With Greek influences and gorgeous seaside views, Ortigia & Siracusa are some of my favorite parts of Sicily! Here’s what you need to know to plan your stay.
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Historically, Siracusa was a Greek stronghold. During the Greek era, it was comparable to Athens in terms of cultural and economic importance. It’s also the hometown of Archimedes, the famous mathematician, and scientist from 200 BCE.
Ortigia is the island sitting just off mainland Siracusa. Technically, everything on the island still has the city address as Siracusa, so don’t let that throw you. Ortigia is the historic part of Siracusa, so best to stay on the island if you’re coming!
In general, Ortigia is a great small historic city to wander. Grab an apertivo at sunset on the Lungomare Alfeo or meander the tiny residential streets that make up most of the island. Watch the waves from the viewing platform on via Nizza.
Because we wanted to stay on the island itself, we opted for a cute studio apartment in the northern part of the neighborhood, around the corner from the Temple of Apollo ruins. The neighborhoods over there are a quick walk to the rest of the island, but near enough to the bridge to Siracusa that it’s easily accessible by car or on foot. Want a recommendation? Reach out!
Sailing the Ionian Sea
If you do one thing in Ortigia, take a sailing trip with Classic Boats Ortigia! Salvo, the captain, is a longtime local and offers private sailing trips for the cheapest price I’ve seen anywhere in Europe. And we like boat things, so I’ve looked at a lot of them.
Salvo teaches you how to sai and still somehow manages to effortlessly take care of everything. He provides snacks, drinks, and one of the best lunches we ate in Sicily. He also offers a sunset sailing trip, but we opted for the day trip to maximize time to swim and sail!
This was my favorite part of Ortigia. I’d advise contacting him and set this up first, then plan the rest of your time around his availability. Because he’s a one-man operation and all tours are private, it’s pretty much first-come, first-serve.
Like any small historic city, there’s a lot to see just by wandering. You can spend an hour or two walking the city unrushed and see all the highlights. The quick hits are the Temple of Apollo ruins, the Fountain of Diana, and the Arethusa Spring.
There are two churches in the main piazza, the Duomo di Siracusa and Chiesa de Santa Lucia alla Badia. Both are ornately beautiful on the outside but a little simpler inside. Santa Lucia famously used to house a Caravaggio painting, but as of summer 2021 it was moved to another church further inland.
Castle Maniace is the fortress sitting on the corner of the island protecting the bay. Built by the Greeks and updated by the Sicilian kings, it’s been a residence, prison, and fort over the centuries. We paid the entry fee, but honestly, I wouldn’t recommend it- there’s not much to see unless you’re super into old fortress walls. There was a cool art installation, but it was largely empty inside the walls.
Another unique part of Sicilian history found on Ortigia is puppet theater. The classic puppet shows from the 19th century originated in Sicily! There is a museum to visit, a workshop that sells them, and a theater if you want to watch a performance.
Also in the Jewish district of the island is the bagno ebraico, or Jewish bath. These are the oldest Jewish ritual baths still open to the public, and you can do a quick tour of the underground springs through the hotel immediately above them, Residenza Alla Giudecca.
While I’m not a big shopper when I travel – I’d rather spend the money on a longer trip than things – I do have a shop to recommend. Ceramiche Artigiani Dolù is a small ceramics workshop not far from the baths. Everything is hand-painted in a traditional Sicilian style. You can watch the artists work for a bit while you decide what to bring home!
Neapolis Parco Archaeologico
Sitting in mainland Siracusa is an archaeological park that dates back to the Greek heyday. It features a Greek arena built over a mine, meaning its shape is partially natural and partially manmade. It also has almost a tropic element when exploring the lower levels, with massive trees I associate more with Australia or Hawaii than Sicily!
I’m torn about recommending the Neapolis Parco Archaeologico. It’s historic and has some cool parts, including one of the biggest arenas from the ancient world. But the lack of sign explanation of what you’re seeing makes it a bit “meh” unless you’re on a guided tour.
My advice is if you love archaeology or ancient Greek history, it’s worth it. But better to book a guided tour – it’s only 11€ more per person (meaning, not a ton) and you’ll get way more out of it. But book in advance because they don’t really have tour operators standing by at the moment of ticket purchase.
The perfect place to start your day! It’s packed with locals, so you know the food will be good. Pasticceria Artale is a good spot for a local pastry or granita! When in doubt about pastries, ask for something with ricotta or pistachio for the most traditional options.
If you eat at one place in Ortigia, eat at Caseficio Borderi. It’s a no-frills sandwich shop. Essentially you get in line, say how many sandwiches you want, and watch the show as the owner makes elaborate sandwiches, chatting and tossing bites of cheese or salami to you while you wait. It’s the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten. Go here.
La Tavernetta da Piero
La Tavernetta da Piero is a great spot for that clear family-run homestyle feel. The food is excellent – make sure to check their specials, because our favorite thing that night was a pesto and shrimp ravioli dish that was incredible!
Gran Caffe da Duomo
If you want a great meal with that classic right-on-the-piazza feel, go to Gran Caffe da Duomo. Some places in high-tourist areas make subpar food when they can overcharge for the prime location, but not here. I had a great spaghetti alla Tarantina, a Sicilian classic with mussels and tomatoes, and the pizza was really good too.