Sicily's strategic location and beautiful, fertile land made it magnet for Greek settlers in the fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries B.C.—and today, one of the best reasons to visit the island is to see the remnants of the grand Greek colonies that once flourished here. The two most important ancient sites on Sicily are Agrigento, on the southwestern coast (home to the extraordinary Valley of the Temples), and the southeast-coast city of Siracusa, centered around a massive, fifth-century B.C. Greek theater. Those who prefer sunning to ruins-gazing are usually found in Taormina, on the northeastern coast. And city slickers big on restaurants, shopping, and nightlife (and easy transport to mainland Italy) congregate in the capital city of Palermo, on the northwest coast.
WHEN TO GO
Sicily's climate is Mediterranean, with warm, wet winters and hot—very hot—summers. Tourists are elbow to elbow here in sweltering high season, June through September. August is when the locals leave town en masse for vacation, which means fewer crowds but also fewer dining options: Many restaurants shut for the entire month. If you don't mind chilly rains during low season (November to March), you'll almost have the place to yourself, but beware, many restaurant and hotel owners skip town, too.
The most pleasant months for walking—and this is how you're bound to be getting around—are April to June, September, and October.
HOW TO GET THERE
Sicily has two international airports, which can be reached via connections through Rome, Milan, or Naples: Aeroporto Falcone Borsellino, a.k.a. Punta Raisi, 20 miles west of Palermo (www.gesap.it), and Aeroporto Fontanarossa (www.aeroporto.catania.it), the main airport on Sicily's eastern coast, about 20 minutes from Catania.
Buses run frequently between both airports and city centers. In Palermo, Prestia e Comande makes trips every half hour (39-091-586-351; www.prestia-comande.it); in Catania, Alibus also has a twice-hourly bus to the airport (www.aeroporto.catania.it). The fare is about $6 for both. Trenitalia also has hourly trains that run from Palermo airport to downtown and cost about $8. Taxis from Palermo (there are always plenty at the airport) run about $66, and cabs to Catania cost about $33.
Trenitalia express trains run from Rome and Milan to Palermo, Catania, and Siracusa and take about 12 hours (www.trenitalia.it).
There are car ferries and hydrofoils that cross frequently to Sicily from mainland cities like Naples, Cagliari, and Civitavecchia. You'll need to reserve a spot in advance; contact SNAV (39-081-428-5555; www.snav.it) or Tirrenia (39-081-317-2999; www.tirrenia.it).
Buses, trains, and rental cars are the best ways to tour Sicily. Rental cars give you the most freedom—just beware of thefts and speedy drivers, both of which are rampant in this part of the world. Trains run frequently throughout the island and are inexpensive (www.trenitalia.it). Buses are faster but cost more; SAIS is the main bus company (39-091-616-6028 in Palermo, 39-095-536-168 in Catania; www.saisautolinee.it).
Although Sicily has a reputation for being Mafia country, visitors should be more concerned about getting ripped off by petty thieves than bumped off by capos. Take extra precautions with valuables in the big cities of Palermo and Catania.
Italian Government Tourist Board (www.italiantourism.com)
Italian State Tourism Board (www.enit.it)
Best of Sicily (www.bestofsicily.com)
Sicily Tourism Offices by Region:
255 Viale della Vittoria
Tel: 39 092 240 1352
35 Piazza Castelnuovo
Tel: 39 091 605 8111
Piazza Santa Caterina (Palazzo Corvaia)
Tel: 39 094 223 243
33 Via Capitano Bocchieri (Palazzo La Rocca)
Tel: 39 093 262 1421
43 Via San Sebastiano
Tel: 39 093 148 1200