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I would like to go to Sicily and visit the main cultural and natural sites. Should I rent a car or use the available public transportation? I would prefer to use public transportation, but it is very difficult to find information on the Internet, and some sites indicate that buses are not reliable. Furthermore, it would be in summer, so I would like to have buses early in the morning and late at night to avoid the highest temperatures. This would make me vote for a car.

On the other hand, I've also heard that driving in Sicilian cities could be stressful, and taking the public transport is better to meet people. Are there any facts that could help me decide?

EDIT : here is my itinerary

first week on the East coast including 1 day in Catania, one in Syracusa, one for the Etna, one for Stromboli, one for cassagrande de cassabile and one to be defined.

second week on the West coast with Agrigente on the way, then Monreale, Palermo, Segeste and zinguro.

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I have been told that driving a car in Palermo is quite an experience (this from someone who makes a point of driving a bit everywhere he goes, just for the sake of the experience)! Don't know if that's what you are looking for, though. –  Relaxed Jun 25 at 7:41
    
Thank you for all answers. I gave the bounty for the most informative but I could not decide based on the answers only. Finally I will try both, and I will accept the best answer a posteriori based on my own experience. –  radouxju Jul 2 at 6:03

5 Answers 5

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Definitely rent a car, preferably a small and narrow one. Driving in cities is stressful and very very tight at times, but motorways and country roads are fine. Finding public transport is hard and it would take you forever to visit all the main sights though, so I would advise against this option (even though I like public transport either).

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thank you for your answer. Are large car a problem for the cities or everywhere. We will be 7, so we were thinking about one large car instead of 2. –  radouxju Jun 24 at 21:10
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@radouxju, a large car would only be a problem in cities, but don't get paranoid about it. After a few days you get used to the traffic, but then it takes a few days after you return home to adjust back :). On a side note, it might be cheaper to rent two small cars instead of a big one if you have two drivers - this was the case when I was there. –  Grzenio Jun 25 at 7:49

I used public transport (bus) in Sicily and travelled to quite a few places (Palermo, Monreale, Catania, Etna, Taormina and had no problem whatsoever...

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Could you give a bit more details? What is the name of the network? Is there one bus network or multiple? Did you use it only for traveling between cities or also within cities/ to small towns? You planned your trips ahead or the buses run often enough not to worry? –  Vince Jun 23 at 9:00
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There are different networks for city buses and longer distance ones. Long distance are private companies, for instance saisautolinee.it/ricerca/orari.asp and they travel quite often. City buses will allow you to go to Monreale, etc and are very frequent. I checked all the timetables online, some are frequent, some are less frequent (Etna is less than once per hour I think). You can google everything, go to google.it and try "autobus catania taormina" for instance and you will find what you need :) Have a good trip, Sicily is a great place! –  uztop Jun 23 at 9:19
    
thank you for your additionnal information. Unfortunately yourlink does not work. Also I've seen on some forums that the buses are not very reliable, but maybe this is just one bad experience. –  radouxju Jun 24 at 21:08
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sorry about the link, just use saisautolinee.it and search for timettables and itineraries in there. As pointed in another comment, there are obviously trains as well but, from what I could see buses were a bit cheaper and faster (for the itineraries I needed) I saw your comment about saying you'll be 7 people, in that case I would probably opt for a big car, that will end up being cheaper than public transport. You won't need to drive on the narrow roads of the city centre: the main ones are of normal size (like everywhere else in Europe...) –  uztop Jun 25 at 7:36
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@uztop You might want to add all this to your answer. –  Relaxed Jun 25 at 8:37

It's hard to give general advices since you didn't specify your itinerary but here are my two cents.

If you only plan to visit the main touristy cities you shouldn't have any problem using buses and/or trains. Remember, in Italy the trains are available almost everywhere and it's usually a very convenient method to move around; Sicily is no exception. Finding information about buses can be tricky because most of the sites are in Italian only but the interface is usually quite simple to understand and doesn't require and extensive knowledge of Italian. You can also ask for help planning your next stop at the front desk in your hotel / hostel they are more than glad to help (provided they speak a little English)

Buses

  • Azienda Siciliana Trasporti (AST): this is probably the most useful in order to find buses but it's also the buggest one, as on now many pages do not work but thankfully the one with the timetable does work (click on the Linee e Orari link)
  • Sais Autolinee: click on the Prosegui button and you'll be presented with two dropdowns, the first one is the departing city and the second one is the arrival city.
  • Etna Trasporti

Train

  • Trenitalia click on this exact link otherwise searching for ALL trains, instead of just the new and fastest one which are not present in Sicily can be tricky).

On the other side, the car gives you way more flexibility but this is very subjective.
I travelled in areas where public transport were way worst than Sicily mostly because, as you said, the public transport is better to meet people, especially if you are travelling alone. Using the public transport requires more patience and it's less comfortable but it pays back in form of social experience and funny stories to tell back home. It's all up to what kind of person are you.

EDIT [just read the comment in which you say you are 7 people]

Travelling in a group of 7 requires a little bit more of planning if you intend to use public transport because on a busy day you may have a hard time find seats last minutes. With 7 people public transport could also end up being more expensive than just renting a car.
Driving in Sicily is not that bad, unless you are used to 7 lane motorways and automatic transmissions. Old cities can have small streets and may requires some skill to move around flawlessly but all the big cities (like Messina, Catania, Agrigento, Palermo ecc) are absolutely up to european standards.

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Italian speaking here: RENT A CAR.

In Sicily (and generally speaking, southern Italy) you can't count on public transportation: delays, strikes, cancellations happens every day.

During my latest trip to Sicily (2013) I rented a car with EuropCar and everything went fine.

Just some notes on safety:

  • Don't know where are you from, but in Sicily they drive as crazy!!! Watch out! :-)
  • Remember to note and report every damage not listed in the receipt when you first get the car AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.
  • As said by rental agency people: in big cities (especially Catania) pay for private and secure parking by day and night (Siracusa is way safer as far as I can tell).
  • Get down of the car when you make fuel: look after the guy that is making fuel to avoid any scam.

Have a nice trip!

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Back from Sicily, renting a car was definitely the best advise especially for people interested in natural sites. Some major natural sites are indeed not accessible if you do not have a car, or they are only at some times.

  • For the Etna, we were lucky enough to be present during the eruption. But you only see it at night when there is no more buses. There are some excursions, but they are very expensive and only a few times a week.

  • Maybe I missed it, but sites like Cavagrande de Cassabile or Pantalica are not accessible by public transportation. Note that Cavagrande is closed until 2015, but there is another access point from the North (car needed !). For Zingaro there is a bus.

For the cities and cultural sites, public transportation is OK. Sometimes hard to find the good stop, but relatively frequent frequent and on schedule. There is hardly no information in the small bus stop, so try to get to the terminals in order to get proper information. As a remark, I did not try the train, but the buses where full of tourist.

As several people warned me, driving in Sicily is... special. There are many motorbikes in addition to the car, and in some places it is just crazy (especially in Palermo, where I saw 2 motorbikes and 3 cars on two lanes).

Car parks can be quite expensive. there are also "free" car parks where some"guardians" ask for donations. But we had no difficulties to find parking places.

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