Where is Taormina?
Taormina is a popular tourist town in northeast Sicily. The nearest airport is Catania, 70km south. A taxi costs around £60 each way.
Why go to Taormina?
It’s a hilltop town, 800ft above sea level, linked by a cable car to the coast, so you can have the best of both worlds: exploring at the top of town and relaxing on the beach. The centre of town is pedestrianised. There’s plenty to do in a compact area. Apart from possibly seeing Etna erupting, there’s a Greek amphitheatre, several historic churches, a pretty coastline and numerous independent shops, restaurants and galleries to enjoy. Fabulous views from the top of town just add to the charm.
When should I visit Taormina?
The summer is very hot in Sicily, so best to avoid. The shoulder months are very pleasant, so try March to June or September to October.
Top of town in Taormina
The main road Corso Umberto, nearly a mile long, is lined with shops, restaurants and galleries. There is a large square towards the end of the stroll, with far-reaching views of the coast, photo ops and people watching cafes. From here, you should see the Isola Bella island, now a nature reserve and opposite a good sunbathing spot.
There are some good shops here. I liked perfumery Narcisse with exclusive Sicilian-made perfume, a food store La Bottega del Buongustaio (just off Corso Umberto) and a jewellery and clothes store Turrisi Antique.
Popular purchases are the brightly coloured pottery, especially the Sicilian heads, the result of a legend that dates from the Muslim occupation. When a woman found out her Moorish husband had a lover, she killed him and cut off his head, using it as a plant pot.
The historic Greek amphitheatre is best visited when it’s not too hot, so first thing. You will also avoid the day-trippers this way too. It’s a working theatre and has shows in the summer months.
Make sure you find Villa Comunale, a lovely shaded public park with good views of the coast amid the fountains and statuary.
Down on the beach
The cable car links the top of town with the Isola Bella beach area and is worth traveling on for the views alone. It runs regularly throughout the day. The entrance to Isola Bella is via some steep steps just over the road from the cable car stop. You can walk to the island at low tide or just sunbathe on the beach opposite.
Top beach lovers’ tip
Take an inexpensive taxi to nearby Giardini Naxos to the west. It’s less crowded and the main beachside restaurant has a reasonably-priced sunbed and sunshade hiring service as well as tasty freshly caught fish dishes. Parking here is easy, too, if you do have a car.
Food, glorious food
I won’t lie, one of the major attractions of Italy for me is the food. You could just potluck it and probably come up trumps, but my favourite is the lovely Rosmarino. We went twice recently (April 2020). Get a table on the outdoor terrace.
Driving in Taormina
Just one word – don’t. It’s impossible to park, the one-way system will drive you insane, with several streets closed to traffic. If you arrive by hire car, choose a hotel with free parking. You may find it useful to have a car for getting to and from the airport, which is often what we do, but don’t plan to use the car for driving around here.
I’ve stayed at the fabulous Belmond Grand Timeo at the top of town and it really is exquisite. They had me before I had even entered the hotel: a delightful buggy drive from the car park snaking up through the terraced gardens crammed with scented flowers. Set in quiet grounds, many rooms have sea views and terraces. If you can’t stretch to a stay, do have a cocktail on the terrace, overlooking Etna. It might erupt for you, as it did for me.
If you have children or would prefer to be near the beach, their sister hotel, Villa SantAndrea is lovely too. It has its own resident-only beach with rock pools and lifeguard, so your little ones can play safely while you sunbathe on the overlooking terrace or enjoy a quiet cocktail.
I’ve also stayed at the 4-star Taormina Park Hotel. We choose this as it’s a level walk, with a pavement, (10 minutes) to town and has a big swimming pool. (It’s also a five-minute walk to our favourite restaurant.)
Other B&Bs and hotels
We did stay in a B&B once, which had lovely views and breakfast on the terrace, but the ‘ten-minute walk to town’ was up 500 steps and we had to cross two busy roads with no pavement.
Isn’t Taormina too crowded?
A travel editor once asked on Twitter for ideas of places to visit in Sicily and I suggested Taormina. I could almost hear his sharp intake of breath.” I’d like something less touristy, I think…” Places are ‘touristy’ for a reason. When I responded to him, I’d just stayed at one of the Belmond hotels there and it was so peaceful and fabulous, at the time I couldn’t think of a nicer place to be. I still go back and I don’t like crowds particularly…so there you have it.
How to do it
Fly from the UK and pick up a hire car at the airport. It’s an easy one-hour drive. Taormina is good for a long weekend or as part of a driving around Sicily plan. Sometimes, I just fancy some Italian food and hospitality in the sun, and Taormina is perfect for that.
Disclosure: A mix of work and leisure trips over several years, most recently in September 2020. The stays at the Belmond hotels were complimentary.
All images copyright of Olivia Greenway and may not be used except by written permission prior.