Rail Journeys

Springtime in Sicily

Tour Date: 25/26 February to 7 March, 2024
Location: Italy

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and has a population of approximately five million. It also has a very interesting and extensive railway system with most lines still in use, but several threatened with closure.

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and has a population of approximately five million. It also has a very interesting and extensive railway system with most lines still in use, though several are threatened with closure, while at least one is being prepared for reopening.

Our visit will be in late February/early March to take advantage of the pleasant temperatures at that time of year. Sicily has seen a variety of different cultures, including the original Italic people, the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Saracens, Normans, Spaniards and French, each contributing to the island’s culture, particularly in the areas of cuisine and architecture.

Our tour of Sicily travels over many of the currently active railway lines on the island, both standard and narrow gauge, and there will be some time to ride on the modern tram systems in Palermo and Messina, and the metro in Catania.

From: London St Pancras and various UK airports to Rome; or direct from Luton to Palermo. Escorted from Rome to Catania.

Tour Highlights

  • Amazing collection of rail journeys and train types
  • Ancient and Natural Wonders
  • Four nights in Palermo, six nights in Catania
  • Narrow-gauge railway round Etna
  • Stunning scenery

Tour Itinerary

We join our inter-city train in the nearby Termini station for our journey south to Messina, crossing the water on one of the last train ferries in Europe. Our hotel is close to Messina Centrale station. For those flying from Luton there is a direct train from Catania Airport to Messina.

Messina (Alamy Image)

We have a morning guided walking tour of the town. Highlights are the cathedral and the largest mechanical clock mechanism in the world which chimes at 12:00. We then board our coach to visit the hilltop town of Taormina. We will travel up to the town by cable car if it is operating. The town is known for the Teatro Antico di Taormina, an ancient Greco-Roman theatre still used today. Near the theatre, cliffs drop to the sea forming coves with sandy beaches. We have a guided tour of both the city and the famous Greco-Roman theatre. Free time for your own exploration, before we return to sea level on the cable car and continue our coach journey to Catania, our home for the next six nights.

Taormina (Shutterstock Image)

Our local guide joins us again for a walking tour around the attractive centre of Catania. Catania is located at the foot of the active Mount Etna Volcano and the city, founded in the 8th century BC, has had a long and eventful history. In the 14th century and the Renaissance, Catania was one of Italy’s most important and flourishing cultural, artistic and political centres. In the afternoon you have a choice of either staying in Catania for a free afternoon to explore it further, or joining David on an out and back rail trip to Caltagirone, a very scenic railway line, but sparsely served with only two trains per day each way.


Today our coach will take us to 1,935 metres (over 6,300 feet) above sea level to the Rifugio Sapienza on Mount Etna, which is as far as you can get by road. We will have a guided hike along the path that passes near the cableway crossing the lava fields of 2002/03. We visit the Silvestri Craters, the eruption of 1892 and from here we can admire the wonderful volcanic landscape. After the hike our bus will take us to a local winery for lunch before returning with our bus to the hotel in Catania.

Rifugio Sapienza on Mount Etna (Alamy Image)

Today we board our FCE special train, hopefully with the 1937 Fiat railcar Aln 56 which, at the time of writing, was undergoing some restoration work, and travel from Catania to Riposto. The Ferrovia Circumetnea (FCCE) is a 950 mm narrow-gauge railway line constructed between 1889 and 1895 and is now the only remaining line of the narrow-gauge network. As the name suggests, the line (110 km length) follows a route which almost encircles Mount Etna. From its terminal in Catania the line starts off in a westward direction and loops around Etna in a clockwise direction, eventually reaching its other terminal at the seaside town of Riposto, approximately 28 km to the north-east of Catania. The original terminal was at Catania Porto, though Catania Centrale was the last passenger stop for trains. At the end of 2016 new sections of FCE underground opened, the section from Giovanni XXIII next to Catania Centrale railway station and to Catania Nesima converted to standard gauge and moved underground as a metro line now 8km in length, reputedly the world’s shortest metro! It was more recently extended to the town centre at Piazza Stesicoro station. We will take the metro from here and will travel to the end of the line at Nesima and back to Borgo station, before boarding our special train leaving Catania, stopping at Bronte to see the depot and have snacks before continuing to Randazzo to have an included lunch in a local restaurant. We continue by service train to Giarre Circumetnea station, then a short walk to Trenitalia station Giarre Riposto to take the service train, closing the circle, and arriving back in Catania.

Ferrovia Circumetnea (Alamy Image)

Today we travel to Syracuse by train where we will enjoy a whole-day guided tour of Syracuse – Ortigia and the Parco Archeologico Neapolis. Syracuse is located in the south-eastern corner of the island of Sicily on the Ionian Sea. The city is notable for its rich Greek history, amphitheatres, architecture and as the birthplace of the pre-eminent mathematician and engineer Archimedes. This 2,700-year-old city played a key role in ancient times, when it was one of the major powers of the Mediterranean world.

Syracuse (Shutterstock)

Rail option:  There will also be a rail option of travelling along the rural line that heads south out of Syracuse to Ragusa, where we’ll stop for lunch, and then on to Canicatti and Caltanissetta Xirbi, where we have a connecting train back to Catania (this last section may be by rail replacement bus due to planned engineering works). Alessandra will accompany the culture option and David will accompany the rail option.

Plinthed Steam Loco outside Catania Station (Alamy Image)

Our charter coach takes us to Villarosa station to see the railway collection in the Treno Museo before our coach takes us the short distance to Villarosa village where we have a good lunch in a local restaurant. After this we continue our trip to Piazza Armerina to visit the Roman Villa del Casale, famous for its splendid mosaics. Our coach then takes us back to our hotel in Catania.

Villa del Casale (Alamy Image)

We spend today on the railway as we transfer from Catania to Palermo. The direct line via Caltanisetta is expected to be closed for major works, so we will go via Messina, taking a morning train from Catania north to Messina, where we catch the regional train west along the coast to Palermo. On arrival our coach will be waiting to take us to the Grand Hotel Piazza Borsa, where will spend our last four nights.

Palermo Cathedral (Shutterstock)

We begin our day with different local guide and a guided walk in Monreale, where the highlight is the Cathedral, one of the greatest extant examples of Norman architecture and a National Monument. After time for lunch, we return to Palermo for another guided tour. Palermo’s thousand-year history has given it a great artistic and architectural heritage ranging from the remains of the Punic walls to Art Nouveau villas. Use the remainder of the afternoon to do some souvenir shopping, or explore Palermo’s two quite separate tram systems.

Monreale Abbey (IStock Image)

Today we take an FS Trenitalia service train from Palermo Centrale to Agrigento, located two hours away on the southern coast of the island.  We will have a guided visit to the Valley of the Temples, one of the most outstanding examples of Greater Greece art and architecture. The area became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 and includes the remains of seven temples, all in Doric style. Mid-afternoon we return to Palermo by train.

Valley of Temples, Agrimento (Shutterstock)

Once again our local guide joins us as we explore the western side of Sicily, first visiting Trapani. Trapani sits on a low-lying promontory jutting out into the Mediterranean Sea in front of the Egadi Islands and much of its economy still depends on the sea; fishing and canning are the main local industries. Our coach then takes us to Erice, the old town located on a 750-metre hill. If it is operating, we will reach the summit of Erice by cable car with a beautiful panoramic view of Trapani and the Egadi Islands. Rail option: there were two lines that linked Palermo and Trapani, but sadly the direct line closed a few years ago and shows no sign of reopening. However, as an alternative to the guided walk tour in Trapani, join David on the remaining line, a three-hour journey that loops right down to the south of the island before returning north to Trapani. Meet up with the culture group in Trapani and we all travel to Erice together. Return to Palermo by coach. We will have our farewell dinner in Palermo tonight.

Erice (Alamy Image)

Transfers to the airport for direct flight to Luton and indirect flights to other UK airports.

Return by Rail

For those returning by rail you will catch the through IC service to Rome, via the rail ferry, overnight in Rome. Saturday 9th March by train to Munich for overnight stay. Sunday 10th March onward by rail to Brussels for Eurostar to London.

By its nature, on this trip you need to be able to walk around locations with steep hills, stairs and cobbled streets, keeping up with the main group, and be able to lift your luggage on and off trains. On train days, we walk between the hotels and railway stations in Palermo and Catania (15-20 minutes).

Prices & Options

Prices (per person) – Outward via Rome
  • From Gatwick: £2,750 (includes extra night)
  • From Stansted: £2,675
  • From Bristol: £2,675
  • From Manchester: £2,750
  • Joining in Rome: £2,450
  • Rail from St.Pancras: POA (approx £2,975)


  • Single (main hotels) add: £490
  • Single (3* hotels) add: £75
Prices (per person) – Direct to Sicily
  • Direct From Luton or Stansted: £2,550
  • Indirect from other UK airports: POA (approx £2,550)
  • Joining in Sicily: £2,275


  • Single (main hotels) add: £510 (or £580 from Rome)
  • Single (3* hotels) add: £200 (or £250 from Rome)
  • Own travel to Sicily: £300, with flights £600
  • Own travel to Rome: £500, with flights £800
  • Overland by rail both directions: £1,000

Transport & Accommodation


  • Rome (overland option only): Hotel Mediterraneo, (1 night) – https://www.romehotelmediterraneo.it/en
  • Messina: Royal Palace Hotel, Messina (1 night) – https://www.royalpalacemessina.it/
  • Catania: Hotel Romano House(6 nights)
  • Palermo: Grand Hotel Piazza Borsa, Palermo (4 nights) – https://piazzaborsa.it/en/


Overland from St. Pancras by rail is possible (with overnight stay in Milan) – please contact us for details


  • 25 February: Easyjet 12:50 Gatwick to Rome, (arriving 16:15)
  • 9 March: EZY8286 13:45 Catania to London Gatwick (arriving 16:05)


  • 25 February: FR2510 12:20 Stansted to Rome Ciampino (arr 15:45)
  • 8 March: FR3919 21:15 Palermo to London Stansted (arriving 23:25)


  • 25 February: Easyjet 12:55 Bristol to Rome (arriving 16:25)
  • 8 March: Easyjet 12:40 Palermo, via Venice, to Bristol (arr 14:20)


  • 25 February: Easyjet at 16:55 Manchester to Rome (arriving 20:55)
  • 8 March: EZY3502/3837 09:25 Palermo – Milan – Manchester (a.16:05)

Stansted (direct to Sicily))

  • 26 February: FR5059 06:35 Stansted to Catania (arr 10:40) for train to Messina.
  • 8 March: FR3919 21:15 Palermo to London Stansted (arriving 23:25)

Luton (direct to Sicily)

  • 25 February: EZ2491 07:00 Luton to Catania (arr 11:10) for train to Messina and pre-tour night in Messina.
  • 8 March: EZY2492 12:25 Catania to Luton (arriving 14:55)