With five million inhabitants and over nine-hundred miles of stunning coastline, Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. One of twenty regions in Italy, it is one of the most dazzling cultural and scenic experiences the country has to offer. Sicily has a phenomenal reputation for its arts, music, literature, cuisine and architecture, as well as being home to Europe’s largest active volcano.
Sicily is separated from mainland Italy by the Strait of Messina. The narrowest part of the Strait is in the north of Sicily, where there is less than a two-mile gap between the island and Calabria. In the past, there has been talk of connecting the two, although this has never come to fruition.
Around four-fifths of the land is hilly and mountainous, and the region is intensively cultivated. Deforestation has occurred on a large scale since the Roman times making it an agricultural region with very fertile grounds.
The natural and historical heritage of Sicily make it a popular destination for tourists, and tourism forms a major part of the region’s economy. Despite this, Sicily has one of the highest levels of unemployment in Italy and Europe. Many world-famous people have hailed from the region, including one of the greatest mathematicians of all time, Archimedes, Italian opera composer, Vincenzo Bellini, and Domenico Dolce, co-founder of the luxury Italian fashion house, Dolce & Gabanna.
Sicily is home to a number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and many more archaeological sites with influences from different cultures and eras due to invaders and settlers throughout history. The island has hundreds of castles and is the birthplace of the sonnet, which is now highly associated with the works of William Shakespeare.
July is blessed with long, hot, sunny days in Sicily. The climate is a typical Mediterranean climate with average highs of 27°C, although some days will be closer to 30°C. Evening temperatures tend to be more comfortable at around 20°C, making them ideal for a leisurely stroll as you head out for dinner.
With an exceedingly high chance of clear, perfect sunny days, you can confidently pack light and must remember to take plenty of suncream. Rain is highly unlikely, but it’s always worth having a light coat just in case.
July is one of the best months of the year for swimming in the surrounding oceans with water temperatures at a pleasant 27°C.
How to Get There
Sicily is served by four international airports open to passengers, with a further two airports on the islands of Lampedusa and Pantelleria. Catania Airport on the east coast is the largest on the island, followed by Palermo-Punta Raisi Airport in the capital, Palermo in the northwest. Trapani-Birgi Airport and Comiso Airport are the remaining two serving the main island internationally for passengers.
Sicily is served by several ferry routes and cargo ports. Cruise ships regularly dock in all major cities. Messina is the busiest passenger port in Italy and the best way to access the island if travelling by sea.
Trains, loaded onto ferries, connect the major cities of Sicily with Rome, Milan and Naples. Most major cities and towns can be reached by the islands internal rail links. Catania has an underground rail network, whilst Palermo is also served by tramlines.
Over the last four decades, the country’s roads have improved and been expanded. Many of its motorways are built on elevated pillars due to the mountainous terrain of the country.
Festivals and Events
Rising temperatures and summer holidays make July a fantastic time to be travelling to Sicily. A time of celebration and fun, it is also the time of year you can catch one of the most significant traditions in the island’s history.
Festa di Santa Rosalia
Held between the 10th and 15th of July, the Festa di Santa Rosalia celebrates the patron saint, Santa Rosalia. Rosalia was born into a Norman noble family, but later moved to a cave and lived as a hermit. Tradition says that she was led to the cave by two angels, and during the plague of 1624, she appeared to a sick woman and a hunter and ordered them to carry her bones through Palermo in a procession. After her bones had been carried around the city three times, the plague ceased.
The festival is now a huge part of Sicily and indeed Italy’s heritage, with the predominantly Roman Catholic island celebrating Rosalia each July.
Known throughout Europe, the festival includes plays, parades, fireworks and feasts. A procession on the night of 14th July starts at the Cathedral and follows a path full of references to pain before reaching the Foro Italico. The end of the procession is marked by fireworks in a sign of joy and celebration of life.
On the 15th July, relics of the Saint are carried around in a silver urn, before being returned to the Cathedral to be blessed by the Archbishop of Palermo.
La Scala Illuminata
One of the most famous festivals of Sicily, La Scala Illuminata is held in July and August each year. Held in honour of the patron saint of the city of Caltagirone, St James (whose day is celebrated on the 25th July), the town’s famous ceramic staircase is illuminated with different coloured candles in order to reconstruct an artistic drawing spanning tens of metres.
Kals’ Art Festival
From July to mid-September, you can visit the Kals’ Art Festival of music, cinema, theatre and art in the capital of Palermo. With a focus on young European artists, the festival offers copious amounts of culture and beauty. Street performances and shows in the parks and piazzas are available for visitors to experience, while art installations, exhibitions, videos and paintings all feature.
Bringing in live acts, music workshops, art exhibitions, food, beers and wines, the Alkantara Fest, Mount Etna’s three-week music festival, was founded in 2004 in the area of the Alcantara river. The festival aims to demonstrate how Sicily is a melting-pot of styles, influences, races and cultures.
Staged at the Teatro Greco between June and September are a variety of performances, from live music, to opera, theatre and dance. Built in the year 3BC, the theatre itself is well worth a visit, and July is the perfect time to see it in action.
Things to See and Do
With great reliance on its tourist industry and remarkably rich history and culture, it is no surprise that Sicily is bursting with tourist attractions available the whole year-round. But travelling in July has additional bonuses. It is high season, the weather is at its very best and the scenery is sublime.
Visit Palermo Cathedral
It is well worth a visit to Palermo just to enjoy and explore the city itself with its rich history and great monuments.
A star and stand-out attraction, however, is the Palermo Cathedral. First erected in the late twelfth century, it is characterised by its different styles due to additions, alterations and restorations through different periods and eras. Dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, it is a great place to start when exploring the culture of Sicily, due to the high proportion of practising Roman Catholics on the island, as well as the history of Palermo specifically and Sicily more generally.
Climb La Rocca di Cefalù
Climb the cliff overlooking the small fishing town of Cefalù and admire the colourful and postcard-worthy views. Take in the sights, grab that perfect photo, then head down into the town itself.
Although it has grown in popularity and is now far busier during peak times than it was in the past, Cefalù is still a stunning place to visit. Its sandy beaches will get busy during the month of July, but strolling through its narrow streets and medieval alleys is a great experience. After, relax with a spot of shopping or a sit-down meal at one of the impressive restaurants in the town. To finish, head to the old port and pier and get a beautiful panoramic view.
Explore Mount Etna
One of the world’s most active volcanoes and the tallest active volcano in Europe, Mount Etna is a must-see attraction if you are visiting Sicily and draws attention from around the world.
Viewing the volcano from a distance is inspiring, but getting close up and starting to climb is where the real adventure is! There are various hiking routes that lead to unbelievable landscapes, but the best option is to take an excursion to the craters led by expert guides.
At the bottom of the volcano, you will find large rivers following the paths of Etna lava creating spectacular natural views.
Attend a Show at Taormina Greek Theatre
A great example of the legacies that have been left by different cultures, the Taormina Greek Theatre is well worth a visit for its history, not to mention July is the perfect time due to the shows on throughout the month.
Due to the use of bricks to build the theatre, it is suspected that it is from Roman times. However, its layout and design have led experts to believe that it is Greek in origin and that the Romans may instead have rebuilt upon the previous structure.
Although some parts have been removed or restored, such as the greater part of the old seats, other areas of the theatre such as the wall that surrounded the cavea have been preserved.
Hop Across to the Island of Ortygia
Connected to mainland Sicily by two bridges, Ortygia is a small island that was historically the centre of the city of Syracuse.
Also known as the Old City, landmarks that you can visit include the Cathedral of Syracuse, the Piazza del Duomo, the Piazza Archimedes and the Fountain of Arethusa, a natural fountain with significant links to Greek mythology. The picturesque squares are full of history, as is the whole island, making it among the finest attractions for people interested in Sicily’s past.
Sight-see at the Norman Palace in Palermo
The seat of the Kings of Sicily during the Norman domination and now the seat of the Sicilian Region Assembly, the Royal Norman Palace is the oldest royal residence in Europe.
The Palace stands at the highest point of the ancient city centre. The walls have been made with great detail and fine craftsmanship from different eras is evident throughout the structure. Chapels are lavishly dressed and symbolise multi-cultural co-operation. Texts on the walls are written in different languages, and originally there were around fifty windows designed to let light in to illuminate the stories on the wall.
Investigate the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento
An incredible blend of natural landscapes and impressive monuments, the Valley of the Temples has an enchanted feel to it and a truly rich history. It is one of the most exceptional examples of Greek art and architecture and includes the remains of seven temples.
The temples speak for themselves in grandeur and significance and have been one of the biggest attractions to Sicily for a number of years. Much of what we know today is down to the efforts of the archaeologist Domenico Antonio Lo Faso Pietrasanta, the Duke of Serradifalco between 1809 and 1812.
Spot Wildlife at Torre Salsa Nature Reserve
Found between Sciacca and Agrigento, just south of the town of Montallegro, is Torre Salsa Nature Reserve. Managed by the WWF, it features pristine coastlines, immaculate sandy beaches, waters rich in marine life and plentiful flora and fauna. Quieter and lesser-known amongst tourists than other areas of the island, it is also the perfect natural habitat for many animals and birds.
You can spend your days here relaxing on the peaceful beach, grabbing your binoculars to spot wildlife or taking a snorkel out into the pretty, blue waters.
Head to a Sicilian Beach
Whether you are looking to relax, swim, take in the views or snorkel and dive, Sicily has world-class beaches in plentiful supply.
With so many activities to choose from, historical and cultural sights to see, finding downtime to relax is still going to be vital on your trip. Part of the culture, and especially at this time of year as many locals join the crowds in flocking to the coast, time on the beach is perfect for those dream-worthy days of appreciating the natural beauty of the world.
Visiting a foreign country can always throw up some unexpected challenges if you’re not fully prepared. Here are our tips to help you in planning your trip.
Book Activities Ahead of Time
Travelling in July means you are travelling during peak season in Sicily. There is a reason that this time is peak season: it’s arguably the best time to go, and certainly has the best weather. So it’s not a bad thing. However, your trip will probably require greater planning if you want to avoid the overly populated spots.
Make sure you book early for any activities that require tickets and arrive early if you are expecting queues. Try to stay away from the busiest or most popular beaches, and instead look for some of the lesser-known beaches in the region which still have endless opportunities to offer and in many cases remain in a better condition.
Thin, loose-fitting clothes will be suitable for your trip and there is little need to pack warm clothes unless you get cold very easily. Sun cream is essential, and when you’re travelling out be sure to leave room in the suitcase so that souvenirs can be brought back with you.
Hire a Car
Hiring a car gives you freedom from timetables and allows you to experience different parts of the island that may be difficult using just public transport. While buses and trains are generally good, they do tie you to their timetables, limit your options and where you can go.
If you are considering hiring a car, remember that rules in different countries may be different from your homeland, as may attitudes toward driving. If possible, avoid the main cities when driving, although the transport links are usually much better within them, so there is little need to drive here.
Finally, ensure that you have a good insurance policy that covers you for all eventualities.
To discover more about Sicily and the rest of your Italian holiday, check out Italian Breaks for when to go, where to stay and what to do.