Visit the beautiful Aeolian Islands off Italy. You’ll be glad you did. They lie just an hour off the northeast coast of Sicily, and are often written as the Eolian Islands. These eight beautiful islands cover an area of 620 sq mi and have been on my bucket list for years. Why? Because the name Stromboli stuck with me.
It was either the 1950’s film, “Stromboli, Terra di Dio,” with Ingrid Bergman, or the Philly sandwich my college roommate used to crave from back home, the Stromboli.
Mind you, I have been pronouncing Stromboli wrong, forever. In American English, we pronounce the sandwich, “strom BOW li. ” The island is pronounced, “STROM bow li.
Map of Aeolian Islands off Italy
Aeolians are a Unesco-Protected Site
These Aeolian Islands of Italy are Unesco-protected, and see a whopping 200,000 visitors a year. There are two very cool, active volcanoes: Stromboli and Volcano. You may have seen that Stromboli just erupted recently. The other main islands include Alicudi, Filicudi, Salina, Lipari, Panarea, and Basiluzzo.
The Aeolians are a stunning group of Italian islands well worth exploring. There are a variety of ways to visit Sicily’s Aeolian Islands, and a lot depends on where you position yourself and how much time you have. The islands are beautiful, and their waters are pristine. The food is amazing and the locals, welcoming. These are a great Italian islands to visit if you want a lovely Italian island experience.
For a quick visit to the Aeolian Islands take a day trip
There are a variety of day trips from mainland Italy to the Aeolians.
If you are visiting Taormina or Cefalu on the island of Sicily, there are several tour companies offering day trips to the Sicilian Aeolian islands. The round trip price is around $70, and takes the entire day. It can be a bit of a schlog!
The ferries to the Aeolian Islands leave early in the morning and return late at night. They usually visit 2-3 islands and provide commentary in multiple languages. This does not give much time to explore any of the islands, considering the time it takes to get there by ferry, but it’s a great introduction to the Aeolian Islands.
How to get to the Aeolian Islands for Independent Travelers
If you are looking for standard ferry boats to the Aeolian islands, take a look at these.
Ferry from Palermo to visit the Aeolian Islands
If you are visiting Palermo on Sicily, you can reach the Eolian island of Alicudi in nearly 2 hours for about $55 one way. The island of Lipari will take 4 hours for about $70. Both Ferries Direct and Liberty Lines are great websites for information about travel days, times, costs and to book tickets ahead of time.
Ferry From Naples to the Aeolian Islands Sicily if you are visiting Sorrento
From there, go back up to Naples to catch the boat to the Eolian Island of Lipari on the SNAV, Alilauro and the Siremar lines, but it will take longer. I’d take this route if you are looking for an overnight experience or a long, day experience on a ferry to the Aeolian Islands.
Ferry travel times range from 6.5 hrs to nearly 14 hrs to arrive in Lipari from Naples. Mind you, I’ve met some interesting people sitting on a ferry deck in the Mediterranean for hours, so if you have the time and inclination, do it!
Ferry From Tropea, Calabria to the Eolian Islands
From beautiful Tropea on the Calabrian coast, you can take a 12-hour mini cruise and visit Lipari , Volcano and Stromboli Islands for about $55. It’s a long day, but you’ll be happy you did.
Ferries companies to the Eolian Islands from Milazzo, Sicily
The city of Milazzo is the closest town to the Aeolian Islands from mainland Sicily. A one-way ferry ticket from Milazzo to Lipari is $24, and the best transport, by far, is Liberty Lines.
They operate hydrofoils that are quick, clean, efficient, and fun to be on! The crew is well organized and you’ll quickly be on your way.
When I travel, I like to get out early and beat the rush. My boat was at 8:30, although I arrived at the port in time for the 8am departure. You can change your tickets to an earlier or later departure time, but you have to pay a supplement to do so.
The time tables for most of the islands are quite frequent. Boats leave every 30 to 60 minutes and you arrive in 65 minutes.
To visit the Aeolian Islands, base yourself on Lipari Island
I wanted more time on the Aeolian islands to explore, and I wanted to find a convenient base. Lipari is it.
As I mentioned, the closest departure port on Sicily’s mainland is Milazzo to Lipari Island. And Lipari is the best base for discovering the Aeolian because it’s the largest island, smack-dab in the middle of the archipelago. But don’t do what I did!
I was visiting Catania and took the train up to Milazzo to stay the night. I wanted to take my time getting there and figure out how the ferries work. That was a waste!
The city of Milazzo was heavily bombed in WWII, and other than the promenade, not a lot has been developed SINCE WWII.
Venture one street off the promenade and the buildings are very dilapidated. The area feels dodgy, restaurants and hotels are overpriced, and I knew I wouldn’t venture far.
It’s also an unattractive petrol port city, which also explains why it was bombed in the war. I would not stay here again. When I told people I was staying in Milazzo, they asked, ‘Why?’ ….Now I know.
If you arrive into Milazzo via train, whatever you do, take the bus DIRECTLY to the port, and take the first boat OUT.
Milazzo’s train station is a few MILES out of town. You don’t walk it, you have to take a bus or taxi. The inconvenient bus comes once an hour for about $1.50 and a taxi is quoted at $15. It’s pure highway robbery for a 10-minute ride.
If you have a long wait for the bus, ask a few others at the station if they want to split a taxi with you. Everyone is going to the same place – to the port of Milazzo to get the hell out!!
Ferries leave rather frequently from Milazzo and there’s no need to spend a night there.
Hotels in Lipari Island
When you arrive at the port of charming, Lipari Town, you’ll find numerous hotels and holiday apartments within walking distance. I wanted to be on the beach, so I chose the second largest town, Canetto. It’s a 10-minute ride from the port, and there are cheap city buses to take you there for $1.50.
In Canetto, you’ll find a lovely stretch of clean, sandy beach in a quiet part of the island. If I want a beach, I NEVER stay in a port town. The waters are just not that clean.
Location of Canetto on Lipari Aeolian Islands
I booked a place with a free transfer, free internet and free breakfast. Everything I needed. When I arrived in port, a man was holding a sign with the name of the apartment complex, and within 5 minutes I was on my way.
Since I wanted to spend a week there, I booked an apartment. I love living like a local, making coffee when I want and whipping up a fresh meal with ingredients I find at the local market. This time I stayed at La Villetta Residence, which I highly recommend. I had a super 1-bed apartment with a massive terrace.
The breakfast is excellent, and there’s a pool and jacuzzi if you are tired of the beach. My only gripe was the internet, which was non existent on my terrace or in my room. I even struggled at the breakfast terrace, which is attached to the main building. Their routers were simply not strong enough to provide network coverage for me to work.
It’s a shame, because although I stayed 5 nights, I would have stayed another week to discover more islands. The staff are like family, very accommodating, and the apartments are really well-kitted out. I seriously could have stayed for months! I loved the place!!! Prices range from $60-110 a night.
What to visit in Lipari Town
There is plenty to see and do in Lipari Town for a day. There are several restaurants and bars along the port area and they have a lovely old town with quaint boutiques and souvenir shops. It’s great for a wander around.
Lipari Castle, Cathedral and Norman Cloisters
Then head up to the heart of the old town to see the Castle of Lipari, the Cathedral of St Bartholomew, and the adjacent Norman Cloisters, which were the first Latin-Norman cloisters in Sicily. The cathedral, as it is today, was rebuilt in the mid 1500s after much was destroyed by fire. The frescoes and adornments inside are from the 1700’s.
The Archeological Museum of the Aeolians
Here, you’ll find treasures excavated from Lipari itself and the other Aeolian Islands. You’ll also find artifacts found under water, a mask collection and theatrical statuettes. The museum’s collection continues to grow since excavations and finds continue to happen all the time.
The Archaeological Park of the Contrada Diana of Lipari
This park is the green lung of Lipari. It contains pieces of the old Greek walls from the 4th century BC laid out in a park setting. It’s a great place for locals and tourists to meet and a nice respite from the humid, summer air.
Boat tour around the island of Lipari
There’s plenty to see around Lipari from the water as well, so take a day trip by boat.
In Lipari Town and Canetto, you will find several kiosks and shops selling excursions around the island, and to other Aeolian islands. There is a lot of competition with one another for similar routes, so compare prices.
I decided to take a ‘Round the Lipari Island Boat Tour’ to orient myself. It’s a great way to see the entire of Lipari Island.
The tour is from 9-5, for only about $25. You stop at White Beach to swim, Acquacalda for lunch, the abandoned pumice factory, and a few other stops for swimming and snorkelling. There were only about 15 people on our boat, and it was a brilliant day out.
Divide your visits of the Aeolian Islands into separate day trips
From the same port areas of Lipari and Canetto you can do a day trip to visit the other islands. Lipari is in the middle of them all, so you can go in one direction and see Alicudi and Filicudi one day; Vulcano and Salina another, and Panarea and Stromboli on yet another.
Visit the Aeolian Islands of Alicudi and Filicudi for peace and quiet
The islands of Alicudi and Filicudi are quite quiet and isolated. They are also the most remote. These extinct volcanos are only 9 miles apart and if you are looking for peace and quiet, these are the islands to visit.
Alicudi only recently received electricity and you’ll share the island with peasants who enjoy tending to their caper and olive groves.
Transport is still by donkey! You also need to go on days when the winds are calm, as landing on these islands can be a challenge. Trips cost around $45 for a day visit.
Filicudi is a bit larger with around 350 inhabitants and there are some nice bars and restaurants serving fresh seafood. This is more of a romantic’s paradise. It’s a great Italian island for couples. To best see these islands, stay a night on Filicudi. They are a distance from Lipari and you may feel rushed with the ferry itinerary.
Visiting the therapeutic, volcanic Island of Volcano, and Salina
The gently-fuming, volcanic island, Volcano, is a real stinker! Literally! It’s only 12 miles from the port of Milazzo and what hits you is it’s beauty and putrid smell!
The sulphur stench here is quite strong and oozes out of the cracks in the ground. But don’t worry. Volcano last erupted in 1888. If you are looking to laze around in therapeutic mud baths and hot, bubbly, sulphur steams, this will be right up your alley!
The island of Salina is a very green gem with a nature preserve dedicated to preserving two volcanos covered by heavy brush: Fossa del Felci and Monte Pirri.
It’s also the place where segments of the movie, “Il Postino,” starring Neapolitan actor, Massimo Troisi, were filmed. This island is big on capers and if you are there in June, you will happen upon the Caper Festival.
They also produce a lot of salt! Just think of the word, saline. And a great place to base yourself on Salina is the Hotel Principe di Salina. Super sweet family-run hotel where you’ll feel right at home.
Visit Stromboli Island for adventure and stop in Panarea enroute
From Lipari, Panarea island is the first stop on this day trip. Panarea is quite small with nearly 300 residents and is the second smallest of the eight Aeolian islands.
In 2011, W magazine described it as, “the epicenter of the chicest summer scene in the Mediterranean.” Quite a notably feat! It’s frequented by a variety of celebrities who more than likely landed there via helicopter on Air Panarea for romantic escapes and yachting excursions.
It’s small, quiet, chic, with a few high-end boutique shops and is full of low-key charm. Think Capri, but a little further out and less crowded.
Stromboli Island Visit
Stromboli Island is for the thrill-seeker. It’s the most dramatic of the Aeolian islands because of it’s well-known volcano that’s been active for 100,000 years.
When you near Stromboli via boat, you cannot imagine that the active volcano is continually oozing out on the other side of the island. As I landed at the port of Stromboli, I wondered how the 500 or so inhabitants of the island felt knowing their entire existence could be blown away in an instance. I guess since Stromboli lets off steam all the time, the chances of a huge eruption are low, but nothing like living on the edge…literally.
You arrive in the port town where you’ll find shops and restaurants, and a quaint lane leading up to Stromboli village. There you’ll find the cathedral in the square along with some bars, restaurants and a few fruit and vegetable sellers.
Visit Stromboli, Terra di Dio Film museum
Further along the same road you come across the house that Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman stayed in while filming, ‘Stromboli, Terra di Dio.‘ This caused quite a scandal as they were both married, to other people, at the time.
It’s now a museum where you can see the interior as it was, and paraphernalia from the film.
Stromboli has had some major eruptions in the past 10 years and visiting parts of the island are dictated by eruptions and weather.
You can trek the crater only with professional guides and full protective gear is necessary, but you can find everything you need on the island.
Visit Stromboli’s volcano via boat
The other way to see the activity of Stromboli’s volcano is by boat. When you sail around to the other side of the island, you begin to feel the heat. All of a sudden, everyone was looking around to see whether everyone else was feeling the heat. It was like you opened the oven door, and we were quite a distance away. Other boats in the water were closer to the Sciara del Fuoco, as it is called, than we were, and we questioned how they could handle the intense heat.
It was amazing and scary at the same time. The whole side of the island was a steaming, slanted, black land mass. It is most spectacular at night when you can see the eruptions in their full glory. Most of the boat tours will go out around dusk, linger around in the water for a bit before heading back to Lipari around 10:30pm.
In all, it was a fantastic tour for a mere $40 and was the highlight of visiting the Aeolians. I went with a group out of Lipari on the Regina dei Mari tour boat. Really quality and professional operators. Highly recommended.
Visit the Aeolian Islands off Italy
The Aeolian Islands are some of the most amazing islands off Italy you’ll see in the Mediterranean, and Italy is one of my favorite countries. Take some time to get to know the islands and appreciate them for what they have to offer.
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