When travelling to the Island of Sicily, most people will first dock at the port of Messina. This city is located on the north eastern side of Sicily and lies in close proximity to the mainland of Italy. As the third largest city in Sicily, Messina has a population on 237,000 and its main sources of economy are cruise tourism, its large shipping ports and agricultural produce.
This part of Sicily has seen forms of human settlement since ancient Greek times and throughout history, it has served as an important port and gateway to the Mediterranean sea and Italy. In 1783, records show that an immense earthquake devastated a large portion of the city and it took an age to rebuild. Today Messina is still a thriving port and hugely important for the economy of Sicily and Italy. Combining a favourable year round climate together with a host of historical buildings, this is a fantastic first place to explore on your Sicilian adventure.
Lets explore the best things to do in Messina:
1. Messina Cathedral
As the main Catholic church in Messina, the Duomo has stood since 1551 and was originally constructed by a renowned architect from Florence who was actually a protégé of Michelangelo.
During WWII, the cathedral was hugely damaged, and the version you see today is a reconstruction that stays true to its original design and materials.
Standing in the centre of the Piazza del Duomo, the cathedral is truly impressive and exhibits a style that was typical of the time period.
Inside, the walls are lined with a series of stone statues depicting various religious figures whilst the main altar has a beautiful piece of artwork depicting Christ.
Even the beams in the ceiling are decorated and contain a series of patterns and coloured tiles.
2. Piazza del Duomo
This beautiful square is undoubtedly one of the main attractions in Messina – located in close proximity to the port and where the cruise ships dock, it is usually one of the first areas tourists head for.
Contained within the square is the Fontana di Orione which is an ornate water fountain with many detailed sculptures.
Furthermore, there is also the Duomo and the imposing Bell Tower – Both of which are fantastic buildings in their own right.
Finally, there is also a selection of shops, restaurants and cafes in close proximity to the square, and also several shaded areas with benches and trees to sit and people watch.
3. Messina Bell Tower
Completing the trio of attractions in this area of Messina, the Bell Tower stands proudly next to the re-mastered Duomo and is just as impressive.
This huge tower has four separate tiers and the top section is a clock tower with a pointed roof.
Whilst the actual structure is amazing to behold, the clock mechanism is truly something else.
This mechanism stands as one of the most important examples of its kind in the world – At noon, you can witness the mechanism in action and see the various golden figures moving.
It is possible to step inside the tower and watch the intricate mechanism in action – It is truly fantastic to see the various weights, gears and counterweights work together to move the objects.
4. Santissima Annunziata dei Catalani
Although this church is only small in size, it is a fine example of Norman architecture, and one of the few remaining buildings from the era that still stands in Messina.
Located to the south east of the Piazza del Duomo, this church is an absolute must see.
The exterior of the church is an amalgamation of various designs and features some fantastic artwork and stone pillars/arches.
It is clear to see the Normal influence through the hexagonal patterns and the shape of the dome.
Inside, the church is refined and simple, featuring a myriad of patterned brickwork and simple decoration.
5. Messina Regional Museum
Located further up from the Piazza del Duomo in the northern part of Messina, the Regional Museum provides a fascinating outlook at the history of the area.
Split into three separate sections, the museum has a archaeological section, a sculpture collection and a painting gallery.
These collections are extensive and contain a host of interesting and significant pieces such as Gagini’s sculpture of St.
Antonius, and The Raising of Lazarus from the dead by the renowned Caravaggio.
If you are interested in Italian and Renaissance art then this museum will provide ample amounts of fun.
Although many people may find this a strange attraction, the Camposanto is a beautiful complex and provides the perfect resting place for the citizens of Messina.
This monumental cemetery features a series of Neoclassical and Art Nouveau structures and sculptures and is more like a public park rather than a graveyard.
A series of flower beds and fountains are found in the central section, whilst a large colonnade sits on top of the main hill.
The Camposanto is considered one of the most beautiful cemeteries in Italy and it is easy to see why.
7. Torre Faro
If you are looking for a trip out whilst based in Messina, Torre Faro is a lovely coastal village situated on the easternmost promontory of land that sticks out towers the Italian mainland.
Approximately 30 minutes by car, Torre Faro is easily accessible and provides a number of attractions and opportunity for relaxation.
A stretch of white sandy beach is perfect for sunbathing, and the streets are lined with charming cafes and souvenir shops.
Furthermore there is a host of water sports and activities and boating to take part in if you are looking for a little adventure.
Finally, a must see is the gigantic metal lighthouse that sits at the edge of the beach – This immense structure is literally impossible to miss and stands at 225m high.
8. Zona Falcata
At the edge of the main port in Messina is the Zona Falcata; this area is a hive of activity and is where most of the commercial shipping trade takes place.
As you walk over the main trading railway and into the industrial zone, you will see the everyday workings of a busy Mediterranean port.
Large cargo ships, tankers and cruise ships are continually entering and leaving the port, and goods are continually being moved from place to place.
If you continue down the Via S Ranieri, you will eventually reach the edge of the port and the ornate lighthouse that stands here.
From this position you are granted with panoramic views of Messina and you will clearly see the Bell tower and the Duomo.
9. Temple Christ the King
If you are looking for panoramic views of Messina, then the Temple Christ the King is the perfect place to visit.
Located high up on the Viale Principe Umberto, this monument offers fantastic views across to the Mediterranean sea and the whole of Messina.
Created in 1937, the actual monument features a beautiful hexagonal design and has a large ornate dome that can be seen for miles.
With an amalgamation of designs, the church features several distinct time periods and combines elements of Corinthian design together with Baroque fixtures.
From the front of the church, you can see across to the port and even to the mainland of Italy on a clear day.
10. Lago di Ganzirri
Located to the west of Torre Faro, the Lake of Ganzirri is a great natural sight and provides a wonderful walking opportunity.
This saltwater lake is actually fed from rainwater, groundwater and several small streams that run into it.
An abundance of fish live in the water and it is a regular sight to see fisherman trawling the lake in their small boats, and even to see fish jumping through the water.
Surrounding the lake is a deluge of cafes and restaurants and local stores where you can grab a bite to eat.
Consider walking to the lake from Torre Faro and enjoying a pleasant stroll around its perimeter.
11. Chiesa del Carmine
As one of the most important churches in Messina, the Chiesa del Carmine is not like any other structure and has a truly unorthodox design.
Originally created in earlier years, the version that stands today actually replaces the original that was majorly destroyed during the devastating earthquake that shook Messina in 1908. The structure that stands today has a Baroque style with a large central basilica and a wonderful light grey/blue colouration.
Inside the church there are several different ornately decorated chapels and the dome features a beautiful coloured fresco.
12. Fontana di Nettuno
It is hard to miss this large ornate fountain as it takes pride of place near the main public boating harbour on the edge of the Via Garibaldi that runs parallel to the sea.
Constructed and designed by Giovanni Montorsoli, the fountain is dedicated to the sea god Neptune and he is depicted in the centre holding his legendary trident.
Surrounding Neptune are several other characters from legend and mythical beasts.
The design is beautiful and the fountain is a true marvel.
13. San Marco d’Alunzio
Nestled away on the top of a hill, the commune of San Marco d’Alunzio is a charming village that has lost none of its charm and character.
From Messina, a fantastic drive along the coast for approximately 1 and a half hours will bring you to the commune.
Climb up the paths to reach the top of the hill and walk through the narrow streets of this wonderful place.
Here you will be rewarded with sublime views of the surrounding countryside together with the beautiful architecture of the commune and the friendly people that live here.
Another fine destination to visit as a day trip from Messina, Milazzo is located to the north west of the city and takes approximately 40 minutes to travel there by car.
This part of Sicily has been occupied since the Neolithic age and the town of Milazo is the third largest in the commune of Messina.
One of the main sights is the wonderful Castle of Milazzo which dates back to the 9th century and sits on the summit of a hill that overlooks the town.
Created during the Normen conquest of Sicily, the castle held an important strategic position and much of its walls, turrets and gateways still remain in great condition.
15. Galleria Vittorio Emanuele III
In a similar style to the famous gallery in Milan, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele III in Messina features a fantastic design and a large central promenade covered with a glass roof.
The exterior of this building features a wonderful front facade with several columns and ornate arches and the name of the gallery is inscribed in bold letters on the top pediment.
Inside, the Neoclassical architecture is still striking and several grand arches frame the entrances, whilst the glass ceiling opens up to the sky.
The only drawback to this gallery is the lack of shops, but it is still a fantastic feat of engineering nonetheless.