Perched on a cliff overlooking the Ionean Sea in northeastern Sicily, Taormina is a beautiful town and, along with the surrounding area, offers everything you need for a perfect vacation.
Taormina is an ancient city founded by the Greeks in the 4th Century B.C., so it has a lot of history, but it also has super shopping, great restaurants with stunning sea views, cool bars, an ancient Greek theatre still used for concerts and events, and superb weather with beaches close by.
Here are our tips to get the best out of this historic and beautiful resort:
Strolling the Streets
Taormina has about 11,000 residents, so it is not large. Cars are not allowed without special permission. The main street is Corso Umberto. Here you will find lots of tourists, but many of them are Italian, so you get the feeling that you are not surrounded by tourists. You can never get tired of the variety available, and everything seems to be open all the time. The center of activity emanates in every direction from Piazza IX April (9th of April Square). Here you can find lots of outdoor cafes and shops along with music in the evening and plenty of room to run for the kids – this is a great place to meet and start your day or evening.
The Ancient Greek Theater
Located within the walls of Taormina itself, the theater is a must see. It is somewhat reconstructed to comfortably seat more than 5,000 spectators, but a lot of the original structure is still intact. From your seat, you have an incredible view looking down at the sea and up at Mt. Aetna, an active volcano. If you plan in advance, you can book tickets to world class pop and classical music concerts, some of which are recorded for television. Adult tickets for a walking tour of the theater cost €8. Concert tickets are sold separately.
About 11,000 feet high, Aetna is the largest active volcano in Europe and one of the biggest tourist attractions in Sicily. It is two and one-half times taller than the next largest active volcano, Mt. Vesuvius. This volcano erupts often, perhaps every one or two months. In fact, it erupted with minor lava flows one week before we arrived. There are different ways to see Mt. Aetna: private tours, group tours, hiking tours and there are even ski slopes open during the winter months. Highly recommended.
Getting to the Beach
Don’t even think about walking or hiking from Taormina to the beach. It’s just too steep. You can certainly drive or take a cab, but the best way is by cable car, which departs every 10-15 minutes and costs €3 per person one way. Kids under about 3 feet in height are free. From the bottom stopping point, you are within walking distance of Isola Bella, Giardini Naxos and Mazzaro Bay.
Isola Bella Nature Reserve
Popular with sun bathers, Iso Bella is actually a small island which you can walk to (low tide) or wade to (high tide). Situated opposite a small and somewhat rocky beach, it is a great place to spend some time before or after lunch.
Note: many of the beaches in this area are rocky, so it is advisable to wear some kind of shoes suitable for water. Don’t believe Wikipedia, the water is cold, but it is clear and clean, and there are always some that don’t seem to mind.
A popular seaside resort and good location for hotels from which you have great access to Taormina, especially because of its proximity to the cable car. From Naxos, you have popular beaches with a beautiful view of the bay looking back (and up!) at Taormina and the huge hills, along with its small but picturesque fishing village. It’s loaded with hotels, pizzerias, restaurants and pubs. You can also find smaller pensions for those really watching their budget.
Usually lasting an hour and costing about €30 per person, a boat excursion can be a nice way to see the coast with Mt. Aetna in the background, along with views of Isola Bella, Giardini Naxos and numerous grottos which you actually can only access by boat.
This 2,700 year old city, founded by the Greeks, was one of the most important city-states in antiquity, allied with Sparta and Corinth. It is the second largest city in Sicily next to Palermo. Located 130 KM south of Taormina, Syracuse is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is truly worth a visit. A bus tour is an inexpensive way to see the city. You will find a number of options anywhere in the Taormina area.
There are many dozens of restaurants in Taormina. Because the city is so popular, the average restaurant prices are somewhat higher than elsewhere, but the quality is often superb. Note: you will often see a cover charge, shown on the bill as ‘Coperto,’ in the amount of €2 or €3 per person. Reservations recommended. Here are a few restaurants we tried and liked:
Trattoria Don Ciccio – Right off the main square (Piazza IX April), this small, casual and inexpensive spot is excellent. You get a glass of Prosecco and a small but tasty snack plus bread immediately after sitting down – all included in the Coperto. The service is attentive and friendly while also helpful, and food is very good. Via Damiano Rosso 19 Taormina, Tel: 0942-628 341
Maffei’s Cocktail Bar & Restaurant – In the middle of Taormina just off the main street known as Corso Umberto. Super atmosphere centered on a ceiling of large flowering Bougainvillea. Great food; very fresh. Highly popular, always busy. Via S. Domenico de Guzman, Taormina, Tel: 0942-24055
Cinque Archi (Five Arches) Ristorante – Right on Piazza IX April. The place to be. On the ground floor, you can sit outside, drink a cappucino or espresso and watch the people and activities in the square. Upstairs you can find seating that overlooks the square and listen to music playing nearly every evening. Pasta dishes are excellent. Via San Giovanni Bosco 15, Taormina, Tel: 0942-628 722.
Hotel Metropole – Great place for a cocktail or nightcap. Five star hotel steps away from Cinque Archi and Piazza IX April. Jazz on most evenings after nine. Stunning views of the Ionian Sea and beaches below making it a good refueling point during the day. Drinks about €10 each, but you can nurse it while enjoying the music and view. Corso Umberto I, 54, Taormina. Tel: 0942-681 330.
Il Barcaiolo – Very casual but excellent food. On the water right next to a small marina adjacent to Mazzaro Beach, so you have to take the cable car down from Taormina. Only two hundred yards from cable car drop off point. Very popular, need reservations. Look for the sign right next to the Grand Hotel Atlantis Bay, then walk down the narrow steps until you hit the water. Fresh fish and pasta dishes. They have insecticide if you detect a mosquito! Via Castelluccio 43, Spiaggia Mazzaro, Taormina, Tel: 0942-625 633.
Antica Trattoria – La Botte Grill – Casual, good outdoor seating. Maybe the best pizzas I have ever seen. Piazza San Domenico.
Catania is the closest airport to Taormina. You can find direct flights with Air Berlin or Meridiana from Frankfurt or with Alitalia or Air Berlin from Stuttgart, all flights take around 2.5 hours