Is Sicily a good destination in winter and fall? We took a trip to Sicily in the second half of November to find out!
Sicily is a dream destination for millions of people. And with good reason. The island is filled with history, ambiance, natural beauty, architecture, and delicious food. A visit to Sicily at ANY time of the year is a good idea. But a visit in the winter? Well, fellow traveler, that is a GREAT idea.
Let’s get into all the reasons why you should go to Sicily in Fall, Winter, or early Spring. After that, we’ll have a look at some things you need to do while between Aperol Spritz brunches and gorging on arancini.
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Why You Should Visit Sicily in Winter or Fall
Let’s look at a few reasons why you should definitely consider visiting Sicily in off season months. Again, we visited Sicily in late November as research for this article and were blessed with mostly great weather. We can NOT promise that you will have the same luck we did, but your odds are pretty good to get sun and pleasant daytime temperatures on most of your days.
1) It’s Cheaper
If you have a limited budget (as most of us do) you probably want to keep costs down when traveling. The less expensive you can make any trip to Southern Italy the more trips you can take, right?
Off season months in Sicily usually mean lower prices on accommodations. Which is a huge deal for anyone trying to save money. Hotels and Airbnbs will inevitably be a large part of your budget, and saving whatever you can on them is a big win. From our own experience, you are likely to find prices for hotels, hostels, and rental units up to 50% cheaper between November and March in Sicily.
You WON’T find reductions in price on eating out, however. So if you want to save some money in Sicily get a rental unit with a kitchen. This will allow you to buy some amazing produce in grocery stores well into winter months and make yourself some delicious breakfasts on the cheap.
2) Fewer Tourists
It can be quite a shock to arrive at your dream destination only to find it rammed with other travelers. This happens all the time in high season in Europe. Places can get so crowded that you can barely walk, and the crowds can make exploration far less enjoyable.
Sicily, in winter and fall, doesn’t appear to have that issue. We have visited in both high and low season, and the difference on the streets was very noticeable. So, if you prefer to explore without navigating around endless tour groups, go to Sicily in the off-season.
Ok, so let’s get something straight. Visiting Sicily in winter and fall means you won’t be hitting the beach. It’s assuredly one of the disadvantages of off season travel. If you want Italian beaches you’ll have to plan a trip to Italy between May and October.
That being said, Sicily is a great place to chase the waning winter sun. Even though the daylight hours are greatly reduced in winter (7 am to 4:30 pm, roughly) you will still find many sunny days in Sicily. On the flip side, you will also run into some wind and rain, and maybe even snow once in a long while. However, that’s the case for almost all of Europe between November and April. So, if you’re in Europe in the winter or fall you’ll be warmer and get more sun in Sicily.
Ergo, if you are looking for some European sunshine in the winter Sicily can be a good choice.
4) Better for Locals and the Local Economy
Many towns in Sicily depend on tourism as one of their main sources of income. “Tourism is worth 15% of the gross domestic product, and in some areas it even represents 40%”, says tourism councilor Manlio Messina. During high season when hundreds of thousands of people visit each month, business is booming. But what happens to those same places when the flood becomes a trickle?
We have often discussed the pitfalls of tourism on this site. We’ve seen, first-hand, how over-tourism can destroy a once awesome destination. So, while we’re huge proponents of travel in general, we do urge people to travel responsibly and smartly. And off season travel IS smart. It reduces the high season (for Sicily that is summer) swarm and helps extend business longevity into the winter months. So, it’s smart for you, for your wallet, and it’s smart for locals who have to deal with the effects of tourism in their own homes.
Be smart, travel to Sicily in the winter or fall if you can!
5) Sicilian Christmas Markets
If you visit Sicily in December you’ll get to experience a Sicilian Christmas Market! Here’s a pretty good list of some of the markets you should try to see if you find yourself enjoying a Sicilian Christmas.
Places to Visit in Sicily in Off Season
Now, let’s get into some place you just have to visit once in Sicily. There are many other places than the ones we suggest below, of course, this is just a starter guide to the island and represents our own experiences with Sicily in the off season.
Taormina is, without a doubt, one of the prettiest towns in all of Sicily. It is also one of Sicily’s largest tourist destinations, especially during beach season.
If you have watched season 2 of HBO’s White Lotus, you’ve seen Taormina on screen. While the show doesn’t always accurately portray Taormina, it DOES do a nice job of showing off some of its beauty.
Taormina should absolutely be on your list of places to visit while in Sicily. If you are visiting in off-season months you can expect reduced prices, and far fewer tourists. Some restaurants and other establishments may be closed, but there is still enough to do to warrant at least a two day stay.
While in Taormina make sure to take a trip up to Castelmola. This tiny village will reward you with charm, ambiance, and some incredible views down onto Taormina itself. You an take a bus from the station in Taormina to Castelmola for around 3 euro round-trip. If you are feeling like a hike you can also walk up to Castelmola, especially during the offseason when the sun isn’t punishing you for every step you take.
Mount Etna, the fabled volcano in Sicily, is quite the sight to take in from afar. Even more so if you are lucky enough to witness the volcano erupt, as we did one night in November. It was truly an unforgettable experience to see red magma shooting from Etna’s cone.
You can visit Mount Etna on your own, or with an organized tour. There’s a cable car near the base which brings visitors some 2,500 meters above sea level, to the “Summit” station. The Funivia dell’Etna costs 50 Euro per person, round-trip.
Better yet, why not save some money and take a hike to work off some of that pasta you’ll be eating? If you are outdoorsy and want to climb a volcano this is a pretty perfect opportunity to do so. You WILL need a guide once you reach the 2,500-meter mark if you want to continue to Etna’s true summit.
Have a look at some tour options for Mount Etna here.
Siracuse and Ortigia
When talking about amazing beautiful old towns in Europe you have to include Ortigia. This small island, linked via two bridges to Siracuse is an absolute dream. We spent a few days wandering around Ortigia itself. It’s a small town, yet filled with ambiance, charm, and some incredible architecture. Mornings saw us enjoying coffee in the sun, and afternoons involved sipping aperols along the seawall, followed by fine Italian dining.
Siracuse and Ortigia are also a good base for some day trips to neighboring destinations.
Noto is a small town 30 minutes via train from Siracuse. If you are staying in Siracuse or Ortigia for a few days you should take a day trip to Noto. You can walk around the main section of the town in less than a couple of hours, and marvel at the old architecture.
We didn’t find much to do here when we visited in late November but as a day trip it was totally worth the time spent.
If you have seen White Lotus you might be wondering where the beach they used to film most of the sandy scenes is. Well, look no further! It’s in Cefalu. Oh, the joys of movie magic! Yes, White Lotus fudged the details and transported Cefalu’s picturesque beachfront to Taormina. Rude!
Cefalu might be our favorite town in all of Sicily. We loved our time here, and would happily go back. That said, Cefalu does seem like a better place to visit during hotter months than colder ones, unless you are just stopping by for the day. If you want to spend a few days in Cefalu like we did, and you are visiting in winter, you might be looking at that beach with longing in your eyes.
Still, the town is lovely, and its locals are super nice. We will always remember going to the small bakery down the street from our Airbnb in the morning to pick up fresh bread, and then stopping by the grocery for delicious juicy oranges and choice cuts of salame and prosciutto crudo.
If you are arriving in Sicily via plane or cruise ship Catania will likely be your first stop. We recommend a day or two in the city before leaving, if you have the time in your Sicilian itinerary for it.
Palermo is Sicily’s largest city with a population of over 1,00,000 people. We’ll be honest, Palermo wasn’t our favorite stop in Sicily, but your mileage may vary. We found the city to be too much of a city, if that makes sense. It was loud, a bit dirty, and portions of it were overcrowded.
That said, Palermo is not without its charms. The city has many interesting buildings and a great dining and drinking scene. If you are looking for a party you’ll most likely find one raging somewhere in Palermo.
Getting Around Sicily
Sicily has a very nice train system which runs mostly along the coast. If you are visiting mostly coastal destinations all you will need are train tickets. You can find them, and timetables, on Trenitalia. We used only trains to move around Sicily and found the experience enjoyable, and mostly hassle-free.
If you want more freedom or want to explore the center of Sicily renting a car is a good option. However, do be careful when driving. The tales of wild Sicilian drivers are not exaggerated, and the roads can be a bit…unpredictable.
Final Thoughts on Visiting Sicily in Off Season
If you read this entire article then you know we loved our time in Sicily. If you can forgo long days at the beach then we think you will love it as well. Sicily has a lot to offer, and a properly planned off season trip is bound to be affordable and unforgettable. So get to planning!
If you want tons more tips on traveling in Italy check out the related articles below.
As always, happy travels everyone! We’ll see you on the road!