Between myths and conquests in the heart of the Mediterranean, let’s discover together the best things to do in Trapani and its surroundings.
Sicily is a unique place in the world. It encloses its priceless natural treasures with the humility of someone who is not at all vain. Those who have conquered it over time have bequeathed the vestiges of the past, which for better or worse have forged the character of this island. Trapani, a maritime city in the far west of the island, has witnessed the passage of various peoples and has been the scene of numerous battles, dominating the surrounding seas.
The founders of the city were the Elymians, who exploited it as a landing place for the exchange of goods destined for Erice above. The first Punic War took place in the waters of Drépanon (from the Greek scythe), which, loyal to Carthage, was in time opposed by the Romans. Its development took place under Arab-Norman rule and during the year 1000, it was a very important junction for the Crusades. From the short-lived rule of the Angevins, Trapani passed under the regency of the Aragonese and with Charles V took the name “Key to the Kingdom” of the Two Sicilies.
Today, Trapani presents itself to the traveller as a treasure trove, watchtowers overlooking the sea, Baroque churches, characteristic mills from which salt is extracted, but also a lot of sea and unspoilt nature, especially on the nearby Egadi Islands and in the Nature Reserves of the neighbouring territories.
The views literally leave you breathless, along with the immense food and wine heritage that conquers the stomach and the heart.
Starting from the historic centre, you can dedicate a whole day to visiting the city. Or, if you have more than one day at your disposal, you can set aside time for the islands and then visit nearby towns such as Marsala, Erice or San Vito lo Capo.
What to see in Trapani in a day
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Trapani is a delightful town whose historical centre runs from the port area. It can be visited on foot in a day (there is plenty of parking on blue lines or private covered parking). Are you ready to discover its secrets?
Churches in this city are an architectural heritage that deserve to be visited in their entirety. Among the most characteristic ones, the Duomo or Cathedral of San Lorenzo, founded as the Chapel of the Genoese around the year 1000, contains numerous frescoes, sculptures and a majestic baptismal font. Closest to the sea is the Church of the Holy Souls in Purgatory, guardian of the eighteen Mysteries, the sculptural groups representing the Passion of Christ that are carried in procession during Holy Week. The elaborate Baroque dominates in the decorations of the interiors of many churches, including the Church of the Jesuit College, the Church of the Immacolatella, the Church and Monastery of S. Maria dell’Itria or in the Church of Santa Maria del Soccorso della Badia Nuova.
THE PORT AREA
From here, Trapani observes the nearby Egadi Islands and the Colombaia Island, where the Castello della Colombaia, also known as Torre Peliade, stands. Its ancient role as a fortress gives way to the best example of military architecture in Sicily, but it can only be visited at certain times of the year. On Via Cristoforo Colombo, near the Fishermen’s Wharf, there is the Fish Market, where the night’s catch is displayed at the stall by fishermen who entice shoppers to buy in lively chants in the Trapanese dialect.
Situated on the footbridge that forms the watershed between the Sicilian and the Mediterranean Sea, the Tower of Ligny was used over time as a watchtower and was built by the Spanish Viceroy Claude Lemoral I of Ligny. Today it houses the Civic Museum and in addition to the wonders it holds within, it is a romantic setting at first light or sunset.
THE TRAMONTANA WALLS
From the Viale delle Sirene we arrive at the Porta delle Botteghelle, a passageway giving access to the bathing beach of the Mura di Tramontana. From there you can fully appreciate the Mura di Tramontana, which starts from the Bastione Imperiale or Bastione di Sant’Anna to the Bastione Conca. Charles V had the walls built to protect the city from sieges by Turkish pirates and later, they were used as a place of imprisonment.
Continuing along this stretch, we come to Piazza Mercato del Pesce. Its semicircular shape is bordered by round arches. In the centre, the Statue of Venus Anadiomene emerges from the water. “A chiazza” is a meeting point for young people and a venue for music as well as food and wine events.
SENATORIAL PALACE AND CLOCK TOWER
From the Fish Market Square, heading towards the historical centre from Via Torresana, there is Palazzo Senatorio or Cavarretta, which stands on the site of the former Loggia dei Pisani. Next to it, we find the Dark Door and its astronomical clock, designed by Giuseppe Mennella from Trapani in 1596, consisting of the Sun and Moon quadrant. A few steps away, a small square hosts the Fountain of Saturn and the Church of St Augustine, a chapel of the Knights Templar with a large rose window above the Gothic-style doorway.
MUSEUMS AND VILLAS
For some refreshment, you can go to Villa Regina Margherita, a green corner suitable for the curiosity of children. Centuries-old trees, birds, peacocks and geese surround this delightful city park, which also hosts events and concerts. Near the Sanctuary of the Madonna of Trapani, there is the Pepoli Museum. Inside, in addition to numerous works of figurative art, it houses precious coral jewellery, 18th century clothing, majolica and a beautiful picture gallery. The Salerniana Contemporary Art Museum and the San Rocco Contemporary Art Museum are examples of how art continues to be a careful explorer of human genius. The museums are both devoted to works of art by contemporary artists and the San Rocco Museum adds to them the beauty of the building that houses it, overlooking the pretty Piazza Lucatelli.
THE SALT PANS OF TRAPANI AND PACECO
Just a few kilometres from the centre and reachable by car, the Salt Pans of Trapani and Paceco are an important historical point of interest. Salt extraction has been central to Trapani’s economy and its history is told at the Salt Museum. Guided tours of the salt pans can be booked in advance and it is worth considering at least two hours to devote to this magical place (if you love photography even more). The eye enjoys the characteristic landscape created by the salt dunes and the pink pools: from there you can see Torre Nubia, also a 17th-century lookout.
What to do in Trapani and surroundings, in a weekend
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Trapani’s surroundings are full of small towns, picturesque villages and breathtaking views. You just have to choose which side to dedicate more time to, if you only have a few days to spend there.
Listed among the most beautiful villages of Italy since 2014, Erice is a small medieval centre that towers over Mount San Giuliano. It can be reached from the centre of Trapani in 10 minutes by a panoramic cable car over the Gulf of Trapani and can be visited in half a day. From Porta Trapani, you can visit the Royal Cathedral and the Tower of King Frederick. Among its narrow streets, small handicraft shops producing ceramics and carpets offer the possibility of shopping. It is worth stopping for lunch or to taste an original Genoese, a dessert made directly by Maria Grammatico. The uphill walk through the Spanish quarters leads to the Castle of Venus, built on the remains of a temple dedicated to the goddess, and the Balio Towers. The view from up there is unmissable!
On the slopes of Mount Erice there is Pizzolungo, a coastal resort with just 800 residents, in the Gulf of Bonagia. Virgil recounts that Aeneas landed here immediately after the death of his father Anchises. Today, the Virgilian Stele near the shoreline is a monument in memory of this mythological tale.
At the eastern end of the Gulf of Bonagia, Custonaci is famous for its marbles. Its territory includes the Monte Cofano Nature Reserve, a speleological geo-site dotted with the Scurati Caves (no less than nine). Among these is the Mangiapane Cave, with small stone houses and ancient exhibits, where you can refresh yourself with typical local products. At Christmas, the cave is set up with a living nativity scene.
SAN VITO LO CAPO
As it is one of the best known seaside resorts in the whole of Sicily, San Vito lo Capo is the solution for any kind of summer holiday, be it a relaxing week or a dynamic weekend. Its territory is pervaded by wonderful beaches and panoramas that are difficult to describe in words. The town developed around the San Vito Martire Sanctuary, visible from the beach, and dedicates the celebrations on 15 June to the Saint, with sea games and processions. The hamlets of Castelluzzo and Macari, famous for the Italian TV series, boast small beaches with clear waters, including Cala Calazza, the Bue Marino cove and Calampiso, in addition to the numerous coves belonging to the Zingaro Nature Reserve.
CASTELLAMMARE DEL GOLFO AND SCOPELLO
In continuity with the reserve, numerous creeks refresh bathers, arriving in the Scopello area. In this locality, nature reigns supreme: its name, from the Greek “Scopelos”, meaning rocks, heralds the presence of the Faraglioni rocks, visible from the beautiful Tonnara. The fishing village has got few inhabitants but in the past, settlements in this area were flourishing. Witness the findings, in the Bay of Guidaloca, of artefacts dating back as far as the 2nd century BC.
A few kilometres from Scopello, Castellammare del Golfo, an ancient landing place for the exchange of goods, was founded by the Arabs and later expanded by the Normans. The sea-facing castle on the Gulf is an imposing structure that now houses the Ethno-Anthropological Museum and guards the gulf, on which to walk and dine. The walls encircle the town, which can be accessed via the evocative Scalinate della Pace (Steps of Peace), offering a wonderful view of the sea. The historical centre is rich in places of worship, and the Mother Church of Maria Santissima del Soccorso comes alive with the faithful during the July and August festivities. Not to be missed is the Belvedere on the SS187, in the direction of the most beautiful coves such as Cala Bianca, Cala Rossa, Cala Mazzo di Sciacca or Cala dell’Ovo. On the opposite side, the largest sandy beach is the Playa. It is bordered by the promenade and equipped with all comforts, perfect to enjoy an aperitif or dinner right by the sea.
Cradle of one of Sicily’s most beautiful archaeological sites, Segesta jealously preserves the remains of the ancient Elymian civilisation as well as later Roman and Greek influxes. Virgil narrates that it was founded by Aeneas and the Trojans. But, mythology aside, today you can appreciate the imposing Great Temple and the ruins of the Theatre, which must have held at least 4000 people, with views over the Gulf of Castellammare. 15 minutes away are the Terme Segestane, hot springs of sulphurous water, perfect in June and September.
CASTELVETRANO AND SELINUNTE
Crossing the western part of the island from north to south, we come across Castelvetrano. The town is famous for its extra virgin olive oil extracted from Nocellara del Belice drupes, often accompanied by the area’s typical black bread. In its historical centre, it is possible to appreciate the passage of the various dominations: the Arab-Norman influence is visible in the Mother Church of Maria Santissima Assunta. The Spanish domination of the Aragon-Tagliavia family bequeathed the beautiful Church of San Domenico. On Via Garibaldi, the Selinunte Civic Museum collects archaeological artefacts found in the area, including the Efebo of Selinunte. Nearby, the Selinùs Theatre offers year-round performances and welcomes the public with an entrance that recalls the ancient temple of Selinunte.
It only takes 10 minutes to reach the real archaeological site of Selinunte, once called Selinùs (from the wild celery that grows in the area). The scene of wars with the Carthaginians, the city was rebuilt and then abandoned in the 1st century BC due to the First Punic War. Today, part of the Doric temple in the acropolis persists erected above the other ruins and the necropolis. The park can be accessed from the west, in the hamlet of Triscina or from Marinella di Selinunte.
MAZARA DEL VALLO
Crossed by the Mazaro River that flows into the Mediterranean Sea, Mazara del Vallo looks out over neighbouring Africa. Its historic centre is a reminder of the city’s Norman past, when walls defended it from foreign siege. The Norman Arch is the symbol of that historical period, together with the Church of San Nicolò Regale, a peculiar square building surmounted by a dome in Arab-Norman style. The Kasbah, a Tunisian quarter of the Arab period, also recalls not only the architecture but also the atmosphere of the neighbouring continent, thanks to the lively decorations of the alleys. Among the most important places of worship in the city, there is the Basilica of the Holy Saviour, patron saint together with St. Vitus. The building is surrounded by palm trees and overlooks the Piazza della Repubblica. Inside, the frescoes in the ceilings are breathtaking. The same goes for the Church of San Francesco, originally in Arabic style and later modified in Baroque style by Ruggero D’Altavilla.
Museums worth visiting include the Dancing Satyr Museum, which houses the two-and-a-half metre high bronze sculpture of the satyr, and the Museum of Miniatures, where you can appreciate the city’s monuments in miniature. The roots of this city lie in the sea, a source of sustenance for the people of Mazara del Vallo. A visit to the Fish Market early in the morning, to catch some red shrimp, will make you realise the true essence of this place, amidst unique barks and fragrances.
This is the city that looks over Libya or also “Lily baion“, enclosed in a delimited quadrilateral whose access was through four ancient gates. It is famous for the landing of Garibaldi and the 1000 on 11 May 1860. Marsala’s ancient market is the beating heart of the city: during the day, it is possible to buy fresh produce, while in the evening it becomes a meeting place for young people who animate the square in front of the market.
The Punic Ship, a rare specimen housed in the Baglio Anselmi Archaeological Museum, dating back to the 2nd century B.C., is of particular interest. Among the archaeological areas of interest, we find the necropolis of Capo Boeo and the island of Mozia, included in the nature reserve of the Stagnone Islands with the Salt Pans and Isola Lunga. From there, it is possible to enjoy the view over the salt pans at sunset.
The city is famous for its Marsala wine, made by the Florios the best known dessert wine of the 20th century bourgeoisie. It was John Woodhouse who pioneered the recipe. And later the Whitaker-Ingham family, and then the Florios, showed interest until the creation of a true empire. The Florio wine cellars can now be visited on a Marsala wine tour & tasting.
They can be reached by hydrofoil from Trapani and Marsala and are an unspoilt archipelago where nature prevails. Favignana, Marettimo and Levanzo are the largest islands. Between the Trapanese coast and Levanzo, there is the Isolotto Formica, where the second Egadi tuna fishery was built. In order to preserve the natural beauty and protect the fauna and flora of the area, the Marine Protected Area of the Egadi Islands was established. Favignana is the largest island, and it is possible to visit it in a day by hiring a scooter to be able to move quickly between the turquoise coves. A few steps away from the small harbour, you can see the former Florio tuna factory and, entering the centre, the family villa. A little-visited place on the island but one that deserves a lot is the Lighthouse, where you can relax on the adjacent small beach and enjoy the view. In Favignana, it is also possible to go on sport fishing charters.
The wildest of the islands is Marettimo, suitable for trekking, while on Levanzo you cannot miss the caves with hieroglyphics. The islands can be visited on day trips by boat, which will allow you to stop at the most beautiful coves on the various islands.
10 things in & around Trapani you absolutely must see:
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- The Tower of Ligny
- The Tramontana Walls
- The Astronomical Clock
- The Cathedral of San Lorenzo
- The Salt Pans of Trapani and Paceco
- The Marsala Fish Market
- Florio Wineries
- The Punic Ship and Mozia island
- The Riserva dello Zingaro
Things to do in Trapani, for all tastes!
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BEACHES AND EXCURSIONS
Pixabay – AntonioBenedetti
Apart from visiting Trapani and its lively streets in the centre, there are many other things to do. First and foremost, enjoy the sea and the beauty of the surrounding beaches. Close to the city, the Spiaggia di San Giuliano and the Spiaggia delle Mura di Tramontana. Further south, the peculiar Spiaggia della Torre di San Teodoro, where the very shallow water almost completely covers the dry sand. The advice is to go to the beach with the bare minimum.
South, you can go from the wild Capo Feto to the Tonnarella of Mazara del Vallo. Further along the coast facing the Mediterranean Sea, the golden beaches of Triscina, Tre Fontane and Marinella di Selinunte offer all the comforts and a dreamlike sea.
On the opposite side, bathed by the Tyrrhenian Sea, Cala Calazza, you will find the beaches of Macari and the cove of Bue Marino. A visit to the Tonnara di Scopello and the Faraglioni rocks is a must.
For walk lovers, there are numerous walking and trekking routes that combine sea and mountain. Among these, there is the Monte Cofano Nature Reserve, where the walking route from the Baia del Cornino allows you to walk along the entire promontory, seeing the panoramic Torre San Giovanni, to the Tonnara del Cofano. A little further on, the Agliareddi Beach is a true natural paradise.
Not far from there, the Zingaro Nature Reserve is a veritable paradise! Equipped with a backpack, water, beach towel and packed food, you can set out amidst spectacular views and then venture into the coves overhanging the sea. The route is about 6 km long and starts either from Scopello or from the opposite northern entrance.
For those who do not feel up to walking under the sun, the alternative to not missing these treasures is to take a boat trip, either alone or with a skipper. Chartering can be done in Castellammare or San Vito lo Capo. Scuba diving is also possible, especially on the Egadi Islands.
Sportsmen and water sports lovers will choose Trapani for kite surfing, especially in the Stagnone Lagoon. Kayaking is possible in the Bay of Cornino. For diving, the Egadi archipelago offers its enchanting marine environment. There is also room for height enthusiasts who can practice climbing on the walls of the San Vito area, including the Falesia.
Of course, if you have more than one day at your disposal, it is almost obligatory to devote a few days to the Egadi Islands: Favignana, Levanzo and Marettimo.
A last, but not least, thing to do is undoubtedly to go to the Salt Pans, both in the “Saline di Trapani e Paceco” Nature Reserve or in the Stagnone Islands Nature Reserve in Marsala. You can take part in guided tours and, in summer, you can watch the harvesting of salt from surreal pink vats (in travel jars, the salt is a perfect souvenir). Head to the salt mills at sunset and treat yourself to an aperitif. It will be a magical moment!
If the days are rainy, you can go, even to the delight of the little ones, to the Museum of Optical Illusions in Trapani. There, you can let yourself be carried away by the wonder of the various rooms that create truly entertaining optical illusions. For wine lovers, the visit to a Marsala winery is a must, rain or shine!
FOOD & WINE
The Trapanese territory, like the rest of Sicily, offers products with unique characteristics. With basic ingredients of the highest quality and historical value, Trapanese dishes reveal their essence in simplicity.
Starting from the ancient grains still cultivated today. Perciasacchi, Nivuru, Russello or Tumminia, after stone grinding, are transformed into the most genuine bread, such as the Castelvetrano black bread or the simple “pane cunsatu“. The latter contains tomato, oregano, primo sale cheese, anchovies and the ever-present extra virgin olive oil. From the wheat, one of the most famous Mediterranean recipes is Cous Cous, or cuscusu, which echoes the traditions of the neighbouring African continent.
Nubia Red Garlic (Slow Food Presidium) and red prawns from Mazara del Vallo, with a tinge of local white wine, create the perfect pairing for a dish of busiate (a type of Italian pasta taking its shape from the “busa”, the iron used to work wool). They are celebrated at the Busiata festival in Salemi. Another way to enjoy this pasta shape is the better known “Pesto alla Trapanese” with garlic, almonds, tomato and basil.
There is no shortage of wine on the table: to pair with fish, white wines are preferred and, among them, Alcamo DOC stands out. With desserts, you are spoilt for choice between Marsala, Moscato and Passito di Pantelleria.
Beyond the land, the sea, which for centuries has fed the locals and in more recent times has seen tuna as a major player in the canning industry started by the Florios. And from the sea, salt, the white gold of the Mediterranean Sea, invaluable to the Phoenicians and today a PGI product.
The confectionery tradition makes use of sweet ricotta to fill the Cannoli di Dattilo Gigante, the Graffa (a leavened dough filled with sweet ricotta and fried) and also the delicious Genovesi di Erice, which exist in the variant filled with sweet pumpkin and chocolate drops.
Popular events in the Trapani area
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In Trapani, during Holy Week, the Procession of the Mysteries has been enlivening the streets of the city centre since ancient times, with a typical “annacamento” that lasts from Good Friday until midday on Saturday. The Mysteries are carried on the shoulders of the Massari, who follow the time dictated by the marching bands.
In nearby San Vito lo Capo, numerous festivals cater for everyone’s tastes, from cuisine to music to sport. In the third week of September, one of the most important food and wine events on the island takes place: the Cous Cous fest, entirely dedicated to this culinary tradition. It is enriched by concerts with artists from the national scene, show cooking and walks starting from Piazza Santuario, food tastings at the Cous Cous Houses among fish, meat and vegetarian recipes, and finally the competition for the World Cous Cous Master. This is an event not to be missed!
At the end of May, for the International Kite Festival, the skies of San Vito lo Capo are coloured with fluttering kites in the most diverse shapes. An occasion of pure fun for children and adults. But it is not the only one: in October, for the San Vito Climbing Festival, climbing enthusiasts and professionals will be able to climb the 1,000 bolted routes on the steep walls of Monte Monaco. Even children will be able to participate on climbing towers set up in the centre.
Castellammare del Golfo also comes alive with mystical processions and parades. On 19 May, in honour of Saint Rita, flag-wavers, figures, and musicians parade through the streets of the centre, recreating the historical context in which the saint lived. On 13 July, on the other hand, there is the procession of Our Lady of Succour, who saved the inhabitants from a bitter naval battle between the Spanish and the English in 1718.
There is no shortage of musical events, mainly in the summer. They are organised in the picturesque location of the Selinunte Archaeological Park, where international artists attract the very young and make the ancient ruins vibrate with new life.
Arriving in Trapani
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Trapani can be reached by plane or ship: the small “Vincenzo Florio” airport of Trapani Birgi is only 19 km from the centre, and is also connected by bus to Palermo, Marsala and Agrigento. The alternative is Palermo Falcone e Borsellino airport, connected to Trapani by a private bus service.
Both the bus station and the train station are a few metres from the port of Trapani. And from there, you can travel to nearby towns such as Marsala (only 30 minutes by train) or Mazara del Vallo. The Sicilian railway network is not extensive, so the most convenient choice is to rent a car at the airport and move around independently. By car, you can reach Trapani from Palermo on the A29 or from Mazara del Vallo on the SS115.
From the port, near the city centre, you can embark for the Egadi Islands by hydrofoil or for Pantelleria. Ship connections with more distant routes are to Cagliari, Tunis, Naples or Livorno.
All you have to do is select the best things to do in Trapani and its surroundings, pack your suitcase and set off for the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. 🏖😎
I wish you a happy trip to Sicily! 😉