The Italian island of Sicily is a stunning Mediterranean travel destination, recently popularized by the TV series The White Lotus. Nearly 5 million people visit the island every year.
Visitors to Sicily flock to the beautiful beaches and coastal towns such as Taormina and Cefalu.
A stop in the capital of Palermo introduces you to the island’s dynamic history, beautiful landmarks such as the Byzantine Monreale cathedral, and unique cuisine, which was influenced by cultures from all corners of the Mediterranean.
Lovers of history can explore the stunning Valley of the Temples, dating to the time when Sicily was an Ancient Greek colony. Of course, there is also Mount Etna, an active volcano.
Sicily has so much to offer visitors that you can spend weeks, even months, exploring and never get bored. However, before planning a vacation to a new place, it’s not enough to just plan your itinerary and look at pictures.
It’s also a good idea to research more practical concerns such as safety. This travel guide can help you prepare for visiting Sicily. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about the island’s safety, such as the crime rate.
Is Sicily Safe to Visit in 2024?
Yes, the island of Sicily is safe to visit! Like anywhere else in the world, especially popular tourist attractions, you should take some precautions to protect yourself from crime.
However, the most common problems that affect visitors to Sicily are petty in nature.
To gauge the safety of visiting Sicily, it’s a good idea to look up the safety of Italy first since Sicily is located in Italy after all. Most travel advisories for Italy advise normal precautions or some extra caution, but all say that the country is safe to visit.
The United States is one of the countries that advises extra caution when visiting Italy, issuing a Level Two travel advisory for the country. The main reason that it gives for advising extra caution in Italy is the risk of terrorism.
However, Sicily is not a likely target for terrorist attacks today as it is not an important political or economic location for the Italian government. There were several terrorist attacks in Sicily in the past carried out by the mafia, but the last one was decades ago.
Other countries are far more laid-back when it comes to issuing travel advice for Italy, including Sicily.
Most countries, including Ireland, just tell their citizens to exercise normal precautions while in any region of Italy. That means that traveling anywhere within the country, including Sicily, is perfectly safe. Crime is a concern when traveling in Sicily.
Common crimes include:
- Bag snatching
- Organized crime
However, the crime rate in Sicily has been decreasing over the past few years. Sicily has a reputation as a dangerous place, but when you look at the crime statistics, this reputation is not always earned.
You do need to watch out for natural disasters when you visit Sicily. In the summer, Italian summers can get very hot, especially in regions of the south such as Sicily.
Sicily is actually the current record holder for the hottest temperature measured in continental Europe! If you are visiting during the summer, take precautions to prevent heatstroke.
With high heat comes the risk of other natural disasters, especially wildfires. The Canadian government warns tourists about the risk of wildfires in Sicily in its travel advisory for Italy.
In late July 2023, wildfires surrounded Sicily’s capital, Palermo and shut down the airport, also killing several people. If you are visiting Sicily during the summer, keep in mind that there is a risk of wildfire.
Follow the news and turn on emergency alerts. If the Italian government issues a wildfire advisory or orders an evacuation, make sure that you follow government advice.
Sicily is also home to three of Italy’s active volcanoes, Mount Etna, Mount Volcano, and Mount Stromboli. The Australian government warns that volcanic eruptions as well as seismic activity can occur in Sicily in its travel advisory for Italy.
Mount Etna is a popular tourist destination, and you can hike up the volcano, but make sure you read the news carefully to see what scientists say about the risk of an eruption (they can predict them reliably using modern technology).
When hiking up Mount Etna, follow all warning signs and do not under any circumstances get closer to the crater than advised.
Crime in Sicily
Sicily does experience crime, especially in the bigger cities of Palermo and Catania. There is a risk of property crimes, such as theft and robbery.
Palermo has the highest crime rate in Sicily. The Numbeo crime index for Palermo is 45.89 out of 100, which is a moderate value. Numbeo collects its data from survey responses, so it helps you see what the perception of crime is by people who live in a certain city.
Palermo residents are most worried about corruption, theft, drug abuse, and theft from vehicles. In other parts of Sicily, the crime rate is much lower.
Visitors and residents of smaller towns reported feeling completely safe during their travels. Some locals don’t even bother locking their doors because even theft is unheard of in Sicily’s villages.
Sicily has a reputation as an area with high crime. In general, people perceive the south of Italy as being less safe than the north. However, crime statistics don’t back up this stereotype.
According to breakdowns of crime by Italy’s provinces, Sicily doesn’t even make it into the top 15 in terms of overall crime rate. The reason why Sicily is perceived as a crime-ridden place is its association with the mafia.
The mafia is a notorious organized crime syndicate, usually based on families or clans. Battles between rival mafia groups or mafia groups and the authorities devastated Sicily for decades.
Incidents included assassinations of prominent anti-mafia prosecutors and bombings that affected civilians. Palermo was under effective military rule for years to contain the mafia.
Although the mafia still exists today, it is far weaker than it has ever been. Over the past few decades, the Italian government robustly prosecuted mafia involvement.
Today, their activities are mostly confined to petty crimes, corruption, and shady business deals, incidents that don’t affect the lives of tourists. You don’t have to worry about the mafia when you visit Sicily anymore.
People may associate Sicily with mafia crimes and other high-profile incidents, but most criminal incidents in the region are more mundane in nature.
The most common crime that you might encounter in Sicily is the same as anywhere else — pickpocketing and other forms of petty theft. These crimes commonly occur in the cities of Sicily, namely Palermo and Catania.
They are practically unheard of in smaller towns or villages. In Catania, be careful in the art district as the twisty streets make it easy to hide pickpockets and easy to accidentally wind up in sketchy neighborhoods.
In Palermo, be careful around the train station and in popular tourist sites such as Piazza Sant’ Anna.
Common sense precautions are enough to deter the thieves of Sicily. The first tip is to try blending in. Don’t flash valuables such as thick stacks of cash or expensive jewelry that single you out as a lucrative potential target.
There are plenty of tourists around, so you don’t have to worry about blending in completely with the locals, but don’t do things that single you out as a potentially easy target such as standing in the middle of the street to open up a map.
It’s also a good idea to keep your valuables in a secure place, especially while walking around town. Most hotel rooms have hotel safes where you can keep extra cash, back-up credit cards, and your passports.
Use another form of ID when walking around town or make a copy of your passport. Put the valuables you do need for the day, such as your wallet and phone, in a secure place as you walk around.
It’s a mistake to put your phone in your back pocket or leave it on the table as you order at a restaurant patio. Thieves just need a split second of distraction to walk away with your valuables.
Theft From Vehicles
Sicily doesn’t have as well-developed a public transportation network as other parts of Italy. If you want to see more remote parts of the island, you will need to rent a car.
However, renting a car leaves you vulnerable to one of the most common crimes, which is theft from vehicles. Vehicle-related crime is a common headache in Sicily, especially along popular tourist routes.
The best precaution you can take is never to leave your valuables. In fact, some rental car companies actually instruct their customers to sign a contract stating that they won’t leave anything in the car unattended.
Even loose change or a phone charger may be enough enticement for someone to break a window. Never, ever leave irreplaceable items such as your wallet in your car while it is unattended, even if you are just stepping out to pay for gas.
If you can, check in at your accommodation before exploring so you aren’t carrying your luggage around with you. If you are leaving items in your car, make sure you leave them somewhere where they aren’t visible, such as the trunk or glove compartment.
Car theft is also common and is one of the few crimes where Sicily ranks higher than other regions of Italy. Take precautions such as avoiding street parking overnight.
Choose accommodation options that offer secure parking if you are renting a car. Or, rent your car only when leaving major cities such as Palermo and Catania and surrender it before entering a city again.
Avoiding Bad Areas
Sicily’s bigger cities and towns have some neighborhoods that are not the safest for visitors.
In Palermo, avoid:
- Ballaro (at night)
- The Zen District
- Villagrazia Falsomiele
In Catania, avoid:
Things to Consider
Here are a few additional safety tips for visiting Sicily:
- Don’t let stereotypes dictate your trip. The cities in Sicily are poorer than in northern Italy and look run-down, but actually are safer than fashionable Milan and other northern cities. Don’t let misconceptions about Sicily stop you from visiting!
- Be careful when driving. One stereotype about Sicily is true — that they are terrible drivers. Driving in the cities of Palermo and Catania is stressful, with little parking, lots of traffic, and many aggressive drivers with loose views of driving rules. Avoid driving in the cities if you can. Brush up on your defensive driving skills when renting a car in Sicily.
- Prepare for the heat. Drink lots of water, apply plenty of sunscreen, and wear a hat and loose clothing. You’ll notice that the streets are empty at midday during the summer. Follow the advice of the locals and get out of the sun when you can.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you still want more information about safety in Sicily, this section can help you get informed:
Is Sicily safe for female travelers?
Sicily is mostly safe for female travelers. However, the island has a conservative culture and female travelers are often catcalled. The best course with this form of verbal harassment is to ignore it.
Is it safe to walk in Palermo at night?
Palermo comes alive at night, especially during the summer when it is too hot to explore the city for much of the day. However, some parts of the city are dangerous after dark. Make sure that you stick to well-lit streets where you see other people walking and avoid exploring new areas after dark.
Is Sicily really expensive?
No, Sicily is not expensive at all! It is actually one of the most affordable places to visit in Italy.
How many days in Sicily is enough?
If you want to explore several different parts of Sicily, then you need at least seven days. It is quite a big island and getting from place to place takes up time, especially if you rely on public transportation.
Is Sicily doable without a car?
Sicily is doable without a car. The island has a decent network of trains and buses, although a car is faster and more efficient if you are short on time.
Over to You — Book Your Trip to Sicily today!
When deciding whether or not to visit Sicily, it’s important to look beyond the stereotypes at the reality. The reality is that Sicily is a safe, welcoming place to visit! Just take basic precautions, especially if you are renting a car, and you will be safe.
So, with so much to see and do, what are you waiting for — book your trip today and experience for yourself all that Sicily has to offer. Happy travels!