Sicily has long been on my destination wish list. Despite having explored Italy several times, I’d always put it off until the next trip as it was farther south than other hero cities like Bologna, Florence or Rome. But, I finally made it to Taormina and it was just as gorgeous as I had always expected it would be. This travel guide features things to do in Taormina Italy, perfect for first time visitors, featuring where to eat in Taormina, boat trips from Taormina, other Sicily day trips and where to stay in Taormina.
Things to do in Taormina, Italy
We spent about 9 days in Taormina, Sicily and it really did feel like home by the time we left. The town is a popular tourist spot for Italians and foreigners alike with so many things to do in Taormina itself and the surrounding villages. The town sits on the side of a mountain and getting from Catania to Taormina takes about an hour by bus or car.
Walk Corso Umberto I
The main shopping strip Corso Umberto I is only about 800 metres long, running between two beautiful arches Porta Messina and Porta Catania. Colourfully restored medieval buildings line the main pedestrian street and within the short stretch, you’ll find everything from designer boutique to tourist trinket stores, small bars and restaurants.
IX Aprile Square offers a great vantage point with expansive views from the cliff top town over the Gulf of Naxos and off to stunning Mount Etna. You can’t miss the stunning 17th Century Church of St. Joseph on the other side of the square. You’re likely to catch more that one bride and groom tying the knot during your stay in Taormina. The peach-washed beauty is one of many churches dotted around the town.
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Taking in the historic town centre with its multiple churches, ancient ruins and structures can easily take up a day of your touring time. My advice is to head up to the theatre first. It’s at the top of the list for most visitors so you’ll face a crush of people if you leave it too late and you’ll also be blasted by the summer sun, which could make wandering the ruins a bit uncomfortable.
Visit Il Teatro Antico di Taormina
Il Teatro antico di Taormina was built in the 3rd Century BC and sits on Tauro Hill which means it has breathtaking views from the sea to Mount Etna and surrounding villages. It’s the second largest theatre in Sicily and is still used by locals for performances, with the coastline as a stunning backdrop. There are several other ruins around the town centre such as the Odeon and the Naumachie (remains of a Roman Wall) but the theatre is by far the most stunning.
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Spend a Day at One of the Stunning Taormina Beaches
No doubt you will be drawn to the crystal clear water in Sicily. There are beach clubs (Lidos) aplenty all around Taormina. It’s competitive, so they want your business. As such, they’ll make it as easy as possible to get there, get comfortable and enjoy the day. Ask your hotel to book you a spot in the morning, they can get busy. The fee you’ll pay includes a shuttle to and from the beach club, chair and umbrella hire. Expect to pay about 10 euros for the day. It really is full service on the beach too (if you’ve been to Europe’s beaches before you’ll be accustomed to this. Many first timers love the luxury of being served right at their lounger).
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Mazzarò Bay is a great option if you’re not too worried about crowds. Just five minutes walk from the town centre, you’ll find that cable car which will whisk you down to the bay. It really is a people watchers paradise; imagine middle-aged, leathered skinned men sporting speedos sprawled across boats on the water’s edge or women of all nationalities, shapes and sizes strutting their wares in itsy bitsy bikinis in pursuit of the sun.
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A number of beach clubs line the beach at Mazzarò. At Lido La Pigna, you can expect to pay about 12 euros per person for a chair and umbrella. Always wait to be seated and don’t forget to mention your hotel name when checking in with the staff on the sand – you are more likely to get a chair if there’s a wait (alternatively, get your hotel to reserve your spot). It also pays to tip if you are planning on coming back on another day during your stay. Mazzarò Bay is a great place for paddle boarding, kayaking, snorkelling and if you’ve booked a boat tour you’ll likely push-off from here.
SoleLuna is a great option for the budget conscious or those with a family. There is a small playground for kids and a pool, in case you want to avoid negotiating the rocky walk to the water, or the local jellyfish wash in to play. There’s a beauty tent where you can get everything from a massage to a manicure and the food at their restaurant is excellent and well-priced (I recommend the seafood salad).
In most respects Paradise Beach Club lives up to its name. The location resembles something you’d see in a postcard (but you’ll find that generally with the Sicilian coast). It’s quieter than some of the other clubs, there are less chairs and you pay a little more. They have a big pool with extra chairs in the main courtyard area, so if you need a break from children, you’ll be happy to know they love the pool, so head to the beach. If you’re lucky you might get a glass of prosecco on arrival. One word of advice on this place though. We went to lunch during the rush. The kitchen wasn’t prepared for the wave of hungry people and they couldn’t keep up. We waited for a lengthy period before telling them to cancel the order and heading back out to the sun. The manager came down later apologising for the delay, brought us our lunch and prosecco and covered it. The food was great, albeit a bit delayed. So if you’re going to eat, get in early or pre-order and have them bring it to your umbrella.
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Book One of the Boat Tours From Taormina
If you can pull yourself away from your beach chair for a day or even a few hours, I highly recommend jumping on one of the boat tour from Taormina or look into boat hire to explore the surrounding coves and caves. There are plenty of tours from Taormina. We took a private half-day boat tour and it was a great way to see the beautiful coastline in a comfortable and efficient way. Winding your way around Sicily’s roads can be time-consuming and a little hairy.
If you are a keen history buff or you really want to learn the lay of the land, I suggest you insist on a guide with a good command of english. I was fortunate that I could understand and speak with our guide in a mix of Spanish and Italian, but if you don’t speak a European language, you might struggle.
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Take a Day Trip from Taormina to Mount Etna
A day trip to Mount Etna is a must when visiting Taormina and there are plenty of Mt Etna tours on offer, depending on your budget. It was one of our favourite days during our Taormina stay was the day we drove to Mount Etna. The tour guide picked us up and drove us from Taormina to Mount Etna and delivered us back again. Read about that perfect day trip from Taormina to Mount Etna here. If you have time to stay overnight, we loved this Etna hotel.
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Where to Eat in Taormina
Sicilian food is some of the best I’ve eaten in my life. Their food philosophy is farm to table traditional in that they like to support local growers, promote local fare and they keep the flavours robust and simple. There is usually a hero in each of their dishes, from the local cheese or young olive oil, to their tasty Sicilian blood oranges.
When it comes to where to eat in Taormina, you really are spoilt for choice. While many of the traditional dishes are heavy, the good news is, the produce in Sicily is generally fresh, locally sourced and full of flavour, so you’re not dealing with packet or preservative laced menu items.
For those wanting to keep it clean while in Taormina, take advantage of the fresh local seafood, tomato-based sauces and organic wines on the menu (look for the bio symbol).
Our stand-out favourite restaurant during our stay happened to be in our hotel. It wasn’t planned, we ate there the first night after our airline had lost our luggage and immediately knew our luck had turned around. The food was fresh, and delicious and the service reflected the family-run hotel. We felt like we were at home.
Best food and stand-out service. If you’re daring enough, ask to see their incredible box of flavoured grappas (tell them if you’re on a budget though).
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Great option to watch the sunset but be prepared to pay more and deal with average service. If you are just having pizza, they will seat you on a lower level as well. This is very much a restaurant marketed to tourists.
Nino’s is the perfect lunch option. It’s unpretentious, the food is great and inexpensive. It’s also just across the street from where you step off the cable car from the beach.
For those looking for a wedding venue or have a bit of cash to splash, stay here at Hotel Timeo. For those of us that aren’t rolling in dollar bills, grabbing a drink or some lunch on the terrace is a more affordable option. As you can see, it has undisturbed views of Taormina, the public gardens directly below the hotel and Mt Etna.
Daiquiri Lounge Bar became a regular spot for sundowners during our stay. The crowd is fun and you can grab a stoop on the steps for a bit of twilight people watching. They have a long cocktail list but you’ll mainly see a wave of Aperol Spritz hitting the tables. A warning, as they tend to do in Sicily, you’ll be given a tray full of food. We politely declined the fried food and welcomed the fresh vegetable crudite.
Where to Stay in Taormina
Taormina luxury hotels are some of the best in the country with incredible service and views over the hills down to the water. There are also some really inviting, cosy boutique hotels in Taormina with more of a personalised, family feel. We stayed at a boutique hotel in Taormina during our honeymoon, as it was right in the heart of town. We did visit the luxurious Belmond Grand for a drink however and it would be our pick for a larger resort-style stay.
Il Piccolo Giardino became our honeymoon home away from home. It was cute, cosy and we quickly became part of the extended family that runs the boutique hotel. Splurge on a room with a view and make sure you hit the rooftop early for a spot by the pool.
The Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo is one of those bucket list hotels. In true Belmond style, the location, the grounds, the finishes and the service are second to none.
Skye is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Fit Traveller. She is a journalist, writer, photographer, intrepid traveller and a former personal trainer with a passion for helping others reach optimal health. As a TV journalist and producer, Skye has worked for household names such as 60 Minutes, Sunrise, TODAY and Nine News. She has also written for Women’s Health, Fodor’s Travel and Yahoo7 Travel, among many others.
Skye created The Fit Traveller as a beautiful online space and community where people feel inspired to escape the desk to move and explore more.
Equally comfortable in a 5-star resort or hiking a far-off mountain, Skye loves the unexpected and enriching life experiences that each trip brings and can often be found in a backstreet chatting to locals with her camera in hand.
Skye is based in Sydney, working to master the balance between motherhood and her insatiable appetite for adventure.