Italy is full of amazing holiday spots but among the favorites are the ancient islands of Sicily and Sardinia. Both are located on the Southern tip of Italy and if you can’t make your mind up about which to visit, why not combine the two experiences into one holiday?
You can visit Sardinia on your way to Sicily, or visa versa, visit Sardinia after exploring Sicily. You can mix and match your itinerary to tailor make your dream holiday in Southern Italy by selecting a few places that you want to visit and then planning your trip to incorporate them.
Both Sicily and Sardinia are Mediterranean islands that are part of Italy. Sicily is the largest of the Mediterranean islands and Sardinia is the second largest. Each one is a popular destination in its own right but increasing numbers of tourists and visitors are combining both of the islands in their itineraries.
However, there are important differences in the character of the islands which you should take into account when planning your trip to Italy’s beautiful Mediterranean islands.
Differences Between Sicily And Sardinia.
There are a lot of differences between Sicily and Sardinia.
Sicily is awash with cultural treasures and historical attractions making it a magnet for history enthusiasts and tourists alike. The island is strewn with important archeological sites that tell the story of this remarkable island’s history.
From La Martorana, the Norman Palace in Palermo and the remarkable city of Ragusa there’s a great range of places to see during your visit. One of the things that makes the island stand out is its incredible fusion of Arabic, Byzantine, Greek and Norman influences which merged to create this truly unique culture.
Compared to Sicily, Sardinia has fewer cultural and archeological sites of interest but it more than makes up for it with its world famous beaches and the unusual natural geological formations amongst the island’s rocky cliffs. You can, of course, enjoy relaxed days on the sunny beaches but you can also take part in wine tours, farm visits and hikes along the rocky coastal trails that crisscross the island.
Sardinia is well known for its superb cuisine which includes local specialities such as rustic breads and of course, cannoli filled with ricotta and pistachio nuts! For visitors to Sardinia the main offerings are natural and geological so it’s the ideal choice for nature lovers and those looking for a quiet beach vacation.
Amazing Cities And Towns To Visit In Sicily.
The following are my favorite cities and towns of Sicily.
Originally founded by the Ancient Phoenicians, Palermo has seen a surprising number of cultures pass through its gates with each one leaving their mark on its culture and society. As the capital of Sicily, Palermo has a superb range of sites to see including the Palace of the Normans, the Politeama theater, Pretoria Square and the Massimo theater. You can easily explore the city on foot if you don’t want to use public transport or a car to get around but however you explore the city you’ll be charmed by its architectural magnificence.
While you’re there you can savor the local cuisine in the city’s renowned restaurants and if you want a more adrenaline fueled getaway there’s plenty of watersports to try in the crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean. Palermo is the perfect place for couples and families who want a mix of sun, sea, sand and sites of cultural heritage.
The moment you arrive in Taormina you’ll be hit by the magical atmosphere of the town. Located on the slopes of Monte Tauro the town has incredible views across the Straits of Messina all the way across to Mount Etna. The bustling streets harbor a cosmopolitan culture with superb shops and boutiques, restaurants offering local specialty dishes and bars that throng with tourists and locals long into the evening hours.
The town is perched above stunning beaches and overlooks the turquoise blue Mediterranean ocean making it perfect for relaxed beach seafront vacation. In the surrounding area there is a wealth of historical attractions including a Greek Theater which was deliberately built there due the spectacular location! The theater is still alive and well and provides an exciting seasonal lineup of plays and performances.
This beautiful town was originally founded on La Rocca, a huge rocky outcrop that dominates the town. In later years the town was built up around the lower base of the rock in the 12th Century under the careful oversight of the Norman leader, King Roger II. This gave the town an unusually Norman feel which you can see throughout the streets and architecture.
Scattered with lovely restaurants and bars there’s plenty of historical monuments and sites to visit. The fishing port and cathedral are worth a visit while you’re there but as you wander through the cobbled streets you’ll be enchanted by the quaint atmosphere of this town that sometimes feels like it’s emerged straight from the pages of history! With stunning sea views and clean beaches the colorful streets of Cefalu make a dreamy Mediterranean holiday destination with an unusual Norman twist.
Once described as the most beautiful Greek City by the Roman statesman Cicero, Syracuse is an ancient port town on the Sicilian coast. As all great Greek cities did, Syracuse has a theater with a 15,000 person capacity that dates back to the 5th Century BC that is still a thriving artistic hub of the area that hosts an annual festival in May/June.
As well as the theatrical heritage, you can visit the Roman amphitheater as well as the city’s museum where you can see exhibits of Roman and Greek artifacts. The city has a great selection of restaurants, bars, shops and hotels for tourists on every budget who visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site each year.
Located in Southeastern Sicily, Ragusa is perched on a huge limestone hill between two large valleys. In the late 17th Century the region was devastated by a massive earthquake and when the city was rebuilt it was divided into two separate towns. Today, the older, lower part of Ragusa Ibla is divided from the upper town, Ragusa Superiore, by a deep ravine called the Valle dei Ponti.
Amazingly, the two towns remained separated until the 1920s when the Ponte dei Cappuccini bridge was built to fuse the two towns to create the new regional capital. Ragusa is famous for its baroque architecture, spectacular views, nine major churches and seven beautiful palazzi. The city was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and attracts history and art enthusiasts from all over the planet.
Unique Places To Visit In Sardinia.
The following are few of my favorite places in Sardinia.
As Sardinia’s capital, Cagliari is a stunningly colorful city that sits right on the seashore with a large port and a beautiful promenade that winds its way along the beach. The Marina has some fantastic bars where locals and tourists mix and the night life of the town is fairly active to say the least! Although if you want a bit more solitude you can walk up the beach towards some of the quiet bays that are nestled amongst the rocks.
For visitors who want an active getaway there are plenty of watersports activities on offer whereas for the culture vultures you can visit the Roman Amphitheater in the heart of the old city behind the Ilo Castello walls. Scattered through the old city you can also find charming local cafes, bars, restaurants and souvenir stores which makes the old city the perfect place for an evening stroll through the cobbled streets.
To the North of the old town you can visit the highly renowned Galleria Comunale D’Arte which exhibits an impressive range of contemporary artworks produced by local artists which hang alongside a series of 12th Century Italian works. The gallery is located within the Giardini Publicci, the public gardens, which have an incredible view across the city towards the ocean.
The main churches in Cagliari are the Chiesa di Sant’Efisio and the Jesuit Chiesa di San Michele, both of which are interesting to see during your stay. Saint Ephisus, the Patron Saint of Cagliari, is said in the local legends to have saved the city from a Napoleonic invasion as well as an outbreak of the plague! Celebrations to the Patron Saint take place each year on 1st May and include street fairs and market stalls that spring up all around the city.
The city’s main museum, the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, one of four in the city, contains exhibits that cover thousands of years of local history. One of the most impressive exhibits showcases huge statues made by the Nuragic people and are the only known sculptures of the kind to have been discovered in Sardinia. These precious statues are the best example of Nuragic artwork anywhere in the world. In fact, many experts claim that these sculptures are the oldest that have ever been found anywhere in the Mediterranean!
If you decide to visit Cagliari you should schedule at least a few days into your itinerary to see the city and its attractions. The city has high end luxury accommodation, modest mid-level hotels as well as guest houses, B&BS and holiday apartments to stay in during your stay.
Porot Torres was the very first Roman colony on Sardinia and was first founded in the 1st Century BC. Situated on the West coast it’s loved for its beautiful beaches and the 11th Century Basilica di San Gavino which is the largest Romanesque church in Sardinia. Amazingly, the basilica was built on top of an ancient pagan burial ground although today the island is firmly a Christian society!
Porto Torres is a major tourist hotspot in Sardinia and so you can find plenty of restaurants that serve international and regional dishes, beachfront bars and cafes. You can stay in any number of hotels which are all family friendly or one of the B&Bs in the town. If you’re on a budget you stay in a hostel while if you want to sleep out under the stars then you can book a spot on a campsite. Porto Torres is an ideal place to base yourself in if you want to explore the other parts of the island during your stay.
Located on the Northeastern coast of the island Olbia is famous for its fantastic pizzas, small souvenir stores, cafes and bars. As one of Sardinia’s favorite seaside resorts the town offers a whole range of fun activities for all the family.
If you visit in May you’ll be able to attend the Festa di San Simplicio which is held annually in honor of their Patron Saint. The exciting festival includes horse racing and a series of celebrations that are held in the town’s center.
While you’re in Olbia you can visit the spectacular granite Basilica di San Simplicio, one of the region’s finest examples of Romanesque architecture that beautifully incorporates the 12th Century period styles of Tuscany and Lombardy. The basilica is home to two incredible frescoes of local martyred saints, including, it is thought, one of the few depictions of Saint Simplicio. There is also a stunning gold gilded statue of the Saint that stands by the basilica’s altar.
Beside the port of Olbia you can visit the Museo Archeologico di Olbia which has exhibits of Roman and Nuragic artifacts as well as the remains of an original warship. The Nuragic culture is unique to the island of Sardinia and lived between the Bronze and Iron Age, between around 3000 BC and 500 AD. To see a Nuragic archeological site the hilltop complex of Nuraghe Riu Mulinu is just outside of the town and certainly worth a day trip.
Olbia has a superb selection of accommodation to suit every budget including holiday rental properties, mid to high range hotels as well as B&Bs and caravan sites.
Getting Around Sicily And Sardinia.
Public transport on the islands is not as extensively developed as it is on mainland Italy. And so although you can rely on public transport it’s generally advisable to rent a car instead. This will give you the freedom to really explore, stop off at remote beaches for a picnic lunch or park up on the side of the road to go hiking on the inland trails.
However, if you’re not used to driving in Italy you should be careful on the island’s winding coastal roads and you should take out the maximum insurance that covers collisions to be on the safe side. The roads on the islands are full of 180 degree switch backs, high narrow bridges, single lane roads and, of course, local drivers! You shouldn’t let this put you off from driving on the islands but it does mean you should be more cautious than you might normally be on the roads.
To get to the islands with your car you can catch a ferry from the mainland or fly into one of the airports and rent a car once you arrive. Sicily’s main international airport is the Catania Fontanarossa International Airport while Sardinia’s major airport is the Cagliari International Airport.
The Perfect Mediterranean Holiday Spots.
Whether you visit both of these Italian islands or only one, you’ll have a wonderful holiday in the sun. The weather is fantastic all through the year and the beaches on the islands are second to none.
Tourism is one the major industries on these islands and so there’s a fantastic infrastructure to support it. The towns and cities are full of great restaurants, cafes, museums and galleries to explore.
The islands are perfect for families, couples and solo travelers who want to discover the unique charms of the Italian Mediterranean. There’s a wealth of cultural sites to see, superb hiking trails and all the fun of a beach holiday! So pack your bags and start planning your next holiday to Sicily and Sardinia!