Sicily by car for every budget
By Liila & Manolis
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At BrokeinLondon, we put a lot of thought into the destination and type of holiday that we wanted to take for summer 2015. We finally decided that we wanted to take a road trip to somewhere on the coast, with good food, good wine, and amazing culture – all on a budget. Once these goals were settled, the island of Sicily in the south of Italy seemed like the perfect option. Here we’ve got all the best tips and suggestions for a road trip in Sicily on a budget, as well as reviews on some of the best hotels in Sicily. Other accommodation solutions such as camping are also available and suitable for different budgets. It may also be a good idea to learn some Italian with The Intrepid Guide, or via a language learning mobile app such as Duolingo. When you decide to visit Sicily you can use this article as an updated guide or even an itinerary planner.
Itinerary plan and places to see in Sicily
First of all we had to plan the trip. We decided to travel by car through the southeast coast of Sicily (see our google map of Sicily below) and then come back through the east coast before finally flying back home from Palermo. A road trip in Sicily can be tricky and needs a good plan as there are lots of amazing stuff to see and do. We wanted to be fully immersed in the baroque cities in the Val di Noto, have a taste of the Greek heritage in Siracusa, and also move on to the Verga’s scenarios around Acireale, visiting some traditional touristic destinations like Cefalu’ along the way. How we did it in just 10 days, we still don’t know.
Basic info you should know in advance
Italian Currency: Euro
Time difference: +1 hour
Telephone codes: Calls from the UK, dial 00 39 plus the area code with the zero
Flight time: From London,UK to all three Sicilian airports (Palermo–Boccadifalco Airport, Catania Airport, Comiso Airport) is just under 3 hours
Road Assistance: 116
Police: 112 – 113
Fire Brigade: 115
Coast Guard: 1530
Health emergency: 118
Find all the important emergency numbers.
Cheap flights to Sicily
In order to really travel on a budget, we tried to find the cheapest air tickets we possibly could. We had a look through several cheap flight providers such as Skyscanner and Momondo and finally found tickets with Alitalia. Though the flight was booked through Alitalia it was actually operated by Air One, so the price wasn’t too bad (around €150/£120 return). A meal was also included in the price, however it was never provided and Alitalia’s staff never explained why. We eventually landed at the Falcone and Borsellino airport of Sicily.
Cheap car rental
We rented a car through Auto europe, a nice, easy to use car hire comparison website that provides a best price guarantee. It compares rental costs of local companies and gives you the best budget solutions. For as little as €33/£27 a day, we decided to rent an Italian classic, the Fiat 500.
Well, you know what they say, when in Rome… but don’t worry, the new version has air conditioning, which is essential if you are traveling around Italy during summer (the weather in Sicily is known for being extremely hot!). Be aware that you will be asked to provide a credit card for the collection of the car as they will hold an amount for security reasons. However, they do provide options locally to reduce this amount by paying a daily insurance rate. We chose to get the cheaper insurance (€7/£5 per day), which reduces the costs you have to pay in case the car gets damaged (we already knew that Palermo can be a very dangerous city to drive around!). However, if you still don’t feel safe you can also choose full coverage instead (around €20/£16 per day plus tax). Finally, remember to check every single spot of the car and mention any scratches or damage that you find, otherwise you might be charged for the existing damage at the end of your trip!
Maps and Directions
This is a tricky one as taking a road trip in Sicily requires good directions and orientation. If you have 3G then you don’t need to worry. However, if you don’t, then the alternative is the good old traditional map. They say that the best map is the Touring Club Italiano Sicilia which you can find on amazon for £7.99.
If you don’t want to buy it in advance you can get a basic map of Sicily for free upon arrival from the tourist information office inside the airport. However, this map will be a general map of Sicily, so you may need additional ones for each city that you visit. You can also find these local maps for free through the tourist offices in each city, or you can pay buy them from classic tourist shops. If you like the safety of the GPS guidance and you already have a GPS, then don’t forget to bring it along with you. If you forget, you might end up spending around €12/£10 per day to rent one from the car rental company. If you prefer to buy one have a look through eBay Deals where you can find lots of good deals. By the way, they say that GPS isn’t always reliable when traveling across Sicily, so it’s always good to have a traditional detailed map as well.
Hotels in Sicily
When it came to the hotels, we were looking specifically for interesting and charming little places, and so did lots research in advance. We had a look at Booking.com and tripadvisor. These are the most commonly used websites where travellers can leave their opinions. However, it is important to mention that due to certain conflicts of interest, the reviews may not always be objective. You should always visit the hotel websites as well as review sites before making a choice. We also had a look at airbnb (you can get a free £26 coupon for registering via BrokeinLondon), but most of the places advertised were very expensive (especially the flats in Palermo). During our trip we decided to stay in a variety of different types of accommodation to provide you with a wide range of solutions for every budget. That is why we stayed at two nice camp sites, a 4 star hotel, a 3 star hotel, and a 3 star B&B. You can search for hotels and flights below:
Costs to consider for a road trip in Sicily
A road trip in Sicily can be expensive so it is better to consider the costs in advance. However there are no fixed costs as these can change according to the season. We went to Sicily during high season so the prices were high but you could find way cheaper prices if you decide to travel off-season. Consider the following:
- Air tickets: From approximately £130 return per person
- Accommodation: Double room starting from £35 per night, Camping starting from £20 per night
- Car rental: Starting from £25 per day
- Car insurance: Starting from £5 per day
- Fuel: £1.70 – 1.80 for Unleaded-Super , £1.50-1.65 for Diesel
- Food: From £8 per person
- Car parking fees: Around €1.50 per hour, tickets can be purchased by ticket machines or local shops
- Tolls: Sicilian freeways like A19 (Palermo-Catania) are mostly toll free but in some cases you might need to pay (there are tolls for A18 and A20)
Other things to consider
- Driving in Sicily is on the right
- Sicilian highways and roads are full of radar controls, so don’t drive fast
- When parking the car remember that white lines are for residents, yellow lines are only for loading and offloading and blue lines are the ones where you may park
- There are illegal car parkers literally everywhere and you don’t need to pay them a dime. We didn’t like to park the car close to them so we never paid them. So if you don’t fancy to leave the car around them try to find another spot away from them
- Whenever you visit a restaurant remember that there will be a service cost starting from £1-£3
Syracuse was founded in 700 BC by Greek settlers. In Syracuse you can find the Temple of Apollo, the oldest Doric Greek temple outside of Greece. The stunning Duomo was built in the 7th century over the great Temple of Athena. If you decide to spend a couple of days in this amazing city, you should definitely find a hotel in Ortygia. Don’t forget to visit the Greek Theatre as well as the Ear of Dionysius, a limestone cave carved out of the Temenites hill. We spent three amazing days in Syracuse at the Hotel Gutkowski, located on Lungomare di Levante, a promenade on the waterfront of Ortygia.
The history of this boutique hotel goes back to 1999, when the first late 800’s building was restored and then opened to the public. Now the hotel has two buildings and a total of 26 rooms, each one different from the other and customised with amazing pieces of furniture, specially designed for the Hotel. Some rooms look over the sea while others have a romantic view of the rooftops of Ortygia. Gutkowski definitely has something special. Perhaps this magic is partly due to its name, which comes from the Polish grandfather of the owner Paola, a real traveller. The breakfast features delicious local and organic products, such as orange juice in the winter and almond milk and granitas in the summer. They also serve citrus marmalades, seasonable fruits, home made cookies, cheeses, brioches and croissants. Be sure to visit the hotel’s beautiful Gutkowskino, the best Sicilian bistro in Ortigia to taste traditional Sicilian cuisine cooked homestyle.
The hotel also has a bistro which opens every day from 7pm till 12pm, offering different menus consisting of various seasonable typical products. The price per night during high season for a classic double room is €110/£90 including breakfast, which is a really good price considering the overall service, the location, and the rooms. We definitely recommend a stay at the Gutkowski if you decide to visit Syracuse (check availability and and rates). Regarding beaches, there are a couple of rocky spots where you can swim and chill in Ortygia. If you have a car, you can also drive to Fontane Bianche (15-20 minutes far), where you will find sandy beaches with clear waters.
- Find more hotels in Syracuse.
Suggested Camping site close to Syracuse
- Camping Residence Capo Passero, Via Maucini, 96010 – Contrada Paolo Arfò – Portopalo Di Capo Passero
More pics from Syracusa
Val di Noto: Ragusa e Marina di Ragusa, Modica, Scicli
The Val di Noto is a geographical area of south east Sicily. In June 2002, eight towns located in Val di Noto were inscribed by UNESCO on the World Heritage List as “representing the culmination and final flowering of Baroque art in Europe”. The listed towns include Ragusa, Modica, and Scicli. We promptly decided to visit them on our road trip. Below, you will find some brief info about each of them.
At this point on our trip, we felt like we deserved a nice treat after a year of hard work, so we opted for an incredible boutique hotel, or better a Maison de Charme, in Marina di Ragusa called La Moresca. La Moresca has 15 double rooms, each carefully designed in every single aspect. It is a relaxing and charming environment that promotes both history and culture.
La Moresca has really captured the heart of Ragusa Ibla into Marina di Ragusa. The service is impeccable and the staff are full of nice tips and suggestions. The breakfast is a sophisticated and delicate mixture of local dishes and regional products, served in an enchanting green courtyard. La Moresca is 25km from Ragusa Ibla, 26km from Modica and only 16km from Scicli, meaning you can reach some of the most important towns of the Val di Noto easily by car.
- Find more hotels in Marina di Ragusa.
We were very impressed by the picturesque beauty of the city of Ragusa. Ragusa Ibla, the older town, is separated by the higher Ragusa Superiore from the Valle dei Ponti, a deep ravine crossed by four bridges. This is due to a significant earthquake in 1693 that destroyed the city and forced most of the survivors to move to a new settlement, the former Ragusa Superiore. Ragusa Ibla hosts a large range of baroque architecture, including several stunning churches like the Cathedral of San Giorgio.
- Find hotels in Ragusa.
Modica was originally divided into “Modica Alta” (Upper Modica) and “Modica Bassa” (Lower Modica), but later on it extended to other territories, now considered the “new” Modica. You have probably heard about the Cathedral of San Giorgio, which is one of the most important religious monuments in Sicily. Other sights include: Chiesa del Carmine, Castello dei Conti and the Church of St. Mary of Bethlehem. Modica is also well known for its chocolate! The Antica Dolceria Bonajuto in Corso Umberto I 159 has existed from 1880, and uses a unique method of chocolate production (very similar to the one used by the Aztecs). The mixture of cocoa, sugar and spices is done at a certain temperature which doesn’t allow the ingredients to melt into a fluid, but rather gives fragrancy to the chocolate while keeping the flavours alive. The result is delicious!
- Find hotels in Modica.
Not far from Modica you will find Scicli. Scicli has perhaps taken its name from the Sikels, the most ancient Sicilian peoples. This little town, which lies on a large valley, is considered a baroque jewel, so you should definitely spend some time to discover its history and elegant monuments if you get the chance.
- Find hotels in Scicli.
Suggested Camping site close to Ragusa
- Camping Luminoso, Viale Dei Canalotti sn, 97017 – Punta Braccetto – Santa Croce Camerina
More pics from Ragusa
Acireale is noted for its churches, including the Neo-Gothic St. Peter’s Basilica at Piazza Duomo, St. Sebastian’s Basilica in the Sicilian Baroque style, and the 17th century Acireale Cathedral. Around Acireale we found an outstanding camp site called La Timpa. It is located on the slopes of Volcano Etna and in the charming fishing village of S. Maria La Scala, only 15 km from Catania and 7km from Aci Trezza, (the famous setting of Giovanni Verga’s novel I Malavoglia). The campsite is situated in an area of natural beauty and unspoiled nature, near the natural reserve La Timpa. The view on the Riviera dei Limoni is stunning, overlooking a gorge that sits directly on the sea (the panoramic terrace of the camping is 40 meters from sea level). The camp site covers different levels and also has a small private rocky beach that is fully equipped with umbrellas, deck chairs and a shower that you can use for free – all of which are reachable through a lift dug into the lava cliff.
- Find hotels in Acireale.
The prices start from around €25/£20 per night for two people, including parking. In your immediate surroundings are a nice pizzeria, a cosy bar with a hammock and a mini market. The site is very clean, with soap and toilet paper provided for free. In case you are not comfortable with sleeping in a tent, La Timpa also offers bungalows and mini-apartments. With volcanic rocks and crystal blue waters, you have to give it a visit.
For a romantic getaway, Cefalu’ is ideal. Get lost in its tiny narrow streets, switch your mind to auto pilot and forget about everything. Check out the ancient Roman baths, the Cathedral and Santo Stefano for some culture, or head to the beach for some gold old relaxation. The main beach is generally very crowded, so you might want to go a bit further to find a calmer spot to really enjoy it. In Cefalu’, we decided to stay at the Costaponente camping site, one of two camp sites within 5 minutes from Cefalu’ old town. We spent only one night there, with the total cost for 2 people, a small tent, and the car park coming to €27/£22, which is expected for this period of the year. The camp site is nice, clean, and quite large. There is also a pool (and a baby pool next to it, if you’re with the little ones) with a panoramic view of the sea which is also quite beautiful. The camp site also has a nice cafeteria/bar with fair prices, but no restaurant. There is also an option available to rent a mini apartment for €60/£47 per day, if you’re not a big fan of the great outdoors.
- Find hotels in Cefalu’.
More pics from Acireale and Cefalu’
If you are not a relaxed type of driver, you might face problems in Palermo. A good suggestion is to find a hotel in the centre, park your car in a safe place (double check with locals), and walk or use public transport for the rest of the way. Driving in Palermo can be very rough, and certainly isn’t for everyone! We stayed in a small B&B in Piazza Marina called Kalamarina. Kalamarina consists of four large rooms which are named after the four winds: Grecale, Maestrale, Scirocco, and Libeccio. Our opinion is to go for the Maestrale. The location is great (you are right in the centre), and the price for a double room is rather low when compared to the other hotels in the area (around €60/£47 per night).
Around Kalamarina, you will find all the must see sights of Palermo. Besides the historical attractions such as Palermo Cathedral, Teatro Massimo, and Piazza Pretoria, we definitely recommend you do not miss the authentic food markets, especially Vucciria or Ballarò. The markets generally close in the early afternoon, but you can still find some stalls open in the night, which sell amazing fresh fish and meat.
Palermo is a celebration of street food, so don’t forget to try the panino alla milza or pane e pannelle! Next to Piazza Marina, in Corso Vittorio Emanuele 102, there is a perfect little street food place named Franco U’ Vastiddaru. However, if you are fussy, it might not be the place for you. Here you need to get dirty with the food, so forget clean tables! However, if you are renting a flat, you can shop in the markets and cook recipes using the amazing local products instead. The quality of the food in the market is amazing, not to mention super cheap!
Sicily’s eclectic routes are like an intriguing adventure for curious travellers. Greek, Roman, Arabic, Norman, Spanish and French civilizations have contributed to enrich this land and its traditions in a unique, multidimensional way, which will definitely offer you something new wherever you’re travelling from. Finally don’t forget to pay a visit to the oldest tree in Palermo, a Moreton Bay fig (Ficus macrophylla) in Piazza Marina which is more than 150 years old! Grab a lemonade and chill on a bench next to this stunning ‘rasta’ tree, you will feel like Frodo in Lord of the Rings!
- Find more hotels in Palermo.
Suggested Camping site close to Palermo
- Camping Degli Ulivi, Via Pegaso, 25, 90148 Sferracavallo
More pics from Palermo
#1 Marzameni for fish
During your road trip in Sicily remember to stop at Marzamemi if you can! Marzamemi is a tiny fishermen’s village not far from Pachino. If you are traveling from Catania to Syracuse or vice versa, it is worth taking a little break here to eat in one of the cute restaurants in the old square of Regina Margherita. We ate in a taverna called La Cialoma. It is an amazing location with beautiful aesthetic and more importantly delicious fresh pasta with fish (check out the pictures we took there). If you happen to fall in love with this village, there is a small B&B called Il Borghetto that looked perfect for all tastes. Although we didn’t get the chance to spend the night there, you can sometimes get a lot by judging a book by its cover.
#2 Walk to the car rental area
There is a shuttle bus which stops in front of the exit of the airport and drives you right to the car rental area. Since many tourists choose to rent a car and decide to use the shuttle service, you are better off taking a 5 minute walk to avoid the queue!
#3 Takeaway to save some cash
Buy a takeaway pizza instead of eating it at a pizzeria. You can eat it in front of the sea for a perfect (and cheap) romantic dinner.
#4 Petrol prices
Be aware that the cost of petrol in Italy is quite expensive. It is worth doing a bit of research before you set off to see which petrol companies and in which cities-areas they offer the most competitive prices on the market.
#5 Try a sagra
If you can, check out Siciliainfesta.com which will be the perfect guide for your road trip in Sicily. It contains the dates, locations and descriptions of all the local celebrations and food fairs throughout Sicily. These are an important aspect of Italian culture, and you can taste really delicious food for a very small amount of money. You can also have a gastronomic tour of Sicily! But remember, most of these celebrations are held during the summer months!
#6 Don’t be a sap, use a map!
Check out this map by charmingsicily.com for all the best recommended beaches in Sicily. By the way we have also mentioned them in our google map above.
#7 Taste the difference
You cannot leave Sicily without tasting some of their most delicious signature dishes. Cannoli, pistachios, almonds, granita e brioche, pane e pannelle, panino ca meusa (definitely not suitable for vegetarians), every type of fish, pasta or pizza alla norma, and ricotta. The list could go on, but these were just some of our favourites. Buon Appetito!
In this point we would like to thank all the hotels, B&Bs and campings for the amazing hospitality. If you’re looking for more road trip suggestions, then check out at our budget 10-day road trip in Peloponnese.
All images in this page © 20014 Emmanouil Zografakis.
You may also want to have a look at our post about how to get Free accommodation in London.