My Aeolian Islands itinerary and travel guide offers up-to-date advice about visiting Salina island & Sicily’s Isole Eolie.
Just off Sicily’s western coast in the southernmost part of Italy, an ancient landscape of sulphur, pumice and obsidian emerges from the inky waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. The Aeolian Islands (Isole Eolie) is an archipelago of seven UNESCO-protected islands formed by volcanic activity over the course of millennia.
Sparsely populated and slow-moving, the Aeolian Islands offer spectacular landscapes, fascinating traditions, sweet villages, and good honest food. Capers, figs, olives, wild fennel and lemons bigger than your fist grow abundantly in the dense volcanic soils. A glass of Malvasia sweet wine, the islands’ biggest export, is the perfect sun-downer.
Each of the seven Aeolian Islands has its own distinct landscape and offerings. Hiking extinct (and active!) volcanoes, bathing on black sand beaches, and touring the incredible rock formations and caves off the coast are just some of the highlights.
The Aeolian Islands have all the beauty and grandeur of Capri or Sardinia – but without the overdevelopment, and for most of the year, without the crowds either. It’s by no means an ‘undiscovered’ destination, but I do think it’s a bit of a hidden gem.
This is exactly the kind of travel destination we love to visit – but Sicily isn’t somewhere we had ever planned to go. That was until my aunt married a local and bought a house on the island of Salina.
More inspiration: My best photos of the Aeolian Islands.
That was way back in the early 2000s. This past spring, I finally got around to visiting them – and I’m so glad I did. Basing ourselves at my aunt and uncle’s house in Malfa on Salina, Ross and I spent a week soaking up Sicilian life and hopping between five of the seven islands. This guide to Salina and the Aeolian Islands draws on my experience and everything my aunt and uncle taught us during our visit.
I hope it will inspire you to visit this magical part of the world!
In This Post:
- What & where are the Aeolian Islands?
- Planning a trip to the Aeolian Islands
- Island hopping in Sicily: Sample Aeolian Islands itinerary
- Things to do on the Aeolian Islands
- Salina: The green island
- Lipari: The historic island
- Vulcano: The scenic island
- Panarea: The chic island
- Stromboli: The spiritual island
- Alicudi & Filicudi: The remote islands
- Final thoughts: Are the Aeolian Islands worth visiting?
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What & where are the Aeolian Islands?
The Aeolian Islands are a set of small volcanic islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the coast of northern Sicily. The nearest city on mainland Sicily is Milazzo.
The islands are part of Messina province, and six of the seven (with the exception of Salina) are administered by the Commune of Lipari. Salina is a bit different – it has three separate communes: Malfa, Leni, and Santa Marina Salina. Like the rest of Sicily, the Aeolian Islands are a mixing pot of European, North African and Middle Eastern influences.
Below is a quick summary of the different islands and what they’re best known for.
- Salina: Laid back island with the best food scene and a good balance of infrastructure and pristine nature. Excellent boutique hotels. Perfect for relaxation and local experiences; well-suited to foodies and wine buffs.
- Lipari: The oldest island is also the busiest and most developed. Highlights include Lipari Castle and a wonderful archaeological museum. Lots of accommodation options. Best suited to families, and history and culture buffs.
- Vulcano: Closest to mainland Sicily, this island is popular for hiking, thermal mud baths and black sand beaches. My favourite landscape in the island and a great place for a road trip. Perfect for adventure lovers and outdoor travellers, as well as families and budget-conscious travellers.
- Panarea: The most fashionable and polished island. Perfect for a luxury or romantic getaway, shopping, and also a good base for swimming and diving.
- Stromboli: Best known for its active volcano which can be viewed by trekking to the crater or from the water. Home to lots of artists and creatives. Perfect for hikers and adventure seekers.
- Alicudi & Filicudi: The furthest islands from Sicily are the most remote. With no roads, locals get around on donkeys. Perfect for anyone who wants to get really off the beaten track.
Highlights of the Aeolian Islands
Before I get into the nitty gritty, here’s a little taste of what the Aeolian Islands are all about.
- Long walks up extinct volcano craters
- Hiking Stromboli, an active volcano, to see the lava flow
- Sipping Malvasia sweet wine at vineyards on Salina
- Taking a mud bath on Vulcano
- Swimming, snorkelling and diving in the Tyrrhenian Sea
- Whizzing between islands on a ferry
- Driving the windy roads on Vulcano and Lipari, stopping at dizzyling beautiful lookouts
- Hopping between Sicilian cafes on Lipari and Salina, and eating the best cannoli, granita and semifreddo of all time
- Shopping in sweet boutiques for leather shoes, traditional ceramics and linen clothes
Planning a trip to the Aeolian Islands
How do you get to the Aeolian Islands?
The Aeolian Islands are linked to Sicily and the Italian mainland by hydrofoils (large, high-speed boats). The easiest way to get to the islands is by taking a hydrofoil from Milazzo (10 boats daily; 1.5 hours to Salina) or Messina (3 boats daily; 2.5 hours to Salina).
Liberty Lines operates the hydrofoil service. They also run connections between the seven islands (more information in the next section). In the summer months, there are also direct ferries to the Aeolian Islands from Palermo (3.5 hours to Salina) and Naples (5.5 hours to Salina).
The hydrofoils are huge; but since there’s only one way to get around for tourists and locals alike, they can sell out. It’s a good idea to book tickets online if you’re going to the islands in summer. Search for Milazzo to Salina tickets here, or tickets for Messina to Salina here.
The closest airports to the Aeolian Islands are in Catania, Palermo and Reggio Calabria. There are shuttle and bus services from each of these airports to the docks at Milazzo and Messina.
Milazzo and Messina both have train stations. If you have time, the train journey through Sicily is quite spectacular. After snagging cheap flights from Thessaloniki to Naples, we caught a train that originated in Rome down to Milazzo, stayed the night, then jumped on a hydrofoil to Salina the following morning.
Milazzo itself is a pleasant city (with the best gelato shop on Earth) and worth spending a few hours if your schedule permits. We stayed at Le Soleil, a great self-contained apartment walking distance from the wharf.
Visiting the Aeolian Islands on a day trip from Sicily
If you’re short on time or only interested in a short visit, it’s possible to visit the Aeolian Islands on a day trip from the mainland.
If you’re planning a DIY day trip by hydrofoil, I recommend choosing two islands with good transport connections. Try to squeeze in any more than two islands and you’ll be rushed off your feet. Inter-island ferries often sell out as well, so it’s essential to book your tickets in advance if you’re travelling in summer (see the next section for links).
Pre-organised day trips to the Islands are an easy alternative. They are also surprisingly affordable.
From Tropea in Calabria (mainland Italy), this evening tour of Stromboli allows enough time for a swim at one of the famous black sand beaches before taking in the volcano’s light show. Also departing Tropea, this incredibly well-priced boat tour takes visitors to three of the Aeolian Islands: Vulcano, Lipari and Stromboli.
This full-day tour of Lipari and Vulcano – two of my favourite islands in the archipelago – departs from Milazzo. Highlights include a dip in the sulfur baths and a view of the epic faraglioni rock formations off the coast of Lipari.
There are also day trips to the islands departing Taormina on the east coast of Sicily. This private boat tour of Panarea and Stromboli is perfect for anyone who wants to experience the two best-known islands. If you’d prefer to wander a charming old town as an alternative to shopping in Panarea’s boutiques, this full-day tour from Taormina sweeps visitors between beautiful Vulcano and historic Lipari.
What is the best time to visit the Aeolian Islands?
The Aeolian Islands are extremely seasonal. High season obviously falls in summer (early June to early September). Although the islands are inhabited year-round, many residents choose to leave for the winter. Most bars, restaurants and shops close as a result.
In the off-season, heavy rain and storms are not uncommon. The hydrofoil schedule is pared down and tourists boats cease, which makes it difficult to get around.
Summer, by contrast, is extremely busy. The weather might be sunny and warm, but queues are long, prices peak, and hydrofoils often sell out days in advance. If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, shoulder season might be the best option.
We travelled in the last week of May, which by all accounts is one of the best times to visit the Aeolian Islands. The mornings were cool enough for hiking, and the afternoons warm enough for a swim. Everything was opening up for the new season, but the bulk of the tourists were yet to arrive. The weather was a bit mixed, but we had plenty of sunny days and really enjoyed seeing the wildflowers on Vulcano.
Similarly, my dad visited the islands in November and really enjoyed travelling at that time of year.
What is the best Aeolian Island to stay on?
Most people who visit the Aeolian archipelago base themselves on one island and visit the other islands as day excursions. As I already mentioned, we stayed with family in the village of Malfa on Salina Island.
For me, Salina is far and away the best Aeolian Island to stay on. It offers a great mix of restaurants/bars and nature/tranquillity. It’s got a very local feel, especially in the smaller villages of Malfa, Lenni and Pollara. Boat connections are good, and public buses make it easy to get around. There are some lovely boutique hotels as well as reasonably priced options and even a campground!
Hotel Signum in Malfa is a gorgeous boutique hotel with the island’s only Michelin Star restaurant. Hotel Principe Di Salina, also in Malfa, is another boutique hotel with panoramic ocean views. In Santa Marina, the larger village on the island where the hydrofoils dock, Hotel I Cinque Balconi is within walking distance of excellent restaurants, bars and shops.
La Locanda Del Postino at Pollara is more isolated but absolutely stunning (we were lucky enough to get a tour when we were there). I highly recommend it for a romantic getaway. The campground at Il Borgo di Rinella was closed for renovations in 2019 but should re-open next summer.
How do you get around the islands?
Liberty Lines, the same company that transports passengers from Milazzo/Messina, runs regular hydrofoils between the seven islands. Tickets cost between 10 and 30 Euro one-way depending on the distance. Prices may go up in summer.
There are ticket offices at every dock, or you can pre-purchase tickets online through DirectFerries (recommended for summer). In the table below, I’ve summarised a few of the popular travel routes for anyone based on Salina.
|Route||Departures; duration||Link to book|
|Salina to Lipari||12 daily; 1 hour||Reserve tickets|
|Lipari to Vulcano||17 daily; 45 minutes||Reserve tickets|
|Salina to Panarea||5 daily; 1.5 hours||Reserve tickets|
|Salina to Stromboli||5 daily; 2.5 hours||Reserve tickets|
|Salina to Filicudi||3 daily; 1.5 hours||Reserve tickets|
|Filicudi to Alicudi||3 daily; 1.5 hours||Reserve tickets|
Summer and winter timetables change each year and are usually finalised a few weeks out. Check here for the latest schedules.
There are a few small companies that run day tours to multiple islands (usually two at a time). I call them tours, but in reality it’s just transport on a private boat with a bit of narration and perhaps an on-board meal thrown in. These are a really terrific way to get around without having to stress over hydrofoils or wait in long queues. It’s also a nice way to meet other travellers.
Typical itineraries departing Salina are for Filicudi plus Alicudi, and Panarea plus Stromboli. We did the latter itinerary with Salina Relax and really enjoyed it. They have two kiosks where you can book, one in the plaza at Malfa and another to the left of the ferry terminal at Santa Marina.
Boats are limited, so itineraries tend to alternate for different days of the week. If you have your heart set on a particular island and you’re visiting for less than a week, you’ll want to check this in advance. Your accommodation should be able to help with schedules and reservations, or you can contact Marco or Simone directly. As with the hydrofoils, boats might not run in inclement weather.
Salina has a terrific bus system called CITIS. Frequent departures (at least every hour) from around 6.30am until 1am in summer run a loop around the island, connecting Lingua, Santa Marina (the main dock), Malfa, Leni and Rinella. A second, less frequent bus runs from Malfa to Pollara. Tickets cost a couple of Euro and can be purchased from the driver as you board. Download a timetable for the current year here.
Lipari’s bus service is called Urso (timetable and more info here) and on Vulcano, buses are operated by Scaffidi Bus (no website; find info signposed on the island). Filicudi, Alicudi and Panarea are simply too small for buses, and Stromboli is walkable.
Hire car, moped or quad bike
It really pays to have your own wheels in the Aeolian Islands – especially on Vulcano and Lipari. Instead of using the car ferry, it’s much more convenient to hire a vehicle when you arrive on each island. We did this on both Lipari and Vulcano (as well as driving in my uncle’s car on Salina). Roads are generally quiet and safe, and hiring a car will give you access to some of the more remote (and beautiful) spots.
If you plan on hiring a car in the Aeolian Islands, remember to bring your driver’s license. Depending on the rental agent, an international driving permit may also be required.
Chartering a boat is another option for travelling between the islands. If you’re interested in diving, this is a great way to go. More info here.
What should you pack?
In summer, the islands are hot and exposed, so proper sun gear (a hat, water bottle, sunscreen and insect repellent) is essential. Reef shoes are a good idea if you plan on spending a lot of time on the beach (those volcanic rocks can be rough on the feet!).
It does get chilly at night, especially if you’re out on the water, so remember to bring a scarf or light cardigan. In shoulder season, you’ll want to pack a waterproof jacket as well.
If you want to trek to the craters on Stromboli or Vulcano, proper hiking boots are essential (you won’t be allowed to do the Stromboli climb without them). If you don’t want to carry heavy boots around, you can hire a pair on the island – just remember to bring your own performance socks plus a torch/headlamp and poles if you need them.
And if you’re going to take advantage of the thermal baths on Vulcano, pack a set of old clothes to wear in the mud pool. The sulphur smell is notoriously tough to wash off – you wouldn’t want to ruin your best swimming costume! A bag like this is handy for carrying wet items home.
Island hopping in Sicily: Sample Aeolian Islands itinerary
Most people pick a couple of islands that take their fancy. If you’re a finisher (and you don’t mind springing for the boat tickets), it’s possible to visit all seven islands in a week.
- Day 1: Arrive – half day on Salina
- Day 2: Day tour to Panarea & Stromboli – option to overnight on Stromboli
- Day 3: Full day on Salina
- Day 4: Salina to Lipari by hydrofoil – full day on Lipari
- Day 5: Salina to Vulcano by hydrofoil – full day on Vulcano
- Day 6: Day tour to Alicudi & Filicudi
- Day 7: Depart
Things to do on the Aeolian Islands
The best things to do in the Isole Eolie – including nature, culture and food recommendations – plus my suggestions for how to divide your time between Sicily’s seven Aeolian Islands.
Salina: The green island
Salina has a distinct double-dome shape – but it is in fact a group of six extinct volcanoes that make up the island. Named by the Romans for the vast amounts of natural salt found there, Salina is also abundant in produce, wildlife, and just about everything else. Its natural beauty rivals any of the other Aeolian Islands.
Salina is the only island with autonomous administration. It has a distinct, more independent feel and a great sense of community. People here are proud of their identity and heritage. Salina is not only my recommended island to stay on, it’s also my favourite in the entire archipelago.
Salina is widely considered the greenest, most fertile of the islands. The food scene here is unmatched because of it. Capers and caper berries, Malvasia sweet wine grapes, peaches, figs, fennel and all kinds of yummy things grow wild in the volcanic soils. Many locals make a living as artisanal farmers or commercial wine-makers, and you’d better believe that every house has a spectacular vegetable garden.
Our experience of Salina was completely unique because we were staying with family. We were lucky enough to have two locals to show us around – and it must be said that my aunt and uncle are impeccable hosts.
Still, my experience on Salina wouldn’t be too difficult to replicate if you’re a visiting tourist.
Things to do on Salina Island
- Explore the island’s biggest village, Santa Marina Salina. There’s a lovely main street and plaza to discover, plus a range of wonderful boutique shops (the best in the Aeolian Islands, in my opinion). Made in Salina on the harbourfront is full of treasures crafted by local artisans and designers. Salearancio, Shanti and Amanei all stock boho-style homewares and beautiful linenwear. Elsalina is the place to buy traditional Sicilian ceramics, including the fantastically camp Moorish heads, La Testa di Moro. Try the newly opened Casa Lo Schiavo for local wine, capers, and other produce.
- The smaller village of Malfa is a nice contrast to Santa Marina. It’s much quieter and more local with fewer shops, but some lovely cafes and bottegas. Food prices here are generally cheaper, making it a great spot to eat.
- Eat lunch at Alfredo In Cucina in Lingua, certainly Salina’s most famous restaurant. The pane cunzato (the ‘Salina’ with baked ricotta is pictured below) is legendary, as are their fresh fruit and nut granitas. This was our first meal in the Aeolian Islands and one I’ll never forget!
- In Malfa, have an aperitif in the garden at Hotel Signum. On summer weekends, access to a complimentary tapas buffet comes included with every drink purchase.
- Join in a local food festival, such as the annual Caper Festival. We were lucky enough to attend in 2019. I’ve never eaten so much food in my life!
- Take a walk around the island. The long downhill pathway from Valdachiesa to Leni and Rinella, the island’s second, smaller port, is particularly nice.
- In Valdachiesa, don’t miss the Sanctuary of Madonna del Terzito, built in the 6th century by a Byzantine monk.
- Walk along Via Pantano behind Alfredo’s for a view of the old salt pans at Lingua.
- Summit the extinct Monte Fossa delle Felci crater. The pathway to the top, which opens up behind the Sanctuary, is lined with chestnut trees planted in the Roman period.
- Pollara on the island’s northwestern coast (pictured at the start of this section) is without a doubt the most impressive landscape in Salina. From the elevated viewpoints above the village you can clearly see the shape of the volcanic crater and the spot where the other half fell into the sea, creating a cliff face.
- The cult movie Il Postino was partly filmed in Pollara, and there are various tributes dotted around town, including two murals in the main plaza. Walk down the steep stairs to visit the ‘fishermen caves’ which were re-constructed for the film. A private house that also featured in the movie is sometimes open to visitors (I’m lucky my aunt knows the owner!).
- Pollara is a terrific place for sunset. Grab a drink from the Oasis Bar and soak it all in.
Where to stay on Salina Island
See the previous section for my Salina hotel recommendations.
Lipari: The historic island
The biggest and most developed of the Aeolian Islands, Lipari was the first to be settled by humans and thus has a long and rich cultural heritage. The castle complex and archeological museum are first-rate and reason enough to justify a visit.
Lipari looks and feels more touristy than some of the other islands. On the plus side, there are loads of excellent cafes and restaurants.
The main town, Lipari, has all the characteristics of a charming Italian village. Personally, I could have spent an entire day just wandering the steep streets, hunting down street art and pausing to photograph the million-odd picture perfect houses and apartments!
I strongly recommend hiring a car on Lipari to drive the single 30km loop road around the entire island as well. This can comfortably be done in an afternoon.
Things to do on Lipari Island
- Castle Rock, the oldest part of Lipari, is a conglomeration of Spanish, Greek, Norman and Roman fortifications. The elevated complex contains the ruins of Lipari Caste (Castello di Lipari) and several stunning churches.
- San Bartolomeo Cathedral features Gothic-style Norman Cloisters and the remains of a Benedictine Abbey. If it’s closed for lunch, make sure you come back – it’s a must-see. Every August, a feast day festival for the Aeolian Islands’ patron saint is held here.
- The Museo Archeologico Eoliano L. Bernabo’ Brea’, Lipari’s Archaeological Museum, is housed within the castle. It contains a vast collection of cremation vessels, pottery, clay theatre figurines and other objects. I’m not a huge museum person anymore, but this is without a doubt one of the most impressive collections I’ve ever seen.
- Stroll down Via Garibaldi, Lipari’s prettiest street, stopping off at the many ceramics workshops and gift boutiques along the way.
- Eat lunch Restaurant Filippino. Open since 1910, this seafood restaurant is the most famous eatery in the Aeolian Islands. Alternatively, stop at one of the pizza parlours or seafood restaurants on the main square, Piazza Mazzini.
- Whatever you choose, finish with a fresh cannoli from Pasticceria D’Ambra Giovanni. One bite, and you’ll be fantasising about them for the rest of your days!
- Hire a car and drive up to Acquacalda. Lipari’s northern coastline is dominated by an old pumice quarry that looks quite striking set against a white cliff (Versace once did a photo shoot here). Vecchio Pontile, the landing jetty once used to transport pumice onto ships, is still standing.
- Continue driving west to Quattropani and Pianoconte for more dazzling views. At Pianoconte, you can visit Terme di San Calogero, a thermal spa that dates back to Roman times.
- Belvedere di Quattrocchi is Lipari’s most famous viewpoint. The natural ‘balcony’ offers iconic views of Valle Muria beach, the Monte Guardia cliffs and Formiche rocks. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Mount Etna.
Where to stay on Lipari Island
In town, the 4-star Hotel Bougainville is a stunning example of Mediterranean architecture. Hotel Residence Mendolita is a bit more modest, but closer to the harbour and castle. There are dozens of sweet B&Bs set in the heritage apartment buildings in Lipari town. Casa Malfada is an excellent choice.
Vulcano: The scenic island
Of all the Aeolian Islands, Vulcano is the one that resonated with me the most. I don’t know if that’s just because we had such an awesome day driving around in an open-top jeep – or if it’s the amazing lunch we had at a restaurant on the island – but our day on Vulcano couldn’t be beat.
Like Stromboli, Vulcano gives off a special aura. It’s hard to not get taken in by the island’s dramatic natural beauty.
I call Vulcano ‘the scenic island’ because it’s basically a set of extremely beautiful landscapes and views strung together by winding roads. Vulcano is closest to the Sicilian mainland so it’s popular a day trip, but most tourists don’t make it past the harbour area, which is honestly quite touristy.
As soon as you get out of the port area and up into the national park around Vulcano Piano, you feel like you’re on a different planet. A hire car is critical for Vulcano if you want to take in these magnificent views (and believe me, you do).
Things to do on Vulcano Island
- Hike to Solfatare di Vulcano (approx. 4km return) to look down into the island’s extinct Gran Cratere di Vulcano. Good shoes are essential. The trailhead opens up behind the port, near Casa Genovese.
- Drive to Belvedere Capo Grillo for an unbeatable view of Punta Luccia and Vulcano’s capes with Lipari Island in the background.
- Stop off at Caseificio La vecchia Fattoria to sample farm-fresh, hand-made goat’s cheese. There are plenty of goats on Vulcano, and this is the best cheese producer.
- Take a theraputic dip in the sulfur mud baths, I Fanghi di Vulcano. The bathing pools are located just to the north of the hydrofoil port.
- Swim in the natural sea pools around Piscina di Venere on the island’s west coast.
- Drive through Vulcano Piano, stopping for the view at Monte Saraceno along the way.
- Eat lunch at Ristorante Il Diavolo Dei Polli, a fantastic Slow Food restaurant that specialises in chicken but also does yummy seafood. If Malvasia semifreddo is still on the menu, make sure you order it!
- Drive down the windy road to the southern tip of the island until you reach Gelso Beach (Spiaggia del Gelso). Have a swim, or walk south along the shore to reach the lighthouse, Faro di Vulcano, and a sweet church, Chiesa della Madonna delle Grazie, hidden in the undergrowth
Where to stay on Vulcano Island
If I were to stay the night on Vulcano, I would definitely opt for accommodation outside the main port area. Maria Tindara ‘La Locanda’ is an Agriturismo-style hotel, with modest rooms and an on-site restaurant. It’s location in Vulcano Piano is ideal.
Panarea: The chic island
Covering just 3 square kilometres, Panarea is the smallest and most densely populated Aeolian Island. In recent years, petite Panarea has earned a big reputation as a playground for the rich and famous.
Artist Anish Kapoor and Princess Caroline are counted among regular visitors. Tech billionaires and European media moguls jet in on Air Panarea and might stay at Hotel Raya, the cult accommodation responsible for transforming Panarea into Italy’s latest ‘it island’.
I must admit that Panarea isn’t my favourite island. I don’t generally enjoy the ‘luxury island’, all-inclusive vibe. Instead of local boutiques, there’s expensive brand name shops and overpriced cafes. Having said that, it is pretty easy to get away from the hubbub simply by taking one of the olive tree-lined paths that lead up above the town.
Panarea’s tripartite of tiny villages are linked by a single road. Electric vehicles (glorified golf buggies) race up and down the narrow streets, which aren’t wide enough for cars. Because it is more wealthy, the houses here are really quite stunning. It’s not all bad!
An hour or so is all the time you’ll need to see Panarea’s main attractions.
Things to do on Panarea Island
- Explore San Pietro, the largest town where boats and hydrofoils dock, taking time to appreciate the lines and details of its white sugar-cube houses that are reminiscent of Greek Island architecture.
- Visit the pastel-coloured Chiesa di San Pietro, one of the most beautiful churches in the archipelago.
- Window shop at Panarea’s flashy boutiques, including Boutique Raya. Hunt down a pair of the island’s handmade leather sandals or visit the local weaving studio.
- Cala Junco Beach at the southern tip of Panarea is home to a natural swimming hole enclosed by lava cliffs.
- Near Calcara Beach, a small cove on the northeast part of the island, see the fumaroles that stain the rocks yellow and ochre with their sulphuric steam. Watch as gas bubbles rise from the sea bed and dance on the surface of the water.
- Hike up Punta Del Corvo (about 3 hours return) for magnificent views of neighbouring Stromboli Island.
- Hire a boat to visit Basiluzzo, and islet off the coast where you can see the remains of an Imperial Roman villa.
- Visit the volcanic rock formations off Panarea’s coast, including the pyramid-shaped Dattilo. Sulphur and allum were once mined here, leaving little holes and caves in the surface of the rock. The niches have since been used as beehives, with residents luring swarms there and collecting their honey at sea.
Where to stay on Panarea Island
For the full Panarea experience, don’t look past Hotel Raya. Rooms are plushly decorated Mediterranean-style, and the property boasts an infinity pool and stacked terraces for the best sea views. Rates are quite reasonable (especially in shoulder season) if you book in advance.
The elegent Quartara Boutique Hotel is equally as beautiful as Hotel Raya and has a lower price tag. Budget accommodation is tricky to come by, but there are a few bed and breakfasts for under $100, including B&B da Luca.
Stromboli: The spiritual island
Stromboli is probably the best-known of the seven Aeolian Islands. The only active volcano in the archipelago, it’s one of the most-studied volcanoes on Earth.
It’s not just geologists and volcanologists who are drawn to visit Stromboli. The sense of ultimate ephemerality and being subject to nature’s will is alluring to many. Stromboli has a mystique and an energy that’s palpable as soon as you get off the boat. This has long attracted artists, musicians and other creatives to the island.
Their will is often tested – lava eruptions are not at all uncommon (there have been two major events since our visit). Eruptions can usually be anticipated and the island is evacuated if the situation is serious enough.
Gorgeous plumes of smoke and ash bellow from Stromboli’s cone at all hours of the day and if visibility is good, can be observed from the other islands. At night, you can often glimpse ribbons of red lava, too. Stromboli hosts a popular crater summit hike, or you can view the activity from a safer distance on the water.
The island’s main port town, simply called Stromboli, resembles other authentic Aeolian villages: meandering streets, cafes, and a beautiful church. Striking black sand beaches ring the island and look wonderful dotted with colourful fishing boats.
Things to do on Stromboli Island
- If conditions are right, summit the crater with an experienced guide to see the active volcano up close. The hike takes about 6 hours and a reasonable level of fitness is required. Book here.
- If you’re not up for the trek, grab a front row seat for the light show from a boat off the island’s coast. We chose this option and really enjoyed it!
- Sciara del Fuoco, the ash scar that runs down Stromboli’s northern face, can be seen from the water or from a viewpoint an hour’s walk out of town. Instructions here.
- There are some fascinating rock formations off the coast of the island including Strombolicchio, which is topped with a tiny white lighthouse. I highly recommend exploring the area by boat to see the rocks and natural archways up close.
- Stromboli’s black sand beaches are the best in the archipelago. Spiaggia di Ficogrande, a popular swimming spot, is a 10-minute walk from the hydrofoil dock.
- Wander the streets of Stromboli village, stopping off to look inside Chiesa di San Vincenzo Ferreri and people watch on the main plaza. The area is all abuzz in the early evening when trekkers start assembling to prepare for their excursion.
- Grab a cafe freddo or sccop of gelato on the terrace at Da Luciano for spectacular views of the harbour below.
- Visit some of the artist ateliers and gift boutiques dotted along Stromboli’s narrow streets. Hunks of local pumice stone and soap embedded with lava (natural exfoliation!) make for great souvenirs.
- If you have more time, visit the Cinema Museum of Stromboli and the lovely San Bartolomeo church.
Where to stay on Stromboli Island
If you’re trekking to the crater, the walk finishes very late in the evening so you’ll need to spend the night on Stromboli. Most hikes finish in Stromboli village, where there are a multitude of bed and breakfasts that cater to trekkers.
Alicudi & Filicudi: The remote islands
The two westernmost islands in the Aeolian archipelago, Alicudi and Filicudi, see far fewer tourists than any of the others. Rugged and remote, these islands are known for their natural beauty, clear-water beaches and rustic villages.
Hire a scooter on Filicudi to access the more remote pebble beaches and the viewpoint at Fossa delle Felci. There are three small villages on the island where you can find restaurants and a few hotels, including the sweet Da Nino Sul Mare. Caves and rock formations around the island are best observed from the water. You can hire a boat and driver at the port.
Less than half of neighbouring Alicudi is inhabited. In the absence of roads, locals get around on donkeys, giving the island a charming ‘lost in time’ feel. From the port, you can access trails that lead up the island’s 700 metre-tall volcanic cone. If you want to spend the night on Alicudi, Hotel La Canna comes highly recommended.
We didn’t get a chance to visit Filicudi and Alicudi this time around – but they’re top of our list for our next visit to the Aeolian Islands!
Final thoughts: Are the Aeolian Islands worth visiting?
It’s no exaggeration to say that our time on the Aeolian Islands was the trip of a lifetime for Ross and I. It fell towards the end of our 10-month trip – right at the point where we were feeling exhausted and ready to go home. Our time in Sicily was re-engergising, fulfilling in every sense of the word, and reminded me what travel is all about.
We were beyond lucky to be hosted by family who made the experience that more memorable.
We never would have thought to travel to the Aeolian Islands were it not for my aunt and uncle’s invitation. And to be completely honest, we never could have afforded to do a proper trip in the islands were it not for their generosity.
The Aeolian Islands aren’t cheap, but compared to other parts of the Italian coast, the value you get is incredible. Money aside, this part of Italy is really special – people are so friendly, the food is divine, and I don’t think you can find landscapes quite like those on islands anywhere else. It’s not every day you get to wake up to a view of an active volcano puffing smoke, or walk along a black sand beach, or summit an extinct crater.
In short, the Aeolian Islands is an incredible part of the world. If you’re tossing up whether to go or not, just do it!
I hope this guide has helped convince you – or at the very least answered some of your questions about logistics and planning. If there’s something I’ve forgotten or something else you’re curious to know, please leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer.