Taormina is one of the most popular tourist resorts in Sicily because of its picturesque environment and unique hillside location. It is located south of Messina and north of Catania on the eastern coast of Sicily by the Ionian Sea.
The influx of tourists throughout the year and the busy streets give Taormina an air of constant festivity. Taormina is one of our favourite places in Sicily and perfect for a weekend break or a week's holiday.
Enter Taormina via the Porta Messina, an impressive stone gateway and you find yourself walking down the lively pedestrian main street of Corso Umberto. This colourful street is at the heart of Taormina and is full of bars, restaurants and interesting shops. Interspersed amongst its attractive colourful buildings are a number of monuments including the Santa Caterina church and the Santa Giuseppe church.
About halfway along the street is the Piazza 9 Aprile, a large square with a black and white tiled floor made of black and white larva. On one side is the Santa Agostino church and on another the 18th century Saint Joseph church (S. Giuseppe). Saint Joseph's church is in Baroque style and has an impressive double staircase leading to its main door. On its roof it has a beautiful onion dome on the right hand side. At the front of the square is a beautiful viewpoint over the Gulf of Naxos and Mount Etna. All in all a totally beautiful square!
Continue along the Corso Umberto I and you will reach the Torre dell' Orologi, an impressive clock tower and beyond another lovely square, the Piazza del Duomo, home to the cathedral of Taormina (duomo) and a fine Baroque fountain. The cathedral was built in the 13th century but modified in later centuries. Inside it has paintings by Antonio Guiffre and a polyptych by Antonella de Saliba. The fountain dates to 1635 and is topped by a female centaur.
This part of Taormina is the oldest part of the town, the Borgo Medieval. In the narrow streets to the north of the cathedral you will find the Palazzo Ciampoli from the 14th century and home to a free art exhibition. South of the cathedral is the 13th century Palazzo Duchi di Santo Stefano with Norman Gothic windows and an Arab style. It is home to the Mazzullo foundation and has a collection of Mazzullo statues.
Back close to the Porta Messina there is a small Roman theatre, the 'Odeon', built by the first Roman emperor Caesar Augustus Octavian. Next to this the Palazzo Corvaja which was built in the 10th century is home to the tourist office where you can pick up a useful tourist map. This was home to the Sicilian Parliament in the 1400s.
Turning along the Via Teatro Greco from here past the Palazzo dei Congressi you come to the highlight of a visit to Taormina, its ancient Greek Theatre. The Greek theatre has a backdrop of the Ionian Sea and the volcano Mount Etna. It must be the most beautiful setting for an ancient theatre anywhere in the world and added to this is the beauty of the theatre itself.
The theatre was built in the 3rd century BC and is the second biggest in Sicily with that of Syracuse being the largest. At the front of the tiers of seating in a horseshoe shape is the stage with columns and niches that once housed statues. The Romans made some changes to the theatre to adapt it as an arena for gladiators. If you are travelling in summer come early to avoid the crowds.
South of the Greek Theatre is the Parco Duchi di Cesaro. This lovely park was created by an Englishwoman in the 19th century and as well as lovely gardens is home to a number of beautiful 'Victorian follies'. From the park there are more views over the Bay of Naxos and a walk is a lovely respite from the bustle of Taormina.
Taormina became a popular tourist destination in the 19th century when Goethe discovered it and wrote about it in his book 'Italian Journey'. It became part of the 'Grand Tour' for rich young men and has remained popular ever since. Oscar Wilde, D H Lawrence, Richard Wagner, John Steinbeck, Gustav Klint, Alexander Dumas and many others came to visit, indeed D H Lawrence lived here for three years.
Taormina has a popular film festival, and this along with the charms of the town has attracted film stars including Marlene Dietrich, Cary Grant, Gregory Peck and Woody Allen. The Greek Theatre is a popular setting for staging concerts and groups who have played here include Simple Minds, James Blunt, Sting, Patti Smith and Elton John. It is also used for many ballets and opera performances.
Places to visit nearby
One of the other reasons for the popularity of Taormina is its beautiful beaches. You can access the fabulous Isola Bella beach from a cable car which takes you from the town to the beach. Also at the bottom of the cable car is the attractive Mazzaro beach and the further away beaches include the San Giovanni in the Giardini Naxos resort, the Recanati Beach, the Letojanni beach and Fondachello beaches.
The village of Castelmola on the hill can offer some breathtaking panoramic views, which allow you to observe the city landscape, with Mount Etna visible as well. Take the bus as this is a narrow and steep road and we saw a few cars having trouble.
Also on the hill above Taormina is a hilltop Saracen castle. It is possible to hike up to the castle and from here you have great views of Taormina, the Bay and Mount Etna. It is not an easy climb and so best to go early in the morning with plenty of water and sturdy shoes.
It is possible to get the bus from Catania airport to Taormina and visit the beaches, Castelmola, Giardini Naxos, Savoca, Foza d'Agro, Mount Etna, Siracusa, Noto and various other places using either local buses or reasonably priced tour buses which means you can have a great week or more in Taormina without having to hire a car (the roads in Sicily are a bit stressful!).
You can find more local travel ideas in the guide.