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10 reasons to visit Sicily in winter

Why should you visit Sicily in the winter? Rich in history and culture, with spectacular festivals and unique experiences, Sicily might just be the winter getaway you've been looking for!

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Mount Etna is covered in snow all winter long!

Sicily is a summer paradise, with beautiful beaches and stunning coastlines that will leave you breathless. But summers in Sicily can come with scorching temperatures, large crowds, and higher costs. If you're looking for an off-season European destination, look no further than the island at the tip of Italy's big toe!


Read on to get the full scoop on everything that makes Sicily a perfect travel choice during the winter months!

 

1. Sicily in winter: Enjoy cooler weather


Sicily is a popular summer destination for travelers from across the world who flock to beaches across its 900 miles of coastline; however, with temperatures reaching upwards of 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the peak months of July and August, it can feel like spontaneously catching on fire is a real possibility! In fact, the summer of 2023 had record-breaking heat, with Sicily recording the hottest temperature ever documented in Continental Europe at 119 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s almost 50 degrees Celsius!


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It can be hard to find shade at many of Sicily's historic sites!

Extreme heat can make it difficult to explore Sicily's towns, cities and historic sites, especially because shade can sometimes be hard to come by in the maze of streets that make up many of Sicily's cities. Although I’m an admitted sun worshipper, I’ve found myself adjusting which side of the street I walk on in order to avoid the scorching sun. Temperatures from December through March are much cooler, usually ranging between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 15 degrees Celsius). This is a great temperature for sightseeing, just throw on your standard-issue puffy coat and off you go!


2. Sicily in winter: Spend less money during the off-season


Flight prices across Europe, and to Europe, generally peak from June to August, due to summer travel spikes. Sicily’s popularity as a warm-weather destination leads not only to increased flight costs, but higher rates for accommodations as well. In addition, since less people are traveling in the off season, you’ll have more choices in accommodation and may not need to book as far in advance. You can use the money you save on flights and accommodation to buy yourself some Sicilian ceramics in Caltagirone, a leather purse in Taormina, or a few extra cannoli!


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Save money. Buy more cannoli!

3. Sicily in winter: Crowds are much smaller


Did I mention that most people travel to Sicily during the warmer months? May through September is usually the busiest travel season here. In the winter, you can enjoy much smaller crowds in Sicily’s most popular cities and at historic sites. This equals a more enjoyable and relaxing trip for you, less people blocking your pictures and videos, and happy local business owners! Second only to agriculture and fishing, service and tourism are two of Sicily’s biggest industries. Sicilians are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met, and I’m sure their restaurants, cafes, agriturismos, and tour providers will be more than happy to welcome you in the off season with a kiss on each cheek and a hearty “benvenuti!”.


4. Sicily in winter: Immerse yourself in Catania's Feast of Saint Agatha


One of the best ways to immerse yourself in Sicily's culture and traditions is to experience one of its many festivals. Each year from February 3 - 5, the city of Catania hosts a religious festival that celebrates the life and death of its beloved patron saint, Agatha. Known as the Feast of Saint Agatha, or Festa di Sant'Agata, it is one of the largest religious celebrations in the world, and it is truly spectacular to witness! Here's a full description of how to experience the Feast of Saint Agatha for yourself.


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Onlookers crowd Catania's historic center during the Feast of Saint Agatha

5. Sicily in winter: Experience Carnevale festival


Venice may be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Carnevale in Italy, but one thing is sure about Sicilians, they absolutely know how to throw a party. Carnevale here brings together all the things I love the most about Sicily and its people; passion and flamboyance, culture and community, and an unapologetic zest for enjoying life.


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Dramatic figures adorn giant floats at Carnevale
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Who doesn't love a good pig roast?

Carnevale in Sicily is akin to Mardi Gras, as it falls at the same time and offers one last chance to feast to your heart’s content before lent begins. However, the celebrations in Sicily are very family friendly. There’s no bead throwing here. But you will find yourself caught up in the street party of a lifetime as you witness towering neon floats with flashing lights and billowing smoke, have your head on a swivel from children throwing paper confetti at anyone who crosses their path, and indulge yourself in sweet cookies and deep fried pastries that will tingle your taste buds.


Dating as far back as the Middle Ages, festivals that celebrate Carnevale can be found throughout Sicily. Some of the most notable Carnevale festivals are found in small towns such as Avola, Palazzolo Acreide, Chiaramonte Gulfi, Sciacca, Termini Imerese, Corleone, Gioiosa Marea, and Novara di Sicilia, which also includes the traditional “racing” of cheese wheels through the streets of town. See #8 for more on this! One of the oldest and most well-known Carnevale festivals in Sicily is held in Acireale, just north of Catania. Check this out for everything you need to know about celebrating Carnevale in Acireale!


6. Sicily in winter: Explore Sicily's many hiking trails


Hiking in Sicily during the summer can be difficult due to the extreme heat and lack of shade on many of its trails. And while some of Sicily’s best hiking rewards you with beautiful beaches and crystal clear waters, cooler temperatures during the winter months make for ideal hiking conditions. Whether you want to hike to historic castles, along dramatic coastlines, or on the edge of active volcanoes, Sicily has what you’re looking for! Here are my recommendations for some of the best hikes in Sicily.


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Hike to the tip of Capo Milazzo for Sicily's most spectacular sunset!
  • Get up close and personal with Mount Etna on the Schiena dell’Assino.

  • Witness lava flows and fireworks on the volcanic island of Stromboli.

  • Discover the best views of the Aeolian islands from the highest points in Lipari.

  • Experience the spectacular coastline at the Tindari Nature Reserve.

  • Search for flamingos at the Vendicari Nature Reserve.

  • Escape the crowds of Taormina on a hike to the Chiesa Madonna della Rocca.

  • Explore the castle and archaeological site at the summit of la Rocca di Cefalù.

  • Basque in the natural beauty of the Zingaro Nature Reserve.

  • Treat yourself to the most spectacular sunset in Sicily at Capo Milazzo.

  • Marvel at the ancient rock formations of Argimusco in the Nebrodi Mountains.


7. Sicily in winter: Excursions to Mt. Etna


Standing at an impressive height of over 10,000 feet, Mount Etna is the tallest and most active volcano in Europe. It influences the weather and agriculture in the surrounding area, as well as provides unique and beautiful scenery, towering in the background from almost any vantage point in Eastern Sicily. Etna is especially spectacular when she’s “smoking” at sunset, turning the entire sky into a collage of pink, purple, and orange that will leave you breathless.


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Would you go snow trekking on an active volcano?

Even when the weather is mild at sea level, Mt. Etna is almost always covered in snow during the winter, offering the opportunity to hike, snowshoe, sled, and even ski. There are not many places where you can ski and go to the beach on the same day! Find all the ways to explore Mount Etna here. Whether your interest lies in wine, local foods, hiking, or adrenaline activities, Etna has something for you!

8. Sicily in winter: Taste the flavors of Sicily at a food festival


What is the number one reason many people come to Italy? FOOD! Let me tell you, Sicily does not disappoint in this category. And one of the most unique experiences you can find on a visit to Sicily is a sagra. A Sagra is a festival held by a town or village dedicated entirely to a specific type of food. Now that’s my kind of festival! Here are just a few of the food festivals held in Sicily during the winter.


During the last week of February, the town of Palagonia holds the Sagra dell’arancia rossa, a festival dedicated to blood oranges where you can wander the streets and taste local delicacies made with the famous fruit. In March, you can go to Centuripe, just an hour northwest of Catania on the slopes of Mount Etna. Here you can taste food and drink specialities made with the popular Tarocco variety and experience a celebration of Sicilian folk traditions, music and culture, culminating in a “Blessing of the Oranges”.


Have you ever dreamed of rolling cheese wheels through the streets of a medieval Italian town? Well, in the small town of Novara di Sicilia, that’s exactly what they do every winter! As I mentioned earlier, the highlight of the Carnevale festival in this tiny town is the Maiorchino tournament. That is, a competition to see who can roll a large wheel of local pecorino (sheep) cheese, called Maiorchino, the farthest. The competitors are teams, made up of three players each, who roll the wheels of cheese along a specific route through the town.


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Ready, set, CHEESE!

First, a meter-long piece of string is wrapped around the cheese wheel, then pulled with force to launch the cheese wheel on its journey. As the cheese makes its way along the course, onlookers cheer and clap, some even chasing it to watch its progress. The wheels that don’t make it to the finish line are marked by tracing their outline on the street, reminiscent of a crime scene chalk drawing. The team whose wheel reaches the finish line with the least number of throws is the winner! The festival ends with a tasting of typical food from the area, which of course includes Maiorchino, along with other local cheese varieties such as ricotta and tuma. One of the main traditional dishes is pasta with either pork, veal or mutton ragù sauce and a generous sprinkling of grated Maiorchino cheese. Buon appetito!


9. Sicily in winter: Wine tasting


Italy is synonymous with wine. Tuscany, Veneto, Piedmont, Lombardy and Abruzzo are some of the most famous wine-making regions in Italy, but Sicily should not be counted out! From Mt. Etna’s distinctive and mineral-rich wines to the fortified wines of Marsala, the sweet Passito of Pantelleria and the Malvasia of Lipari, Sicily is a wine lover’s paradise.


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Views from vineyards on Mt. Etna are beautiful even in the winter!

You can, of course, taste wine in Sicily any time of the year. I’m not going to discriminate about when or where to drink wine, as I’m an equal opportunity wine lover. The late summer and early fall are especially exciting because you can find an opportunity to experience the yearly grape harvest called a “vendemmia” if you’re lucky! Read about my experience here. If you want to take a winery tour it can be quite unbearable to walk around the vineyards in the heat of summer, so the winter is very nice alternative!


10. Sicily in winter: Why not?


So what are you waiting for? Smaller crowds, cooler weather and unique experiences are just a few of the reasons Sicily should be at the top of your Italian winter bucket list. This winter may be almost over, but you have plenty of time to start planning next year's Sicilian winter get away!


 

If you enjoyed reading this, drop me a comment!


Check out some of the other articles on my European Destinations page or read more about Sicily below!



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