Sicily once made part of the Magna Grecia (Greater Greece), here you can see the antiquity in the original, it shines through the other cultural layers. In Sicily, you can literally touch the world of the ancient Greeks and Romans, breathe in the fragrance of flowers that Persephone admired, eat the fish that the ancient Greek historian Strabo wrote about, bathe in the baths given by the nymphs to Hercules, listen to the sound of the sea that Odysseus heard once, drink a glass of wine in honor of Dionysus and dance to the panpipe of the god Pan.
Taormina is a small town with a rich history on the oriental coast of Sicily. It is incredible how such a small town may contain such a great number of places of interest.
Founded in the 4th. century B.C. on the site of the Sicels settlement it is filled with reminiscences of different peoples. Here you can go to a concert into the Greek-Roman theatre, see Byzantine graves, reach the Saracen castle on the top of the mount Montetauro, visit an exhibition in the medieval gothic palazzo and stroll through the city garden laid out by an English lady.
In Taormina you can admire the amazing seascapes, immortalized by famous artists, walk in favorite places of world-famous writers, take pictures in the same scenery as the top models of famous fashion brands.
And you can study Sicily, trying Caesar's favourite wine, tomatoes from Pachino, onions from Giarratana, salt from Trapani, fish from the Strait of Messina, marzipan from Palermo, desserts of Arab origin, pistachios from Bronte, and much more in the numerous bars, "trattorias" and restaurants of Taormina.
How to get to Taormina?
There are several airports in Sicily, it is more convenient to arrive to Catania as it is about 45 km from Taormina. If your airplane arrives to Palermo but the booked hotel is in Taormina, you will have to cross the whole island from West to East. It is about 270 km and almost 4 hours by car.
You can go from Catania to Taormina by Interbus or by taxi. The bus timetable depends on season and they finish their service about 20:45. Buses arrive to Taormina Bus Terminal which is about five minute walk from the historical centre and central street Corso Umberto. You may buy the ticket in the cashier booth or by the driver.
If you arrive late it is better to book a transfer to Taormina beforehand. You may do it at www.taxitaormina.net.
From the airport you may get to the railway station of Catania and take a train to station "Taormina-Giardini", but then you will have to get a bus or a taxi.
From Messina with its port you may take a train or a bus to Taormina.
Beaches in Taormina
Temperature in the Ionian sea does not fall below 14 grades Centigrade, some people swim in winter. There is a proverb that residents of Taormina go bathing only after the holiday of the patron saint St. Pancras (July, 9th).
Good bathing weather may last till November, but there are years when showers start at the end of September. I think the best time for a beach holiday is the last week of August and the first week of September.
There are several beaches in Taormina - Mazzeo, Villagonia, Spisone, Mazzaro, Isola Bella. The most picturesque, number one in the top of the most photographed places is Nature Reserve Isola Bella. The beach Mazzaro with five-star hotels is adjacent, here you can rent a boat. Mazzaro and Isola Bella can be reached by the cable car (Funivia - in Italian). When in the low season the cable car is closed, there are small orange buses that can take you to the historical centre.
There is a convenient parking place near the cable-car ticket office, where you can park a car easily even during the peak season. Many people in August leave a car here and go up to town by "funivia".
The longest beach in Taormina is Spisone, it can be reached by the blue "Beach bus" which you can take at the bus stop "Fermata San Pancrazio" near the Porta Messina. The bus-schedule, funivia time table may be viewed on the A.S.M. website . At Spisone do not miss the opportunity to dine at lido Re del Sole with an amazing sea-view, fresh fish is cooked by Valentino. It is better to book a table because local people adore this place.
All beaches of Taormina are shingly, so it's advisable to buy special rubber slippers either in the shops in the center or at the beach (average price is 8-10 Euro).
Safety Tips for a Good Holiday in Sicily
Of course you know all the travelling rules very well. Sicily is less dangerous than Rome, Paris or London, though there are places where you should be careful. Take the same measures as everywhere.
In Taormina be attentive with ATMs in crowdy places. Look out if there are signs of criminal activity - false fronts, loose or bulky card slot or loitering strangers trying to steal your PIN. Do not use non-bank cash machines.
In Catania and Palermo do not leave the car unattended and with luggage or anything attractive inside, even in the boot. When you travel by car, do not keep the bag on the seat as smash-and-grab criminals may break the glass at the traffic-lights.
Walking the streets keep your bag or camera on the side away from the traffic, there can be thieves on motorbikes. And you'd better not wear expensive clothes and jewellery going to big cities. But you can wear them in Taormina as the whole historical center is guarded by video-cams.
Sports in Taormina
Taormina and towns around offer many winter and summer sport activities. You can do your favourite sport admiring beautiful Sicilian landscapes. In Taormina there are several gym clubs, a town swimming-pool, Taormina tennis club near Villa Comunale, a football field. Here you can go trekking or horse riding, choose snorkelling or diving, fishing or canoeing, paragliding or playing golf. In winter you can go skiing to Etna, there are very good facilities on the volcano slopes.
Distances from Taormina
Though Sicily is an island, it is not that small as one may think. You cannot drive and see all the places of interest in a day. It is better to choose one part of Sicily for a vacation. There are two main airports in Sicily - in Palermo (Western part of Sicily) and in Catania (Eastern coast of Sicily). The nearest airport to Taormina is in Catania (http://www.aeroporto.catania.it/).
There are three big cities in Sicily - Palermo, Catania and Messina. Messina has a good train communication with the "nose of the Italian Boot" via sea ferries.
Google Maps inform that the distance from Palermo (Western part of Sicily) to Taormina (Eastern coast of Sicily) is about 270 km.
Distance from Messina to Taormina is about 70 km, Catania to Taormina is about 60 km.
There are regular buses that go from Catania airport to Taormina, you may find the time-table at www.interbus.it.
Souvenirs from Taormina
When you travel you always want to buy something special, something you cannot find in other places, something to amaze your relatives and friends. Every town in Sicily has something traditional, connected with the historical period, way of life or holidays. What can you buy as a present in Taormina? On the central street of Taormina in the shops and confectioneries shop assistants will help you to choose the best presents and pack them for the convenient transportation.
Ninni in the shop La Torinese (Corso Umberto, 59) will help you to choose cheeses, salami, prosciutto, jams, wine and liqueurs.
Giuseppe at La Cantina del Sole (Corso Umberto, 230) has unusual honey made of flowers of eucalyptus, prickly pears, lemons or oranges, here you can buy cappers from Salina island and dried tomatoes.
The best candied peels made of oranges, lemons and citrons you can find in Pasticceria Etna (Corso Umberto, 112).
Fresh almond biscuits you may take at Pasticceria Minotauro (Via di Giovanni, 15). There is a shop Novè nearby, that sells famous pistachios from Bronte.
Do not forget to buy bottarga (tuna caviar) to cook pasta, salami made of Nebrodi black pig meat, torroncini, chocolate from Modica, honey with nuts, manna, limoncello, olive oil, candied almonds, oregano, sea salt from Trapani.
Top 10 Places to See in Taormina
Do not miss these places not to feel sad when you return home and somebody asks if you have visited them. Of course there are more than ten places of interest in Taormina and this list may be useful for you to begin discovering rich history of Taormina.
Chronologically it is better to start with antiquity.
1. Teatro antico, Greek-Roman theatre is one of the biggest monuments of antiquity in Sicily, with the most spectacular view over the sea and Etna. Here in summer you can see different shows, films of Taormina Film Fest, concerts of famous music stars or operas and ballets. Goethe, Dalai-Lama and Trump visited the Greek Theatre of Taormina. Join the list of visitors!
2. Odeon is a small Roman theatre with a roof for musical events. It was found accidentally by a local resident when he decided to build a house. Part of the Odeon stands on the basement of a Greek temple and makes the basement in its turn for the baroque church of Saint Catherine of Alexandria.
3. Naumachia is the third biggest Roman monument in Taormina and the richest in explanations what it was. One thing is for sure, it has never been Naumachia.
4. Villa Comunale, the garden of Taormina, stands on the place of antique quarter. The local constructions called "Beehives" designed by the founder of the garden Lady Florence Trevelyan, are made of antique building materials found in this area.
The Byzantine Age
5.The tombs of the Via Pirandello date back to the Byzantine period of Taormina. Beautiful gold ear-rings found here are now exhibited in the archaeological museum of Syracuse. Some tombs are inside the hotel "Villa Carlotta", you may ask to see them at the reception.
6. Palazzo Corvaja is a medieval monument in the Gothic style, probably grown out of the Arab tower.
7. Another Gothic monument is Palazzo Santo Stefano. Pay attention at the beautifully decorated windows and try to find the door which once had a drawbridge.
Landscape and history
8. Piazza 9 Aprile is a town square, so-called "balcony of Taormina", children's playground and a favourite place for fashion shooting. Its history is connected with Garibaldi though he never visited the square.
9. Church Madonna Rocca is a medieval church in the rock bearing a name of the saint patron of Taormina. Holiday of Madonna Rocca is celebrated every third Sunday in September.
10. Beautiful island Isola Bella can be admired from Guardiola Vecchia, here you can go down to the sea by the stairs and return taking a cable car.
Parking in Taormina
While booking a room in a hotel, do not forget to ask about a parking place for your car. It is difficult to find a place during high season, but it is possible. There are several paid parking lots in different parts of town. One of the biggest parkings is Parking Porta Catania (for 650 cars), be ready to go up the spiral-shaped entrance. You pay for the service before leaving in the special vending-machine or at a cashier upstairs. There are toilets in the parking lot. The roof bar is open only in summer. The center of the city is literally two minutes walk.
After the tunnel nearby there is another paid parking. In summer, when there are concerts of celebrities in the antique theater and places in the Porta Catania parking lot finish quickly, many people park for free right after the tunnel.
On the other side of the city there is a Parking Lumbi, you can reach the town centre by a free bus or you can also go up the stairs. A little higher there is a relatively small Parking Porta Pasquale (for 75 cars), the entrance is not very convenient, but it is just a couple of minutes on foot to reach the central street Corso Umberto.
In July-August if all the mentioned parking lots are occupied, it is convenient to leave the car in the Mazzarò Parking lot by the sea and use the cable car to arrive to the town center.
Live Music in Taormina
Summer is time for live music in Taormina. There are musicians with mandolins in the centre of town - Piazza IX Aprile and folklore groups that walk from bar to bar, creating a festive atmosphere.
You can enjoy live music in "Mocambo", "Wunderbar", restaurant "Il Ciclope". Youth groups perform in "Casamatta" and "Irish Pub". Jazz concerts are often organized in hotel "Excelsior".
Night clubs open in summer, you may have a drink and dance in "Morgana", "La Giara", "Meridien", hotel "Caparena" organizes parties in summer on the beach.
10 Inconveniences in Taormina
If you choose Taormina for a holiday, you should know about the possible difficulties that you may encounter.
1. The railway goes along the sea, there are amazing views, but it can be noisy if you rent apartments by the sea. Specify the location when booking.
2. The beaches of Taormina are not sandy but pebble. This problem is easily solved with rubber water shoes. You can buy them in the DUE D store on the main street Corso Umberto, 72. You can get a discount, as this shop is a partner in our program of discounts.
3. The historic center of Taormina with the most fashionable shops and restaurants is located on the mountain. Therefore, it will be almost impossible to avoid the stairs, climbs and descents. As the beaches are down the mountain you will have to go down the stairs, or use the cable car or the Beach Bus. Almost every hotel has an agreement with “lido” on the beaches, therefore minibuses come to take customers. If you stay at the sea, in the evening you will have to go up for walks in the historical centre.
4. Public transport is not well developed, it may take longer to move than you expect. Take into consideration that on weekends and in low season there are fewer buses or simply no buses at all. See the schedule on the website Interbus.it or order a transfer and a taxi on the website taxitaormina.net.
5. Italian cuisine is different from the one you are used to. It is difficult to find soups, cereals or even tea. In the apartments there will be a coffee maker rather than a kettle. Breakfast is sweet - a bun and coffee.
6. There is a joke that in Sicily there are only two things that are on time – lunch and the sacred time of siesta. Many shops, pharmacies and other establishments will be closed from one o’clock till four or five. During this time it is very indecent to make phone calls and disturb people having a rest.
7. If you rent a car, then get ready for the fact that most of the roads are winding, the locals do not use turn signals and there are huge parking problems in summer. In August, there are huge traffic jams on the highway exit, especially on weekends.
8. Taormina - a town where prices are much higher than in neighboring towns. Use discounts by downloading the coupon.
9. During high season - in summer, at Easter and Christmas there are a lot of tourists in Taormina.
10. In September, it starts to rain, sometimes torrentially here, streets and roads turn into rivers. In winter, because of the humidity, it seems colder than it actually is and it is customary in homes to save on heating, so warm pajamas are very popular. It is better to clarify the question about heating when booking.
10 Reasons to Come to Taormina
1. Amazing views.
Historical centre of Taormina is on the mountain, that is why the views from here are like from the airplane. Many famous The most famous view of the bay and volcano Etna was immortalized by the most famous artists many times.
First travelers started to arrive here in search of ancient Greece and described their impressions in books. Here in a small area you can literally touch the history of several millennia. That is why people bring their children to Sicily - to study history not from textbooks. In Taormina you can learn about antiquity, Byzantium, the Arab conquest, the Middle Ages, etc.
There are many celebrity names associated with Taormina. Writers, composers, actors, and artists came here. Contemporary politicians Trump, Merkel, Trudeau walked along these streets during the G7 meeting. Meetings of politicians take place here because a small territory of Taormina is easy to protect. The Sicels had chosen this place before the Greek colonization because it was easy to control the territory.
4. The sea.
There are several beaches in Taormina, the most picturesque of course is Isola Bella, a nature reserve. Here you can dive or go boating. This is the sea where Odysseus and the Argonauts sailed. Here, under the water, you may see the same shells, from which the Phoenicians made sea silk, here you can swim with the same fish that Cousteau filmed.
Food is one of the main reasons to go to Sicily. Swordfish, tuna, salami from black pigs of the Nebrodi mountains, fresh fruits and vegetables, desserts, wines and liqueurs. It is impossible to visit Taormina and not try granita and brioche. There are Michelin star restaurants in Taormina.
Taormina is halfway between Catania and Messina. In Catania there is an airport, and Messina is the closest point to the peninsula, there is a port and ferry crossing. There is a bus station in Taormina, from where there are frequent buses to neighboring towns, and a railway station. From Taormina it is convenient to go on excursions to Etna, Forza D'Agro, Alcantara, Noto, Syracuse, etc.
There is always some plant blooming in Taormina, all the year round. The change of seasons is not so noticeable here, in November roses and loquat bloom, iris sprouts make their way, and citrus fruits begin to ripen and simultaneously blossom. Bougainvillea blooms all year round, in February there are always flowering almonds, and after there is time of freesia. In Taormina there is a town garden where rare plants were collected and which is famous for its views of the sea and Etna.
8. Hotels in Taormina.
In Taormina there is a large selection of luxury hotels and apartments, tourists come here for a honeymoon or to celebrate family holidays.
Taormina is often called an open-air shopping center. Here on the main street of Corso Umberto there are boutiques of famous brands. Here you can choose the most beautiful ceramics of the island, jewelry, as well as buy souvenirs in the Sicilian style.
10. Performances and holidays
In summer there are concerts and performances in the ancient theater and you can listen to music in bars and restaurants or just in the street. In June there is Taormina film fest, enogastronomic events are held regularly not only in summer. The most important holidays in Taormina are Christmas when bonfires are arranged in the squares, Corpus Domini when the streets are decorated with embroidered tablecloths and knitted bedspreads, Easter when the women of the city make a procession with candles and in September there is a holiday of the patroness of Taormina - Madonna Rocca.
Giardini-Naxos. Between Sea and Mountains
It is a small town not far from Taormina on the coast of the Ionian sea. It is convenient to stay here because of logistics and sandy beaches. It is easy to get here from the airport of Catania. There is also a railway station here called “Taormina - Giardini”. Excursion buses from Taormina pass Giardini, the bus stop is called Recanati.
The main point of interest is archaeological park as Naxos is considered the first ancient Greek colony in Sicily. You may walk to see military arsenal “Neoria” where ancient Greeks kept their ships.
There is an exhibition of archaeological finds made in this area in the local museum.
The town is situated along the coast and washed clothes on the balconies always smells like the sea breeze. People always stroll along the embankment, young people get together here in the evenings and in summer it is very pleasant to dine listening to the whisper of the waves.
You make part for a boat excursion from the port which is near the archaeological park.
If you plan to spend half a day to see some new places, you may go to see Savoca, Forza D’Agro, volcano Etna, the gorge of the Alcantara river, castle of Calatabiano, or fish market of Riposto.
Winter in Taormina
Taormina in winter still remains a beautiful place worth visiting. If you read any book about Taormina's history you will learn that tourism here started as winter tourism. Hotels worked only in winter and spring was the time for cleaning and closing. Personnel and chefs went to other places to work in summer.
Now winter is considered a low season with an increase in activity only near the Christmas time. After the holiday the majority of hotels and restaurants close till Easter. But still there are many things to do. Most of the tourist guides are free and it is easy to organize an infotaining excursion in Taormina for the family and friends.
Christmas in Taormina is a great time and possibility to see Sicilian festive traditions and try typical food. On the 24th of December two big fires are made in front of the Cathedral and Church of Saint Catherine. Many people of Taormina and nearby towns gather here after havy dinner to exchange congratulations. At Christmas there is a rare possibility to listen to the music of Sicilian shepherds-bagpipers.
For the 31st of December many restaurants offer "cenone" - great dinner that usually starts at 21:00 and finishes at midnight with a symbol of prosperity "lenticchie e cotechino" (pork sausage with lentils). There is a New Year countdown with dj music on the central square Piazza IX Aprile decorated with a beautiful New Year tree. At midnight Taormina offers a marvelous view over the numerous towns of the coast that start fireworks.
On the 1st of January on the same square athletes get awards for running and swimming that start at Villagonia at 8 o'clock in the morning. In the evening there is a usual concert of a local mandoline and guitar orchestra (Orchestra A Plettro Di Taormina). It is better to arrive early as it is always difficult to find a free place, because this concert is always looked forward by the residents.
Usually there are various exhibitions organized in Taormina, for example, of Nativity scenes (presepe), old photos or Renaissance manuscripts, meetings with writers or scientists.
From Taormina you may go for a day to the Castle of Calatabiano, Etna, Catania, Forza D'Agro. In January there is a beginning of skiing season on Etna. February is a months of carnivals, very picteresque. The most famous in Sicily are held in Sciacca, Acireale, Saponara. Do not miss the traditional carnival sweet crisp pastry "chiacchiere" that are sold everywhere.
January and February are the month of almond trees bloom, do not miss the pleasure to enjoy the aroma and make photos.