Last Updated on 10/03/2023
I’ve heard Taormina referred to as the Positano of Sicily, and after spending a few days there I can see the similarities. Both are premier destinations offering stunning views, luxury hotels, unique beaches and boutique shops. Taormina is certainly a gem in Eastern Sicily and has been welcoming celebrities for decades. San Domenico Palace has hosted visitors from Elizabeth Taylor to Madonna, and recently was the filming location for HBO’s White Lotus. Taormina was one of the towns I was most excited about visiting when planning a week long trip to Sicily.
Whether you just have enough time for a day trip from Catania or you’re staying a few nights, Taormina is definitely worth going to and offers so much to do. In this guide, I’ll share your transportation options, the best hotels, and the top things to do in Taormina.
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How to get to Taormina
Half the battle in Italy (especially Southern Italy) is the journey, but I was pleasantly surprised at all the different options to get to Taormina. For public transportation, you can catch a train or a bus from the Catania airport or Catania Centrale (the main train station).
By Train: I took the train to get from Catania Centrale to Taormina. Tickets are about $5 and you can purchase them on the train. I think the employee at the ticket machine could tell I was sweating bullets thinking I was going to miss the train, so I was relieved to say the least when she said I could buy them on the train.
The train station is Taormina-Giardini and is located at the bottom of the hill by the shore. It would not be a pleasant walk to most hotels with your luggage. Taxis are readily available at the train station for about 20 euros. A shuttle bus will also bring you to the top of the hill near Piazza San Pancrazio for a couple of euros.
Check schedules on Trenitalia or use Google Maps for directions via pubic transportation.
By Bus: Reviews for the bus are mixed at best, but I had a good experience using Etna Transporti for the journey from Taormina directly to the Catania airport. The bus terminal is located here. You can purchase tickets there and check for the most up to date schedule. Even if a schedule is posted online, I always like to physically go to the kiosk and check ahead of time.
By Car: You won’t need a car to get around Taormina itself, but if you’ve rented a car as part of a larger Sicilian road trip you’ll find several parking lots and some hotels will offer private parking.
Where to Stay in Taormina
After you’ve made the journey, you’ll want to head straight to your hotel. I think of Taormina as broken up into three sections: the main street (Corso Umberto) with shops and restaurants, the beach area near Isola Bella, and a section in between the two by the pubic gardens and Greek theatre. The latter section is where I chose to stay for its views and accessibility to restaurants while still being quiet.
Hotel Villa Belvedere: This family owned property offers stunning views, a generous breakfast buffet, nice rooms and a pool with a little island and a palm tree in the middle. Opening its doors in 1902, Hotel Villa Belvedere was one of the first hotels in Taormina and has stayed in the same family ever since.
Whether it’s a secluded patio and lounge chairs near the pool or a room with a balcony, you’ll have your choice between rooms that have different features to cater to your needs. Check pricing and availability.
More accommodations in Taormina:
– Hotel Timeo – The first hotel in Taormina and now a luxury Belmond property.
– San Domenico Palace – The Four Seasons property was a former 14th century convent and the filming location of White Lotus.
– B&B a’ Coffa – Nice budget option with a central location and included breakfast.
Things to do in Taormina, Sicily
Visit the Greek Theatre
The top thing to do in Taormina is visit the ancient Greek theatre. Not only is the 3rd century BC structure impressive in itself, the view is stunning and sets the theatre apart from other ancient monuments.
Open every day from 9:00 to 7:45 during the summer with reduced hours in the off season. 10 euros per person. Free first Sunday of the month. Check opening hours, purchase tickets in advance and see events schedule.
Hike down to Isola Bella
This tiny island was purchased in 1890 by Florence Trevelyan who was exiled to Sicily by Queen Victoria after a supposed scandalous affair involving Prince Edward. She built a house on it and imported rare plants in the thriving Mediterranean garden.
It remained a private residence until 1990 when the island was designated a nature reserve by the government of Sicily. The Museums of Isola Bella on the island was closed for maintenance when I visited, but consult their website to see if it is open for visitors yet.
Start the hike down to this beautiful little island at L’Oblò Cafè. The walk is mainly stairs with a short down hill paved road portion. My plan was to hike down and then take the cable car back up, but to my unpleasant surprise it wasn’t running yet and no buses were in sight. So, be mindful of transportation both ways or be prepared for the hike back.
Taormina Public Gardens
After marrying the mayor of Taormina, Florence Trevelyan bought the plots of land that today serve as the Taormina Public Gardens (located here on Google Maps). Also known as Florence Trevelyan park, the public park is free to walk through and one of the top free things to do in Taormina. A stroll through the park offers nice views of Mount Etna and is filled with unique brick structures. Trevelyan called these structures Beehives and would pass the time sipping tea and birdwatching from their terraces.
Florence Trevelyan reminds me a bit of Susan Walton and her garden in Ischia, La Mortella Gardens (minus the exile part).
Aperitivo at Hotel Timeo
Staying at the Hotel Timeo isn’t exactly in my budget, but that isn’t going to stop me from having a fancy cocktail at Bar Timeo. Be sure to go here for aperitivo with a view of Mount Etna and the ocean below.
Sicily as a whole is known for its granita and Bam Bar is the most famous place in town to get the sweet treat. I’d even venture to say you’re unlikely to read any guide or blog that doesn’t mention Bam Bar in tandem with Taormina. With its colorful ceramic tables made from Caltragirone, kind staff and wonderful granita, Bam Bar can’t be missed.
I would have found myself there more than once, but they are closed on Mondays outside of the busy summer season. If you find yourself in a similar pinch or want to try more than one place, you’ll want to stroll over to Pasticceria Gelateria D’Amore. The gelato was quite delicious.
Shop for Ceramics
Along the two main streets in Taormina (Corso Umberto and Via Teatro Greco), you’ll find numerous ceramic shops. While ceramics in these shops are certainly on the pricey end compared to the ones you’d find in Caltragirone or Ortigia, it would be a worthy investment to bring home a special piece from one of these shops.
Visit Piazza IX Aprile
A stroll along the main street, Corso Umberto, will bring you right to the beautiful Piazza IX Aprile. The square is named April 9th because on that date in 1860 a false rumor started to spread that Giuseppe Garibaldi had landed to liberate Sicily from the Bourbons.
The perimeter of the piazza is lined by a balcony look out point, outdoor terraces to enjoy a drink and two religious buildings, Church of San Giuseppe and the Church of Saint Augustine. The 15th century Church of Saint Augustine is now the city library. While the 17th century Church of San Giuseppe still holds services. Be sure to go in the small church and admire the baroque interior.
Proceed to the corner anchored by the clock tower and walk through the archway to continue on to visit the Duomo di Taormina.
Chiesa Madonna della Rocca
I did not have it in me to do this hike after aforementioned unexpected cable car closure running from Isola Bella, but visiting this church was originally in my itinerary. Chiesa Madonna della Rocca dates back to the 12th century and was built into the side of the rocky mountain. If you do have the strength for the climb, please report back and let me know how it was.
I guess it’s always good to leave something for next time.