Expect to come across ancient palazzi, Baroque churches and incredible historic buildings at every turn in Siracusa (Syracuse) – one of Sicily’s finest towns. The beating heart of this captivating centre is Ortigia island. Accessible by a bridge from the mainland, this buzzing centre is home to colourful markets, countless craft shops and hundreds of cafes and restaurants serving up delicious, Sicilian classics.
Dine like the locals and enjoy leisurely lunches amongst historic monuments, or sip cocktails while watching the sun set over the Ionian sea. Meanwhile, history buffs will be in awe of the sites that make up Siracusa’s archaeological park, such as the enormous Greek Theatre, which is still in use today.
When you tire of the hustle and bustle, retreat to the white sands and clear waters at beaches such as Arenella and Fontane Bianche - reachable in less than a 30 minute drive. Alternatively, take a day trip north to Mount Etna where you can gaze upon the fiery face of this active volcano and enjoy sweeping island views from the top.
Local Markets and Shopping
Ortigia’s weekday market is not to be missed! A treat for all the senses, soak up the atmosphere as friendly vendors offer delicious samples and locals barter for their weekly vegetables. Stretching along Via de Benedictis, you’ll also find clothes and souvenirs. On Sundays, you can pick up even more fresh produce for your Sicily villa holiday at the farmers’ market. Housed in the attractive courtyard of 19th century Antico Mercato, it’s a feast for the eyes.
Shop till you drop for handmade crafts and browse the designer and high street shops of Ortigia’s intricate streets. Of note is Via Cavour, where independent boutiques offer one off designs that'll be the envy of your friends! For daily essentials, you’ll find plenty of mini markets and a few larger supermarkets on Siracusa’s mainland.
Bars and Restaurants
As in all of Sicily, Siracusa has a proud culinary heritage. Some of the region’s best restaurants can be found in Ortigia, where dishes like pasta alla norma, caponata and arancini are popular choices. You can dine out at a reasonable price down picturesque narrow streets, or while taking in views of impressive monuments such as the Duomo. Upmarket options are also available for those looking for something a little special.
You’ll also find many buzzing cocktail bars with extensive menus that stay open late into the night. There are some fantastic spots for people watching and gazing at the sunset, such as the bars and restaurants that line the seafront by Fonte Aretusa.
Locally, it’s possible to take a refreshing dip in the sea, thanks to the wooden swimming platforms off Ortigia’s eastern coast (during summer months only). Outside Siracusa, head to the popular beach resort of Fontane Bianche where the fine white sand slopes into crystal clear waters.
There are a few restaurants that line the shores here, perfect for a cool refreshment. Sunbeds and parasols are available to hire from the lidos, while there are also free sections, plus rocky coves popular with snorkellers.
Closest to Siracusa, Arenella Beach is another good option. Made up of 3 bays, there are rocky and sandy options to choose from – plus a hidden section only accessible by foot.
Sicily is famous for the art of puppetry and, in Siracusa, you’ll find puppet shows to attend. There's also the puppet museum on Via della Giudecca to visit.
Several boat trips depart from Siracusa and it’s possible to join excursions to the nearby sea caves, as well as cruise the coastline’s many beautiful bays and coves.
Just outside Siracusa is Aretusa Park, a fantastic waterpark ideal for children of all ages. With slides, a splash zone for little ones, a lazy river and relaxation area, it’s a great day out for all the family.
Etnaland (open high season only) is an epic theme park come water park that’s approximately one hour away. With roller coasters sure to thrill, rapids, cable cars and even a laser show, it promises a great day out.
Places of Interest
You’ll soon discover that walking through this region of Sicily is like wandering an open air museum. In Ortigia alone you’ll find the impressive Duomo in a grand piazza, the Tempio di Apollo and Fonte Aretusa - a fresh water spring steeped in myths and legends.
There are many more sites to be seen, not least at the archaeological park in Siracusa. The star of the show is the Teatro Greco (Greek Theatre), a triumphant auditorium dating back to at least the fifth century BC. Other attractions in the park include the large cave known as Orrechio di Dionisio (The Ear of Dionysius) with its fantastic acoustics.
From Siracusa, you can travel to Mount Etna’s south base station in approximately 90 minutes. Here you can take the cable car up to 8,200 feet! There is also the option to go up to the summit by 4x4 and then take an optional trek if you’re still feeling energetic. If you’re up to the challenge, you can even hike from the base station.
You may like to visit the beautiful Baroque town of Noto, which was rebuilt following the 1693 earthquake. Wander along the main street, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, and see the magnificent Duomo and honey-coloured buildings that make up this attractive town. Climb up the bell tower of Chiesa di San Carlo Borromeo for unparalleled views over the rooftops and reward yourself with a much needed granita when you return.
There are many more places of interest – such as the hilltop town of Modica, which is famed for its long tradition of chocolate making, or the charming maze like streets of Ragusa Ibla.