Sicily Road Trip: How to See Sicily by Car

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A Sicily road trip will give you a taste of Italian culture with a Mediterranean twist. You’ll feel a sense of leisure as you enjoy a glass of wine amongst new friends. The earth will come to life as you stare into the mouth of Sicily’s two active volcanoes.  And you probably won’t be able to resist picking a fresh lemon or orange from one of the many citrus groves on the island.

I traveled to Sicily to walk in the footsteps of my ancestors.  While I did just that, I also got to see the beautiful landscape of Sicily by car. Sicilians, and tourist alike, flood the streets of Palermo, while the scene is less busy in other parts of Sicily.

My Sicily road trip travel guide will tell you what to expect on your own Sicilian travels.  So get your bags packed and your tastebuds ready for some delicious pizza and wine because we’re going to Sicily!

Sicily Road Trip on a Budget: Is Sicily Expensive?

My Sicily road trip lasted for a week in early 2018. I spent $680.47 USD excluding flights and travel insurance. That’s under $100 a day on average.  Over 40% of my expenses in Sicily were on transportation. My rental car cost me close to $200 for the week. When you add in parking fees, tolls, and gas, I spent $294.88 on transportation altogether.

I justified seeing Sicily by rental car because I planned to visit towns that are off the beaten path. However, my fellow backpackers told me that Sicily has a decent train system. Pretty much every must-see area of Sicily is accessible by train. And where the train can’t take you, a bus surely will be able to. So unless you want to travel to a remote part of Sicily, I don’t recommend a rental car. Rather than doing a Sicily road trip, traveling Sicily by train and bus will save you significant amounts of money.

The currency in Italy and Sicily is the euro, denoted with a €. In early 2018, €1 was about equal to $1.18 USD. On average, dinner cost me €6.50 or about $7.75 USD. Lodging, which consisted of all hostels and one Airbnb, cost me on average €18.70 a night or about $20 USD.

Cheapest Flights from America to Europe

A huge financial obstacle for Americans to get to Europe is the cost of a plane ticket. If you are fortunate enough to live near an airport where WOW air flies, you may be in luck.

Getting to Europe from the US on WOW air is extremely affordable relative to the cost of other major airlines. The catch is that you will have a layover in Iceland since WOW air is headquartered in Reykjavík. After a short layover in Iceland, you’ll be on your way to mainland Europe. You can then fly to your destination on one of Europe’s many budget airlines such as Ryanair, EasyJet, or Vueling.

Since WOW air doesn’t fly to Palermo, I flew into Barcelona instead.  My flight from Baltimore to Barcelona cost me just $209.99. I spent the night in Barcelona and the next morning caught a Vueling flight from Barcelona to Palermo for $57.17. So I essentially flew from Baltimore to Palermo for $267.16. For comparison, the cheapest oneway flight I could find from Baltimore to Palermo costs $2,347.

Sicily Itinerary 7 Days

My Sicily road trip itinerary had me sleeping in five different Sicilian cities over the course of seven days.  A day trip to Stromboli and a day trip to Floridia allowed me to see seven different areas of Sicily in total. I really wish I could have stayed in Sicily for longer than a week because there is so much more to see. If you are visiting Sicily for the first time, please use my Sicily itinerary as a guide, and if possible, plan for more than a week in Sicily.

  1. Palermo Travel
  2. Milazzo Travel
  3. Stromboli Travel
  4. Catania Travel
  5. Floridia Travel
  6. Agrigento Travel
  7. Capaci Travel

Palermo Travel

Backpacking Palermo Massimo Theater at night in Sicily
Massimo Theater at night in Palermo, Sicily

Palermo is the capital of Sicily. Over 1.2 million people live in Palermo which is close to 25% of Sicily’s population. Palermo is located in northwest Sicily along the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Stay at A Casa di Amici hostel while backpacking Palermo.  I spent two nights at this boutique hostel in the heart of Palermo. The price of a bed in a six bed mixed dorm room is €18 per night. Laundry costs €3 at A Casa di Amici. A light breakfast is included and the reception desk doubles as a bar.

I met some really cool backpackers from all over Europe at my hostel in Palermo.  Seems like a lot of Europeans travel down to Sicily, and specifically Palermo, during the winter months since it’s one of the southern most destinations in Europe. Outside of Palermo, the rest of Sicily was quiet.

Evenings in Palermo with my fellow backpackers were a highlight for me. One night we had a relaxing time with a few bottles of wine in the park next to the Politeama Garibaldi theater, while the next night we partied with the locals in the graffiti ridden back alleys near Piazza Caracciolo.  While this place may be rough looking, a few cheap Italian beers and good company will make for an unforgettable night out.

Mondello Beach Palermo

The best beach in Palermo is Mondello Beach. Mondello Beach is located 11 kilometers from downtown Palermo or 20 minutes by car. Mondello Beach boasts over a mile of white sand beach along the Tyrrhenian Sea.

While Mondello has lots of restaurants to choose from, many were overpriced and catered to tourists.  Certainly not authentic Italian in my opinion.  Other than that, you will enjoy your time relaxing on Mondello Beach and walking around the small town of Mondello.

Milazzo Travel

Milazzo's coastline from the Castello di Milazzo
View of Milazzo’s coastline from the Castello di Milazzo

Located in the city of Messina, Milazzo was the second stop on my Sicily road trip.  It takes less than 2 hours 30 minutes to drive by car the from Palermo to Milazzo. The 200 kilometer journey will take you along the north coast of Sicily. I only traveled to Milazzo to ferry to Stromboli, but I ended up enjoying this underrated Sicilian peninsula town.

Unfortunately due to rough waters, the ferry to Stromboli and the rest of the Aeolian islands was cancelled that day.  I ended up spending the night at the Driade B&B and Hostel. As the only guest at the hostel that night, I was graciously upgraded to a private room. One night at the Driade hostel cost me €21.

The Castello di Milazzo overlooking the town of Milazzo
The Castello di Milazzo overlooking the town of Milazzo

The delay gave me the opportunity to explore the Castello di Milazzo.  For just €5, I was able to wander around this castle that overlooks the entire Milazzo peninsula.  A fair warning: walking alone through parts of the castle can induce fear, especially the underground dungeons.

Early the next morning, I walked down to the Milazzo waterfront to catch a boat to Stromboli. I wasn’t sure if I would stay overnight on Stromboli, so I bought a oneway ticket from Milazzo to Stromboli for €22.85 on Liberty Lines. Just under three hours later, after making stops at most of the other Aeolian Islands, the ferry arrived in Stromboli.

Stromboli Travel

Tony Florida poses for a selfie at the Stromboli volcano
Selfie in front of the active Stromboli volcano in the Aeolian Islands

The Stromboli island, along with six other islands, make up the Aeolian Islands just off of Sicily’s northeastern coast. The Aeolian Islands are located in the Tyrrhenian Sea and not the Mediterranean Sea as I had wrongfully assumed.  Just like the Hawaiian Islands in the United States, the Aeolian Islands are an a volcanic archipelago which simply means they are a group of volcanic islands.

January is not the best time of year to travel to Stromboli. Virtually nothing is open on the island and no one is around.  It’s literally a ghost town—a beautiful ghost town, I might add.

Hiking the Stromboli Volcano

I traveled hundreds of miles from Palermo to Stromboli by rental car and ferry.  Climbing Stromboli was the only thing I wanted to do while on the island, but unfortunately this never happened. There were two factors that prevented me from hiking Stromboli:

  1. The Stromboli volcano was closed due to higher than normal activity
  2. A guide is required above 400 meters

Now, if the volcano wasn’t acting up, I probably would have climbed Stromboli without guide. But because I didn’t want to mess with one of Italy’s three active volcanoes, I decided to stay away.

Instead, I spent the day exploring the quiet town of Stromboli.  I bought some fresh fruit from one of the few people on the island and relaxed on the black sand beach. I ate lunch at Bar Ingrid, right across the street from the Church of San Vincenzo Ferreri, which, like most churches in Italy, was open to the public and strikingly beautiful inside.

After lunch, I strolled through the narrow streets of Stromboli, most of which weren’t even wide enough to fit a car. I walked up to the Stromboli volcano trail head, but didn’t go much further than that. Since hiking the Stromboli volcano was out of the question, I headed back to the Liberty Lines ticket booth. I bought my ticket back to Milazzo for €20.35.

Catania Travel

I got in late from Stromboli and had lots of driving to do the next day, so I only had enough time to get dinner and sleep in Catania. Despite this, I enjoyed my short stay in the second largest city in Sicily after Palermo.

One night in a twelve bed mixed dorm room at the Ostello Degli Elefanti hostel cost me €17.50. The Hostel of the Elephants is located in a historic 1600s palace, has a spacious rooftop bar with sweet views of the piazza below, and a offers a delicious complimentary spread for breakfast.

I wish I could have stayed in Catania longer.  Catania is located on the eastern shore of Sicily along the Ionia Sea.  Mount Etna is just an hour drive from Catania, so visiting Mount Etna by car from Catania is very doable. Mount Etna is the largest of the three active volcanoes in Italy. My research told me that hiking Mt Etna in January is not possible because of snow. Consequently, I decided to save that journey for another Sicily road trip.

Sicilian Rice Balls: Arancina vs Arancino

Arancini are Sicilian rice balls where Arancina are from east Sicily and Arancino are from west Sicily
Arancini are Sicilian rice balls. An arancina is shaped like a ball in western Sicily and an arancino is shaped like a cone in eastern Sicily.

These Sicilian rice balls traditionally consist of meat, tomato sauce, mozzarella, and rice. Having tasted my first arancini ball in Palermo, I misspoke when ordering this Sicilian street food in Catania. While these rice balls are called arancina and shaped like a ball in western Sicily, they are called arancino and shaped like a cone in eastern Sicily. In either case, Sicilian Arancini are delicious and a must-try on your Sicily road trip.

Floridia Travel

Tony Florida taking a selfie in front of a Comune di Floridia sign in Sicily, Italy
Obligatory selfie with a Comune di Floridia sign in Floridia, Sicily

I made an obligatory stop in Floridia—don’t forget, my last name is Florida after all. My great grandfather Antonio’s last name was actually Floridia before he immigrated to the United States from Sicily in the early 1900s. Somewhere around this time, Antonio changed the spelling of his last name to Florida.

Floridia is a town in the province of Syracuse on the island of Sicily. Floridia is located 62 kilometers from Catania which is just under an hour’s drive. To be honest, there isn’t much to see or do in Floridia. So unless your last name is also Florida or Floridia, you can skip this stop on you Sicily road trip.

I made the best of my time in Floridia by grabbing lunch at Tipico Siciliano and chatting with a Floridiani schoolboy who was learning English. His mom couldn’t speak English either, but they both were fascinated when I showed them my American passport with my last name of Florida.

Agrigento Travel

The city of Agrigento perched atop a hill
A stop in Agrigento is a must on your Sicily road trip

You’ll find Agrigento perched on a hilltop overlooking the Mediterranean Sea along Sicily’s southwest coast. Spend at least two days in Agrigento.  Tour the Valley of the Temples and relax on the beautiful beaches along the 150 kilometer Agrigento coastline.

Syracuse to Agrigento by car is around 215 kilometers and will take just under 2 hours 30 minutes. You’ll see plenty of rolling hills and valleys blanketed with vineyards and citrus groves. Be sure to stop in a random sleepy Sicilian town on your drive for a slice of pizza.

After parking my rental car, I spent a good two hours getting lost in the streets and alleys of Agrigento.  A block over from high-end clothing stores and fine dining you’ll find herds of homeless people drinking and smoking. I was looking for the Dimora Hostel, but Google Maps wasn’t helping me.

If you can find it, the Dimora Hostel is a modern and spacious hostel in Agrigento.  The price of a bed in a mixed dorm room is €18.  I couldn’t resist taking advantage of the large cafeteria-style kitchen at Dimora, so I walked 5 minutes to Frutta Verdura Liotta Fredrico, bought myself some pasta, sauce, and a tall Peroni beer, and cooked myself an “authentic” Italian dinner.

Valley of the Temples in Agrigento

Temple of Concordia in The Valley of the Temples in Agrigento
The Temple of Concordia is the best preserved temple in The Valley of the Temples in Agrigento

The Valley of the Temples in Agrigento is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Valley of the Temples is one of the top things to see in Sicily. What is called Agrigento today used to be the Greek city of Akragas.  Remains of seven temples make up the Valley of the Temples:

  1. Concordia Temple
  2. Juno Temple
  3. Heracles Temple
  4. Olympian Zeus Temple
  5. Castor and Pollux Temple
  6. Vulcan Temple
  7. Asclepius Temple

The most preserved temple in the Valley of the Temples is the Temple of Concordia. Plan to spend at least a couple hours here. You will also have a great views of the city of Agrigento and the Mediterranean Sea in the distance

The price of a ticket to the Valley of the Temples is €10. Parking will cost you €3, but I’m sure if you park down the dirt road from the parking lot, you can park for free. Either way, make sure to visit the Valley of the Temples on your Sicily road trip.

Capaci Travel

Just 15 kilometers from the Palermo Airport, Capaci is a small town in the province of Palermo. Capaci is your stereotypical sleepy town, so there’s not much to see here.  But for me, Capaci is dear to my heart—more on this in the next section.

If you do happen to visit Capaci, I urge you to stop by Royal Pizza Di Evola Vito for the best non-Neapolitan style pizza.  For just €1 a slice, pizza from Royal Pizza is the perfect blend of authentic Italian cheese, sauce, and dough. Royal Pizza has better pizza than any pizza I ever ate in America.

Since there are no hostels in Capaci, I stayed at an Airbnb. The Airbnb cost me €20 for the night, and was probably the best Airbnb that I’ve stayed in to date. My private room and bathroom was spacious and homey. Most of all, my host prepared a massive spread for breakfast including eggs, fresh fruit, toast, and a vegetable smoothie.

Airbnb is a great tool that you should carry with you on your Sicily road trip, especially when backpacking in small Sicilian towns that don’t have hostels. Airbnb is the best way to rent unique, local accommodations on any travel budget. Get up to $50 off your first trip when you sign up through my personal link.

Sicily Genealogy: Finding My Italian Ancestors

Via Setaioli was renamed to Via Giuseppe Garibaldi in Capaci
Via Setaioli in Capaci, the street my great-grandfather grew up on, was renamed to Via Giuseppe Garibaldi

My great-grandfather, Antonino Floridia, was born in Capaci in 1882. When he was 30, Antonio left Capaci for America.  On March 5, 1913, Antonino boarded the SS Mendoza for a 15 day trip from Palermo to New York.

With the help of a genealogist from SicilianAncestory.com, I was able to walk in the footsteps of my great-grandfather and my great-great-grandparents. I visited the street in Capaci where Antonino was born and lived. My genealogist found handwritten marriage documents and birth certificates from the 1800s. The most shocking discovery was that my great-great-grandfather, Salvatore Floridia, was adopted and assigned his first and last name by the Italian Civil State.

The Capaci Cemetery in Sicily is an above ground cemetery
The Capaci Cemetery in Sicily is an above ground cemetery

I searched the Capaci cemetery where I suspected Salvatore was laid to rest, but I could not find his gravesite. The cemetery was like nothing I’ve seen before—there were no tombstones or bodies buried underground. Instead, the dead are placed in stacked concrete mausoleums. Even more surprising was that most of the gravesites included a photograph of the dead.

To finish off my Sicilian genealogy quest, I paid a visit to the Capaci Municipio building where they promptly sent me to the Capaci Registry Office. I was looking for any information they had on my ancestors:  property records, birth certificates, death certificates. Unfortunately the language barrier proved difficult. Only one gentleman in the office could speak some broken English. I found that talking slower or louder didn’t help the Italians understand me any better. What did help was Google Translate, but my plane to Rome was leaving early that afternoon, so I had to leave without any new information.

Capaci Massacre: A Sicilian Mafia Bombing

Capaci is unfortunately famous for a targeted bombing that took place in 1992.  A bomb placed under the highway killed Giovanni Falcone, an anti-Mafia judge, along with others while they were driving through Capaci on the A29 highway. The Sicilian Mafia were believe to be responsible for the bombing. A memorial now marks the site of the explosion.

Despite driving by the site of the bombing multiple times while in Sicily, I was unaware of the Capaci Massacre.  It wasn’t until my hostel host in Rome explained the Capaci massacre to me. Other than the Capaci massacre, there isn’t much of note in this small Sicilian town.

Visiting Sicily Alone

Don’t let traveling Sicily by yourself intimidate you.  I met dozens of backpackers from all over Europe during my Sicily road trip. I’ll admit, outside of Palermo, hostels were quite empty in January. Therefore, you’ll find more backpackers when you travel to Sicily outside of the winter months.  Like I always say:  half the travel experience is the people you meet on the road.

After Sicily, I flew into mainland Italy to explore Naples, Pompeii, and the stunning Amalfi Coast.

I hope you found this Sicily travel guide for beginners helpful. Don’t hesitate to ask me any questions while planning or during your trip to Sicily.

Caio!

Meet Tony

After years of backpacking the world solo, Tony is an expert when it comes to budget travel. Discover why Tony quit his job to travel on the cheap, and follow him on YouTube for all the latest.

2 thoughts on “Sicily Road Trip: How to See Sicily by Car”

  1. Nice piece, thank you!
    I was in Sicily in October so enjoyed your descriptions. Did you spend any time in Ortega Syracuse? I found that to be one of the most impressive places. Also Ragussa is amazing but best of a with incredible architecture was Scicli.
    cheers

    Reply
    • Thanks John for the feedback. Sicily is lovely, isn’t it? I didn’t get to Ortega Syracuse or Ragussa. I need more than a week! Next time for sure 🙂

      Reply

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