Last updated on April 6, 2023 by Wandering our World
There’s so much to see all over Italy, from its big cities to its countryside and coastal towns. And Southern Italy is particularly well-stocked when it comes to beautiful scenery, fantastic beaches, rich culture, and authentic Italian experiences, with Sicily and Puglia (Apulia) being two of the top destinations to choose.
Boasting plentiful historic sites, including medieval castles and ancient temples, as well as delicious food, friendly locals, warm weather, and vibrant towns, these two places have a lot in common and are well-suited for family trips, romantic honeymoons, and backpacking adventures.
However they also have their differences…
For example the island of Sicily, home to the iconic Mt Etna, tends to do the better destination for hiking and outdoor activities. While mainland Puglia is known for having better nightlife.
However with such differences, as well as so many similarities, it can be tricky to decide between Puglia and Sicily.
But that’s where we can help!
Below, we’ll take a close look at how these two destinations compare in several key areas, from their activities, beaches, and food to showing you which is better for couples, families, backpackers and more. All so you can make the right holiday decision!
- A Quick Overview
- Which Is Best For Beaches?
- Which Is Best For Activities?
- Which Is Better For Nightlife?
- Which Is Better For Hiking?
- Which Is Better For Food?
- Which Is Better For Shopping?
- Which Is Better For Families?
- Which Is Better For Couples & Honeymoons?
- Which Is Better For Backpackers?
- Which Is Cheaper?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget?
- Which Is Easier To Get To?
- Which Is Easier To Get Around?
- Which Is The Best Choice?
A Quick Overview: Puglia vs Sicily
Puglia: A Quick Overview
Puglia, which is also known as Apulia, is a region in southern Italy. It extends along the back of the famous Italian ‘boot’, covering close to 7,500 square miles in total.
Over 4 million people live in this region, and some of the main cities include Bari – which is the capital of the region – as well as Taranto and Foggia.
Geographically-speaking, the land here is relatively flat, and the climate has classic Mediterranean features, with hot summers and mild, wet winters.
Puglia also has more coastline than any other region in mainland Italy, and it’s well-known for its fabulous beaches, which look out over two separate seas – the Ionian and the Adriatic.
The region is rich in history, with a storied past going back thousands of years. Various civilizations and peoples, including the Ancient Greeks and Muslim Saracens, ruled over these lands at various stages throughout history.
Subsequently, there are many remnants of the past to be found around Puglia, like castles, cathedrals, towers, and tombs.
In terms of culture and lifestyle, farming is a big part of life in Puglia, and the region ranks among Italy’s leading producers of key ingredients, like wheat, tomatoes, and olive oil.
Thanks to this, Puglia has a fantastic culinary scene, and many people visit this region to enjoy its fine foods, as well as its pretty beaches and charming towns, like Lecce and Gallipoli.
Sicily: A Quick Overview
Sicily, or Sicilia, is an Italian island, situated just off the southern tip of the boot of Italy. It’s separated from the mainland by the Strait of Messina, and at the narrowest point, the island is only two miles from the mainland – you can take a ferry across this narrow section and arrive at Sicily in just 20 minutes.
Covering close to 10,000 square miles, Sicily is reasonably larger than Puglia, and it also has a bigger population, with around 5 million people calling the island home.
It’s also quite different in geographic terms, with large parts of the island dominated by hills and mountains, including several volcanoes, like the world-famous Mt. Etna, which is still active to this day.
Like Puglia, Sicily has a long and interesting past, with various people coming and going over the years.
Consequently, the island has many captivating historic landmarks and archaeological sites, from the famous Valley of the Temples in Agrigento to the Necropolis of Pantalica in Syracuse with its more than 5,000 tombs.
Sicily also has its own island culture, with festivals and traditions that are a little different to the mainland, as well as unique architecture, its own language – Italian is the primary language, but most people speak Sicilian, too – and various local culinary specialties, like arancini rice balls and sfincione, otherwise known as Sicilian pizza.
Which Is Best For Beaches?
Both Sicily and Puglia are famed for their beaches, and both of these locations have many miles of coastline to enjoy – around 540 miles for Puglia and over 900 for Sicily.
So you certainly won’t run out of options if you want to sunbathe the day away or stroll along the sand.
But which place is best for beaches?
Well, it’s not easy to pick a winner in this category, as Sicily and Puglia can both boast of a diverse range of sandy, rocky, and pebbled spots with glorious views, sugary sands, and super swimming conditions.
However, you may find that one location is better-suited to your needs; Puglia has a lot of beaches within easy reach of amenities, while Sicily has a lot of remote and secluded coastal spots for peace and romance.
It’s also worth noting that, since Sicily is a little further south than Puglia, the average temperatures are just slightly warmer there.
It’s not a big difference, but if you like to spend lots of time on the beach and especially in the water, you might appreciate that extra little bit of warmth in Sicily.
Below we take a closer look at some of the best beaches in each location and show you what makes them unique. All so you can see which destination will suit your holiday preferences the most!
Puglia: The Beaches
Part of what makes Puglia such a super spot for beach lovers is its diversity.
There are lots of options here, including very luxurious beaches with comfortable loungers and all the amenities, as well as party-style beaches with bars and clubs right around the corner. Puglia also has quieter and more family-friendly areas, along with some super water sport hotspots, too.
You might like to start off with a trip to Pescoluse in Salento.
Nicknamed the ‘Maldives of Italy’, this particular stretch of coastline stands out for its breathtaking beauty, with the finest, softest sand and gorgeous turquoise waters.
Mora Mora Beach near Lecce is another dreamy spot, along with the luxurious Bahia Porto Cedarea and Zeus Beach.
While Puglia has many beaches that have party vibes, lively atmospheres, and lots of amenities, there are also some calmer stretches of sand, like the tranquil Santa Maria al Bagno and the breathtaking Costa Merlata.
There are also some great beaches for active adventures, like Roca, with its ‘Cave of Poetry’ and Spiaggia Alimini, which is one of the best beaches for watersports, like paragliding and jet skiing.
Thrill-seekers should also check out Lama Monachile – an annual cliff diving contest is held there each year, with large crowds gathering to watch brave souls leap from the rocks.
Sicily: The Beaches
Like Puglia, Sicily stands out for the amazing diversity of its beaches. There are all sorts of coastal environments here, from Caribbean-like white sands that seemingly stretch on for miles and miles to cozy, secluded coves and rough, rugged, rocky outcrops for backpackers and adventurers to uncover.
If you’re looking for a beach that can rival Puglia’s ‘Maldives’, head to San Vito lo Capo.
The sands there are simply perfect, while the views are sublime and the water is just right for wading and swimming – you can even dive down and explore nearby grottoes.
Isola Bella is another jaw-dropping spot, with cozy sun loungers to while away the hours.
For something a little more off-the-beaten-path, travelers can visit Calamosche in the Oasi Faunistica di Vendicari nature reserve.
Locals like to visit this beach to get away from the crowds, and it’s a really pleasant place to simply sit and relax, surrounded by nature.
Sampieri has similar vibes, boasting a tranquil atmosphere and big golden dunes to climb.
Many of Sicily’s beaches feel like they have a story to tell. The Scala dei Turchi, for example, is home to stunning white cliffs, worn away by weathering and erosion over the years, while the huge, old anchors of Scopello Beach pay homage to the area’s tuna fishing past – there’s even an historic tuna factory here that has since been converted into a museum and B&B.
Which Is Best For Activities?
Beaches are a big part of the experience in both Sicily and Puglia, but these two places also have much more to offer in terms of activities and attractions.
And, once again, there are several similarities here; both Sicily and Puglia have exciting towns to explore, charming villages, and lots of historic landmarks, making it hard to tell them apart or pick one over the other.
Overall, it’s tough to call a winner in this category, as both locations have lots of things to see and do. However as the larger location, Sicily has more places to see, but Puglia has the benefit of being located on the mainland, making it easier to do day trips to other parts of Italy, if you so desire.
However, if we look a little closer at some of the main activities, towns, and best things to do in both of these locations, you may find it easier to choose the right one for you.
So, without further ado, let’s explore some of the most popular activities for Puglia and Sicily!
Puglia: The Activities
Visitors to Puglia will often begin their journey in the capital city of Bari.
This is the biggest city in the area, boasting some excellent shops and a charming old town with labyrinthine streets, beautiful buildings, and historic churches – the 11th century Basilica di San Nicola is a must-see spot, and the remains of St. Nicholas himself (the real-life Santa Claus) are held there!
Beyond Bari, Puglia has many other wonderful towns to visit. The harbors of Otranto and Gallipoli are immeasurably beautiful.
Whilst Lecce has some of the region’s finest architecture – local landmarks include the extraordinary Basilica di Santa Croce and Cattedrale di Lecce, along with the ancient Roman Theater.
History buffs will find no shortage of castles all around this region, including some truly unique structures, like the perfectly octagonal Castel del Monte.
And no visit to Puglia can be complete without a tour of the Valle d’Itria – this area is home to a series of remarkably pretty towns, including the UNESCO site of Alberobello, with its little Trulli limestone homes that have cone roofs (see photo below).
You’ll also find the likes of cooking classes and wine tastings in Puglia’s towns, but if nature is more your thing, the region also has some stunning caves, like the Grotte di Castellana – the biggest cave system in all of Italy.
There’s also a couple of extensive national parks, like the Parco Nazionale del Gargano, which is one of the best areas for hiking and wildlife spotting.
Sicily: The Activities
Over on Sicily, the capital city of Palermo is a great place to get started. There, you’ll find everything from a neoclassical opera house to a 12th century cathedral.
The city also has fantastic street markets and a bustling, vibrant port – in fact, there’s so much to do here that you could easily spend several days in Palermo alone and still find new things to do each day.
Outside of Palermo, Sicily has numerous other towns that are more than worth visiting, and each one feels special and unique in its own way.
Catania sits right at the foot of Mt Etna, serving as a popular pilgrimage spot for hikers and backpackers, while the resort-style Cefalu is ideal for beaches and the hilltop town of Taormina has historic sites and romantic vibes.
History is one of the big draws of Sicily – there are several archaeological sites and UNESCO World Heritage Sites on this island, with places like Agrigento and Syracuse simply filled with ruins and remnants of days gone by.
Many museums are dotted around places like Palermo and Catania, while awe-inspiring architecture can be admired in the Late Baroque Val di Noto towns.
Sicily is also a hiker’s paradise. It’s possible to climb all the way up Mt Etna, for example, along with other volcanoes – the Sciara Del Fuoco trail to the crater of Stromboli is definitely worth a try – and there are many other outdoor activities to enjoy, from canyoneering to kayaking and mountain climbing, too. So for outdoor activities, Sicily is probably the better choice.
Which Is Better For Nightlife?
In terms of nightlife, Puglia is rapidly emerging as one of the hottest places for clubs, discos, and bars in all of Italy.
Many young travelers are heading to places like Salento and Gallipoli, for example, with these cities hosting super fun beach parties and summer DJ performances.
Some spots in Puglia are almost Ibiza-esque with their big crowds and wild light shows, and there are some thrilling live entertainment festivals to take in, like the Notte delle Taranta, along with iconic beach clubs like Samsara in Gallipoli and Isola in Porto Cesareo.
Sicily also has some fun nightlife locations, mostly centered in the cities of Palermo and Catania. You can easily find lively neighborhoods with popular student bars and dance clubs, along with more mature lounges and wine bars.
But overall, for nightlife excitement, Puglia takes the crown. Sicily has a couple of good pub and club areas, but it can’t compete with Puglia’s chic beach clubs and festive evening entertainment.
Which Is Better For Hiking?
If you enjoy hiking and outdoor adventures, Sicily is a dream destination for you. Many travelers dream of hiking up Mount Etna, for example, and there are various other volcanoes and mountains to trek your way up.
Sicily also has plenty of beginner-friendly trails to balance out some of the more strenuous hikes; there are some super spots to walk around the Aeolian Islands, for instance, along with forest walks in places like the Parco Regionale dei Nebrodi.
Puglia is also a fine destination for those who like to stay active on vacation.
The Sentiero Vecchio del Ciolo is a wonderfully romantic route for couples to follow, while the Riserva Naturale del Bosco delle Pianelle is great for forest walks and wildlife watching.
There are also some good coastal hikes to find in places like Sant’Isidoro and the Riserva Marina di Torre Guaceto, with fabulous views over the sands and sea, and many of the hikes in Puglia are easier and flatter than those of Sicily.
Overall, Sicily is still probably the better choice for hiking, and it’s got some amazing opportunities for other outdoor activities, like mountain climbing, too. However, Puglia also has more than enough trails to keep seasoned hikers happy.
Which Is Better For Food?
You can go almost anywhere in Italy and find incredible food. And visitors won’t be disappointed with the excellent restaurants, terrific bakeries, and delicious, locally-made produce of either Sicily or Puglia, as both of these regions have rich culinary traditions.
Farming is a big part of Puglia’s economy, and lots of quality ingredients are made here, from olive oil to eggplants.
The area has fantastic seafood in the port cities, as well as spectacular pasta dishes. There are also a lot of good street food snacks here, like popizze – fried balls of pizza dough – and taralli crackers.
Sicily also has its own authentic cuisine, making great use of locally-grown vegetables and island-reared meats.
In fact Sicily has even been nicknamed ‘God’s Kitchen’ because of its fantastic food, with its own style of pizza, lots of delicious desserts, and a great mixture of influences from Italy, France, Greece, and other areas.
Once again, it’s very hard to choose one over the other.
Fans of traditional Italian meals like pasta dishes with flavorful cheeses and rich sauces will enjoy the restaurants of Puglia, while those looking for more eclectic menus and variety may prefer Sicilian cuisine.
Sicily may also be better for those with a sweet tooth, boasting some of the best desserts Italy has to offer.
Which Has The Best Shopping?
Puglia is a great place to shop, with everything from traditional town markets to fancy designer boutiques.
Head to Lecce and Bari for the biggest and best shopping areas, or make your way to small villages, like Grottaglie – famed for its ceramics, this village is a lovely place to get some handmade souvenirs.
Sicily also has excellent shopping opportunities, with Palermo offering all sorts of shops, from old-timey antique stores to modern boutiques, lively markets, and more.
Catania, meanwhile, is the perfect place to grab some of the latest Italian apparel, and you can pick up local crafts and authentic Sicilian souvenirs in almost any town.
Overall, both of these locations offer decent shopping. They may not be able to compete with the malls of Milan, but they’ve still got all the shops and stores you need, selling everything from clothing and accessories to toys, gifts, and locally-made wines.
Which Is Better For Families?
Planning a family vacation to Italy? If so, Puglia and Sicily are ideal destinations.
Puglia has a number of kid-friendly attractions, like the ZooSafari animal and theme park in Fasano and the Il Parco dei Dinosauri dinosaur adventure park in Castellana Grotte. There are multiple water parks along the Puglia coast, too, as well as many beaches and castles.
Sicily also has some water and adventure parks to keep kids of all ages entertained, along with its countless hiking trails, historic sites, horse rides, and more.
Older kids should definitely enjoy the historic side of Sicily and should be able to tackle the tough hiking trails of this island, while younger ones might prefer the slightly more laid-back nature of Puglia.
All in all they’re hard to separate. For beaches, water parks and adventure parks both destinations will suit. But if your kids are adventurous, volcanoes like Mt Etna in Sicily may add another level of excitement.
Which Is Better For Couples & Honeymoons?
If you’re planning a couples’ holiday or honeymoon to Italy, Sicily is a lovely place to spend your time.
There’s lots to see and do, with many charming and romantic towns, secret coves and bays, and all of those long hiking trails for the more active and energetic couples out there.
Puglia also has plenty of things for lovers to enjoy, from slow-paced strolls through Alberobello to tours of wineries and vineyards.
There are also lots of nice boutique hotels here where couples can really relax, and you may find it a little easier to book some fancy accommodation in Puglia compared to Sicily.
Overall, there’s no bad choice or wrong option. Couples who love adventure and exploration will probably prefer Sicily, while those who want to spend a lot of time at the beach or crave exciting and exotic nightlife experiences should opt for Puglia.
Which Is Better For Backpackers?
For backpackers and budget-conscious travelers, Sicily is one of the most-recommended places to visit in all of Italy.
This island is very backpacker-friendly, with numerous hostels offering cheap and convenient accommodation.
It’s very common to see other explorers out on the trails or climbing their way up Mt Etna, and you shouldn’t have a hard time making your way around.
Puglia also has some hostels, mainly in Bari and Lecce, but they’re not quite as common as in Sicily, so it might be a little harder to find a place to stay.
With that said, average costs are slightly cheaper in Puglia for things like food and transportation, so this is still a relatively budget-friendly location and may appeal more to younger travelers, thanks to the lively nightlife.
Which Is Cheaper?
In terms of costs, there’s not too much difference between Sicily and Puglia. Since both of these areas quite vast, with multiple towns and cities, you can easily shop around to find accommodation options and activities to suit almost any budget.
However, when it comes to average prices for the likes of restaurant meals and touristic tours, Puglia is slightly cheaper than Sicily.
So you may be able to push your money a little further here, and you probably won’t have to spend as much cash getting around, since there’s less ground to cover than in Sicily.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
Budget: B&B The Sun ’tis is a lovely little accommodation in Castro di Lecce which sits right by the sea. So you’ll get ocean views when waking up every morning, but at a fraction of the price of other coastal hotels. See photos and rates!
Luxury: Sometimes we just want to be pampered when on vacation, and at Don Ferrante you’ll get just that. This five-star resort is housed in an ancient fortress, is known for its world-class service, and sits right in Monopoli’s historical centre with views of the sea. It’s a stunning place to stay. See photos and rates!
Budget: Located in the historic centre of the beautiful town of Castellammare del Golfo, B&B Nencioli offers lovely rooms in a wonderful location. The views from the terrace are fantastic – especially considering the budget-friendly cost of staying here – and the host, Anna, is fantastic to deal with. No wonder this is one of the highest rated accommodations throughout Italy. See photos and rates!
Luxury: The Grand Hotel Timeo in Taormina sits opposite the Greek Theatre and has incredible panoramic views of both Mount Etna and the Sicilian Coast. With the outside pool, exceptional rooms and unique setting, a stay at this five-star hotel will be unforgettable. See photos and rates!
Which Is Easier To Get To?
One of the first things to think about when planning your trip to either Puglia or Sicily is how you’re going to get there.
Both of these destinations have international airports – Bari Airport for Puglia and either Catania or Palermo for Sicily – and they both have plenty of direct links with other European cities and nations.
There aren’t any direct flights to either Sicily or Puglia from the US or most other parts of the world beyond Europe. So, you’ll most likely have to take a connecting flight, or fly directly to a large city like Rome or Naples and then make your way onward from there with a rental car or public transport.
Overall, neither of these places are particularly difficult to access, and European travelers shouldn’t have any problems accessing either one of them.
However, since Sicily is an island, it’s usually a little trickier to get to, especially for those who are coming from further away, like the US, Canada, or Australia.
Which Is Easier To Get Around?
As well as considering how you’re going to get to your destination, you’ll also need to consider how you plan to get around and visit the various towns and landmarks you want to see during your stay.
And when it comes to getting around, it’s typically best to rent a car in both Sicily and Puglia.
Both places have good road networks, along with various rental car companies to choose from.
However, some of the narrower rural roads of Sicily can be a little tricky to navigate, and you’ll also need to watch out for Italy’s Zona Traffico Limitato, or ZTLs – these areas can be found in many Italian towns and cities, and rental cars aren’t usually allowed within them.
Aside from cars, you can also rely on public transport.
Puglia has quite an impressive bus network connecting the main towns and cities, although some villages are a little cut-off and difficult to access without your own car.
Sicily has plenty of buses, too, and both locations have various trains you can take to get from place to place in a comfortable and convenient way.
Overall, there’s not a lot to separate Sicily and Puglia in terms of transportation. Since Puglia is smaller, you may find that you spend less time getting around, which can be a nice bonus, but both of these locations are relatively easy to explore.
Puglia vs Sicily: Which Is The Better Choice?
If there’s one thing we can learn from comparing Puglia and Sicily, it’s that both of these locations have a lot in common, and they’re both worthy of ranking among Italy’s best vacation destinations. From historic castles to gorgeous hiking trails and world-class beaches, they’ve got it all.
Since we have to choose a winner, Sicily just about edges this contest. It’s a bigger place, with more diverse scenery and a wider range of things to do, truly offering something for everyone, from the budget-minded backpacker to the jet-set traveler.
Sicily also arguably has the better food and more interesting hiking, too.
With that said, Puglia still has a lot of advantages. It has by far the best nightlife of the two, and also excels in terms of its beaches, ease-of-access, and low prices.
Plus, being on the mainland means that you can more conveniently include Puglia as part of a wider Italian adventure, visiting other cities like Naples and Rome with ease.