Our essential guide to visiting Taormina, Sicily. Sharing: things to do in Taormina Sicily, where to stay, how to get around and tried and tested addresses for some of Taormina’s most delicious foods!
Taormina is one of the most famous places in the whole of Sicily. International tourism discovered it many years ago, making it one of the typical stops of the ‘Grand Tour‘ and still now attracts visitors from over the world, coming to it by land and sea.
Tourism is often a mixed blessing and we could argue about how authentic Taormina feels nowadays. However, I feel the town’s position and cultural heritage makes it so beautiful and special it is still very much worth visiting.
Located in the Eastern part of Sicily, Taormina is perched on a hill. From its vertigo inducing terraces the views spans from the sparkling Mediterranean sea to the mighty Mount Etna, towering in front of the town.
It is an enviable position and would alone justify a trip to this corner of Sicily. However, there is more to Taormina than just beautiful Southern Italian atmosphere.
In this guide, we share all Taormina has to offer, our favourite things to do in Taormina and the best way to enjoy this Italian gem.
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How many days in Taormina
How many days to spend in Taormina depends largely on your plans.
To see Taormina proper you only need one day and one night.
If you want to use it as a base to visit Mount Etna, the Alcantara gorges and surrounding areas, however, I believe you need a minimum of 2 nights, more if you want to stretch farther South.
During our last trip to Taormina, we had 3 nights and they were sufficient to explore the town at length and to stretch to Siracusa. I believe this was the right amount of time and as pleasant as the town is, by the end of the fourth day we were ready to spread our wings and explore farther.
How to get to Taormina
Taormina lies in the eastern part of Sicily and is well connected to the rest of the island.
Taormina by plane
The closest international airport to Taormina is Catania Fontanarossa. The distance between Catania airport and Taormina is about an hour by car and there are several transport options such as the bus, the train and private transfers. if you can, I highly recommend to plan a day in Catania too: it is truly worth it!
Taormina by car
Reaching Taormina by car is easy. Taormina is just off the main road connecting Catania to Messina and the junction is well indicated.
If you travel by car, be aware that Taormina is on the top of a steep hill: the drive is not dangerous as such as there are no unprotected drops but it is served my many buses and sometimes this requires some manouvering on steep turns.
Just make sure you take your time and, especially if not overly comfortable driving, avoid getting there in the dark.
Taormina by train
Taormina train station is ‘Taormina-Giardini’ and is at the bottom of Taormina’s hill. The distance between Taormina station and Taormina proper seems little on the map but it is not a distance you can walk: the road is a driving road and it would be tiring, dangerous and long to approach it on foot.
The most efficient way to get from Taormina station to Taormina proper is by bus: it stops outside of the station, it costs 1.90 Euro (in 2018) and you can but tickets on board.
Awesome things to do in Taormina Sicily
Taormina has a few must see attractions you should include in your itienerary even if short on time. Here is our selection.
Visit The Greek theatre of Taormina
The star of the show, the jewel in the crown and the true showstopper in Taormina is the ancient theatre.
The theatre is usually referred to as the ‘ancient theatre’ or the ‘Greek theatre’ and it is a stunning archaeological site that is bound to leave spellbound even the most jaded cultural tourist. It is simply stunning.
The theater is inside Taormina proper and yon reach it with a short stroll from Taormina’s main street. Tickets are sold at the entrance, maps and info panels in Italian and English are available and kids go free.
This was the highlight of our trip and by far our favourite among the many things to do in Taormina.
The theatre was originally built by the Greeks: Taormina is Greek in origin and its theatre is the second largest theatre in Sicily, after the one in Siracusa.
The theatre is organised in three main areas: the cavea, where the public used to seat, the stage and the scene. While the cavea is Greek, the stage backdrop is Roman in origin and so are many of the other remains now visible.
This overlapping of cultures and archaeological strata is typical of many sites and in the case of Taormina shows how the city adapted to the several civilizations that stepped on its steep roads.
do you know how to tell the difference between a Greek and the Roman theatre? There are usually two main give always that even non historians can usually spot.
Greek theatres made use of hills and natural sloping terrain for the cavea, while the Romans used to build their own foundations. If you think of the Colosseum for instance, you can picture its external wall, that allow the theatre to exist even without a hill to lie on. These walls do no exist in theatres from Greek times.
The second element is the scene at the back of the stage. Greek theatres usually didn’t have a scene and made use of the natural backdrop, while Roman theatre used to have elaborate builts to frame the stage and offer an imposing background to stage action.
Other Roman ruins in Taormina
The ancient theatre is the most impressive Roman ruin in Taormina but it is by no means the only one. As you stroll along the city, make sure you take the time to peek into the Roman Odeon and the smaller sites: they are well indicated by brown street signs. While they won’t take much time to see, they will show easily how widespread the roman influence and architecture still is in the city.
Take a stroll along Corso Umberto
Taormina is crossed by one pedestrian street called Corso Umberto. Corso Umberto covers the entire length of the town and is dotted by the many Taormina shops, selling form local crafts to food to designer clothes.
Corso Umberto is an elegant road and a prime spot for people watching.
You can walk its own length is less than an hour (a lot less, but you want to take your time or the shops and facades) and it has a couple of truly special spots such as the belvedere.
On a sunny day, here you have cafes and street performers who add a touch of summer feeling to the stunning vista over Mont Etna and the sea below.
Take in the views from the public gardens
If you are looking for a quiet yet stunning location to enjoy Taormina’s good weather and its breathtaking views, look no further than the public gardens.
The gardens are located a little downhill form the old town centre, only a short walk from the Greek theatre and they are truly beautiful. The gardens themselves are well landscaped and easy to access and they are decorated with statues and sculptures you can enjoy while strolling or while sitting on one of the many benches.
In terms of view, they are one of the best spots in town. Their belvedere area faces Taormina’s main square and opens up to Mount Etna and the Mediterranean below.
Take Taormina’s cable car
Taormina is equipped with a fun cable car which connects the top of the city with the lower lands at sea level. the cable car goes every 15 minutes and it is a fun ride.
The capsules take about 6 people each (the 4 of us had one for ourselves) and while not overly scary, it is not the best thing to do if you are afraid of heights: the cable car windows and door are all glass so they are perfect for the views but offer little solace to the worried traveler!
If you are not afraid of heights or you think you can get over it, I do recommend taking the trip: the view is worth it and the able car saves you tons of time if you want to visit isola bella.
Do get a return ticket since the climb back up is long and steep!
Explore isola bella
One of Taormina’s most famous spots is Isola Bella, literally ‘beautiful island’.
Isola bella is a small island just in front of Taormina connected to the main land by a short stretch of sand. Depending on the season and time of the day, the stretch of sand is covered by the sea or forms a small passage you can cross on foot.
While this sounds very scenic, and to an extent it is, don’t imagine a Mount St Michel scenario. The distance between the beach and the island on only a few metres and even with high tide the waters are shallow and allow for easy crossing.
Isola bella has however many strings to her bow. First of all, the water here is lovely so if you come in summer it is a lovely spot for bathing. Just in front of the island there is a beach (pebbles) and a beach club with cafe, restaurant and facilities.
Second, isola bella is a conservation area and hosts some species of animals (lizards, birds) that are peculiar to this stretch of land. The island can be visited in groups of max 15 people per shift.
Taste Taormina’s gorgeous food
Sicilian food is among the tastiest and best of Italy and Taormina is full of great restaurants where you can taste the local specialties.
We were recommended a place called ‘Tiramisu’ and indeed it was a great address: both us and the kids hoovered up our food and it stayed as one of the best food related treats of our stay!
In terms of what to try, I highly recommend some Sicilian classics such as pasta alla Norma (aubergines and ricotta cheese), pasta al nero di seppia (pasta with squid ink) and anything offered as catch of the day. Fish and seafood in this part of the world are just stunning.
In terms of snacks and treats, Taormina will leave you spoilt for choice. We indulged extensively in arancini (fried balls of rice) and I had more than my fair share of cannoli. I fell in love with those of Pasticceria d’amore (they fill them for you on the spot) and I may or may have not had one a day as we were in Taormina…
Take a class
Taormina is well known to tourism and this means there are several workshops and classes held in English on offer for the curious visitors.
We have identified some of the most popular ones:
Half day Cooking class in Taormina with market visit to learn how to make a Sicilian meal from start to finish
Cannoli making masterclass, the perfect cooking class if, like me, you think cannoli are one of the most if not the most delicious thing ever created.
Pizza making class: while not a Sicilian special as such, there is not better place to learn to make pizza than Italy and you if you are in Taormina, this is your chance! A hands on class in Taormina centre followed by a social meal.
Take the bus to Castelmola
Just above Taormina sits the gorgeous village of Castelmola. While not part of Taormina as such, the village is so close and so easy to reach it is not an excursion as such.
It is a gorgeous place for views and meals and well equipped to welcome visitors. I suggest heading out for lunch or an early dinner for the best views.
Explore Taormina’s surrounding area: Taormina day trips
I couldn’t end this list of what to do in Taormina without a mention of excursions you can take in the surrounding areas. There are some of the most popular day trips from Taormina, all available to book from Get Your Guide, my go-to site for excursions and day trip bookings.
Taormina accommodation: where to stay in Taormina
Taormina has plenty of accommodation on offer and you can choose between luxury hotels, smaller establishments and holiday rentals.
Our favourite rental option in Taormina is this one (you can read our full review in this post). In terms of hotels, we have identified some of the best, based on friends recommendations and review score on booking.com, our booking engine of choice.
Hotel Villa Taormina, 4 star hotel with gorgeous patio areas and helpful staff in a great location
Hotel Villa Belvedere, lovely 4 star hotel, pet friendly!
Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo, 5 star hotel in the perfect location in the heart of Taormina, boasting incredible views, pools, spa and restaurant on site
NH Collection Taormina, 5 star hotel with outdoor pool, spa and fitness centre
Grand Hotel San Pietro, 4 star hotel with gorgeous garden and pool
Hotel Villa Fiorita, 3 star hotel, boasting incredible views and an outdoor swimming pool
Hotel Victoria, 2 stars hotel, reasonably priced option recommended for the location on Corso Vittorio and the attentive staff
Taormina with kids
Taormina is easy to visit at all ages and special notes about to to travel here with kids are hardly needed.
The one thing I do feel like saying however is about strollers and buggies. Taormina is perched on a hill and some streets have steps that may prove difficult with wheels.
While this is not a problem due to many alternative routes, this is something you may want to keep in mind when planning how long it may take from one place to the other. Steps are a shortcut but they are steep and buggy unfriendly.
In out time in the city we didn’t come across anything particularly geared towards kids. However, how pleasant the town is, the plethora of food options on offer and the street performers proved more than enough to keep the kids entertaining when sightseeing proved too much.
For our two, the highlight of the trip was the cable car and the beach. If you can, I highly recommend to include both in your itinerary if visiting Taormina with kids.
I hope you enjoyed this guide to Taormina and it will help you make the most of your time in this magical corner of Sicily. Safe travels!