Many of the best things to do in Sicily are not expensive, as prices are low even by Italian standards. But better still, there is a multitude of great things to do that are completely free.
From art-filled churches to historic markets, spectacular walks to religious processions and ancient sights to modern art, you’ll find wonderful things to do on the island that won’t cost a thing. Here are 10 of our favorites.
Browse Palermo’s street markets
Palermo’s historical ties with the Arab world and its proximity to North Africa reverberate in the street life of the city’s ancient center and nowhere is this more in evidence than in its markets.
Each of the city’s four historic quarters has its own daily street market. Of these, two are highly recommended. Mercato di Ballarò is the most vibrant, filled with stalls peddling household goods, clothes and foodstuffs of every possible description – this is where many residents do their daily shopping.
The Mercato del Capo extends through the warren of lanes and alleyways of the Albergheria and Capo quarters and is the most atmospheric of all. Here, meat carcasses sway from metal hooks, glistening tuna and swordfish are expertly dismembered, and anchovies are filleted. Long lines of stalls display pungent cheeses, tubs of olives and a huge array of fruits and vegetables.
Get wowed by Palermo’s street art
The side streets of Palermo’s centro storico (historic center) pop with bold street art such as playful depictions of fantastical creatures and bold, political murals about immigration and the mafia. You’ll find works in all four of the city’s old quarters.
La Kalsa is home to impressive large-scale murals occupying the walls of a row of apartment blocks on Via Dello Spasimo. One celebrates cultural diversity with a vibrant depiction of a young woman of African descent. For more insight into the city’s ever-changing, ever-expanding street art offerings, check out Street Art Palermo on Instagram.
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Gaze out from Enna’s castle
One of Sicily’s most formidable castles, Castello di Lombardia guards Enna’s highest point, which is at the easternmost edge of the historic center. The original castle was built by the Saracens and later reinforced by the Normans.
The defensive curtain wall is still intact, but only six of the original 20 towers remain, of which the tallest is the Torre Pisano. Accessible from the Cortile dei Cavalieri (one of the castle’s well-preserved inner courtyards), the tower delivers spectacular views over the valley to the town of Calascibetta and to Mt Etna in the northeast.
Be one in a million and follow the Fercolo
On Catania’s Festa di Sant’Agata, more than one million celebrants follow the Fercolo (a silver reliquary bust of St Agatha) along the main streets of the city to honor the city’s patron saint. It’s one of Italy’s largest religious festivals and it takes place February 3–5 every year. A literal highlight is the huge fireworks displays.
St Agatha is venerated for her purported ability to protect the city from earthquakes, volcanic eruptions (that big shadow is Mt Etna) and even the plague. During the festival, the most devoted of followers wear body-length white tunics.
Wander historic Ragusa Ibla
Sicily has plenty of atmospheric old city centers, but Ragusa’s magnificent old town, Ragusa Ibla, is easily one of the most evocative and pedestrian-friendly. It’s a joy to wander the labyrinth of lanes weaving through rock-grey palazzi to beautiful, sun-drenched piazzas. It’s easy to get lost but you can never go too far wrong, and sooner or later you’ll end up at Piazza Duomo, Ragusa’s sublime central square.
At the top end of the sloping piazza is the town’s pride and joy, the mid-18th century Duomo di San Giorgio, which boasts a magnificent neoclassical dome and stained-glass windows. Its extravagant convex facade rises like a three-tiered wedding cake.
Join the procession of the misteri
Since the 18th century, the citizens of Trapani have begun a four-day celebration of the Passion of Christ on the Tuesday before Easter Sunday by parading a life-sized wooden statue of the Virgin Mary through the town’s streets. For the following three days, nightly processions of the misteri (life-sized wooden statues) make their way through the old quarter and port to a specially erected chapel in Piazza Lucatelli, where the icons are stored overnight.
The celebration climaxes on Friday afternoon when the guilds carry each of the statues on a 1km-long procession up to Via Giovanni Battista Fardella; the procession returns the following morning. The massive crowds that gather for the processions often reach a peak of delirious fervor.
Go for baroque in Modica
The high point of a trip to Modica – quite literally as it’s up in Modica Alta – is the Duomo di San Giorgio, one of Sicily’s most extraordinary baroque churches. It stands in isolated splendor at the top of a majestic 250-step, 19th-century staircase, its sumptuous three-tiered facade towering above the medieval alleyways of Modica’s old town.
The lavish interior, a sunlit kaleidoscope of silver, gold and eggshell blue, encapsulates all the hallmarks of early 18th century Sicilian baroque. One of the two chapels flanking the central apse houses the equestrian statue of San Giorgio, which is carried through the town during the saint’s annual festival in April.
Hike to one of Sicily’s best views
Jutting dramatically out of the high mountain pastures at the northern edge of the Parco Regionale Dei Nebrodi, the Rocche del Crasto are soaring pinnacles of rock. A favorite hiking destination, the three-hour trail to the summit rewards with views stretching far out over the Tyrrhenian Sea to the Aeolian Islands.
Encompassing the Nebrodi Mountains of northeastern Sicily, the Nebrodi Regional Park is the largest forested area in Sicily. It’s dotted with remote and traditional villages far off the tourist trails.
Count the tombs at the Necropoli di Pantalica
Situated on a huge plateau, the Necropoli di Pantalica is a significant Iron Age and Bronze Age necropolis. The site is surrounded by the wild and unspoiled landscape of the Valle dell’Anapo, a deep limestone gorge laced with walking trails.
More than 5000 tombs of various shapes and sizes are honey-combed along the limestone cliffs. The Unesco World Heritage-listed site is ancient, dating between the 13th and 8th century BCE, and its origins are deeply mysterious. The site is about 25 miles (40km) northwest of Syracuse.
Climb 142 steps in one flight
Caltagirone’s most evocative sight is Scalinata di Santa Maria del Monte, a monumental staircase that rises from Piazza Municipio to the old church, Chiesa di Santa Maria del Monte. Built in the early 17th century to connect the old hilltop center with newer developments around Piazza Municipio, it was originally divided into several flights of steps separated by small squares. These tiers were eventually unified in the 1880s to create the 142-step heart-pounding flight that stands today. The hand-painted majolica tiles are a relatively recent addition, only added in 1956.
It’s all very impressive, although, by the time you get to the top, you’ll probably be more interested in having a sit-down than admiring the tile-work. Fortunately, the grand views will quickly restore your will to move.