Last Updated: August 18, 2023

What is Sicily famous For? (10 Unforgettable Things)

Although most of us know it as just an island with a volcano, Sicily is actually famous for its world-class beaches, historic architecture, well-maintained temples, and sumptuous food. 

Most of us think of Sicily as one island, but the whole region of Sicily also includes the Aegadian Islands, the Aeolian Islands, Pantelleria, and Lampedusa.

Sicily’s long history of domination from the Greeks, Romans, and European powers of the Middle Ages and Renaissance has created a cultural crossroads in a setting of scenic beauty. You’ll see it in the ancient architecture, taste it in the food and wine, and hear it in the bustle of the lively markets. Get an idea of what a Sicilian getaway is like with this list of what Sicily is famous for.

Amazing Architecture

baroque churches

You’ll find a wealth of ancient architecture scattered throughout Sicily’s cities and towns from baroque churches to Greek theaters and temples. The Greeks colonized southern coastal Italy during the 8th and 9th centuries, and the rulers had huge theaters and temples built, some of which are still standing.

The capital city of Palermo has a mix of arabesque architecture and Byzantine mosaics. While exploring the city, you’ll discover a trove of piazzas featuring handsome architecture. Some of the highlights include the piazza Vigliena with four baroque corners and the magnificent Piazza Pretoria with its fountains and statues of nymphs and tritons. And don’t miss the 12th century Palermo Cathedral featuring a blend of Catalin and Moorish architecture.

The San Nicolò Cathedral is the pride of Noto in the Province of Syracuse. Its golden-hued dome is the focal point of the city’s skyline. And one of Sicily’s most striking baroque churches, the Duomo di San Giorgio is found in Modica at the top of a 250-step 19th-century staircase.

Valley of Temples


One of the best-preserved archaeological sites in the world is an area called the Valley of Temples. Located in the province of Agrigento in the south-central part of the island, it was listed as one of Siciliy’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1997. The area includes 20 separate sites covering 1300 hectares (3,212 acres.)

Once known as the city of Akragas, the temples were built around 580 BC and are splendid examples of Magna Graecia art and architecture. The temples mirror many civilizations and comprise one of Sicily’s most visited sites. Some of the most stunning include

  • the Temple of Juno
  • the Temple of Concordia
  • Paleo Christian Necropolis
  • the Temple of Heracles

Ancient Theaters

ancient theater

The Greeks and Romans built theaters with stages and auditoriums on scenic sites to integrate with nature and allow air and light to enter through the columns. Later adapted for gladiator use, the theaters fell into disuse after the fall of the western empire. Today, the ruins of the theaters are particularly fascinating historical sites to visit.

One such ancient theater  is found in the little hilltop town of Taormina on Sicily’s east coast. The age of the ancient theatre is unknown; some say the Greeks built it during the 3rd century BC while others say the Romans built it a few hundred years later. Overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, the theater is 50 meters wide and 20 meters high.

The largest ancient theater on the Island is the Theatre of Syracuse in the modern city of the same name. Built by the Greeks in the 5th century BC and modified by the Romans in the 3rd century BC, it’s now a Unesco World Heritage site in tandem with a collection of ancient cemeteries from the 13th century BC called the Necropolis of Pantalica.

Mount Etna

mount etna

Sicily has the distinction of having one of the world’s most active volcanoes, Mount Etna. And at a height of over 3300 meters above sea level, Etna is the highest volcano in Europe. Etna spews fiery lava several times a year, but the eruptions aren’t a danger to inhabitants.

As well as being a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2013, Mount Etna is also one of the island’s favorite places for outdoor adventures. Visitors can hike to the craters and lava fields at the top with a local guide when an eruption isn’t imminent. A cable car also provides scenic views for those who don’t want to hike the whole way.

Mount Etna’s peak is covered in snow during winter and it’s possible to go skiing on the slopes that are a part of the Parco dell’ Etna.

Beautiful Beaches

San Vito Lo Capo beach

Sicily’s Mediterranean shores are lined with gorgeous white sandy beaches for every type of beach-goer. Situated close to Palermo, Mondello Beach is a splendid beach for day trips.

Fontano Bianche is the busiest Sicilian beach, thanks to the many surrounding facilities, restaurants, and bars. Its warm, crystal clear waters are perfect for swimming.

San Vito Lo Capo is another popular beach. Although it is often crowded, it is still a must-see for the stunning views of the turquoise waters and mountainous coastline.

Nature lovers will enjoy the pristine sand and water at Spiaggia dei Conigli Lampedusa with sunbathing during the day and sea turtle watching after dark.

For a secluded beach, head to Spiaggia di Calamosche in the Vendicari nature park. It’s a little more difficult to reach, but you’ll likely find a quiet spot away from the crowds.

Panoramic Vistas


Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Hilltop castles, high cliffs, arched sea rocks, smoking volcanos, and more are all part of Siciliy’s panoramic vistas.

For fairy tale views extending to Saline di Trapani on one side and Sam Vito Lo Capo on the other, visit the impressive Castello di Venere, a 13th-century castle in Erice.

Quattrocchi (Four Eyes) is a popular coastal viewpoint in Lipari. It’s located 3 km west of town along the road to Pianoconte in the province of Messina. Past the precipitous cliffs and mammoth sea rocks, billowing volcanoes line the horizon.

For majestic Mediterranean sea and island views with no climbing involved, follow the signposted road leading to Capo Grillo, a top viewpoint southeast of Vulcano port. It’s near the settlement of Piano in the center of the island.

Lively Markets

lively market

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Sicily is know for its bustling markets and they are a cultural experience for the senses. The noisy markets feature heaps of freshly caught seafood, seasonal produce, Sicilian vintage finds, and more.

Catania’s La Pescheria morning fish market is a riveting sight of decapitated swordfish and piles of clams, sea urchins, muscles, and ruby-red prawns. Fishmongers gut the fish onsite, leaving pools of blood-stained water to step over.

Strung along several city blocks, Mercato di Ballaro is Palermo’s liveliest street market. The endless stalls bustle with sights, sounds, and smells well into the early evening. It’s the cheapest place to buy everything from Chinese-made clothing to cheese and olives.

For vintage Italian glassware, retro records and books, and other rare treasures, don’t pass up the chance to browse the Mercatino Antiquariato Piazza Marina, Palermo’s popular flea market.

Sicilian Cuisine

sicilian cassata

Image courtesy of Flickr

As an island, Sicily’s food is regional and focuses on fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Although the cuisine isn’t provincial, the foods and cooking styles have influences from past invaders and conquerors. The ancient Greeks brought figs, olives, and sheep’s milk cheeses, Arab settlers added almonds and citrus fruits, and the Spaniards contributed chocolate and tomatoes dishes.

For a popular starter dish, try sarde a beccafico, a dish of grilled or baked sardines stuffed with pine nuts, raisins, parsley, anchovies, and toasted breadcrumbs. Or eat your way through Sicilian history with a cassata. The Sicilian cassata is a tasty dessert influenced by Spaniards, Arabs, and Normans. It consists of sponge cake, ricotta, liqueur, and fruit.

You can even try a simple Pasta alla Norma, a tasty Sicilian pasta dish with crispy eggplant, marinara and basil.

Another hit is the Sicilian Pizza, which is not quite what you get on the Italian mainland. It is a far deeper style crust, in a rectangular shape, but also with tomato sauce and often very similar ingredients.

Sicilian Wine

sicilian wine

Sicilian winemaking dates back to the ancient Greeks, but only became known and appreciated in recent decades. The most famous is Marsala, a strong port produced in the island’s western city of the same name.

Talented winemakers create vintages from indigenous grapes made flavorful from the active volcanic soil and favorable climate. The native grape, Nero d’Avola produces a robust red wine. Carricante (white) and Etna Rosso (red) wines are made from Nerello Mascalese grapes. The common and most planted Catarratto grape produces dry wines and Grilli is a dry, white medium-bodied wine that is an excellent accompaniment to seafood.

Vineyards in the Sicilian countryside are picturesque with vines overlooking the Mediterranian Sea, and the wineries to visit are plentiful. Among the most popular is the Tenuta Tascante on the slopes of Mount Etna and the estates of Tasca d’Almerita located throughout the island.

Sicilian Tourism and the Mafia

sicilian mafia

Unfortunately, tourism in Sicily doesn’t always directly benefit locals. That’s because the Mafia often extorts protection money to line their pockets from businesses, hotels, and restaurants. The extortion money is known as pizzo.

The Sicilian Mafia originated in Sicily during the 19th century after the island became an official part of Italy. Large shares of land were given to citizens, and the government at that time wasn’t able to provide adequate manpower to enforce the law. This resulted in organizations of landowners to serve as their own protectors, giving birth to the Mafia. The organized crime group Cosa Nostra operates with a specific set of rules and their behavior is often violent.

Travelers can take steps to avoid profits going to the Mafia by carefully choosing accommodations and tour operators. Addiopizzo is a grassroots movement established by local business owners and private individuals to challenge the Mafia’s hold by discouraging the practice of paying pizzo. Addepizzo Travel, an offshoot of the organization, provides a pizzo-free city map of Palermo that visitors can download from its website.

About the Author Anna Timbrook

Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.

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