Even before you discovered White Lotus Season 2 was filmed at the Four Seasons Taormina, you’d heard of Taormina Italy, hadn’t you? Known as one of the chicest resort towns in Italy, this cliffside haven perched above the sea is one of the premiere spots in Sicily to soak up the dolce vita.
If your friends have visited Taormina, Sicily, they’ve told you of the sweeping views of Mount Etna, the stunning ancient Greek theater, and the gardens with vistas over the Ionian Sea. But Taormina can be expensive and touristy in high season, so knowing when and how to visit is crucial. Read on for more about Taormina, Sicily, where to stay, what to do, and when to visit.
Where Is Taormina?
Taormina is set along Sicily’s Ionian Coast, which lies on the island’s east side and stretches from the narrow Strait of Messina, past burly Mount Etna, and down to the cobbled streets of Siracusa Ortigia.
This side of the island has everything that Sicily offers, from gritty Catania to age-old family farms and the world-class wines of Etna to the stunning resort town of Taormina.
History of Taormina
Founded in the 4th century by the Greeks, Taormina Sicily thrived under both the Greeks and Romans. However, it fell into relative obscurity when the Normans took over in the Middle Ages.
It was then during the 19th century that the town became the tourist destination it is today. Northern Europeans who set out on the “Grand Tour” stopped in Taormina, and greats like DH Lawrence and Truman Capote have since frequented it.
What Is Special About Taormina Sicily?
We could wax poetic about how Sicilian traditions remain unironically intact in Taormina. You’ll find locals eating granita and brioche in the morning and doing the passeggiata past the lovely Chiesa di San Giuseppe in the summer evenings. And that would all be accurate.
There are stunning communal gardens, a few of the top restaurants on the island, and some of the best shopping in Sicily, with a mix of local boutiques and international brands as well as housewares, gourmet goods, and fashionable clothing.
With seaside hotels like the Villa Sant’Andrea and cliffside luxury like the San Domenico Palace, it’s also one of the top destinations for our travel planning clients heading on an Italian honeymoon. And, unlike some other destinations where tourism is the main draw, there are 10,000 full-time residents in Taormina Sicily, and they very much live there.
6 Interesting Things To Do In Taormina
If you ask yourself, “Is Taormina Sicily worth visiting,” the answer is yes with everything from stunning gardens and incredible street food to explore. Well, make that a measured yes. The reality is that cruise ships have day tours during the high season, so we’re not keen to go there when the main streets are shoulder-to-shoulder with tourists.
But if you go on the shoulder or off-season (see below), there is enough to do to stay occupied for a few days or up to a week if you like to travel leisurely. Top of your list should be:
Ancient Greek Theater
The best-known sight in Taormina, Sicily is the horseshoe-shaped theatre of Taormina or the Teatro Greco aka the Teatro Antico di Taormina. Dating back to the 3rd century BC, this is possibly the most dramatically situated amphitheater anywhere, with a view of the coast and Mount Etna. You’ll want to take a professionally-led tour to understand its history best.
Chiesa Madonna della Rocca
If you’re looking for a hidden gem, do the 30-minute hike up to this itty chapel perched on the side of the hill. It’s a lot of steps to climb, but the reward is one of the best views in the area.
Corso Umberto I
You can’t miss this main drag that runs from Porta Catania to Porta Messina through the center of Taormina, Sicily. But make sure also to take a tour or take note of the historic architecture along the way, from the Baroque fountain in Piazza del Duomo or the 12th-century clock tower known as Torre dell’Orologio to the medieval cathedral or the stunning Palazzo Duca di Santo Stefano or the medieval palace of Palazzo Corvaja.
Visitors often overlook these stunning public gardens — created by Englishwoman Lady Florence Trevelyan in the 1800s. They are a perfect spot to grab some peace and quiet, and the views of the bay and of Mount Etna are jaw-dropping. Head there for some of the best views in town — we enjoy it at sunset when you can watch the sun sink over the western horizon.
What is there to do in Taormina at night, you ask? There are a few stylish bars around, which is the night culture’s nexus. Also, in the summer, there are lots of seasonal events. The highlight is Taormina Arte, a legendary festival where the historic Teatro Greco becomes home to world-class opera, dance, theater, music, and many renowned acts.
Street Food Tour
Though the bigger cities of Palermo and Catania are better known for their street food Taormina also holds its own. A few must-stop for classic Sicilian street food include getting a granita from Bam Bar, noshing on a cannoli from Pasticceria Minotauro, a gelato from beloved gelato spot, Gelatomania, and arancini from Rosticceria Da Cristina. Or, contact us, and we’ll help arrange a private tour of Taormina!
How To Get To Taormina
The Catania–Fontanarossa International Airport is the closest major airport to Taormina. It takes just under 1 hour to drive there and private car service starts at €100 for a one-way ride.
The bus is the best public transportation for reaching Taormina as there are frequent departures from the region’s major towns like Messina and Catania as well as to the Catania airport. You can also use the bus to head up to the hillside town of Castemola as buses depart every hour or two and take just 15 minutes.
The town of Taormina can be reached from the A18 autostrada and the SS114. You can drive there but know that parking can be tricky. If you’re at a higher-end hotel, check with them as they may have a few parking spots. Otherwise, you’ll have to park at one of the garages outside of town and then walk or take a shuttle into town.
Also, note that the historic city center is a ZTL (zona traffico limitato) or limited traffic zone so it (including the main drag of Corso Umberto I) is restricted to resident traffic only.
There are frequent trains from both Messina and Catania to Taormina. However, the train station is almost 2 miles away from the town near Giardini Naxos, so it isn’t very convenient. If you take a train, plan to take a taxi or car service to get into town.
6 Day Trips From Taormina
You could head as far as Ortigia or Catania for a day trip, but here are day trips from Taormina, Sicily, that are within a one-hour drive:
This hilltop village is perched above Taormina Sicily and is punctuated by a now-ruined castle. It’s a steep but rewarding one-hour hike up on foot (which will allow you to pass the church built in a grotto known as Monte Tauro), or you can take a bus.
These classic grottos can be visited via guided boat tours or added onto a full-day boat excursion when you can also explore the coastline.
This nature reserve and stunning beach are just south of Taormina and are easily accessed via the funivia or cable car.
Located just a few miles inland is this 25-meter-high gorge through which the Alcantara River flows. It is not accessible from November to March due to the risk of flash flooding but is worth a visit in the summer when a dip in the icy waters is pure refreshment.
Just about an hour’s drive from Taormina is Messina’s bustling city, which is just a few kilometers from mainland Italy. This city is seriously underrated but worth visiting if you want to experience more city-than-small-town vibes for a day.
Head here to hike Europe’s largest active volcano, visit the famed pistachio farms of Bronte, or visit some of the most celebrated wineries in Sicily.
Where To Eat
If you’re looking for restaurants in Taormina Sicily, know you have a lot of options. But, because Taormina is popular, it has some of the most expensive food in Sicily.
However, a lot of our travel planning clients ask if Sicily is cheaper than the Amalfi Coast and, generally, from hotels to restaurants, the answer is yes.
Luckily, if you wander from the main street of Corso Umberto I, you can find plenty of quality options from locally-owned wine bars to fine dining and even quality Slow Food spots.
Note that Taormina restaurants don’t really start bustling until 8 PM because most locals don’t eat until around 9 PM. As such, we’d advise against early dinner reservations.
If you want our list of top recommendations of restaurants and bars or help planning your trip, feel free to get in touch!
Where To Stay
If you’re after pure luxe, make like the Aubrey Plaza, Jennifer Coolidge, and Michael Imperioli in White Lotus Season 2, and check out the Four Seasons San Domenico Hotel in Taormina Sicily.
It’s important to know that many of the hotels in Taormina Sicily are luxury hotels such as the Four Seasons and the two Belmond properties. They are, of course, stunning with incredible views but they are some of the most expensive hotels in Sicily.
If you’re looking for where else to stay in Taormina, know that there are a few boutique hotels as well as some higher-end apartments. Reach out to us if you need help finding the best lodging for you.
Best Time to Visit
The nicest weather in Taormina is from about April to October with largely sunny days.
- High Season: Don’t go in the height of the high season (in July) when the day tours from the cruise ships are endless. Also, skip August when it’s unbearably hot and flooded with Italian tourists.
- Shoulder Season: We suggest visiting in late spring and early fall when the temperatures are moderate, the crowds smaller, and prices lower than in the high season. One of our top times to visit is April to May kicking off at Easter when there are colorful religious festivals and the flowers are blooming. Or, head there from September to October when things are still open (and when we lead our small group trips to Sicily!).
- Off-Season: You can also visit in the offseason (November to March) but know that the islands and any water-based activities will be closed. If you travel to Taormina during this period, we’d suggest the last two weeks of December to get a feeling of the holidays and a taste of Italian Christmas food!
Taormina Sicily FAQs
Our only hesitation is that Taormina Sicily can get crowded with tour groups in the height of summer. And, just like the Amalfi Coast, there are a lot of people going there for strictly the 'gram (or the TikTok as it were).
We say go for a few days to explore Taormina itself. But also use the town as a jumping-off point for exploring this corner of Sicily from Bronte to Mount Etna and even Messina.
As one of the more luxurious resort towns in Sicily, meals and lodging can be more expensive in Taormina than other parts of the island. Also, it is simple supply-demand economics: there is a limited amount of space in town and, thanks to its history, it is a popular spot!
If you are staying in the main historic city center of Taormina, you will be up on a bluff and able to get around easily on foot. If you are staying down below or above the town, you will want to use the local buses to get around. We would not recommend having a rental car as parking is limited and pricey. Instead hire a driver or take public transportation to get around.
Most travelers do a day trip to Taormina but we encourage you to stay a few nights as that is when it gets to be more local, especially outside of the high season. The majority of our travel planning clients stay for 3 to 5 nights, longer if they plan to use it as a launchpad for exploring nearby Mount Etna, the gorges, or even Messina.
Before we go on, let’s talk about how to pronounce Taormina! Sometimes mistakenly written Taromina or Tauramina by English speakers, the Sicilian town is pronounced: “Tah -ohr-mee-nah.”
Sicilian Street Food
Yes, Sicily is beautiful and totally unique but it also has some of the most incredible street food in Italy. Thanks to its multi-faceted history you’ll find dishes influenced by the Greeks, Arabs, and Italians from cannoli and pannele to arancini and crocche. Brush up on the Sicilian street food to try before your next trip.
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Photo Credit: Piazza IX Aprile by Vadym Lavra; Ancient Greek Theatre by MikeDotta; restaurant by DaLiu; Villa Comunale Gardens by Marek Mosinski; couple on balcony and isola bella shot by fokke baarssen