Most visitors to Agrigento in southern Sicily come to visit the impressive Valley of the Temples on a day trip and then move on. But honestly, it’s really worth staying in Agrigento old town for at least one night. I stayed two because that’s just how I roll.
Actually, by the time I had taken the ferry from my home in Malta and then battled with busses across Sicily, I wasn’t ready to do much else on that first day. Just a gentle stroll through Agrigento’s old town, enjoy a fabulous meal at a local restaurant and eat gelato. Tough life, eh?
After a good night’s sleep, I woke up early the next day, excited I had the whole day ahead to explore. I spent the morning exploring the narrow alleys and churches of the old town. Then in the afternoon, I set off to explore the temples. I returned around 7:30 pm to the historic centre. I stuffed my face with a massive pizza, guzzled a couple of glasses of vino, and then bed.
But let me start by telling you about the temples first, as not everyone has as much time as me, and also, the temples are probably why you will find yourself in Agrigento in the first place.
Valley of Temples – A UNESCO World Heritage Site
Why Are There Greek Temples In Sicily?
Many coastal areas in southern Italy were once colonies of ancient Greece. These cities were known as Magna Graecia (Great Greece).
Ortigia, one of our favourite towns in Sicily, was also an important Greek site.
A Little History
Founded as a Greek colony in 580 B.C., Agrigento soon became one of the leading cities in the Mediterranean world. Its wealth came from the nearby sulphur mines, saltpans, wheat plantations and olive groves.
At that time, the Greek city was known as Akragas. The famous Greek Doric temples that still remain today were all built around this time.
At its peak, it is believed that Akragas may have had as many as 300,000 inhabitants.
Unfortunately, as is the way of the world, many cities and cultures were envious of the success of this Greek colony. In 406 BC, the Carthaginians attacked the Akragas. The siege lasted seven to eight months. The Carthaginians won. The Greek city of Akragas was left in ruins.
Centuries later, the Romans rebuilt the city and named it Agrigentum. Again the town prospered until the fall of the Roman Empire. In 1997, the site was recognised by UNESCO with World Heritage status.
Interested in reading a far more detailed history of Agrigento? Then take a look here.
What Is There To See In The Valley Of Temples?
You will see eight temples and various remains during your visit, all built between 510 and 430 BC. The better-preserved temples are located near the Temple of Giunone entrance.
Temple of Concordia
The Temple of Concordia, the best-preserved temple in the valley, is still amazingly intact. It was converted in 597 AD into a Christian church dedicated to St Peter and St Paul. The area surrounding the temple was used by early Christians as a catacomb, with the tombs carved out of the rocky cliffs.
In front of the temple is a statue of Icarus by Polish sculptor Igor Mitoraj. The figure represents the Fall of Icarus, who ignored his father’s warnings and flew too close to the sun, burned his wings and fell into the Mediterranean. Men just never listen, do they?
Temple of Hera Lacinia (Juno Lavinia)
The Temple of Hera Lacinia was built around 450 BC during the Archaic Doric period. The temple was damaged by fire during the Siege of Akragas but later restored when the city was under Roman rule.
Temple of Hercules
The Temple of Hercules is the oldest of all the temples in the archaeological park, and only eight of its columns remain.
The Sanctuary of Olympian Jupiter
Not much remains of the Sanctuary of Olympian Jupiter believed to be the largest Doric temple ever built. It was never actually completed, and construction was abandoned after the Carthaginian invasion. Until the early 15th century, the temple and the giant telamon (huge male figures 7.63 metres long) were still intact. But during the 19th century, the temple stones were used to build the dock at nearby Porto Emperdocle.
Temple of the Dioscuri – Sons of Zeus – Cassar and Pollux
The temple of Castor and Pollux (Dioscuri), the twin brothers, born from the union of Jupiter and the Queen of Sparta, is the symbol of Agrigento.
The other temples within the park are more fragmentary. Many of them have collapsed from earthquakes or been quarried for their stones.
How Much Time Should I Allow To Visit The Valley of the Temples?
The archaeological site is quite large, so allow at least a half-day. On average, people spend two to three hours there – I spent four.
Don’t forget that if you get tired from walking or don’t have much time, you can always take the tourist train shuttle (3€ one way) that goes from one entrance to another.
How To Get To The Valley Of Temples, Sicily, From Agrigento
Local buses (1, 1/, 2, 2/, 3, 3/) leave Piazzale Rosselli bus station and pass by the Valley of the Temples.
The number 1 bus departs every 30 minutes from Agrigento. It stops at the archaeological museum (15 minutes) and the Porta V Western entrance (20 minutes).
Bus number 2/ runs less frequently than number 1 and stops at the eastern Tempio di Hera / Temple of Giunone / Juno entrance (15 minutes).
I suggest taking Bus 2/ and getting off at the Temple of Giunone entrance. That way, you walk downhill through the archaeological park and then can take bus 1 from the lower exit bus stop to return to town. Tickets for the bus (Euro 1,20) can be bought at any of the kiosks in Piazzale Rosselli. You can also pay onboard, but tickets cost a little more then.
I took the number 2/ bus to the Temple of Giunone entrance as I liked the idea of walking downhill to the next exit. The best-preserved temples are found near this entrance. Some people prefer to enter through the other end and see the ruins improve as they climb. It’s a personal choice; I’m more of a walk downhill kind of girl, especially in the heat.
By the time I had finished exploring the park, I had just missed a bus, and at that time of the evening, there would be an hour’s wait for the next bus. As the town is just three kilometres away, I decided to walk back. It took me around 50 minutes to get back to Agrigento’s old town.
Yes, it may only be three kilometres from Agrigento to the eastern entrance, but remember walking in the Sicilian summer heat with very little shade; it will feel a lot longer. So definitely avoid this option in the middle of the day.
You will be exploring the archaeological site on foot, but remember, if you get tired or cannot walk far, a tourist train shuttle service runs from one entrance to another.
Taxis are available and will cost around 12 euros for the short ride.
If you have a car, it’s just a short drive from Agrigento to the Valley of Temples. Paid parking is available.
Join a Local Tour or Visit the Valley of the Temples As A Day Trip From Palermo or Catania
Top Tips For Visiting Agrigento And The Valley Of The Temples, Sicily
Wear comfy shoes.
Bring water with you or at least a bottle. There are water fountains where you can refill.
Bring snacks – there are places to eat in the park. Paninis are only €5, so not too overpriced, but they are not made with love, if you know what I mean.
Avoid the middle of the day – Sicilian heat is brutal, and there’s very little shade.
How Much Does It Cost To Visit The Valley Of The Temples Sicily
For up-to-date information on opening hours and tickets for visiting the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, see here.
What To See In Agrigento
Lose Yourself In The Streets And Alleys Of The Old Town
The old town, with its cobblestone streets, is a lovely place to wander. But be warned, there are many stairs and steep roads to climb. You could pretty much cover the old town in around an hour; it’s not that large. But allow at least half a day to visit the churches and admire the old buildings.
As you explore the streets and alleys of Agrigento’s old town, also known as Girgenti, you will discover clues to the town’s multi-cultural past – from the Arab maze of streets and courtyards, the Norman churches and palaces and gorgeous Baroque architecture.
Start your journey on Atenea Street, the historical centre’s Main Street and shopping street, and simply follow the signposts to the various points of interest around town.
It’s worth noting that many sites and businesses close between 12-4. They take their afternoon naps very seriously in this part of Sicily, and who can blame them?
Cathedral of San Gerlando
If you only pop into one church, I suggest visiting the Cathedral of San Gerlando, located at the highest point in Agrigento. There’s a small fee to enter, but your ticket includes the two towers – one for a view of the city and one for a closer look at the incredible wooden ceiling, plus the Cathedral Museum and garden. The cathedral is often overlooked by visitors keen to visit the Valley of the Temples, but it’s well worth a visit.
Monastery of the Holy Spirit
I visited here for the famous almond cakes made by the nuns, and it was closed. Devastated, I consoled myself with gelato instead.
And keep an eye out for the weird and wonderful street art.
Where To Eat In Agrigento
These two restaurants in the old town were recommended to me by my guesthouse.
La Scala – recommended for its speciality pasta dish served with red prawns. Delicious, although the staff seemed convinced I was dining with the invisible man as they kept pouring two glasses of wine. Weirdly enough, the invisible man drank all of his wine!
If you’re interested in knowing more about Sicilian food, you must read this.
Where To Stay In Agrigento
I can’t really give you a list of places to stay because I only stayed in one, but I would happily recommend that.
I stayed at the I Tetti di Girgenti. Spotlessly clean, great location, very reasonable, and served an excellent breakfast on the terrace. Some may feel uncomfortable that the staff don’t speak any English, but Google Translate works for those moments. When looking for accommodation, I usually use Booking.com.
I really enjoyed my mini-break in Agrigento. However, I’m not ashamed to admit I had a ‘major sad moment’ as I know my partner Jonathan would have absolutely loved it here and taken far superior photographs.
But it was time to move on. Next stop – Trapani on Sicily’s west coast.
If you want to know more about places to visit in Sicily, you might be interested in these posts from previous visits to this great island.
- Sicily Itinerary
- Three Days in Ragusa, Sicily: A Guide
- Ortigia Island and Siracusa, Sicily Guide
- Why We Fell For Catania, Sicily
- Visiting Taormina Sicily
- Kapuhala Farm Stay (Agriturismo) in Sicily
- Best Things To Do In Cefalu
- Linguaglossa, the Circumetnea train and Mount Etna
- Kapuhala Farmstay
- Sicilian Food and Wine
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