20 of the Top Must-See Locations Throughout Sicily’s Historic Eastern Side
It goes without saying that Sicily is one of the most breathtaking places in the Mediterranean. Known for its idyllic beaches, rich history, unparalleled architecture, and even active volcanoes, Sicily is regarded as magnificently captivating travelers from all over the world. Many who visit Italy’s largest island note that “you have not seen Italy unless you have traveled through Sicily”.
However, as the largest island in the Mediterranean, it can be difficult to pack everything Sicily has to offer into one trip. Sicily is larger than the country of Wales and can take roughly two weeks to see, if not more. For that reason, we suggest breaking a tour around Sicily into two parts: East and West.
While Western Sicily is known for its magnificent beaches and laid-back lifestyle, Eastern Sicily is rich in history, architecture, food, and natural wonders. Now, let’s talk about getting to Eastern Sicily. There are two main hubs in terms of flying to Sicily – Catania, and Palermo, but you can also take the ferry from the mainland if you plan to come via train or car.
To get around Eastern Sicily, you will most definitely need to rent a car. Please keep in mind that most cars in Sicily are manual transmissions, and this is not the place to learn how to drive a stick. Automatic vehicles are typically available — for a hefty fee.
Now, we already covered Western Sicily starting in Palermo in a previous blog, so let’s kick this off with the assumption that you will begin your trip in the beautiful city of Catania.
Catania is the second largest metropolitan city in Sicily and boasts stunning architecture, countless historical locations, and some of the best seafood in the world. Over the centuries, Catania has faced invasion, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and everything in between; but her magnificence and grace remain unshakeable. Just walking around Catania is a beautiful experience in itself, but the city has some of Sicily’s most iconic sites along the way.
2. Palazzo Biscari
Located in the heart of Catania is Palazzo Biscari, displaying the most beautiful examples of Catanese baroque architecture. The monumental private palace located on Via Museo Biscari is home to some of Italy’s finest architecture and artwork.
After the earthquake of 1693, the Palazzo Biscari was rebuilt around 1700 by Ignazio Paternò Castello III, the fifth Prince of Biscari. He made the Palazzo his private home which turned into the first major museum open to all, containing his large archaeological collection.
3. The Catania Fish Market
Eastern Sicily is regarded as having some of the best seafood in the entire world, and the Catania Fish Market is the perfect place to experience Sicily’s finest fish. Behind the Cathedral of Catania, the Fish Market has been a central marketplace for centuries. Take a trip back in time to ancient Sicilian fish markets and take your shot bartering with a vendor.
4. Subterranean Catania
As a city adjacent to an active volcano, Catania has fallen victim to multiple volcanic eruptions throughout history. Naturally, this has caused history to become buried beneath the modern streets of Catania. Under the city, you can find the Achillee Thermal Baths, the Spas of Indirizzo, of Rotonda, the Roman Amphitheatre, the church of S. Gaetano alle Grotte, catacombs, and much more. Take a dive underneath the city to take a trip back in time to ancient Catania.
5. Aci Trezza
This hidden gem is not often found on various travel sites because it is still preserved as a local spot, off the beaten path. Aci Trezza is a quaint little beach town just North of Catania that will take your breath away. A popular spot for Italian vacationers in the summer, Aci Trezza is home to the Isole Ciclopi, or Cyclops’ islands, rocks that rise out of the sea and is also believed to be one of the destinations mentioned in The Odyssey. Escape the busy tourism with an idyllic day at the beach
6. Mount Etna
Yes, Eastern Sicily is home to Europe’s highest and most active volcano — but don’t let that scare you off. Mount Etna has been erupting for over 500,000 years and adds a unique yet terrifying element of beauty to Eastern Sicily. Head inland to take a guided tour of Mount Etna and explore the volcano in-depth, from the lava tubes beneath the surface to snow on the summit. The volcano erupts at various points throughout the year, and if you’re lucky — you’ll get a flame-topped photo.
East of Mount Etna and North of Catania lies the town of Taormina, also known as the tourist capital of Sicily, Taormina boasts beautiful views of Mount Etna, lively streets, beautiful Baroque church interiors, flower-draped houses, and the finest Greek theater on the island.
8. Teatro Greco
Notably, to be the most crowded location on your road trip, Taormina is by far a must-see. The Teatro Greco, build in the 3rd century BC is captivating and holds a unique story. Originally built by the Greeks, Teatro Greco was rebuilt with Roman characteristics with the dawn of the Roman Empire. A beautiful enclosed space, Teatro Greco is an architectural wonder. It’s no wonder the location has been immortalized in various paintings around the world.
9. Piazza IX Aprile
Located right in the center of Corso Umberto is Piazza IX Aprile. Regarded as the focal point of Taormina, Piazza IX Aprile boasts exquisite views, amazing restaurants and cafes, hospitable locals, and historical icons at every turn.
Just above Taormina is the small village of Castelmola. Noted as one of the most beautiful villages in all of Italy, Castelmola is something you’d only believe exists in storybooks. Castelmola sits above the ruins of a castle and features narrow streets, beautiful mosaics, colorful streets, and amazing people. The view from Castelmola will be unlike anything you have ever seen before.
11. Isola Bella
Isola Bella is nothing short of paradise and is the main attraction of Mazzaro, just outside of Taormina. Crystal clear waters, soft sandy beaches, brilliant rock formations, snorkeling, great food, and even better drinks — what more could you want? Take a break from your busy sightseeing and enjoy the Sicilian sun for a day.
Head down south to Siracusa to see another one of Eastern Sicily’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the ancient city and the Pantalica, where tombs are cut into the rocks. Known for its ancient ruins, Siracusa is home to the central Archaeological Park Neapolis which holds the Roman Amphitheater, the Teatro Greco (not to be confused with the one in Taormina), and the Orecchio di Dionisio — a limestone cave shaped like a human ear. For a rich and colorful history lesson, heads to the Museo Archeologico Regionale Paolo Orsi, where you can see exhibits with terracotta artifacts, Roman portraits, and Old Testament scenes carved into white marble.
13. Pupillo Wines
Pupuillo Wines is well known for their Moscato di Siracusa, highly regarded as Sicily´s most ancient wine and almost lost until the early 1980´s when the Pupillo family began cultivating it again. Take a rest from walking and book a tasting to discover the history of Sicilian wine-making.
14. Ortigia Island
The oldest and most historic city in Siracusa, Ortigia Island, or the “white pearl of Syracuse,” is known for flower-covered balconies and walkable streets. Often a favorite for any visitor to Eastern Sicily, Ortigia is connected to Siracusa by bridge and is a well-preserved medieval island with authentic trattorias and specialty shops to provide a truly authentic experience. Ortigia is stunning. Be sure to visit the turquoise harbor, perfect for swimming or watching boats come and go.
15. Piazza Duomo
Piazza Duomo is the highest point of Ortigia Island and also the heart of the city. Dating back centuries the Piazzo Duomo was originally the Temple of Athena and has since been converted to a Christian Basilica. Note the strategic mixture of ancient and modern architectural influences as generations built and expanded the original temple. Rumored to be one of the most evocative and beautiful in Italy, the piazza’s elegant form stretches in a semi-oval, flanked by aristocratic palaces and the breathtaking Cathedral.
16. Val di Noto
Val di Noto is a rather interesting region of Southeastern Sicily with a tragic past. Not one city but a string of cities that were destroyed in the 1693 Sicily earthquake. The locals at the time united to rebuild the cluster of towns in the late Baroque style of the day, with central piazzas anchored by stone churches with carved griffins and tiers of Corinthian columns. Many of the cities in the Val di Noto you have already visited, including Catania and Siracusa — but the inland towns hold hidden gems worth exploring.
Modica is a city in central southeast Sicily known for its Baroque buildings, the beautiful Cathedral of St. George, and it’s chocolate. Yes, you read that correctly. While Sicily is often not the first place that comes to mind when you think of chocolate, Modica may change your mind. Featuring a working lab, the Chocolate Museum explores the city’s history of chocolate-making. Do not leave without visiting the Cathedral of St. George, the city’s most iconic landmark — coincidentally it is also where Inspector Montalbano, was filmed.
Just north of Modica is its sister city Ragusa, both part of the Val di Noto. Ragusa is a marvel in itself for its curious structure. Ragusa’s “new” (18th-century) town lays on one side of a gorge and old Ragusa Ibla, rebuilt on-site by stubborn traditionalists, is on the other. Head up the hill to gaze upon one of the best views in Sicily or head into the city center to enjoy some of the world’s greatest gelato with interesting flavors like Moscato.
Closer to the Western side of Sicily but still a notable stop at the tail end of an Eastern Sicilian road trip is Agrigento. One of Sicily’s most famous sites is a series of ruins from ancient times — as early as 580 BC. Built by the Greeks, Agrigento houses some of the world’s most preserved ancient architecture. Be sure to take a guided tour so that you do not miss a thing!
20. Valley of the Temples
The last stop on our list is the Valley of Temples in Agrigento. Undoubtedly the highlight of any Sicilian trip, the Valley of the Temples sits on a ridge and not in a valley as its name implies. The Valley contains the remains of numerous Greek temples that were constructed during the 5th and 6th centuries BC, making them over 2,500 years old, including:
- The temple of Olympian Zeus
- The Temple of Concordia
- The Temple of Castor and Pollux
- The statue of Icarus
- The Temple of Heracles
- The Temple of Aesculapius
- The Tomb of Theron
- The Temple of the Volcano
- The Temple of Juno and much more
Needless to say, a tour is recommended to ensure that you soak up every bit of ancient history and hear the legends, myths, and stories behind these beautiful landmarks.
Once you wrap up your time in Agrigento it’s time to head back on the highway through central Sicily back to Catania!