Syracuse, the splendor of Magna Graecia

“The most beautiful of the Greek cities”: with these words, Cicero described Syracuse, an ancient Greek polis and home to the most renowned personalities of the Hellenic world: Aeschylus, Pindar, Xenophon, and Plato.

Syracuse is the capital of the namesake province located in Val di Noto along the southeastern coast of Sicily. Rich in monuments dating back to different historical periods, Syracuse is a land of natural and architectural wonders and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005. Famous throughout the world for its Greek theatre, the rich Archaeological Park, and the picturesque island of Ortygia, this city is undoubtedly one of the most popular tourist destinations in Sicily. The coast, moreover, rich in marine protected areas, cliffs and pristine beaches, is this territory's the other crown jewel, perfect for a cultural and relaxing holiday.




What to see in Syracuse

Syracuse, the cradle of ancient Magna Graecia, is like a treasure chest full of treasures from diverse eras and civilizations, the passing of which you can touch and see with your naked eye, walking through the city's streets. Its layout is very particular: the old town extends entirely on the island of Ortygia, connected by two bridges to the mainland and the rest of the city: Ponte Santa Lucia (St. Lucy’s Bridge) and Ponte Umbertino (the Humbertine Bridge).



Ortygia, a city within a city

Ortigia
Ortigia - Syracuse
Ortygia is the historical heart of Syracuse. The island is a treasure chest of architectural beauty dating back to various historical periods ranging from Greek civilization to eighteenth-century Baroque. The ancient Fonte Aretusa (Fountain of Arethusa), located a few meters from the sea, attracts thousands of tourists for its beauty and peculiarity: in fact, the papyrus plant, very rare in Europe, grows here.
Walking through the island's cheerful streets, we encounter important monuments such as the Tempio di Apollo (Temple of Apollo) and the Castello Maniace (Maniace Castle), an imposing fortress built at the end of Ortygia. However, the charming Piazza Duomo overlooking the cathedral in all its majesty is, without doubt, the old-city’s baroque heart.
Ortygia's alleys are full of delicious fish restaurants and cafés where you can eat fantastic good ice cream or refreshing granita (Italian ice). Among the narrow streets, you encounter local fish markets, where a lively and picturesque atmosphere reigns. For those who want to make a boat trip, there are several agencies throughout the island offering boat trips around Ortygia, even at night.

  Read more about Ortygia



The parco archeologico della Neapolis (Neapolis archaeological park)

Archaeological park of Syracuse
Archaeological Park - Greek theatre - Syracuse
The archaeological park of Syracuse is the cradle of the city's Greek and Roman monuments. The Greek Theatre of Syracuse, attracting thousands of visitors every year and is one of Sicily's most important tourist attractions is the park's most famous monument. Walking along the paths of the archaeological area, covering over than 20 hectares, you encounter temples, latomies, artificial caves, including the famous Orecchio di Dioniso (Ear of Dionysus), a Roman amphitheater, and other ruins of extraordinary historical importance.

Access to the park costs 10 Euro but is free every first Sunday of the month.


  Leggi di più sul parco archeologico





Monuments and churches

Syracuse boasts a rich artistic heritage thanks to the development of Baroque art from starting in the seventeenth century. This style flourished mainly after 1693, the year in which southeastern Sicily was utterly razed to the ground by a violent earthquake which, on the one hand being a catastrophe that destroyed entire cities, on the other favored the reconstruction with a new exuberant, majestic and theatrical visage.
The Cathedral of Syracuse is the symbol of the city's millenary history: with 2400 years of history, this beautiful Baroque-style church encloses the Temple of Athena, a Doric monument dating back to 480 BC. An emblematic symbol of a city that, throughout history, has been the cradle of different cultures and civilizations which molded its visage and culture.
Of the palaces overlooking Piazza Duomo, Palazzo del Vermexio is to be valued: a perfectly geometric building, the premises of Municipal Palace, which preserves the ruins of an Ionic temple in its basement.
Then visit the Chiesa dello Spirito Santo (Church of the Holy Spirit) with its beautiful Baroque facade, the Chiesa di Santa Lucia al Sepolcro (Church of St. Lucy at the Sepulcher), dating back to the twelfth century, and the Santuario della Madonna delle Lacrime (Sanctuary of Our Lady of Tears). This latter monument is quite recent: it was built in 1953 and had a modern structure with a very high conical roof.



Museums

Many of the artifacts from the archaeological sites of the city and former colonies are kept at the Museo Archeologico Regionale Paolo Orsi (Paolo Orsi Regional Archaeological Museum), one of the most important and wealthy in Europe. Inside it is divided into several areas, ranging from prehistoric times to the Christian and Byzantine era. A must-see for history and archeology lovers.
Then comes is the Galleria Regionale di Palazzo Bellomo (Palazzo Bellomo Regional Gallery), an exciting collection of works of art from former churches and convents or acquired via donations, purchases, artifacts, and other pieces, all exhibited in chronological order on two floors.
Finally, Egyptian, Greek, demotic and Coptic papyri on display at the Museo del Papiro (Papyrus Museum) is a final very interesting collection. The museum also displays papyrus objects, utensils, writing materials, and rich documentation concerning the manufacture of papyrus.



What to see in the vicinity

About 7 km from Syracuse the Castello Eurialo (Eurialo Castle), built around 402 BC by the will of tyrant Dionysus I. The fortification is in the ancient district of Epipoli, in a strategic position for defending the city. Today, from the summit, you can take in a beautiful view of Syracuse. Furthermore, just outside the city walls, you can immerse yourself in a secret underground world, a passageway between life and death: the Catacomba di San Giovanni (St. John's Catacomb), a sacred labyrinth formed by tunnels carved into the rock, extending s below the Chiesa di San Giovanni alle Catacombe (the Church of St. John at the Catacombs).
The territory of Syracuse also has natural parks of great beauty and historical and geological interest. This is the case of the Necropoli di Pantalica (Necropolis of Pantalica), added to the UNESCO World Heritage sites in 2005. It is a deep natural quarry in which, over the centuries, man has dug numerous caves used as homes or shelters for defense against enemies.
Then, between Syracuse, Avola, and Noto is the Cavagrande del Cassibile Oriented Nature Reserve in which the Cassibile river winds along its way. Along its course, this river forms small basins called "Laghetti di Avola." You can swim and take refuge from the summer heat in these waters since they are always fresh and crystal clear. The path to the lakes is a bit difficult to travel and quite steep on the way back, but it's a really a one-of-a-kind place to visit.
Another exciting naturalistic itinerary for those who love hiking is the one winding through the Riserva Naturale del Fiume Ciane (the Ciane River Natural Reserve), where you can observe lush papyrus vegetation.



What to see in Syracuse in one day

You have little time to visit Syracuse? No problem. This is a brief but rich itinerary to enjoy the city’s best in one day.
We begin our journey from the island of Ortygia, the beating heart of Syracuse. The historic center is a lively maze of narrow streets and a treasure chest of architectural jewels, churches, and noble palaces. Walking along the promenade, you can enjoy spectacular landscapes and encounter numerous small restaurants where you can stop for lunch. Along your walk, admire the remains of Greek-Roman monuments, such as the Doric Temple of Apollo at Largo XXV Luglio. Pass through Piazza Archimede (Archimede's Square and admire the Diana Fountain (Fountain of Diana), a magnificent monument created by Giulio Moschetti in 1907, before arriving in Piazza Duomo. This spectacular baroque square paved with travertine stone, dominated by the Cathedral of Syracuse, appears as an elegant open-air sitting room. Spend your evening here, to be dazzled by the plaza's atmosphere of times gone bye.
We then come to Fonte Aretusa (the Fountain of Arethusa), a circular spring a stone's throw from the sea, where papyrus plants grow. Today it has become the symbol of the city and the only fountain with papyrus plants in Europe, along with that of Fiumefreddo. The Maniace Castle located at the end of the island is the next stop. This Swabian fortification is the work of Frederick II and is now open for visiting: enjoy the magnificent view of the sea from its walls.
After visiting Ortygia, we move to the city's second most important historical place Neapolis Archaeological Park. A pleasant visit to the site takes about two hours.
If you want to change your tour or if you have time left over, take a boat ride around Ortygia and admire the spectacular play of lights and the wonderful natural scenery full of myths and legends. The Marina is full of companies that offer this service.



What to do in Syracuse

Syracuse is a city of art offering a variety of cultural activities, events, and festivals that will fill your holidays. Here are some of the city's most meaningful events.



Events and shows

Every year, between May and June, the Greek theater hosts the Greek Theater Festival in Syracuse, during which classical representations of the works of the greatest Greek tragedians are staged. Please take advantage of this unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the theater's ancient atmosphere, sit on its thousand-year-old steps and watch the classical performances. You can consult the program and buy tickets on the website of the National.
Syracuse also has a Municipal Theater offering an exciting program for the theater and concert season.



Festivals and concerts

The Feast of Saint Lucy
The feast in honor of the city of Syracuse's patron saint is held every year on 13 December. According to legend, Lucy, born into a noble Syracuse family, renounced marriage after having converted to Christianity. For this reason, she was arrested, tortured and her eyes were torn out. Today she is celebrated as the Saint of Light and protectress of sight. On this occasion, it is traditional to prepare small circular votive loaves, called uccioli, which represent the holy martyr's eyes. Another local dessert associated with the feast of Saint Lucy is the cuccìa, made with boiled wheat and ricotta cheese, garnished with cinnamon, candied pumpkin, and chocolate drops.
On December 13, the simulacrum of the saint and her relics are carried in procession through the streets of the city by 60 "green berets," as are called the bearers who wear this characteristic hat. From the Cathedral, the procession moves along the Aretusa Promenade to Porto Grande, where the sailors "greet" the saint sounding the foghorns the boats in celebration. Finally, the simulacrum and relics are taken to the Basilica di Santa Lucia al Sepolcro (Basilica of St Lucy at the Sepulcher) where they remain for a week, at the end of which a new procession brings them back to the Cathedral.

Ortigia Sound System
In the summer, Ortygia hosts a musical event composed of traditional rhythms mixed with electronic music. Four or five days of DJ sets, live music, screenings, and boat concerts enliven the picturesque old town of Syracuse. Take part in a fun boat party to admire the island’s evocative panorama at sunset and dance on a boat immersed in this fantastic atmosphere.



Markets and festivals

Ortygia market is one of the most famous and characteristic street markets in Sicily. It is held every day, except Sunday, from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm on Via De Benedictis, starting side hosting the Ancient Market building of Syracuse, now home to cultural manifestations and events. In its colorful stalls offer preserves, cheeses, meats, fruits, vegetables, fish, wines, and many other local Sicilian products. Immerse yourself in this colorful world, among the locals and the so-called vanniari, who sell by shouting out the praises of the goods they trade.



What to do in the evening

In Syracuse, the nightlife winds through the streets of Ortygia, full of clubs, pubs, restaurants, and pizzerias. You'll find every kind of venue and a wide choice for all ages. Have an aperitif in Piazza Duomo immersed in its evocative night-time atmosphere or go out to dinner in one of the excellent fish restaurants along Lungomare Alfeo enjoying the relaxing view of the sea. The liveliest streets are the Fonte Aretusa area and the Alfeo promenade with its excellent restaurants, Corso Giacomo Matteotti and the Marina. You'll be surprised by the pullulating life of this small island that represents the beating heart of history, culture, and entertainment of this city in southeastern Sicily.



Where to eat in Syracuse

The sea is an essential element in the history and everyday life of this city, once an important crossroads of the Mediterranean. We see its strong ties with the sea is still today on the table, where flavors and bright colors mingle. You absolutely must try the typical fish soup or a plate of cavatelli with bottarga, preferably in one of the picturesque restaurants of Ortygia facing the blue sea.



Restaurants, inns, and pizzerias

  • Apollonion Osteria da Carlo
  • La Terrazza su Mare
  • Ortigia Fish Bar
  • Kaos Pizza
  • Pizzeria Schiticchio


Ice cream parlors, Pastry shops

  • Voglia Matta
  • Pasticceria Leonardi
  • Brancato



Beaches, lidos, and promenades

San Lorenzo Beach
San Lorenzo Beach - Syracuse

The coast of Syracuse province is one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in Sicily, thanks to its succession of white, pristine beaches, golden bays, headlands, islands, and breathtaking scenery. The presence of protected natural areas has allowed rich marine life and terrestrial biodiversity to develop and, at the same time, the preservation of the archaeological remains of a past linked to the sea, from Greek civilization to the most recent industrial era.

Examples are the Vendicari Nature Reserve and the Plemmirio Marine Protected Area in the Peninsula La Maddalena, two natural oases rich in pristine beaches, cliffs, lush Mediterranean scrub, and crystal-clear water. The Isola delle Correnti, where a small island connected to the beach acts as a watershed between the Mediterranean and the Ionian Seas, is a particularly beautiful beach. On windy days, you can even observe the opposing currents of the two seas: a spectacle not to be missed.

The coast is also rich in beautiful white fine sand and white or light gray beaches where you can spend days of relaxation with services and fit-out beaches. Such is the case of the Fontane Bianche, San Lorenzo and Marzamemi beaches which are some of the most popular seaside resorts in Sicily. Syracuse's beaches are the ideal place for those who wish to rediscover the pleasure of being in touch with nature and immersing themselves in fascinating scenery where the sea, nature, and history intertwine to create a small corner of paradise.



Where is Syracuse and how to get there

Syracuse is located along the southeastern coast of Sicily, about 65 km south of Catania. Here is some useful advice on how to get to the city by various means of transportation.



By car

Getting to Syracuse from Catania by car is very easy: you have to take highway E 45 and get off on the exit for Syracuse South taking the SS 124.

From Noto, proceed along SS 115, SP 35, and SP 19, and then take highway E 45 to exit at Canicattini Bagni. Then continue along SP 14 in the direction of Syracuse.

From Ragusa, proceed towards Modica and Rosolini, and take E 45 (Syracuse-Gela) highway. Proceed to the exit for Canicattini Bagni and then head towards Syracuse along SP 14.

From Palermo, take the E 19 highway and then the A 19 highway in the direction of Catania, from there, proceed as indicated above



Parking

Getting around Syracuse is very easy thanks to the numerous car parks. If you have to go to Ortygia, we suggest you cross Ponte Santa Lucia and park in one of the guarded areas at the north of the island and then continue on foot and enjoy a nice walk through the streets. These are the main ones: the Marina car park on Viale Giuseppe Mazzini, the covered car park Talete on the Lungomare di Levante Elio Vittorini, and the car park on via Riva Sauro.
Then there are two free car parks before crossing the bridges connecting the mainland to Ortygia: the first is near the Ponte Santa, on Riva della Darsena, and the second next to the port behind via Arsenale.



By bus

AST manages the urban line of Syracuse and also serves the areas of Plemmirio, Isola, Arenella, Ognina, and Fontane Bianche. That same company manages the suburban routes connecting Syracuse to Catania, Palazzolo, Noto, Ispica, Pozzallo, Modica, Ragusa, Rosolini, and Avola.
The Bus Terminal is located next to the railway station on Corso Umberto, and from here several private bus lines depart, such as Interbus, Segesta, and Etna Trasporti.



By train

Syracuse station is an important railway hub of southeastern Sicily. Regional trains connect the city with Catania, Taormina, Messina, Ragusa, and Gela, whereas long-distance trains to and from Syracuse reach Reggio Calabria, Naples, Rome, Genoa, and Milan.



Airports

The airport closest to Syracuse is Catania, about 45 km from the city. From here you can get to the city by bus with the Interbus bus line, renting a car, or booking a transfer service.
Comiso airport, the second closest airport to Syracuse, is about 90 km away. The only way to get to Syracuse from Comiso is to rent a car or book a transfer service



The weather today and tomorrow in Syracuse

Syracuse is the perfect destination for your holidays in Sicily because it features a typically Mediterranean climate, with hot summers and mild springs. Summer periods are sometimes characterized by sirocco winds causing temperatures to rise even higher, reaching peaks of 40°C, especially in July and August. Winter, on the other hand, is not unusually cold, in fact, it has relatively mild temperatures, but it is usually rainy.
Consult the weather of Syracuse below to prepare your suitcase better.


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