A fashionable hotspot for nobility and the glitterati since the 1800s, Taormina is again in the spotlight thanks to HBO’s smash hit ‘The White Louts.’ So, if you plan on taking a trip to Sicily this year, you’re not the only one. Thankfully we have you covered with our guide on The Top Things to do in Taormina.
Pro Tip: You’re going to want to circle back to this article since it’s packed with local recommendations. Bookmark it in your browser on your phone so you’ll have it on your trip. You can also check out our Free Guide to Sicily or find accommodation with our Where to Stay in Taormina articles.
A Very Brief History of Taormina
Founded in 358 BC by Andromachos, Taormina has a long and storied history. Built on Mt Taurus, the mountain consists of a deep slab of limestone. This makes the town less susceptible to frequent earthquakes.
Because of this, Taormina still retains a lot of its medieval charm. In addition, the active construction of a train line between the port city of Messina and Taormina in 1866 sparked the town’s rebirth as a popular travel destination.
By the end of the century, it had become a hotspot for the glitterati and nobility of Europe. Wagner and Brahms sought refuge and inspiration. King George V of England came for privacy, and Kaiser Wilhelm II returned year after year for a respite from cold, dark German winters.
The town was damaged by Allied bombings in July 1943 after Field Marshal Kesselring set up headquarters here. What saved the town from the post-war slump in Italy was the creation of the June Film Festival in 1954. The festival is still held annually.
Truman Capote wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s while in Taormina. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton honeymooned here. Twice! And today, the success of HBO’s White Lotus means Taormina is back in Vogue. But there’s so much more to see than what the White Lotus shows us, so here is our guide to the top things to do in Taormina.
- A Very Brief History of Taormina
- Best Day Trips From Taormina
- Where To Stay in Taormina
- Most Recent Blog Posts
1. Visit Toarmina’s Famous Isola Bella
Taormina is one of Sicily’s most sought-after vacation destinations, and for good reason-it’s gorgeous. Monsterous cliffs plunge straight into the sea, crystal clear water, and an incredible view of Europe’s highest and most active volcano. And if that’s not enough, the delicious smell of one of the World’s greatest cuisines will lift you from your beach chair at twelve-thirty every day.
Isola Bella is one of the most incredible beaches in Sicily and something no traveler to Sicily should miss. The island has a small land bridge that connects it to the mainland, making it as accessible as it is beautiful.
You can check out our full article on where to stay in Taormina right here.
Not sure if snorkeling in crystal clear waters is for you? Check out all of our Taormina tours
2. Get Fatter
I think what makes Sicilian cuisine the best in Italy is the successive episodes of occupation the island has endured. Sicily has been occupied by the Greeks, the Carthaginians (modern-day Tunisia), the Romans, the Byzantines, the Muslim Caliphates, the French, and the Spanish, and I’m inevitably missing off a few here. Evidently, when it comes to food, variety is the spice of life.
Each of these successive invasions brought its own ingredients, its own styles, its own secrets. It’s no surprise that the world’s oldest surviving cookbook was written in the 4th Century BC, entitled Hedypatheia or On Good Taste, by Archestratus of Gela, in Sicily.
Sicilians pride themselves on using only the very freshest ingredients. Therefore be prepared for seafood and lots of it.
You can learn more about the history of Sicilian cuisine by reading our article on The Top Foods to Try in Sicily.
Not ready to book a tour? Check out our Where to Stay in Taormina article.
3. Catch a Show at Teatro Greco Taormina
Stuck between the sea and the sky, the Greek Theatre of Taormina is the most beautifully located theatre in the world. It is the second largest theatre in Sicily, constructed during the Hellenistic age around the 3rd Century BC.
The theatre was largely remodeled during the Roman occupation and then again in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Today the theatre is often used as a concert venue, with Sting performing in 2022. And in 2023, the new Indiana Jones movie will be premiering in the theatre during the annual Taormina Film Fest. But don’t worry, even without a show, you will likely never see such a wonderful performance. As the sea meets sky and land meets the sea, and the ever-menacing Mount Etna looms in the background, you’ll be transported back in time.
In the heat of summer, it is best to arrive early to beat the heat and the crowds.
4. Visit the Duomo
Built in the 13th Century, the Cathedral of Taormina (dedicated to St Nicholas of Bari) looks more like a set from Game of Thrones than it does a Catholic Church. Taormina is a relatively small place, so any visitor should take the time to come and explore the church and its surroundings.
Inside you’ll find paintings by Antonino Giuffré and Antonello Saliba. But my favorite piece is actually the fountain outside. Built in 1635, it has become a symbol of the area. The figure at the top sees the body of an angel supplanted onto the body of a bull. Although it is said to have been found in the Greek theatre, we now know it was a Baroque forgery.
You may find the urge to stop for lunch or dinner in the scenic piazza but don’t. The food is overpriced and mediocre. But I can understand the desire to sit here, so why not grab a glass of wine or an Aperol Spritz instead?
5. Take in the Views From Churchill’s Favourite Bar
The locals refer to the Piazza IX Aprile as Piazza Panoramica, which gives you an idea of how wonderful the views are. The name of the square refers to the 9 of April 1860, when the locals rebelled against the rule of the Bourbons.
This is a great place for a drink (though pricey). Cafe Wunderbar opened as an inn in 1870 and as a cafe in 1972. It is overpriced but has a beautiful terrace, and in its former guise, it was a favorite haunt of Winston Churchill when he frequented Taormina.
Best Day Trips From Taormina
6. Climb an Active Volcano
Italy has four active Volcanoes, three of which are in Sicily and all of which you can visit. Mt Etna is the most popular and continuously active. It is also the highest volcano in Europe.
Mount Etna is the most accessible volcano in Sicily, which makes it an attractive option for daredevils, volcanologists, and yodeling walking-stick-packing Austrians.
Thousands of people visit the volcano daily, and the smart ones will change out of their bathing suits and bring a warm jacket because it can be freezing even in the summer. You can find our guide to the best things to do around Mount Etna in our guide to the Top Things to Do on Mt Etna.
For the bon-vivant out there, you can rent a sailboat (or take the pedestrian ferry) and visit Vulcano and Stromboli in the Aeolian Islands north of Taormina. You can read more about the Aeolian island chain in our article on where to stay in Sicily.
Not ready to book a tour? Check out our Where to Stay in Taormina article.
7. Explore the Valley of the Temples
Sicily, for the Greeks, was the land of opportunity. When times were tough in Greece, fathers would tell their sons to head West to the land of plenty, to the land of perpetual spring. Many would head to Agrigento, which at one point was the third-largest Greek city. Today, located just two hours by car, Agrigento is one of the most glorious day trips you can take on any trip to Taormina.
Seven Greek Doric temples stand in the Valley of the Temples. Making it one of Europe’s most impressive and under-visited archaeological sites. Often dubbed the Greek Pompeii, it is one of the world’s largest archaeological areas.
Personally, I rate this as one of the most important sites in Sicily. Thankfully not everyone else agrees. Even in the height of summer, the valley never seems too crowded.
You can find out more in our full archaeological guide to Agrigento and the Valley of the Temples.
8. Go Bodyrafting at the Alcantara Gorge
About 8,000 years ago, three successive lava flows actively formed the Alcantara Gorge. The Alcantara River gradually eroded its way through, exposing the lava flows and creating the gorge that we still see today.
The natural park is beautiful to explore, but if you want to see and experience it best take an adventure tour. You can explore on foot with a guide, but my favorite way to explore is body rafting. To ensure your safety and comfort while exploring the Alcantara Gorge, you’ll be actively suited up in a wet suit to protect you from the cold water. Additionally, a helmet will be provided for safety purposes, and a life jacket will be worn to ensure you can float down the river with ease. There are also canyoning experiences and kayaking, or you can just enjoy the cold, refreshing waters and paddle around the publicly accessible pebble beach.
9. Visit Syracuse
Founded in 733 BC on the island of Ortiga, Syracuse has spread across the causeway connecting to the mainland and expanded rapidly.
The home of Archimedes, Syracuse, once rivaled Athens as the largest and most powerful Greek city.
The city is renowned for its food, and the region for its outstanding wine and beautiful baroque towns like Noto and Sortino.
Or check out our article on the Best Places to Stay in Sicily!
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