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Explore the Islands That Surround Sicily This Summer

04 June 2024
by Melissa Puppo
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Your guide to five idyllic getaways off Sicily's shores.

These days, it seems everyone’s curious about traveling to Sicily, the largest Italian island just off the “toe” of Italy’s “boot.” It’s not hard to see why, with its stunning rugged landscape, celebrated cuisine featuring dishes like arancini and fresh seafood, vibrant festivals, and a coastline stretching over 900 miles. But in addition to the famous towns that beckon visitors like Palermo and Taormina, Sicily is surrounded by more than a dozen smaller islands, each with its own unique personality beloved to locals. They sit at varying distances from Sicily—some just a stone’s throw from the coast, some a full day’s travel away by boat. 

From relaxing on gorgeous beaches to exploring rugged terrains and underwater worlds, these islands offer a buffet of amazing travel options. At the northern tip, closest to the Italian mainland, are the Aeolian islands, a group of seven volcanic islands made famous by Greek mythology. Also off the northern coast is Ustica, home to Italy’s first marine protected area and a magnet for divers from around the world. Off the western edge of Sicily are the three islands of the Egadis, with a rustic, small-town charm. Finally, heading south toward north Africa you’ll find Pantelleria, Linosa, and Lampedusa, with a multicultural flavor all their own. 

Whether you’re planning your first trip to Sicily or are returning for a deeper dive into the local culture, consider exploring these islands. Here are five local favorites for a trip outside the norm: 

Favignana (Egadi Islands)

Favignana (Egadi Islands)  

Distance to Sicily: 4 miles 

How to get there: Ferry from Trapani or Marsala 

For: Leisure lovers 

A popular day trip for Sicilians thanks to its proximity to the main island (the ferry only takes a half-hour), Favignana offers a perfect mix of natural beauty, history, and charm. Rent a bike to explore the island, whether you’re heading to one of its stunning sandy beaches or to take in some local history at the beautiful Palazzo Florio. Be sure to climb to the Santa Caterina Castle at sunset for breathtaking views of the other Egadi Islands, Trapani, and beyond. A seafood meal here is a must, preferably starring the red Mediterranean tuna that was once the main industry on this island. 

 

Panarea (Aeolian Islands)

Panarea (Aeolian Islands) 

Distance to Sicily: 45 miles 

How to get there: Ferry from Palermo, Messina, Milazzo, or Naples on the mainland 

For: Jet-setters 

The smallest and most exclusive island of the Aeolians, Panarea is famous for its upscale resorts and is popular among the ultra-rich for its low-key glamour. The landscape is peppered with quaint white houses with blue doors and blooming bougainvillea, and cars are conspicuously absent (they’re forbidden on the small island). It comes alive at night, with popular nightclubs and dancing under the stars at many open-air venues. Most famous of them is The Raya—even if you’re not looking to dance the night away, stop in for a sunset aperitivo while enjoying a view of the crystal-clear emerald sea.  

 

Pantelleria

Pantelleria 

Distance to Sicily: 89 miles 

How to get there: Ferry from Trapani, flight from Trapani, Palermo, or Rome (summer only) 

For: Food obsessives 

Nicknamed “the daughter of the wind” because of its breezy climate, Pantelleria is renowned for its black lava cliffs, natural thermal springs, and domed dammusi—traditional stone houses that date back to the island’s Arab heritage more than a millennium ago. Its ancient food heritage is just as stunning; be sure to check out the UNESCO World Heritage-listed terraced vineyards that grow Zibibbo grapes for Passito di Pantelleria, a sweet dessert wine. The island is renowned for its flavorful capers, which are considered the best in Italy! Don’t leave without trying insalate pantesca, a refreshing salad of potatoes, tomatoes, olives, and those delicious capers, often served with local fish.  

 

Stromboli (Aeolian Islands)

Stromboli (Aeolian Islands)  

Distance to Sicily: 46 miles 

How to get there: Ferry from Palermo, Messina, Milazzo, or Naples on the mainland 

For: Adventure-seekers 

Stromboli is home to one of the most active volcanoes in the world, with near-continuous eruptions for at least the past 2,000 years. These frequent mild explosions have earned it the nickname “Lighthouse of the Mediterranean”—but there’s rarely any danger to inhabitants or visitors. You can get an up-close view of the fireworks-like volcanic activity at night by hiking to an observation point or taking a boat tour around the island. Hike above the Sciara del Fuoco (“Stream of Fire”) for a spectacular view of the red-hot lava flow as it makes its way down the side of the volcano.  

 

Ustica

Ustica 

Distance to Sicily: 40 miles 

How to get there: Ferry from Palermo 

For: Ocean enthusiasts 

Rightly known as a diver’s paradise, this lone island located north of Palermo and its surrounding area was named Italy’s first marine protected area in 1986. Schools of barracuda and clouds of vividly striped shrimp thrive in these waters and can be admired by snorkel or scuba with a local guide. But you don’t need to go below the surface to appreciate the ocean’s beauty; the rocky coast also shelters a number of otherworldly grottoes, watery caverns that vary from the stalactite-lined Grotta delle Cipree to the shimmering gold walls of the Grotta dell’Oro. Hire a boat and tour guide to show you them all and decide for yourself which is the most beautiful! 

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