Syracuse is said to be one of the nicest cities in Sicily. It is also a good starting point if you want to explore the southeastern part of the island. What’s worth seeing in Syracuse?
We very consciously chose Sicily during the period of the so-called ” Sicilian period. low season. Lower costs, cheap flights, no tourists. We didn’t care about the sun and the beach at all (ok, nice weather would do, but not heat from the sky). We set our sights on a leisurely, slow tour of Sicilian cities with breaks for Italian coffee, ice cream and pizza.
We chose Syracuse as our home base. Maybe not exactly the city, but its surroundings :) We had a rental car, so it didn’t really matter to us whether it was 3, 5 or 10 kilometers from the center, because we assumed that it would be by car anyway. When looking for accommodation in Syracuse, you need to pay special attention to accommodations on Ortigia (or “Ortyga” if you prefer) – despite the beautiful area, you will not enter the strict center by car, and parking in the area is mostly paid.
We stayed overnight about here, we recommend! :)
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Sightseeing in Syracuse
We divided our tour of Syracuse into two parts – the aforementioned old town on Ortigia and the archaeological part, and in our opinion, two days are optimal to see these places and the surrounding area in peace. Of course, if you insist, you can do it in one day, too, but considering that we were with a child, the hours of sunshine were not so much, and we also did not want to fly headlong, we still think and encourage you to set aside two days.
It is a unique city, and it stood out even more in ancient times, when in its prime it was the largest city (larger even than Athens!). So as you can imagine, there is plenty to do :)
What did we particularly remember about Syracuse? First of all, the wonderful, atmospheric old town, with its impressive cathedral, and the archaeological park (Parco archeologico della Neapolis).
However, not to be too pretty and sweet, we were sadly disappointed in several aspects – some of the attractions were closed due to the low season (which does not mean that you pay less for the entrance ticket), the same goes for the restaurants, by the way. Leaving aside the issue of the hours of serving larger meals after 7 pm (ok, that’s the culture), some of the pubs were closed to the public due to the winter holidays….
But let’s get back to the nice things :)
Ortygia (Ortigia) is actually an island that can be accessed by crossing a small bridge. At the entrance to the island and in the northern part of the island you will find plenty of parking spaces, some of which are paid and some are not. How to recognize them? Those painted with white paint are free, while those with blue paint are charged. We have been to this part twice and each time we managed to find some single free space.
Ortigia can easily be seen all on foot, moreover, you won’t get into the center here by car, so there’s not much of a way out. The streets are very tight, often cobbled. We were here both during the day and after dusk, and each time the place looked different.
The streets were rather empty, with only tables on display at cafes where Italians were obviously sitting enjoying black espresso. Several stores, boutiques and small souvenir stalls were open. And that suited us just fine. There were no intrusive salesmen, you could walk down the street in peace knowing that you will not be reprimanded in a moment by a waiter with a menu ;)
In the evening, the city came slightly alive. Lightly, because, as mentioned, some restaurants and pubs remained closed for several weeks. More and more people were appearing on the streets, restaurants were opening and preparing to serve hearty dinners. It was louder, something was happening.
We encourage you to take a leisurely stroll through the old town, moving away from the main street. Although some of the townhouses are falling apart and it’s hard to imagine that anyone can still live here, there are streets and yards that are beautifully landscaped and well-kept. As befits an old town, a lot of bumpy roads await you here, so if you take a baby stroller with you, only with good cushioning ;)
Of particular note in Ortigia is the Duomo and the adjacent square(Piazza del Duomo). Be sure to go inside the cathedral – the Greek temple of Athena was located here in the 5th century BC, and its remains in the form of columns can be seen right inside the church (!).
Other sights to look out for include the ruins of the temple of Apollo, Archimedes Square and the Spring of Arethusa.
It is a large area, in the northern part of the city, where there are ancient monuments.
The entrance itself and the process of buying tickets is quite strange. To buy a ticket you have to go to the nearby bus station, pass a thousand souvenir stalls (uff, how good that most of them were closed), only to find out right at the entrance to the park that you can buy a ticket at the ticket office at the entrance after all, because there are less than 5 of us! What’s more, there are separate entrances and ticket controls for each section, so don’t lose them.
After buying a ticket (10 eur), we can admire the entire Archaeological Park, i.e. the ancient Greek theater, amphitheater and quarries. The theater dates back to the 5th century BC and may not be the best preserved structure, but standing in the middle of it, you can imagine how huge it must have been in its heyday and is truly impressive in size (it housed up to 24,000 people!).
Interestingly, in the back, there are quarries, and one cave in particular is noteworthy for its excellent acoustics – it is 23 meters high and named the Ear of Dionysius.
A separate gate leads to the Roman amphitheater from the 2nd century BC, but unfortunately here we had limited sightseeing opportunities – presumably during the season the entire area is open to the public.
Other interesting places in Syracuse
Being already in this part of Syracuse, we decided to see the recommended St. Peter’s Basilica. Lucians (the city’s patron saint) along with the adjacent square, but frankly it doesn’t knock it down ;)
We went for a long walk, which turned out to be more tiring than pleasant, due to narrow sidewalks and high curbs. More memorable was another building we passed along the way – the shrine of the Madonna delle Lacrime. The building reminded us of the churches in Iceland, which reign over the city and are quite a landmark.
The only upside to this walk was that we ended up at a very cool pub on the way called Olivia (it’s not just the name ;) ). Delicious food, Italian pizza, friendly service. During our short stay in Sicily, we became regular customers, and the staff became very fond of Olive :)
Syracuse, indeed, like all of Sicily, surprised us greatly with the number of monuments, especially those from antiquity. Even if one is not interested in it at all, one will not pass by the impressive Greek theater indifferently. Our only regret is that we could not take full advantage and see the entire archaeological park.
Nevertheless, we have mixed feelings – the city is definitely worth seeing because of the aforementioned monuments, but on the other hand, much of the old town is deteriorating and neglected. It’s the same when you walk a piece away from the typically touristy places.
We walked a lot, yet only the old town was a pleasure to walk around. Something was missing here, we feel a certain insufficiency. Fortunately, during our trip to Sicily we saw several other cities that perfectly filled in the gaps from Syracuse.
Regardless, Syracuse is a must-see city when you’re in the eastern part of Sicily, you might even be tempted to say that we liked Syracuse better than Alfama in Lisbon;)