the volcano itself, a trip there can, IME, be unlike anything else you would encounter in the area. If you are going to Mt. Etna for a tour of wineries, that's an entirely different beast, and I'm sure also wonderful (although I skipped it). The Aeolians, I believe, offer a much more laid-back experience. I spent just a few hours on Lipari to see the museum there, and because I took an overnight ferry from Lipari to Naples, I enjoyed some stunning views of the islands as the day lengthened and the sun set. I believe many people who visit the Aeolians go for hiking, beach time, and just relaxing. Your call.

    I am not all that fond of Baroque architecture, so I didn't visit any of the Baroque towns except Noto -- which I adored for the warmth of its stone and the engaging humor of its architecture, even if Baroque! -- and Caltigirone, where ceramics adorn some of its buildings and public structures. In combination with the Baroque architecture that I saw elsewhere (e.g., some of the buildings in both Palermo and Ortygia), that was more than enough Baroque for me! And Ortygia / Siracusa held many things of interest to me, so again, your call whether to add time to Ortygia and visit Noto (or other Baroque towns) as a day trip or not.

    Again, you can't see everything, and there are no bad choices, just hard ones.

    Hope that helps!

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    kja,
    So interesting how our reactions differ! Though we both share an enthusiasm for Ortygia, and L'Approdo delle Sirene!

    I would add that both my husband and I were very worn out from a difficult year and by the time we left for our trip, we really didn't have the stamina for an intense touring program, and were perhaps more low-keyed than we might've been at another time. So take our reactions in context -- between family stressors, work demands and health issues, we really didn't have a lot of energy ourselves.

    So many choices! As kja says, there are no bad ones -- but they are hard to make!

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    Jjmmll,

    If you would like to read my trip report from 2013 just click on my name. I took 3.5 weeks because the more I researched about Sicily, the more I wanted to see. I knew it would be my only trip there so I made it count and went to all of my top priorities.

    I visited all 3 temple sites and the Aeolians which were my original interest in Sicily and remained the top priority.

    The TR may give you some ideas and it's long and detailed so includes my impressions and opinions. If I can answer questions, I will!

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    Thank you all again. I definitely am guilty of over thinking pretty much everything! Dayle, I enjoyed your trip report and will be rereading it and Progol's and others to get more details.

    This my latest revision:

    Palermo 3 nights: Explore Palermo on the first full day. Pick up the rental car (at the airport or in town?) on the second day and take a day trip to Cefalu and see more of Palermo. After the third night, drive to Selinunte via Monreal and Segesta.

    Selinunte 2 nights: Spend the one full day exploring the site. The next day, drive to Arigento via Scala dei Turchi.

    Arigento 1 night: Spend the evening and next morning exploring the temple and town. Drive to Villa Romana del Casale.

    Villa Romana del Casale 1 night: Spend the evening and next morning exploring. Drive to Ragusa via Caltigirone to see the ceramics.

    Ragusa 2 nights: Spend this time visiting as many Baroque villages as desired/time permits including Noto, Scicli, Modica, Palazzolo Acreide, etc. Perhaps stop at Noto and/or Vendicari Nature Reserve on the drive to Syacuse.

    Syracuse 3 nights: Stay in Ortygia. Explore for two full days. Possibly take a day trip to the Vendicari Reserve or another beach area. After third night, drive to Taormina via Catania. Visit the fish market in Catania and perhaps other sites in Catania.

    Taormina 3 nights: Arrive in the evening to hopefully miss the crowds. Choose the day with the best weather and drive to Mt. Etna. Take the cable car/bus to the top. Spend the other full day in Taormina. Visit Castelmola. On the last day in Sicily, drive to Catania early in the day, return the rental car and spend a few hours (hopefully) visiting Catania. Take a late flight to Rome and fly home the next morning.

    Please let me know what you think! Your insight is invaluable!

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    Sorry to chime in here, but I just came across this thread. We returned from Sicily in May after 3 weeks going in the opposite direction. A few suggestions about your new plan.

    Wait until your 3rd day to pick up your car in Palermo. We took the train to Cefalu very easily. The walk to the main section of town and beach in Cefalu wasn't difficult and we didn't have to worry about parking at either end of our day.

    In Agrigento, check the time for sunset and try to plan your walk through the site later in the day. Start at the top - we took a taxi from the parking lot to avoid the uphill climb - and walk downhill for some awesome sunset pictures.

    Have you considered visiting Mt Etna from Ortygia instead of Taormina? It was much more relaxing for us to return to a familiar place after a longish day as well as beIng easier to access our lodging from the public parking lot by the bridge. For us, 4 nights in Ortygia was perfect.

    As for Taormina, we stayed by the beach in Gardina Naxos and took the public buses up to Taormina and Castelmolo...even though we had a car. It was much more economical for lodging, and we almost always prefer being by the water as opposed to seeing it from a distance. However, there is definitely a different vibe to Taormina in the evening. The buses between the two areas run fairly late and were reliable. BTW, it was a hoot riding up to Castelmolo.

    Hope this helps,
    -Annie

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    A few more observations:

    Wait until you leave Palermo to pick up your rental. Seriously – there is no need to have it while you are in that city (even if you visit Cefalu from Palermo) and it can actually be a disadvantage to have one in Palermo. I would not want a car in Taormina, either; if you keep the car through that point in your trip, make sure you know your options for dealing with it in the towns you plan to visit en route, while in Ortygia, and while in Taormina.

    Are you sure you will have time to see everything you want to see in Palermo? That city offers a wealth of unique sites that I wasn’t able to appreciate even with close to 3 days there – and I didn’t try to visit Cefalu from Palermo. Too, I travel HARD -- no lunch, few if any breaks from the time I get going until there is nothing else that is still open, etc. I’m not saying it won’t work for you – just suggesting that you make sure you think through your priorities before you make a commitment.

    The site of Agrigento is extensive. While I’m sure that a visit of a few hours can be delightful, if it helps your planning, I believe that I was on site (counting the ruins on both sides of the main road) for closer to 5 hours, and that doesn’t count my time in the museum or roaming the town. And while anniemaki’s description of a sunset walk through the main temples sounds magnificent (I’m envious!), do check carefully before planning on it, as I’m not sure the grounds would be open late enough. You can check sunset times on timeanddate.com and then check the Valley of the Temple’s site for its visiting hours.

    If you really want to go near the top of Mt. Etna, consider joining a tour. As I recall, such tours take nearly all day and include a combination of bus, train, bus again, cablecar, humongous ATV or tank-like thing, and then – finally – time on foot. And then, of course, the reverse to get back. One very real advantage to taking a tour rather than driving as far as you can is that – at least when I was there – groups had priority at every change of transportation, where we simply walked past the LONG waiting lines. Also, be sure you bring appropriate clothing, as (a) the top can be very cold and windy (with gusts bearing fine particles) and (b) you really need very thick-soled walking shoes or boots. I brought along several very lightweight layers, earmuffs, silk gloves, and protective eye-wear, and I was envied by all in my group. One last thing, if you do take a tour, consider one that include a stop at the Gole dell' Alcantara.

    Again, hope that helps!

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    Thank you both for your very helpful comments. This is still a work in progress but I am starting to feel the need to get our accommodations lined up. I will be going back through trip reports for ideas of where to stay. I was hoping that traveling in late September and early October would prevent us from facing long lines and hordes of tourists but obviously other people have the same idea! Taking a tour to skip the lines on Mt. Etna sounds like a great idea! We will be out of town camping for a few days so I will be away from the internet. Thank you again for all of your help and feel free to add any more suggestions!

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