Taormina, Sicily: a Tourist Guide

Famous and beautiful resort high above the sea in Sicily

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One of Italy’s most long-established holiday resorts, Taormina is a picturesque small town perched on a slope high above the Ionian Sea on the eastern coast of Sicily. A popular and fashionable destination for well over a century, Taormina’s hotels and restaurants are very experienced at welcoming foreign tourists. Many of these are fairly expensive, including some fabulous luxury options. However, visitors don’t have to spend a fortune to enjoy the town’s principal attractions – the views, the scenery, the atmosphere.

Close to the site of one of the earliest colonies founded by the Ancient Greeks in Sicily, Taormina became a thriving Greek and then Roman town. The size and elegance of the town cathedral and many of its buildings are evidence of Taormina’s moderate prosperity over the centuries. By the end of the 19th century this picturesque and ancient town was already on the tourist trail, with famous visitors including Oscar Wilde, Richard Wagner and Tsar Nicholas II. Over the last decades travellers have come for the views, the ancient ruins, the seaside, the town’s film festival, an outdoor theatre season, the fine hotels and more. A classy honeymoon destination or a cheap and cheerful excursion from a cruise ship, Taormina has a lot to offer all kinds of visitor. As a consequence, of course, this small town is sometimes so crowded it can feel like a victim of its own success.

Accommodation is cheaper out of season, and the little town is less packed, too. March, April and May are good months to enjoy sunshine, the flowers and relatively-uncrowded streets and restaurants. Autumn in Sicily can feature heavy rainstorms, but also plenty of sunshine. On the negative side, out of season you may find hotel swimming pools emptied, building works underway around town, and little buzz in the nightlife.

Taormina is the one destination in Sicily, and probably the one Italian destination south of the Amalfi Coast, where tourism is really well-established and dominates the entire character of the town. So for less experienced travellers, non-Europeans, and newcomers to Italy, it is a manageable and reassuring place to stay. English is widely spoken, but the town still values its traditions and you’ll enjoy Sicilian food and a fair amount of Italian atmosphere. If you are a seasoned Italy traveller and looking for authentic Sicily, Taormina is still worth visiting, though you’d probably prefer to combine it with other, less-touristy spots.

> Where to stay in Taormina

Travel to Taormina

Taormina is straightforward to reach. The nearest airport is Catania Fontanarossa, with seasonal flights from the UK and other European countries, and there is a regular bus service from the airport to Taormina. The journey takes about an hour and a half, and there are services throughout the daytime and early evening. You should check timetables before travelling, via link on the right-hand links panel. Tickets can be booked online in advance or at kiosks outside the airport terminal building. If you are arriving late and relying on public transport, it may be best to stay overnight in Catania, or arrange a taxi transfer through your Taormina hotel.

The bus terminal in Taormina is on on Via Luigi Pirandello, a short walk downhill from the town centre, so you will still have to drag your suitcases to your accommodation (check the distance before committing to this), or arrange for a taxi.

Bus travel is often the quickest way between towns in Sicily, as the island’s rail network is limited; timetables for most useful inter-city bus companies can be checked via the link on the right. Taormina does have a railway station, situated by the sea, far below the town. The station also serves the coastal settlement of Giardini Naxos, and the station is therefore named Taormina – Giardini. The station is on the railway line that connects Messina, Catania and Siracusa, and is also served by long-distance trains from Rome.

Small local buses serve Taormina and its local districts, including the station. Tickets can be bought from the driver, or at the station newsagents (edicola). The zig-zagging journey up to Taormina takes about ten minutes. Longer distance buses, including the one from Catania airport, stop in Giardini Naxos as well as in Taormina.

A cable-car connects Taormina with the seaside at Mazzarò, for visits to the beach and Isola Bella. There are also sightseeing buses which run up to Castelmola and down to Giardini Naxos and Mazzarò; although more expensive than local buses, they are aimed at tourists and you can get reasonable value from a 24-hour ticket if you plan your time efficiently.

If you are planning to drive to Taormina, check the parking provision when you are choosing accommodation, and ask your hotel for directions; the central lanes are partly pedestrianised . There are large fee-charging car parks outside the town centre, including the Parking Garage Lumbi, with a bus connection to the centre.

Taormina tourist information

There is a tourist information office on the ground floor of Palazzo Corvaja, by Piazza Vittorio Emanuele. You may not find it particularly helpful or welcoming though – on my last visit staff were unhelpful and even hostile to visitors, perhaps worn down by the large crowds of daytripping tour groups stripping their offices of maps. It’s worth trying to obtain a map or studying the information they have pinned to their walls, though. Doing some online research and printing out/downloading relevant timetables is good preparation for a trip. In my experience commercial businesses such as hotels and restaurants were much more helpful in every way. For more information on what there is to see and do in Taormina, see our special Taormina Tourist Attractions page.

On a budget

There are several fairly economical B&Bs in Taormina, but an alternative is to stay in one of the nearby seaside towns instead. You’ll be closer to the beach, and can take a bus up to Taormina itself. Travelling out of season will also obtain you cheaper accommodation rates.

If you’re on a tight budget, an economical option is to have at least one picnic meal or takeaway per day. Small general stores will make you up a roll from their products on display (cheese, ham etc) for a few euros, and the town has a choice of take-aways where you can buy pizza slices, arancini and other Sicilian street food for a cheap meal. You can fill up your water bottle at drinking fountains, and eat your picnics in the public gardens.

Taormina restaurants

Taormina has a good choice of restaurants, and some are quite reasonably-priced, although you should be prepared to pay a cover charge for each diner. Although the town’s restaurants cater primarily for a foreign, tourist clientele, and do it well, you can still find traditional family-run restaurants with an authentic local ambience and decent prices. Some of these can be found at either end of the town, around and outside the old city gates. I’ve eaten at Trattoria da Ugo (Viale Arcageta 2), a nice rustic-feeling trattoria. For something a bit different, Babilonia (via Timoleone 10) has a romantic location in the leafy garden of a language school, and offers stylish versions of classic Sicilian dishes. With indoor and outdoor tables in the historic centre, Vecchia Taormina (Vico Ebrei 3) is an unpretentious osteria-pizzeria with a friendly atmosphere and a good range of pizzas.

Taormina itineraries: how to visit

Many visitors choose simply to spend their entire holiday in Taormina. This allows for a relaxing, stress-free break. It’s possible to take excursions from Taormina to Catania, Savoca, Etna or further afield, by public transport or organised tours. A trip up to Castelmola and some time spent down by the sea at Giardini Naxos and Mazzarò is a pleasant way to pass time. Then of course there is the pottering through the pretty town, leisurely aperitivi and long, enjoyable meals.

Travellers planning a more active trip can combine Taormina with a longer tour around Sicily by hire-car or public transport, or a less ambitious exploration of this eastern end of the island. Siracusa and Catania are both attractive and interesting cities to stay in, and for a very varied trip you could follow Taormina with a trip to the beautiful and volcanic Aeolian islands. The main port for the islands is Milazzo, reachable by bus from Taormina with a change at Messina, or by taxi transfer. There are also occasional ferries from Messina in summer.

One excellent itinerary without too much travel is to spend a night or two in Catania seeing the sights, take a bus to Taormina, spend several days in Taormina, then head off the beaten track to the hill village of Savoca for a night or two, to experience a totally contrasting village atmosphere.

> What to see and do in Taormina

Useful external links

Italy car hire

Catania Airport

Sicily bus timetables

Taormina local buses

Taormina Hotels
Our selection of the best (and the best value) Taormina hotels and B&Bs, with reviews and online booking.