Chances are, if you’re heading to the east coast of Sicily, you’re going to visit Taormina. Besides Mount Etna, this small seaside town may well be the most popular tourist destination this side of Sicily. It certainly was the busiest place I visited on the island, even though it was October. Once you learn about all the sights to see in Taormina though it starts to make. sense. This is one picture-postcard place, that’s for sure.
Whether you’re planning a day trip from Catania or several days there, you won’t be starved for things to do in Taormina. After all, it’s part of the reason I included Sicily among my best regions of Europe to visit this year. What’s nice is that they cover a few different interests, meaning it has a fairly broad appeal. That also makes it quite touristy, but also still worth it. Anyway, here are the different Taormina sights you don’t want to miss while you’re there.
Before even reaching the centre of Taormina, one place immediately struck a chord with me. On a whim I decided to wander into the Giardini della Villa Comunale public gardens, somewhere I’d return to multiple times during my visit. That’s because they’re much more serene than the centre of town, but more importantly they feature fantastic views.
Walking along their balcony you get a nice panorama of town, the coast and even Mt Etna in the distance. It’s one of many spots in Taormina that are especially stunning come sunset. Now, it’s important to say that I didn’t know about the gardens beforehand because I was being lazy, not because they’re some sort of hidden gem. You’ll surely be sharing the view with other tourists no matter the time of day, but you likely won’t mind with that kind of scenery.
Old Town Streets
Countless tourists come to this part of Sicily to see the little town of Taormina and with good reason. The houses and buildings here are incredibly picturesque and a sense of refinement that mirrors the rivieras of mainland Europe. Corso Umberto is the town’s uninterrupted main street that goes from stone gate to stone gate and is lined with boutique clothing stores and shops selling Sicilian produce and handicrafts.
It’s no surprise that this is where you’ll find the glut of tourists, with an immediate drop off in numbers when you duck off into the backstreets. To be honest, the volume of tourists even in early autumn can make Taormina feel like a theme park at times. That feeling does fade though in the mornings and evenings when those doing a day trip from Catania are not around.
Anyway, you’ll definitely want to walk down Corso Umberto to see the lovely houses that run along it, not to mention several churches and squares. But I highly recommend deviating from it as well just to see what it’s like elsewhere.
Of the various squares that are situated throughout the Old Town, the most impressive has to be Piazza IX Aprile. Not only does it have the tile patterns that immediately draw the eye, but several other pleasant landmarks as well. The two churches there give the square some atmosphere as does the tower gate that stands over the Corso Umberto.
The real draw to Piazza IX Aprile however is its views, aided by the Belvedere di Taormina terrace viewpoint. It’s a superb spot for views south along the coast and out into the Ionian Sea. You also have the ability to see the hills that sit above Taormina, with sights we’ll get to later.
One spot in the Old Town I didn’t pay much attention to was the Palazzo Corvaja on Largo Santa Caterina square. Although now an exhibition centre, it was home to one of Taormina’s most established families for centuries. Whenever I passed it was crowded with people as the Tourist Information Centre also happens to be there. Even just seeing the courtyard and exterior indicates just how long Palazzo Corvaja has been part of this town.
The crown jewel in Taormina’s attractions is certainly the town’s hillside ancient theatre. This is the attraction you’ll see on posters for Taormina and also the place in town with the longest line. Understandable given that it dates from the third century BC and features such a prominent position in town. How many ancient theatre’s have a clear view to a smoking volcano in the distance?
Interestingly, the site is often called the Greek Theatre because it design and setting are of the Greek style. Everything you can see there now was built by the Romans, likely in the 2nd century AD. If you really want to learn about the site, consider getting the audioguide as information on the site is sparse otherwise. Another tip is to arrive right at opening time to avoid the long queues that form when the day trippers descend on Taormina.
There’s been a lot of talk so far about viewpoints and yet we’re still not done. That’s because the Belvedere di Via Pirandello has a whole different part of Taormina to show you. This balcony viewpoint is along one of the roads winding its way down from town and offers up sublime vistas every direction along the coast. If you look to the north you can actually see mainland Italy on the horizon. The view south is similar to ones mentioned above, but down below the viewpoint you have the next sight on this list.
The nearest stretch of coast from Taormina features several scenic promontories, but also the captivating Isola Bella. This tiny island is accessed by a narrow causeway of sand that gets covered by the rising tide. It sits by one of the most popular stretches of public beach near town. For a time it was owned by an English woman but now is protected as a nature reserve and a gorgeous one at that.
To reach Isola Bella and the beaches around Taormina, you have two options. One is to take the long stairway that leads down the hill next to the Belvedere di Via Pirandello viewpoint and enjoy the workout. Alternatively, you can take the cable car and save your legs. Either way, you’ll want to visit because it’s just as pretty up close thanks to the crystal clear water.
Places in Taormina I Missed
Even though I spent several days in Taormina, there were parts that I didn’t make it to. Essentially they were the places up in the hills above the town, including the Chiesa Madonna della Rocca chapel and the village of Castello di Mola. The obvious reason why I chose not to go is that I couldn’t summon the energy to hike up to them.
Even in early October it was quite warm and it was one hike too far. I had just climbed back up from Isola Bella after all. Both spots have churches and castle ruins, which I heard were really picturesque. So if you have the time and energy, or a car, try to add these to your Taormina itinerary.
Now that we’ve covered all the best places to visit in Taormina, here’s a little on how to see them. The obvious first question you have to ask yourself is whether you go as a day trip or spend a little more time there. For an overnight trip, working out where to stay isn’t hard with the Taormina’s many hotels, resorts and guesthouses. This is a popular tourist destination after all. Taormina is one of the more expensive places in Sicily, but you can find places that are good value for money. My experience at one of the many small B&Bs was a good one and reasonably priced.
The other matter is how you get to Taormina. The best way to visit with public transport is to take the bus as the bus station is right in town. The best bus connection is with Catania, with regular departures between the two. The nearest train station is Taormina-Giardini down at the bottom of the hill, which means you then have to wait for a local bus to take you up. Of course, you can do what many tourists and cruise passengers do and take a day tour to Taormina if you’re short on time.
Have you thought of visiting Taormina before after hearing about it? Which of these sights in Taormina has you most ready to book a trip? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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