During my recent road trip to Sicily, I had the opportunity to visit one of the most famous cities of Syracuse. A city where we spent a short day, a bit short to visit Syracuse as it should. If you plan to visit Syracuse I suggest you spend a night, it will allow you to spend an evening.
A day spent visiting Syracuse, a day that went by quickly but enough to write you today an article on top things to do in Syracuse .
A maritime city listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Syracuse stretches along the Ionian coast and breathes a poetic atmosphere of the most peaceful. Historic monuments that carry at the time of tyrants, a preserved environment rich of a fauna and flora typical Mediterranean: the rival of Athens and Carthage has innumerable assets that will charm you instantly.
The history of Syracuse
Syracuse is particularly known for its role in antiquity where it was considered one of the most beautiful cities of ancient Greece. It was the Greeks who founded this city in the 8th century BC The history of this city was eventful. Until the 5th century BC Syracuse is one of the most powerful and prosperous cities of all Sicily but also of Greece. Three centuries followed by many wars, including the Punic Wars between the Carthaginians, based in North Africa, the Romans based in the Italian boot. During these wars one of the most famous figures of Syracuse appeared, Archimedes, who played an important role in the Punic wars. Syracuse still has vestiges of its Greek history.
It is in -212 that the Romans seize the city, killing, at the same time, Archimedes. The city remains in the hands of the Romans until the seventh century, then was conquered, in other, by the Muslims and the Normans. In addition to the invasions, the city was also destroyed several times by earthquakes, especially in 1542 and 1693. Let’s go now to visit Syracuse !
Guided tour of Syracuse
Let me tell you about the guided tour of Syracuse. Normally I am not really adept at this kind of visit. However it could be a good choice to visit Syracuse. If you’re just a day on Syracuse and you do not want to miss anything in the city, a 3-hour guided tour might be a good way to learn more about the city and its history. Indeed, in Syracuse, it is especially the history of the city which is fascinating. It would be a shame to visit Syracuse without really being able to understand the importance of the city and its role in history.
These guided tours have the advantage of being also in French. They last three hours and make you discover the essential things to see in Syracuse.
Book a guided tour of Syracuse
Top Things to Do in Syracuse
The city of Syracuse, like many cities, is made up of a historic center and a more modern city. The historic center of Syracuse is based on an island, the island of Ortygia. I advise you to start the visit by this small island. This island is not very big, about 1 km long and 500 meters wide. It is accessible via three bridges. I think that in order to better appreciate this island, its beauty and its architectural richness, all you have to do is walk around it, walk through its alleys, squares, and even if it’s hard to get lost, try it all likewise!
Connected to the rest of the city by the Ponte Nuovo, the island comes alive with colorful boats and shows what the real dolce vita. How not to be pleasantly surprised by the calm that reigns there? Mostly prohibited to vehicles, Ortigia offers the feeling of returning millennia back.
The narrow streets all have traces of ancient civilizations, palaces as well as mythological fountains like that of Aretusa.
The buildings evoking ancient Greece will accompany you until the Renaissance, so many periods that have participated in the splendor of Syracuse.
To discover the city in the Middle Ages, a visit to the castello Maniace is required. This medieval building that juts into the sea was built to face the invasion of the Arabs in 1038.
With a 2 € entrance, the visit will take about an hour, but the castle is especially interesting for its view. There are also some exhibition halls to visit.
The port of Syracuse
Located near the market, the port of Syracuse will allow you to discover some scenes of life, including fishermen and their boats that seem to come out of another time. It is the port that joins the city of Syracuse and the island of Ortygia.
Then stroll through the many narrow and quiet streets. No risk of getting lost, the island of Ortigia is very small and no matter the path taken you will always end up finding the seaside. By the way you can go all around the island and discover the fountain. ‘Aretusa with mythological origins. In the late afternoon it is the perfect place to admire the sunset which is just beautiful.
Piazza del Duomo
The other place of interest not to be missed in Syracuse is the piazza del duomo, the main square of the island. This huge square is surrounded by many white stone buildings that will dazzle you not only because the sun is reflected very strongly but also by their size and excellent state of preservation.
Here you can admire the Cathedral of Syracuse, the Palazzo Beneventano, the Town Hall and Palazzo Arcivescovile and the church “Chiesa di Santa Lucia alla Badia”. This is also the time to enjoy a drink on one of the many restaurant terraces on the piazza or enjoy a homemade ice cream on the steps of the cathedral. In the evening the place is illuminated and it is even more beautiful.
Fontana di Diana
Located on Piazza Archimede, it is a magnificent fountain located right next to Piazza Duomo. It is also called ” Fontana di Artemide ”
Temple of Apollo
Located in Ortigia, the Temple of Apollo is the oldest of Greek civilization. It was founded in the first half of the 6th century and today only ruins remain. There are, however, some sections of wall and tall sandstone columns that go around the building. Unwanted by tourists, it allows to project easily into the past … and to imagine all that these old stones could know, since the Corinthian colonists to the expedition of Sicily mounted by Athens, while passing by the punic wars . The Temple of Apollo is an imperative to see in Syracuse.
Surrounded by baroque white stone palaces, this immense square is one of the most beautiful in Italy for the harmony of its architecture. Here you will be able to admire the Beneventano Palace and its large inner courtyard, the Town Hall, the Arcícovile Palazzo with its high arcades and the Duomo. This ancient temple, erected in honor of Athena in the 5th century BCE, was later transformed into a cathedral to offer a sumptuous blend of styles. The square is one of the most beautiful places in the city, you can not miss it during your visit to Syracuse.
Archaeological Park of Neapolis: The Must See in Syracuse
Let’s go now by the old town of Syracuse, walk a few hundred meters to the northwest, towards the modern to go to an inevitable place to visit Siracusa, its archaeological park. Syracuse has, indeed, many vestiges of the Greek and Roman civilizations. To visit Syracuse is obviously to visit its Greek-Roman archaeological park, one of the treasures of the city.
The price to visit the archaeological park of Neapolis is 8 euros.
The archaeological park is divided into several parts. First in front of this park, on the other side of the road is the archaeological museum of Syracuse. The entrance will cost you 8 euros for the museum alone or 13,50 euros for the museum + the archaeological park.
Once inside you can admire:
- A Roman amphitheater almost totally dug in the rock and hosting fights of big cats and gladiators
- A huge Greek theater that can hold up to 20,000 people
- The altar of Hieron II dedicated to Zeus and used for animal sacrifices
- The ear of Denys, an old quarry of limestone (also called latomies) high of more than 20 meters. This is called because when you look at the entrance you can easily see the shape of an ear. The legend tells that the tyrant Denys was there to listen to the conversations of his prisoners. Inside the echo is impressive.
It is a pleasant place to go that does not present any particular difficulties provided they are equipped with hats and sunscreen because it is really very hot. Allow about 2 hours of visit.
Catacombs of San Giovanni
The ruins of the Basilica San Giovanni Evangelista rise above the crypt of Saint Marcian, one of the first martyrs of Syracuse. All around, Byzantine catacombs were dug into a limestone rock between the 4th and 6th century. These underground excavations are organized in a rectilinear axis, from which large galleries start. The walls are decorated with arcosolium burials, in other words, niches surmounted by a bow, creating an atmosphere that is both mystical and fascinating.
The beaches near Syracuse
For many of you, a circuit in Sicily also rhymes with beach! Here is our small selection of the best beaches around Syracuse:
- Ortigia Beach : It is possible to swim without leaving the city of Syracuse, on the peninsula of Ortigia. In addition to the beach, pontoons are arranged to facilitate access to the sea.
- Vendicari Beach : Located in the nature reserve of the same name, you can, in addition to swimming and sunbathing, observe flamingos.
- Calamosche Beach : The beauty of the places and the crystal clear ones make it one of the most popular beaches around Syracuse!
- Fontane Bianche: Apart from that of Ortigia, it is the largest beach closest to Syracuse.
- The Beaches of Avola : The sandy beaches of Avola, of which Gallina is the most famous , are ideal if you are traveling with children because the water is very shallow for a long distance. Perfect for playing in the water!
- Parco Marino del Plemmirio : My favorite place to finish! Several small beautiful coves very close to Syracuse. Off season, you will be really quiet!
Riserva Naturale Orientata Cavagrande del Cassibile
This is the nature getaway not to be missed near Syracuse! The Orientata Cavagrande del Cassibile nature reserve is about an hour’s drive from the city.
From the car park, allow 30 minutes of descent on foot to reach the gorge. The ascent will be done to her in 45 minutes / 1 hour. The panorama is beautiful, with a beautiful view of the canyon. It is also possible to see Mount Etna in the distance! It is an ideal place to walk, picnic and swim.
Some tips to enjoy your visit :
- Plan to drink and preferably shoes because it’s pretty steep!
- In the summer, go early in the morning to avoid the crowds!
How long do you stay in Syracuse?
It is good to be able to spend at least 2 days in Syracuse. This is the time it will take you to visit the places of interest of the city.
Syracuse is also an excellent starting point for day trips. Here are some of my favorites!
- Visit the baroque cities of Noto, Ragusa and Modica (all 3 are feasible in one day)
- Go to Parco Marino del Plemmirio to enjoy the sea!
- Spend half a day at Orientata Cavagrande del Cassibile
Visit Syracuse in 1 day
In 1 day in Syracuse, the best is to focus on the island of Ortigia, by far the most beautiful area of the city. The visit is entirely on foot.
- Start with the piazza del duomo
- Then go down to the temple of Apollo and the market passing by the Fontana di Diana
- Take a tour of the fishermen’s port
- You will definitely want to go back to the market to eat a piece!
- Then go up the coast to the Castello Maniace and make the visit.
- Stroll through the alleys of Ortigia Island, have a drink on the terrace of a café and enjoy the Italian dolce vita!
- Then go enjoy the sunset on the side of the fountain of Aretusa
- End your day with an ice cream on Piazza del Duomo
Visit Syracuse in 2 days
If you have 2 days in Syracuse, resume the itinerary from the 1st day above and enjoy this second day to visit the greatest attraction of the city, after the island of Ortigia. This day can also be done on foot.
- Start your day with a stroll along the Syracuse Bike Trail, which offers a beautiful view of Ortygia Island, and the sea.
- Lunch break
- Direction then the archaeological park of Néapolis for the first part of the afternoon.
- A short ride through the Catacombs of San Giovanni before descending to your accommodation on the island of Ortigia.
- If you followed our advice and you stay on the island of Ortigia, on your return, you will pass the Santuario Madonna delle Lacrime.
Visit Syracuse in 3 days
In 3 days in Syracuse, you will have time to go on a short break outside the city. You have several options:
- Visit Noto, Ragusa and Modica, 3 beautiful Baroque cities around Syracuse. It’s the cultural option.
- Go to enjoy the beaches near Syracuse, for example at Parco Marino del Plemmirio.
- Why not share the day, and go to the nature reserve Orientata Cavagrande del Cassibile in the morning?
Where to Stay in Syracuse?
With its ancient relics, national parks and friendly atmosphere, Syracuse is sure to have a holiday full of emotions. For these few days to live up to your expectations, it seems essential to take the time to choose your accommodation in Syracuse. Where to sleep in Syracuse is an issue not to be taken lightly.
Sleeping in Ortygia:
Sleeping in Ortygia seems sensible, because not only are the prices not higher than in the rest of the city but in addition, the environment is much more pleasant. It is here that most of the historical monuments are concentrated. Full of charm during the day, the island is more in the evening, when the streets are illuminated and begin to vibrate to the sound of the musicians who animate the terraces of traditional restaurants. Whether you are a party animal or you are looking for peace, you are in the right place, with a significant bonus: to wake up with a sublime view of the sea.
If you are looking for a hotel in Ortygia, here are some recommendations:
- Via della Giudecca : A very well rated hotel full of charm located in the heart of the island of Ortygia. A beautiful roof top will allow you to contemplate the island and enjoy a beautiful view of the sea. The hotel offers very affordable rates with a price for a double room at 70 €.
- Algilà Ortigia Charme Hotel : The Algilà Ortigia hotel is a 4-star hotel ideally located on the island of Ortygia. Located just a few meters from the sea you can enjoy a magnificent terrace or eat with breathtaking sea views. Enjoy the many services and amenities of the hotel such as its spa!
- Antico Hotel Roma 1880 : Located in the heart of the island of Ortygia, this 4-star hotel has a charming charm. It is located on a small place of the most pleasant. The hotel offers rooms for 1 to 4 people.
Sleeping in Neapolis:
Nevertheless, it would be a shame to be limited to Ortigia. Indeed, the district of Neapolis is the place to privilege if you dream of diving literally in the ancient Syracuse. A true oasis in the city, the place is quiet day and night and gives you direct access to all the inevitable remains. Altar of Hieron II, Roman theater and amphitheater, necropolis, stone quarries known as Latomies whose dizzying 23-meter Denys Ear of Denys are so many places that you can reach easily.
See hotels in Syracuse
Sleeping in Tyche, Epipoli or Achradina:
Are you planning to visit Paolo Orsi’s Archeology Museum? Then go for the Tyche district, not far from the archaeological park of Neapolis and picturesque piccolo port that are easily accessible on foot. Epipoli, with its fortified walls, is also an ideal area if you want a complete immersion in the old Syracuse. But to discover the modern face of the city, you can sleep in Achradina. You will enjoy its trendy establishments and can even go shopping.
Where to eat in Syracuse?
- Caseificio Borderi : Located at the end of the market of the island of ortigia. Attend live the preparation of a HUGE sandwich prepared just for you by the chef according to the inspiration of the moment. Each sandwich is unique and their elaboration is a real show. All this for only € 5 for 2 people, the sandwiches are so big that one is enough for 2. Plan to go early because the queue is impressive.
- Sicilia in tavola : Decor and welcoming, this is the perfect trattoria for your meal. Pizzas, homemade pasta, fish, large selection of dishes for a moderate price. Do not miss tiramisu for dessert. Better to book.
How to get to Syracuse?
From Catania Airport :
- By car : 1 hour drive via E45 and SS114
- By bus : A bus every hour from Monday to Saturday and 6 on Sunday; 1h15 drive; € 5.70
- By train : Frequent trains but a little slow; 2h journey; 6 €
I hope I made you want to visit Syracuse! If you have any other suggestions for things to see and do in Syracuse, do not hesitate to let me know in the comments.
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