Best Things to do in Marsala, Sicily
Marsala is an amazing place to visit in Sicily. This blog shows you all the best things to do in Marsala for your next Sicilian vacation.
Marsala is a port city located on the westernmost tip of Sicily in the Trapani Province. It’s about 100km from Palermo, Sicily’s capital. It is a popular vacation destination and it is the 5th largest town in Sicily.
The name Marsala comes from “Mars el’Allah”, meaning Allah’s Port. As you can probably guess, Marsala has a long history and has strong Arabic roots. Throughout history, Marsala has been under different rulers such as the Carthaginians, Romans, and the Arabs.
Due to it being a port city, Marsala thrived and was a key point of trade, especially to Africa given its proximity to the Africa continent. But most importantly, Marsala is most renowned for its wine and landing of Giuseppe Garibaldi (Expedition of the Thousands) in 1860, which led to the unification of Italy.
As you can see, Marsala is a city with a rich history, amazing wine, sandy beaches, tasty food and a lot of things to do and see. Let’s dive into all the best things to do in Marsala now.
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Watch a Sunset At Stagnone Islands Nature Reserve’s Salt Fields
The Stagnone Islands Nature Reserve is one of the reserves outside of the city of Marsala. It is a protected site with various species of floras, faunas, windmills and salt fields.
This Nature Reserve was originally built by the Phoenicians and it includes 4 small islands, separated by very small strips of shallow water. You can literally walk from one island to the next.
The most famous feature of the Stagnone Nature Reserve is the Salt Fields. It is one of the oldest salt marshes in Europe and here you can see the windmills that used to drain water from the basins.
Many people come to Stagnone to see the sunset as the sun reflect over the basins, making this place look even more beautiful than a painting. If you only have one day in Marsala then a visit to the Stagnone is one of the best things to do in Marsala.
Explore Marsala City Center
Marsala city center is a wonderful place to see the most famous churches and buildings in Marsala.
Piazza della Republica is the main square in the Marsala City Center; this is where you will see the most famous church of Marsala, the Chiesa Madre (Mother Church), dedicated to Saint Thomas of Canterbury.
Besides the main church, as you walk around the Marsala City center, you will find picturesque piazzas, Tapestry Museum, monasteries, stores and street side cafes, making this one of the best things to do in Marsala. As you walk around the city square, you should note that a lot of the buildings you see have been rebuilt and restored since Marsala has gone through numerous invasions.
See Porta Garibaldi
Porta Garibaldi is the main city gate of Marsala. However it is not just a gate, but also an architectural masterpiece.
It was originally named Porta di Mare, but now it is named after Giuseppe Garibaldi, who declared Marsala was “free” and no longer part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
It is currently the symbol of Marsala’s historic center. Through the gate you can get a nice view of the streets of Marsala historical center.
Marsala Archaeological Museum (Museo Archeologico Baglio Anselmi)
The Marsala Archeological Museum is one of the most important museums in Sicily, Italy. It is part of the Lilybaeum Archaeological Park.
Inside the museum you will learn the history of Marsala and all the significant events the city has gone through. You will also find wonderful artifacts, statues, sculptures and other art pieces from the Carthaginian, Greek and Roman periods in Marsala’s history.
One of the most important relics in the archaeological museum is the shipwreck of a Punic warship from the First Punic war. Other items found on the ship are also on display at the museum.
Another important item at the museum is the statue of Venus of Lilybaeum. If you are a history lover than a visit to the Marsala Archaeological Museum is one of the best things to do in Marsala.
Lilybaeum Archaeological Park (Parco Archeologico di Lilibeo)
Attached to the Marsala Archaeological Museum is the Lilybaeum Archaeological Park, an outdoor area with the ruins from the ancient city.
You have to walk through the museum in order to access the archaeological park.
At the archaeological site you will come across ruins of fortification, city gate, bathing complex, Byzantine burials and the Temple of Isis. You can even see a genuine Roman road and interesting groundworks of a Roman villa. The area is worth a visit if you are already visiting the museum.
Fish Market in Marsala (Mercato del Pesce)
If you want to see a traditional fish market in Sicily then you have to stop by the fish market in Marsala.
During the day you will find fresh fish and they can even cook the fish for you on the spot. You will also find fresh vegetables and fruits at great prices at this fish market.
At night the fish market is no longer a fish market! The shouting of the sellers turn into music and the venue becomes the center of Marsala nightlife. You can come and enjoy wine, cocktails and music from local bands and popular DJs.
Monument to the Thousand (Monumento ai Mille)
The Monument to the Thousands is a memorial in Marsala that is dedicated to the landing of Giuseppe Garibaldi. It is located near the actual port and was completed in 2016 after much delays and controversy.
The monument has the names of the “thousand” (Garibaldi’s men) engraved on metal plates, it is a symbol of the epic event that brought people together that led to the unification of Italy.
Visit Wineries in Marsala
A deep rooted tradition in food and wine has made Marsala and its wine famous all over the world.
Many people come to Marsala to taste its wine and if you love wine then one of the best things to do in Marsala for you is to visit wineries.
Mostly found in the 1800s, these wineries all offer guided tours of the historical cellars with wine tasting. These wineries are not just wine cellars, but they are more like museums.
Through the guided tours, guests will discover rich history of the Marsala region. Some tours also include local food bites to pair with the wine. The tasting and tours are between 20 – 50 Euro per person depending on your selection (whether you include food or not).
Bathe in Lido Marakaibbo
Just south of Marsala along the coast you will find a wonderful stretch of beaches. Lido Marakaibbo is one of the beautiful white sand beaches along the coast.
You can easily access the beaches of Marsala by bus or bikes. There is a restaurant at the beach so you can grab a drink and a bite and rent umbrella and sun beds to relax.
The food options vary from seafood to meat main courses to vegetables and fruit and of course there is Marsala wine to go with the food. The beach restaurant is also till midnight during July and August so guests can enjoy the evening at the beach.
Mozia is a small village located in the Stagnone Nature Reserve lagoon.
Even though Mozia is a small village, there is a lot of history and importance to it. The Carthaginians built Mozia as a strategic trading post but it was destroyed by the Greeks of Syracuse in the 4th century BC. After it was destroyed the survivors built a new town on the coast which became modern day Marsala.
Due to its unique geographical location, there has been various ship wrecks, including the Punic warships that were found nearby.
When you visit Mozia, one of the best things to do is to visit the museum on the island to understand the history of the island. You can also see collections of ancient artifacts here. You can also see excavations and ruins on the archeological sites on Mozia. One of the remains you can see is a site that was possibly a place for child sacrifice.
You can easily reach Mozia by ferry (there are two companies running different ferry routes).
Mazara del Vallo
Mazara del Vallo is a town about 30 minutes (by car) south of Marsala, making it a wonderful excursion from Marsala and one of the best things to do in Marsala
Mazara del Vallo has a rich history with roots in Phoenicians and Arabs. Under the Arabs Mazara became a main maritime and commercial center. The Arabs built a mosque and made Mazara the center of Islamic studies and culture. However with the arrival of the Normans after, the mosque was replaced by a Cathedral. Currently Mazara del Vallo has the largest fishing fleet in Italy.
In 1998 the fishermen found an ancient bronze sculpture called the dancing satyr. It has now been restored and is housed at the Museo del Satiro Danzante in Mazara.
You can explore the historical center of Mazara del Vallo and walk around the Casbah, which is a typical Islamic neighborhood enclosed within the walls. You should see the Norman arch, Piazza della Repubblica (the main town square) and the splendid cathedral, the Palazzo Vescovile. Also remember to visit the Diocesan Museum, Church of San Francesco. Don’t forget to walk along the docks to see the fishing boat (given this is the largest fishing fleet).
You can also find a series of beaches in Mazara del Vallo making this the best thing to do in Marsala if you are looking for an interesting day trip.
Take a Day Tour to Trapani
A visit to Trapani is a must if your itinerary allows it. Trapani is a wonderful day trip from Marsala that is only 30 minutes away by car (1 hour by public transit).
Trapani is the capital of the Province of Trapani and is an important fishing port. It is a lively port town rich in Sicilian culture and there are a lot to see here (and a lot of day trips to take from Trapani).
While in Trapani, you can explore the old town and visit museums and shop at the fish market. You can walk along the sea wall to see the beautiful view.
If you are interested in day trips from Trapani, you can head up to Erice, visit the Egadi Islands, see a Greek Ruins at Segesta or spend a beach day at San Vito Lo Capo. There are a lot of things to explore at Trapani so you definitely won’t be disappointed!
Try Local Food
One of the best things to do in Marsala is to go around restaurants and bakeries to try some of the famous traditional food. Sicilian cuisine is very different from the Italian food you normally think of, given its interesting history and influences under different cultures.
Some of the best things to eat in Marsala include the classic fish couscous, pasta with sea urchin and busiate with trapani pesto (busiate is a traditional pasta from the Province of Trapani).
Other famous food in Marsala include the Cunzato Bread (Pane Cunzato), which is a simple bread seasoned with oil, salt, pepper, tomato, anchovies and cheese. Arancina is a breaded and fried rice ball (with meat or butter). Panelle is a mix of chickpea flour, cut into slices and fried and served in a sandwich.
You can easily spend a few days in Marsala do do all of the things I mentioned above and also learn about the history and cuisine of the region. If you have more time you will need to visit the 3 Egadi Islands as well as Erice from Trapani.
Do a cooking class in Marsala
One way to really discover local food in Marsala is to join a cooking class. Whenever I travel I always try to do a cooking class to see how the locals cook and eat (and it’s always fun to shop at the local market with the guide).
Other Italy Resources
If you are visiting other parts of Italy, be sure to check out the following Italy articles that I have.
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