Picture it… Sicily!
After our trip to Italy last year, we knew we’d be back. We love Italy! And after visiting Sicily, we are left wondering which one we love more…
If you’re thinking about Italy, I encourage you to throw Sicily in the mix. Like the mainland, each region of Sicily has it’s own landscape, cuisine, charm, and even dialect. If you’re not thinking about Italy, I encourage you to throw Sicily in the mix! This little island has it all: beautiful beaches, mountains, ancient ruins, vineyards, active volcanoes, charming fishing villages, castles, and a history that makes it an Mediterranean melting pot.
Here are 5 tips to hit Sicily without breaking the bank!
Avoid peak season: July & August. The good news about Sicily, is that the weather is beautiful all year-round, so you have options!
Visiting in May, early June, or September can really your reduce airfare and lodging expenses. It’s also important to note that most Italians take their holiday in August, so most cities will be shut down as the locals head to the beach. This will also make trips to these beach destinations more costly.
Shop around for flights. There are lots of good deals out there. They are just waiting on you to find them! I love how KAYAK shows you the best fares for flexible dates . Right now there is a round trip flight from EWR to PMO (Palermo) for $789* on Lufthansa. Two weeks ago, there was a trip from JFK to PMO for $598* on Meridiana! Speaking of Meridiana Airlines, if you are looking for a trip from the states to Italy (they fly into Milan, Naples, and Palermo) that will blow your mind, go shop around Meridiana, compare it to other search engines like Expedia, and thank me later! If you’re already in Italy, and wanting to add Sicily to your itinerary, flights from Rome to Palermo range from $38 to $100*, and a train ticket is about €100*.
The train is a great and inexpensive way to get around the island. Tickets for our trip ranged from €11-25/per person, and they can be purchased ahead of time on trenitalia.com or in the station before your trip. Most stations have both ticket counters and self-serve ticket kiosks. The trains run similar to to trains here in the states, where there is a main display that lists all excursions and the platform (bin) that the train is arriving/departing from, is noted anywhere from 5-30 minutes before the departure. Be mindful that the train in Sicily is different from the mainland, and it doesn’t offer the same level of accessibility. Below is a railway map, and it is also worthy to note that while the trains are incredibly reliable (we took them our whole trip, without issue), they do run on Sicilian time, which is like 10-15 minutes behind.
As a Type A, American, this can be very nerve-racking. Breathe, grab a caffe, and enjoy the scenery!
The last three tips can all be rolled into one major theme: live like a local! But I’m going to break them down so you know exactly what I’m talmbout…
Stay in the city
I know, I know… you heard all about Cefalu, Taormina, San Vito Lo Capo, and Noto. You want to stay there and soak up every ounce of that Sicilian charm. I get it! But, everything in those small towns is more expensive than if you were to stay in Palermo, Catania, or Siracusa. And since the island is small, it makes day excursions to all of these magical places, easy breezy beautiful cover girl! Even slightly smaller cities like Trapani, Ragusa, and Marsala, offer cheaper accommodations with the same great location and better access to public transportation. It’s only a 45 minute train ride from Cefalu to Palermo, €5.60/each way; the 50 minute bus ride from Trapani to San Vito Lo Capo is only €10; and it’s only a 30 minute train ride from Siracusa to Noto, at €3.80/each way.
86 the hotel
If you’re still not convinced to stay in the city, consider this…we visited Sicily in September (2016) and hotels in Cefalu and Taormina were around €250/night, and that can quickly add up when you are staying 4-5 days. If you stay in the larger cities and opt for an Airbnb accommodation over a traditional hotel, you can save about €180/night! Our Airbnb in Palermo, Casa Vigliena was only $69/night and it was in the perfect location to explore Palermo and access the train station for day trips to all the sweet spots.
The average rate for Airbnb in Catania is $73/night, but gems like SanVito Nest go for only $58/night*. The average in Siracusa is $76/night, but if you want to stay right in the historic city center of Ortigia, you can do it for only $63/night* at Casa Ambra a Ortigia Siracusa. The affordable options are endless!!
Don’t put your money where your mouth is
My last tip to keep money in your pockets while visiting Sicily, is to eat where the locals eat. Good food is not hard to find in Sicily, but the best food and the cheapest food is not going to be on the tourist drag. It’s going to be off the beaten path, in the neighborhoods, and the menu may not be in english!
For example, if you’re in Palermo, the best pizza will not be found on Via Maqueda next to ChipSweet, although you should try the cheap & greasy goodness that is ChipSweet. Palermo is known for it’s cheap, street food and ChipSweet is basically the McDonalds of street food. You can find local vendors on almost every street and you should definitely try the arancina (only in Palermo is she called this, everywhere else it is referred to as arancini), panella, and the crocche.
Back to pizza! For the best pizza in Palermo, and possibly Sicily, you will have to venture into the tucked away Piazza Sant’Onofrio, where you will find Frida’s. Each pizza is about €8 and is plenty for one person.
If you’re in Taormina and looking for a nice dinner experience, skip Corso Umberto and hit up Ristorante Castelluccio in Mazzaro, down by the beach. The food is authentic, fresh, and our dinner was cheaper than our lunch, up in the historic city center. You’re going to want to try the spaghetti alla Trapanese for your primi piatti (first course).
In Cefalu, wander off Corso Ruggero and you will find La Brace on Via XXX Novembre. This local gem is sought after by tourists night after night, and with good reason. It’s a mom + son duo and the food is amazing and cheap! The nightly special is guaranteed to be great and it’s only going to cost you about €16. My husband would not shut up about the bacon wrap filet and how he would charge $50 for it.
The one thing that Fridas, Ristorante Castelluccio, and La Brace all have in common, other than being delicious and a great value, is that they are where the locals eat. Which means that you are in the right place, and that you will need reservations!
I know that when Americans think of a European getaway, they immediately think of how expensive and impossible it sounds for the average household. And yes, there are expenses. Airfare will never truly be cheap and all expenses add up over a week’s vacation, but there are ways to cut corners and make the impossible, possible! Once you get to Sicily and get settled, the adventures may burn your legs, but not your wallet.
This moment at the top of Chiesa San Salvotore was €2.50/per person
This moment at the top of Cattedrale di Palermo was €5/per person
This moment at Teatro Greco in Toarmina was €10/per person
This moment at the top of La Rocca was €4/per person
This dick pick at The Valley of The Temples was €10/per person (and worth every penny)
This moment at Bastione Di Capo Marchiafava was free
This moment at the top of Mt. Etna was free
And this moment that I started with, at Scala dei Turchi, was also free
This trip was priceless. Sicily is forever in my heart and I hope you know there’s a way it can be in yours too.
*prices on date of publish: 10/20/16, prices will vary.