Taormina has long been one of the most popular holiday spots in Sicily and yet it was never really on my travel radar until I binge-watched a certain TV show last year. (Coughs *ahem* White Lotus.) It’s a fantastic place to holiday though as not only is it so aesthetic, but there are so many varied things to see and do in Taormina too.
What I loved about Taormina is that it offers visitors a little bit of everything – from a chic beach scene, to the history of the Ancient Greek Theatre, and refreshing cups full of granita.
Disclosure: Our trip was self-funded but this post contains some affiliate links, which means I make a small commission at no extra expense to you if you book via my links.
What is Taormina like?
Taormina is an elegant hilltop town overlooking snow-capped Mount Etna and the jewel-like waters of the Ionian Sea. I read it is sometimes dubbed the Amalfi of Sicily, and I can see the correlation both in terms of the landscape and the overall atmosphere.
We ended up spending 4 nights in Taormina as part of a week long trip to Sicily in May 2023. We spent the other 3 nights in Cefalu and felt this struck a good balance between 2 coastal towns with completely different personalities.
Best things to do in Taormina, Sicily
To be perfectly honest, my favourite thing to do in Taormina was to laze on Mazarro Beach by day and enjoy fantastic food with jaw-dropping views of an evening. (More on this later!)
There are a definitely some sights you shouldn’t miss while in this part of Sicily, so here are all the best places to visit in Taormina, along with my favourite things to see, eat and do.
Teatro Antico di Taormina
Possibly the most impressive sight in Taormina is the Ancient Greek Theatre, which dates back to the 3rd Century BC. Perched at the top of the town, the theatre has spectacular views of Mount Etna and the Calabrian Coast. Taking a seat in the stands, where it feels like you can touch the clouds, it’s just incredible to imagine the drama, musical and gladiatorial battles that have been held here over thousands of years.
Personally, I don’t think you don’t need to spend very long here. We snuck in at 18.30 just before they closed at 19.00 and bought tickets on the door. (€10 per person.) If travelling in peak season you can book skip-the-line tickets here.
I’d also recommend checking out the events schedule in case you are lucky enough to be visiting when a concert is being held at the Teatro. There will be a performance of the opera Carmen in September that sounds fantastic.
If you’ve seen White Lotus Season 2 you’ll probably recognise Isola Bella – it played quite a key role in the final episode, didn’t it!
Isola Bella has long been a popular place to visit in Taormina due to it being both a picturesque island (connected to the mainland by a thin strip of sand at low tide) and an ex-private residence turned nature reserve with an interesting history.
Since 2011 Isola Bella has been open to the public for a cost of €4 per person. (Every day except Monday, from 9am until one hour before sunset.) We didn’t end up going inside the Museo as we found it extremely crowded but I think it would be worth arriving at opening time if you’re interested to see the rare tropical plants that the previous owner, Lady Treveylan, planted here in the 1890s.
How to get to Isola Bella
It’s easy to reach Isola Bella from Mazzaro – it is clearly signposted from the Mazzaro cable car station. You will need to take a number of stairs down to the beach but I’m not terribly fit and still found it doable!
You can also take a boat to Isola Bella from Mazzaro Beach – more on that below.
Private boat cruise
Our 4-year-old’s highlight from our time in Taormina was the boat trip we did along the coast, which departed just outside our apartment in Mazzaro.
As it was a little too cold to swim in May we negotiated a private 1-hour Taormina boat cruise along the coast to see emerald green grottos, Isola Bella, Taormina & Mount Etna from the water.
Check out this reel to see some of the highlights.
We paid €40 per adult, our child was free. We were offered the option to share with another couple in order to reduce the price but we decided to cruise privately.
We negotiated a time and fee for our boat trip directly with the tour company who were based on the beach outside our apartment in Mazzaro. (On the far left near Trattoria Il Barcaiolo – a wonderful little restaurant for lunch before/after!)
If travelling in peak season I would recommend booking in advance. The company we used are Boat Excursions Taormina. They offer custom tours include sunset sails and dinner on board and their boats are beautiful and well cared for. They offer a luxury experience that’s perfect for a special occasion.
I also found more affordable Taormina boat tours departing from departing from Giardini Naxos that are available to book online.
Villa Comunale di Taormina
A wonderful place to wander for free while in Taormina town centre is Villa Communale. It’s a historic landscaped garden with amazing views and shaded spots you can sit with a gelato or arancini.
Interestingly, it was originally the garden of the villa of Lady Florence Trevelyan, an English noblewoman who fled to Taormina after a scandalous affair with the future King Edward VII. She ended up marrying Doctor Salvatore Cacciola, who was to become mayor of Taormina, and together they bought a number of properties, including Isola Bella, building the well-known house and exotic gardens I mentioned earlier.
The most famous parts of Villa Comunale of Taormina are the so-called ‘Victorian Follies’, which are whimsical towers or pavilions that were created by Lady Trevelyan as bird watching posts. But there are also interesting statues, cannons and a children’s play area, so it’s a great place for families to visit.
Piazza IX Aprile
The centre of Taormina is a pedestrianised zone encompassed by ancient gates, Porta Messina and Porta Catania. At the heart of Taormina is its main square, Piazza IX Aprile, and you’ll no doubt find yourself here at some point if wandering the main street of the town, Corso Umberto.
The square is a great place to people watch, perhaps with an Aperol Spritz from Café Wunderbar, and soak up the view of Mount Etna in the distance.
It also has a number of notable buildings to check out including the Church of San Giuseppe, a Sicilian Baroque building from the 17th Century, and the distinct clock tower, Torre dell’Orologio, originally built in the 12th century but restored over the years.
Sunbathing on Mazzaro Beach
As I mentioned at the start of this post, my personal favourite thing to do in Taormina is relax on Mazzaro Beach and soak up the scenery. Mazzaro is quite an exclusive bay with a couple of notable 5* hotels occupying prime spots on the beach. If you have the budget to stay at Villa Sant’Andrea or Mazzaro Sea Palace then they have private areas on the beach for guests. There are, however, a couple of lidos you can rent sun loungers from if you’re coming for the day.
We recommend Lido Il Delfino which charges €30 for 2 sunbeds and an umbrella and includes the use of their toilets and showers.* They also have a snack bar and restaurant, which we thought were reasonably priced for the location.
Another option is Lido La Pigna. We didn’t use their sunloungers but we really enjoyed dining on their terrace, tucking into pizzas & sharing a tiramisu in a teacup! (Pictured above.)
There is also a tiny amount of public space to the far left of Mazzaro Beach where you can just lay down a towel.
If you have a car you can drive to Mazzaro and park at the cable car station. The front section is operated by the council and you pay by the metre. But behind that are several sections run by private operators. As we were staying in Mazzaro for 4 days we approached one of these companies and arranged a flat rate of €15 per day (paid in cash) so we could come and go as we pleased.
Speaking of parking…
In Taormina we found the best place to park was Parcheggio Lumbi, a multistorey car park close to the city centre that accepts card payments. We walked into the town centre from here, it was short and not too steep, but Google reviews suggest there is a free shuttle bus if you need it.
*Prices correct as of May 2023
Day trips to Mount Etna
The most popular day trip from Taormina is to Mount Etna. There are a couple of different ways to visit but we opted not to this time as our son thought the idea of visiting an active volcano was scary – which is fair enough! If we had, we would have chosen to drive ourselves and take the cable car so we wouldn’t be tied to a full day trip.
If you want to visit Mount Etna on a self-guided trip you can take the cable car to 2500 metres for a fee of €30 for adults and €23 for kids 5-10 years old. This is the highest you can go without a professional guide.
If you wish to ascend higher to 2900 meters, the ticket price is €68 for adults and €50 for kids aged 5-10 years old; this price includes the cable car, a 4×4 vehicle, and a 60-minute walk led by a guide, which sounds awesome.
If you wish to visit the active craters, which are found at an altitude of 3320 meters, you must buy a guided excursion from a tour operator.
Another option if you don’t have young kids, is this Mount Etna sunset tour with wine tasting, which sounds amazing.
White Lotus Season 2 filming locations in Sicily
Just in case you’re as hooked on the scenery in White Lotus Season 2 as I am, here’s a little info I’ve uncovered about the filming locations.
Firstly, if you want to stay in THE White Lotus Hotel then make a reservation at the (very spendy) Four Seasons San Domenico Palace Taormina. However, the show also used as filming locations the unique rock pool and waterfront restaurant at the much more affordable UNAHOTELS Capotaormina. We cruised past this hotel on our boat trip and it looked incredible.
But if you’re wondering where the sandy beach featured in the show is in Taormina, the truth is it isn’t! According to an interview I read, the beach scenes were shot on the sandy shores of Cefalu, as no one looks sexy tripping on the stones you’ll find at beaches close to Taormina.
Where to eat & drink in Taormina
Granita & brioche at Bam Bar
If there is one local speciality food you must try in Taormina, it’s granita from Bam Bar. Sharp lemon granita served with a warm fluffy brioche is a distinctly Sicilian way to breakfast and Bam Bar is the most famous place to try it in Taormina.
The colourful décor at the café is as mood boosting as the exuberant owner. This place does get busy but it turns over tables quickly, so it’s worth joining the queue and waiting for a sugar-laden refreshment.
Sundowners on the terrace at Grand Hotel Timeo
For a chic aperitivo with one of the best views in Taormina, you must go to Bar Timeo at the Grand Hotel Timeo. Found right next to the Ancient Greek Theatre, this 5* hotel combines incredible views with spectacular service on its ambient terrace.
We didn’t want to ruin the bar’s ambiance by bringing a 4-year-old so booked an evening meal at Ristorante Timeo instead. We were really impressed with the food and service here. I had the pasta alla norma, which is prepared fresh at the table. My husband had the lamb and said it’s the best he’s ever eaten. We were seated inside due to the time of year but the view was still magical and the staff were great with our little one. They have a kid’s menu and activities and it was just wonderful for us to have an elegant evening without feeling out of place as a family.
Cocktails on the steps outside Timoleone Café
A great casual place to have cocktails before dinner is Timoleone Café, just down the road from Grand Hotel Timeo. We sat at one of the tables lining the stairs outside the café and I had, genuinely, one of the best cocktails of my life here. It was called the Sicilian Spritz – please order one and thank me later!
Cannoli at Fanaberia Cafe Gelateria Siciliana
I don’t honestly know if Fanaberia is the best place to try cannoli in Taormina. We just stumbled into their cafe on Corso Umberto due to the giant model of a cannoli on the front of it! I went for the traditional Sicilian style cannolo with ricotta filling and it tasted pretty good to me.
Seafood with a view at Trattoria Il Barcaiolo
Finally, the very definition of hidden gem is tiny Trattoria Il Barcaiolo, which is a family-run Sicilian restaurant tucked away in a corner of Mazzaro beachfront. Their speciality is seafood, which I’m not a huge fan of (I know, such a shame) but a number of people recommended this place to me and judging by the fact there was never an empty table of an evening, I suspect they were onto something.
The restaurant was right next door to our apartment so I can also attest to the view being awesome.
Where to stay in Taormina
My first ever viral reel was a 3 second clip of the view from where we stayed in Taormina. (Perhaps you are reading this post because you saw it?)
About 5 months before our trip to Sicily I stumbled across this apartment on AirBnb and couldn’t believe the price. (Approx £175/night compared to £1000+/night for everywhere else with the same view.) I immediately made a booking and was so relieved to find the view was even better than it looked in pictures.
The apartment itself is super quirky. It has a citrus colour scheme with fruit-filled art, vibrant tiles and bold orange bedspreads. It’s old-fashioned but well cared for – the pictures online don’t do it justice. I thought it was really charming and a great price for the location.
This isn’t a luxury property, but waking up to the sound of the sea, enjoying coffee on the balcony, soaking up the scenery and having all that Mazzaro Beach and Taormina town centre offers within easy reach, was priceless.
I wouldn’t recommend this apartment for people with mobility issues and, if you do book it, try not to pack an extra large suitcase. The closest you can get to the apartment with a car is the top of main steps that lead down to Mazarro Beach, which is fairly far to carry heavy luggage.
Families with babies and toddlers might need to be on high alert here due to there being a large number of breakable décor, including a glass dining table.
But for myself, my husband and our 4-year-old son it was perfect being able to self-cater a few meals, have the beach mere steps away, and enjoy an Aperol on the balcony overlooking the moonlit bay once the little one was in bed at night.
More great places to stay in Taormina that I recommend are:
UNAHOTELS Capotaormina – A clifftop hotel with a unique pool cut out of the rocks that featured in White Lotus.
Paradisea Taormina – 1 bedroom villa with a stunning garden terrace overlooking Isola Bella.
Isola Bella Infinity Suites – Modern apartments with infinity pools & sensational views of Taormina. Perfect for honeymooners but also has family suites.
Villa Belvedere Hotel – Traditional rooms close to Villa Comunale and the centre of town.
I hope that helps you have a wonderful holiday in Taormina, Sicily.
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