Sicily’s Aeolian Islands: What You Need to Know

In the Aeolian islands Italy
The beautiful Aeolian islands!
The beautiful Aeolian islands!

The beautiful Aeolian islands!

Few of Italy’s islands are as beautiful as the Aeolian islands of Sicily, a group on the Mediterranean that includes Panarea, Lipari, and Salina. The water here is crystal-clear, and the islands’ volcanic origins make for some fascinating—and striking—features, from dramatic cliffs to thermal springs.

Want to head there? Here are three things you need to know about what Italians call the Isole Eolie!

Pick your base island carefully: Lipari? Panarea? Salina?

Although it’s relatively easy to island-hop the Aeolians, where you stay will have a big effect on your experience.

Lipari, in the Aeolian islands

The largest island, Lipari, is the most popular with summer tourists. Its town—the only sizable one in the Aeolians—has its charms, but it’s also filled with souvenir stands and touristy restaurants. Still, Lipari is the easiest place to find a hotel or apartment on a budget, particularly if you haven’t planned long in advance.

Salina, the second-largest island, is also the greenest and possibly the most beautiful: It boasts a natural preserve and olive and grape vineyards. This is where Il Postino was filmed, yet surprisingly, the island’s fame hasn’t rendered it as much of a tourist destination as Lipari or Panarea.

Panarea, the most exclusive of the islands

Panarea is tiny, exclusive, and expensive, but stunning. It’s also the top island for nightlife—the handful of clubs and bars here are the main hangout for the rich and beautiful.

Stromboli, one of only three active volcanoes in Italy

The other islands aren’t as popular for overnight stays, but better done as day-trips. Vulcano—a tiny island that gave us the word “volcano,” thanks to the presence of several volcanoes—is geologically fascinating, but without much in the way of restaurants or hotels. Stromboli, too, is usually done as a day-trip, worth visiting for its dramatic, active volcano. Remote Filicudi has a couple of small villages, but not much of an infrastructure for visitors, and Alicudi is simply a mountain rising from the sea, with about 100 full-time residents.

Come for the views, volcanoes, and the water—not the beaches

Spots like this one, not beaches, are the reason to go to the Aeolian islands!

Spots like this one, not beaches, are the reason to go to the Aeolian islands!

The islands’ dramatic, often sheer coasts mean that they’re stunning and spectacular—but that beaches are relatively few. Even harder to find are sandy beaches, as most here are rocky. And from June to September, any accessible, sand beaches on the islands are toe-to-toe with sunbathers.

The volcanic crater at Stromboli

The volcanic crater at Stromboli

But the lack of long, sandy beaches hardly means you should skip the Aeolians! From hiking volcanoes to snorkeling offshore to relaxing at a stunning overlook of the sea to dipping in the volcanic, thermal baths to enjoying a natural mud spa, there’s plenty of opportunity for fun in the sun. But the best way to enjoy the sun and crystal-clear water is to…

Make sure you rent a boat

If you’re looking for spots like this one, you have to be on a boat!

The main islands are stunning—but tiny islands, coves and outcroppings are scattered in the Mediterranean around them, and can only be explored by boat. Plus, because of the scarcity of sand beaches on the islands, if you want to spend time in the water, this is one of the best ways.

Instead of planning to just take ferries from one island to the next, therefore, make sure you plan for at least one day to go on a smaller boat. In high season, try to reserve the boat as soon as you get to your base island, as they can get booked out. If you don’t want to rent your own boat and take it around yourself, then at least opt for one of the smaller boats, which will stop more frequently and give you time to jump in the water.

14 Comments

  • That blue water is absolutely gorgeous. Were there many people about?

    • Because it was ferragosto while we were there, there were definitely lots of vacationers. But also plenty of coves and grottoes where there was almost no one at all. Coming in May, June, or September, I imagine it would be pretty tranquil indeed!

  • lee says:

    late fall travel: would there still be restaurants/hotels open on any of the islands?
    can you suggest a base island that would be best for a solo traveler>??

    • Hi Lee,
      Most establishments will still be open through October, and many through November as well. Just keep in mind that the ferries start cutting back on their schedules in late fall. For a solo traveler, it depends on your interest. However, Lipari is the largest of the islands and where it might be easiest to meet people as a solo traveler, as well as has budget-friendly options.
      Let us know if you have any other questions!

  • sol says:

    Hi,
    I have only one day in July for visiting Eolians Island and I’ll take a tour from Taormina. Which is the best Panarea or Lipari?
    Thank you
    Solange

    • Hi Solange,
      There is no “best” Aeolian island, in our opinion; it just depends on what you’re looking for! Lipari has a bigger town, but also many more tourists, while Panarea is much smaller and less touristy, and more famous for its nightlife (during the day, it’s quite sleepy). For both, there aren’t really many “sights” you have to see—it’s just about soaking in the natural beauty!—so you can’t really go wrong with either. Let us know if we can help with anything else!

  • Dee Dee Quinn says:

    Beautiful pictures. Where was the top picture taken from? The one where people are on rocks and jumping into the water.

  • Rebecca C says:

    Hey there,
    Do you think by April 1 these islands will be accessible? Will they be reachable from Catania, or where do the ferries leave from?

    Thanks,
    Becca

    • Walks of Italy says:

      Ciao Rebecca, the islands should be accessible by ferry year round. We suggest you have a look at this helpful guide with comprehensive information regarding timetables and departures. Buon viaggio and be sure to let us know about your experience!

  • Tina Logue says:

    Hi. Very informative site. The islands are so beautiful. ..it will difficult to decide on where tI stay.

    I am intrigued by the first picture too. You mentioned it was “off Panarea’ to abother person. Any chance there is a name for this magnificent swimming area or can you supply me information on how I can get to this spectacular place?

    Mille Grazie,
    Tina

    • Walks of Italy says:

      Hi Tina,

      The islands truly are so beautiful! Unfortunately the first picture with swimmers jumping off the cliff is from flickr, and we don’t know the exact island and location of that. Still, there are many beautiful swimming pools, rock crags and caves to explore in all of Sicily’s islands – we’re sure whichever you choose will be just as spectacular! Let us know which you choose 🙂

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