The 7 must-do things in Syracuse

What to visit in Syracuse The best things to see and do in this small town on Sicily’s east coast

A small town of around 123,000 inhabitants located in southeastern Sicily, 66 kilometers from Catania, Syracuse is an open-air archaeological museum that’s a must-visit on a Sicilian road-trip. Founded by Greek colonists from Corinth in the 8ᵉ century B.C., Syracuse is mainly visited for its historic center, built on a marble-clad islet: the island of OrtygieOrtigia in Italian.

Syracuse, birthplace of the famous scientist Archimedes, was one of the richest cities in western Greece. Before the Roman occupation, Cicero said that Syracuse was the most beautiful of all Greek cities. First Greek, then Roman, it became Byzantine, Muslim, Norman, Aragonese, Baroque and finally Italian.

The center of Syracuse has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005. A major tourist site, it concentrates many things to see and do when visiting Sicily. From historical visits to idyllic bathing spots and scenic discoveries, here’s our modest selection to help you make the most of your stay in the town known in its native tongue as Siracusa!

Visit the island of Ortygia, a journey through Syracuse’s historic center

Ortigia-visiter-sicile

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Stefano_Valeri

Separated from the island of Sicily by the small strait called Darsena, it was here that the Greeks settled in the 8ᵉ century BC, and so it is today the historic heart of the city of Syracuse. Here you’ll find the remains of Apollo’s temple at the entrance to the island, the Aretusa fountain and the Piazza del Duomo, built around a temple. It’s a delight to wander through the maze of alleys in the old town center, where the style of the Spanish period is still very much in evidence. Go there before 9 a.m., before the tourist rush, to discover the city when it’s still peaceful, or follow the guide and book a tour in advance.

And then the little cafés, bars, restaurants, art galleries and souvenir stores open up. If you’re looking for a good place to discover Sicilian cheese and cured meats, Syracuse’s daily market will be the ideal place for you. Finish off with a visit to Castello Maniace (€2), with its beautiful sea views. Allow a good half-day to visit Ortygia.

Explore the catacombs of San Giovanni

Catacombes de San Giovanni, Syracuse

Photo credit: Flickr – sailko

  • 🎫 Information: Syracuse Tourist Office
  • Duration: 2 hours
  • 💙 We like: the freshness of the place and the calm.

Not far from the Paolo Orsi archaeological park is the chiesa di San Giovanni alle Catacombe, the catacombs of San Giovanni. Of Greek origin, these catacombs are a vast underground necropolis. Wander through the long corridors, discovering burials and remains of Christian frescoes. A veritable maze of galleries, this is the largest underground sanctuary in Sicily. This activity is little known to tourists, so it’s less crowded than other popular places to visit in Syracuse.

Dive into the past at Neapolis archaeological park

  • 🎫 B ooking:

  • Duration: 3 hours
  • 💙 We love: the little Roman touch: the portals from which the Romans brought the lions into the arena!

Located to the north of the modern city of Syracuse – viale Paradiso – the Neapolis archaeological park lets you relive Gallo-Roman antiquity as you walk over the Roman amphitheatre – where gladiatorial combats were held – an ancient Greek theater seating 20,000, the altar of Hieron II, a temple dedicated to Zeus, and the Ear of Denys, where the tyrant Denys is said to have listened in on the conversations of his prisoners. More than two centuries of history can be explored on this undeniably impressive site.

It’s best to visit in the morning, especially in summer, when it’s very hot and crowded with tourists.

Visit the Paolo Orsi archaeological museum

Musée archéologique Paolo Orsi, Syracuse

Photo credit: Flickr – orientalizing

  • 🎫 B ooking :
    visit the Paolo Orsi archaeological museum

  • Duration: 2 hours
  • 💙 We love: the variety of finds stored in the museum, giving a good overview of all the ages of Syracuse.

For those who love historical relics of the Roman Empire, this other archaeological park should appeal. Syracuse, thanks to its history marked by Greek and Roman civilizations, has been the subject of numerous archaeological excavations. The museum houses a collection of statues, sculptures and ceramics from Sicilian prehistory to Greek colonization. There are also maps, diagrams and scale models to help you learn more about its development from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age.

The museum is located inside Villa Landolina, just opposite the modern church of Our Lady of Tears, and is one of the largest archaeological museums in Europe!

Enjoy the beaches near Syracuse

Plages d'Ognina, Syracuse

Photo credit: Flickr – James

  • 🎫 B ooking:
    Plan a trip to the beach

  • 📍 Location: south of Syracuse
  • 💙 We love: crystal-clear water and sandy beaches!

How can you spend a few days in Syracuse without visiting its splendid beaches? What can you do in Syracuse when you’ve already explored every corner of the city? Go for a swim, of course! Syracuse has many beaches, but two of them are our favorites. They are located to the south of the city.

Beware, the north is polluted and industrial, especially in Augusta, close to oil refineries where you won’t want to swim. Instead, head south to beautiful Siracusa, to Ognina – small coves, our favorite spot – Fontane Bianche, Avola, Vendicari or Calamosche. Here you can bathe in crystal-clear turquoise waters.

Take a boat trip from the port of Syracuse

Syracuse-bateau

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Robert Mullan

  • 🎫 B ooking:
    discover the Syracuse coast and the Ortygia caves

  • Duration: half a day
  • 💙 We love: the many surprises Syracuse’s coastal landscapes have to offer!

To make the most of the island, its beaches and crystal-clear waters, what could be better than a boat trip? Renting a boat in Syracuse lets you explore the beauty of the coastline. From the port of Syracuse or even from the island of Ortygia, you can set sail on the clear waters surrounding the city and the island of Ortygia, from the island’s caves to the minarets and canals, and enjoy the beautiful views along the way. Our favorite is the Grotte de l’amour, one of the caves surrounding Ortigia, a perfect spot for memorable vacation photos. A great experience to complete your stay in Syracuse!

Discover Riserva Naturale Orientata Cavagrande del Cassibile

Réserve naturelle Orientata Cavagrande del Cassibile, Syracuse

Photo credit: Flickr – Giovy

  • 📍 Location: at the Cassibile river, 1 hour from Syracuse
  • 💙 We like: the typical fauna of the south and the freshness of the water, far from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Just an hour’s drive from Syracuse, you’ll find the Cassibile Gorge, one of Sicily’s natural gems. You’ll need to park at the top of the massif and follow the slope downhill to the natural pools. Rest assured, the route is not complicated! Historically, there was a signposted path into the gorge. However, in 2014, a major fire ravaged the vegetation and the access staircase, as a result of which the hike was closed to the public.

When we visited in summer 2018, you had to climb a railing to start the descent – and wait your turn, as the crowds were huge. A splendid view of the canyon reveals itself, an ideal spot for a picnic in the middle of nature, but one that is very busy. On our visit, the water was really refreshing, which is a nice change from the beaches!

Additional information for a successful stay in Syracuse

How do I get to Syracuse from Catania?

The best way to get to Syracuse is to arrive at Catania airport. If you rent a car, it will take you 1 hour on the E45 and SS114 to reach Syracuse. There’s also a bus from Catania (€5.70 for a one-way ticket), which leaves every hour from Monday to Saturday (only 6 departures on Sundays).

Finally, there’s the train option, which we don’t recommend as it’s very slow (2h journey time vs. 1h15 for the bus, and 6€ for a one-way ticket). To find a cheap flight to Catania, please visit our flight comparator.

Exploring Sicily by car

If you want to visit the whole of Sicily in the same holiday, we recommend you bring your own car or rent one locally. You can compare car rental prices in Sicily directly via our car rental comparison service.

Coming by ferry

You can also reach Palermo or Catania by ferry. It takes around 10 hours from France to get to Sicily by boat, which means you can move around the island freely with your own car. Ferries leave from France and other Italian ports.

To find out more, use our ferry comparator!

Where to stay and park in Syracuse?

As you can see, the old center of Syracuse, on the island of Ortygia, is much more authentic and pleasant to live in than the city of Syracuse itself. Choose accommodation in this area, where prices are no higher than in the rest of the city. If you’re travelling by car, there’s the inexpensive Talete parking lot at the entrance to Ortygie.

And don’t hesitate to indulge yourself by renting a country house in the Syracuse area, as can be found on Airbnb.

More tips for your stay in Syracuse

Map of hotels and accommodation – Sicily