A Dozen Safety Tips for a Holiday in Sicily

I have read articles in the UK travel press by journalists who, overwhelmed by their own intrepidity, actually visited Sicily and came back alive! They described their holidays as if they had toured Palestine with an Israeli flag draped over their backpack. You are 27 times more likely to get murdered in America than in Sicily, so I think they are being rather ridiculous.

Meanwhile, all the self-serving websites that sell holidays tell you “Sicily is one of the safest holiday destinations in the world,” which may be a slight exaggeration. Its cities are among the safest in Europe, but you still don’t want to walk around being a total dummy.

What is Palermo really like for tourists? I’ve lived here 10 years and they still think I’m a tourist, so here it is from the horse’s mouth.

1. Managing money

DO always check your change. Many Sicilians will rip you off. Don’t take it personally – they do it to each other, too, even in supermarkets. Look at the digital till display instead of trusting what the cashier asks for.

DO take travellers’ cheques as a plan B. When travelling abroad, I usually use ATMs to avoid carrying large sums of cash. Yet on many occasions, all Sicilian cash points refused to give me money from my UK bank account for several days. Sometimes they imposed a tiny daily limit. When I phoned my UK bank, they said it was out of their control.

DO ask your hotel receptionist to keep spare cash in the hotel safe (put it in a sealed envelope) and only take out what you need each day.

cockney atm
Now where’s a cash point that speaks cockney when you need one?


2. Do many people in Sicily speak English?

I’ve been teaching them for ten years. I’ve tried, really I have.

But sorry, NO, you’ll be very lucky to find a Sicilian who speaks anything resembling good English. Bring a phrase book and practise sign language, because they’re great at that.

Wag this up and down. It means “Ten euros for a punnet of strawberries? Who d’ya think you’re kidding?” You can use it in any situation to mean “WTF?”


3. When is the best time of year to come?

DON’T come in August. Italy is closed in August. Hotels, restaurants, clinics and even hospital departments will be replaced by a “closed for August” sign.

Do come in May-June or September-October to enjoy sweat-free sightseeing and cancer-free sunbathing. Avoid the last week of May which is school outing season, unless you enjoy being surrounded by marauding hooligans armed with ice lollies.

You may get some fab winter sun, enjoying pavement cafes in December, but check the weather forecasts because some years it’s rainy and miserable.

This says “Closed for the holidays from now till Dunno”


4. Are there Public Toilets?

Nearly all Sicilian bars will let you use their toilet even if you are not a customer. All they require is that you ask politely for the key (behind the bar) and that you leave the place clean.


5. How dangerous is it to walk to walk the streets by day?

I can’t promise nobody will pick your pocket, but it is far less likely than in many European or American cities.  (I am going on UN stats here.) Some poorer neighbourhoods in Palermo look like Aleppo after heavy bombing yet I have wandered about them alone many times – looking radiantly white and foreign in my flowery skirts – and always been fine.

There’s a neighbourhood in Palermo called Lo Zen (close to a touristy beach resort called Mondello) and you must not go there. You would suffer a fate far worse than getting your pocket picked.

Does your guide book tell you to visit Palermo’s Vucciria market? Here’s one end of it.


DO Take the same precautions you would take in other European cities. If you usually carry your valuables in a handbag on your shoulder at home, do the same in Sicily because you’re more likely to protect it instinctively when distracted. If you specially buy a money belt or sew secret cash pockets inside your underpants, you’ll get yourself in a muddle, and thieves will notice.

DO Keep a photocopy of your passport somewhere separate from the real thing, just in case the worst should happen. [I’ve been told by a helpful commentator that it has to be a colour photocopy.]

DON’T use the word “Mafia” in public in Sicily. As a foreigner you are in NO DANGER WHATSOEVER from organised crime and you have no reason to talk about it. The M-word is something Sicilians won’t appreciate you saying.

6. Can you walk around at night?

Sicilian women would not walk around Palermo or other big Sicilian cities alone at night. They go out with their husband or boyfriend. For couples, or men, it’s as safe as any other town in Europe.

I think the main reason Sicilian women do not go out alone is because of the family oriented culture, rather than because it is unsafe. The rate of sex crimes in Italy is one quarter of the rate in the USA, for example. Is that anything to do with the fact serious sex crimes carry a mandatory life sentence in Italy?

7. How can I avoid looking like a tourist?

You can’t. Some websites advise tourists to avoid flapping their street maps around. I’ve also read a “top tip” that you should buy a Sicilian newspaper, to look like a local.

Sicilians can tell you’re foreign no matter what you do, no matter how you dress, and no matter how far away you are. How they do it is a complete mystery to me. But it doesn’t matter. If you stand around gazing at a map and looking perplexed, some passer by will offer to accompany you to your destination, as an excuse to practise their English.

8. Do the men harass women?

In general, less than the men in other parts of Italy. We probably have the reputation of Sicilian fathers to thank for this! They are still Italians though – refer to my top tips on handling Italian men for specialist advice!

When Italian men pester you, it is almost always just that – irritation, not danger.

Ciao bella! Wanna bunga bunga with me?


9. Any advice on clothing?

DO bring flat or clumpy wedge-heeled shoes. Sicilian towns are full of cobbled streets. I once got my heel jammed between a pair of cobbles while crossing the road, and had to unbuckle the ankle strap and run to the pavement barefoot while a line of cars shot towards me at terminal velocity.

Only bring natural fibres in summer. It’s humid as well as hot. If the label says anything other than cotton or viscose, don’t pack it. It does NOT cool down at night, so you won’t wear warmer things in the evening.

If you come in winter, you DO need jumpers and a coat. It’s not the tropics.


10. Skin protection

DO bring sun block from home. Sun screen in Italy is unbelievably expensive and often expired stock from abroad that doesn’t actually work.

DO buy insect repellent locally. They sell very effective organic repellent made from essential oils.

Do protect yourself from ticks. If you plan to go hiking in the undergrowth, you should be aware that Sicily, like every other green leafy place in the world, has ticks which carry Lyme disease, Mediterranean spotted fever and a few other nasties. Smother yourself in every toxic insecticide available. I have chronic Lyme disease and I know nine Sicilians who also have it. Lyme disease is fairly hard to catch but, believe me, it is even harder to cure.

Do bring antihistamine cream and painkillers. If you want to know how much they would cost you here, add a zero onto the price you would pay at home.

11. Car rental

Many areas in most cities in Sicily have “parking assistants” who will ask you for a euro when you park your car in a public street. This will be your only opportunity, as a tourist, to interact with the Mafia! If you refuse to pay this protection money, you may return to find your car has been broken into. If you find one area strangely free of parking attendants, beware. It will be designated a free-for-all zone where any petty criminal may steal anything he wants.

Some Mafia parking attendants ask for your car key, like valet parking, so they can shuffle cars around and let people out. Mua ha haaa! I’ve never left my car keys with a stranger in the street.

If the whole town is Mafia-free, though, with no illegal “posteggiatori” at all, you are safe to leave the car anywhere.

EDIT: In this post I originally recommended paying one euro to be safe, but a Palermo local shamed me, and said we should stand up to them. He photographs them instead. DO go and see his pictures of these scammers.

I have some German friends who pretend to be daft tourists who do not understand requests for money, and take a photo of the Mafia parking attendant so they can show the police if anything does happen to their car.

DON’T leave valuables in your car. Certainly not visible and preferably not in the boot either, unless you know you’re in a posh neighbourhood.

12. So what is dangerous in Sicily?

The drivers, of course. Look both ways each time you cross the road. Always expect the unexpected, whether you are on foot or driving a car. They sometimes go up the pavement you know.


If you are planning a trip to Sicily and have specific questions, write them in the comments box, and I promise to answer you. 


157 thoughts on “A Dozen Safety Tips for a Holiday in Sicily

  1. A friend of mine and me are planning a trip to Sicily in May. We are looking into spending a week in Palermo and also in the Catania area, possibly Acireale or Syracusa. We intend to rent apartments in each area. What are your comments about Acireale or Syracusa?


    1. It all depends on the connection between the Sicilian bank and the overseas bank. As far as I know it is still unpredictable… Usually It’s fine but occasionally it isn’t, so you still need your backup plan.


    1. Glad you like the website, thank you!
      I think that would be a great time to visit. Pack for all kinds of weather because you could still get windy or rainy days, though usually the weather then is mild and becoming quite nice.
      Have a lovely holiday!


    1. Taormina is very hilly, with steep streets and some staircases. It may be a problem.
      But is Taormina Mare a marina? Afraid I don’t know it. If by the sea I would have thought it is flatter?


  2. Hi! All this info is very useful, and enjoyable to read, thanks! : )
    We are going to Sicily in mid april for 5 days with my wife and baby, getting there on holy friday morning and staying 1st night in Catania. I read articles really advising against driving in Catania, due to security/robbery and traffic related issues even suggesting to just go to Catania by taxi and go back next day to the airport to pick the car and drive somewhere else.
    I was thinking of renting the car at the airport and drive straight to the hotel located in city center near Via Etna, and just start road trip the next day, not driving around in the city but just to get in and out.
    Is it really that bad the traffic and dangerous to drive, to justify all the hassle to go back next the to the airport?
    Also, considering is holiday, maybe there is less traffic?
    Thanks! : )

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think anyone would say Sicilians are the safest of drivers, least of all the Sicilians themselves, but the idea of those security, robbery and traffic issues making it too dangerous to drive in Catania sounds really exaggerated to me. I have driven round Catania and they were a whole heap more mellow than in my little fishing village. I would certainly have no hesitation in driving around Catania again. I actually think it is one of the safer places to drive in Sicily.
      In your place, I personally would just go for it 😃👍


  3. Many thanks for this great website. As Italy has by now become so expensive I was planning to sleep in my hire car as I,ve done on Malta, in Greece , Switzerland and Scotland. I would sleep in pull offs along small country roads, outside National Park offices or if not locked, regional nature park car parks or in front of small hotels. In towns I usually slept in supermarket car parks.
    Would you think that this would be dangerous in Sicily? I am planning to do a few hikes and so leaving my car at the trailhead ( somewhere on the road). Will i need to worry that it will be broken into, even with no possessions showing? Would it be obvious that it,s a hire car and hence more of a target for robbers/ vandalism?
    I don’t t like camp sites in general because of the crowds. But in the this case I would think I would have trouble finding any open ( in Feb or March). I,d be very grateful for your advice.many thanks iin advance,


    1. Someone else asked me a similar question a while back.
      My husbands view was that it would be ok to sleep in built up areas that have plenty of people nearby but not a good idea outside populated areas.
      I don’t know about campsites in that season but I think that is definitely an option to consider.
      Parking at national parks is something we have done a lot and everything was always safe. I think it is in grotty areas of towns that a break in to an empty car is more likely.


  4. Hello! My friend and I are coming to Sicily over Easter weekend, as it’s a flying visit (3 days) is there anything you would recommend we have to see? We’re staying in Palermo. Thank you! 🙂


    1. For me, the “not to miss” things in Palermo are the Palazzo dei Normanni and Monreale Cathedral. I would also try to see the Capo market, the Quattro Canti and Palermo Cathedral.
      Have fun!


  5. Thanks for the laughs! We are coming to the east and south of the island in mid March. I am delighted to say we have been invited to have Sunday lunch with my (Sicilian-American) husband’s family near Taormina. What should I wear to such a family get together? We have not seen them for 20 years since we live so far away. The younger ones speak English.


    1. Family get-togethers are usually very informal, of course, but Sicilians always appreciate seeing people dressed up and looking gorgeous. It shows that you regard the people you are meeting as important to you. So personally, I would go for it with something really nice, but that does show the real you!
      Hope you have a lovely time 😃


  6. Hello!!
    Me and my boyfriend are going to Palermo in July and we’ll be spending five nights in Palermo. We haven’t booked accommodation yet and are still unsure of where to stay. At the minute, we’re thinking of maybe two in Palermo city centre and then three in Mondello. Have you got any advice? Having a beach nearby is essential for me personally! Heard Celafu(sp?) is very nice too but unsure of where to stay?



    1. Hello!
      Both those places are lovely. There are lots of nice holiday rentals in Mondello. It’s quite pricey in July but has a beautiful beach.
      My favourite hotel in Palermo is the Grand hotel des palmes, in Via Roma Palermo.
      Cefalù is gorgeous and to find places there I would look at http://www.trip-tipp.com (don’t miss the hyphen as there is a different site without one)
      This is run by friends of mine and some of their houses are amazing, with their own private beaches as back gardens.
      They have some in Cefalù.


  7. Hello!!
    Me and my boyfriend are going to Palermo in July and we’ll be spending five nights in Palermo. We haven’t booked accommodation yet and are still unsure of where to stay. At the minute, we’re thinking of maybe two in Palermo city centre and then three in Mondello. Have you got any advice? Having a beach nearby is essential for me personally! Heard Celafu(sp?) is very nice too but unsure of where to stay?



  8. Hello!!
    Me and my girlfriend are going to Palermo in July and we’ll be spending five nights in Palermo. We haven’t booked accommodation yet and are still unsure of where to stay. At the minute, we’re thinking of maybe two in Palermo city centre and then three in Mondello. Have you got any advice? Having a beach nearby is essential due to previous stops being cities! Heard Celafu(sp?) is very nice too but unsure of where to stay?



  9. Gosh i really love your sight . it has helped. Arriving over Easter for 4 days in Palermo. Will a bus from airport take me anywhere near via Marchese to our hotel .Also my italian is very limited where di i learn hand signs. Thanking you.


  10. This is such a helpful site- thank you so much although I’m now a bit scared ! We are arriving as a family of 4 into Catania in August and will be travelling straight away to just outside Modica for a week then to Syracuse for a week. We haven’t hired our car yet but I’m now worrried we will have problems in towns. Would it be better to go on day trips to towns in the south by train?bus?-

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Personally I think cars are far more convenient because of the flexibility you have with timing – some routes have timetables that can cut out your evening options, for example.
      Most people who try driving in Sicily laugh about how crazy they are, but don’t actually feel scared or endangered by it.
      To be honest, I would rather whizz around Palermo than face those giant lorries on the M6 motorway any day….


  11. Thanks for al the information! I read a lot of comments about Palermo and Catania, but me and my boyfriend are actually going to San Vito Lo Capo, Trapani. Can you tell me something about the safety of that area? We were also advised to rent a car, but I’m a little unsure about that since I tend to get nervous by unsafe driving behaviour of others pretty fast. However, one of my coworkers told me that the public transfer is not very ideal in Sicily, so what do you recommend?


    1. Trapani is very safe but public transport options are limited there. My favourite things in that area are only reachable by car. For a really good explanation of what they have accessible by public transport, look At https://www.trip-tipp.com/sicily/holidays.htm
      The way they drive over there is far less loopy than in Palermo, if that’s any consolation; it’s a mellow rural region.


      1. Alright, that actually calms my nerves a bit. And thanks for the website about the available public transport! Do you have any other tips for Trapani you would like to share?

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Hello!

    Myself and my husband are going on our honeymoon to an area near Marina de Regusa. I just wondered if you could advise me on where we must go – and how good the transport is as we don’t drive! I was also just curious about safety in this area as we are yet to book our holiday and would love your take on this part of Sicily.

    Thank you in advance,

    The article was a great read!


    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is a lovely area, close to the Baroque towns of Noto etc. Which make up a UNESCO world heritage site, so you should aim to visit them all. Don’t miss Modica, famous for its raw hand made chocolate using the ancient Aztec recipe that the Spanish conquistadores taught the Sicilians. You also definitely need to visit Siracusa with its amazing Greek history.
      It is super safe in that area.
      Have a lovely holiday!


  13. Hi, thanks for your guide. What would you say on the idea to rent a car, have a road trip around the island and sleep in it, probably somewhere in the country offroads… Is it safe? Or should I take public transport & hostels instead? I plan to have some photo equipment and I’d like to be safe. It is the equipment actually that made me think of car rental because I don’t want to cary all of that on my back.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A road trip around Sicily by car would be the perfect way to see the island, in my opinion. Personally I would prefer to sleep in hotels, unless money was really tight. They are definitely safer. If you do sleep in the car, make sure you park in town rather than in a quiet bit of countryside. But have you thought of camping? You would be in a safe enclosed area with showers etc and could keep your valuables locked in the car. Sicily has lots of campsites and it is a fun way to meet locals too.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for your answer. It is really helpful! I took AirB&B in Catania for the first two nights so I can get adjusted to the country and then move from then on. I’ll probably take a car and explore the countryside. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  14. Hi we are thinking of booking a villa in July 2017 in Alcamo Marina, just in front of the sandy beach.
    I was also just curious about safety in this area as we are yet to book our holiday and would love your take on this part of Sicily. As we are staying for over a week, is it a good idea to hire a car to see the sights, and is driving easy there ?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That area is peaceful and safe and they’re quite mellow drivers too. I would definitely hire a car as their public transport is really lacking and there are some unmissable attractions. Be sure to visit Trapani and Marsala, and also don’t miss the salt works of Marsala (more traditional and beautiful than the Trapani ones) – you can only get to them by private car.
      Have a lovely holiday!


  15. My soon to be husband and I will be spending a day in the Messina Sicily area as a part of our honeymoon cruise. I’ve heard good things about Castelmola and Taormina, but there are no shore excursions to these destinations available with our cruise. Would it be safe to take a taxi from our cruise port? Do you have any suggestions of what we should do in those areas? And what would dress code be for a woman at the end of march? Thanks so much!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It would take around an hour to drive from Messina to Taormina, so you would have to budget two days out of your shpre trip in the car, at least. I am afraid I don’t know anything about Castelmola!
      I think a taxi would be very unlikely to be dangerous, but if you just plan to hop into the first taxi you see, it may be hard to find one, and there is a very real chance you could get ripped off price-wise.
      Personally I would look into intercity coaches (called Pullman in Italian) but I would still be anxious about getting there and back in time.
      In your shoes, I would make the most of what Messina offers
      The people there are really nice! Give ot a chance!


    2. By the way, at the end of May the weather is highly changeable so, as the Italians say, dress like an onion! Multiple layers, to be ready for anything!!


  16. We are travelling to Taormina this June. Me, my husband and two teenage kids. Our flight arrives at 9 p.m. in Catania. I booked a taxi to take us to Taormina. How safe are highways there. I’m concerned because of the escalating migration situation in Sicily.
    Thanks for your answer in advance!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry to laugh, but you are not going to find refugees on the roads!
      The poor things mostly get locked up while their refugee status is being assessed, and as soon as they have their papers they leave Sicily at the double, heading off to places with jobs. Such as Germany.
      Have a lovely holiday and don’t worry at all about safety. What you really need to be worried about is sunburn!


      1. Sorry for the stupid question, is that you just hear so many things, and you cannot decide from 1000 miles away whether those are true or not. I just wanted to double check! Especially because we’re travelling with kids. Thanks for your quick response! We are definitely looking forward to visiting beautiful Sicily!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Not a stupid question, you cannot know if you haven’t been! It’s a pity about the misleading newspaper reports, I think they make people develop a negative feeling about refugees (which the Sicilians themselves don’t have) and probably damage the Sicilian tourist industry as well, which is pretty minimal and only just getting off the ground anyway.
        Sicilians love children, by the way. If yours are little they will get lots of attention and affection from all and sundry!


  17. I am so glad I clicked on your link from google search. Very informative. My wife and I are coming in October for 12 days and were planning to stay in Airbnb’s and drive everywhere. I went from Rome to Venice with stops in Florence and Sienna and back to Rome in 2015. So yes 8 months later received notices from Hertz for driving in areas that were only for local and speeding. Most annoying. Anyway other than Airbnb which you know can always be hit and miss do you recommend your sight for rentals which are a little higher end. trying to breakdown the trip as 3 nights around Trapani/Marsala 3 night around Agrigento 3 nights Taormina 3 around Cefalu/Palermo. Thanks again and its a great site you have.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you like my site – thank you!
      I am not sure how much Airbnb is used by Sicilian rental places, but as you say, it’s quite hit and miss.
      I would look at https://www.trip-tipp.com/sicily/holidays.htm
      For rentals in the Palermo and Cefalù areas. They are mostly self catering, very small flats and so quite economical. The people who run that website are friends of mine and I know how much effort and expense they put into making the flats nice (they are Germans who set high standards) so I feel very comfortable recommending them.
      I stayed in a gorgeous hotel in Agrigento a couple of years ago. Give me a day or two to look up the name for you. (If I forget please send another message to prompt me!)


  18. This site is really useful, I’m so glad I found it! My husband and I are staying just outside Ortigia for a week in June – our hotel offers free transfers to and from Ortigia every day, but the last bus from Ortigia leaves at 18.30 so not good if we want to have dinner there. Do you know what the taxi situation is like in Ortigia? And is there anything to be mindful of when hailing a taxi? Any local customs? Many thanks in advance!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am afraid I have never in 13 years ever seen a taxi that you could spontaneously pick up in Sicily. You would need to ask your hotel people to book something, as the taxi drivers don’t seem to advertise either. Never trust a taxi driver not recommended by the hotel as there is no registration system. And always check the prices in advance. They are usually really high.
      Personally I would eat in Ortigia for lunch and enjoy the huge choice of restaurants in the main part of Siracusa in the evening – you’ll be spoiled for choice.
      Have a wonderful holiday!


  19. Hi, I have just discovered your blog. Congratulations for living sch a wonderful dream. My wife, 2 yo daughter and I visited Sicily on last year and immediately fell in love with it. We stayed in Catania, rented a car and spend time driving around the east coast. We were unlucky with restaurants, particularly in Catania, that one can classify as tourist traps. However, we tried the best food ever in Nicolosi and Acireale. Now, next week we are comng back. This time we will stay few days in Aci Trezza and in Santa Maria del Focallo. We rented a car and will revisit Etna, west coast, Siracusa, Noto, Ragusa, Modica, etc. Do you have any particular suggestions for us? Thanks in advance! Cheers. Robin

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you have pretty much listed my favourite places! You could look at visiting Agrigento for a day – that is a truly amazing Greek city on the south coast.
      Regarding restaurants, obviously look for ones with locals in them, and also make sure you have eat the speciality of the restaurant. If you go to a fish restaurant, the meat will not be good. A pizzeria will never do you a great steak. And so on.
      Throughout Italy, delving down a side alley almost always yoelds better eating than sitting at a table with a great view!
      Have a wonderful time 😀


      1. Thank you for your kind and detailed answer. Well, that time with restaurants we tried everything we could, including searching for locals inside, inconspicuous locations and asking the staff for suggestions. My wife even spoke Italian and I kept my mouth closed. Given the fact that the dreadful experiences happened in Catania we came to the conclusion that maybe there are so many tourists there and some restaurant owners simply stop caring 😔. This time we will focus on small towns and will ask locals for suggestions, that worked perfectly last time! Thanks for suggesting Agrigento, it is a fair drive from Santa Maria del Focallo (circa 3 hours) but it looks amazing.

        Liked by 1 person

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