Taormina, Sicily has been one of the Italian island's top travel destinations since the era of the European Grand Tour, when wealthy young men, many of the English poets and painters, would take extended tours of the classical sites of Italy and Greece. Thanks to its popularity with these travelers of the 17th to 19th centuries, Taormina became Sicily's first beach resort.
Taormina has well-preserved Greek and Roman ruins, a fine medieval quarter and castle ruins, and modern shops and restaurants. Perched on the side of Monte Tauro, the town offers fantastic views of the coast and Mount Etna volcano. Below the town are excellent beaches where you can swim in the clear sea water. Although Taormina can be visited all year, spring and fall are the best times. July and August are very hot, and because most Italians take their vacations those months, they're also very crowded.
What to See
Top attractions include the Greek theater, medieval quarter, shopping and beaches.
- Greek Theater: Taormina's Greek theater was built in the third century BC, renovated by the Romans, and is now used for summer performances. The theater, built into the hillside, has excellent acoustics and spectacular views of the sea and Mt. Etna.
- Medieval Quarter: A clock tower gate serves as the starting point for Taormina's picturesque medieval section with its narrow streets and old shops now selling modern clothing, crafts, and souvenirs.
- Corso Umberto: The lively main street through town, Corso Umberto, is lined with shops and bars. Along the street are people-filled squares good for enjoying an outdoor drink and people-watching. One of the best squares is Piazza IX Aprile, with its great sea views.
Beaches: Below Taormina is beaches, coves, and a peaceful sea perfect for swimming. There are paths between the town and the coast. There's also a cable car to Mazzaro, the beach resort just below Taormina, from Via L Pirandello. Buses run to beaches, too.
The luxury hotel El Jebel is right in the center of town. Also in the center are the 4-star Villa Carlotta in a garden setting overlooking the sea and Hotel Villa Angela in a park setting with views of Mount Etna and the bay. A less expensive option right in the historic center is the 2-star Hotel Victoria.
If you want to be closer to the sea, Atahotel Capotaormina has its own private beach. The 4-star Panoramic Hotel is right on the waterfront near Isola Bella and Taormina Park Hotel is on the road heading down to the sea.
Taormina is 200 meters above sea level on Monte Tauro on Sicily's east coast. It's 48km south of Messina, Sicily's closest city to the mainland. Mount Etna volcano is about a 45-minute drive southwest of Taormina and farther south is Catania, one of Sicily's largest cities.
Taormina is on the rail line between Messina and Catania and can be reached by train directly from Rome. The station, Taormina-Giardini, is 2 km below the center and served by shuttle buses. Regular buses run from Palermo, Catania, the airport, and Messina arriving in the center of town. The closest airport, Fontanarossa in Catania, is an hour drive and has flights to some Italian and European cities. A car ferry runs from the mainland to Messina, then take the A18 along the coast for about 30 minutes. Driving in the center is limited. There are two large parking lots on the outskirts.
Taormina has many excellent restaurants in all price ranges. It's a great place for seafood and outdoor dining, often with views. Ristorante da Lorenzo, Via Roma 12, serves seafood on a terrace overlooking the sea. Traditional Sicilian food is served at Ristorante la Griglia, Corso Umberto 54, on an outside terrace during nice weather. An inexpensive choice is Porta Messina, next to the city walls at Largo Giove Serapide 4.
Corso Umberto, in the center of town, is a good place for shopping. Many shops sell high-quality items, mostly from Sicily, although you'll find designer fashions and jewelry from mainland Italy, too. There are shops for fashion, jewelry, crafts, mosaics ceramics, puppets, porcelain dolls, and other unique souvenirs, as well as typical touristy t-shirts and memorabilia.
Festivals and Events
Taormina Arte festival runs from June through August. Plays, concerts, and a film festival are held outdoors in the Greek Theater during summer. Madonna della Rocca is typically celebrated the third weekend of September with a religious procession and feast. Taormina has one of the best Carnival celebrations in Sicily.