The main thoroughfare, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, cuts through a trio of squares, each with its own church. The main axis begins at Porta Reale, a giant gateway to Noto patterned on a Roman-style triumphal arch, except this one dates from the 19th century rather than ancient times. The three squares are Piazza Immacolata, Piazza Municipio, and Piazza XVI Maggio.
If it's a hot day, you can rest in the Giardini Pubblici, immediately to the right of Porta Reale opening onto Viale Marconi. These public gardens are filled with palm trees and flowering bougainvillea. Don't bother trying to figure out all those local figures honored by marble busts. Even most of the people of Noto today have forgotten these men of dubious achievement.
Heading west on Corso Vittorio Emanuele, you'll first approach Piazza Immacolata. The square is dominated by the handsome facade of Chiesa di San Francesco all'Immacolata (tel. 0931-573192), which contains notable artworks rescued from a Franciscan church in the old town. The major work of art here is a painted wooden Madonna and Child from 1564, believed to be the work of Antonio Monachello. The most impressive aspect of this church is its grandiose flight of steps. Open daily from 8:30am to noon and 4 to 7:30pm.
Immediately to the right of the church as you face it is the Monastereo del Santissimo Salvatore, which can be admired from the outside. The building is characterized by windows adorned with "potbellied" wrought-iron balconies. The elegant tower is the hallmark of the fine 18th-century facade.
The next square is Piazza Municipio, the most majestic of the trio. It's dominated by the Palazzo Ducezio, a graceful town hall with curvilinear elements enclosed by a classical portico. The upper section of this palace was added as late as the 1950s. Its most beautiful room is the Louis XI-style Salone di Rappresentanza (Hall of Representation), decorated with gold and stucco. On the vault is a Mazza fresco representing the mythological figure of Ducezio founding Neas (the ancient name of Noto). The custodian will usually allow you a look around on the ground level during regular business hours; admission is free.
On one side of the square, a broad flight of steps leads to the Duomo, flanked by two lovely horseshoe-shaped hedges. The cathedral was inspired by models of Borromini's churches in Rome and was completed in 1776. In 1996, the dome collapsed, destroying a large section of the nave, and it's still under repair.
On the far side of the cathedral is the Palazzo Villadorata, graced with a classic facade. Its six extravagant balconies are supported by sculpted buttresses of galloping horses, griffins, and grotesque bald and bearded figures with chubby-cheeked cherubs at their bellies. The palazzo is divided into 90 rooms, the most beautiful being the Salone Giallo (Yellow Hall), the Salone Verde (Green Hall), and the Salone Rosso (Red Hall), with their precious frescoed domes from the 18th century. The charming Salone delle Feste (Feasts Hall) is dominated by a fresco representing mythological scenes. In one of its aisles, the palazzo contains a pinacoteca (picture gallery) with antique manuscripts, rare books, and portraits of noble families. The building is under renovation and its status can change suddenly; check with the visitor center before heading here, or call tel. 0931-573779 for up-to-date information.
The final main square is Piazza XVI Maggio, dominated by the convex facade of Chiesa di San Domenico, with two tiers of columns separated by a high cornice. The interior is filled with polychrome marble altars, but the church appears to have been shut indefinitely as it's in really bad shape. At least you can admire its facade. Directly in front of the church is a public garden, the Villetta d'Ercole, named for its 18th-century fountain honoring Hercules.
Right off Corso Vittorio Emanuele is one of Noto's most fascinating streets, Via Nicolaci, lined with magnificent baroque buildings.
In summer, Noto is also known for some fine beaches nearby; the best are 6km (3 3/4 miles) away at Noto Marina. You can catch a bus at the Giardini Pubblici in Noto; the one-way fare is 3€. Call tel. 0931-836123 for schedules.
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.