Sicily is not an easy island for travellers with disabilities. Narrow cobbled streets, hair-raising traffic, blocked pavements and tiny lifts make life very difficult for wheelchair users, and those with sight or hearing difficulties.
Under European law, airports are obliged to provide assistance to passengers with reduced mobility, so if you need help en route to Sicily, or on arrival/departure, tell your airline when you book your ticket and they should inform the airport. Facilities are available at both Palermo and Catania airports.
If travelling by rail, ring Trenitalia's national helpline (199 303060) to arrange assistance with wheelchairs, guides and getting on and off trains. Further information is available online at www.trenitalia.com/tcom-en; choose the 'Person with reduced mobility' link under Information and Contacts.
If you are driving, the UK blue badge is recognised in Italy, giving you the same parking rights that local drivers with disabilities have.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel. Lonely Planet offers a number of other online resources, including its Travel for All community on Google+, the Travellers with Disabilities branch of the Thorn Tree forum (www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/forums/travellers-with-disabilities), and an Accessible Travel Pinterest page (www.pinterest.com/lonelyplanet/accessible-travel).
Other online resources:
Accessible Italy (www.accessibleitaly.com) A San Marino–based company that specialises in holiday services for people with disabilities, ranging from tours to the hiring of adapted transport.
Italian Tourism Official Website (www.italia.it/en/useful-info/accessibility.html) Italy-specific links for travellers with disabilities.
Sage Traveling (www.sagetraveling.com) A US-based agency offering advice and tailor-made tours to assist mobility-impaired travellers in Europe.
Tourism for All (www.tourismforall.org.uk) A British charity that can provide general travelling information – check out the website's useful FAQ section.
Gentle haggling is common in outdoor markets; in all other instances you're expected to pay the stated price.
Dangers & Annoyances
Despite Mafia notoriety, Sicily is not a dangerous place and the biggest threat you face is not from the local capo but from the odd petty thief.
Modern-day Sicily is generally a very safe place to travel, and the likelihood of your vacation being affected by crime is low, especially if you follow a few common sense precautions.
In urban centres such as Palermo and Catania, you should exercise the same basic caution as you would in any large European or North American city. When walking through crowded markets or riding on buses at rush hour, be aware of your surroundings and don't flaunt your valuables or carry large amounts of cash in unsecured pockets. Pickpockets and bag-snatchers exist, as in any metropolitan setting, but your attitude should be one of prevention rather than of paranoia. Don't carelessly leave purses, cameras or phones lying about in street-side cafes, and don't keep valuables in plain view in a parked vehicle. If you're driving a rental car and feel unsure about the security of your neighbourhood, use an enclosed car park.
In the relatively unlikely event that you are a victim of petty theft or other crime, always report it to the police within 24 hours, and ask for a statement; otherwise, your travel insurance company is unlikely to pay out.
Sicilian traffic can be a daunting prospect, particularly in Palermo where the only rule seems to be survival of the fastest. However, outside the main urban areas, the situation calms down and the main concerns become curvy roads, potholes and iffy signposting. As a general rule, traffic is at its quietest around lunchtime, especially on Sunday, when few people are out and about.
Drivers are not keen to stop for pedestrians, even at pedestrian crossings. Sicilians simply step off the pavement and walk through the swerving traffic. In the major cities, roads that appear to be for one-way traffic often have special lanes for buses travelling in the opposite direction, so always look both ways before stepping out. On a positive note, pedestrian zones have expanded in recent years in the city centres of Palermo, Catania and other popular destinations.
For travellers under 30, the European Youth Card (www.eyca.org) is widely accepted.
At many state museums and archaeological sites, EU citizens under 18 enter free, and those aged between 18 and 25 get a 50% discount. To claim these discounts you officially need a passport, driving licence or ID card as proof of age and nationality; non-EU citizens are technically ineligible for discounts, although some ticket-takers are more lenient than others in enforcing these rules.
The ‘reduced’ rate in our prices refers to the student discount. Since 2014, discounts for seniors have been significantly scaled back at state-run sites.
At private museums, children under 18 usually receive some kind of discount, with young children often entering free of charge.
Italian plugs have two or three round pins; travellers from countries with a different plug type should bring an adapter.
The current is 230V, 50Hz.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Italy's country code||39|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Goods bought and exported within the EU incur no additional taxes, provided duty has been paid somewhere within the EU and the goods are for personal use.
Travellers entering Italy from outside the EU are allowed to import the following duty free: 200 cigarettes, 1L of spirits, 4L of wine (or 2L of fortified wine), 60mL of perfume, and other goods up to the value of €300 (€430 if travelling by sea). Anything over this limit must be declared on arrival and the appropriate duty paid.
On leaving the EU, non-EU citizens can reclaim any Imposta di Valore Aggiunto (IVA) value-added tax on purchases equal to or over €155. The refund only applies to purchases made within the past three months in affiliated outlets that display a 'Tax Free for Tourists' or similar sign. You have to complete a form at the point of sale, then get it stamped by Italian customs as you leave.
Generally not required for stays of up to three months.
For up-to-date information on visa requirements, see www.esteri.it/visti.
EU citizens do not need a visa to enter Italy. Nationals of some other countries, including Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand and the USA, do not need visas for stays of up to 90 days in Italy.
Other people wishing to visit Italy have to apply for a Schengen visa, which allows unlimited travel in Italy and 24 other European countries for a 90-day period. You must apply for a Schengen visa in your country of residence and you can not apply for more than two in any 12-month period. They are not renewable inside Italy.
Technically, all foreign visitors to Italy are supposed to register with the local police within eight days of arrival. However, if you're staying in a hotel or hostel you don't need to bother as the hotel will do it for you – this is why they always take your passport details.
- Greetings Shake hands and say 'buongiorno' (good day) or 'buona sera' (good evening) to strangers; kiss both cheeks and say 'come stai?' (how are you?) to friends. Use 'lei' (formal 'you') in polite company; use 'tu' (informal 'you') with friends and children. Only use first names if invited.
- Asking for help Say 'mi scusi' (excuse me) to get someone's attention; say 'permesso' (permission) when you want to pass someone in a crowded space.
- Religious etiquette Dress modestly (cover shoulders, torsos and thighs) and be quiet and respectful when visiting religious sites. Never intrude on a church service.
- Eating and drinking At restaurants, summon the waiter by saying 'per favore' (please). When dining in an Italian home, bring a small gift of sweets (dolci) or wine, and dress well.
- Scheduling Take official opening hours and timetables with a grain of salt.
- Avoid Discussing the Mafia can be a touchy subject.
A travel-insurance policy to cover theft, loss and medical problems is highly recommended. It may also cover you for cancellation of and delays in your travel arrangements.
Paying for your ticket with a credit card can often provide limited travel accident insurance, and you may be able to reclaim the payment if the operator doesn't deliver.
Note that some policies specifically exclude 'dangerous activities', which can include scuba diving, motorcycling and even trekking.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
Public wi-fi hotspots are fairly common in cafes and bars, and most hotels and B&Bs now offer free wi-fi. In accommodation listings the internet icon is used to indicate that there is a computer available for guest use, while the wi-fi icon indicates there is wi-fi access. Wi-fi is specifically mentioned in reviews only when charges apply.
The most likely reason for a brush with the law is if you have to report a theft. If you do have something stolen and you want to claim it on insurance, you must make a statement to the police; insurance companies won't pay up without proof of a crime.
The Italian police is divided into three main bodies: the black-clad carabinieri; the polizia, who wear navy blue jackets; and the guardia di finanza, who fight tax evasion and drug smuggling. If you run into trouble in Italy, you're likely to end up dealing with either the polizia or the carabinieri. If, however, you land a parking ticket, you'll need to speak to the vigili urbani (traffic wardens).
The legal blood-alcohol limit is 0.05% (0.5g/L), and random breath tests do occur. Penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol can be severe.
In general, your embassy should be able to provide a list of local lawyers, interpreters and translators.
Homosexuality (over the age of 16) is legal in Sicily. The gay scene is centred on cities including Catania, Taormina and Palermo. In rural areas, attitudes remain largely conservative.
Large pride parades take place annually in Palermo (www.palermopride.it) and Catania (www.cataniapride.com) – in mid-June and early July, respectively.
Online resources include the following (all in Italian):
- Arcigay (www.arcigay.it) Italy's largest gay organisation, with branches in Catania (www.arcigaycatania.com), Palermo (www.arcigaypalermo.wordpress.com), Syracuse, Agrigento and Messina.
- Coordinamento Lesbiche Italiano (CLR; www.clrbp.it) The national organisation for lesbians, holding regular conferences and literary meetings.
- Gay.it (www.gay.it) Website featuring LGBT news, feature articles and gossip.
- GuidaGay (www.guidagay.it) Details on gay-friendly bars, clubs, beaches and hotels.
- Pride (www.prideonline.it) National monthly magazine of art, music, politics and gay culture.
- Spartacus World (www.spartacusworld.com) Lists male-only venues all over Italy.
Arbatus (www.arbatus.com) publishes excellent trekking maps (€5) for each of the seven Aeolian islands. For walking in the Mt Etna area, Selca's 1:25,000 Mt Etna map (€7), available from Stella Alpina (www.stella-alpina.com), is a good bet. Several trails in the Madonie Mountains are detailed on the Parco Regionale delle Madonie's 1:50,000 Carta dei Sentieri e del Paesaggi (€3), available from park offices in Cefalù and Petralia Sottana.
ATMs widely available. Credit cards accepted in most hotels and restaurants.
Credit and debit cards can be used in ATMs (which are widespread and known locally as bancomat). Most ATMs have multilingual screens, making life easy for English-speakers, but in a pinch, the Italian term for international cash withdrawal is prelievo internazionale. Visa and MasterCard are widely recognised, as are Cirrus and Maestro. Remember that every time you withdraw cash there will be fees. Typically you'll be charged a withdrawal fee as well as a conversion charge; if you're using a credit card, you'll also be hit by interest on the cash withdrawn.
If an ATM rejects your card, don't despair. Try a few more ATMs displaying your credit card's logo before assuming the problem lies with your card.
Credit & Debit Cards
Though widely accepted, credit cards are not as ubiquitous in Sicily as they are in the UK or the US, and it's always a good idea to have some cash on hand. Some small guesthouses, trattorias and shops don't take credit cards, and you can't always use them at petrol stations, parking meters or motorway ticket barriers.
Major cards such as Visa, MasterCard and Eurocard are accepted throughout Sicily. Amex is also recognised but it's less common.
Before leaving home, make sure to advise your credit-card holder of your travel plans. Otherwise, you risk having your card blocked – as a security measure, banks block cards when they notice out-of-the-ordinary transactions. Check also any charges you'll incur and what the procedure is if you experience problems or have your card stolen. Most card suppliers will give you an emergency number you can call free of charge for help and advice.
Italy's currency is the euro (€). The euro is divided into 100 cents. Coin denominations are one, two, five, 10, 20 and 50 cents, €1 and €2. The notes are €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200 and €500.
Money can be exchanged in banks, post offices and exchange offices. Banks generally offer the best rates, but shop around as rates fluctuate considerably.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
- Restaurants Most have a cover charge (coperto, around €2), and some also levy a service charge (servizio, 10% to 15%). If there is no service charge, consider rounding the bill up.
- Bars In cafes people often place a €0.10 or €0.20 coin on the bar when ordering coffee. Consider leaving small change when ordering drinks.
- Taxis Optional, but most people round up to the nearest euro.
Banks 8.30am to 1.30pm and 2.45pm to 3.45pm Monday to Friday.
Restaurants Noon to 2.30pm and 7.30pm to 11pm; many close one day per week.
Cafes 7am to 8pm (or later if offering bar service at night).
Shops 9.30am to 1.30pm and 4pm to 7.30pm Monday to Saturday.
Museums Hours vary, but many close on Monday.
Sicily's postal system, Poste, is never going to win any awards for efficiency but sooner or later letters generally arrive. Delivery is guaranteed to Europe within three days and to the rest of the world within four to eight days.
Stamps (francobolli) are available at post offices and authorised tobacconists (look for the official tabacchi sign, a big 'T', often white on black), which you'll find in every town and village.
For more important items, use registered mail (raccomandato) or insured mail (assicurato); the cost depends on the value of the object being sent.
Most Sicilians take their annual holiday in August, deserting the cities for the cooler seaside or mountains. This means that many businesses and shops close for at least part of the month, usually around the Feast of the Assumption (Ferragosto) on 15 August. Easter is another busy period, with many resort hotels opening for the season the week before Easter.
Italian schools close for three months in summer, from mid-June to mid-September, for two weeks at Christmas and for a week at Easter.
Individual towns have public holidays to celebrate the feasts of their patron saints. National public holidays in Sicily include the following:
Capodanno (New Year's Day) 1 January
Epifania (Epiphany) 6 January
Pasqua (Easter) March/April
Pasquetta (Easter Monday) March/April
Giorno della Liberazione (Liberation Day) 25 April
Festa del Lavoro (Labour Day) 1 May
Festa della Repubblica (Republic Day) 2 June
Ferragosto (Feast of the Assumption) 15 August
Festa di Ognissanti (All Saints' Day) 1 November
Festa della Immacolata Concezione (Feast of the Immaculate Conception) 8 December
Natale (Christmas Day) 25 December
Festa di Santo Stefano (Boxing Day) 26 December
- Smoking Prohibited in all public spaces, as per EU law.
TIM/Telecom Italia (www.tim.it) is Italy's biggest telecommunications company, offering both landline and cellular service.
Italian mobile phones operate on the GSM 900/1800 network. If you have an unlocked GSM phone that supports these frequencies, you can purchase a pre-pagato (pre-paid) SIM card in Italy for as little as €10.
As a general rule, local SIM card rates are cheaper than the roaming rates incurred for using your home mobile phone in Italy.
TIM, Wind (www.wind.it), Vodafone (www.vodafone.it) and Tre (www.tre.it) all sell a variety of SIM cards offering voice, data and/or international calling, and all have plentiful retail outlets in Sicily. You'll need your passport to open an account. To recharge your card, simply pop into the nearest outlet or buy a ricarica (charge card) from a tobacconist.
Useful Numbers & Codes
Italian area codes all begin with '0' and consist of up to four digits. The area code is followed by a telephone number of anything from four to eight digits. Area codes are an integral part of all telephone numbers in Italy, even if you are calling within a single zone. For example, any number you ring in Palermo will start with 091, even if it's next door. When making domestic calls you must always dial the full number including the initial zero. Mobile-phone numbers begin with a three-digit prefix such as 333, 347 or 390.
To make an international call from Sicily, dial the international access code (00), then the relevant country and area codes followed by the telephone number.
To dial a Sicilian number from outside Italy, dial your international access code, followed by Italy’s country code (39), the relevant city code (including the initial ‘0’) and the number.
|International access code (for international calls from Italy)||00|
|Italy's country code (for international calls to Italy)||39|
Sicily is one hour ahead of GMT. Daylight-saving time starts on the last Sunday in March, when clocks are put forward one hour. Clocks go back an hour on the last Sunday in October. Italy operates on the 24-hour clock, so rather than 6.30pm, you'll see 18.30 on transport timetables.
Public toilets are rare in Sicily except at major tourist sites and archaeological parks. Most people use the facilities in bars and cafes – although you might need to buy a coffee first. In many places public loos are pretty grim; try to go armed with some tissues.
You'll find tourist offices located throughout Sicily. Some are more helpful than others but most are able to provide accommodation lists, rudimentary maps and information on local tourist attractions. Most will also respond to telephone and email requests for information, though responses to the latter can be maddeningly slow.
Opening hours vary but as a general rule are 9am to 1pm and from 3pm to 7pm Monday to Friday. Hours are usually extended in summer, when some offices also open on Saturday or Sunday. Some cities have subsidiary information booths at train stations, though these often keep shorter hours or operate only in summer.
Offices in popular destinations such as Palermo, Catania, Taormina, Syracuse and the Aeolian Islands are usually well stocked and staffed by employees with a working knowledge of at least one other language, usually English but also French or German.
Officially, Sicilian tourist offices are known as Servizi Turistici Regionali (Regional Tourist Services) but for the sake of simplicity we refer to them as 'tourist offices'.
Travel With Children
Few places are as friendly to children as Sicily. Families are welcomed at restaurants, cafes and hotels, and staff are generally diligent in accommodating your needs. Family-friendly attractions abound (beaches, ice-cream shops, puppet theatres), and you’ll benefit from family discounts on transport along with free children’s admission at many sites.
Best Regions for Kids
Island-hopping by boat will appeal to the explorer in any kid – as will climbing Stromboli's steaming cone for a nightly dose of volcanic fireworks.
Flamingos along the Vendicari coast and Sicilian puppet shows with funny battle scenes will captivate kids of all ages, while open spaces like Syracuse's Piazza del Duomo help squirmy toddlers get the wiggles out.
Long sandy beaches at Cefalù make for happy family times, and the steeply perched Norman castle at Caccamo is perfect for medieval role-playing.
Enjoy stress-free beach days swimming and cycling on Favignana, discover ancient cave art on Levanzo, or ride the funicular up to Erice to sample sugary almond sweets.
Whether you're splashing on the beach below Taormina, climbing Europe's tallest volcano or getting grossed out by giant fish heads in Catania's market, the Ionian Coast creates lasting memories for everyone.
Sicily for Kids
Eating in Sicily should be a breeze. In restaurants, high chairs are usually available and it's perfectly acceptable to order a mezza porzione (half portion) off the normal menu for little ones. Even the fussiest of kids will enjoy the island's abundant fresh fruit, savoury snacks like arancine (fried, stuffed rice balls) or basics like pizza and pasta with a tomato sauce – while more adventurous eaters will be able to 'expand' their palate with varied seafood, fish, meat and veggie dishes. Gelati, granite (crushed ice with various flavours) and the many fantastic Sicilian dolci (desserts) will be fought over by the entire family.
Sicily and its smaller offshore islands offer plenty of ways to keep the family engaged, be it the mix of history and nature at the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, the many beaches and islands, vibrant street markets at Palermo and Catania, or a simple passeggiata (evening stroll) with the locals, ice cream in hand. Teenagers will be able to break up lazy days with swimming and organised boat trips, while activity-seeking families have three volcanoes to climb and lots of snorkelling and diving options. Norman castles and ancient ruins are scattered around the island and are ripe for exploration.
Away from the beaches, smaller kids can be kept entertained at the local main square – the piazzas are usually equipped with fun rides and, well, other kids! Traditional puppet shows are a great way to introduce your children to local culture – it helps if they're into battles!
While it's generally safe for kids to run around small town squares, keep an eye on the scooters that sometimes zip in and out – pedestrian areas are something of a relative concept in Sicily.
Family life is highly valued in Sicily. Babies will be cooed over, and children of all ages will generally be welcomed. Breastfeeding is common, and attitudes are relaxed.
Gelateria Ciccio Adelfio, Palermo Everyone loves gelato, especially for breakfast, when it's served in a sweet bun at classic shops like this one!
Da Alfredo, Salina, Aeolian Islands On a hot day, there's nothing yummier and more refreshing than a granita (flavoured crushed ice), topped with a dollop of whipped cream just for fun.
La Rinascente, Trapani Meet the cannoli-maker and watch him fill yours on the spot as you anticipate that first crunchy, creamy bite.
In & on the Water
Spiaggia di Cefalù For sheer family fun in the sun, this long sandy beach east of Palermo is hard to beat.
Ustica, Palermo Region Water-loving families and older kids and teenagers can snorkel and dive to their heart's desire on this island just off Palermo.
Scala dei Turchi Young kids can frolic in the shallow water near Agrigento.
Grotta del Bue Marino, Filicudi Visit this spectacular sea grotto by boat.
Stromboli Crater, Aeolian Islands A glimpse of Stromboli's glowing innards on a night climb is any kid's fairy-tale vision of a volcano come true.
Fossa di Vulcano, Aeolian Islands Follow the pongy path to this steaming, sulphur-spewing crater, known to the Romans as Vulcan's forge.
Castello di Caccamo Storm the ramparts of this and other Norman castles across the island.
Ruins of Selinunte This sprawling ruined city has temples, piles of ancient rubble and wide open spaces for kids to explore, plus a beach just below.
Azienda Agrituristica Bergi, Castelbuono Enjoy animals, swimming pools and lots of space while overnighting at this and other agriturismi (farm stays) around the island.
Arts & Sicilian Culture
Piccolo Teatro dei Pupi, Syracuse Watch brave knights defeat evil monsters in a traditional puppet play.
Farm Cultural Park, Favara Creative teens will appreciate the edgy installations at this unique artists' community.
Villa Romana del Casale, Piazza Armerina At this ancient Roman hunting villa, mosaics of lions, tigers and youthful gymnasts will capture many young imaginations.
Passeggiata Search out carousels, cafes and convivial company of every age during the evening stroll.
When to Go
Spring, early summer and autumn are generally best for families with small children. High summer temperatures can make life miserable for little ones – although good beaches and the occasional gelato should make this more bearable.
Generally, apartment rental is easy to find and works best for families who want to self-cater. Many hotels and pensioni (guesthouses) offer reduced rates for children or will add an extra bed or cot on request (usually for an extra 30% or so). Agriturismi (farmstays) are excellent for children because they're always in a natural setting, with big gardens and fields around them, and usually have an animal or two on site.
Before You Go
- Car seats for infants and children are available from most car-rental firms, but you should always book them in advance.
- Stock up on sun cream even in spring and autumn, when it can still be quite warm in Sicily.
- Insect repellent (especially for mosquitoes) is highly recommended.
- For more information see Lonely Planet's Travel with Children book.
Feature: What to Expect
- Admission to many cultural sites is free for under-10s or under-18s (particularly EU citizens).
- On trains, the offerta familia allows a discount of 50% for children under 15 and 20% for other family members if you are travelling in a group of two to five people (see www.trenitalia.com for conditions).
- You can stock up on nappies, baby formula and sterilising solutions at pharmacies and supermarkets.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures Sicily uses the metric system.
Sicily in general is a welcoming and safe place for women travellers, including those travelling solo. Cultural stereotypes of Italian men harassing lone foreign women are largely outdated and exaggerated.
That said, eye-to-eye contact remains the norm in Italy’s daily flirtatious interplay, and with some men this may segue into overt staring. Usually a simple show of disinterest is enough to nip unwanted attention in the bud. If ignoring them doesn’t work, politely say that you’re waiting for your marito (husband) or fidanzato (boyfriend) and, if necessary, walk away. If you are visibly in distress, people near you or passersby will generally step in to assist.