Are you in Sicily and looking for a place near Mount Etna to visit? Taormina is just what you need! Discover with me everything there is to see in and around this beautiful city.
Taormina is located along the east coast of Sicily, halfway between Catania and Messina, and near Mount Etna. The city, with a population of around 10,000, is situated on a hill overlooking the sea at an altitude of approximately 200 metres. Taormina’s beauty has captivated both national and international tourists for centuries.
In fact, with its stunning natural landscapes, Taormina welcomes around one million tourists each year. Its breathtaking views of the sea, as well as its proximity to Mount Etna, its rich artistic and archaeological heritage, beautiful beaches, and delicious local food and wine, make it a perfect destination for all types of travellers. There truly is something for everyone to enjoy in Taormina!
The history of Taormina, like that of Sicily, is very ancient. Certain sources attest to the presence of settlements in Taormina even before the Greeks landed on the island in 753 B.C., although some historians date its birth to 358 B.C..
This date in fact corresponds to the foundation of “Tauromerion”, the ancient name for Taormina, following the arrival of some Greek refugees from nearby Naxos. The Greek period ended in 212 B.C. when the Romans arrived.
With the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Arab incursions began and Taormina was sacked and destroyed. Rebuilt by the Christians in 909 AD, it was again sacked and destroyed by the Muslims in 962. Arab domination finally began and lasted until 1078, when a papal policy freed Taormina from its oppressors. This feat was entrusted to the Normans.
After the Normans, the regency of Sicily was in the hands of the Swabians, who raised the prosperity of Taormina as never before. After the Swabians, it was the Aragons who ruled over Taormina from 1282. From the beginning of the 16th century, the Aragonese were replaced by the Spanish. With the Peace of Utrecht in 1713, Sicily was taken from Spain and thus began the Savoy domination, followed by the Bourbon domination from 1734, which lasted until the formation of the Unification of Italy.
Taormina therefore has a very complex history, which is fully represented in what it is today. The city demonstrates the diverse and multiple influences it has undergone over the centuries, through the styles of its monuments and places of interest. Indeed, from the 19th century to the present day, many illustrious men have been attracted by the beauty and history of Taormina. These include the philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the writer Alexander Dumas, the French playwright and poet Guy de Maupassant, the man of letters D.H. Lawrence and many others!
From an artistic point of view, Taormina today is very popular all over the world thanks to the “Taormina Film Festival”, which has been held here since 1955. The film festival has hosted the likes of Federico Fellini, Woody Allen, John Woo and Francis Ford Coppola, who in 2022 celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1972 release of “The Godfather” here.
Stay with me because now we will not only go together to discover all the secrets of Taormina, but also its surroundings. You will discover what to see and do in Taormina in one day, if your stay is not very long, and what to visit in and around Taormina, if you have more than one day.
Ideally, you should stay here for at least three days, so that you can visit at your leisure, but this does not exclude the possibility of doing it in much less! A wonderful experience of history, culture and good food awaits you. So what are you waiting for? Let’s go!
Visit Taormina in one day
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Characterised by a medieval style with a Greek soul, Taormina offers many places to visit for those who love history and culture. With a time of about 2 to 3 hours, you can get to all the tourist attractions in Taormina, which we will discover together in a moment. You can easily get around on foot without missing anything!
1. THE GREEK THEATRE OF TAORMINA
Second in size in all of Sicily only after the Greek Theatre in Syracuse, this theatre dates back to the 3rd century B.C. and fully represents the monumental flourishing of those times. Here you can admire a truly unique scenery: the magnificent and colourful Ionian Sea flanked by the slopes of Mount Etna. Originally, the so-called “veneraciones”, the fights between gladiators and ferocious beasts typical of Roman times, took place here. Under the Greek predecessors, on the other hand, musical and dramatic performances of excellence took place.
Today, a number of important events take place here, such as the Taormina Film Festival, the David di Donatello award ceremonies, symphonic and opera concerts, as well as some important filming such as Woody Allen’s film “The Goddess of Love” in 1995.
2. HISTORIC CENTRE OF TAORMINA
Starting from Porta Messina, the symbol of Taormina, you can discover the charm of the historic centre of this beautiful town. Porta Messina is one of the two portals, together with Porta Catania, between which Corso Umberto I°, the main street of the historic centre, is enclosed. It is here that you will find many shops and bars open from morning to night. Halfway along Corso Umberto I°, Piazza IX Aprile, with its characteristic chequered pavement, opens up before you. Besides the view of the Ionian Sea, you can admire the beauty of the Baroque-style Church of San Giuseppe and the Church of Sant’Agostino with its Clock Tower.
Continuing through the colourful alleys of Taormina, you can see the grandeur of the Naumachie, the Greek and Roman brick walls that served as reservoirs for the city’s water supply. Some naval battles typical of that era were probably also staged here.
A few steps from Corso Umberto I°, you can admire Casa Cuseni, a place where the scions of noble families used to stay during their Grand Tours necessary for their university education.
3. TAORMINA MUNICIPAL VILLA AND ITS GARDENS
The Public Gardens represent one of the most beautiful places in Taormina city. Just a few minutes from Piazza IX Aprile, inside the Villa Comunale, there are many varieties and species of plants and flowers.
The villa originally belonged to a Scottish noblewoman who fled her home country following a scandal caused by an affair with the heir to the English throne Edward VII. Florence Trevelyan, this is her name, came to Taormina during her Grand Tour financed by the British Crown.
Here she fell in love with the surgeon and mayor of Taormina Salvatore Cacciola. The latter, at the time of his wife’s death, was no longer mayor and, having therefore lost all his political powers, had the villa expropriated in 1922 by the municipality, which opened it to the public. Among the shrubs and bushes in the gardens, you can admire the magnificence of bronze sculptures and beautiful fountains. Completing the route through the gardens, you will reach the top of a terrace from where you can admire the splendid view over the sea that Taormina offers its visitors.
4. CORVAJA PALACE
Just a few steps from Porta Messina is this imposing stone building. The contrast between the style of Palazzo Corvaja and the rest of the surrounding buildings is striking, because of its architectural antiquity. In its inner cloister, you can admire many reliefs and some windows in the Christian style with Arab influences. The palace is a museum and art gallery where many pictorial and multimedia exhibitions come to life.
5. CATHEDRAL OF TAORMINA
This building, dating back to the 13th century, arouses particular curiosity because of its appearance. Rather than looking like a cathedral, it may in fact give the impression of being a fortress. The Cathedral of Taormina was built on the ruins of the small Church of St Nicholas of Bari. Over the years, it has also undergone several modifications. The exterior is composed of stones and battlements around the perimeter with a large rose window on the main façade, which embellishes its appearance. Two other rosettes are found on the side facades of the building.
6. THE TAORMINA CABLE CAR
About 200 metres from Porta Messina, you can board Taormina’s funicular railway to enjoy a breathtaking view of the sea. The cable car connects Taormina to the coastal area of Baia di Mazzarò, Isola Bella and Baia delle Sirene. With this means of transport, you can reach the sea in just three minutes. Departures are every quarter of an hour. With about 700 metres of track, the Taormina cable car was built in the late 1920s and has been renovated at least three times so far. The total height difference between the departure and arrival station is about 170m with a maximum gradient of 68%.
7. MADONNA DELLA ROCCA CHURCH
This church stands on a small mountain overlooking Taormina, from where you can admire another of the breathtaking views that these places offer. The building dates back to the 12th century and was restored in 1600. The uniqueness and charm of this church lies in the fact that, as its name suggests, it is entirely carved into the rock on which it stands.
Legend has it that it became a place of pilgrimage when, on a night of heavy rain, a shepherd boy and his sheep tried to find shelter inside a cave. Lightning, however, shone inside and the shepherd boy saw the figure of a woman holding a child and was so frightened that he fled instantly. The shepherd boy returned here a few days later with his parents and they all noticed that the woman who had appeared on the stormy night was actually a painting on the rock. Since then, every third Sunday in September, the faithful go there to celebrate and pay homage to the Madonna della Rocca.
8. PALACE OF THE DUKES OF ST. STEFANO
Near Porta Catania, you can admire this example of Norman architecture, one of the most beautiful, majestic and best-preserved in Taormina. Originally part of the city walls, the Dukes of Santo Stefano Palace was built between the 12th and 14th centuries entirely of stone. The palace overlooks a garden enriched with palm trees and plants, inside which you can admire a small well used to collect rainwater. Bombed and entirely destroyed on 9 July 1943, the Palace was rebuilt according to its original features thanks to the Superintendency of Fine Arts of Catania.
9. ISOLA BELLA
This is the perfect stop, if you are looking for a place where you can relax and be fully enraptured by the beauty of the Ionian Sea. Picturesque and evocative, the islet can be reached at low tide as it is connected to the beach of the same name by a strip of land that only emerges when the sea level drops.
Here you can visit the Natural Museum to learn more about its history or you can rent SUP (stand up paddle) boards, sunbeds and umbrellas – although most of the beach is free. You will not find sand on these beaches but pebbles and pebbles of various sizes.
The first historical references date back to 1806. Among them, some testify that Florence Trevelyan bought the island in 1890 for the sum of 14 thousand lira. It is thanks to her that there are many tropical plants on the islet that enrich the scenery. She also had a small house built here to shelter from the sun during the hottest hours of the day. On the death of Florence Trevelyan and her husband Salvatore Cacciola, the islet went into the hands of her nephew Cesare Acrosso, who sold it back to the Lo Turco family for 30,000 lire.
The latter sold it off to the Bosurgi family because of the ban on building received from the municipality. The Bosurgi family, owners of a citrus processing company, circumvented the ban by building a small house inside the rock. Following the company’s bankruptcy, the family had to sell off the islet at auction, which, in the hands of vandals until 1984, was put on the list of assets of historical-artistic interest and purchased in 1990 by the Assessorato dei Beni Culturali. In 1998, the islet became a WWF nature reserve and the Museum was opened in 2011.
The small village stands on the elevated part of Taormina and is one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. Castelmola owes its origins to pre-Hellenic times. As soon as you enter the village, you will be captivated by yet another breathtaking view. From the main square, you can admire the entire Ionian coast from Mount Etna to the Taormina Bays… But that’s not all because on a clear day, you can even see the coast of Calabria!
What to see around Taormina?
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Taormina is fortunate to be located in an area of Sicily rich in interesting sights and places to visit.
On the slopes of Mount Etna, Taormina is surrounded by many villages such as Bronte and Randazzo. A very famous destination is also Giardini Naxos, an ancient fishing village a few kilometres from Taormina. An unknown destination until the 1970s, this place is home to some of Sicily’s most important monuments. Protected by green hills, Giardini Naxos has one of the most beautiful stretches of sand on the entire island.
Another very evocative place is the Alcantara Gorge, a natural canyon that came to light as a result of volcanic eruptions dating between 25 thousand and 9 thousand years ago. As a result, a lava body with walls up to 25 metres high has emerged, which is very impressive. Here, you can relax on a pebble beach or rent body rafting dungarees that will allow you to travel down the river in complete safety, using your own body as a raft, enjoying the beauty of this place up close.
You can also rent a quad or a mountain bike for unforgettable excursions, or follow two trekking routes that will let you discover the most beautiful landscapes in the entire Alcantara Valley.
On this trip around Taormina, how could we not mention the Etna Park? With its 59,000 hectares, it was the first of all Sicilian parks to be established in 1987 by decree of the President of the Region. Its purpose is to preserve the natural environment and landscape, promoting tourism in the area of Europe’s highest volcano and promoting the environmental sustainability of citizens and local communities.
Here, amidst dark stone and incandescent lava, you can delve into nature for half-day or full-day excursions, amidst the tenacious vegetation that makes its way through an environment so hostile to its very survival. You will encounter craters, volcanic caves, recent and ancient lava flows, villages destroyed by eruptions and summit craters that are still active.
Top 10 things to see in Taormina
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If you are in Taormina but have little time, here is a short and quick list of things I absolutely recommend you do and see before you leave!
- Greek Theatre of Taormina
- Isola Bella in Taormina
- Historical centre with Corso Umberto I
- Taormina Cableway
- Piazza Trilussa
- Piazza IX Aprile
- Madonna della Rocca Church
- Cuseni House
- Taormina Cathedral
What to do in Taormina?
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In addition to the many cultural attractions you have just heard about, Taormina has much more to offer, catering to the needs and passions of all its visitors. As you may have guessed, you can delight in shopping by taking Corso Umberto I° from Porta Messina. Here the shops are open from morning to evening with small breaks during lunch hours.
There is no shortage of typical products to buy during your shopping sessions! Among the most famous souvenirs, you will find Teste di Moro (Moor’s Heads), Caltagirone Ceramics, Sicilian Puppets and Carretti, lava stone objects from Etna, and much more.
For photography lovers, whether amateur or professional, there is no lack of unique scenic landscapes with which to express their talent. Taormina, in fact, is characterised by the many breathtaking views and panoramas that make it one of the most beautiful destinations in Sicily.
On your photographic tour, you can also dwell on the beauty of some of Taormina’s beaches and bathe in one of Italy’s most beautiful seas. It is no coincidence that Taormina is called the pearl of the Ionian Sea! Apart from the beach of Isola Bella, you can dive into the waters of the beach of Letojanni, or the beach of Pinsone, rather than the waters of the beach of Mazzarò or the beach of Mazzeo.
More adventurous activities such as quad bike rides, nature trekking excursions, paragliding tours, snorkelling and yoga classes are very popular. There is no shortage of opportunities to enjoy yourself by choosing one of these or the many other activities that Taormina has to offer!
Local food and wine
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Taormina, like the whole of Sicily, is very rich in culture and food and wine history.
In addition to the many activities I have just described, you can visit Etna’s wineries on a journey through local flavours and traditions. There are many wineries that offer visitors guided tours of their wine cellars, as well as wine and local food tastings.
Speaking of food, don’t forget that you are only a few kilometres from Bronte! The Pistacchio di Bronte PDO (Bronte pistachio) is in fact a much consumed and loved specialities in Taormina as well, a must for foodies! You can also visit local farms producing citrus fruits, extra virgin olive oil or almonds and taste their products.
The lava soil in this area of Sicily makes all these delicacies very special and unique, thanks to the minerals dissolved in the soil on which the plants feed.
The wines of the area are in fact precious and inimitable for this very reason. A very famous wine from the area is Nero D’Avola DOC, which joins Etna Rosso DOC, Nerello Mascalese DOC, Nero Ossidiana IGT, Salina Rosso IGT, Baldovino IGT or Bianco Pomice IGT.
In addition to the products of the land, enjoy typical Sicilian dishes such as arancini (fried rice balls), swordfish rolls, pasta alla norma, caponata, cuzzole or cudduruni (fried bread balls covered in sugar), cannoli with ricotta cheese, pasta with sardines, brioche with ice cream or granita, octopus salad or focaccia! Discover also almond pastries or Martorana fruit or the typical almond wine!
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Many artistic and cultural events take place in Taormina throughout the year. In addition to the Taormina Film Festival and the David di Donatello, the Italian Opera Taormina in the Teatro San Giorgio is a regular event. This is an opera performance aimed at a very wide audience, from the neophyte who does not understand much about opera, to the expert and enthusiast.
In October, the Taormina Gourmet is generally held. It is an event that includes several cooking masterclasses, cooking shows, author’s dinners and the tasting counter. The latter will allow you to get to know some of the area’s most representative wines, discovering every aspect and secret.
December sees the Tao Christmas Fest, an event that for almost the entire month brings many Christmas events to the square. Easter is also very much felt by the inhabitants of Taormina. During the Easter procession, all the lights in Corso Umberto I° are switched off and the illumination is provided by the many candles hung on the street walls. This creates an ambience with a sacred atmosphere when women, children and men wear clothes and accessories dedicated to this day.
How to get to and around Taormina
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To get to Taormina, take the Messina-Catania A18 motorway if you have a private car. If you arrived in Sicily by plane, I recommend renting a car to be able to easily move around Taormina. Alternatively, you can easily reach the city by train from the nearest Catania airport.
Getting around once in Taormina is not at all difficult. Apart from being able to walk to the main attractions, you can use the cable car, the public transport ASM Taormina or the private company Interbus.
You won’t need a car here. However, you will find several public and private car parks where you can leave your car until you need it to visit all the villages and magical places around Taormina!
Now that you know what to see in Taormina, all that remains for me to do is to wish you a happy trip to discover Sicily and… its flavours! 😋
Cover photo: pixabay, rgbanthony