The Aeolian Islands trip planner

The Aeolian Islands (Isole Eolie)—sometimes called the Lipari Islands—is a string of volcanic islets off the northeast coast of Sicily

This chain eight volcanic Aeolian, or Lipari, Islands strung out in the Thyrrhenian sea was home to some of Sicily's earliest Paleolithic and Bronze Age cultures—the isle of Lipari has a great archeology museum—but it was the colonizing Greeks who dubbed them after Aeolus, god of the winds, who stored his gusts in their caves.

The fantastic geologic forms, spectacular active vulcanism, whitewashed houses, excellent fresh fish, and shallow, clear azure waters and offshore islets have made these islands one of Italy's favorite resorts.

Fortunately, aside from the built-up town on the main island of Lipari, the tourism economy has wisely seen that the charm lies in keeping these islands rough and peasant-style, with only a few hundred inhabitants on each and plenty of room to hike or lay on the beach.

In addition to a short guide about Milazzo (the town on the northeast Sicilian coast from which you catch ferries to the islands—though you can also get there via overnight ferry from Naples; more below under "Tips"), I’ll highlight the top four islands:

  • ★★ Stromboli — The most spectacular of the Aeolian Islands is an active volcano, spewing lava into the skies several times hourly, like some fiery Italian Old Faithful.
  • Lipari - The largest island and capital of the chain, ringed with several small communities and a 16th-century castle complex towering over the main town. Although it makes a good base and offers some modest sightseeing, Lipari really doesn't offer the same spectacular scenery of the smaller islands.
  • Vulcano - The natural spa island, with bubbling mud pits and fizzy warm waters where you can give yourself treatments.
  • Panarea - The chichi resort island with celebrity hideaways.

Besides the islands elaborated above, the Aeolians also include Salina—great malvasia wine, rudiments of a Bronze Age village, and a laid-back island lifestyle—and remote, semi-desolate Alicudi and Filicudi, where electricity was hooked up only in 1990.

(Between Panarea and Stromboli is the final island: a tiny, uninhabited rock called Basiluzzo, less than a square kilometer in size.)

Planning your trip

  • How long to spend on the Aeolian Islands: How to spend 1, 2, 3, or 4 days in the Aeolian islands:

    • How to spend 1 day on the Aeolian islands: Though it is technially possible to visit any one island on a daytrip from, say, Milazzo or Messina, I do not recommend it. You'd spend almost as much time on ferries as you would on the island of your choice. Still, if you are on a tight schedule and want to, please pick just one island and have fun.

      • Stromboli is by far the most dramatic, but also the farthest out (minimum 1 hour out and 1 hour back; though 1.5 to 3 hours is more common).
      • Vulcano or Panarea are closer to the mainland and both excellent choices—Vulcano for a more nifty vulcanism; Panarea for a more chichi vibe.
      • If you are more into the history than the beachy/island factor, visit Lipari.
    • How to spend 2 days on the Aeolian islands:
      • (1) Take the ferry to Vulcano, give yourself a mud treatment, then relax in a hotel the first night. Early the next morning, get up and grab a boat to Lipari, get off and tour its castle and museum (for some historical background on the islands), then get on an afternoon ferry bound for Panarea to spend the second night.
      • (2) Alternately, grab a fast boat to Stromboli on the first day, climb the volcano and spend the night up there, then take a ferry back the next mid-morning to the second island of your choice to chill on the beach (my votes: Vulcano or Panarea).
    • How to spend 3–4 days on the Aeolian islands: Do option (1) above, then continue on to Stromboli for the balance of your time (if you have four days, you can even try spending one night atop the volcano).
  • How to get to the Aeolian Islands: You can only get to these islands by boat—a hydrofoil (aliscafo) will be twice as fast, twice as expensive, and half as romantic as a ferry (traghetto). Most boats island-hop, stopping at a variety of islands (including many smaller ones not detailed here) from Milazzo to Stromboli and back again. Other boats are direct. Some turn around at Lipari.

    Ferry companies to the Aeolians
    • Siremar/Tirrenia - tel. 892-123, or from abroad +39-02-2630-2830; www.siremar.it
    • Ustica Lines - tel. +39-0923-873-813; www.usticalines.it
    • N.G.I. - tel. 800-250-000 toll free, or +39-090-928-4091; www.ngi-spa.it
    • SNAV - tel. +39-081-428-5555; www.snav.it
    All boat companies charge pretty much the same prices, so choose based on convenience of departure times. Buy your tickets one-way so you’re free to choose among the companies for the most convenient departures times as you go along, either to the next island or back to the mainland. View current schedules and ticket prices at the websites of the various ferry and hydrofoil lines, listed in the box on the right.

    The main Sicilian port for the Aeolians is Milazzo, on a promontory 40km (24 miles) west of Messina—though there are also limited services from Messina, Palermo, Cefalù, and Naples. Still, for the greatest number of options use Milazzo, which means your first order of business is getting to Milazzo:

    • How to get to Milazzo: Coming from Messina, your best bet is the roughly hourly Giuntabus (tel. +39-090-675-749, www.giuntabustrasporti.com). It leaves from PIazza della Repubblica in front of the Messina train station and lets you off right at Milazzo's ferry docks (50 min.). On Sundays, there's only one run, around 7:15am.

      I suggest the bus because Milazzo's train station is miles from the port (though you can hop a city bus into town and the port or take a taxi). Still: There are also 8 trains daily to Milazzo from Rome (9–10 hr.), 2 of which pass through Naples (7 hr.). There are at least hourly trains to Milazzo from Messina (30–60 min.); and 14–16 trains from Palermo (2.5–3 hr.) that pass through Cefalù (90–160 min.).
    • If you're driving: You won't need a car on the mostly roadless islands. Most parking garages in Milazzo are expensive, so use the Eolie Garage next to the Hotel Capitol, Via Giorgio Rizzo 91 (tel. 090-928-3298), where they will garage your car for much less per night, even if you aren't a guest. Parking your car unattended near the docks just invites a break-in.
    • How to get to the Aeolian Islands from Milazzo: In winter, expect about half as many runs as listed here, and not always daily ferry service to Stromboli (hydrofoils, however, will run daily).

      • The hydrofoil from Milazzo—Siremar or Ustica Lines (see box above to right for contact info on all companies)—runs 7 times daily to Vulcano (40–60 min.) and Lipari (55–60 min.), 4 times daily to Panarea (1.5–2 hr.) and Stromboli (1–3 hr.).
      • The ferry from Milazzo—Siremar or N.G.I.—runs 9 times daily to Vulcano (85 min.) and Lipari (2 hr.), 1–2 times daily to Panarea (4–5 hr.) and Stromboli (6–7 hr.).
    • How to get to the Aeolian Islands from Messina: Ustica Lines runs 5 hydrofoils daily to Lipari (1.5–3.5 hr.), 4 to Vulcano (2–3 hr.), and 3 each to Panarea (2–3.5 hr.) and Stromboli (1.5–3 hr.). [The hours look funny because while some island-hop, others are direct.]
    • How to get to the Aeolian Islands from Naples: June to early September, there is a 2:30pm SNAV hydrofoil from Naples to Milazzo that stops at Stromboli (5 hr.), Panarea (5.5 hr.), Vulcano (6.5 hr.), and Lipari (7 hr.). In July and August there is a second run Saturdays leaving Naples at 9am (though it skips Vulcano).

      Siremar runs a 8pm ferry from Naples to Milazzo at least twice weekly that stops at Stromboli (9–10 hr.), Panarea (11–12 hr.), Lipari (13.5–15 hr.), and Vulcano (14.5–16 hr.). If you take the ferry, be on deck around 5am to watch Stromboli erupt as the sun rises.
    • How to get to the Aeolian Islands from Cefalù: Ustica Lines runs one hydrofoil daily that leaves at 8:15am and stops at (among others) Lipari (just over 2 hr.), Vulcano (3.5 hr.), Panarea (just under 4 hr.), and Stromboli (4.5 hr.).
    • How to get to the Aeolian Islands from Palermo: Ustica Lines runs 2 lines daily that stop in Lipari (4–4.5 hr.), Vulcano (4.5–5 hr.), Panarea (4.5–5 hr.), and Stromboli (5–6 hr.).
  • Visitor Information: The provincial website, packed with good info, for Lipari and the Aeolian Islands is www.comunelipari.it. There also great info on the islands' Pro Loco site (www.eolieproloco.it) plus on www.lipari.com and the official (but buggy) www.aasteolie.191.it.

    There are permanent tourist offices in Milazzo on Piazza Caio Duilio (tel. +39-090-922-2865), and on Lipari at Corso V. Emanuele 202 (tel. +39-090-988-0095).

    Seasonal information offices open in summer on Stromboli (tel. +39-090-986-285) and Vulcano (tel. +39-090-985-2028).

    Stromboli also has two good private Web sites: the general info stromboli.net, and the vulcanlogist-maintained www.geo.mtu.edu/~boris/STROMBOLI-volcano.html.
  • Getting around on the Aeolian Islands: You won't need a car on the islands—all are small, and only Lipari and Salina have road systems. You'll do just fine with your feet, tiny local buses, and maybe a rented scooter. This means you'll have to leave your wheels in Milazzo.
  • Bring plenty of cash onto the islands. Only the classier joints accept credit cards, there are banks only on Lipari and Vulcano, and few hotels will change a traveler's check for you.
  • You can find more hotels at www.venere.com and www.booking.com.

Tips & links

Details
Hotels on the Aeolian Islands

How long to spend on the Aeolian Islands: How to spend 1, 2, 3, or 4 days in the Aeolian islands

  • How to spend 1 day on the Aeolian islands: Though it is technially possible to visit any one island on a daytrip from, say, Milazzo or Messina, I do not recommend it. You'd spend almost as much time on ferries as you would on the island of your choice. Still, if you are on a tight schedule and want to, please pick just one island and have fun.

    • Stromboli is by far the most dramatic, but also the farthest out (minimum 1 hour out and 1 hour back; though 1.5 to 3 hours is more common).
    • Vulcano or Panarea are closer to the mainland and both excellent choices—Vulcano for a more nifty vulcanism; Panarea for a more chichi vibe.
    • If you are more into the history than the beachy/island factor, visit Lipari.
  • How to spend 2 days on the Aeolian islands:
    • (1) Take the ferry to Vulcano, give yourself a mud treatment, then relax in a hotel the first night. Early the next morning, get up and grab a boat to Lipari, get off and tour its castle and museum (for some historical background on the islands), then get on an afternoon ferry bound for Panarea to spend the second night.
    • (2) Alternately, grab a fast boat to Stromboli on the first day, climb the volcano and spend the night up there, then take a ferry back the next mid-morning to the second island of your choice to chill on the beach (my votes: Vulcano or Panarea).
  • How to spend 3–4 days on the Aeolian islands: Do option (1) above, then continue on to Stromboli for the balance of your time (if you have four days, you can even try spending one night atop the volcano).

How to get to the Aeolian Islands

You can only get to these islands by boat—a hydrofoil (aliscafo) will be twice as fast, twice as expensive, and half as romantic as a ferry (traghetto). Most boats island-hop, stopping at a variety of islands (including many smaller ones not detailed here) from Milazzo to Stromboli and back again. Other boats are direct. Some turn around at Lipari.

Ferry companies to the Aeolians
• Siremar/Tirrenia - tel. 892-123, or from abroad +39-02-2630-2830; www.siremar.it
• Ustica Lines - tel. +39-0923-873-813; www.usticalines.it
• N.G.I. - tel. 800-250-000 toll free, or +39-090-928-4091; www.ngi-spa.it
• SNAV - tel. +39-081-428-5555; www.snav.it
All boat companies charge pretty much the same prices, so choose based on convenience of departure times. Buy your tickets one-way so you’re free to choose among the companies for the most convenient departures times as you go along, either to the next island or back to the mainland. View current schedules and ticket prices at the websites of the various ferry and hydrofoil lines, listed in the box on the right.

The main Sicilian port for the Aeolians is Milazzo, on a promontory 40km (24 miles) west of Messina—though there are also limited services from Messina, Palermo, Cefalù, and Naples. Still, for the greatest number of options use Milazzo, which means your first order of business is getting to Milazzo:

  • How to get to Milazzo: Coming from Messina, your best bet is the roughly hourly Giuntabus (tel. +39-090-675-749, www.giuntabustrasporti.com). It leaves from PIazza della Repubblica in front of the Messina train station and lets you off right at Milazzo's ferry docks (50 min.). On Sundays, there's only one run, around 7:15am.

    I suggest the bus because Milazzo's train station is miles from the port (though you can hop a city bus into town and the port or take a taxi). Still: There are also 8 trains daily to Milazzo from Rome (9–10 hr.), 2 of which pass through Naples (7 hr.). There are at least hourly trains to Milazzo from Messina (30–60 min.); and 14–16 trains from Palermo (2.5–3 hr.) that pass through Cefalù (90–160 min.).
  • If you're driving: You won't need a car on the mostly roadless islands. Most parking garages in Milazzo are expensive, so use the Eolie Garage next to the Hotel Capitol, Via Giorgio Rizzo 91 (tel. 090-928-3298), where they will garage your car for much less per night, even if you aren't a guest. Parking your car unattended near the docks just invites a break-in.
  • How to get to the Aeolian Islands from Milazzo: In winter, expect about half as many runs as listed here, and not always daily ferry service to Stromboli (hydrofoils, however, will run daily).

    • The hydrofoil from Milazzo—Siremar or Ustica Lines (see box above to right for contact info on all companies)—runs 7 times daily to Vulcano (40–60 min.) and Lipari (55–60 min.), 4 times daily to Panarea (1.5–2 hr.) and Stromboli (1–3 hr.).
    • The ferry from Milazzo—Siremar or N.G.I.—runs 9 times daily to Vulcano (85 min.) and Lipari (2 hr.), 1–2 times daily to Panarea (4–5 hr.) and Stromboli (6–7 hr.).
  • How to get to the Aeolian Islands from Messina: Ustica Lines runs 5 hydrofoils daily to Lipari (1.5–3.5 hr.), 4 to Vulcano (2–3 hr.), and 3 each to Panarea (2–3.5 hr.) and Stromboli (1.5–3 hr.). [The hours look funny because while some island-hop, others are direct.]
  • How to get to the Aeolian Islands from Naples: June to early September, there is a 2:30pm SNAV hydrofoil from Naples to Milazzo that stops at Stromboli (5 hr.), Panarea (5.5 hr.), Vulcano (6.5 hr.), and Lipari (7 hr.). In July and August there is a second run Saturdays leaving Naples at 9am (though it skips Vulcano).

    Siremar runs a 8pm ferry from Naples to Milazzo at least twice weekly that stops at Stromboli (9–10 hr.), Panarea (11–12 hr.), Lipari (13.5–15 hr.), and Vulcano (14.5–16 hr.). If you take the ferry, be on deck around 5am to watch Stromboli erupt as the sun rises.
  • How to get to the Aeolian Islands from Cefalù: Ustica Lines runs one hydrofoil daily that leaves at 8:15am and stops at (among others) Lipari (just over 2 hr.), Vulcano (3.5 hr.), Panarea (just under 4 hr.), and Stromboli (4.5 hr.).
  • How to get to the Aeolian Islands from Palermo: Ustica Lines runs 2 lines daily that stop in Lipari (4–4.5 hr.), Vulcano (4.5–5 hr.), Panarea (4.5–5 hr.), and Stromboli (5–6 hr.).

Getting around on the Aeolian Islands

You won't need a car on the islands—all are small, and only Lipari and Salina have road systems. You'll do just fine with your feet, tiny local buses, and maybe a rented scooter. This means you'll have to leave your wheels in Milazzo.

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