A local guide for those who want to visit Taormina, best places to see and top attractions.
Greek, Roman, Arabic, Norman, Swabian and Spanish. As with all the other Sicilian cities of art, the history of Taormina is marked by the stratifications of differing cultures that have undoubtedly always enriched it, so much so that it has assumed the role of tourism capital of the island. Always loved and sought after by travellers and artists of every era, Taormina never fails to please, winning us over with its elegance and offering itself with discretion; every goodbye is an invitation to return. Not to be missed in summer: cinema, music and theatre with Taormina Arte and, among the itineraries, a visit to the Isola.
Taormina's premier sight is this perfect horseshoe-shaped theatre, suspended between sea and sky, with Mt Etna looming on the southern horizon. Built in the 3rd century BC, it's the most dramatically situated Greek theatre in the world and the second largest in Sicily (after Syracuse). In summer, it's used to stage concerts and festival events. To avoid the high-season crowds, try to visit early in the morning.
Corso Umberto I
Taormina's chief delight is wandering this pedestrian-friendly, boutique-lined thoroughfare. Start at the tourist office in Palazzo Corvaja, which dates back to the 10th century, before heading southwest for spectacular panoramic views from Piazza IX Aprile. Facing the square is the early-18th-century Chiesa di San Giuseppe. Continue west through the Torre dell'Orologio, the 12th-century clock tower, into Piazza del Duomo, home to an ornate baroque fountain (1635) that sports Taormina's symbol, a two-legged centaur with the bust of an angel.
The short climb to the top of Monte Tauro (378m) is not exactly Himalayan, but it is steep and the final steps are quite hard work. Your reward is a breathtaking panoramic view over Taormina's rooftops, the Teatro Greco and, beyond, to the coast.
For eye-popping views of the coastline and Mt Etna, head for this cute hilltop village above Taormina, crowned by a ruined castle. If you're reasonably fit, head up on foot (one hour) for a good workout and sweeping panoramas. Alternatively, take the hourly Interbus service (one-way/return €1.90/3, 15 minutes). While you're up here, stop in for almond wine at Bar Turrisi, a multilevel bar with some rather cheeky decor.
Created by Englishwoman Florence Trevelyan in the late 19th century, these stunningly sited public gardens offer breathtaking views of the coast and Mt Etna. They're a wonderful place to escape the crowds, with tropical plants and delicate flowers punctuated by whimsical follies. You'll also find a children's play area.
Southwest of Lido Mazzarò is the minuscule Isola Bella, a beautiful nature reserve set in a stunning cove with fishing boats. Reached on foot via a narrow sandbar (take your shoes off!), the island was once home to Englishwoman Florence Trevelyan, creator of Taormina's Villa Comunale.
Chiesa di San Giuseppe
Overlooking Piazza IX Aprile, this jewel-box church was completed in the early 18th century. The central portal is made of local marble while the portals on either side of it consist of Syracuse stone. Inside, the single-nave interior is decorated with whimsical rococo stuccowork featuring floral motifs and cherubs. The main altar is made using local marble while the fresco adorning the dome depicts a young San Giovanni Bosco between Christ and the Virgin Mary.
Santuario Madonna della Rocca
Built inside a grotto on Monte Tauro, this small church was founded by the abbot Francesco Raineri in around 1640. According to legend, the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus appeared to a young shepherd who had taken refuge in the grotto during a sudden storm. The lofty view from the church's terrace is almost as heavenly, taking in Taormina and the deep-blue Ionian Sea beyond.
This is the nearest beach to Taormina, located directly beneath the town. It's well serviced with bars and restaurants, though it gets very crowded in the summer. Private operators charge a fee for umbrellas and deck chairs (around €20 to €25 for one umbrella and two deck chairs). To reach it, take the funivia from Taormina.
Palazzo Duca di Santo Stefano
Just behind Corso Umberto and near Porta Catania, this 13th-century palace was once home to the De Spuches, a noble family of Spanish origin. Now used as a functions space, its Norman Gothic windows and Arab accents make it one of Taormina's architectural pin-ups.
Perched atop Monte Tauro are the (inaccessible) ruins of this castle, built between the 11th and 12th centuries. The castle sits on the former site of Taormina's ancient Greek acropolis.
Porta Messina was originally named Porta Ferdinanda when opened by Ferdinand IV of Bourbon in 1808. The occasion is commemorated in the plaque above the gateway's arch.
Located just west of the main square, Piazza IX Aprile, this 12th-century clock tower marks the entrance to Borgo Medievale, Taormina's oldest quarter.
Dating back to the 10th century, the crenellated, Arab-influenced Palazzo Corvaja houses the tourist office and occasional exhibitions.