Ten Things to Know about Visiting Sicily in Winter
1. Plan ahead: More than most trips, a winter trip to Sicily requires confirmation of opening days and hours. The larger cities: Palermo, Syracuse and Messina, tend to be open for business all year, but even there you'll find three week closings and long weekends off for some businesses and sites. Some hotels and restaurants in Taormina, Erice and other tourist destinations taper back or shut down after Epiphany on January 6.
2. Be flexible: Even if you've gone to the website to confirm that a castle or church you really want to see will be open while you're there, these historic places in Sicily often undergo restoration projects that last months, and because the repairs are usually done in winter, it may be closed. Have a plan B excursion nearby.
3. Plan your day around siesta: Many attractions and businesses close from around 1:30 to around 4 each afternoon. Siestas aren't just for summer-they go year around. Take a late lunch to absorb some of the down time or pick an outside site for touring during this period.
4. Get a GPS: We don't recommend driving in Sicily at any time of year. It's just crazy. But if you do drive, winter is probably a bit easier. If you do rent a car, also rent a GPS. Roads aren't well marked and the turns are hard to find even with a voice repeating the instructions constantly.
5. Wear layers: Weather patterns in winter change rapidly and dramatically. We were told that some winters people wear short sleeves. We didn't do that. We wore coats and sweaters and long underwear. Most days were pleasant at least some of the time. It was never freezing cold, but the wind often had a bite.
6. Do your research first: Many attractions have information only in Italian and some have none at all. You'll get more out of your visit when you know some details about what you're looking at.
7. Take a phrase book: Although most restaurants and hotels have English speaking staff, not all restaurants have English menus. Having a phrase book is not only polite, it may save you from eating mushrooms if you hate the things-Italian has lots of words for fungi.
8. Take good walking shoes: Many of the attractions in Sicily are off the beaten track. Comfortable shoes make getting to that Greek amphitheater a lot easier.
9. Eat your vegetables: The sun never sets on Sicily's gardeners. Eggplants, artichokes, citrus fruits, and tomatoes are fresh and available even in winter. Enjoy the fruits of their labor.
10. Don't worry: The other morning we had to catch an 8AM bus to get to the airport in Catania by 9:30. The night before we were assured that the cab would arrive by 7:40 and that we'd make our bus out of Taormina easily. We were packed and waiting in front of the hotel at 7:35. At ten to 8, the guy from the desk found us still waiting. "Don't worry," he said, "It's only two minutes drive." When the driver arrived at 7:59, we were fairly certain we'd missed the bus, but the driver said, "don't worry! I'll get you there." He threw our bags into the cab and started driving before the doors were closed.
As he drove, he made calls with one hand, steered with the other and somehow managed to make hand gestures directed at either the person he was talking to on the phone or the unfortunate people who happened to be in his way. His first call was to the guy in the bus station ticket booth-"hold the bus, I'll be there in two minutes!" There was probably some you owe me language that our Italian isn't strong enough to pick up. Next he called the bus driver. "What do you mean you can't hold the bus for two minutes? You have to make room for another bus? Just pull out of the way and circle back." His third call was to the guy in the ticket booth again, assuring him we'd be there. And at 8:03, he pulled up to the bus stop.
We pulled in as the bus came back around the block. The cab driver said he didn't want our money-he'd overslept and he wouldn't charge us. My husband gave him 20 Euros for the valiant effort and the adventure. Other passengers snarled us at as we walked down the aisle of the bus, but we all made it to the airport-two minutes early!
Don't worry and have fun in Sicily at any time of year.