The center of Taormina is incredibly easy to visit, and you can view all the main attractions in under two hours. The Teatro Greco (theater), Via del Teatro Greco (tel. 0942-23220), is Taormina's most visited monument, offering a view of rare beauty of the seacoast and Mount Etna. The ruins lie on the upper reaches of Taormina, near the Grand Hotel Timeo. In the Hellenistic period, the Greeks hewed the theater out of the rocky slope of Mount Tauro; the Romans remodeled and modified it greatly. What remains today dates from the 2nd century A.D. Reserved seating existed even in Greek times; a seat bears the inscribed name of Philistide, wife of Hieron II of Syracuse. The famous view of Mount Etna and the sea beyond the theater is breathtaking. The conquering Arabs, who seemed intent on devastating the town, slashed away at the theater in the 10th century, which is why it's a rather sparse and dusty ruin. On the premises is a display of artifacts from the classical and early Christian periods. Today, this Greek Theater (though some consider it a Greco-Roman theater) is the site of the annual Taormina film festival, and in the summer is the home of a robust entertainment program, attracting artists from around the world, making Taormina their only stop in Italy. The theater is open from April to September, daily from 9am to 7pm; and from October to March, daily from 9am to 4pm. Admission is 8€ for adults, 4€ for those ages 18 to 25, and free for adults 65 and older and children 17 and younger, coming from the EU, Canada, and Australia.
Behind the tourist office, on the other side of Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, is the Roman Odeon, a small theater partly covered by the church of Santa Caterina next door. The Romans constructed this theater around A.D. 21. Much smaller than the Greek theater and with similar architecture, it was discovered in 1892 by a blacksmith digging in the area. A peristyle (colonnade) was also discovered here, perhaps all that was left of a Greek temple dedicated to Aphrodite.
Chiesa Santa Caterina, Piazza Santa Caterina, off Corso Umberto I (tel. 0942-23123), was consecrated to St. Catherine of Alexandria (exact consecration date unknown); it may have been built in the mid-17th century. It sits on a piazza that abuts the highest point of the town's main street, Corso Umberto I. Within its severely dignified exterior are baroque detailing and a trussed wood-beamed ceiling. Chiesa Santa Caterina is the temporary replacement for Taormina's cathedral (which, at the time of writing, is due to open in the spring of 2011). It's open daily 9am to noon and 4 to 7pm.
Farther along the main drag, Corso Umberto I, you'll arrive at Piazza del Duomo and the Duomo, or cathedral, of Taormina. Built around 1400 on the ruins of a church from the Middle Ages, this fortress cathedral has a Latin-cross plan and a trio of aisles. The nave is held up by half a dozen monolithic columns in pink marble; a fish-scale decoration graces their capitals, in honor of the island's maritime tradition. For information, call tel. 0942-23123. The cathedral's role has been temporarily assumed by Chiesa Santa Caterina.
Museo Archeologico di Taormina, in the Palazzo Badia Vecchia, on Via Circonvallazione (tel. 0942-620112), is set on the site of the ancient Roman baths. It is a repository for the hundreds of archaeological remnants discovered during excavations in and around the city. Expect to find pottery shards and lingering artifacts of the ancient Roman world. Admission is free; it's open Tuesday to Sunday 9am to 1pm, also on Tuesday and Thursday 4 to 8pm.
The Palazzo Corvaja, one of the most famous palaces in Taormina, contains the tourist office as well as the Museo Siciliano di Arte e Tradizioni Popolari (Museum of Art and Popular Traditions), Piazza Santa Caterina at Corso Umberto I (tel. 0942-23243). It's filled with 18th-century oil portraits, painted glass and donkey carts, and embroidery. The most charming pieces in the collection are secular portraits of the mid-19th-century Sicilian bourgeoisie. Entrance to the ground floor of the palace (also the town's tourist office) is free. Admission to the museum is 3€. It's open Tuesday to Sunday 9am to 1pm and 4 to 8pm.
A local sightseeing oddity here is Villa Comunale, sometimes called Parco Duca di Cesarò, Via Bagnoli Croce, off Corso Umberto I. It's one of the most beautiful little parks in all of Sicily, with gardens created by Lady Florence Trevelyan in the late 19th century. This Scottish lady was "invited" to leave Britain after a well-publicized romance with the future king, Edward VII, son of Victoria. She built various amusements in the gardens, including a fanciful stone-and-brick pavilion that might have been conceived as a teahouse. The gardens are open daily 8:30am to 7pm (6pm in winter); admission is free.
Another flower-filled garden in Taormina is the Giardino Púbblico (Public Garden), Via Bagnoli Croce. Bequeathed to the city by an English aristocrat who fell in love with Taormina, it overlooks the sea, making it a choice spot for views. You can order drinks at a bar in the park. The garden is open from dawn until dusk.
It's worth a trip to the nearby village of Castelmola, 3km (2 miles) northwest of Taormina. This is one of the most beautiful places in eastern Sicily, with a panoramic view of Mount Etna on clear days. You might also visit the ruined castello (castle) on the summit of Mount Tauro (390m/1,280 ft.), about 3km (2 miles) northwest of Taormina along the Castelmola road. Hikers can follow a footpath here. Ruins of a former acropolis are visible, but most people come simply for the panoramas.
Many visitors to Taormina come for the beach, although the sands aren't exactly at the resort. To reach the best and most popular beach, Lido Mazzarò, you have to go south of town via a cablecar (tel. 0942-23605) that leaves from Via Pirandello every 15 minutes. A one-way ticket costs 2€. This beach is one of the best equipped in Sicily, with bars, restaurants, and hotels. You can rent beach chairs, umbrellas, and water-sports equipment at various kiosks from April to October. To the right of Lido Mazzarò, past the Capo Sant'Andrea headland, is the region's prettiest cove, where twin crescents of beach sweep from a sand spit out to the minuscule Isola Bella islet. You can walk here from the cablecar in a minute, but it's more fun to paddle a boat from Mazzarò around Capo Sant'Andrea, which hides a few grottoes with excellent light effects on the seaward side.
North of Mazzarò are the long, wide beaches of Spisone and Letojanni, more developed but less crowded than Giardini, the large, built-up resort beach south of Isola Bella. A local bus leaves Taormina for Mazzarò, Spisone, and Letojanni, and another heads down the coast to Giardini.
For That Rainy Day -- Taormina has one of the most charming public libraries in Italy, Biblioteca di Comune di Taormina, Piazza XXV Aprile 3 (tel. 0942-610260). It's lacking in its range of books, but the setting is the severely dignified Chiesa di Sant'Agostino, originally built in 1448 and majestically transformed into a library around 1900. It's open Monday to Friday 8:30am to 1:30pm, Tuesday and Thursday 3:30 to 6pm.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.