Getting around Sicily by public transport

As I described during my Sicily podcast on the Amateur Traveler, Sicily is like Italy on steroids. It’s chock-full of the history, scenery, culture and food that you love in the rest of Italy. On the other hand, it’s less….. shall we say… user-friendly. If you think Italians are crazy drivers then you’ll find Sicilians even crazier. And even though I recommend renting a car to get around Sicily, if you don’t want to, don’t fret: getting around Sicily by public transport is possible. It’s just not as straightforward as in most of the rest of Italy. Take my advice below, or just let me do your Sicily trip planning for you – I’d love to help!

 

Valley of Temples Agrigento Sicily Italy

Photo by Sanjay Jhawar

 

First, understand what is included in Sicily’s “public transport”

To get around the island, there are Trenitalia trains and three different bus companies. The catch?  You’ll need to look at schedules for all three bus companies plus the train while planning your travels to find the best solution.

 

The train is not always the best option for getting around Sicily by public transport.

In the rest of Italy, the train is usually an excellent option, but don’t assume this for Sicily. Let’s start by looking at  the train map of Sicily:

Sicily train map

 

Sometimes, there’s a train track from point A to point B. But not always: if I want to go by train from Ragusa in the south, to Enna (because I’m going to visit the nearby famous mosaics of the Villa Romana del Casale), I’d have to go via Catania. If I have a car, I can just drive northwest and it’s much quicker. [In this specific case, you’d also plot out the bus schedules, and you’d discover that even by bus you need to go via Catania.]

And just because a train goes somewhere, doesn’t mean it runs at a convenient time. For example, I was recently checking a Taormina-Catania route and the last train departed at 3 pm. Never mind that the Taormina train station is miles from the town, so not really convenient. Because of examples like these, you must….

 

Do more in-depth research.

Let’s say you’ve looked at all the schedules and have found routes that will work. In the rest of Italy, that would likely be enough. Probably, you could show up at the train station and the train you’d identified would take you where you wanted to go, at the time printed on the schedule. For travel in Sicily you need to take it one step further. Plot destinations on the map, and use your common sense. Here’s an example. Look at this AST bus schedule:

AST bus Sicily Italy

At first glance, it looks okay. You depart Palermo at 9.30 am and arrive in Acireale at 11.15 am, with a change in Ficarazzi, which is a suburb of Palermo. But look closer: the change in Ficarazzi is at 10.35 am and then 40 minutes after that, you arrive in Acireale. Now, look at this map of Sicily and note where Ficarazzi is in relation to Acireale.

Sicily Italy public transport

A quick check on ViaMichelin for the route tells me that Ficarazzi and Acireale are 135 miles apart. So is this bus covering 135 miles in 40 minutes? I don’t think so. I don’t know what the deal is here but I would find a different option for this route.

 

Ask the locals.

As soon as you have accommodation booked, you have a local contact — use them! Email them and ask:

  • Is it better to arrive in the city by bus or by train? The train timetable between Siracusa and Noto might look reasonable, but if you ask a local they’ll tell you nobody takes the train, take the bus!
  • How do you get to the accommodation from the station? Here’s where you’ll find out about that free shuttle, bus 20, that connects Siracusa’s train station, bus station and parking lots to the old town of Ortygia.
  • What’s the best way to visit that nearby town or local sights? If the answer is “by taxi”, then use a taxi driver that is trusted by the hotel.

Even if you don’t email them before you arrive, make some time to chat after you get there. Ask the person at the hotel front desk or visit the tourist information office, or go to the customer service person at the train or bus station. Show them the transfers you’ve mapped out and ask their advice.

 

Do not assume anything will run on time.

Assume that buses and trains will arrive and depart late. If you have a connecting bus or train with a different company (for example you’re taking an SAIS bus to Catania and then you have a connection with Interbus), allow 30-60 minutes leeway so that you don’t miss your connection. That’s just the way it is, so plan for it. If you are catching a flight or a ferry and absolutely need to be somewhere on time, take an earlier bus or train. Or book a taxi.

 

On the other hand…

I would also like to emphasize: it’s entirely possible that you’ll do all your research and figure out timetables, and once you get to Sicily everything will run like clockwork. That does happen, and it’s not a rare occurrence. This ultra-planned approach is best for travelers who expect reality to reflect what’s written on the timetable, or have traveled by train only in Switzerland or Germany or Japan, for example, where trains are pretty much always to-the-minute on time. But if you’re an experienced traveler who has taken trains in places where they regularly run a day behind schedule, then Sicily won’t faze you at all. But if you prepare for it, then you won’t get stuck or be annoyed at a 20-minute delay.

 

Bring your patience. And a book.

And a cell phone. And contact information for all your hotels, of course. Even with the best planning, route mapping, and in-depth research, chances are that something unexpected will happen on your Sicilian adventure! You’ll have some great travel stories.

 

 


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Posted by on May 15, 2014 in Sicily | 25 Comments

25 Comments

  1. 10 Favorite Reads on Italy this Week: May 16 - BrowsingItaly
    May 16, 2014

    […] Getting around Sicily by public transport by Italy Beyond the Obvious – Extremely handy article especially if you don’t plan to drive while in Sicily. Oh yeah, don’t forget to bring along a lot of patience with you. […]

    Reply
  2. Beth
    August 28, 2014

    Hello everyone. I agree in reference to deludende quality and efficiency of public transport services in Sicily. My husband and I were visiting Sicily in 2010 and we preferred to save public transport by bus and car rental. With the public bus travel is painful. Rent a car there are many problems, such as pay 45 euro per day for rental companies block 1000 Euros of your credit card for security deposit, pay the fuel 40 or 50 euro per day, pay parking, parking bad if you have to pay costly penalties and driving directions or gps not give effective tips. In July 2014 we returned to Sicily, but we have searched the internet for a private company drivers. We booked a 7-day tour with the company chauffeurs-italy.com and they gave us good recommendations for hotels, restaurants and archaeological sites unesco and important for us. This company has given us the driver Luciano. He was very very special to us and we’re friends now. He was always available to us, gave good advice, made reservations for us and drove safely. She was always elegant and his van was always smelling good and clean. He has saved us a lot of money and he understood our needs and the things that we like. We recommend all travelers to Sicily this driver. The last day we gave Luciano a tip of 150.00 euros and he gave us a nice package of typical Sicilian products.

    Reply
    • fred
      August 30, 2014

      Beth, can I ask which company that you use for Luciano’s service?

      Reply
    • Reginia
      February 1, 2015

      Hi Beth,

      Would you be so kind as to tell me the contact means of Luciano? I am planning to visit Sicily in the 4th quarter of 2015. Thank you in advance.

      Reply
    • Cathy Crowley
      May 30, 2015

      I’m a resident for over twenty years here and the transport is horrendous;i recently had my car in the shop for over two months and learned the public transport system.In any case I know it really well by car!It’s alarming what we hear about costs and ripoffs.Hope your next trip is better,I’d take you around if needs be.

      Reply
    • Dilu
      November 8, 2015

      Hi Beth,

      Would you have a contact no for Luciano. We will be going to Sicily on 11/11/15 and would like to get the service of this person.

      Reply
    • Peter
      December 28, 2015

      Hi Beth,

      My name is Peter and I am the General Manager for chauffeurs-italy.com I would like to thank you for your kind comments about Luciano. We look forward to seeing you again in Sicily.

      Thanks again.
      Peter

      Reply
  3. Sanela
    February 25, 2015

    Hi, this is a great article. We are planning a trip to Sicily in August 2015.We have seven hole days. We are thinking of choosing three or four cities to see and that i that.We don’t want to spent seven days in the bus or a car. Maybe Palermo, Siracusa, Taormina and Etna. Have any suggestions. Thank you in advance

    Reply
  4. Cathy Crowley
    May 30, 2015

    My e-mail is: cathc_ctsurf@yahoo.com,Enjoy!!

    Reply
  5. Madeline Briggs
    June 18, 2015

    i can not get your video to play.

    Reply
    • Madeline
      June 18, 2015

      which video? There isn’t a video in this post….

      Reply
  6. Splodge
    June 29, 2015

    We are in Sicily for over two weeks travelling very light from Palermo and staying a many places along the way, finally flying out from Comiso. Our preferred method of travel is by train, and I really don’t care that the services are slow and do not run to time. (I drive for a living so hiring a car is not my idea of a holiday.) I will use buses as a fall back option only.
    Does anyone have anything good to say about the slow local train services ? (We have travelled on local services in Thailand / Eastern Europe etc so really have very low expectations !)

    Reply
    • Madeline
      June 29, 2015

      Anything good to say about the slow local train services? Absolutely!

      You get to travel as the locals travel, plan for a slower pace, be in the moment, absorb the Sicilian culture (because while you are waiting for those trains there is plenty going on around you).

      You’ll get to enjoy that book you brought on vacation that you never get time to read.

      If you aren’t impatient or annoyed (because expectations have been set) you’ll slow down, catch up with your journal, take lots of photos, and enjoy the journey.

      Just travel light, allow lots of time, do as much legwork as you can beforehand(ie try to plan the schedules) but then if things don’t work perfectly…. pazienza. (patience.)

      Reply
  7. Tim S
    July 20, 2015

    We have just returned from two weeks of touring Sicily and Southern Italy by public transport. We flew into Catania, then travelled by train with stays in Catania, Taormina, Tropea, Maratea, Agropoli, Pompei and Sorrento before flying back from Napoli. We backpacked between station and accommodation in each location and used no taxis at all. We are both over 50 and carried packs weighing about 10kg each, with walks of up to 3km between stations and hotels in some places. Great fun! Low train fares too. Admittedly we were only in Sicily for three days, but we found the trains no different from those on the mainland. Madeline’s 29 June comment is spot on – you really need to adjust your pace and expectations (especially if you are from North West Europe or from North America!) and enjoy the ride.

    Our next trip will be two weeks by train all around Sicily …

    Reply
    • Alex
      July 28, 2015

      Goodevening Tim and all

      I am planning a trip to sicily in sept 2015
      I plan to spend about 10 days
      I had been thinking of sticking to the east coast travelling from the north to south
      can accommodation be organised when arriving at a destination or do things need to be prebooked – as i dont have a timeframe of when i will be getting where
      i would love to see some of the major attractions although i will be happy following the coast and eating the local foods
      can any1 give any suggestions of what i need to do and see
      I am mid 30’s and travelling solo

      Thanks
      Alex

      Reply
    • David S
      February 28, 2017

      Hi Tim,
      How did you get on?
      We are planning on touring September/October 2017 and would prefer not to use a car i.e. Stick to trains and buses.
      Any advice appreciated
      Thanks!

      Reply
      • Tim S
        April 22, 2017

        Hi David S,
        The trip was postponed and we are now planning to do it this June. I’ll post an outline itinerary for comment soon!

        Reply
        • Tim S
          May 10, 2017

          It’s looking like this so far:
          Day 1 arrive Catania, train to Enna
          Day 2 train Enna to Cefalu
          Day 4 train Cefalu to Milazzo for Lipari
          Day 6 train Milazzo to Catania
          Possible journey on Etna line
          Day 8 Catania to Siracusa
          Day 10 Siracusa to x
          Day 12 x to Catania

          It is turning into a figure of eight route with Catania at the centre, but I think that is unavoidable as we want to visit the Aeolian Islands and the south east. (Palermo and the west will wait for another year.)

          Not quite sure what we are doing in the south east yet – we want to see Ragusa and Noto, but haven’t yet worked out train times. There don’t seem to be many trains between Siracusa and Ragusa?

          Reply
  8. Catha
    July 28, 2015

    Hi. I had a generally unconfortable experience with public transport on the island. I spent two weeks in the area around Catania and while geting from city to by bus city was somewhat ok, inside cities buses were extremely unreliable (extreme delays, lack of basic information on timetable and stop names). I was actually quite saddened by this, I had absolutely ok experiences in other Southern European countries and in Italy itself, but Sicily proved very difficult. Most of my holiday had to revolve around sitting around in the sun waiting for buses, or planning on how to avoid that the next time.

    Reply
  9. browney237
    December 18, 2015

    I found this site on the way to Noto by train!

    I understand why no locals catch the train. While it is a scenic trip the train station is at the bottom of the hill and about a 15 minute walk to the town centre. The bus however stops at the end of the main street!

    Reply
  10. Nick
    September 4, 2016

    Hi there! I am planning on going to Sicily in early December for one to two weeks (not entirely sure yet) and had some questions I was hoping you could answer.
    – What is your take on traveling around Sicily at this time of year?
    – What do you think would be the best places in Sicily to visit this time of year?
    Any help would be much appreciated!

    Reply
    • Madeline
      September 5, 2016

      Hi Nick, That’s a great time of year to travel around Sicily. It’s low season so you get good rates (although Sicily is not very expensive in the first place), and you are there at a time of year when the Sicilians are in their regular (ie not holiday) schedules. So operas and symphonies are not on summer or Christmas break etc.

      In terms of the best places…. Palermo, Taormina, Siracusa, Noto, Ragusa, Agrigento, Piazza Armerina… The only thing is that going up Mt. Etna might be tough as there may be snow. Or, there may not be snow but it might be cold. And of course it’s not a good time of year to go to the islands like the Aeolian islands.

      You are getting in to the Christmas season, though, which in Italy starts on December 8th. That opens up a ton of possibilities!
      https://www.italybeyondtheobvious.com/christmas-in-italy

      Reply
  11. Kate Kavanagh
    November 5, 2016

    Hello
    My friend and I will be travelling in Sicily in April 2017. We would like to go from Catania to Siracusa then Regusa and to Agrigento by public transport. Thanks to anyone who can advise us. Regards Kathleen

    Reply
  12. Yves
    December 29, 2016

    We are in Sicily right now and are traveling by public transport. We go slow and only visit a couple of places, but it has been a good experience. (Flight to Catania: bus to town, train to Syracruse, train to Taormina, bus to town, bus to Catania and bus to the Aeroport.) For sure, the trains will have some delays and the bus doesn’t show up on time.
    But who cares, travelling is also being on the road and enjoying it.

    We would advise in favour of public transport. No stress, no parking and more time on the destination. If you can stand the delays, inefficiency and lack of communication.

    Reply

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