All you need to know to spend one day in Syracuse Sicily and see all the treasures of this stunning town on the East Coast of Sicily.
Syracuse Sicily or Siracusa, as it is known in Italian, is one of the most beautiful places in Sicily and, dare I say, in the whole of Italy.
A historical town with an important past, Siracusa has a beautiful city center with a breathtaking duomo and an archaeological park with beautiful ruins from Greek and Roman times.
We visited Syracuse as part pf a short trip to eastern Sicily and it was the highlight of our stay.
This is all you need to know to spend one perfect day in Syracuse, Sicily.
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The best things to see in Siracusa in one day
The easiest way to think about Siracusa, from the point of view of the visitors, is to consider the city as divided into two parts.
One part is the historical center, called Ortigia (also spelt Ortygia): here you have Syracuse’ duomo, the famous Aretusa’s Fountain and the Fountain of Diana as well as Siracusa’s underground tunnels
The second part is the Parco Archeologico, the archaeological park.
This is located outside of the center and has stunning Greek and Roman ruins plus the incredible Latomie, the infamous stone quarries that made Syracuse a fearsome rival in ancient times.
It is possible to see both areas in one day and this is the itinerary we recommend.
Best things so to see in one day in Syracuse Sicily: morning
I recommend starting the morning in Ortigia, Siracusa’s old town center.
Ortigia is technically an island and you reach it walking across bridges that connect it to the mainland. It is a short walk from the train station and an easy starting point if you are visiting Siracusa on a day trip from Taormina or Catania.
Ortigia is simply stunning.
This part of town has lovely small streets, with iron balconies and cascading flowers, and some of Syracuse’s most important monuments including the duomo of Siracusa, the ancient Arethusa’s Spring, Siracusa’s beautiful lungomare (promenade) and the ancient Temple of Apollo.
This part of town also has some nice shops and plenty of restaurants, so it is particularly pleasant for a lazy stroll and relaxed sightseeing.
The first Syracuse landmark you will encounter and, in my opinion, the one that alone makes a visit to Syracuse more than worth it, is the duomo.
The duomo of Syracuse is one of the most beautiful churches in Italy and appears in front of you pretty suddenly.
One moment, you are walking along a narrow streets shaded by Syracuse’s ancient houses and the next moment a large piazza open up in front of you, dominated by a cream, huge church stark against the Sicilian blue sky!
The view is out of this world, the piazza being one of the most beautiful squares in Italy, and the surprises do not finish here.
Outside, the duomo is a wonderful example of Sicilian Baroque Architecture: its facade has large columns and the carvings that are so typical of Baroque as it developed on the island, very different from the style you may find, for instance, in Rome.
Inside, the duomo hides and even bigger surprise. On this very same location, in ancient time there used to be a temple to the Goddess Athena and parts of it are still standing, now part of the more recent church! The temple dates back to 480 BC: the use of building a Christian church on top of a pagan temple is not unique to this area, but this is one of the most beautiful and striking examples you can find in Sicily and the whole of Italy.
It is a place of beauty and that will force you take a minute to take it all in: it is just that special.
After the duomo, I recommend you walk down towards the sea, so you can see another important landmark, the famous Arethusa Spring.
The Arethusa Fountain is a fresh water fountain dating back to ancient times and named after Arethusa, a Greek mythology nymph.
Her story says that Alpehus, son of the Ocean, fell in love with Arethusa and insistently pursued her.
Desperate to escape, Arethusa turned to the Goddess Artemis asking for help: her plea was to be able to escape Alpehus and to be as far away as possible from him and therefore Greece.
The Goddess granted her this wish and transformed her into a fountain we can still see today.
The story of Arethusa is one of the many we find in Greek mythology and is remembers by a sculpture just beside the fountain that recalls the chase and transformation
Syracuse is one the sea and once you are at the Arethusa’s fountains, you will see how beautiful the coastline is here!
A nice walk follows the shore and some seats are available to watch life pass by.
The Fountain of Diana
A very different fountain in Syracuse is that of Diana, which you find at the other end of Ortigia.
This fountain was built in 1907 by Giulio Marchetti and also recalls the story of Arethusa.
It decorates a square that takes the name from one of Syracuse’s most famous citizens: mathematician Archimedes (Piazza Archimede)!
The Tempe of Apollo
Ortigia is also home to the ruins of a temple of Apollo dating from the VII century BC. The temple is visible but in large part a ruin however, it is a significant landmark worth seeking out: it is said to the the oldest Doric temple in Sicily!
A walk around Ortigia is likely to leave you hungry but luckily, there are plenty of places here to eat!
You can choose between local restaurants and pizzerie but whatever you go for, I highly recommend you leave some space for dessert.
Specifically, I recommend you go to Bar Marciante near the duomo and taste their almond biscuits. They are delicious and a wonderful snack to have with coffee or for the kids. Almonds are a regional specialty here and they travel well too, so if you are looking for a cool food souvenir from Italy, they are perfect!
One day in Syracuse: afternoon at the Archaeological park
After lunch, I recommend you make your way back out of Ortigia and catch the shuttle to the Archaeological park.
The shuttle stops just outside Ortigia and the way there will allow you to get a first taste of Syracuse’s most ancient monument in the form of the ruins of the temple of Apollo, on the side of the road to the way to the shuttle stop!
The shuttle leads you to the park crossing the city and stops you right at its entrance.
You can get entry ticket to the park itself on arrival and then you can explore in your own time.
Things not to miss here are:
The Greek theater, which is still in use and that is one of the most scenic locations you can imagine for a theatrical representation
The Altar to Hieron II, a colossal altar to Zeus that is said to have been able to accommodate the sacrifices of over 450 oxes at a time!
The incredible ‘Ear of Dionysios’, the entrance to the Latomie. The Latomie are deep quarries that in ancient times were worked by war prisoners captured by powerful Syracuse.
The Latomie were dreaded by everyone in the ancient world as added to the fierce reputation Syracuse had as a dangerous and fearsome power.
Fun fact: the entrance to Latomie is called ‘Ear of Dionysius‘ and takes its name by the peculiar shape of the rock, which indeed resembles that of a ear. The special shape of this case created a resonance that make sound travel very clearly and loudly from its bottom to the outside.It is said that Syracuse’s tyrant Dionysius used it to listen to the cries and moans of its prisoners as they worked in this underground hell!
The Latomie are possibly the most impressive of all sights in the park. You access them following a designated path that goes though luscious vegetation and they are a peculiar place where history and nature mix.
How to get to Syracuse Sicily
Syracuse has a train station that makes for easy connections between Syracuse itself, Taormina, Catania and Messina.
Train tickets can be bough on the day or from the official Italian railway site trenitalia.it
The connection between Ortigia and the Archaeological park is secured by local shuttle, the cost of which is 1 Euro at the time of writing.
If you are visiting Syracuse by car, please be advised that Ortigia is car free so cars need to be pared outside of the historical center. Pay and display signs specify where it is legal to park.
I hope you enjoyed this quick guide to a day in Syracuse Sicily and gave you ideas on what you can see and so here. Safe travel planning