The Pearl of the Mediterranean
What do Richard Wagner, Oscar Wilde, Greta Garbo, Cary Grant, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Alexandre Dumas, Johannes Brahms, Gustav Klimt, D.H. Lawrence, Ingmar Bergman, Francis Ford Coppola, Truman Capote, John Steinbeck, Marlene Dietrich, Federico Fellini, Guy de Maupassant, Elisabeth Taylor, Sharon Stone, Woody Allen and Gregory Peck have in common? That’s simple - they have all spent their holidays in Taormina.
See our video and you know why.....
(Video by courtesy of Todaro Net)
Taormina is perched on a rock 200 metres above the sea and has been the most popular tourist destination in Sicily ever since it became an integral part of the “Grand Tour” of European aristocrats and artists some two hundred years ago. One of the world’s greatest views, winding streets, alleyways and staircases strewn with bars, cafés, restaurants, art galleries, designer, shoe, ceramics, antiques and souvenir shops, small squares around corners, beautifully restored medieval buildings and the ancient amphitheatre make for a perfect holiday spot.
They were all here: founded by Andromacus at the behest of Dionysius the Tyrant of Syracuse in 392 BC, the Greeks were followed by Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Swabians, the French and the Spanish. They all came, saw, conquered and left. It was in 212 BC under the Roman rulers when Taormina’s long history as a tourist resort started: the town became soon a favourite holiday spot for Senators and Patricians.
Today Taormina lives on tourism. Visitors from all over the world immerse themselves in the romantic Mediterranean atmosphere, amble along the Medieval streets and admire the views of Mount Etna. Every season has something to offer. The air in spring is filled with the scents of blossoms that scatter the town. Summer, naturally, is best for sunbathing and the fantastic nightlife. Autumn is for walks and hikes around Taormina and in winter Mount Etna invites for skiing and the mild spring like climate at the coast is perfect for excursions, round trips and some people watching at Piazza IX. Aprile.
Taormina is divided in two parts –Taormina and Taormina Mare which is easily reachable by cable car, the ride takes four minutes.
"Should you only have one day to spend in Sicily and you ask me 'what is there to see?'” I would reply 'Taormina' without any hesitation. It is only a landscape, but one in which you can find everything that seems to have been created to seduce the eyes, the mind and the imagination."
Guy de Maupassant, 1885, from "Towards the Golden Skies," diary of a journey
Things to do and see in Taormina
The Greco-Roman amphitheatre of Taormina, located on top of a hill which makes it unique in the world, is the main attraction of the town. As its name suggests, it started its life in the third century BC. It hosted then performances of works by Euripides, Aristophanes, Aeschylus and Sophocles. It was originally a small theatre, enlarged by the Romans. Beyond the columns you can see the bay of Giardini-Naxos, the coastline, the town’s rooftops and, in the distance, Mount Etna. The theatre’s acoustics are still exceptional – a whisper on the stage can be heard in the last row.
Maybe the biggest symbol of Taormina's long history is Palazzo Corvaia with its extraordinary architecture – a mix of Arab, Norman and Gothic, including mullioned windows, shady courtyards and battlements. Especially beautiful are the characteristic inlays of white limestone and black lava. The tower of Palazzo Corvaia is the oldest Arab building in Taormina. The noble family Corvaia owned the building for more than 400 years until 1945. Today it houses the Tourist Information Office and the “Museo di Arte e Tradizioni Popolari”, a small museum with folk art, Sicilian carts and old marionettes.
Piazza del Duomo & Duomo di San Nicola
At the Cathedral square you will find a Baroque fountain, topped by a cute centaur, the symbol of Taormina. The Romanesque Cathderal dates back to the 13th century. It is dedicated to Saint Nicholas of Bari and looks a bit like a fortress due to the battlements that delineate the roof, and its robust structure. The interior is early Gothic. On the piazza you could dine at one of Taormina’s best restaurants - "Ristorante al Duomo". At the “Bar del Duomo”, better known as Billy & Billy, many locals have a quick caffè and a cornetto for breakfast, and in the afternoon it is the perfect spot for an aperitivo.
Palazzo dei Duchi di Santo Stefano
Before you pass the arch “Porta Catania” at the other end of the Corso Umberto, turn left and have a look at the former residence of the Spanish aristocratic family De Spuches, the dukes of Santo Stefano. The palazzo is a masterpiece of Sicilian Gothic architecture, that was nearly completely destroyed in World War II and has been carefully restored. Today it houses the Fondazione Mazzullo with a permanent exhibition of the sculptor Giuseppe Mazzullo. The palazzo is popular for civil weddings. Receptions are held in the palace’s garden, where in summer also concerts take place.
Villa Comunale – Public Garden
Need a break and a place to relax? Stroll down Via Bagnoli Croce and you will find a little green paradise – the beautiful and quiet public park, former garden of an eccentric Scottish Lady named Florence Trevelyan. She arrived in Taormina in 1889, married a local professor and designed her garden, filling it with exotic and Mediterranean plants, pavilions and fountains. Sit down and admire the stunning view of the bay of Giardini-Naxos and Mount Etna.
Piazza IX. Aprile
is Taormina’s main square which boasts two churches, the “Clock Tower” with a splendid mosaic, and a huge panoramic terrace. Have a caffè and soak in the international flair. Spend a night by live piano music and Jazz, or enjoy on Sicilian folklore with the artist and singer Dino Zullo. Our favourite bar "Mocambo" is the best place ever for people watching. And there is "Ristorante Baronessa", housed in an old palazzo with stucco and frescoes, featuring a roof top terrace. Our idea for your last evening: elegant ambience, best service, fine dining under a star-spangled sky with an unforgettable view to fire spitting Mount Etna!
Castello Saraceno & Castelmola
A 20-minute walk up the stairways and footpath of Via Crucis takes you to the church of the Madonna della Rocca, which is hollowed out of the rock. Above it towers the Saracen castle. There is not much left of it, but it is worth the climb just for the panoramic view. Following the footpath you will reach the little village of Castelmola, nestling high above Taormina like an eagles’ nest on a rock. Castelmola is far less touristic than Taormina, offers splendid views and the best almond wine in the whole of Sicily.
Taormina Mare offers an impressing coast line with steep rocks and beaches, lidos, restaurants, and some very luxury hotels. It is connected to Taormina by cable car. At the cable way station in Mazzarò you will find a big parking and a post office. Extensive beaches, rocky coves, tiny islands and sea stacks abound, making this enchanting coastline a firm favourite with Sicilians and visitors alike. On offer are a range of water based activities such as scuba-diving and snorkelling. North of Taormina Mare the lively seaside resort Letojanni comes recommended for the best seafood restaurants (and not only...)
Down at the sea side in Mazzarò, there is a tiny island called Isola Bella. It is under protection of the WWF and unique for its vegetation. On one side you will find mediterranean plants, on the other subtropical. It was this islet that was first called “Pearl of the Mediterranean” – by the baron Wilhelm von Gloeden, a German photographer who is mostly known for his homo-erotic studies of nude Sicilian boys. You can buy his photographs in all souvenir shops of Taormina. The beach facing Isola Bella is small and pebbly, but who cares - it is the panorama that makes it!
Grotta Azzurra - Blue Grotto
No, we are not talking of Capri, we are still in Sicily and we proudly announce that we also have a blue grotto!
This sea cave is named after the blue reflection on the water in the grotto that illuminates the cave completely. You can see it on a boat excursion. The area is also a paradise for scuba diving. Several diving schools in Taormina and Giardini-Naxos offer trips along the rocky coast to Isola Bella and Grotta Azzurra.
Shopping in Taormina
We only say two words: Corso Umberto!
One kilometre not only culture, wrought iron balconies, flowers, beautifully restored facades, bars, cafés and restaurants, but also shops over shops. Designer shops, shoe shops, jewellery shops, souvenir shops, antiques shops, specialties shops, ceramics shops, clothing shops. Don’t forget your credit card! In case you did – there are quite a few banks at your service....
More about this enjoyable pastime at Shopping
Every Wednesday you will find Taormina’s street market on the way to Castelmola. It is not big, and an inexpensive alternative to the elegant shops at Corso Umberto. Good for shoes, hand bags (copies), table cloths and clothing. If you are staying in an apartment and feeding yourself, you will find the daily market with vegetables, meat and fish right in town. Pass the arch “Arco dei Cappuccini”, walk straight ahead and then take the little road right hand side from the church. Every morning except on Sundays.
The traditional meeting point in Taormina for an aperitif is Piazza IX. Aprile. The younger nightlife is a bit hidden. There is the elegant discotheque-restaurant “La Giara”, if you follow the sign “Q-Lounge” at Corso Umberto you will discover a small piazza with several bars. In front of the shoe shop “Sorrelle Mazzullo” you can see the facade of an old church. Go inside and you will find one the coolest bars of Taormina, offering an art gallery, glass floors and a tiny balcony where you can overlook Corso Umberto while sipping a cocktail. If you feel like spending an evening in a less sophisticated atmosphere – go to Luraleo Bar at Piazza San Antonio, which comes recommended for its pastries and ice cream.
More tips where to go at Nightlife
Restaurants in Taormina
Oh my, where do we start? There are so many really good restaurants and trattorias....Well, you get the best pizzas at “Vecchia Taormina” and at "Villa Zucchero". Fine dining is best at Casa Grugno, Baronessa, La Giara, Maffei, Il Principe Cerami and Al Duomo. Very good food and great views offers Al Saraceno. Taormina Mare boasts excellent seafood restaurants.
Find more restaurants here
Accommodation in Taormina
Hotels in Taormina tend to be luxurious, some of them very luxurious, and the welcome is as warm as the weather, but they can be on the expensive side, although one has to say absolutely worth it. There are several five and four star hotels in town and down in Taormina Mare. So if you are on a tight budget perhaps you might consider staying in a B&B, two or three star hotel. Or you look for an accommodation in Letojanni and Giardini-Naxos, both located at the seaside – bus connections to Taormina are excellent. Please see more at Accommodation
Events in Taormina
The Teatro Greco and the Palazzo dei Congressi are the main venues for the summer festival, held each year between June and September. Performances encompass fashion shows, classical music, rock and pop concerts, dance, opera and theatre performances. The season starts in June with the Taormina Film Fest and goes until end of September. Book your ticket in time, because performances of world stars are usually sold out very early. .
FInd more annual events in Taormina and Sicily here
Hikes & Walks
Especially in spring, when the almond trees are blossoming, we recommend a walk from Taormina to Castelmola, which takes about an hour. Good hikers continue from Castelmola up to Monte Venere, about 900 m above sea level. Don’t forget a water bottle and your hat! The climb is worth it – you will be awarded with panoramic views of the Peloritani Mountains, the Med, the Italian mainland and Mount Etna. There are several great hiking trails in the Alcantara valley and Valle d'Agrò.
Sightseeing & Excursions
Don't want to walk Taormina on your own? Then book a guide of "Walking Taormina". Several travel agencies offer orgnaized excursions to Sicily's most beautiful and interesting places, such as Palermo, Monreale, Syracuse, Agrigento, Piazza Armerina, the Aeolian Islands and Mount Etna. Movie fans should go on the "Padrino" tour which takes you to some of the shooting spots of "The Godfather" in Forza d'Agrò and Savoca near Taormina. Catania is easily reached by local bus. Click for excursions, trips and tours here
Sailing Sicily and beyond
The next yacht harbour to Taormina is in Riposto. There are bus connections to Taormina. Marina di Riposto offers 366 berths and all facilities. The office staff speak English and French. Many yachts also anchor in the bay of Giardini-Naxos. Taormina Roads is open to the south east. There are 20 orange mooring buoys here, available for hire from the operator George Rizzo who lives on site on his yacht Grande Siècle from June to September.
See more here
How to get to Taormina
Take the A 18/E45 from Messina (25 min), Syracuse (1 h 15 min) and Catania (50 min), the A 19/18/E45 from Palermo via Catania (2 h 30 min) and Cefalù (2 h10 min), from Ragusa and Modica SS 115/A18/E45 via Syracuse and Catania (2 h 20 min), from Noto the A18/E45 ( 1 h 30 min).
Nearest airport is Catania International Airport “Vincenzo Bellini”
By bus & train
Buses from Messina and Catania arrive at the Bus Terminal near the centre of Taormina, while trains from these towns and Syracuse pull in at the station at the bottom of the hill. Local buses bring you the rest of the way. In summer there is also the Lido Bus connecting Letojanni and Taormina Mare to Taormina.
Catania Airport is the nearest airport, about 60 km from Taormina. The last bus (Interbus) departs at 20.00 h from Catania airport, so if you arrive late think about renting a car, because a taxi is quite expensive – a ride costs around € 100,00. We recommend booking a private transfer in advance. See more at Services. If you land in Palermo it is best to rent a car, just take the A 19 to Catania, then follow A 18 to Messina – exit Taormina Nord (c. 3 h drive).
By cable car
A cable car takes passengers up the hill from a parking lot about 2 km north of the train station in Mazzarò. The panoramic ride takes about 5 min and you will arrive not far away from Porta Messina, where you can start your stroll with a visit to the famous Greek Theatre of Taormina.
In summer nearly every day a big cruise liner (sometimes two or three) can be admired in the bay of Naxos. More dock in Messina. You can book on board excursions to all interesting places in Sicily. If you prefer a private driver check here.