In 2003 when my school visited Siracusa, it was just a quick pass through the archaeological park on the outskirts of an unremarkable city, then north we went to the glamorous, charming, Pearl of Sicily - Taormina.
Fast forward about 15 years, and I now hold a very unpopular opinion of Taormina (i.e., you can totally skip it - more to come on that later) and dream of buying a vacation home in Siracusa, Ortigia specifically.
What’s taking place in Siracusa’s historical center of Ortigia is the most remarkable thing. While cities and towns throughout Sicily and all of Italy are struggling to maintain a vibrant historical center, Siracusa’s is booming.
Ortigia is a teeny tiny island just off the coast of Siracusa… barely. It’s connected by a few very short bridges, but I think this physical separation has cultivated a quaintness and unique vibe that just isn’t found in Siracusa proper.
Ortigia is chock-full of narrow winding lanes, cascading flowered vines and abundant succulents, one-of-a-kind boutiques, cozy trattorias, and more history than is fair for one place to contain. Its expansive central piazza is a dazzling white miracle, made lovelier only when illuminated during your evening stroll for gelato.
For when you go
Fly into: Catania (CTA)
Catania to Ortigia by car: 50 minutes
Catania to Siracusa by train: approx. 2 hours (there is no train station in Ortigia)
Siracusa train station to Ortigia by foot: approx. 20 minutes
*Most of Ortigia is ZTL - limited traffic. Check with your accommodations for their recommendations on parking. Some accommodations will register your license plate for you as part of your stay. You will not need a vehicle within Ortigia.
Once you’re there:
Grab a table, cappuccino, and some candy at Condorelli in Piazza Duomo, and enjoy the people watching
Visit the morning market, brave the line at Caseificio Borderi, and let the owner make you a custom sandwich creation that will ruin all other sandwiches for you forever
Enjoy a spectacular dinner at Dioniso and meet Barbara the owner who came to Ortigia on vacation from the North and decided to stay
Treat yourself to a giant brioche filled with beautiful gelato from Gelateria Bianca
Let yourself get lost in this spectacularly special place - you won’t be lost for long, it’s a pretty small island
Nearby places worth visiting (times given are for car travel):
Noto: 35 minutes, for the UNESCO World Heritage Baroque cathedral and Caffe’ Sicilia featured on Netflix’s Chef’s Table
Modica: 1 hour, for the best chocolate anywhere
Ragusa: 1 hour 20 minutes, for a hillside Baroque town that’s oozing charm
Punta Secca: 1 hour 30 minutes, for the Inspector Montalbano fans
Etna: approx. 1 hour 30 minutes, for visiting an active volcano. Find an Etna winery to enjoy some red and white wines that are absolutely booming right now!
Catania: 55 minutes, for a big city and famous fish market
Taormina: 1 hour 30 minutes, for a beautiful cliff-hanging town and spectacular Greek theatre (be forewarned, while beautiful, it’s quite touristy)
If you’re a history buff and itching to get to the archaeological park just outside of Siracusa, please know that most who have visited in recent years have left pretty disappointed. Many areas in the park are not open, and are in desperate need of restoration.
On our small group trips:
If it's not clear from what's written above, we LOVE Ortigia. In fact, we love it so much that we've dedicated 3 nights to it at the end of our Signature Sicily itinerary. We want you to have the chance to immerse yourself in Ortigia's charm and fall in love with this special place, just like we have.
If you're ready to visit this gorgeous destination with people who can give you the best insider experience, we'd love for you to join us on one of our upcoming trips.