The best archaeological sites to visit in Sicily
This guide to the best archaeological sites to visit in Sicily originates from this island’s extraordinarily rich heritage. There are so many fascinating sites all over Sicily that it can sometimes be difficult for travelers to pick a not-to-be-missed experience.
Sicily has a wide choice of large archaeological parks and remains of temples, necropolises, and ancient theaters scattered throughout the region.
Depending on where you plan to spend your time in Sicily, you can find our selection of the best sites and our suggestions to enrich your travel program with more exceptional experiences.
Why was Sicily so important to the ancient Greeks and Romans?
Sicily was already inhabited by ancient populations before the Greeks and Romans:
- The oldest settlers were the Sicani, who founded their capital Kamikos near today’s Agrigento.
- Then came Elimi, who founded some famous cities like Segesta and Erice.
- The Sicilians inhabited Eastern Sicily building cities and wide necropolises.
- Around 1000 BC, the Phoenicians founded cities such as Palermo, Solunto, and Mozia.
Finally, in the 18th and 17th centuries BC, the first Greek colonists arrived in Sicily. The foundations of the ancient cities are all described as myths, so we do not know precisely why Sicily was so important to the ancient Greeks and Romans. Still, we can say that the island was rich, and strategic in expanding commerce in the Mediterranean Sea.
Greek cities in Sicily
The Greeks started with the foundation of cities such as Naxos, Catania, and Messina on the eastern coast of Sicily. After a short while, more Greek populations settled around Syracuse and reached Agrigento.
Then the local population merged with the Greeks, resulting in a new civilization deeply connected to Greece.
The famous Greek philosophers and scientists Archimedes and Pythagoras were born in Sicily, and Syracuse became one of the most powerful Greek cities in the then-known world.
Ancient Romans in Sicily
When the Carthaginians spread in the Mediterranean, the rising Roman Empire defeated them in the First Punic War and then settled in Western Sicily – which so became a Roman province.
On the contrary, Eastern Sicily, with Syracuse as its capital, remained independent until the Romans incorporated the whole island into the Roman Empire after the Second Punic War in the 3rd century BC.
Top ancient sites in Eastern Sicily
Sicily has an impressive historical heritage, and it certainly is a special place for those who love ancient history.
Considering the vastity of the archaeological remains, we have selected the best, not-to-be-missed archaeological sites on the eastern and western coast of Sicily.
The following is a list of the top ancient sites to visit in Sicily on the eastern coast:
- Syracuse with Ortygia, its historical center, and the Rocky Necropolis of Pantalica
- Neapolis Archaeological Park
- The ancient theatre of Taormina
You can read more details about visiting these sites and the tours you can combine in our article about the most important Archaeological Sites in Eastern Sicily.
Other exciting destinations on the eastern coast
📍 A tour of Taormina will undoubtedly include its famous Greek-Roman Theater, which is, in fact, within walking distance from the nicest spots in town. Taormina can be part of an itinerary including the nearby Mount Etna – the volcano is also listed as one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites – and Catania, a city with monuments and buildings dating back to the medieval, renaissance, and baroque periods and also famous for its colorful fish market. Catania airport can certainly be the starting point for exploring the eastern coast.
📍 The visit to the archaeological sites in the area around Syracuse, that is, Ortygia, the necropolis Pantalica, and Neapolis Archaeological Park, can continue to the South-Eastern cities of Noto, Modica, and Ragusa, renowned for the exquisite Baroque style of their monuments and the excellent food and chocolate.
📍 You might find more inspiration for your travel plan by looking at our itinerary for a Grand Tour of Sicily that includes both Syracuse and Taormina. All our luxury travel itineraries can be adjusted according to your needs.
You will find our suggestions for selecting the right hotel in Sicily in our definitive guide to the luxury hotels in Sicily. We have picked for you also the best accommodations available near the top ancient sites in eastern Sicily.
Top ancient sites in Western Sicily
On the western coast of Sicily, we highly recommend that you visit these top ancient sites:
- Archaeological Area of Agrigento with its Valley of the Temples
- Selinunte Archaeological Park
- Segesta Archaeological Park
- Villa Romana del Casale
You can find more details about visiting these ancient sites in our article about the most important Archaeological Sites in Western Sicily.
Other interesting destinations on the western coast
📍 If you are an archaeology enthusiast and love ancient history, you might combine more archaeological sites and visit the archaeological area of Agrigento in combination with the mosaics of Piazza Armerina at the Villa Romana del Casale. And you might as well combine Segesta and Selinunte, the old enemy cities sharing some historic events.
📍 If you prefer to have a wider variety of experiences while in Sicily, you can extend your itinerary to Marsala, world-renowned for the Marsala sweet wine, and for the Florio family, wine producers with a long history that was recently at the center of the pretty famous book:” The Florios of Sicily: A Novel”.
📍 Continue north to reach Palermo, the capital of Sicily, rich in traditions and spectacular, sometimes unexpected monuments to visit. Palermo has its own airport and makes easy access to the rest of western Sicily. Worth visiting the Antonio Salinas Regional Archaeological Museum, with some impressive pieces from different ancient ages.
📍 You might find more inspiration for your travel plan by looking at our itinerary, including the UNESCO World Heritage Treasures of Sicily. This is a long tour of the highlights in Sicily, which can be shortened and adjusted according to your needs and preferences.
If you need to find accommodation in preparation for your tour, get some inspiration about where to stay when you visit the archaeological sites in our definitive guide to luxury hotels in Sicily.
Things to know before you visit the archaeological sites of Sicily
We recommend that travelers plan their visits to the ancient sites of Sicily to enjoy the tours in the best conditions possible.
So here we answer a couple of the most common questions and give you our best advice to enjoy your visits.
What is the best month to visit the archaeological sites in Sicily?
From March to June, you can enjoy the warm temperatures and the scent of blossoming flowers that fills the air, so this is a good period of the year to visit Sicily.
In summer you can enjoy the performances held in some of the ancient sites and spend some time at beautiful beaches and seaside towns. You just need to get prepared for high temperatures, bringing sunglasses, hats, water, and sun cream if you plan to visit the archaeological sites during the day.
Check if the sites are open in the evenings: oftentimes, during summer, it is possible to start the tour at sunset, which is quite an experience.
September and October are also good months to visit the sites when Sicily is less crowded, while winter temperatures are still mild.
So, all considered, Sicily is a good destination for every season!
How much time do you need to visit the archaeological parks?
The time you spend visiting the archaeological parks depends much on how big the area is and how interested you are in each of the monuments there located. However, consider a minimum of 2 hours which can go up to 4 or even 5 hours for larger sites like Selinunte, which is the largest in Europe.
In addition to the visiting time, you should consider the travel time as the archaeological parks are usually located far from city centers, except for Taormina Greek-Roman Theater.
You might need some extra time at the entrances as, even if you book your tickets online, you still might need to wait before you can start a visit.
Therefore, for the best experience, we suggest you book your tours with a local agent so that you have your chauffeur, your private guide, and your tickets ready to enjoy a smooth tour.
A good guide can show you the most remarkable sites leading you through the best itineraries possible. On average, guided tours inside these ancient sites last approximately two hours unless you specifically require planning otherwise.
In Sicily, travelers can find some of the best archaeological sites in Europe and, at the same time, enjoy all the history, culture, traditions, good food, and wine that the island has to offer.
Several different thematic itineraries are possible, and by browsing our website, you will see some inspiring examples.