19 August 2020

Your Guide to Traveling Around Sicily with a Rental Car

Aleksandrs Buraks
Head of Growth at DiscoverCars.com

Why should you rent a car in Sicily?

The island of Sicily is one of the most fascinating travel destinations in Europe. Culturally distinct from mainland Italy, it is a proud and unique place. From ancient sites to seriously impressive beaches, delicious cuisine to amazing hospitality, cultured cities to Europe's highest volcano, it has everything for a holiday to remember. Getting a rental car is the best way to see everything that this island has to offer and explore it on your own terms.

When should you go to Sicily?

Sicily has a typically Mediterranean climate with long, very hot and dry summers and mild, humid winters. The island gets the most visitors in July and August as this is the time when most Italians (including those from the mainland) take their yearly vacations. Some Sicilian coastal towns and villages can see their populations grow tenfold during these months. While Sicily is a great place to visit in the summer months, keep in mind that the weather can get really, really hot — the average high temperature in Catania is 32 °C (89 °F) in August and can approach 40 °C (104 °F) some days. If the heat gets so unbearable that even the sea cannot comfort you, escaping to the mountains in the inland parts of the island can help you cool off.

Spring and autumn months can also be a great time to visit — the weather will still be pleasantly warm. Many travelers find the sea perfectly good for swimming even as late as the end of October. If the beach is not your main attractor, the big cities and many historical sites can be nice to enjoy even in the winter months as the weather is mild, but the crowds are much smaller and prices for things like rental cars and accommodation are much lower. The average high temperature is about 15.5 °C (60 °F) in Sicily in January, the coolest month of the year.

Now that you've decided when to travel to Sicily, check out our prices for the dates you have chosen!

Where should you pick up a car in Sicily?

Most visitors to Sicily choose to pick up a rental car at one of the island's international airports — Catania Airport, Palermo Airport, Trapani Airport, or Comiso Airport. Well connected, the airports provide plenty of links with destinations in the rest of Italy and Europe, as well as countries like Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States. Plenty of low-cost airlines fly to and from Sicily, including easyJet, Ryanair, Volotea, and Vueling.

In addition to airports, it is also possible to pick up or drop off a car at car rental company offices in city centers, international hotels, and other locations.

Many car rental companies permit one-way rentals, usually for an extra fee. It's quite popular for travelers to pick up a car at Palermo after arriving in Sicily and later drop it off at Catania at the end of their trip (or vice versa) without the need to return to their point of entry.

Can I take a rental car to mainland Italy?

Many car rental companies permit one-way rentals between Sicily and mainland Italy. There are frequent year-round ferries between Villa San Giovanni in the mainland region of Calabria and Messina in Sicily. You'll have to buy a separate ticket for your rental car and the variability of ticket prices is quite large between different ferry companies, so do your research in advance.

It is also possible to take a longer ferry trip between Sicily and destinations like Naples, Rome, and the island of Sardinia. Most ferry companies permit bringing a rental car onboard, but the car rental company likely will not, and those that do may charge enormous fees for this. It may be a better idea to rent separate cars and take the ferry as a foot passenger.

Three under-the-radar destinations to visit in Sicily:

Agrigento. Capital of the province of the same name, Agrigento holds a rather odd record - its modern population is several times smaller than what it used to be 2,500 years ago. Back in those ancient days, it was known as Akragas and was an important and wealthy Greek colony. This legendary heritage survives to the present day via the Valley of the Temples, an archaeological complex of impressive Doric structures that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Otherwise, Agrigento is a lovely town with a laid back atmosphere, interesting medieval architecture, and a number of beautiful nearby beaches. The southern part of Sicily where Agrigento is located is generally a lot less developed and discovered than the north - expect fewer tourists, more authenticity and a lot of genuine cordiality.

Enna. If the south of Sicily is less explored, it is doubly true for the inland parts of the island - including the town and province of Enna (or Castrugiuvanni, as it's known in Sicilian). That doesn't mean there's nothing to see there - in fact, located at the height of 930 m (3,050 ft), the town is the highest provincial capital in Italy and offers truly amazing views of the rest of the island below. In addition to spectacular viewpoints (and winding mountain roads), Enna is also home to quaint villages, the impressive Lombardia Castle, and delicious local cuisine. Some viewing platforms and parts of Old Enna can only be accessed on foot, but you can find a place to park and enjoy this scenic town at a more leisurely pace.

Gorges of Alcantara. Meaning 'the arch' in Arabic, the language from which it got its name, the Alcantara rivers flows for 52 km (32 mi) from Nebrodi Mountains past Mount Etna and towards the eastern coast of Sicily where it empties into the Mediterranean sea. Although the river is not that long, its middle section is home to one of the most impressive natural wonders of the island - the gorges of Alcantara. Made up of eroded black lava, this picturesque and otherworldly place is home to impressive views, long hiking trails and a geological and botanical park. Trout and carp swim in the river, olive and chestnut trees grow in the nearby valleys, and you might even get to spot a kingfisher or a wild cat. Despite being located near the coast, roughly halfway between Catania and Messina, this is a true off-the-beaten-track destination - even some native Sicilians don't know about it.

How safe is Sicily for travelers?

The biggest safety issue in many travelers' minds when it comes to Sicily is the island's infamous mafia. While organized crime is not just the stuff of legends and continues to exist in Sicily and elsewhere, it's important not to associate all locals with the mafia. Many Sicilians have suffered from the organized crime and might find any jokes about the issue in poor taste. Some of the largest anti-mafia initiatives in Italy have also been led by Sicilians, often at great personal risk and peril. What's even more important for a foreign visitor to remember is that individual travelers are never targeted by the mafia and you are not putting yourself at significant risk by simply visiting the island.

The possibility of a road accident is a danger that's a lot more real in Sicily. The driving is a lot more aggressive in Italy than in many other European countries and the number of reckless drivers is unfortunately fairly high. Most travelers who visit Sicily with a car do so without any issue and have a great time because the number of polite drivers is still much higher than those who drive dangerously. But it's a good idea to acclimate yourself to local driving by choosing not to drive during the peak hours during the first couple of days after your arrival on the island.

Petty crime like pickpocketing can occur in Sicily, especially in Palermo, Catania, and near popular tourist attractions. Keep a close eye on your belongings and do not hesitate to request help if you need it or feel unsafe. The general emergency phone number in Sicily, just like elsewhere in Italy and the EU, is 112.

What languages are spoken in Sicily?

There are two dominant languages in Sicily. As elsewhere in the country, Italian is Sicily's main language of business and virtually everyone understands it. The native tongue of Sicily, however, is Sicilian, a language closely related to, but not mutually intelligible with Italian. Sicilian is by no means an extinct language and is, in fact, the native tongue of most locals. Learning some phrases in either Italian or Sicilian can be very useful to get around the island.

The knowledge of English is not very high in Sicily. Even in the big cities like Palermo and Catania and among the people working in services, knowing English is rather an exception than the norm - and in smaller towns and villages, you can be hard-pressed to find anyone who knows English at all. This doesn't mean it's impossible to communicate with locals - most people will know at least some English words and will try to make sure you are properly understood — but rather that communication can simply require more patience in Sicily.

Like other Italians, many Sicilians learn French as a foreign language in school. Despite this, and although French can sometimes be useful when traveling in Sicily, the overall level of l knowledge of it is not especially high.

Aleksandrs Buraks

Head of Growth at DiscoverCars.com
Aleksandrs has over 10 years of experience in marketing with a focus on creating stellar content that provides topical insights using data. Having taken five road trips across Europe and one in the U.S., he is passionate about traveling by car. His favorite countries to visit are Denmark and Thailand. You can find him on Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter.

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