Surrounded by pristine beaches, Sicily is brimming with culture thanks to many centuries of noteworthy history and a mouthwatering culinary scene. There are plenty of fun things to do in Sicily with teens, let’s delve in one cannoli at a time.
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Where is Sicily?
Sicily is located just off the tip of Italy (the boot part). It is the largest island in the Mediterranean sea. There are two major airports on the island, Palermo (PMO) and Catania (CTA). Direct flights are available from the Italian mainland and various cities throughout Europe.
If you are already in Italy, it is possible to take a ferry to Sicily. The quickest route is from Villa San Giovani to Messina, which takes about 20 minutes. There are other departure points, including Naples and Genoa.
The largest cities (and most commonly visited) are Palermo, Catania, and Messina. Some other popular spots for families are Syracuse (a beautiful old city with dramatic architecture and easy access to the Ear of Dionysius – a cave that dates to the 5th century BC); Agrigento (home to Valley of the Temples – ancient Greek temples that are over 1000 years old); and the Aegadian Islands (perfect for exploring smaller towns, snorkeling, and taking a boat tour).
Is Sicily safe for families?
Sicily has a reputation for being unsafe, due in part to mafia activity. While the mafia is still active on the island as in many other parts of the world, it will have no impact on you or the teens. This little Mediterranean island in southern Italy is just as safe as any other part of the country.
There are a few rules of thumb to keep in mind. Be mindful of your belongings in big cities (never leave a cell phone on the table while eating, or leave your valuables unattended). Double-check with your local hosts to see which part of the city is unsafe at night. And don’t walk around with large sums of cash. Leave your excess cash in a safe at your hotel.
Fun things to do in Sicily with teens
Sicily has a lot to offer any traveler, especially families with teens. A determining factor for the success of the holiday will be where to stay in Sicily.
Younger kids can learn about the many cultural influences of the island by eating their way through the many different types of street foods in Palermo. Older teens might want to venture out on their first pub crawl or check out the excellent kitesurfing scene on Sicily’s west coast.
No matter what your teen loves to do, a visit to Sicily will offer an amazing cultural experience and an epic family holiday.
1. Climb an active volcano – Mount Etna
Mount Etna is located in eastern Sicily, close to the city of Catania. At 11,014 feet tall it dominates the landscape of this part of the island. It is considered Europe’s highest active volcano and can even be seen from the Greek theatre of Taormina (more on that later).
Fun fact, the last eruption of the volcano dates back to 2021, so Mount Etna is still very much an active volcano.
Climbing Mt. Etna is great fun and does not require travelers to be overly fit. There are a variety of different ways to climb, depending on the age of the kids.
If you are coming by car, park the car at Rifugio Sapienza. It is possible to hike without a tour, but the route up to the crater and back will take around 6 hours and the paths are not well-marked. Please note that the last part of Mount Etna’s hiking trail is only accessible with a local guide.
Alternatively, invest in one of the many tours to learn more about the history of Mount Etna and its volcanic eruptions. This ensures you will make it up safe and sound. The vast majority of tours start from Rifugio Sapienza. There are a variety of tours, everything from riding a cable car to fun jeep rides.
2. Get almond gelato in Noto
Strolling through beautiful Baroque-era villages, learning about the history of all the pretty palazzi, and the various artists that have created majestic paintings might not be your teen’s ideal way to spend their vacation. Yet, not visiting the charming Baroque beauty of Noto in eastern Sicily would be a real shame.
So why not make it interesting? Head to the Caffe Sicilia and try the very best almond gelato on the whole island. Caffe Sicilia is conveniently located on the main square opposite the Cattedrale di San Nicolo and within walking distance of the awe-inspiring Palazzo Ducezio and Palazzo Castelluccio.
3. Try out the famous Palermitan street food – yep even the spleen sandwich
One of the best things to do in Palermo is to delve headfirst into their illustrious street food scene. This can be done in a variety of different ways, but we recommend a dedicated street food tour. These will bring you to the very best local hidden gems.
If tours are less attractive to the kids, make a beeline for one of the three historical markets in Palermo: Il Capo, Ballaro, or La Vucciria.
All three are bustling with market vendors, little restaurants, and plenty of street food carts. The markets are the very best place to indulge in a good spot of people watching and to get a feel for local life. Though, to get a real feel of the markets it is best to head there before noon as they tend to be a popular tourist destination in recent years.
Street foods you will want to try include (but are certainly not limited to): A tasty Arancini – a fried ball of rice stuffed with ragu or, for the vegetarian’s butter and sometimes eggplant; Pane con la Milza – the famous spleen sandwich, a staple for Palermitans when they come home from a night on the town; Sfincione – like a slice of pizza but just better, much better.
4. Anti-mafia museum in Palermo
The Anti-mafia museum is located on the main avenue Via Vittorio Emanuele, smack in the middle of the historical center.
It explains the history of the mafia on the island and the strong Anti-mafia movement that is currently sweeping across the entire country. The museum is relatively small and only takes an hour to visit.
It is a great add-on to any Palermo itinerary and might offer the teens a welcome respite from the many churches that you will be visiting in Palermo on your trip.
5. Learn about the Arab-Norman history and go hunting for gold in the churches
The island of Sicily does churches like nowhere else in the world. It is worth visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Arab Norman churches that are peppered through the island.
The most impressive are: the Palatine Chapel in Palermo, the Duomo of Monreale, and the Duomo of Cefalu. Each of these three masterpieces was built between the 12th and 13th centuries under Arab-Norman rule.
What makes these cathedrals so special, aside from the fact they have been so well preserved, is the beautiful golden decoration of their naves. Over six thousand hand-painted golden mosaics adorn the ceiling of the three cathedrals, depicting a variety of Biblical scenes.
It is worth mentioning that the cathedrals see a lot of foot traffic, year-round. Try to be there for the opening or just before closing to avoid feeling like a sardine trapped inside a small can.
6. Go kitesurfing in Marsala
Marsala in western Sicily has some of the best kitesurfing schools in all of Europe. What is even better is they are relatively unknown and offer great value for the money. If you are looking for a fun activity that will tire out the teens, kitesurfing could be the answer.
Lo Stagnone in Marsala has 300 windy days and the flat waters are ideal for beginners to learn how to kitesurf. While the kids are out learning how to kitesurf in one of the many local schools, parents can opt to join in or rent a small yacht and go touring around the nearby Egadi islands.
Alternatively, explore the nearby Trapani, Erice, and even Palermo. A rental car is advised as public transport in this part of the island is spotty.
7. Take a Sicilian cooking class
Sicilian cuisine is quite different from Italian cuisine, it uses different ingredients (there’s a heavy reliance on fish, eggplant, and Ricotta Salata) and tends to fry a bit more than average. What better way to get to know the island than by taking a cooking class run by locals?
Many of the larger cities offer a cooking class and market tour in one package. You head to the market in the morning, pick out the ingredients to cook, and then go back home with your new local friend and cook up a delicious lunch. Adults can try a glass (or two) of local wine with lunch.
8. Watch a play in the Taormina Greek Theatre
Taormina is one of the best places to visit in Sicily. The charming hilltop village with its impressive 3rd century BC Greek amphitheater is a non-negotiable when coming to the island. Wander through the little streets of Taormina during the day, treat the kids to a delicious gelato, and do a little sightseeing to pass the time.
The real magic however happens as the sun starts to set, during the summer months. Every summer the Greek theatre comes alive. There are performances inside the very amphitheater that has been used for thousands of years.
As the sun dips behind Mount Etna, the stage is set to regale theatregoers with Greek Tragedies. Be sure to get your tickets in advance as the plays are extremely popular.
9. Get a workout at Monti Rossi Adventure Park
If the teens tire of all this ancient architecture, why not see a more modern build at Monti Rossi Adventure park? This ropes course sits just outside of Catania and is one of the best day trips on the island.
It has obstacles for all skill levels and even young children will find a course specifically for them. Getting teens out of the city and into nature is the perfect way to spend a day.
Is Sicily with teens worth visiting?
Very much! The island has a wealth of history and culture as well as fun outdoor activities (climbing Mount Etna, kitesurfing). Mix up the church visits with a few well-timed gelato breaks and teens will be soaking up history in no-time flat.
About the author: Caroline is a full-time writer and photographer who spends her time between Belgium and Sicily. She advocates sustainable travel and finds the very best vegetarian restaurants at Veggie Wayfarer.