You’re going for the stunning beaches, fantastic wineries and exploring an island that feels unlike the rest of the Italy (in a good way).
Airports Palermo is the larger option on the eastern side of the island (close to Cefulu) and Catania on the western side (close to Taormina, Mt. Etna and Syracuse). It’s about a three-hour drive east to west if you take the direct highway route instead of the prettier coastal route. (More on staying in Palermo below.)
Driving Renting a car and driving across the island is a brilliant idea. You can visit the interior of Sicily and many of the wineries, plus enjoy the scenery.
good to know
The Food There are some good meals to be had, but that’s not the main draw — the beach is. (The food in Sicily in general is fantastic, just not in this beach town.)
Granita A mix of ice, sugar, lemon and fruit, this is one of the specialties of the area and very refreshing on a hot day. Gelato is always a good choice.
Best time to visit May, June and September are ideal with July and August being the hottest and most tourist packed.
eats & drinks
L’Arco dei Cappuccini Intimate and small, this restaurant serves delicious pastas such as the bottarga and alla Norma. With indoor and patio dining available, it’s located on the top of the hill and takes reservations — make sure to make one during busy season. Probably the best restaurant experience in Taormina.
Nero D’Avola With a focus on local ingredients and flavors, the restaurant does an excellent job of welcoming you to Sicily and exposing you to the local feel. It’s probably the second best experience in Taormina.
Al Duomo Solid Italian food with good pastas and local flavors like Sicilian orange, but not quite as good as the two above.
Ashbee Hotel for drinks This luxe hotel has a patio bar that’s a nice escape from the hectic scene of the corso. The view of the ocean is the main draw as is the relaxing setting.
Al Saraceno The pizza is good but not wow-ing. What is going to wow you is the view. There are two ways to get to this pizza place that’s above the main town of Taormina. You can take steps up, which will feel like a workout, but you get to enjoy amazing views of the third century BCE Greek theatre and views of the water. Think of it as a way to build up an appetite for the meal ahead. Alternatively, you can take a taxi or car up the winding hills.
To take the steps, follow the main road past the corso/center of town and up the hill for about five minutes. Then, near the gas station on the right-hand side, you’ll see the entrance for the steps. There’s a small sign but it’s honestly not that large or helpful.
Taormina Hotel Villa Ducale Before dinner at Al Saraceno, head to this hotel for pre-dinner cocktails on the patio with beautiful sunset views. There’s also an aperitivo hour where little snacks pop up like mozzarella and tomato, marinated olives and other delicious bites to tide you over.
Bam Bar In Taormina, this is one of the more popular places for granita.
Gelatomania Sicilian gelato is revered for good reason: It’s creamy, delicious and perfect for hot summer days. This shop is located on the main corso, near the entrance and usually has a line out the door. Pistachio, hazelnut and strawberry were highlights.
see & do
Isola Bella This stunning island is a great place to spend the day, whether you opt to lay on the beach like locals or rent one of the day beds. The little house at the tip that juts out has a quirky story. The owner apparently lost all his money and had to sell this dream house to the country, so you can now actually pay to go inside or just swim around it.
Visit wineries Planeta With several locations across Sicily, they are a wonderful place to visit as they offer tours plus lunches (incredible). We visited the one at the base of Mount Etna where Dario sat with us and offered insight into the winemaking process and Sicilian eating styles. Planeta also makes incredible olive oil that I’d highly recommend purchasing. The airport will actually sell small bottles of it, but it’s already marked up even more than it is at Eataly in NYC.
East Coast of Sicily If you’re on the east coast and visiting Noto, Ragusa or Syracuse, then these are ones to visit. They are also all within driving distance of Taormina. Booking a lunch and tasting is the best way to enjoy it.
Planeta Buonivini If Nero d’Avolo is your thing, then this is the winery for you to visit, especially if you are traveling south.
Valle Dell’acate A winery within a drive from Taormina.
Tasca d’Almerita Also within a drive from Taormina.
Tasca d’Almerita’s Regeleali If you’re driving from Palermo to Taormina, this estate is truly stunning and not completely out of the way.
Chances are, if you’re traveling to Taormina, then you’re most likely on a honeymoon or some type of special occasion. Well, at least we hope that’s the case as most of the hotels cater toward that clientele with romantic, luxury hotels at the forefront. There are some cute AirBnb’s that you can rent that are affordable and a good alternative if you’re on a budget.
Hotel Ashbee Located at the top of the hill, a close walk to the center of town but away from the crazy, it is a luxury hotel with an intimate experience.
Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea This super-luxury hotel has immaculate grounds, beautiful landscaping and is right on the beach next to Isola Bella. This is a plus because it’s a little less crowded. The water is not quite as calm but you can still arrange water sports like stand-up paddleboarding/kayaing, etc., through the hotel. The bar is located on the patio and serves lunch for a very Italian/Mediterranean experience. Think long tables in the shade full of bowls of large, juicy olives and flowing glasses of wine.
Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo Up the hill, near the Greek amphitheater is this luxury hotel with unparalleled views. You’ll get the same quality service and attention to detail that you find at all Belmond hotels, plus easy access to more of the town’s historical sites and restaurants.
Taormina Hotel Villa Ducale Probably an ideal honeymoon location, this boutique hotel is romantic, personal and isolated — this might be its downfall. It is near Al Saraceno — making it a great place to stop for a drink and views — but it’s not very accessible to the rest of the town. Driving around Taormina is not an enjoyable experience as it’s hilly and windy, so this might be a good option for a night or two, then head closer to the water and town for the rest of the trip.
La Plage A picturesque boutique hotel located directly on Isola Bella, it provides the ultimate immersive experience as this stunning view is steps from your room. The hotel balances privacy with accessibility surprisingly well considering it’s in such a busy locale. You can also rent days beds here as well.
Staying in Taormina You have the option of staying by the beach or up on the hill (where most of the restaurants and main town are located).
The tram It takes you down to the beach and runs constantly (about 10 Euro roundtrip), so it’s easy to get between the two, plus there are pretty views on the way down and up. Even with a car, most people park up at the top in a massive parking lot and take the tram down to avoid the near-to-impossible task of finding a spot down by the beach.
The beach Whether you rent an AirBnB or stay at the luxury hotels, you’ll want to spend time at the beach. You can rent daybeds for a fee of 30 to 50 Euro at a luxury hotel or beach clubs or go rogue with a towel — just make sure to bring a hat or some type of sun protection as that Sicilian sun is no joke.
Visiting Palermo Palermo is cute and by the water, but you don’t need more than a night or two there as a buffer for the rest of the trip (a few restaurant recs below). Cefulu is gorgeous seaside town about 30 minutes outside of Palermo that’s very touristy and popular, and you will understand why once you see the photos.
Palermo restaurants as recommended by Dario from Planeta. We did not get a chance to dine at them, but I trust his food knowledge. They range from a more casual enoteca to an experience-focused meal. Enjoy!