Northern Sicilian Highlights

Cefalu (1)

On a recent backpacking trip to Italy with one of my best friends, we couldn’t resist squeezing in a quick visit to Northern Sicily. Five days there wasn’t quite enough, but it was all we had, so we managed to pack a lot in, given the short time! It was a fast-paced trip, but what a whirlwind of amazing sights, food and fun! After five action-packed days in Northern Sicily, I was able to make the following list of the must see sights and activities in the area.

PalermoPalermo

We first arrived in Palermo by boat from Sorrento, early in the morning on a public holiday, so the city was a bit of a ghost town! Later on in the evening, however, and on the following day, things livened up a lot as locals and tourists hit the streets. Even though Palermo isn’t the most attractive city at first glance, it’s charm reveals itself after spending some time wandering the streets. Make sure to go and see Quattro Canti (junction where the city’s four main districts meet), Palermo’s cathedral and Palazzo Reale.

If you have a sweet tooth, then make sure to make a pit stop at Touring Cafe and try a cannoli! They have such an array of amazing local deserts to choose from, and decorative and stylish décor is something to enjoy. Also don’t forget to try to try the local classic savoury dish, arancine. The most popular place to get these, with the best selection, is Ke Palle Arancine. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see a swarm of tourists outside. You’ll find arancine in all sorts of cafes and take-away stores, however, which are just as good and even cheaper.

CefaluCefalu

This gem of a city is worth heading off the beaten track to reach! If you don’t have time to spend a night or two in Cefalu, it’s even worth it to make a day-trip to admire this beautiful city. The beach features extensive golden sand, and the old town is a façade of beige buildings with terracotta roofs.

We were based in Palermo, and ventured over to Cefalu for the day. It’s easily reachable from Palermo by train, with direct connections running often and taking less than an hour. From the train station, reaching the old town of Cefalu and its stunning beach is easy by foot.

This is a place to enjoy basking in the sun on the golden sand beach, sipping cocktails at one of the beach bars, and wandering through the old city by foot. With such a stunning view of the old city from the beach, this is where we chose to spend the bulk of our time! The sea is also invitingly warm and good for swimming in.

Catania

Catania, like Palermo, isn’t one of the most stunning cities from the outside. But spend a little time wandering the streets, and you will find it grows on you. Hop-on hop-off tour buses are available to take you to all of Catania’s popular sites, or wander around the city by foot (if you’re feeling energetic). Make sure to check out the main sights, including Palazzo degli Elefanti, the main Piazza outside of the palace, and Castello Ursino.

If you’re looking for some nightlife, A putia dell’Ostello is where it’s at. This outdoor bar is packed, even on a Monday night, probably because it is located right under Catania’s popular Agora hostel. Enjoy the buzz and a few drinks outside in summer, and make sure to check out the underground river, which literally runs through the basement of the bar inside!

Etna Mt Etna

This volcano, which towers above the clouds at over 3,000m high, is worth a visit! There are a whole bunch of tours which offer trips up to Mount Etna, departing from Catania or Taormina at various times. Each promise to show you various features of the volcano, some taking you up higher than others.

If you’re on a budget, however, I would recommend making a trip up to the mountain via public transport. There is a bus which leaves near Catania train station around 8am and drives you back down again at around 4.30pm. There are only a limited number of tickets available, however, as the bus has limited seats, so make sure you get there early.

The bus will take you to up to the main base up the volcano. Don’t take a nap on the bus ride up, because you’ll get to see spectacular views, and the remains of some old buildings which have been destroyed during previous eruptions. There are some pretty decent craters around the main base, so make sure you check these out! From this point, you can either choose to be taken up further by gondola, go up via jeep, or, if you’re feeling energised (like we were), you can walk up further yourself! There is a formed road which is easy to follow, or choose to scale the side of the mountain for a more action-packed route. Views up the top on a nice day are amazing!

Taormina

TaorminaTaormina1

We chose to visit Taormina as a day trip from Catania, but I would highly recommend spending some more time here if you can. This hilltop city is an oasis with stunning views out over the ocean and a beautiful old town. The long main street is full of cute shops and restaurants, so it’s worth taking your time to wander up and down the street here. We had lunch at a cute little restaurant at the end of Vico Zecca, just off the main street, which is definitely worth checking out for a great dish of pasta.

Make sure to take the cable car back down the hill to check out the gorgeous beaches too, Isola Bella and Lido la Pigna, something we didn’t manage to do as it started pouring with rain!

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