How to Get to Sicily

Harbor with boats & ferries near historic Trapani, Sicily
Barry Winiker / Getty Images

The Italian island of Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean, is less than 2 miles from mainland Italy at its closest point. Since Roman times, and as recently as this century, conquerers and politicians have talked about building a bridge across the Strait of Messina, the narrow channel that divides Sicily from the mainland. For now, and for the foreseeable future, there is no land route to Sicily.

But that doesn't mean Sicily is hard to get to. By plane, train, ferry, and even by car, here are all the ways to get to Sicily.

By Plane

There are four international airports on the island of Sicily. Aeroporto di Catania (CTA) on the east coast and Aeroporto di Palermo (PMO) to the northwest of the island, are far and away the largest and the departure and arrival point for the majority of flights. Trapani–Birgi Airport (TPA) on the west coast and Aeroporto di Comiso (CIY) to the southeast are smaller airports served by budget airlines.

There are no direct flights from the US to Sicily, so travelers must change planes, either within Italy or at another airport in Europe.

Catania Airport: At Catania Airport (sometimes written as Aeroporto di Catania-Fontanarossa), major international carriers include Alitalia, British Airways, KLM, Lufthansa, and Swiss Air. The airport is also served by budget carriers Ryanair, easyJet, and Vueling. Within Italy, there are regularly scheduled flights, mostly on Alitalia, from Rome, Milan, Bologna, and Verona.

Palermo Airport: Also written as Aeroporto di Palermo Falcone e Borsellino, major carriers to Palermo Airport include Alitalia, British Airways, Lufthansa, and Swiss Air. Ryanair, easyJet, and Vueling also fly here. There are regular flights from Rome, Naples, Milan, Venice, Bergamo, and several other Italian cities.

Trapani and Comiso airports: Ryanair offers the majority of flights in and out of Trapani-Birgi Airport, including several from mainland Italy. For Comiso Airport (Aeroporto di Comiso "Pio La Torre"), Ryanair offers flights to and from cities in Europe and Italy. Alitalia also offers a handful of flights.

Note that all airlines reduce their flight schedules in the off-season, and tend to ramp up service from May through September.

By Ferry (Including Car & Train)

If you're not flying to Sicily, then you'll have to take a ferry even if you're driving or taking the train from elsewhere in Europe. There are dozens of ways to reach Sicily by ferry, though only the passage across the Strait of Messina (accessed through Villa San Giovanni can be done quickly. Other mainland points of departure for ferries include Rome-Civitavecchia, Naples, Salerno, Reggio-Calabria and, more seasonally, Livorno and Genoa. Note that ferry frequency — and prices — will increase in the high summer season.

Routes Departing From Villa San Giovanni

From Villa San Giovanni, the closest mainland port to Sicily, several ferries a day depart for Messina, just across the Strait of Messina.

  • Passengers on foot can book with BluJet, a division of Trenitalia, the Italian national rail system. The 20-minute ride on a high-speed ferry boat costs 2.50 euros one way. Boats land at Messina Marittima, adjacent to Messina Centrale train station, from where travelers can reach all of Sicily by train or bus, or walk or catch a cab to their hotel in Messina.
  • Passengers with cars can book passage on the Caronte & Tourist Ferry, which takes about 30 minutes (though wait and loading times are not included). You drive your car directly onto the ferry, then exit the car and wait on deck or in one of the passenger lounges during the trip. From Messina, coastal roads connect to the rest of Sicily. One-way tickets start around 37 euros for a standard-sized automobile. Prices will go up during the summer, especially on weekends.
  • Passengers on trains may be stunned to watch as entire multi-car trains are loaded directly into massive ferries at Villa San Giovanni for the one-hour crossing to Messina. They have the option of staying in their train car during the crossing, or going up on deck. Note that this method of travel is valid only on Trenitalia Intercity trains that are continuing on to Siracusa (Syracuse) or Palermo. Otherwise, train passengers take the train to Villa San Giovanni, the walk-on ferry to Messina, and then pick up another train in Messina.

Other Ferry Routes

  • From Rome-Civitavecchia: Ferries run by GNV (Grandi Navi Veloci) depart a few times a week from Rome's port city to either the Port of Palermo or Termini-Imerese, 20.5 miles (33 kilometers) east of Palermo. From the Port of Palermo, you can catch a bus to either the historic center or to Palermo Centrale train station. Termini-Imerese is more convenient if you have a car and want to immediately set out for other parts of Sicily, rather than stopping in Palermo. The trip to either city takes about 14 hours.
  • From Naples: GNV and Tirrenia offer regular departures for the 10-hour ferry ride from Naples/Porto di Napoli to Palermo. Liberty Lines offers seasonal, 16-hour service from Naples to Milazzo.
  • From Salerno: Located south of the Amalfi Coast, Salerno is also a 10-hour ferry ride to Palermo. Grimaldi Lines offers the route all year round.
  • From Reggio-Calabria: Liberty Lines offers passenger ferry service from Reggio-Calabria to Messina, as well as the Eolie Islands, and from the small mainland port of Vibo Valentia for Milazzo and the Eolies.
  • From Livorno and Genoa: Grimaldi Lines offers seasonal passage to Palermo from the ports of Livorno or Genoa, on Italy's northerly coast. The trip takes 20 to 21 hours.

Tips for a Smooth Ferry Ride

  • For a ferry ride of longer than a few hours, we recommend you pay extra to book, at minimum, a poltrona, which is a reserved, indoor seat. Unreserved outside seating is limited, and if it's rainy, windy or there are rough seas, it's also not very comfortable.
  • For overnight voyages, consider paying extra for a cabin with a bed. If you don't want to splurge on a cabin, at least reserve a poltrona.
  • High-speed ferries are often hydrofoils. These can be bumpy rides even on days when the sea is calm. So if you suffer from motion sickness, keep this in mind.
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