Siracusa: Sicily’s Ancient City of Power and Grandeur

Two days in Siracusa and Ortigia Island — Best things to do

Following our two days in Ragusa, we ended the driving portion of our 11-day Sicily itinerary in Siracusa. A car is definitely not needed when visiting Siracusa unless you plan day trips. Even then, guided tours or travel by train or bus might be the best way to get around.

Siracusa waterfront at dusk - Sicily, Italy

Siracusa waterfront at dusk

Siracusa features some of the top reasons visitors love to visit Sicily. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, founded by the Greeks who came here in 733 BC. The city grew quickly to become one of the largest cities of Greek and Roman ancient world, rivaling and even overshadowing Athens as a center of power. It’s full of character with its Baroque art and architecture, interesting culture, and delicious cuisine. And the old city center with a beautiful seaside setting is completely alluring.

Highlights of Siracusa

Ortigia Island

Ortigia, the historical center of Siracusa, is a small island where we would recommend staying when visiting Siracusa. The beautiful old city, easily explored on foot, is filled with historic landmarks and intriguing character.

Ortigia Island of Siracusa, Sicily, Italy

Ortigia on the Ionian Sea

Take a walking tour of the historic sights of Ortigia or just explore on your own as we did.

Piazza del Duomo, Siracusa, Sicily, Italy

Piazza del Duomo

Piazza Duomo

Piazza Duomo in Siracusa, Sicily, Italy at night

Piazza del Duomo at night

Piazza Duomo is Syracuse’s main piazza in Ortigia’s center and its highest point. The Duomo is a prominent landmark (see below), but the piazza also has  numerous other beautiful Baroque structures, such as the Archbishop’s Palace. The piazza is bustling day and night due to its sights and central location.

Duomo di Siracusa

We appreciated the striking beauty of the Duomo di Siracusa, formally known as the Cattedrale Metropolitana della Natività di Maria Santissima, every time we passed through the piazza during the days and evenings. It’s notable that Doric columns of the original Greek temple (which was built on the same site in the 5th century) are incorporated in the Duomo’s walls. From its architecture to numerous works of art, it is definitely worth a visit inside, too.

Duomo di Siracusa at night - Sicily, Italy

Duomo di Siracusa at night

Chiesa di Santa Lucia alla Badia

Santa Lucia alla Badia is located near the Duomo, a combination of Spanish and Baroque styles of architecture and design. Named for Santa Lucia, the patron saint of Siracusa, the church is also known for the 1608 Caravaggio painting of “The Burial of Santa Lucia”.

Interior of Santa Lucia alla Badia, Siracusa, Sicily, Italy

Santa Lucia alla Badia

Castello Maniace

Explore Castello Maniace, the 13th-century castle and museum at the southern end of the island.

Castello Maniace on the sea in Siracusa, Sicily, Italy

Castello Maniace

Boat ride around Ortigia

Departing from the harbor, we sailed on the clear blue waters of the Ionian Sea to explore the sea caves of Ortigia on a power boating excursion around the island. We had a private one-hour tour, but small group tours are also available. Our guide expertly navigated the caverns and offered personal and cultural commentary with historical information about sites around the island as we passed.

Boat ride around Ortigia Island and sea caves of Siracusa, Sicily, Italy

Boat ride around Ortigia Island and sea caves

Mercato di Ortigia

Between Via Trento and Via Trieste is the Mercato di Orgtigia, the old market of Siracusa, where you’ll find many stalls with souvenirs, pottery, crafts, and clothing. But nearby along Via Emmanuele de Benedictis is the more interesting food market where you can relish the aromas and tastes of fresh seafood, local fruits, vegetables, nuts, cheeses, and grains. Have lunch at one of the restaurants in the neighborhood or sample foods from the market stalls.

Fresh produce at the food market of Ortigia, Siracusa, Sicily, Italy

Fresh produce at the food market in Ortigia

Food markets tip: I didn’t think the market was as impressive as the markets we visited on our visit to Palmero, but it’s very enjoyable to spend some time here.

Fountains of Ortigia

Fontana di Diana in Siracusa, Sicily, Italy

Fontana di Diana

Don’t miss Ortigia’s famous fountains of Siracusa as you explore the old city. The ornate Baroque-style Fountain of Diana and its sea nymphs (above) is located on Piazza Archimede, a beautiful piazza surrounded by palazzos and other characteristic buildings. The Fountain of Aretusa (below) on the seaside is a natural spring with European papyrus named for the nymph Aretusa.

Fonte Aretusa in Siracusa, Sicily, Italy

Fonte Aretusa

Siracusa mainland

Two bridges connect Ortigia to mainland Siracusa. The archeological park was the only site we visited on the mainland, but it was interesting to get a look at this more modern, lively part of Siracusa as we rode and walked along the city streets.

Parco Archeologico della Neapolils

There is no shortage of amazing Greek and Roman ruins in Sicily and Siracusa has an expansive collection at Parco Archeologico della Neapolils. Wander around the vast grounds to see the Greek Theater, Ear of Dionysius, Ara (Altar) of Ierone II, Roman Amphitheater and other areas of ancient ruins. There were a few ruins that were closed when we were there and it still took us quite a while to get around, so plan minimally three hours if you want to see them all and to explore the park.

Parco Archeologico della Neapolis, Siracusa, Sicily, Italy

Parco Archeologico della Neapolis

We took a tuk-tuk from Ortigia (there are many in the area), but you can also arrange a guided tour. We opted to walk back to our hotel — about a 45 minute easy walk.

Parco Archeologico della Neapolis, Siracusa, Sicily, Italy

Parco Archeologico della Neapolis

Also look for other notable sights as you walk or ride in your tuk-tuk around Siracusa, such as the Sanctuario Madonna delle Lacrime. The church’s prominent spire is shown below and can also be seen from points on Ortigia Island.

Sanctuary of the Madonna delle Lacrime, Siracusa, Sicily, Italy

Prominent spire of the Sanctuary of the Madonna delle Lacrime

Where we stayed

Ortea Palace Hotel (Marriott Autograph Colletcion) on the harbor in Siracusa, Sicily, Italy

Ortea Palace Hotel

We stayed at Ortea Palace Hotel (Marriott Autograph Collection) on Via Riva Nazario Sauro. This recently renovated luxury hotel on Ortigia Island was formerly the regional post office. We particularly liked the character throughout the hotel. Our room was a 2-story deluxe duplex with a great view of the harbor. An extensive breakfast including made-to-order hot items and plentiful cold items, fruit, and pastries are available in a bright and open setting. The location was perfect for exploring the island and convenient to mainland Siracusa.

Where we ate

  • Kaleido Terrace, Via Pompeo Picherali, 10 — a new restaurant only open for 11 days at the time we dined there. However, the exemplary experience made it seem to us that they’d been in business for quite a bit longer. The dishes were gourmet takes on traditional Mediterranean dishes. Each course was a delight and the service and views couldn’t be beat.
Catherine Sweeney at Kaleido Terrace restaurant with a view on Ortigia Island in Siracusa, Sicily, Italy

Restaurant with a view — Kaleido Terrace

  • Osteria Sveva, Piazza Federico di Sveva, 1 — a bustling, casual restaurant with a locals vibe very convenient to the old city center and attractions of Ortigia.
Mr. Traveling with Sweeny at Osteria Sveva on Ortigia Island in Siracusa, Sicily, Italy

Mr. TWS at Osteria Sveva at lunch: Pasta alla Norma and seafood platter

  • Fratelli Burgio, Piazza Cesare Battisti — very popular and busy casual salumeria with outdoor seating in the Ortigia market area. Salads and sandwiches were perfect for lunch on the beautiful afternoon we arrived in Siracusa.
Lunch outside at Fratelli Burgio near the markets on the island of Ortigia in Siracusa, Sicily, Italy

Lunch outside at Fratelli Burgio near the markets

Fine dining tip: We also wanted to dine at Ristorante Don Camillo, a highly recommended restaurant on Ortigia Island, but we did not try to make a reservation soon enough. Book early during busy times!

Stroll around Ortigia at night tip:

A quiet street on Ortigia Island in Siracusa, Sicily, Italy

A quiet street on Ortigia Island at night

Off of the main piazzas and streets, you’ll find some quiet and charming alleyways and lanes to capture your attention.

Typical buldings of Siracusa, Sicily, Italy

Typical buildings of Siracusa

Saying goodbye to Siracusa, we took a train to Taormina — our final stop on this trip to Sicily. Stay tuned.
Siracusa, Siclly, Italy at dusk

Siracusa at dusk

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