How to make the most of 4 days in Sicily
Traveling alone isn’t always easy or intended. I don’t belong to this group of people who are being wild about solo travel. I much prefer sharing these precious moments, these new experiences with someone beloved. Nonetheless, wanderlust is huge and irresistible. Better to travel alone, than not travel at all.
Especially when you hunt down airfares from Athens to Catania for 10euro/ person in total. You don’t want to miss chances like that.
Travel period: 11/6 – 14/6/2021
When traveling solo, in particular as a female, it’s the most important factor to consider. The whole time in Sicily I didn’t feel insecure or afraid as I was wandering around. The truth is my mother scared me just before riding the van and leaving for Mount Etna with a proclaimed tour guide. In the end, she shouldn’t be worried but who can stop a mother from being overprotective of her child.
Naturally as with every strange place you need to use your common sense. Stay connected with your friends and family and ensure there is always enough battery and internet on your phone. Avoid the poorly lit alleys. Trust your intuition. Avoid going out at night alone or if you do, please stay sober. These are things that you can be taught. Unfortunately most women use these cautions throughout their lives even in their hometowns.
Plan of the trip in Sicily
My plan is quite hectic and exciting. I wanted to fully take advantage of each day and let’s be honest I wanted to avoid feeling bored or lonely.
1st Day: Catania
2nd Day: Walking Tour in Catania & Syracuse
3rd Day: Mount Etna & Taormina
4th Day: Taormina & Catania Airport
1st DAY: CATANIA
My flight took off from Athens at 16:20 and at 17:00 we were landing at Catania’s Airport. Concerning Covid, it was needed a PCR Covid-19 negative test but let me tell you that nobody checked it. Also you need the QR Code, which you have received after filling out the digital European Passenger Locator Form. If all this sound Greek to you, visit the official site of the Italian Ministry http://www.italia.it/en/useful-info/covid-19-updates-information-for-tourists.html
From the airport there is a bus service (AMT Alibus) running regularly to the city center, approximately every 25 minutes. The first bus leaves from the city at 5 am and the last is at midnight. This is a circular itinerary, so don’t get confused. The ticket costs 4euro, which you pay for the driver. So board the bus from the bus stop (just outside the arrivals halls, on your left) and 20 minutes later you will be in the center of the Town.
My suggestion is to stay in the area between Villa Bellini and Giardino Pacini. This is the most central, crowded and historical part of the city. Pretty sure to avoid the area south of Castello Ursino and San Berillo neighborhood.
My accommodation booked through booking.com was on the Piazza Stesicoro and I could not ask for a better location. For 2 nights I paid 54euro and 4 euro for the city taxes. My room was extra small, perfect for a person and not a very tall or big one, because of the steep narrow stairs.
After checking in at your room, head to Via Etnea. It’s a huge street, mostly pedestrianized and the major road artery. There you can admire the incredible beauty of Sicilian baroque-style buildings and churches. You can watch artists performing their acts and families shopping at the numerous shops and you can smell all the Italian aroma.
This is Italy
As walking around hungrily will do you no good, head to Arancineria Espresso Serafino to try one of the most famous delicacies. Arancino is a cone of rice filled originally with meat sauce and then breaded and fried. Nowadays you can try different flavors like filled with mushrooms, vegetables, pork or cheese. They are very cheap (2 euro each) and really filling.
Back to Piazza del Duomo and go visit the Cathedral. It’s free and pleasantly cool if you go in the summer. I was lucky enough to visit it during mass and hear the beautiful melody of a pipe organ.
If you have time and strength, go to Cathedrale di Sant’ Agata, pay the ticket of 5euro to climb to the top and have the most magnificent view of the city and the sea. It’s open till 7.30 pm in the summer.
True Fact: When traveling alone, you should expect not to have the best photos of yourself. You can have lots of selfies, so it would be your head and some bits of a church in the photo or you can buy one of these selfie-sticks, so it will be you, the church and your long arm and finally you can ask someone to take you a photo. And I will show you exactly what happened when I asked this from a young, female tourist who was also taking photos of herself. I actually showed her the first photo of the view, asking to be placed in this background.
Yeah, that didn’t come as planned. But nonetheless it’s a photo I will keep to remind me of this misunderstanding and smile to myself.
After that exhausting climbing grab an ice cream from Bar Pasticceria Gelateria Amara for 1,5euro/ ball and check from the outside the Castello Ursino and Porta Garibaldi.
As it was getting late by that time, I headed back to the hotel but if you stay up until late there are so many little bars and bistro to choose from. My absolutely favorite was Kitsch –Ristobistrot.
2nd DAY: Catania & Syracuse
Come on, get up, it’s almost 8 o clock.
Time to explore the city.
Italy is all about sweet breakfast, so buy one perfect cannoli with ricotta cheese and a croissant with pistachio crème from Pasticceria Savia, one of the top-voted places for cannoli and take a seat by the park Villa Bellini. Here you can relax and enjoy the city as it wakes up.
If Orto Botanico dell’ Universita di Catania is open, it’s a very beautiful walk instead. In June 2021 it was closed temporarily because of Covid 19.
Also don’t miss to visit the Piazza Carlo Alberto market for a truly authentic experience. Located near Via Umberto and Corso Sicilia, you surely can’t miss it. You will hear from afar the vendors barking about their products and Sicilians squeezing to buy the best tomato. It’s the best spot to try local cheese and charcuterie, buy local juicy fruits and eat the baked vegetables from a plastic bag (check these giant onions for 0,5 euro each). Catania’s market is closed on Sundays and most afternoons.
You experienced so many things and it’s only the beginning of the day
For a little or more history, take a free walking tour. These tours are all over the world and for me, it’s the best gift you can give yourself when abroad. Usually run by students, they give you an insight into the city’s history among many local tips. Check their website at Catania freetourcatania.com. Our tour guide Agata was more than adequate to explain everything and for 3 hours she kept shooting us with the most interesting facts. Totally recommend it! Book in advance from their website. It’s FREE but in the end you get to give if and how much you want as an appreciation gesture.
The tour ends at Piazza Stesicoro and from there it’s 15 minutes to the Autobus Station to take the bus to Syracuse. The ticket is 6euro and you can book it also online at interbus.it , which at this trip was my favorite site. It’s an hour and a half to Syracuse’s last bus stop. The modern city of Syracuse is not really worth your time, so walk straight to the historic island of Ortigia.
Ortigia is a well–preserved medieval island with alleys like a labyrinth. Historically this island was attacked many times, so curved streets acted as a way to protect the locals from the arrows of the invaders but also to disorientate the invaders. What you must do also as a modern tourist is to get lost in this labyrinth and every now and then a spectacular piazza will show with a brilliant fountain or even better an Italian trattoria. Walk around and admire this little gem and once you get hungry sit down at A Potia for your lunch. I had a mini plateau with local cheese and charcuterie and a plate of pasta ala norma (tomato sauce, basil and eggplants) with a glass of soda for 17 euro, in a lovely ambiance.
Another choice for a good selection of local assortments is Fratelli Burgio but it closes in the afternoon.
For Ice cream, you can try Pasticceria Artale.
The bus to Catania leaves from the same bus stop. Be aware that there are no buses till late in the evening. In June 2021 the last bus which I took departed at 6 pm, arriving at 7.20 pm in Piazza Borsellino. Just in time for a walk in the city with the company of a granite lemone from Chiosco SicilianSeltz or even better a Nutella Frapee. If you love chocolate, this is my gift to you. Try NUTELLA FRAPEE, wherever you find it in these little kiosks around the city, it’s like a chocolate milkshake with nutella on top.
3rd Day: Mount Etna & Taormina
Another MUST is the tour to Mount Etna, which actually erupted the night before.
I have read so many reviews, opinions and tours about Mt Etna and I will explain what I chose to do and then what you should do.
I contacted nearly all the tour agencies to ask them about availability and from most I was taking no as an answer.
There were three problems. 1st due to Covid there were not enough tourists, 2nd I was only one person and 3rd the Mount Etna was erupting and so it was not possible to go near the top, as I wished.
Ultimately I found Giuseppe Cucuccio , an alpine guide who also owns a souvenir shop at the refugee Sapienza and he picked me up from my hotel to the refugee. There we met another guide and a group of 10 Americans. We used the funicular from 1800m to 2.500m of altitude and from there we walked to the large area of Etna and climbed at 3 craters at 3000m of altitude. Etna is not just one volcano; it’s like dozens, other active and other dormant. We checked up closely some extinct and dormant craters.
In total I was really glad I managed to see this famous Volcano but truth to be told I wanted to be more fascinating, like walking near a lava flow. Probably too dangerous to organize a tour like that, I know, but a girl can only dream. My point is that you can go on your own to Mount Etna if you have company, your friend, boyfriend, your mother, anyone. Renting a car from Catania is the best idea to go up to refugee Sapienza, pay the funicular 24 euro and walk the area from there. The top of Mount Etna is at 3345m and supposedly you are allowed only with a guide from 3000m and up. But you won’t go more than 3000m even with the tours. Even the agencies that have tours to the top don’t guarantee that you will reach the top on that day.
And let me tell you that climbing to the craters is strenuous and as an orthopaedic, I would say that coming down from the craters is even more strenuous for your knees, even if you don’t feel it. So be careful.
For my tour I paid 75euro in total and my guide Guiseppe returned me to Catania at 4 pm where I took the bus for the town of Taormina (EtnaTour Bus).
Fun Fact: Τhe day I climbed to Mount Etna I kind of borrowed, more like took a fruit knife from the hotel. My mother had affected me with all her fears that the guide I was waiting for at 7 am at Piazza Stesicoro would be a totally different person who would kidnap me. Greek mother, what can I say… It should be a unique term in Wikipedia to describe the overprotectiveness and the vivid imagination these mothers have. Obviously the man was an honest alpine guide and thankfully I remembered to leave the knife at the next hotel and not taking it to the airport.
This was the real hidden gem of the trip, the hidden paradise of Sicily. It has everything you can imagine and even more. It’s the ideal place to escape from the hectic city life. Located 200 meters above the sea, the city has the most dazzling view of the Mediterranean Sea. This natural beauty is supplemented by the view of Mount Etna, which smokes in the background.
It was the perfect decision to stay overnight in Taormina and not come back to Catania. I unconditionally fell in love with this city. It had the relaxing vibes of a Greek island and the unique charm of a medieval town with one of the best-preserved Greek amphitheater.
Accommodation in Taormina
My accommodation for the night was at the cozy apartment of Casa Tiziana for 35euro through booking.com, which I totally recommend if you can go through the night without air-conditioning. Its location is perfect and the price is even better. Be warned that Taormina is an expensive city to stay.
Must – see in Taormina
Giardini della Villa Comunale. This public garden is just amazing, one of the best I have seen and it’s free. Open in the summer from 8 am to 8 pm, it has all sorts of colorful blooms and coastal views. Admire the bizarre architectural constructions with ice cream on hand and prepare yourself to be amazed.
The streets of Taormina are like a movie set. People passing by so elegantly dressed (I truly felt underdressed), artists singing in the corners, the smell of the baked pizza. This town is alive day and night. Every turn you take you will sigh in awe from the beauty of the buildings and churches. And then you will arrive at Piazza IX Aprile which is the vibrant heart of Taormina. It hangs on the cliffside offering chaw drooping views. If you want the most romantic wedding, here is the place at this square, at Duomo di Taormina.
The choices for dinner are numerous and covering all demands. I sat for bruschetta and a glass of wine with a Greek guy I met by chance at Arco Rosso. Osteria da Rita is a great choice for authentic Italian dishes. Or if you want something on the go, choose Rosticceria Da Cristina for thick Sicilian pizza.
4th Day: Taormina & Catania Airport
You have one more day, or more like half a day to enjoy in this magnificent town.
Have a more traditional weird breakfast by eating granita and brioche at Bam Bar for 4,5euro.
Now is the time to admire the city with the early light of the day and to stroll around in less crowded alleys. Visit the Greek amphitheater for 10 euros, the Palazzo Corvaja or the Roman Odeon.
After you are done with all the sightseeing it’s beach time.
Isolla Belle has no random name. The locals like to brag about it as the Pearl of the Ionian Sea. Take in the view from Belvedere di Via Pirandello (viewing point) and follow the path to the beach. You will need around 15 minutes and most of it is in shade. Otherwise you can take the funicular for 3euro which functions every 15minutes.
The beach is mostly organized and each beach bar-restaurant has set its borders pretty clear. The cost is 10-15 euro per person providing sunbed and umbrella. The part near the islet is free as it is the narrow strip of beach that links the islet to the mainland. At high tide this strip is covered by water. The island itself is private and the gate is closed.
Another Choice is you have more time to spend and your own vehicle is Giardini Naxos, on the south of Taormina. The beach there is the longest in the area, alternating fine sand with pebbles. It has both free parts and private organized ones. It’s a developing touristic hotspot with lots of restaurants, bars and hotels.
From Taormina most certainly you will leave with the best memories and the undimmed desire to come back again and spread the word about this town.
Flying from Catania Airport you need to catch the bus leaving from Taormina’s bus station which is located just 5 minutes from the northern central gate. The journey lasts 1 hour and 20 minutes and the cost is 6euro.
Alternatively you can take the train but keep in mind 2 drawbacks. First the railway station is at the bottom of the hill of Taormina that means that on foot is almost 30 minutes to the center. Moreover, there is no train reaching at Catania Airport. So you will take the train till Catania’s Central Railway Station and from there the bus heading to the airport.
The airport is a small one, especially considering the number of tourists flying from there. It was crowded. The security check was fast and the gates are limited, so you can’t be lost. There are some cafes near the gates and also there is a store of Dolci Di Nonna Vincenza, where you can buy some fresh cannoli for your loved ones. Ok, I know they are not the best but it’s a pretty decent choice so just don’t buy them for anyone Italian who knows of good cannoli …
Tip: In Sicily locals don’t speak good English, so it would be in your own interest to learn some basic phrases in Italian. It’s an easy language after all and you can see the difference in their face, how it lights up when you try to order in Italian.