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Birthplace of Archimedes

Visiting the east coast of Sicily could not be completed without a trip to Syracuse, one of the most historic places on the island. The most important ancient city of Magna Graecia rivalling no other than Athens, and described by Cicero as the most beautiful of them all. And although there’s no much left from its glorious past likewise other places such as Agrigento with the impressive valley of the Temples, there’s a large archaeological site northwest from the old town Ortygia Island. As for the quality of the remains, it will be totally down to you should you wish to enter the archaeological park. I would only recommend it if you have enough time in your stay as otherwise the city itself is definitely much more worth it. For amphitheatres, temples, buildings and monuments you have better preserved elsewhere in Sicily. Nevertheless, there are several unique sites such as the tomb of one of the most celebrated mathematician and natural philosopher from antiquity, Archimedes.

We came to Syracuse from Catania, our base city for these three days trip to the east coast of Sicily. It’s merely 45 minutes to the south either by railway, bus or car. Smaller than Catania, it is perfect to spend the day without any rush, without the need to start the day too early nor finishing too late; still, with that many places and smaller villages nearby so truly worth sightseeing, it can be challenging to properly plan the most optimal route unless of course, coming for longer holidays. In the other hand, what relates to walking through every corner of the historic city and various farther sights, a day is good enough considering the short distances needing to be walked.

Through its rich history, you can admire sights from all eras since its foundation back in 734 BC by Greeks settlers from Corinth, its Classical and Hellenistic periods, Roman, Byzantine, Norman, Medieval, Baroque and modern days. No wonder the UNESCO has listed the entire city and its Necropolis of Pantalica a World Heritage Site. Pretty much the same legacy as anywhere else in Sicily yet in a smaller scale. Syracuse is the 4th largest city on the island behind Palermo, Catania and Messina.

A few notes about food, that’s pretty much the same as for any other guide created about Sicily. Plenty of meats, fish dishes, pasta, pizza and of course the arch known arancini found everywhere. These are deep-fried rice balls filled with cheese, ham, spinach, mince beef or basically nowadays, anything. Highly recommending A Putia restaurant, just by Archimedes Square right by the starting point of Via Roma. Here you will find proper traditional Sicilian dishes at a great value for money.

Lastly, what’s Sicily and Italy itself without pastries, ice cream, cakes and sweats. With patisseries around every corner, it is guaranteed to keep you well supplied through the day. One highly recommended is Cannolli del Re just along the south side of Cathedral Square, next to the Church of Santa Lucia Alla Badia. Famous for their delicius cannolli pastries.

For more information about Syracuse, visit Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Italy’s currency is the Euro (€, EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.

What to see and do in Syracuse

  • Neapolis Archaeological Park Home to what was back in ancient times, the most beautiful and important city of Magna Graecia. Nowadays little of this grandeur is left.

-Ear of Dionysus Although a natural structure, not man made, this cave in the Temenite Hill right behind the Greek Theatre is granted to have sone of the best acoustics in the world.

-Greek Theatre Built on the slopes of the Temenite Hill in the 5 century BC, it had one of the largest cave ever done by the Greeks.

-Roman Amphitheatre Still easy to admire the size and grandeur, yet do not expect to see the likes of Rome, Pompeii or Verona in Italy, Pula in Croatia, Arles or Nimes in France or Merida in Spain to list a few.

-Archimedes Tomb Located at the northeast limit of the archaeological park. Caved from the rock with two Dorci columns.

  • Catacombs of San Giovanni Located near the northeast edge of the archaeological park but outside of its limits. Only rivalling Rome in size and importance, quite a unique sight.
  • Our Lady of Tears Sanctuary Immediately south of the Catacombs. Although of newer construction (1994), it is still a nice architecture for its cupola and large diameter of 72 metres.
  • Corso Gelone The main avenue connecting the archaeological park and the railway station by the Mafalda of Savoy Gardens.
  • Princess Mafalda of Savoy Gardens Once the Roman Forum and heart of the ancient city politics.
  • Corso Umberto I The main street heading towards the old town island, Ortygia. Right by the bridge you will find the statue of Archimedes.
  • Ortygia The historic old town, located on an island. A very short bridge links it to the mainland, for which it’s easy to forget you are actually on an island.

-Temple of Apollo Dating back to the 6th century, making it one of the oldest Doric temples in Sicily. Transformed into a Byzantine church, thereafter a mosque during the Emirate of Sicily and back into a church with the Normans; lastly incorporated into the 16th century Spanish barracks. With that many changes through history, there’s no much left than a wall and some columns.

-Porta Urbica Southwest from the Temple of Apollo, in Via XX Settembre. Just few foundation stones left.

-Corso Giacomo Matteotti One of the nicest main street in the old town connecting the Temple of Apollo with the Archimedes Square, the second largest square after the Cathedral.

-Archimedes Square Surrounded by very beautiful architecture and the famous Fountain of Diana in its centre, dating from 1906 depicting the legend of Arethusa.

-Via Roma Continuing south after Archimedes Square, this street leads towards the sea with the Beach of Cala Rossa, and in between the Minerva Square where you will find the Cathedral and the Teatro Massimo Comunale.

-Cathedral Built in the 7th century AD over the remains of 5th century BC Temple of Athena of which you can still see some of its Doric columns incorporated into the facade. Transformed and partly reconstructed over the centuries, its current look is Sicilian Baroque.

-Government Palace Located along the north side of Minerva Square just opposite the Cathedral.

-Archaeological Museum Along the west side of Cathedral Square and overlooking its main entrance.

-Church of Santa Lucia Alla Badia Along the south side of Cathedral Square. Another of the many Baroque churches scattered all over the city.

-Fountain of Arethusa Known since ancient times for its fresh water. Based on Greek mythology, the patron figure of ancient Syracuse, nymph Arethusa, this is the place where she returned to earth’s surface after escaping from her undersea home in Arcadia. You will find it along the western coast of the island, few meters south from the Cathedral.

-Castello Maniace At the southernmost tip of the island. Built between 1232 and 1240 by the back then German Emperor Frederick II. I was the royal residence of several queens of Sicily spanning from 1305 to 1536.


The nearest international airport is Catania Fontanarossa, 61 kilometres north of Syracuse. Frequent buses do connect both cities via the airport taking approximately little over an hour. Palermo airport on the other hand is on the opposite coast of Sicily meaning a lengthy journey only doable if your plan is staying several days on the island and travelling to such cities, otherwise not recommended.

If coming from mainland Italy, it is possible from Naples and cities way farther such as Rome or Milan. The ferry crossing is between San Giovanni in Calabria and Messina in Sicily, where buses get on-board ferries, or trains in full get inside special boats and continue the journey from Messina towards Catania, Syracuse and the south of Sicily, or Palermo along the north coast of the island.

Once in Syracuse, aside from the trains which run along the east and south coast of the island interconnecting every city and sight (Messina, Taormina, Catania, Augusta, Syracuse, Modica, Ragusa to name a few), there is no need for taking any public transportation as distances are too short in between sights. Local public buses link every district, with one route being quite handy if you want to speed up things, passing through the Archaeological Park, heading towards the railway station and continuing into the historic old town core, the Island of Ortygia.


While not as important as nowadays Catania and because Syracuse is generally a stop-over along a wider tour for most tourists, the selection of hotels is still in the other hand quite large with options for every pocket, from the top luxurious properties to lower categories and everything in between. Finding a good deal tends to be easy and straightforward, bearing the peak summer months for obvious reasons, however when booking well in advanced, that won’t be a problem. As usual, a good point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engines such as,, Expedia,, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers, or an airb&b apartment. From experience, we cannot recommend a property in the city since our base was Catania, but we can suggest two areas with great options and good value for money. One being between the railway station and the bridge connecting to the old town island, and the area north of the marina. As opposed, anything within the old town island (Ortygia) generally is more expensive and not necessarily any good value or quality.

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