Oh, Syracuse and Ortigia – perhaps Sicily’s best package deal that almost no one knows about unless you’ve been there!
You’ll often hear this area referred to only as “Syracuse”, which is a bit misleading. To be honest the real draw – and almost all of the “things to do in Syracuse” – are actually located in Ortigia.
The reason they’re lumped together like this is because Ortigia is the small tip of Syracuse, technically an island – although you can access it seamlessly by car or foot. (It actually doesn’t feel like an island at all, so don’t worry about that aspect.) Ortigia is the old, ancient part of the city, whereas Syracuse is more modern and not a huge draw for tourists.
Syracuse and Ortigia are great options to visit and to stay while you’re in Sicily: they’re lively enough on their own to not get boring, but they’re also well located to give you access to the rest of the southeast of the island.
If you’re still early on in the planning stages of your trip, or if you already know you plan to visit other parts of Sicily, be sure you check out all of my Sicily city guides, hand-picked hotel lists, and more.
But first, get comfortable and start taking notes – all the best things to do in Syracuse are waiting for you!
- Is Syracuse in Sicily worth visiting?
- Which is better Taormina or Siracusa?
- How many days do I need in Syracuse, Italy?
- Does Siracusa have a beach?
- Do you need a car in Syracuse, Italy?
- Complete Syracuse Guide:Where to Stay, What to See & What to Do
- Where to stay in Syracuse & Ortigia
- What to see in Syracuse & Ortigia
- Things to do in Syracuse & Ortigia
- Where to eat in Syracuse & Ortigia
Is Syracuse in Sicily worth visiting?
Short answer: yes, Syracuse in Sicily is most definitely worth visiting. Syracuse and Ortigia offer a great location for exploring the south-east of the island as it’s close to so many of the popular towns in the area, such as Modica, Ragusa and Noto, and only about an hour from Catania, and an hour and a half from Taormina. It’s also nicely located on the coast, so you can take advantage of the beaches in town, or go only a little ways north or south to get to other lovely beaches too!
Not to mention that, because Syracuse is a bit more lively than other smaller towns in the region, you’ll never find yourself short of places to eat, sights to see and things to do in Syracuse.
Syracuse and Ortigia are a bit of a package deal as far as the best places to visit in Sicily. Ortigia is an island just next to the city of Syracuse that has been a thriving trade center since it was established by the Ancient Greeks almost 3000 years ago. The two cities blend together seamlessly and are typically grouped together. I completely fell in love with Syracuse and Ortigia for their charmingly winding streets, beautiful architecture, and stunning views of the sea.
I would say that my one regret of our first trip to Sicily was probably choosing not to stay in Syracuse for a few days and instead just doing a day trip. In fact, we regretted it so much, that on this past trip we took to Sicily in 2023, we opted to stay in Ortigia for a full five days as our base for the East side of the island.
If you do decide to stay in Syracuse, you can read about my favorite hotels and holiday home rentals for any budget at in my guide below:
Which is better Taormina or Siracusa?
Listen, I’m sure there are tons of people who might disagree with me on this, but I’m okay with that. In my experience, Syracuse is a way better stop than Taormina. In fact, Taormina is a bit of a tourist trap. On the other hand, we liked Syracuse so much that we ended up doing a second day trip there on our first visit to Sicily. Then, we stayed there for five nights on our most recent visit!
There are plenty of nice sights and things to eat in Taormina, but none of them felt worth the absolute swarm of people we had to fight through to navigate the town in high season. It did have some amazing views, and there’s an ancient amphitheater which is very cool, but honestly my day in Taormina felt like a chore over the summer. When I returned in late March it was definitely better, but even still it felt impossibly touristic.
I don’t know that there’s much of a possibility of accessing any local or authentic energy in Taormina, whereas in Ortigia, friendly conversation with locals and a slice of daily life are far more readily accessible. That being said, Taormina is on all the lists of the best places to visit in Sicily for a reason – I just couldn’t find that reason!
There aren’t endless “things to do” in Syracuse, but it does have a really fun and exciting vibe that made me want to explore it endlessly. The charming and magical winding streets of Ortigia, the beautiful piazzas and terraces in Syracuse, and the beautiful clear water make for an absolutely idyllic setting. Being there feels like a magical fairytale type of vacation.
I’m sure you can find other blogs telling you something totally counter to this – in fact I know you will, because I read them and nearly listened to them – but I really disagree. Without a doubt I think both are worth visiting, but Syracuse deserves more time for sure. In my opinion, Syracuse (and Ortigia) is one of the very best places to visit in Sicily.
How many days do I need in Syracuse, Italy?
I think having two to three days is ideal for Syracuse as it gives you enough time to take it all in at a leisurely pace, do all the best things to do in Syracuse, check out nearby towns or villages, and go to the beach! Then, I would recommend having a little bit of downtime in the city to spend the day like a local – window shopping, checking out the markets, stopping for espresso and granita whenever you feel like it, etc.
The first time we visited Sicily we went to Syracuse as a day trip—technically two day trips, because we liked it so much the first time! We were staying in Noto, so it was only about a 30 minute drive to get to Syracuse. This worked well for us given that we had really wanted to see a lot of the southeast of the Sicily, but I did find myself a little bummed that we hadn’t opted to stay in Syracuse for at least a night—I really fell in love while we were there!
The second time we visited Sicily we stayed in Ortigia for five days, which gave us more than enough time to explore everything Syracuse and Ortigia had to offer, while not feeling pressed for time when we wanted to visit Catania, Taormina and anywhere else along the coast. I think it’s a pretty ideal base for anyone trying to check out the whole of the east coast during their trip.
If you’re on a tight schedule, then obviously you can make it work and squeeze Syracuse into a day or so, but I think you’ll probably end up wishing you had more time. There are tons of things to do in Syracuse, but mostly it’s just a really pleasant place to be. The vibes are great, there are tons of shops and restaurants, it’s absolutely stunning at every turn, you’re close to the beach and steeped in history—what more could you want?
However, if you do choose to go for a shorter stint, try to incorporate some kind of walking tour or food tour to make sure you can really maximize your time (there are a few great recommendations for these below)!
Does Siracusa have a beach?
Technically yes, Syracuse has a beach and you can swim in Syracuse! Cala Rossa Beach is actually located in Ortigia, the Island that’s connected to Syracuse at the tip. Admittedly, it’s not my top top pick for a beach day, as it’s a rock beach and there isn’t a ton of space to lay out – but it’s always packed, so it clearly does the trick for locals!
Actually, there are several other sunbathing and swimming areas all along the edge of Ortigia. You can also always book a boat trip and enjoy a bit of open water swimming that way!
If you want a proper beach day you may want to travel a bit outside the city. There are a few options nearby, but the best beaches are a bit further out. I recommend checking out my best beaches in eastern Sicily article to plan that aspect of your trip.
Do you need a car in Syracuse, Italy?
No, you definitely don’t need a car in Syracuse, Italy. Ortigia itself is extremely walkable and you can have a great time exploring, swimming, and eating without a car. However, if you plan to go to any smaller towns or villages nearby, or if you’re heading to beaches further out of the city, you may want a car – though you could probably also just hire a taxi!
While there are loads of things to do in Syracuse, they’re mostly concentrated to the city center and the Island of Ortigia. In all honesty when you’re only planning to stick close to the center I think that a car would be more of a hassle than a convenience, given the small windy streets and severe lack of parking.
Now, if you’re planning a trip that involves staying outside of Syracuse, or traveling around a bit, I would definitely recommend a car. When we visited Sicily that’s what we did – booking with Discover Cars (our tried and true!). We had a car both times and just parked it in the large parking lot the sits right outside the dense center of the old town (Parcheggio Talete or Parcheggio Via del Forte Casaova), and we only needed it for days that we were going out of the area.
Complete Syracuse Guide:
Where to Stay, What to See & What to Do
Where to stay in Syracuse & Ortigia
I highly recommend staying in Ortigia itself if you’re looking for the romance of walking right out your front door, sitting down on a sunny terrace, and ordering a cappuccino like a local every morning. It is so walkable that you’ll be able to explore all the best things to do in Syracuse easily without a car.
That said, unfortunately there aren’t very many affordable and beautiful hotels in Ortigia. Space is limited on a tiny island, after all! There are a few great hotels I recommend, but for the most part looking for a great vacation rental property is going to be your best bet if budget is a consideration for you.
Check out all my top picks for Syracuse and Ortigia hotels in my comprehensive guide, but scroll down for a couple of the highlights!
If you’re looking for cozy vibes that mix modern comforts with historical architecture, Ortigia Boutique Palace will be the perfect home base for your stay in Syracuse.
All the rooms here are full apartments, meaning you’ll have the option of making morning coffee for yourself or even cooking a quick lunch if you’re hoping to save money during your travels. Still, this place is affordable and well reviewed – especially when you compare it to many of the other hotel options in town.
I would stay in one of these beautiful apartments in a heartbeat!
If you plan to visit Ortigia with family or friends, then Casa Siciliana alla Giudecca, located right in the city center, is an AMAZING find. We actually stayed in this apartment the last time we stayed in Syracuse and I cannot say enough about the amazing location. It’s right in the center of the old town, on a beautiful windy street and was the perfect base for our trip.
Beautifully decorated and sleeping up to 6 people in three bedrooms, the real highlight of this rental is the private roof terrace. There were two very spacious bathrooms and it definitely felt like we had plenty of space to spread out over the two levels of the apartment! The decor is carefully curated and interesting to look at as well, so if you’re someone who likes to feel inspired by your accommodation then this is definitely the place for you.
What to see in Syracuse & Ortigia
1. Temple of Apollo
The Temple of Apollo is hard to miss, as it’s right near the edge of Ortigia, where it connects to Syracuse. Unfortunately, you cannot enter the temple, but you can read about it on the placards along the perimeter, and admire it on the outside while walking by or even having a drink at one of the cafes across the road.🏛️ Get your walking tour to learn more about the Apollo Temple and other important Ortigia sites
2. Ortigia Market
If you arrive in the morning, I recommend checking out the Ortigia Market. It runs roughly from 7am – 2pm, starting on the streets nearby to the Temple of Apollo. Here you can find artisan goods and the freshest herbs and nuts. Personally I would suggest getting some pistachios and oregano, along with any other of your favorite Italian herbs. A lot of the pottery was also beautiful and we were really bummed that our suitcases were already too full to add a few bowls!👨🏻🌾 Join this Ortigia Market Tour with Cooking Class and Lunch
3. Piazza Duomo
The Piazza Duomo is the main town square in Ortigia. It’s a stunning example of the baroque town’s beautiful architecture that also feels a bit Spanish. It actually is built on top of what was once the ancient acropolis, and in fact, bits of the original building are incorporated into the side of the Duomo, so look closely to see a peek of Greek history.
4. Fontana Aretusa
Fontana Aretusa is a must see for any fans of mythology. The myth goes that Artemis, a goddess, transformed her handmaiden Aretusa into the beautiful spring we now have today in order to protect her from unwanted advances from the river god. This ancient spring still has fresh water bubbling up from it, as it has since ancient times when it served as the main water supply fr the city. You can access it by traveling along the main street down towards the water from the Cathedral.
5. Neapolis Archaeological Park
The Neapolis Archaeological Park in Syracuse is one of the main draws for people to come visit this area. It’s essentially a giant outdoor space that contains a ton of ancient structures and ruins. The three most famous of these are likely the Greek Theatre, Roman Amphitheatre and the Ear of Dionysius. The park is located a bit outside of the center, so I recommend either driving or getting a taxi. Try to allot about an hour to 90 minutes to ensure you have time to see everything you want. You can book ahead online or just buy a ticket when you arrive, which is sometimes easier in my opinion so you can be flexible with your schedule.🏺 Book your tour to Neapolis Archaeological Park
6. Museo Archeologico Paolo Orsi
Somewhat nearby to the Archaeological Park is the Museo Archeologico Paolo Orsi. Here you’ll find one of the biggest collections of antiquities in Sicily. You’ll be able to learn about the area from prehistory, all the way to the late Roman period. When we visited it seemed like a lot of things were blocked off and had no explanations, but it was also late March, so the tourist season hadn’t started yet. Personally I think if you don’t have any other opportunities while in Sicily to see some ruins, then give this a visit, but if you’re going to see ruins in Catania, Taormina or Agrigento, you can skip this if you feel so inclined.
7. Cala Rossa Beach
As discussed above, and more in depth in my best beaches in Sicily post, Syracuse isn’t the spot that I would most highly recommend for the beach, but I do think it’s workable if you want to make it happen. The main beach in town, Cala Rossa Beach, is small and rocky, but is typically quite packed, which seems like a good endorsement to me. In any event, it’s nice to walk along the promenade above the beach and enjoy the beautiful picture it paints.
8. Museo dei Pupi & Teatro dei Pupi
A bit out of left field, but way too eccentric to not mention, the Puppet Theatre and Puppet Museum are a unique and strange (in a good way) activity to fill an afternoon.
The museum has been there since 2006 and is only a few steps from the theater. It showcases one of the many cultural aspects that the island of Ortigia offers, sharing the story of papier-mâché and woodwork of the Vaccaro brothers, famous Syracusan puppeteers. It’s quite small so don’t worry about needing too much time to dedicate to it. The theatre, on the other hand, offers a traditional show of the Sicilian puppets from between the second half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century. An unforgettable and unique cultural experience if you’re looking to do something different!
9. Basilica di San Giovanni (& Catacombs!)
The Basilica & Catacombe di San Giovanni takes us back to a more traditional option for things to do in Syracuse. The most extensive catacombs of the city are underneath The Basilica de San Giovanni. The catacombs are only accessible through guided tours through their ticket office. The tours last about 30 minutes.
10. Simply walk around and get lost!
Last but not least, my favorite option for things to do in Syracuse and Ortigia was to simply wander and get lost! The narrow streets of Ortigia are endlessly beautiful and engaging, with shops and cafes and beautiful views around every corner. The best part is that, since Ortigia is less than 0.2 square miles (or 0.5 square kilometers), it’s almost impossible to get lost—and very possible to see everything! Make sure you leave some time to just see where the road takes you, and soak up the energy that the city has to offer.
Things to do in Syracuse & Ortigia
Syracuse guided walking tour
As with most destinations, my top and first recommendation for things to do in Ortigia is to get yourself oriented with a guided walking tour that will help you understand the city’s significance and a little bit of its history. The same goes for one of Syacuse’s most famous attractions – the Neapolis.
Here are a few of my top picks for Syracuse guided tours:
Syracuse guided food tour
It’s true about all places in Sicily, of course, that the food is excellent. However, one of the top things to do in Syracuse is to sample ALL of the food you can because the city is just teeming with exceptional culinary experiences.
If you’re into cooking yourself, there are a few excellent (and relatively affordable) cooking classes available in Ortigia. If you’d rather just eat… well, the city can accommodate that pretty easily too!
Here are some of the food tours I would look into in Syracuse:
Ortigia sailing tour: My TOP recommendation in Syracuse
This one is a total non-negotiable for me when visiting Ortigia! Boat tours are one of the most popular things to do in Syracuse and it’s no surprise considering how absolutely gorgeous the island of Ortigia is at sunset. The tour that we took was honestly the highlight of our whole summer trip to Sicily.
We were so completely blown away by the experience of having a gorgeous 30-foot sailboat to ourselves for the entire evening. Although the experience was scheduled to be 4 hours, we ended up being with our guide, Salvo, for nearly 6 hours as we chatted the evening away until dark.
He advertised “aperitif” but, in fact, he really fed us an entire meal of local goodies from burrata to salsiccia to caponata to eggplant parmigiana. Not to mention the afternoon delights of sparkling wine, oysters, beers, fruit… you name it, Salvo had it! Not to mention the excitement of sailing and deep sea swimming with the beautiful island of Ortigia in the background with the setting sun behind it.
The amazing thing about this particular tour is the ability to make it a completely private experience. Many Syracuse guided boat tours are more of the party boat vibe, with upwards of 20 passengers on board. This tour, on the other hand, would be perfect for anyone looking for a romantic evening or even a smallish group looking to celebrate an occasion (or just life!) together.
We would do this experience again in a heartbeat and recommend it wholeheartedly – if you’re going to splurge on something in Sicily, make it be this experience!! (You can see about availability for your dates in the widget below).
If you’re feeling sold on a boat tour but aren’t looking for a total splurge, once-in-a-lifetime type of experience, Ortigia has still got you covered with plenty of Syracuse guided boat tour options for every budget. In all likelihood, you’ll still visit the same exact area we did (most boats seem to!).
Where to eat in Syracuse & Ortigia
If you’ve read any of my other Sicily guides you may know by now that “breakfast” in the traditional American or British sense is not really a thing in Sicily, or the rest of Italy, for that matter. Most places you can find a true breakfast like you might be looking for are going to be catering to tourists, so just keep that in mind. If you want a more authentic experience/want to frequent more local and authentic places then your best bet is a pasticceria (pastry shop).
Now in full transparency, despite staying in Ortigia for five full days, we managed to eat at one singular pasticceria the entire time we were there—and not for lack of good options, but rather because it was just too damn good and we couldn’t bare to try anything else. Pasticceria Artale is definitely my absolute top recommendation as far as breakfast options go in Ortigia. There are lots of sweet and savory options that we tried, but the staples of our breakfast diet were the cornetti al pistacchio (croissants filled with pistachio cream), and pistachio granita with panna (cream) and brioche.
It definitely gets busy in the summer months, so be prepared to potentially have to wait for a table or get there early, but I promise you it’s worth it.
Now, if it’s too busy or you just don’t fall quite as in love with Pasticceria Artale as I did, my other best option would be either the spots in Piazza Archimede around the Fontana di Diana, in the Piazza Duomo, or along the Temple of Apollo. None of these places are particularly noteworthy, and I do think that they can lean a bit touristy, but they’re certainly not bad. Depending on where you’re staying they might be convenient, so keep those spots in mind too—but do yourself a favor and make sure to get yourself to Pasticceria Artale at some point!
Retro La Locanda really saved us in a pinch one day when the spot we meant to eat had filled up unexpectedly with a school trip. Located on a quieter street in the center of Ortigia, you can enjoy lunch in their lovely outdoor terrace (or indoors if the weather is unfavorable). The staff here was so lovely, and the seafood dishes especially stood out to me.
Antica Giudecca is the place to go in Ortigia to experience true Sicilian street food, along with some classic dishes. They have a few arancini flavors, as well as loads of pastries (another appropriate breakfast option!), and parmigiana and lasagna. The arancini especially were crazy good, fresh, so cheap and like, almost as big as my head. Like one person could probably feasibly eat one and a half, max. I recommend the ragu, personally.
A Putia is a great bet if you want classic Sicilian dishes, great atmosphere and a central location. They’re very no-fuss, and I mean that as a compliment.
Cod da Saretta, Merluzzo fritto is a super casual spot by the water that specializes mostly in fried seafood options. There are only a few tables, and they definitely focus on quality more than ambiance, but sometimes that’s the best thing a restaurant can do.
Cala Piada specialises in Piada, an Italian sandwich wrap. This is an especially great option for anyone on the go or in a rush. It’s another no-fuss, casual option, but the quality and the lovely staff are more than enough of a draw.
We actually ended up eating at Casa Trimarchi twice during our time in Syracuse. They have a small menu filled with Sicilian classics, and they’re a farm-to-table style restaurant. The staff here was unbelievably nice, and the quality of the food was incredible. The pasta alla norma was probably the best I had on my entire trip. The setting is also lovely, and if you can score an outdoor table in the little alleyway they have set up, you’ll enjoy dinner under their twinkly lights.
In full transparency, we personally only went to MOON for cocktails, but our experience was so good, and we were so intrigued by the menu that I wanted to give it a shout anyway for places to eat in Syracuse. MOON is actually a vegan restaurant, which isn’t typically my first choice when in Italy, but the waiters were so nice, the drinks were so good, and the menu was so interesting that I think I would definitely give it a shot next time.
Cortile Spirito Santo served us one of the fanciest—if not the fanciest—dinner I’ve ever eaten in my life. The staff was so incredibly nice and helpful with the menu, including the sommelier, who helped our group immensely in picking a wine. We ended up doing one of the five tasting menus, which was so shocking and beautiful, not to mention delicious. I left here feeling more full than I did after anywhere else during my entire trip. Fair warning though, it’s definitely the most pricey option on my list.
Davè Sicilian Taste offers elevated plates in a more comfortable and casual, but still super cute and aesthetic, environment. The menu definitely leans more seafood, so keep that in mind, but if you’re into seafood, this is a perfect option. It’s tucked away on a quieter street corner and the food will not disappoint.
Pizzeria Schiticchio is probably the most popular pizza place in Ortigia, and with good reason. We got these pizzas to go because we had to pack that evening, but even with the travel time they were insanely good. The crust is actual perfection and the toppings were so fresh and flavorful. Also the menu was super big and had so many tasty options, it was almost hard to choose!
We didn’t get to eat at Antica Corte dei Bottai, which is one of my main regrets! The reviews are raving, with people saying it was the best meal they’ve ever had. So you can bet that it will be top of my priority list whenever I get to go back, and because of that I wanted to share it here too. Let me know if you give it a go!
For everything else
One of the most popular things to do in Ortigia for locals, it seems, is hang out by the water (facing west, over the bay) at sunset. Sunset and Mikatu are two spots that I highly recommend for an evening aperitivo. Golden hour/sunset drinks real are the perfect way to unwind after a long day exploring all the things to do in Syracuse. They sit right on the water, and because of the angle, you actually get a proper, sun-disappearing-over-the-horizon sunset. The service at Sunset was, frankly, horrible, but the drinks were nice enough and I’m sure the food would be similarly fine. You’re there for the view anyway.
Mikatu was my preference between the two because each drink comes with a plate of bruschetta and other little snacks, Spanish tapas style. The vibes were a bit better here too, and the drinks were better in my opinion. But honestly just pick whichever one has an open table! The rest of the spots along this promenade are a bit touristy, so try to stick to these two.
EVOÈ is an unassuming wine bar in the center of Ortigia that really blew me away. The waiters are super knowledgeable and will help you choose a wine to suit you, and the food is so fresh and delicious. This is a top pick if you’re looking for a lighter dinner option! I especially recommend the burrata focaccia with mortadella and the bruschetta. If you aren’t planning to do a wine tasting of some kind during your trip to Sicily, I think this is the next best bet. They’re also open for lunch, when they serve panini.
Cortile Verga was one of my absolute favorite places we found while we were in Ortigia. It’s tucked away in a courtyard and they have a pretty wide menu of bar foods, snacks, and dessert. You could actually probably make a dinner out of it, but just note that it doesn’t lean very Italian. The vibes here were amazing, the waiters were kind, the drinks were impressive and perfectly made, and the setting was so cute. We came here like, three out of five of our evenings. Just note they’re only open on weekends (Friday-Sunday)!
For gelato, I recommend either Gelateria Gusto, Gelateria Belfiore Gelato & Cioccolato, or Levante Gelato Artigianale. These are the three I’ve tried over the times I’ve been in Ortigia. They were all fantastic and I miss them daily.
Ready to explore the best things to do in Syracuse and Ortigia for yourself?
TOP SYRACUSE & ORTIGIA TRAVEL TIPS
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I hope you’re feeling inspired now by all the best things to do in Syracuse and Ortigia, and maybe you’re even falling in love yourself!
If you’re still early in the planning of your Sicily trip, and not sure where else you want to go, check out my guide to 12 of the Best Places to Visit in Sicily. That guide covers the entire east side of the island, which means all of the destinations are within a stone’s throw of Syracuse and Ortigia. You can also check out the rest of my Sicily content—where I go in depth on other must-see stops around the island.
With so many amazing things to do in Ortigia and Syracuse, I hope you can now see what makes this ancient city such an attraction. And now, with this Syracuse guide in tow, I hope you’ll be able to maximize your time in the city!
Enjoy your trip – and try not to fall too hard for Sicily, ok?