Things to do in Erice, Sicily
Perched atop a hill, Erice boasts some of the most incredible views overlooking the region and expansive sea below. At times, the entire town looks as if it were floating in between the clouds, creating a unique atmosphere. Whether it’s gray days or those basked in warm sunlight – Erice makes an amazing day trip destination in Sicily, Italy.
The town is steeped in tales of conquest and long-gone powers, from the Elymians, Phoenicians, and Greeks, to the Romans and Normans. During all these years (3000!), most of the fortifications still stand, offering a glimpse into the history of northwestern Sicily.
However, there’s more to the town than just history. Grab the chance to soak up the unique atmosphere, enjoy the incredible views, and try the sweet treats at the island’s most famous patisserie.
1. Castello di Venere
Located at the highest point on the mountain, overlooking the city of Trapani and the surrounding region, stands the Castello di Venere. This stunning castle makes a majestic vantage point, with astonishing views over the different landscapes, villages, and expansive sea.
The journey to the castle treads along the town walls from Porta Trapani all the way to the furthest point of Erice. The beautiful and shaded Garden of Balio lies just in front, offering a sneak peek of the upcoming vistas. From here, it’s only a 5-minute walk up to the stout and impressive fortification of the Castello. Explore the 12th-century grounds and open walls built on top of the rock, dive into the town’s stories, and soak up the views over the green hills.
The Castle of Venus in Erice holds a captivating history, as it lies on the remains of the Temple of Venus. The celebration of the goddess of fertility, beauty, and love dates back to Erice’s founders and continued throughout the centuries with the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans.
2. Torretta Pepoli
Nestled a little further down the mountain and slightly overshadowed by the magnificent Venere, you’ll find the picturesque Torretta Pepoli. This little castle constructed on a rock dates back to the late 19th century, built by Count Agostino Pepoli. Back then, it served as a haven for scholars, artists, and musicians who’d come and bask in the tranquility of the mountain.
Now, it belongs to the city of Erice, serving as the headquarters for the Observatory for Peace in the Mediterranean. It remains a meeting place for diverse cultures and religions, making it a beautiful location to visit and one of the best things to do in Erice, Sicily. To get there, you’ll walk down a steep path between the rocky cliffsides and luscious trees, only a stone’s throw away from the Castle of Venus. As you walk down the path, look out over the surrounding green hills and the beautiful little villages below.
3. Garden of Balio
Just in front of Erice’s Castle of Venus, you’ll find the enchanting Garden of Balio. With lots of shade and benches, this lovely park is the perfect location to take cover from the midday sun.
Bring a picnic, sit down under the trees, and listen to the sounds of the birds and fountains. Or, enjoy a nice coffee at Caffè del Balio while you soak up all the incredible views.
In the park, you’ll also find the Balio Towers, which served as a part of the Norman castle’s defense. Originally, they connected to the castle through a drawbridge and were used as a military outpost. The towers and the surrounding English-style garden add to the beauty of this part of Erice, making it a must-visit during your day trip.
4. Real Duomo di Erice
Erice, though small, is home to an astonishing number of 60 churches and cathedrals. Among them is the Gothic-style Real Chiesa Madre, dating back to the 1300s. Adorned with decorative frescoes, mosaics, fonts, and famous artwork, makes this is one of the more remarkable cathedrals to visit.
The building lies near Porta Trapani along Corso Vittorio Emanuele and was constructed out of materials from the ancient Temple of Venus. Experience the richness of Erice’s diverse architectural heritage by visiting the real Duomo, and immerse yourself in the interesting church culture. Tickets for the cathedral are sold in the neighboring Torre di Federico and cost 6 EUR (6.45 USD). This ticket covers the entrance to the cathedral, the bell tower, and two other Erice churches.
5. Porta Trapani
Porta Trapani is the first sight you’ll come across in Erice, Sicily, as it serves as the entrance gate to the captivating hilltop town. This historical landmark welcomes visitors with its grand stone-arched gateway, offering a glimpse into the rich heritage of Erice. Begin your journey through time as you step through the gate into the remains of an ancient world.
Although Erice is no longer surrounded by a wall and now has multiple access points, Porta Trapani makes up the main entrance. But, if you’re traveling up to Erice by car or with the cable car, you’ll definitely pass by here to get into the city. Take some pictures of the gate before you make your way through, ready to explore the unique atmosphere and hidden treasures that lie beyond.
6. Stop at a Pasticceria
Erice is renowned for its delicious almond pastries, proudly displayed in the windows of various pasticcerie. These incredible treats are a must-try when exploring the medieval alleyways of town full of little snack and souvenir shops. Relax, savor a drink and sweet, and look out over the panoramic views from one of the little cafes.
One pastry shop that you can’t miss, however, is Pasticceria Maria Grammatico. Here, you’ll find an array of delicious traditional sweets, including the famous Genoese almond pastries, fruits, and much more. This pasticceria is incredibly popular in Erice, as its fame draws in a bustling crowd. The name ‘Genoese’ comes from the pastry’s resemblance to the hats worn by Genoese sailors, a nod to the strong trade ties between Trapani and Genoa.
7. Enjoy the Views
As it sits high atop a mountain, Erice offers some of the most breathtaking panoramic views that stretch on from Trapani and the salt marches to as far out as the Egadi islands. On a clear day, you can sometimes even spot the coast of Tunisia in the distance. Admire the surrounding scenery from the Castle of Venus or as you walk along the ancient walls of Erice.
A particularly well-preserved stretch of these walls can be found along the picturesque tree-lined street from Porta Carmine to Porta Spada. The Balio Garden also provides incredible views, allowing you to look out across the fields of golden hues, the winding coastline of western Sicily, and the shimmering Mediterranean Sea. Additionally, climb up the Torre di Re Federico, where you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful high viewpoint that looks out over the town and surroundings.
Where to Stay
While Erice makes a great day trip destination from locations like Trapani, those seeking a romantic experience can choose to stay in the enchanting hilltop town after dark. There are several accommodation options in Erice, from cliffside apartments to central boutique hotels.
If you’re traveling by car, make sure to confirm the parking situation with your hotel beforehand. Erice is a ZTL (zona traffico limitato) area, and though there are free and paid parking spots, it’s unlikely you’ll be driving directly to your accommodation.
How Many Days in Erice?
Because Erice is so small and close to the city of Trapani, it’s known as a perfect day trip destination. Visitors can explore the town’s medieval charm, historic sites, panoramic views, and delicious cuisine all within a few hours. Because of this, we recommend visiting for the day. However, if you’d like to take your time and have a more immersive experience, you can decide to stay for longer.
Best Restaurants and Cafes in Erice
The food in Erice reflects the rich culinary heritage of Sicily, Italy. With an array of traditional dishes such as Couscous alla Trapanese (a Sicilian twist on the North African staple) or Busiate Trapanesi, a hand-rolled pasta served with a rich and hearty sauce, there are plenty of flavors to try. Pair your meal with local Sicilian wine and finish off with an almond pastry, the town’s specialty. Some of our favorite restaurants in Erice, Sicily, are:
- Gusto Panino Gourmet
- Ristorante Caffé San Rocco
- Osteria di Venere
- Gli Archi di San Carlo
- La Prima Dea
Good to know: Many restaurants in Sicily don’t open before 7 PM. Never assume a restaurant is open despite the opening times on Google Maps. It’s best to check in person or call the restaurant to confirm.
How to Visit Erice, Sicily
To get to the medieval old town of Erice, you’ll have to make your way to the western Sicilian city of Trapani. From there, there are a few different options to journey up the mountain.
By Train or Bus
Traveling Sicily by train is an amazing experience as you cross through the beautiful landscapes of the island. Trains are available all over the island and are a comfortable way of getting around. From Trapani, you can hop on the local bus that drives up to Erice in about 45 minutes.
If you’re discovering Sicily on a road trip, you can also visit Erice by car. Drive up a winding, narrow mountain road, looking out at the spectacular views of the hills and towns below. From Trapani, it takes about 30 minutes to get to Erice.
However, parking in Sicily can be an issue. Like many other Italian towns, Erice has many ZTL zones, making it difficult to park anywhere in the center. Because of this, we recommend parking next to Porta Trapani, the main entrance gate to the walled town.
By Cable Car
The best and most exciting way to visit Erice, though, is by cable car (funivia). This 10-minute journey up the mountain starts at the foot in Trapani (here’s the location) and climbs up to the walls of Erice, just outside Porta Trapani. While you make your way up, you’ll have wonderful panoramic views over the city, the sea, and the Egadi islands.
The cable car runs every day from morning to night, except on Mondays. One ticket costs 5.50 EUR (5.90 USD) or 9 EUR (9.65 USD) return. A return journey to Erice is included if you’ve got a Trapani Card.
Erice, shaped like a triangle, features some steep lanes that wind up and around the town from the Porta Trapani entrance. The town is mostly pedestrianized, making it best to explore on foot. Once you step into town, get lost in the cute little side alleys and stop to take in the views from all the different viewpoints.
How Much Does Erice Cost?
Erice is a relatively affordable destination on the island of Sicily, with your most significant expense being accommodation. Prices also depend on the time of year you visit the town, with higher costs during the summer months.
Best Time to Visit Erice, Sicily
The best time to visit Erice, Sicily, is during the early morning or late afternoon. In the summer, the town can get busy with more people visiting. However, if you visit early in the day or later in the afternoon, you avoid the crowds and get a more peaceful experience.
The views from Erice are also particularly stunning when the sun is lower in the sky. Watch as the landscape turns into a beautiful golden light during this time of day. Additionally, this way, you skip the Italian midday siesta, where businesses close to escape the heat.