In August 2023, we took our last family trip as a family of four (baby #3 coming in October!) to a city that has been on my list for a long time – Sicily! Italy is our favorite country to travel to as a family, and now Sicily is my favorite city in Italy! I love the diversity of landscape (city, beach, beautiful sites, etc.), walkability within different cities, and of course, the food. We spent three full days in Palermo (with a day trip to Cefalu) and two full days in Giardano-Naxos (with a day trip to Taormina). We had three travel/transit days separate. I wrote a post consolidating a Sicily, Italy Vacation Guide.
I break up this blog post into our recommendations for Palermo and Giardano-Naxos. For Palermo, we took a flight into the Palermo airport, which was close to the city. We then took a 4 hour train ride from Palermo to Giardano-Naxos, and the transit was not necessarily low-effort as it required a train change and the trains were quite packed. The closest airport to Giardano-Naxos was the Catania airport, where we were booked to depart.
Where to stay in Palermo, Sicily:
We loved staying walking distance from the Old Town Palermo. We stayed in Hotel Politema. We appreciated the location (accessibility to the city, restaurants, and shops), cleanliness, and size of the family room. There was also a breakfast included in the room rate, which was not the most extensive, but it got the job done.
Whether you stay at this hotel or another, I recommend staying walking distance to the city center as it made it simple to explore with the kids and take regular breaks (which we needed given the August heat we experienced).
I did have one issue with the service, although it is not necessarily a deal breaker. I noticed that the staff is most likely not familiar with kids. Several times I was alone with my four-year-old and two-year-old and clearly seven-months-pregnant. Whether I was struggling to get the door open with the stroller or carrying the stroller up the stairs by the front desk, it never occurred to the staff to offer help on their own. After staying at so many places where the service is always so attentive when they see a mother struggling with a stroller/kids, this was surprising.
What to do in Palermo, Sicily:
Explore Old Town Palermo Streets, Restaurants, and Shops
There are so many beautiful sites and streets to visit in this town. We didn’t necessarily have specific places in the city that we wanted to see, but as we wandered around, we took in the architecture, vibe, and beautiful Italian streets. Some of the main sites include: Quattro Conti, Piazza Pretoria, the Palermo Cathedral, and Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele.
There are lots of shops, restaurants, and gelato spots around to experience.
Enjoy a photoshoot
We hired a photographer, Chiara Fantauzza, to take a family maternity shoot for us in Palermo. If you would like a photoshoot in Palermo, I highly recommend her!
From the beginning she was very accommodating. Although I had booked a group experience, she offered to move us to an earlier private session, when the weather would be less hot. Our kids were not cooperating during the shoot, and she was incredibly patient with our whole family and made us feel relaxed. Within a few days, she sent us over 300 photos, a combination of professional and iPhone photos, as well as several videos to use for reels.
Her rates are very reasonable, and I was happy that it felt like a “walking tour’ of the city. I recommend doing this as one of the initial activities when arriving in the city, as it gives you an overview of the city and you can return to the places you want to see again!
Day trip to Cefalu
We took a 45 minute train from Palermo to the beach town, Cefalu. We purchased the tickets on the day of at the train station.
When we arrived in Cefalu, it was a quick walk to the Old Town from the train station. We browsed the Old Town and then headed to the beach. Although it was pretty, it was very hot and very crowded, which definitely impacted how much fun we had. There were women walking around providing massages while laying on the beach, and I got one and loved it.
As the weather cooled down, we started to enjoy ourselves more and ate the pizza by the water. My favorite gelato I had in Italy was a gelato spot in Cefalu, called Sapore Di Sale Gelateria, where I got the coffee mixed with hazelnut and pistachio mixed with chocolate.
What to eat in Palermo, Sicily:
When in Italy, you can’t go wrong with the pizza, pasta, and gelato. But we generally would walk around and check Google for the nearest, most highly rated spots near us. Our favorite spots in Palermo are listed below.
|Macros Palermo||Acai||To get a break from our non-stop pizza, pasta, and gelato, we stopped by this restaurant daily for a ‘brunch’ for Acai, juice, smoothies, and banana walnut bread. The tables were large and the wi-fi was good. It was a perfect daily stop for our family.|
|Osteria Pizzeria Re Borbone||Pizza||This might be one of the tastiest pizzas we have had. Additionally, they have a kids club with a hands-on babysitter who watched the kids before and after they ate. I have never leveraged a kids club before, but it was wonderful!|
|Da Bacco||Pasta||This restaurant is on a very cute street and was so pleasant sitting outside to eat!|
|Cappadonia||Gelato||Great gelato in a cute square|
Where to stay in Giardano-Naxos, Sicily:
We stayed at the Delta Hotels by Marriott Giardini Naxos, which is a 30-minute drive from the Catania Airport and a 15-minute drive to the beautiful and infamous town, Taormina. We used our rewards points here, leveraging our accumulated Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card points and transferring them to our Marriott Bonvoy account.
There were a list of pros and cons we felt as follows:
Things we liked:
- The hotel lobby is modern and spacious, with a balcony that overlooks the private beach and pool. It has a very pleasant vibe.
- The breakfast options were vast and tasty – all four of us enjoyed eating in the mornings.
- The hotel includes a private beach.
- The hotel includes a large pool.
Things we didn’t like:
- The bedrooms carpet was a bit outdated, and the rooms and bathrooms could be renovated to match the public space.
- The private beach was rocky, instead of sandy, much to our children’s horror. So after settling in and purchasing overpriced drinks, we decided to take a 25 minute walk to Naxos beach and enjoy the sand.
- There was no separate kiddie pool or shallow section for the kids to stand and wade in, so us adults had to hold our toddlers the entirety of the time in the water (since we did not have floaties with us).
Because we used points, we were quite satisfied. For Marriott Rewards Members, I would recommend this hotel to either use existing points and or gain rewards for future travels.
What to do in Giardano-Naxos, Sicily:
Enjoy a beach and pool day
Our hotel had a beach that we were very excited about; however, it ended up being a rocky beach. Before we left, to salvage our children’s moods when they saw the rocky beach, they got massages and manicures from masseuses walking around the beach for a total of 30 euros. It brought smiles to their faces, and they might have become “pampering” addicts.
We ventured further out to explore and find a sandy beach, which we did as we approached Naxos Beach, a 25 minute walk from our hotel. We got sun beds, but also found spots closer to the water, and enjoyed our day simply relaxing by the ocean. We had a pre-booked dolphin tour for that evening, but canceled it last minute because of how much the kids were enjoying the beach.
Day trip to Taormina, Sicily
Taormina might be one of my favorite cities we have visited. It is a blend of everything that I love! The town is full of beautiful architecture and the narrow Italian streets that I love so much. There are lovely views of the water, mountains, and towns below. There is an endless number of shops, restaurants, and cafes to enjoy. There are also some gardens that we went to where our kids ran around and searched for bugs – aka their happy place. This tiny little town offers so much, that even though we initially planned to be here for 3 hours, we ended up leisurely exploring the entire day.
What to eat in Giardano-Naxos, Sicily:
|Osteria da Rita||Pasta||There is usually a line, but the line moves quickly. The pasta is fresh and tasty!|
|Bam Bar||Granita||Granita is a simple shaved ice dessert|
All in all, I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to visit one of my new favorite places with my family! Have you been to Sicily? What were your experiences??