Itinerary for three days in Taormina
When the forecast was still showing mid-20s and sunny, the plan for three days in Taormina focused on the following ‘big three’:
- A day trip to Mt Etna as a top priority. I’d wanted to visit the volcano ever since I’d heard there was an active volcano in Sicily. If I could add on Alcantara Gorge, that would be a bonus. The plan was to scope out our day trip options once we arrived.
- The town’s Greek Theatre. It tends to top the lists of the most picturesque Greek theatres in the world. Though I can’t imagine the list is very long!
- Isola Bella at sea level for some suntanning on the beach. We could pick whichever day worked since we were sure to have nothing but sunny days during our time in Taormina!
Oh Taormina, I had such great hopes for you! It’s a shame Mother Nature had different plans and surprised us the wettest weather in May in 50 years! While we saw Isola Bella in the sun, the bad weather meant that the other two weren’t meant to be. I like to think it’s a sign for me to return again in the future.
Let this post serve as a warning to those of you who don’t think you’ll ever have a rainy trip to Italy like I thought prior to the May 2019. Be warned – pack a rain jacket and shoes that don’t leak when wet.
So was I disappointed not visiting Mt Etna because the views would be non-existent? Yes. But did we still have an incredible time in Taormina despite the rain and generally blah weather? Heck yes! I mean, we were still in Italy after all!
Here’s how we spent three days in Taormina seeing some of the lesser sights in the area. Without a day taken for a visit to Mt Etna, three days was about the perfect amount of time to visit the town.
Arrival in Taormina by Train
We arrived in Taormina from Siracusa by train at the small station at sea level around midday. Don’t even think about trying to walk up to the town centre. I thought it would be a slight walk uphill but there was nothing slight about it! Purchase bus tickets at the shop at the station for a couple euros. A taxi costs about 15 euros.
The bus drops you off at the bus station just outside of town. From there, it’s a slightly uphill walk of about 5 minutes to the town gate called Porta Messina. We stayed on Via G. Di Giovanni at Residence degli Argumi. It’s a multi-level bright yellow apartment building with a number of apartments. It’s also away from the crowds you’ll surely see on Corso Umberto. You can’t miss it with its lemon and lime trees covered entrance and terrace.
What to see in three days in Taormina
Yes there are definitely some activities that require sun (i.e. suntanning on the beach), but there are plenty of options for less than stellar days weather wise. Here’s how we spent our somewhat rainy three days in Taormina, taking advantage of the periods of sun where we could.
Stroll at a snail’s pace along Corso Umberto
You can’t visit Taormina and not walk along Corso Umberto. The pedestrian-only street is lined with shops and restaurants and is fairly long, so it’s very likely you’ll stumble upon it. Unless you visit early in the morning or in the evening, you won’t be able to walk very quickly due to the crowds. So take your time, soak in the vibe and do as the other tourists do.
In the middle of the corso sits Piazza IX Aprile, a checkered piazza with pretty epic views. It’s also the home of one of the many churches in town – Church of Saint Augustine. For best views, try timing your visit around the bus tour hoards who take over the viewing spots! I was literally pushed out of the way when a group arrived and wanted a perfect shot …
When on Corso Umberto, I recommend spending your time strolling with some kind of sweet or a gelato in hand. I also recommend the bar Re di Bastoni for some quality people watching in the early evening. It has a primo position on il Corso and a few tables outside.
See the very pretty (and aptly named) Isola Bella
Clear-ish skies are highly recommended and we found some on our second today along with the faint calling of the beach. The easiest way to travel down to sea level is by the funicular. It’s located down the road from Porta Messina on the way to the bus station.
Take the funicular from Taormina to Isola Bella
On the day we visited, something didn’t quite seem right when we arrived at the funicular building – there were no people whatsoever. Upon a small amount of investigation, we found out the funicular was out of service due to repairs so we’d have to take the bus instead. Not to worry, there was a stop outside the funicular building. Our quick jaunt down to the water turned into a half hour of waiting and then taking the bus.
Down at sea level, it was a 10 minute walk along the fairly busy road to reach the stairs down to the beach. Isola Bella in all its glory sits out in the bay, a short walk along the beach away.
Clamber around Isola Bella
Nothing is free, so to wander around the teeny tiny island costs 4 euros each. To be honest, there wasn’t a whole lot to see, though imagining celebrities back in the date drinking the night away was pretty cool. I much more enjoyed my time suntanning on the rocky beach afterwards. That was, until a bus of school kids arrived and spoiled the serenity!
Return to Taormina from Isola Bella
The ‘packed in like sardines’ bus ride back to Taormina was way less comfortable than on the way down. We waited for over a half hour for one to arrive, and like all the other people waiting, we didn’t want to miss out on this bus ride. There never seems to be any politeness shared by tourists in these situations. Even though we were one of the first to arrive at the bus stop, the people arriving 30 minutes later still felt the need to push through and make sure they get on the bus.
Overall the trip to Isola Bella took way too long given the funicular was out of action. The packed bus ride was hot and uncomfortable so not the greatest experience. Unless it’s a nice day, I wouldn’t make the journey which took us a solid half day as a round trip. I’d make sure the funicular is running before trying the trip again!
Have a picnic lunch in the Public Gardens
The public gardens was one of the real surprises of Taormina. While I would hardly classify myself as a garden affioncianda, I do appreciate a well manicured lawn and pretty flowers. This park comes with the added bonus of epic views along the coast line.
There was one thing that put me off on my first visit. I saw a couple of cats in pens in the park that did not look happy. Later, I found out that these are feral cats that have been spayed or neutered and they are kept and fed (and even have a little bed) while they recover. While they didn’t seem to happy to be locked up, it was for their own good and I felt much better knowing that the local kitties are being looked after.
For more low-key pretty, there’s a beautifully decorated staircase nearby. Look on the map for Via Timoleone.
Try Bam Bar’s famous granita
While technically a restaurant, Bam Bar gets a special mention outside of the eating and drinking section because of how great a spot it is. Yes we had coffee and granita there, but it was also where we hid from the rain (while drinking coffee and granita) on numerous occasions. It didn’t hurt it was a minute from our accommodation. Whenever it was open it was packed so tables are tough to come by. But the granita was amazing and the owner was a gem, so definitely worth it.
Walk from Taormina to Castelmola
Say you’ve eaten one too many cannoli and/or are in the habit of at least a gelato a day (it keeps the doctor away) and you want some exercise. Why not walk up to Castelmola, the teeny tiny hamlet that sits up above Taormina? While it’s a lot of steps, it’s not too strenuous and the views from the top are pretty amazing. Not to mention the adorable town that sits at the top waiting for you.
To find the unmarked path I needed to do some google researching but quickly found it once I was on the road. I started at Porta Catania, and then turned up the first right, past Punta Simply super market and then followed the road pretty much straight up. On google maps look for “Via Salita Celestino Penna” which is partly a staircase. From there you can see signs for Castelmola like this one.
While you would call it a path, it’s fairly overgrown in places. So don’t expect a perfectly immaculate walking trail. It had already rained on the morning I walked up so I was pretty much soaked by the time I reached the top of the climb. Pushing through the overgrown bushes meant there was no way to avoid getting wet.
With a short stop at the tiny church and a few “breathing” stops to ‘take in the view’ (and not to catch your breath!), you’ll be at the top before you know it.
Have a drink at Bar Turrisi in Castelmola
One advantage of hiking up to Castelmola instead of driving or taking the bus – you really feel you’ve earned whatever it is you want when you arrive!
Since Castelmola is pretty small, you should have no troubles finding the themed Bar Turrisi. I say themed bar just because it is covered from floor tile to ceiling in penis-shaped decorations. It’s easier to show what I’m talking about that write about it, so here a photo of my granita and table decoration. It was definitely a novelty and anyone who visits Taormina and Castelmola will likely have visited there. A must see even to look around, but with three or so floors of seating, it’s worth staying for at least a granita!
Return to Taormina by bus (or walk back down)
On the day I visited, leaving Castelmola was more difficult than it should have been because of some road works. It didn’t help that the replacement bus stop wasn’t clearly marked. I ended up heading downhill, seeing a group of people I assumed had just come off a bus to point me in the right direction.
Usually the bus stop is at the square at the start of the town (Piazza Saint Antonio), so should be much easier! Though always stay flexible because you never know what won’t be working as usual on the day you visit.
Before hopping on the bus, I recommend climbing a few more steps to the top of Castello di Mola for more views.
The drive back down to town was interesting to say the least. It reminded me of the drive along the Amalfi Coast, but with a lot less cars. The bus managed to make turns around impossibly narrow roads with lots of incoming traffic.
Pretend to be fancy at the Italian Opera
Firstly I’ll start by saying we’re not opera buffs, but we enjoyed the performance. Possibly because we’re not opera buffs. This is a show that caters to tourists and you get what you pay for. It’s very likely you’ll see posters advertising the opera while in town, so no need to seek it out. I would go ahead of the performance time and buy tickets so you don’t have to wait in the huge line to pay on the night. They only accept cash though, so make sure you have 25 euros per person on you.
On the night we went, there was a female and male opera singers, who were both relatively young and still students. They were accompanied by a much older piano player, and I stress the age because of the years of experience. This guy could play! I instantly gained an appreciation for piano players after hearing him let loose on the keys. Holy moly! It was worth the price of admission just to hear him play.
Besides the singing and piano playing, the ticket includes a sparkling wine on the terrace which overlooks Piazza IX Aprile on Corso Umberto. Since it was a rainy night, instead of star studded sky views, we needed to stay in the performance seating area and try to mingle without glasses of bubbly. It was still nice, but moonlight drinks would have been amazing!
What to visit next time
As I mentioned, the weather was not so cooperative so we missed out on a couple of sights – mainly a visit to Mt Etna and the Greek Theatre. The latter was my fault. We walked over to visit it before going to see Isola Bella but it wasn’t open yet. By the time we returned to town and for our final 24 hours in town, it was rainy too heavy to visit. Another reason to return!
Where we ate
In general we ate pretty well in Taormina. I was worried about it being expensive since it’s more of a tourist town than other places in Sicily. But we didn’t feel like we were paying top dollar for average food.
Trattoria Da Nino
Our top meal was definitely at Trattoria Da Nino (which I kept calling Robert Da Niro’s). It’s a little bit outside of the main drag, located near the funicular on a main street. We made bookings the day before and had no issues getting a table.
We had several courses which were all pretty much the specials of the day. Everything was excellent and the service was top notch.
Ristorante Rugantino is a restaurant just off of Corso Umberto, with tables up a set of stairs. We ate while listening to a man playing guitar, which added to the ambiance. Vibe was lovely and the food was ok.
Pizzeria Villa Zuccaro
We had lunch at Pizzeria Villa Zuccaro, which is one of the pizzerias in town based on the number of recommendations we had for it. They did not disappoint! For being in the middle of the afternoon, they were fairly busy due to a large tour group taking over a large part of the outdoor (covered) eating area.
The pizzas were excellent and the beer was cold. A perfect lunch!
Laboratorio Pasticceria Roberto
A few days in and I was craving a cannoli. A real one, made in Sicilia. Lucky for me, the king of the cannoli has a shop around the corner from where we were staying meaning I could duck out and get one without getting too wet! They fill the cannoli to order, so you see a stack of shells ready to be filled with sweetened ricotta goodness. So good. I’m dreaming of eating one right now.