Houses above the sea
Polignano a Mare, Italy

15 Best Places in Southern Italy and Sicily: A Road Trip of Discovery

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A road trip to Italy must be one of the best ways to explore this fantastic and diverse country. It is a chance to sample so many delicious foods from the various regions making up Italy and to see how they all compare.

If, like us, you enjoy going off the beaten track to discover other must-see places, some you may have never heard of until now, then hire yourself a car.

Yes, driving in Italy can be a challenge; check out our tips below to enjoy the experience of driving in Italy.

If you have that adventurous spirit in you, then this is how we found these travel destinations in southern Italy and Sicily.


Taking the Ferry from Albania to Bari

Car in front of a ship
Waiting for the ferry at Durres, Albania

We arrived in Southern Italy on the overnight ferry from Albania after a three-week road trip to the Balkans.

Our road trip started in Trieste, driving down the Croatian coast and passing through Montenegro and Albania.

Our €108 ferry ticket from Albania to Bari included sleeping quarters of bunk beds with an ensuite. While the bunk beds were half a meter too narrow to cuddle up as a couple, the room was spacious.

Although we left two hours late, we arrived at Bari, Italy, on time.

Having a breakfast of espresso and brioche at the forward deck café, we were ready for the road trip of southern Italy and Sicily.



How to Travel Southern Italy and Sicily

Italy has 20 regions, all offering a different aspect of this fantastic country.

Our road trip destination was Sicily, which is often referred to as their own country by Sicilians. But we would also include in the road trip five of the six regions of southern Italy:

  • Abruzzo
  • Basilicata
  • Calabria
  • Campania
  • Apulia (Puglia)
  • Molise (not this road trip)

Or we could say:

  • the outside heel of Puglia
  • the in-step of Basilicata
  • the toe of Calabria

Travelling by car is one of the easiest ways to explore southern Italy.

Most of the autostrada in southern Italy is without tolls – yay, a bonus for the wallet.

And as the autostrada is often elevated, you are rewarded with stunning views along the coastline.

If a car isn’t an option, then the trains in Italy are efficient and reasonably priced.

Tip: Park outside of the old towns and walk in.

You will save yourself so much less stress from trying to navigate the narrow streets and one-way systems.


Views from Polignano A Mare (Puglia)

View of the beach at Polignano A Mare
Polignano A Mare – Beautiful water and caves to explore

The old town of Polignano sits at the top of 20-meter-high limestone cliffs with incredible panoramic views out to sea.

The beautiful crystal-clear waters of the Adriatic Sea are enjoyed by swimmers, as well as the numerous sea caves.

To get a perspective on how high the town is, Polignano hosts the Cliff Diving World Series. Now, this would be one heck of an adrenaline rush.

As you enter the old town gate Porta Vecchia, the cobblestoned narrow streets of Polignano make exploring much more interesting.

You find quotes written on house doors and walls and displays of local artwork. The old town has a warm feel.

And one of the best things to do in Polignano is to buy ice cream at Mario Campanella.  Serving ice cream since 1935, they also serve coffee made with ice cream, whipped cream, and amaretto that we couldn’t resist.

The service is good, and the prices are reasonable too.

Local Tip:

Travel via Castellana Grotte to Alberobello from Polignano A Mare to view the beautiful olive groves, orchards, and farmlands in this area.

The stone fences enclosing the olive groves and orchards, with the villas shaded by large verandas, were picturesque.

Look inside Unusual Houses of Alberobello (Puglia)

A view of the house tops of Alberobello
Alberobello, Southern Italy

Alberobello in Italian means beautiful tree, and when you visit this small town, it is undoubtedly beautiful but also unique.

For some locals, their home is a Trulli, a building made of limestone with dry stone walls and a conical roof. Certainly, one way to clear the land of rocks.

The Trulli’s date back to the 14th century when a feudal lord, to avoid paying taxes, had his workers live in a Trulli. The Trulli could be easily dismantled and moved to allow the Lord to avoid taxes for a settlement of people. Very clever.

Today Alberobello town is designated as a UNESCO site.

It was such fun to explore in and around the Trulli’s. Stepping inside to look at some of the shops and the small space containing the merchandise. There is even a local “Trulli” church, Chiesa di Sant’Antonio.

If food is your passion, tasting a local delicacy Pasticciotto Leccese, a small custard pie, is so delicious.

See inside caves at Matera (Basilicata)

A view of Matera olf town
Matera, Southern Italy

If you have ever wanted to visit a cave-dwelling, then Matera until 1952 was just that. The locals carved out homes in the rock of the hills and ravines many centuries ago.

Matera is one of the oldest inhabited places in the world and dates back 7,000 years.

We arrived by car, which allowed us to explore some of the caves outside of the town.

Being careful not to step on a snake or fall into a hole, we ventured over the rocky terrain to peek at some caves.

Now the better option is to visit the cave area known as the Sassi.

It’s here you can visit renovated caves offering accommodation, restaurants, and shops. It’s certainly a change from the 1950s squalor living conditions from the photos we found online. The dwellings back in those days housed the locals and their livestock too.

Tip: A great place to view Matera is at the Convent of Saint Agostino.

Matera is composed of two Sassi – Sassi Barisano and Sassi Cavesoco. Both areas give you an idea of what the living conditions were like and how the caves have been transformed into modern-day living.

It is worthwhile visiting Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario to get a perspective on the layout of a cave-dwelling. And if you have time, a visit to Casa Noha offers you a multimedia perspective of cave living put together by two local families.

Matera became a UNESCO site in 1993 and is worth a visit or a stay on your road trip to southern Italy.

Walk the Fishing Village of Scilla (Calabria)

Beach, boats and a castle view
Scilla, Southern Italy

Scilla is one of those seaside towns you tend to fall in love with, even though it is the site of the sea monster Scylla from Greek Mythology. Luckily we didn’t see anything unusual when we arrived.

The town of Scilla covers the hillside with houses, local shops and a large piazza overlooking the sea. You can wind your way down the hill past the Ruffo Castle (old fortress) to the beach.

The beach is an old fishing village now with hotels, restaurants, and bars. We found it quieter in the offseason of September, with the seawater still warm. It’s probably why the town is so famous.

Scilla looks out to the Strait of Messina, having a strategic advantage in guarding the shipping routes. On a sunny day, you can view the Aeolian Islands, seven small islands from the coast of northern Sicily.

Lunch at Reggio Calabria (Calabria)

A crouching artform of a man
Reggio Calabria Promenade Waterfront

If you have some spare time while you wait for the ferry to Sicily, you may want to explore the old town area of Reggio Calabria.

As it was a Saturday around 1 pm when we arrived, there was a mass of traffic heading up the hill, apparently racing home for lunch.

Were we driving along a one-way street? Or was this the norm? Or something else?

It was something else.

When we got to the pedestrian area of shops near the waterfront, the place was deserted. The stores were now shut for the weekend.

Well, we didn’t mind as it gave us time to enjoy the wide pedestrian streets. And explore a city rebuilt after the 1908 earthquake.

For more information, visit the National Museum.

Reggio Calabria is famous for its two-life-size Greek warrior statues sculptured in bronze. They were found in the sea 80 km away from the shore.

But for us, the walk along the waterside promenade with its views across to Sicily gave us the perfect place to spend some time.

Seeing the street lined with Palm and Magnolia trees was the ideal place to hide from the summer sun.

Swim at Arcomagno (Grotta del Saraceno) (Campania)

Beach and Cave entrance
A small piece of paradise in Italy

Arcomagno (Great Arch Cave) has got to be seen and believed.

Considering all the places we have seen in Europe, Arcomagno is right up there with our favourites.

There are two arched caves and also a secret cave you can only access by swimming. The Blue Cave, where the water glows fluorescent blue – is so magical.

Related Post: ArcoMagno a little piece of Italian Paradise

Wander the streets of Sorrento (Campania)

lots and lots of lemons on a shop stand
Products made from lemon are everywhere in Sorrento

When you visit the Amalfi Coast, Sorrento is one of the many towns on the Sorrento Peninsula.  It’s also a great place to base yourself to see Positano, Amalfi, and Capri.

Sorrento is famous for its claim of the liquor Limoncello sold along with the narrow shopping pedestrian-friendly streets.

You can walk from the old town down to the marinas to see the fisherman working on their vessels. Or you can take ferries to the island of Capri or the city of Naples.

For lunch or dinner, try Piazza Torquato Tasso, lined with cafes and bars.

See the wonders of Capri (Campania)

Looking down at boats on the sea
Capri, Italy

Take the ferry from Sorrento to the beautiful island of Capri in the Tyrrhenian Sea.

The Belvedere Cannone is a great place to view the Faraglioni rocks, the Sirens’ Rock, and the Gardens of Augustus. The stunning clear blue water of Capri lies a long way below.

You can walk 2km from the marina with a 200-meter rise or take the funicular from the marina for a more leisurely trip.


Take the Bus to Positano (Campania)

Houses built going up a hillside
Positano, Italy

After a wild trip on the narrow road from Sorrento, which zigzags along the coast to beautiful Positano.

It was terrific to see buses passing with only a coat of paint between them.

The various small towns on the Amalfi coast are so picturesque we can see why crowds flock to this stunning region.


Uncover the history of Pompeii (Campania)

Statue and stone buildings with a view of a mountain
Pompeii, Italy

Visiting Pompeii had long been on our bucket list; it was great to tick it off.

Some places do not live up to expectations, but for us, Pompeii exceeded ours.

It covers a large area with many buildings well preserved to the extent you can imagine what life was like before the eruption.

This photo of the forum with the equestrian statue, possibly of the emperor Tiberius, faces Mount Vesuvius, the volcano burying Pompeii in 79 AD.


Visit the National Parks of Southern Italy

A road trip to Italy allows you to explore some of the beautiful national parks scattered throughout the country. And if you love hiking, adding a day trip to one of the National Parks would be a great option considering the reviews we have read.

On this trip, we passed by:

  • Parco Nazionale del Polino
  • then Parco Nazionale della Sila
  • and Parco Nazionale dell’Aspromonte

The National Parks are open to the public and have stunning scenery to be enjoyed.

Discover the Beauty of Sicily over seven days

Sicily is separated from mainland Italy by the Strait of Messina. The largest island in the Mediterranean dates to Phoenician and Greek settlements.

With volcanoes offshore and Mount Etna inland, it makes for an exciting landscape.

So many beautiful coves and unique towns and cities. Spending seven days in Sicily will give you an idea of where to return next time.

The seaside town of Cefalu

Blue sky, sea and town near the water
Cefalu, Italy

On the north coast of Sicily is Cefalu, known for its fortress ‘Rocca’ atop a huge rock hill.

But it is the large and imposing Cefalu Cathedral, built-in 1131, that holds your attention.

The cathedral is part of the Arab-Norman series of nine buildings in Sicily dating back to the Norman Kingdom of Sicily (1130-1194).

Around the cathedral are many cafes and restaurants where you can take a drink under an umbrella away from the warm sun.

The bustling city of Palermo

dome stone cathedral
Palermo Cathedral, Sicily

Palermo is surrounded by mountains and is a bustling city on the coast of Sicily.

The fresh markets are a delight to wander, where you can choose a variety of vegetables, fruit, and fish. Palermo has around 2,500 sunshine hours a year, so that you can leave the coat at home.

Our favourite places were the fabulous Fontana Pretoria, built in the 1500s.

We also loved the Palermo Cathedral, the Teatro Massimo and the Cappella Palatina.

But driving in Palermo, for us, was one of the scariest places we have driven. Traffic chaos is everywhere, and parking is a nightmare.

But once you are in the old town, all is forgotten as you dine in piazzas sipping a crisp wine.


Old Town Ortigia in Syracuse

Walkway by the sea
Ortigia Syracuse, Sicily

Syracuse is a UNESCO world heritage site on the Ionian coast of Sicily.

Remnants of Greek, Roman and Byzantine eras are notable in the white sandstone buildings of Ortigia island.

And when the weather is warm in Syracuse, Ortigia Island has some great swimming spots.

At Forte Vigliena, you can take the steps down to a swimming area and then sunbathe on the rocks.


Take the cablecar to Erice

stone castle high on a mountain edge
The 12th-century Erice Castle (Venus Castle)

Erice Castle (aka Venus Castle) is a must-see of Erice, built by the Normans in the 12th Century.

The medieval town is perched on a hill at an altitude of 751m with panoramic views.

To get to Erice is a 3km cableway ride known as the Funivia from the city of Trapani.

Walking through the Porta Trapani, you find yourself walking cobblestoned streets lined with artisan shops and restaurants.

One shop you must visit is Pasticceria Maria Grammatico, for a fantastic selection of tasty sweets and baked goods.

Erice is ideal for a weekend break or a romantic stay.


Wrapping up Southern Italy and Sicily Road Trip

A road trip to Italy’s south coast also offers fabulous beaches and early-century history.

The summertime beaches are busy, making late September and early October an ideal time to visit. This way, you can still swim in warm waters, with plenty of open beaches.

Book a table for dinner at sunset. Take evening strolls along the cliffs. Wander in ancient ruins.

Hiring a car is the best option to see southern Italy and Sicily, letting you can stop at small fishing villages.

So, if you plan a trip to Italy, including some of these southern Italy destinations, you won’t be disappointed.




  1. Kevin McKenna says:


  2. Nicky says:

    Great article! We love Italy and not just for its cheese and wine! We were lucky enough to road trip through Puglia a few years back now. Matera is still one of our faves and we stayed in the cave hotel there Alberto Sextantio La Grotte. If your reader’s budget stretches to it, I can highly recommend it!

    • TravelKiwis says:

      Thanks Nicky, we loved the small towns of Italy (and the food & wine 😊) the cave hotel tip is much appreciated.

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