Things to do in Taormina: the ultimate travel guide

    You’ve heard about it, you’ve seen pictures of the ancient theater and Isola Bella, and now you’re wondering: what are the things to do in Taormina? In this guide you will find that the list is long, and seeing it all in one day is definitely not enough. But it is also true that once you visit Taormina, you will always come back!

    Things to do in Taormina: the visit before entering the town

    The classic tour of Taormina is to walk along Corso Umberto I, the city’s main street. At both ends are the ancient gates: Porta Catania to the south and Porta Messina to the north. This guide also follows this approach, starting from Porta Messina, but before entering the historic center, there are some places of interest not to be missed.

    The former Church of Sant’Antonio Abate

    The formere Church of Sant'Antonio Abate in Taormina
    The former Church of Sant’Antonio Abate

    We begin this guide to all the things to do in Taormina with the former church of Sant’Antonio Abate. It is located just before Porta Catania, just outside the old city walls. It was built in 1330 and the original Gothic style can still be seen in the white limestone portal and the pointed arch above the lintel. Completely destroyed in the bombing of 1943, it was rebuilt with the same materials recovered from the rubble. Today, the building is no longer used for worship, but it houses a permanent nativity scene created by Dionisio Cacopardo. The artist has reproduced to scale some of Taormina’s most famous monuments, such as the Greek Theatre, the Cathedral and Palazzo Corvaja.

    Sicilian puppets at the Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions
    Sicilian puppets at the Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions

    Before getting caught up in the rush and crossing Porta Catania, it’s best to turn left into Via Apollo Arcageta. A few meters away is the former church of San Francesco di Paola, which houses the Taormina Museum of Popular Art and Traditions. Inside there are 430 works divided into 14 thematic sections that trace Sicilian handicraft production between 1600 and 1900. You can admire some of the most representative elements of the island’s cultural heritage, such as the cart and Sicilian puppets, but also Caltagirone ceramic decorations, embroidery and lace.

    The Church of San Michele Arcangelo

    The Church of San Michele Arcangelo in Taormina
    The Church of San Michele Arcangelo

    At this point, return to Porta Catania, but this time turn right until you reach the small church of San Michele Arcangelo. Built in the 1600s, this church was also destroyed during the Second World War and then rebuilt. The interior has a single nave and a beautiful wooden beam ceiling. Under the church of St. Michael the Archangel there is a crypt, accessible through an opening in the floor closed by a grate, from which one can see a staircase made of rough material that leads to the basement.

    Things to do in Taormina: itinerary from Porta Catania to Porta di Mezzo

    The Porta Catania of Taormina
    Porta Catania

    The itinerary to discover the things to do in Taormina now takes us through Porta Catania, one of the ancient entrances to the city, built in 1440. It is also called “Porta del Tocco” because in the Norman period the public meetings were held in the adjacent small square. The time of the Tocco was the first hour after noon, corresponding to 1 pm. Going down Corso Umberto, the main street of Taormina, the tour ends at Porta Messina.

    The Palace of the Duchi di Santo Stefano

    Exterior of the Palace of the Duchi di Santo Stefano in Taormina
    The Palace of the Duchi di Santo Stefano

    The first monument you meet when you enter the historical center of Taormina is the Palace of the Dukes of Santo Stefano. It is a masterpiece of Sicilian Gothic art, with some influences of Arab-Norman art. The facades of the building are decorated with inlays of alternating lava stone mosaics and white Syracuse stone mosaics. The appearance of the palace has changed over the centuries, depending on the noble family that inhabited it. Since 1981 it has been the home of the Mazzullo Foundation, a Sicilian artist and sculptor. Thirty-nine sculptures and seventeen drawings by Giuseppe Mazzullo can be seen both inside the palace and in the garden.

    The former Church of the Carmine

    The former Church of the Carmine in Taormina
    The former Church of the Carmine

    A little further along Corso Umberto I, a flight of steps on the left leads to the former Church of the Carmine. The church was restored in the 1980s and is now used for temporary exhibitions. This means that it is not always open. Inside the church was preserved the so-called “Unprocessed Madonna”, a painting on wood with the typical features of Byzantine art and decorative elements in silver. Today this work is exhibited in the Cathedral of Taormina. Inside the former church of the Carmine there is also a “putridarium”, a small underground room where the bodies of the dead were dried.

    Piazza Duomo

    The piazza duomo in Taormina
    Piazza Duomo

    Go back to Corso Umberto I and continue to Piazza Duomo. Here you will find one of the symbols of Taormina, the so-called Quattro Fontane Fountain. After admiring the details of the entrance portal of the Cathedral of Taormina, you can proceed to visit the interior. Despite its very simple architecture, the Cathedral of San Nicola has a splendid wooden ceiling with carved corbels that reproduce Arabic motifs in the Gothic style. Among the various works of art, the polyptych by Antonello de Saliba, nephew of Antonello da Messina, deserves special attention. It is a series of wooden panels decorated with scenes inspired by the Bible. Leaving the church, cross the square, go down a few steps and, surrounded by a fence, you can see the remains of a mosaic floor dating back to the 2nd century.

    Ciampoli Palace

    Continuing our walk along Corso Umberto I, we continue our itinerary to discover the monuments of Taormina. The next stop is Palazzo Ciampoli, located at the top of a flight of steps that you will find on your left. It is a splendid mansion built in the 15th century in the Catalan Gothic style and named after the family that owned it. Today it is used for exhibitions and events and can only be visited during these occasions.

    Church of Varò

    Church of Varò in Toarmina
    Church of Varò

    Before finishing the first part of this itinerary, it is necessary to visit the Church of the Visitation or Varò. The construction of this church dates back to the end of the 18th century, but the work was completed at the beginning of the 19th century. It is probable, however, that a pre-existing and much older temple was used for this construction. In the rear part of the church there is a crypt that could date back to the time of the Christian persecutions. To the right of the high altar there is a beautiful monument dedicated to Count Giovanni Romano e Dente, who died in 1699. The church of Varò is the starting point of the annual Good Friday procession in Taormina. The women of the congregation of the Madonna Addolorata, all dressed in black, carry a statue of the Virgin on their shoulders through the streets of the old town.

    Middle Gate or Clock Tower

    The Middle Gate or Clock Tower in Taormina
    Middle Gate or Clock Tower

    And so we come to the Middle Gate or Clock Tower. This was one of the two gates to the medieval town of Taormina and its construction dates back to 1100. In 1676, during the invasion of the French troops of Louis XIV, the Middle Gate was completely destroyed. When it was rebuilt in 1769, the large clock at the top was also added. The mechanical clock dates from the 1800s and is a single piece on a cast-iron base, with a Chevalier escapement.

    Things to do in Taormina: from Porta di Mezzo to Porta Messina

    Porta di Mezzo is the end of the first part of the itinerary to discover what to see in Taormina. The second part, however, is not to be missed. Continuing along Corso Umberto I, with a few detours, we reach the Teatro Antico and then leave through Porta Messina.

    Piazza IX Aprile

    Piazza IX Aprile in Taormina
    Piazza IX Aprile

    Passing through the Porta di Mezzo we reach one of the most famous and photographed corners of Taormina: Piazza IX aprile. It is definitely one of the most beautiful viewpoints of the town. From here you can see Mount Etna, the Bay of Naxos and the ruins of Taormina’s ancient theater. The square also has a number of establishments, but the most famous is definitely the Wunderbar Caffè Taormina. Founded in 1870 as an inn, the Wunderbar is the oldest bar in Taormina, but since the 1960s its fame has grown more and more. This is due to the many famous people who have frequented it, such as Tennessee Williams, Greta Garbo, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. The view from Wunderbar’s summer terrace is certainly breathtaking, but it is priced separately from the drink, which is already very expensive.

    Church of San Giuseppe and the former Church of Sant’Agostino

    There are also two churches on April IX Square. The one on the left is the Church of San Giuseppe and was built in the late 1600s and early 1700s. The church was the headquarters of the “Confraternity of the Souls of Purgatory” and for this reason you will notice some somewhat macabre decorative elements such as human figures in the midst of flames, skulls and crossed shins. The second church you see is actually the site of the city library. It was originally a church dedicated to Sant’Agostino, built in 1486, to which an Augustinian convent was added in 1530. Inside there are more than 22,000 volumes, of which 2,000 are dedicated to Sicily.

    The Villa Comunale of Taormina

    One of the "victorian follies" in Taormina's Villa Comunale
    One of the “Victorian follies” in Taormina’s Villa Comunale

    After visiting the two churches, continue along Corso Umberto I and immediately, on the left, do not miss Vicolo Stretto. After taking the customary photo, take Vico Teofano Cerameo in front of you and then turn right down the steps called Scesa Bastione. You will find yourself on Via Roma, a wonderful panoramic road that will lead you to the Villa Comunale of Taormina. This was the garden of the house of Lady Florence Trevelyan, an English noblewoman who came to Taormina to escape a court scandal. What makes this public garden special are the so-called “Victorian follies”. They are special constructions in eclectic style, inspired by oriental buildings.

    The (so-called) Naumachia of Taormina

    The (so-called) Naumachia of Taormina
    The (so-called) Naumachia of Taormina

    When you have finished visiting the villa, take Via Bagnoli Croci, turn into Via Calapitrulli and you will reach Via Naumachia. Turning immediately to the right, your eyes will fall on one of the most fascinating views of Taormina. It is the so-called Naumachia, a part of the wall that was part of a Roman building dating back to the second century AD. The term Naumachia in Latin means “sea battle” and in ancient Rome they were fought in amphitheaters or in large specially excavated tanks. The first to use the term was the Dutch scholar Jacques-Philippe D’Orville in the eighteenth century. In fact, this name is a misnomer because we know for a fact that this building was not intended for naval combat. Instead, it is possible that the wall was the elevation of a nymphaeum or gymnasium, a place where young people engaged in physical exercise.

    The Church of Santa Caterina d’Alessandria

    The Church of Santa Caterina d’Alessandria in Toarmina
    The Church of Santa Caterina d’Alessandria

    After crossing the whole Naumachia, you will come out in Piazza Santa Domenica. After visiting the church of Santa Domenica, turn left in Di Giovanni street and you will arrive in front of the church of Santa Caterina d’Alessandria. The building was built in the first half of the 1600s on the remains of a Roman odeon. Inside you can also see, through a stained glass window, the remains of walls and cobblestones from the Greco-Roman period. The entrance portal to the church is made of pink marble from Taormina, and above it, in a niche, is a statue of St. Catherine, carved in 1705. At this point you can leave the church and immediately turn left. Some stairs will take you to the back of the building where a surprise awaits you.

    Roman Odeon

    Roman Odeon in Taormina
    Roman Odeon

    That’s right, among the things to see in Taormina is a Roman Odeon. Amazing, isn’t it? This is where the inhabitants of ancient Tauromenion attended performances, lectures and public readings. Taormina’s Odeon was built between the 1st and 2nd centuries AD by partially reusing a pre-existing Greek temple from the Hellenistic period. The cavea contains eleven rows of seats divided into four wedges by three ladders. The eighth row of seats was used as a passageway, because the entrances or vomitoria, of which two still exist, opened here. The orchestra, the space for the actors, had a diameter of about 11 meters and was probably open, as was the stage.

    Il Palazzo Corvaja

    Right next to the church of Santa Caterina is another architectural gem that is one of the things to see in Taormina: Palazzo Corvaja. The core of the original palace is an Arabic tower built between 902 and 1079. From the 14th century on, all the rooms that we can admire today were added. The result is a building where typical elements of Norman, Gothic, Catalan and Chiaramontan art coexist harmoniously. In 141, after the death of King Martin II, a historic meeting of the Sicilian Parliament was held in Palazzo Corvaja. During the meeting, in the presence of the Spanish Queen Bianca of Navarre, the parliamentarians discussed the succession of the King of Sicily.

    The Ancient theater of Taormina

    The Ancient theater of Taormina
    The Ancient theater of Taormina

    Leaving Palazzo Corvaja, the street in front of you is Via Teatro Greco, which takes you directly to one of the most famous monuments in all of Sicily. The Teatro Antico of Taormina was built in the 3rd century B.C. and was transformed into an amphitheater during the Roman period. The architecture was modified in several places to host gladiatorial fights and naval battles. The panorama it offers, with Mount Etna and the Gulf of Mazzarò, has fascinated visitors to Taormina since the 1700s. A unique view capable of evoking indescribable emotions. The theater, like others in Sicily, is still used today for performances and concerts. If you have the time and desire, you can attend a live performance in a truly evocative setting.

    Porta Messina

    Porta Messina in Taormina
    Porta Messina

    And so we come to Porta Messina, the end of this second part of the itinerary of things to see in Taormina. Together with Porta di Mezzo, it was one of the two entrances that were part of the Arab walls. Porta Messina is also known as Porta Ferdinandea, because it was King Ferdinand IV of Bourbon who ordered its construction. The year of its inauguration is 1808, as evidenced by a plaque still visible at the top of the gate.

    Things to do in Taormina: monuments outside the walls

    Once you have finished visiting the center, the list of things to see in Taormina certainly does not end there. In fact, there are many places of interest outside the walls of the old town that are undoubtedly worth seeing.

    Badia Vecchia Palace

    Badia Vecchia Palace in Taormina
    Badia Vecchia Palace

    After passing through Porta Messina and turning right, you will come to Via Costantino Patricio and then to Via Circonvallazione. Go down this street for about 650 meters and you will reach the Palazzo della Badia Vecchia. It is a splendid example of Sicilian Gothic, similar in type and decoration to the Palace of the Duchy of Santo Stefano. The palace dates back to the 14th century and was built by transforming a Norman defense tower into a stately home. The name perhaps derives from the fact that the palace housed an “abbey”, that is, an abbey, but for some scholars it was instead the residence of the Abbess of Messina. The Badia Vecchia Palace was first used as a post office and then as the headquarters of the Taormina Archaeological Museum, while it is currently unused.

    Cuseni House

    Exterior of Cuseni House
    Cuseni House

    Just to the right of Badia Vecchia is one of the hidden treasures of Taormina: Casa Cuseni. If you decide to spend at least one day in Taormina, it should be on your list of things to see. It was the residence of the English painter Robert Hawthorn Kitson, designed by him and built between 1902 and 1905. The dining room of Casa Cuseni features an Arts and Crafts-style mural painted by Belgian artist Sir Frank Brangwyn, one of L.C. Tiffany’s first decorators. The scene depicts Robert Hawthorn Kitson, his companion Carlo Siligato, and Francesco, an orphan they adopted. For this reason, the contents of this room remained hidden until 2012. Visits to Casa Cuseni are by appointment only, so if you decide to go, it is a good idea to make arrangements well in advance.

    The Church of San Pancrazio and the Byzantine Baths

    The Church of San Pancrazio in Taormina
    Church of San Pancrazio

    Going downstream from Porta Messina, you reach Piazza San Pancrazio. Here some excavations have brought to light the remains of a Roman building called the Byzantine Baths. At the moment it is not certain that it was a thermal building. A little further is the church of San Pancrazio, which has beautiful baroque decorations inside. The construction of this church dates back to the period between the 6th and the 9th century and was made by incorporating the ruins of a pre-existing Greek temple. Excavations over the years have revealed that the temple was dedicated to the Egyptian deities Isis and Serapis. Before entering the portico in front of the church, you can see on the left side the enclosed elements of the ancient temple.

    Church of the Madonna della Rocca

    The Church of Madonna della Rocca in Taormina
    Church of Madonna della Rocca

    From Piazza San Pancrazio you can take a bus that will take you to the foot of Monte Tauro. Here is the church of Madonna della Rocca, originally built in the 12th century and restored in 1660. The church is certainly very special because it is entirely carved into the rock. From its position it is possible to admire one of the most beautiful views of Taormina. The Church of the Madonna della Rocca can also be reached on foot from the center of Taormina. On Via Circonvallazione there is a staircase called Salita Castello that will take you there in about 15 minutes.

    Castle of Monte Tauro

    Castle of Monte Tauro
    Castle of Monte Tauro

    From the church of the Madonna della Rocca you can reach another monument that must be included in the list of Taormina’s monuments. This is the Castle of Monte Tauro, whose construction probably dates back to the Arab period. The lower acropolis of the ancient city of Tauromenion stood on the site of the castle, while the upper acropolis corresponded to the present-day Castelmola. The castle is located at a height of almost 400 meters above sea level. If the view from the Church of the Madonna della Rocca is breathtaking, it is even more so from here.

     

    The Pirandello Belvedere and the Byzantine Tombs

    Byzantine Tombs in Taormina
    Byzantine Tombs

    From Piazza San Pancrazio you can reach the Pirandello Belvedere by walking along Via Pirandello for about ten minutes. If you want to take a perfect photo of Isola Bella, this is the ideal place. Continuing the walk, on the right you will find the so-called Byzantine tombs. The burial niches, visible today and arranged in a beehive shape, were part of a much larger Arab necropolis. The tombs were organized in blocks of different widths, some with only two niches, in an irregular pattern that follows the orography of the terrain. Each niche has a vaulted roof and a square opening. According to scholars, the necropolis was built during the Byzantine period, between the 10th and 11th centuries.

    Church of San Pietro e Paolo

    The Church of San Pietro e Paolo in Taormina
    Church of San Pietro e Paolo

    Just beyond the Byzantine Tombs is the Church of San Pietro e Paolo, considered the oldest in Taormina. Inside there are the remains of a fresco dating back to the 15th century and a papier-mâché statue of St. Peter, decorated with pure gold, dating back to the 1500s. Some archaeological excavations, carried out between 1732 and 1742, brought to light various finds, including the head of Zeus. Continuing along via Pirandello we find ourselves back in the Villa Comunale of Taormina.

    Things to do in Taormina: Isola Bella and the Blue Grotto

    The Isola Bella of Taormina
    The Isola Bella

    It is impossible to leave Taormina without seeing Isola Bella. It is a small island connected to the mainland by a thin strip of sand. It is the main beach of Taormina and certainly the most picturesque. In 1890 the island was bought by Lady Florence Trevelyan and her husband Salvatore Cacciola. Together they improved it, added very rare plants and trees and had a small house built, which can be visited by paying an entrance fee. On the free beach there are several boats that offer boat tours. You can go around the island and admire the surrounding caves, the bay of Naxos, the Blue Grotto and the Shell Grotto.

    Things to do in Taormina: the Taormina-Giardini Train Station

    It may seem strange to find a railway station in a guide of things to see in Taormina, but once you have seen it, you will understand that this is not the case. The Taormina-Giardini train station is a small jewel of eclectic architecture, where neo-Gothic and Liberty style elements are combined. The interior is truly a triumph for the eyes, among wrought iron chandeliers, stained glass, marble floors and a fully decorated wooden coffered ceiling. Such a jewel could only attract the attention of the cinema. Scenes from The Godfather Part III were filmed here, as well as Luc Besson’s Le Grand Bleu and Roberto Benigni’s The Little Devil.


    Sergio Campolo

    I graduated in Economics and Management in Rome, I worked for 6 years in Milan especially in Web Marketing and now I live in Trento. In 2021 I founded The World of Sicily with the aim of making the beauties of this region known to the whole world.

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