9 of the best things to do with kids in Sicily, Italy

Storybook beaches, hissing volcanoes and granita in spades: Sicily offers what every kid dreams of.

Mountains of adventures on this swashbuckling island in Italy fire young imaginations and keep all ages busy for days. SSicily’scoastline alone ducks and dives for an extraordinary 1500km (930 miles) around clandestine coves and pirate-esque sea caves, strips of powder-white sand and volcanic-black beach, sun-spangled salt pans and craggy headlands awash with ancient ruins waiting to be explored.

And when mainland Sicily exhausts, boats of all shapes and sizes yo-yo across the water to 15 more go-slow, action-packed islands. The only hitch? Choosing which nugget of paradise to play on.

A small toddler wanders around in a public square on a sunny day
Babies, toddlers and children are welcome everywhere in Sicily, but don’t expect much in the way of changing facilities © Stefan Tomic / Getty Images

Is Sicily good for kids?

In a country where bambini (children) are like royalty, families can expect an overwhelmingly warm welcome everywhere they go in Sicily. Such heart-warming hospitality goes a long way in compensating for the lack of facilities those traveling with babies and tots will encounter at some point on their trip.

Even in main cities like Palermo and Catania, nappy-changing facilities in museums and highchairs in restaurants and cafes are rare. Bring your own hook-on table seat for restaurant dining and a portable mat to change diapers (nappies) on a park bench, the beach, wherever necessity requires. On the upside, Sicilians won’t bat an eyelid at you baring a baby’s bum or breastfeeding in public.

Few trattorias and restaurants offer a dedicated children’s menu, but pasta usually features on every primi (first course) menu. Order a mezza porzione (half portion), or ask for pasta al pomodoro (pasta in tomato sauce) or pasta in bianco (pasta with olive oil). Few children will say no to a typical Sicilian cannolo oozing creamy ricotta or a sweet brioche bun dunked in a bowl of mulberry or mint granita.

In towns, cobbled streets, crazy traffic, parked cars blocking badly maintained pavements, and incessant steps and staircases are exhausting – often impossible – to navigate with a pram or pushchair. Don’t leave that baby carrier or front sling at home.

On Trenitalia trains, kids under 15 ride for free with an adult. Bus tickets cost the same for everyone, irrespective of age – babies and tots perched on laps don’t pay. Reduced fares for Liberty Lines ferries and hydrofoils kick in for children aged 4 to 11 years; three and under are free.

A family of two adults and two small children wander along a path in an inland village, Sicily
There are plenty of great places for families to base themselves in Sicily © AscentXmedia / Getty Images

Where is best in Sicily for kids?

Teen-clad families will love the frenetic buzz of Palermo, where souk-like markets such as Mercato del Ballarò redefine street theater and mafia-themed street art by Sicilian artists makes noise in squares and back alleys. The fact the city is just a one-hour train ride to port-town Trapani, from where hydrofoils zip to the beach-laced Egadi Islands, only heightens the family allure.

Families with younger children seeking a seaside base are spoilt with their pick of three coastlines: the northern Tyrrhenian Coast, where beach resort Cefalù enchants with a huge sweep of sandy gold spiaggia (beach) and laid-back old town; the Ionian Coast in the shade of iconic Mt Etna; and Mediterranean shores, with the Riserva Naturale Torre Salsa protecting one of SSicily’smost isolated beaches and the temples and ruins of AAgrigento’sUNESCO-listed Valley of the Temples to explore Indiana Jones-style. With their laid-back vibe, little motorized traffic and picture-postcard beaches in spades, Sicily’s Egadi and Aeolian islands are paradise on earth for families seeking a bucket-and-spade escape.

Best things to do in Sicily with babies and toddlers

Laze on a Taormina piazza or in the shade of an English garden

Sicilian dolce vita at its giddiest, chic resort town Taormina is a hot spot for families. Laze on a cafe terrace while tots kid around on the black-and-white checkerboard of car-free Piazza IX Aprile. Retreat to peaceful gardens at Villa Comunale and swoon over the spectacular view of Mt Etna and the Ionian Coast while the baby sleeps. Thrill older tots with boat trips to the magically blue Grotta Azzurra sea cave, dolphin-watching cruises and a funivia (cable car) ride down to the beach.

Hit the beach running

Sicily has a beach to suit every age, mood and day of the year. Lifeguards operate on many larger beaches during the official summer season, June to September.

Salt flats with two windmills
Learn about Sicily’s salt production between Trapani and Marsala © Stefano_Valeri / Shutterstock

Best things to do in Sicily with young kids

Explore the spellbinding world of Sicilian puppetry

Magical sorcerers, warriors, knights, princesses and bloodthirsty Saracen warriors captivate all ages at Palermo’s fascinating puppet museum inside former pawn house Palazzo Branciforte. Pair the exhibit with a puppet show at Teatro dei Pupi di Mimmo Cuticchio and a guided tour of its lab across the street, where puppets are still lovingly handmade. Catania and Syracuse also have traditional puppet theaters.

Track down a roving grattatella cart

Post-Palermo puppet show, keep the kids cool with a beaker of old-fashioned grattatella – ice shavings, scraped by hand from a block of ice and doused in fruit syrup in front of your eyes – at a pushcart on the street. Track down Grattatella all’Antica no Zu’Vicè at Mercato del Capo and Grattatella da Tonino on Quattro Canti.

Harvest salt near Trapani

Some of Italy’s best salt comes from shimmering saline (salt pans) coloring the coast pink between Trapani and Marsala in western Sicily. Learn about salt production, enjoy a guided salt pan walk and try your hand at harvesting at Saline e Infersa, 25km (15 miles) south of Trapani on the scenic Via del Sal (Salt Road).

A father and daughter chat as they walk down a volcanic path
Hiking Mt Etna is the perfect outdoors experience for adventurous teens © Westend61 / Getty Images

Best things to do in Sicily with tweens and teens

Summit Mt Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano

Whether you get up by 4WD, on foot or cable car, it’s impossible not to be awe-struck by Mt Etna and its after-dark fireworks. Consider overnighting at Rifugio Sapienza by the bottom cable car station, with family rooms sleeping up to five. Rent mountain bikes here, book guided e-biking ascents and trekking tours.

Delve into ancient Greek history

Outside of Greece, nowhere else in Europe evokes the ancient world with such drama or panache: Sicily’s ancient Greek temples and amphitheaters are unparalleled. Treat your tweens and teens to a larger-than-life history lesson at Selinunte and Segesta in western Sicily, or at the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento overlooking the Med. The icing on the cake: a compelling theater performance beneath the stars in an ancient Greek amphitheater during SSyracuse’sFestival del Teatro Greco, mid-May to late June. Bag gold dust tickets months in advance.

Unearth contemporary art on a farm

On the Mediterranean Coast, from Agrigento’s awe-inspiring temples drive 15 minutes north to unearth dazzling wall murals, sculptures and outdoor installations by contemporary artists at Farm Cultural Park. A grassroots community initiative, the arts project fills the streets, squares and courtyards of a semi-abandoned village. Catch movies, exhibitions, creative labs, all sorts.

Dare tastebuds to try new flavors

Convince the kids to trade “lay safe” pasta for a dare-if-you-try pani câ mèusa (bread bun filled with calf spleen and lung), a skewer stick of stigghiola (lamb or goat intestines) or octopus barbecued on a flaming grill at a street market.

Planning tips

April to June, September and October are the best months for climbing Mt Etna. The volcano can be snow-covered in winter, and unbearably hot and crowded in July and August. Pack proper hiking shoes or boots.

Away from the coast, consider staying in an agriturismo (farm stay). There might be farm animals to observe and possibly pet, fresh produce to harvest depending on the season, and mountains of green space to run wild in.

Bring water shoes for the kids to cross sun-scorched pebbles into the water comfortably – walking barefoot can be akin to crossing burning coals.

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