Syracuse is a city on the south eastern coast of the Italian island of Sicily. This city is the capital of the province of Syracuse and has a population of 122,000. As one of the oldest cities in the Mediterranean, Syracuse has a wonderful collection of historical sites from both the ancient Greek and Roman time periods. Furthermore, this city was considered one of the main powers in the Mediterranean sea during these ancient times and allied with both the Spartans and Corinthians.
In ancient times, the rulers of Syracuse were embroiled in various battles with enemies such as Carthage and the Romans. Today the city has a budding economy, mainly driven by tourism, shipping and agriculture.
As Syracuse has been inhabited for thousands of years, it has a myriad of ancient attractions including the Greek Theatre, the Temple of Apollo, and the Castello Maniace. Furthermore, due to its coastal location, the city lies in close proximity to several world class beaches where tourists can enjoy the fine Sicilian weather. As a tourist destination, this city has something for everyone, and is one of the prime historical locations on the island.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Syracuse:
1. The Greek Theatre
The Archaeological Park in the western part of Syracuse is undoubtedly one of the main attractions of the region.
Within this fantastic area is a series of ancient ruins and the most renowned is the Greek Theatre.
Created in 470 BC, this ancient amphitheatre played host to some legendary play writes such as Aischylos and Sophocles, and has a diameter of 138 metres.
Today, much of the originally semi-circular seating survives in fantastic condition, although it is sometimes covered with wood to preserve its quality.
Furthermore, you can still see sections of the stage and scenery buildings.
This is one of the best preserved theatres in Sicily and is a must see attraction when visiting Syracuse.
2. The Roman Amphitheatre
Another true gem within the Archaeological Park in the western part of Syracuse is the impressive Roman Amphitheatre.
Just like its Greek neighbour, this structure remains in a remarkable condition despite its old age.
Constructed in the 3rd century, this Amphitheatre was partially made from the actual rock with a large arched entrance at either end.
You can still see much of the seating on both sides, and you can also see the remains of the underground passages and rooms that would have been used by the gladiators who fought here.
Although some of the structure is now overgrown, it still looks absolutely fantastic and the moss and greenery give it character.
3. Latomia del Paradiso
Syracuse has several different Latomia (quarries) which have been worked since the 6th century and mined for stone.
This stone has been used extensively in the construction of many of the cities landmarks and homes.
Best known of these quarries is the Latomia del Paradiso.
Within this quarry is an impressive 60m long and 11m high gallery – this cave is truly beautiful and quiet surreal.
Surrounded by gorgeous woodland, the quarry is quite hidden and without looking, you would not know its there.
This Latomia is also known as the Ear of Dionysius – legend has it, that if you stand at one end of the cave, you can here whispered conversations right at the other end!
4. Cathedral of Santa Maria delle Colonne
Simply known as the Duomo di Syracuse, this monumental cathedral is a truly beautiful structure and dates back to the 7th century.
The front facade of this cathedral is quite stunning – it features a series of columns, and an array of stone statues depicting legendary religious figures.
With an architectural style that is considered Sicilian Baroque, the cathedral has elements of Roman design, mixed with 17th century features.
The interior of the cathedral is just as impressive with high arched walls and a detailed altar complete with a variety of religious paintings.
Furthermore, the church features an amazing stained glass window that depicts the last supper.
5. Crypt and Catacombs of San Giovanni
The church of San Giovanni is an interesting structure in its own right and was created in the 6th century.
Although it has been restored at various stages, it now lies in ruin due to the devastating earthquake of 1693. If you walk down the flight of steps at the back of the church, you can access the catacombs – these catacombs are extensive and are even larger than the examples remaining in Rome.
Within the catacombs you can see various crypts and some of the immense columns still stand in near perfect condition.
Furthermore, the whole structure features a myriad of designs and symbolism, and miles of underground passages.
6. Syracuse Museo Archeologico
Any city that has such a rich ancient history is bound to feature an extensive Archaeological museum and Syracuse is no exception.
The Museo Archeologico is located on the Via Teocrito and has a huge collection of relics and artefacts collected from the surrounding region.
This is Sicily’s most important historical museum and has finds dating as far back as the prehistoric period.
Exhibits follow a chronological order and here you can find 6th century pottery, bronze tomb reliefs, ancient weaponry and tools, and terracotta earthenware.
For any history buff this place is pure heaven, but it also provides a fascinating look at how Syracuse has developed over the years.
7. Latomia dei Cappuccini
Syracuse is famed for its vast amount of ancient quarries and cave networks that have been mined for hundreds of years.
Once such quarry that exists today is the Latomia dei Cappuccini.
This monumental quarry provided stone for the city’s various historical structures and can still be entered today.
Once an underground cavern, the quarry has now collapsed and is open to the elements.
Throughout the site you can see huge irregular columns that sprout out of the ground at strange angles.
Furthermore, much of the quarry is now covered in a beautiful garden that has been maintained by the Capuchin Monks who live close by.
This is a great place to explore, and provides an interesting look at the cities architectural history.
8. Temple of Apollo
As mentioned previously, Syracuse has a plethora of ancient sites and ruins that serve as a remnant from its historical past.
One such site is the fabled Temple of Apollo.
Located on the Island of Ortigia, this temple is not as complete as some other examples around the world, but is still hugely fascinating.
Dating back to 570 BC, this temple is actually the oldest in Sicily and has had various uses throughout the years.
Today you can see the rectangular foundation of the structure, much of the walls, and some of the ornate columns.
For additional information about the temple, and to see some of the finds collected here, you can visit the Archaeological museum.
9. Eurialo Castle
You can find the ruins of this once grand castle to the west of the city centre just off of the SP46 route.
Originally, this castle served as a stronghold for the Greeks during the reign of Dionysius around 402 BC. Throughout subsequent years, the castle was modified, added too and improved and it became one of the strongest fortifications in Sicily.
Although mainly ruins, you can still see much of the foundations and the layout of the keep and the outer walls.
Furthermore, it is possible to walk through some of the old underground tunnels, and there is also a fantastic museum that explains the history of the castle in-depth.
10. Castello Maniace
At the southernmost edge of the Island of Ortigia is the historical Castle of Maniace.
If you head down the Via Castello Maniace, you will eventually reach the castle.
Created in 1232, the castle uses local stone taken from the Latomia quarries and was built by Emperor Frederick II. Originally, the castle was separated from the island via a moat but this has now been filled in.
Today you can walk through the castle grounds, explore the battlements and look out into the bay and the Ionian Sea.
At the front gate, there is a beautifully decorated portal, and the whole castle is still in a fantastic condition.
11. Piazza di Archimede
In the centre of the Island of Ortigia is the delightful Piazza di Archimede – this square is one of the main gathering areas on the Island and has several notable features.
Taking centre stage in the middle of the square is the ornate Fontana di Artemide.
This fountain features a host of magnificent sculptures depicting various ancient scenes and is also surrounded by some small palm trees.
Lining the square is some fantastic architecture and several cafes such as the Café Archimede and the Tropical Café.
When walking through the streets of Syracuse, this square is a great place to explore.
12. Visit the coastal town of Fontane Bianche
Further down the coast from the small town of Arenella is the delightful coastal resort town of Fontane Bianche.
This charming coastal town has a series of quality hotels and apartments and is the perfect place to escape from the city and enjoy a relaxing beach holiday.
Fontane Bianche has a beautiful beach that has a horseshoe shape and contains golden sand that is soft to touch.
Furthermore, the water here is unbelievably clear and warm and you can literally see your own feet as you wade out.
Lining the beach is a series of beach bars and cafes where you can buy food and purchase supplies.
Due to the amazing beach, quiet atmosphere, and crystal clear waters, Fontane Bianche really is a treat.
13. Arenella Beach
Arenella is a small town within the province of Syracuse and is located approximately 20 minutes’ drive to the south of the city.
Locals often come here to relax and enjoy the sun, and it is a truly beautiful stretch of coast perfect for a day trip from Syracuse.
The beach stretches for some 300m and surrounding it is some dramatic coastal areas to explore.
Amazingly clear turquoise waters lap the sand gently and provide the perfect opportunity to swim, snorkel or just relax on a lido.
The main strip of the Spiaggia has some great facilities and you can hire a lounger and umbrella for a small cost.
In the town of Arenella, you can find some quality eateries for a snack or a tasty meal.
14. Ortygia Market
Local markets are always a fantastic way to mingle, find a bargain and see how the population lives and trades.
Ortygia Market is a brilliant place to explore and will leave your eyes wondering from stall to stall.
As you walk onto the island, head down Via Raffaele Lanza and you will see the market stalls hugging the buildings.
The market sells a wide variety of items from spices and chillies, to cakes, seafood and fresh fish.
Here your sense will be invaded and you will marvel at the beautiful colours, smells and sights of this fantastic market.
15. Piazza del Duomo
One of the central squares in historic Island of Ortygia is the Piazza del Duomo.
The crowning feature of the square is the aforementioned Cathedral, but it also contains some other fantastic structures and is generally an interesting place to explore.
Other notable structures include the Palazzo della Sovrintendenza, the town hall, and the Chiesa di Santa Lucia alla Badia.
Furthermore, there is also a beautiful garden and a series of restaurants and cafes.
On certain days, a local market is held here which is the perfect place to pick up a bargain.