It was love at first sight. Narrow, winding streets lined with sand-coloured walls, thin balconies with rickety railings, the turquoise Ionian sea sparkling in the sunlight and a charming harbour filled with sailing boats (some more than a little rusty!). Siracusa – the first time I laid eyes on you, I could tell you were something special.
The 2,700-year-old city of Siracusa is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and its warmth and charm have lasted for almost three millennia. Not only did I like it the most out of the three Sicilian cities we visited, it is one of my favourite places that I have ever visited! I particularly loved Ortigia, which is a quaint island connected to Siracusa (also known as Syracuse). Both the island and mainland are well worth a visit. In this post I will share some suggestions for where to eat, stay and sightsee during your time there.
After two days in the tourist hot-spot Taormina, the laid-back vibe of Siracusa was refreshing. However, it is not just a sleepy seaside town. There are a good number of things to do and see to fill two or three days.
Not many town centres boast an ancient Greek temple, dating back to 6th century BC. The Temple of Apollo is a few metres from the two bridges that connected Ortigia island to the mainland (Ponte Umbertino and Ponte Santa Lucia). It has an interesting history, it was used as a church in Byzantine times and as a mosque while Siracusa was under Arab rule.
The Cathedral of Santa Maria delle Colonne (Duomo di Syracuse) – The cathedral was built in the 7th century and its intricate detail is incredible; lifelike figurines and characters carved in marble and erected onto towers metres above the ground. We didn’t venture inside but apparently there are beautiful paintings, stained glass windows and a large alter inside. The cathedral is in Piazza del Duomo, a large pedestrianized area surrounded by majestic buildings. There are lots of cafes and restaurants to relax and people-watch in.
Fontana di Diana – This gorgeous fountain is the focal point of Piazza di Archimede. Built between 1906-1907, it depicts Diana (the goddess of hunting), along with charging horses, the nymph Artemis and the river god Alpheus. Accordingly to Greek mythology, Artemis was so frustrated by Alpheus’ relentless pursuit that she asked Diana to help her, and the goddess transformed her into a fountain. That’s one way to deal with annoying admirers!
The Archaeological Park: The park is Siracusa’s main tourist attraction; inside there’s a large Greek amphitheatre which dates back to 470 BC, along with many well-preserved ruins. The Greek theatre has 67 rows, divided into nine sections with eight aisles. Unfortunately when we visited, it was mostly covered in wooden blocks (to protect the stone). Luckily the other ruins weren’t obstructed.
The park is home to a smaller Roman amphitheatre, constructed in the 3rd century. There are also some large quarries, the most famous of which is the Latomia del Paradiso (also known as the Ear of Dionysius). According to the legend, if you stand at one end of the cave and say something, the sound travels all the way to the other end. Be careful not to gossip while you’re in there!
If you have more time there, you might want to visit the Crypt and Catacombs of San Giovanni, the Necropolis of Pantalica, Latomia dei Cappuccini or the Archaeological museum. We saw the Castle of Maniace from the outside, but you can also walk around the grounds and explore the battlements.
Where to eat
I know you’re dying to hear about the food and…. Siracusa did not disappoint! Across the city, pastry shops displayed their goods invitingly while gelaterias offered relief from the warm weather. We especially enjoyed Voglia Matta, which serves refreshing, fruity granita and a wide range of gelato flavours.
We enjoyed eating freshly caught fish with almost all of our meals (apart from breakfast of course!). Ortigia Fish Bar provided our first lunch; lightly fried squid, prawns and octopus, which we got as a take-away to eat on a bench overlooking the sea. Archè Restaurant served up rustic food, friendly service and very reasonable prices. Seafood dominates the menu here; there are many fish/seafood pasta dishes such as tuna with pistachio sauce, spaghetti with clams, fish soup, fresh mussels and grilled seafood platters. However, you can also find some meat and vegetarian dishes.
The old market of Ortigia is a loud, bustling place where locals fill their wheeled suitcases with fresh produce for the week ahead and tourists gaze at the tantalizing food on display. Nearby restaurants showcase the market’s delicious ingredients. We wanted to eat at Caseificio Borderi because of its rave reviews, but the queue was out the door and our stomachs were growling. We found Carnezzeria, which seemed popular with locals and tourists alike. The food was very tasty – we ordered deep-fried prawns, squid and octopus, with an octopus and potato salad, drizzled in lemon juice and olive oil.
Our favourite meal was at Locanda Del Collegio, a hidden gem down a side street. We shared spaghetti with fresh sardines, raisins, saffron and pine nuts. It sounds like a potentially strange combination but it was extremely well-balanced; salty, sweet and earthy. We both had swordfish fillets for our main courses; my boyfriend’s was grilled and mine had a nutty pistachio and herb crust. We had to get a side of caponata after enjoying it so much in Taormina.
If you need to cool off, you can either pay for a sun lounger at one of the private beaches, or go to the free beach. We did the latter
because we’re cheap. It felt safe to leave our bags and valuables on our towels while we went swimming. We kept an eye on them but there were lots of groups and families sitting by the water or also leaving their bags unattended. The beaches are pebbled, rather than sandy, so I recommend getting some water shoes (I use these ones!).
If you’d prefer a sandy beach, you can take public transport or drive to Fontane Bianche, which is south of Siracusa. There is a direct train which only takes 13 minutes from Siracusa station to Fontane Bianche station. The drive would take less than half an hour.
Other things you should know
Although English is fairly well-spoken – especially in hotels, restaurants and at the train station – we appreciated having the opportunity to use our Italian. In Taormina, everyone spoke English to us whereas Siracusa felt more authentic as most conversations we had and heard were in Italian.
Drinking the tap water is not recommended. It won’t make you ill but it has a salty, metallic taste and an oddly slimy feel to it. We learned this the hard way! The locals drink bottled water at home and in restaurants, so we followed suit, bought bottles from the supermarket and recycled them afterwards.
On our last day, we checked out of our apartment and stored our bags at the train station, as our train to Catania wasn’t until the evening. We paid €5 per person to leave our bags at the café next to the train station, which has a secure luggage room (€5 is the fixed daily rate).
After two full days in Siracusa, soaking up as much of the ambiance as possible, it was time to move onto our final destination: Catania! Have you been to Siracusa before? What did you think of it?
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Ciao for now!