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  • Allyson Rychlak

Taormina, Sicily's Seaside Gem

Since I'm still reminiscing on my trip to Italy in October, I decided it was finally time to pull together some of my favorite restaurants and things to do (as well as other travel tips) from Sicily's eastern coastal town, Taormina. I spent 8 days in Rome and Taormina with my friend and former roommate from our time studying abroad in Italy in fall 2019, bookending our Sicilian adventure with direct flights in and out of FCO, Rome's largest airport. Find my ultimate Rome guide here, as well as a trip up the northern coast of Italy to Cinque Terre's town of Riomaggiore. Taormina has stolen a spot in my heart as one of my favorite Italian destinations, and finally jumping on the bandwagon of bingeing The White Lotus (I know, I'm months behind!) made me even more excited to write this mini-guide. If you enjoyed the stunning views and beautiful Sicilian scenery as much as I did, keep reading to hear the highlights of our own trip to Taormina - minus the murderous vacation narrative.

Stroll along picturesque Villa Comunale, highlighted below in best things to do in Taormina

While returning to Rome was like a trip down memory lane, a visit to Sicily was a check off the bucket list for me. Since we had limited time (4 days, with 2 including travel back and forth via the Catania airport), we decided to stay in one spot rather than bounce around different cities, such as famous Palermo on the northwest coast. Taormina did not disappoint, and our only wish is that we had more time to explore.

Best Restaurants & Bars:

  • Bam Bar: A visit to Taormina is not complete without granita, a sweet, shaved ice dessert famously original from Sicily, with Sicilian flavors like lemon, mandarin, almond, and more. We had ours for breakfast (because when in Italy) and had it served with a fresh brioche bun. If visiting Sicily, make sure to try homemade cannoli as well. It was not until after we visited Bam Bar that I realized how famous this local favorite is... and if you've seen The White Lotus, you'll recognize the cafe from when Valentina visits to grab a coffee early in season 2.

Bam Bar's granita and brioche for breakfast like a true Sicilian

  • Villa Zuccaro: Nursing a pizza craving? Look no further than Villa Zuccaro. This spot boasts over 50 different pizzas on the menu, and is set up on the hill in the center of town in a charming 17th century stone villa. Note: the restaurant is only open for lunch on Sundays, and serves dinner all other nights of the week (except Tuesdays, when they are closed entirely).

  • Casa Niclodi: Come here for authentic Sicilian dishes also in an outdoor garden, and hidden off the main road of Corso Umberto. Not only is the ambiance beautiful here, the service and food was some of the best we had in Sicily. The waiter recommended a pasta with almonds, tomatoes, and swordfish, and I've never had anything like it.

Casa Niclodi's traditional Sicilian dish and bolognese, paired with Aperol Spritzes, of course!

  • Gambero Rosso: This spot is tucked off of a side street from Corso Umberto and offers fabulous pesto gnocchi among other antipasto, pastas and pizzas. Perhaps any pesto gnocchi would've hit the spot after we spent the day walking around in the Sicilian sun, but the good review still stands.

  • Morgana: Since we came here during the week, this "club" was quite tame, but still a unique spot to grab cocktails. Morgana has various indoor seating nooks that surround the bar, as well as an outdoor garden, and is decorated extravagantly.

  • Sky Rooftop Bar at the Hotel Continental: We came here for rooftop cocktails before dinner on our first night, and watched the sunset over Mt. Etna. It is beautiful, and a bit more expensive due to the rooftop, but worth it all the same.

  • Al Saraceno: Highly recommend coming to this restaurant, which boasts views of the cliffside, before the sun goes down for the full effect. We called a taxi from the Hotel Continental, since you can make the trek up to Castelmola via a "trail" of steps but it was dark by the time we finished at the rooftop for aperitivo. The road that leads from the restaurant is full of switchbacks up and down the hillside, so hold on tight.

  • Restaurant Il Ciclope: We stumbled upon this spot while getting caught in the rain on Corso Umberto with hungry bellies, and I must recommend the pistachio pasta. Reasonable, quick service, and large portions by Italian standards.

Pistachio pasta (and a classic carbonara) hit the spot at Il Ciclope

Best Things to Do:

  • Sunset Cruise with Aperitvo: This was an Airbnb experience meant for a small group, but since we were later in the season, we ended up having the boat cruise to ourselves! We were picked up literally on the beach north of the town (and by literally, I mean we waded through the ocean to hop onto the boat) and were treated to a tour of the beautiful coastline, explored a few caves, and watched the sunset over Mt. Etna with Prosecco and snacks. This was also the way we saw Isola Bella, a small, iconic island turned nature preserve that is accessible by a thin strip of sand when the tide is low enough. No trip to Taormina is complete without checking Isola Bella off the list.

Views from the sunset cruise of Taormina's coastline

  • Cable Car: Travel to and fro the historic downtown center of Taormina (accessible from Via Pirandello) to the picturesque beachfront area called Mazzarò. This is also an easy way to reach the beach where Isola Bella is located. A one-way ticket is €3.

  • Teatro Antico di Taormina: A visit to the Ancient Greek theater of Taormina was one of my favorite parts of exploring the town, built in the third century BC and boasting one of the most ironic views in all of Sicily. Wear comfortable shoes and be ready to trek up a few flights of ancient stairs to witness the spectacular view of the Taormina hillside, Mt. Etna, and the Ionian Sea below. The theater has been used in modern times since the 1950s, and can hold up to 10,000 spectators.

  • Shop & explore the town: Corso Umberto, Taormina's pedestrian-friendly, vibrant main street is lined with boutiques, markets, restaurants, and more. The town may seem small at first, but there is so much to explore, even off side streets that extend beyond Corso Umberto. Visit San Giuseppe, which gazes out to an open square called Piazza IX Aprile with views of the sea and Mt. Etna, and Piazza del Duomo, featuring the Cathedral of San Nicola.

  • Stroll along Villa Comunale: Escape the crowded main street with a breathtaking stroll down Villa Comunale and among the Public Gardens of Taormina that were commissioned by Englishwoman Lady Florence Trevelyan, who also purchased the sole house situated on Isola Bella. These gardens and pathways can be a great spot for a quieter, takeaway lunch while taking in the views (which truly never get old).

The stone pathway of Villa Comunale; the gardens and view are just as beautiful

  • Wine Tasting: Look no further than Siculishh, a small bistro and wine bar off the beaten path and tucked into a quaint side street, for an informative and enjoyable wine tasting. We learned about native Sicilian wine and were able to customize our preferences on both food and drink.

The following list was highly recommended by previous travelers to Taormina, but unfortunately we did not have time on our trip. Check them out if you're spending more than a few days in Taormina...

  • Winery Tour: We initially jumped to conclusions and assumed that it would be easy to find a ride share or driver to Gambino Winery, about an hour from Taormina, but found out from our Airbnb host that this can become quite expensive (as the driver often waits for the party at the winery due to the hour-long drive). We did not end up going to Gambino due to timing and cost last minute in trip planning, but highly recommend a group tour on Viator or other sites to make the most of this experience.

  • Mt. Etna: As one of the world's most active and monitored volcanoes, a trip to Mt. Etna is quite the adventure. Although we skipped out on tour due to time, groups excursions offer a variety of ways to explore the volcano, with tours including walking/hiking, quads or mountain bikes, or horseback.

  • Alcantara Gorge: This botanical and geological park is about a 30 minute drive from Taormina, but offers travelers hiking, swimming, and climbing options that can be done by themselves or with a guided tour.

Other Tips:

  • Stay: We rented an Airbnb called La Terrazza B&B, which allowed us a private hotel room with our own bathroom and balcony. The host, Loris, was incredibly lovely and gave us many recommendations for the town, as well as provided us with breakfast each morning. I believe there are other rooms, but we were the only guests there at the time, so we had the B&B to ourselves, complete with another balcony that had panoramic views of Taormina and Mt. Etna. It was truly exquisite, and one of the only Airbnbs that I can say I'd return to.

The rooftop balcony at La Terrazza B&B, where we were served breakfast each morning

  • Travel: From Rome, we flew a combination of RyanAir and ITA in and out of Rome's FCO into the Catania airport (CTA). To get to Taormina from Catania, we took a taxi from the airport to the Catania Centrale train station. These can run quite expensive; we were told a flat rate of €50 for a fairly short drive, but the alternative option is the bus for a handful of euros. From Taormina-Giardini station to our Airbnb, the host was kind enough to call us a car on both ends of the trip.

  • Customs: Although you will not have to go through customs for a flight to Sicily if you have already spent time in Rome, I highly recommend the Mobile Passport Control app (CBP MPC) for any international travel. Simply upload your passport information before going through customs when landing in the U.S., and bypass the crowd to save hours of time.

Special thanks to my former supervisor, Lucia, for the wonderful Taormina recommendations after her wedding here in May 2022. We could not have made the most of our few days in Sicily without her help. As always, feel free to reach out with any questions, inquiries into the Airbnb, or further recommendations. Until next time... ciao!

Off Corso Umberto, smaller side streets truly give Taormina its charming, one of a kind character


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