Around Siracusa: Day trips and excursions
Siracusa itself can easily fill two or three days of sightseeing, with its mainland archaeological sights and the charms of the island centre of Ortigia. After that, particularly in summer, there is a good selection of other things to do and places to visit nearby.
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One of the most fun activities, especially for families, is a boat trip. Rival boat operators set up stalls by the bridges to Ortigia and at Largo Porta Marina advertising trips in little boats either around the island or further afield, to explore sea caves. They all offer pretty much the same deal – an hour-long trip, or the possibility of combining the two tours in one (at a saving, obviously).
There are also boat trips up the Ciane river, 5 miles from Siracusa, which boasts clumps of papyrus and the remains of a Greek temple. These boat tours usually depart from the mainland nature reserve, along the SS115 road, not from Ortigia.
Siracusa is on the sea, and there are one or two places in town where sun-seekers can swim from rocks, or drape themselves in the sun. Many locals, though, choose to head out of town to one of the appealing beaches along the coast. To the southwest, in the direction of Noto, there are some stretches of attractively rural coastline, and some popular seaside destinations including Arenella, Ognina and Fontane Bianche, all reachable by AST urban buses.
If you are visiting Siracusa in the summer, it is worth noting that the town has several hotels on the seafront (separated from the water by a road and rocks, but with sea views) and a couple of acccommodation choices on the mainland that actually have direct sea access for bathing:
> Musciara Siracusa Resort – chic boutique with its own little beach
> Giuggiulena B&B – a good B&B on the rocks above the sea, with steps to the water.
Visitors interested in Siracusa’s ancient past shouldn’t miss an excursion to the impressive Castello Eurialo, just a few miles from the town centre and reachable by urban buses. A Greek fortress which defended Siracusa from the land, it is an important part of the town’s history.
There are other Greek sites within easy reach of Siracusa, though they are not all as scenic. Megara Hyblea was once a thriving Greek town; its ruins lie north of Siracusa, near the town of Augusta and its ugly industry. Ruined Eloro is in a more appealing setting on the seashore near Noto. Many of the discoveries from these and other local Greek sites are now kept in Siracusa’s archaeological museum.
Visitors who have toured the archaeological museum will have also seen exhibits and photographs from some of Sicily’s rock-cut necropoli. One of the most famous of these sites is Pantalica, a large necropolis along a gorge to the north-west of Siracusa, visitable with a car or on an organised excursion. UNESCO-listed (along with Siracusa), the extensive site dates back to at least a thousand years BC, and successive civilisations lived and buried their dead in the area, leaving behind them thousands of cave-tombs and also the ruins of what is thought to be a ‘prince’s palace’.
Siracusa and Pantalica are not the only sites in the area to merit a prestigious UNESCO heritage listing. Also listed are the Baroque towns of the Val di Noto, elegant towns rebuilt after a shattering earthquake in 1693. One of the most admired of these towns is Noto, which is less than an hour away from Siracusa by bus and makes an excellent day-trip destination. Two companies, AST and Interbus, run services from Siracusa, from the mainland bus terminal. Interbus have a ticket kiosk; you should be able to buy AST tickets from the bus driver. It’s an interesting journey, past ruins, hills and lemon and orange groves. Shortly after leaving Siracusa, after crossing the rush-lined river Ciane, you can see the two standing columns of the Greek Temple of Jove (to the right of the road).
The area’s other beautiful Baroque towns, Scicli, Modica and Ragusa, can also be reached quite easily from Siracusa, by train and AST bus services, though the journey is longer and it would be a shame not to stay overnight, or combine the destinations into a very attractive touring holiday. A special railway initiative, il Treno del Barocco, connects the towns on Sundays (Spring-Autumn), though the regular regional trains run (to a very limited timetable) all year round.
The vibrant city of Catania is an easy train or coach ride away, and has plenty to occupy the tourist for at least a day. By signing up for an organised excursion (ask in Siracusa) you may be able to fit in a trip up Etna.
Useful external links
Our selection of the best (and the best value) Siracusa hotels and B&Bs, with reviews and online booking.