A day or two in Sicily? Worth the trouble of getting there?
November 22, 2009 3:04 AM   Subscribe

Is a quick trip to Sicily worth it? I've got a ticket to fly to Rome 4-11 December, and am considering a quick trip to Sicily (max 3 days, min 1 day) via a low-cost air carrier.

I spent three days in Rome 10 years ago, but I'll want to do the big sight-seeing (Vatican, Colosseum, Capitoline Museums) again.

I'm drawn to Sicily, because my family is from Termine Imerese, but I don't know anyone there, so it's not like I'm going to literally see any family members.

A couple of additional factors: First, 8 Dec. is the feast of the Immaculate Conception, a national holiday, so everything in Rome (and I'm sure in Sicily?) seems like it will be closed. (Strolling around the streets of Rome and gawking at ruins is always open, though, thankfully.) Second, we won't have a car in Rome, of course, but it seems like we would definitely have to rent one in Sicily. Is this going to be a hassle?

Also, Mr. Clover and I are prone to overscheduling when we're on vacation, so I'm trying to balance the feeling of "I'm not going to be so close to Sicily in the foreseeable future" with the fear that we'll spend our whole trip transporting ourselves with no time to see anything of interest.

We are coming from Europe, so jet lag is not a factor.

Can we have any kind of meaningful vacation experience in Sicily in such a short time? Or should we stick around Rome?
posted by purpleclover to Travel & Transportation around Italy (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This previous question on going from Palermo to Rome may help. Sounds do-able.
posted by vacapinta at 3:22 AM on November 22, 2009

Hey cugina! My family and I did the Rome-Palermo trip a couple years ago and loved it. Our family is from Palermo and Cefalu, among other towns, so it was amazing to see the places they were from.

We had to rent a car; I'm not sure you'd need to, and if you don't have to I definitely don't recommend it. Renting the car in the first place took a long time, and we had to return it once and swap it out for a different car -- all of which ate up a fair chunk of our visit. Driving in Palermo is a kind of insanity; fun for the right people (my mother enjoyed it) but it requires you to be on top of your game at all times. My father literally has nightmares about driving in Palermo, three years after the fact. Driving on the autostrade outside of the city is fine, but parking when you get to a town is challenging.

From Falcone-Borsellino airport you can get a train for 5.50 euros that takes you to Palermo's train station. The station is old and lovely and worth seeing in its own right (be sure to visit the bathrooms and say hi to the bathroom guard/attendant). From Palermo you can then get a train to Termini, which costs about the same and takes about a half hour.

If you can afford it, get a nice hotel in the middle of Palermo -- I adore the city, but it can be a stressful place to visit. Having a safe, quiet place to which you can easily retreat is a Good Thing.
We flew Windjet, which was fine, although finding them at Fiumicino was difficult (and our Roman friends were concerned that we'd been scammed by some nonexistent airline). I checked their schedule and it appears you could fly out early on the 8th, arriving before lunch in the center of Palermo. Traveling on the Feast day could save you some of the hassle of sights being closed. You could then fly back early on the 11th, allowing you to catch your flight out, or on the 10th to have another day in Rome.

If you end up renting a car and driving out in the countryside, the temple at Segesta is one of the finest ruins available. Nearby there's a place called the Baglio Pocoroba, where you can get a prix fixe lunch. We went when they were just opening and it was wonderful. Lamb so fresh you could hear its brothers and sisters bleating in the pen outside the window. The owner, Giuseppe, ran out into the fields to get some fresh figs for our dessert.

If you go, I'd definitely recommend giving Sicily more time rather than less, although it pains me to think of taking time away from Rome. It takes a little while to get into the groove in Sicily, and you must be prepared for some slowdowns and confusion. It's not nearly as user-friendly as Rome, although the people are lovely and warm once they decide you're okay. Sicily is a great place to get broken of the habit of overscheduling -- we would plan to do two or three things in a day and end up happy if we succeeded at doing one of them.

The hassle of getting to Palermo is pretty minimal, especially if you take the Leonardo Express to FCO -- one train, one short plane ride, one more train, you're there. I think you can have a meaningful visit if you give it 3 days, but you shouldn't expect it to be relaxing. It is challenging and requires you to have your guard up and be "on" far more than Rome does. There is some real magic in walking the actual streets your great-great-grandparents walked, and visiting the cathedrals where they were baptized -- and eating the local food.

I always have the same issue you do, of "I'm not going to be so close again". I've worked around that by promising myself I'll come back, so I don't have to do everything this time. Whether you go this time or not depends a lot on what kind of trip you want to have -- relaxing and chilled out, or action-packed and exciting. Either way, you can't really go wrong. Enjoy it!

(Side recommendation for Rome: Take the metro out to Ostia Antica and visit the ruins there -- quiet, untrafficked, and much more pleasant than Pompeii, but just as fascinating.)
posted by katemonster at 6:09 AM on November 22, 2009

Oh, also -- just checked and it looked like most things will be open on the 8th. Galleria Borghese in Rome is for sure, and Palazzo dei Normanni in Palermo has hours for public holidays, which leads me to believe they will be too. So don't worry too much about the Feast interfering with the sights you want to see.

Also also -- highly recommend making reservations/buying tickets online in advance when possible. It's not as necessary in low season as in high season, but it's nice not to have to wait in the lines. Some places, like Galleria Borghese, require reservations no matter what.
posted by katemonster at 6:12 AM on November 22, 2009

You can take an overnight ferry from Civitavecchia to Palermo -- it's fun, and you combine sleeping with traveling. You wouldn't need to leave Palermo to have a terrific Sicilian interlude. If you're into cathedrals, the Duomo in nearby Monreale is spectacular.
posted by gum at 12:14 PM on November 22, 2009

Thanks for the detailed and very helpful answer, katemonster. We did not end up going to Sicily; a week in Rome was easy to fill.

Thanks doubly for the suggestion to go to Ostia Antica. It was amazing.
posted by purpleclover at 5:51 AM on December 23, 2009

Yay! Thanks for the follow up -- I'm glad y'all had a good time!
posted by katemonster at 12:55 PM on January 7, 2010

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