Getting to Sicily
When we went to Sicily, we were staying in Calabria (where my dad is from) and drove about 2 1/2 hours to the ferry terminal (granted our town in Calabria is high up in the mountains). You can find out all about the ferries that depart from Reggio Calabria to Sicily here, and all of the other ports to depart from too. The ferry is *so* cool and a drive-on ferry; once you park on the boat you can get out and walk around the ferry and take pictures (or use it as an excuse for a photoshoot like my sister and I did) if you don't mind the crazy wind, ha! The ride lasts about 15-20 minutes and the views going to and from Sicily are ridiculously stunning. This was the first time I had been on a ferry like this, and it was so cool meeting other people who were heading to Sicily also.
It's an easy, straight drive to get from the port to Taormina and about 20 minutes by car. The ride there reminded me a LOT of NYC; something about the way the city is laid out and the very city-feel to it. Granted it's VERY different, just some similarities. ;)
Taormina's Must Sees and Dos
There is so, so much to see in Taormina alone that it's hard to believe that there's still so much more to Sicily! The water is insanely beautiful shades of blue and green, the view is incredible every which way you turn and the historical walls, paths and remains of ruins are jaw dropping. My favorite tourist-y sight in Taormina was the super old and historic Greek Theater. It's basically ruins of a theater (that resemble the Roman Forum in Rome, a LOT) that overlooks the ocean. You can even see Mount Etna!
Tip: find a spot to park as early as possible - especially in tourist season - because it's extremely hard to find a spot to park with the high volume of cars, and driving in that mess of traffic was nothing I ever could have done myself (thanks, dad)!
Villa Comunale (aka The Public Gardens) is another must-see; and another awesome photoshoot spot! ;) There's gardens, beautiful olive trees, ancient architecture and statues. It's so peaceful and beautiful to relax and take a break from a busy day in, and the views are of course, unreal. I loved these gardens and loved taking pictures there!
By taking a small, quick cable car from Taormina, you can get to Isola Bella (Beautiful Island). It's a mini island with a beautiful beach and has a small path from the mainland to the mini island, depending on the tide/time of day. We didn't explore the island, but saw it and took some time to hang out by the water since it was a beautiful day when we were there.
Tip: if you're planning on going here, make sure you have sneakers/comfy sandals because it's a complete pebble path from the first step off of the cable car to the island!
Something I wish I would have done was get closer to Mount Etna. Taormina is so incredible because from nearly every spot that you look, you can see the volcano. There are ways to get up the mountain, and it seems kind of scary but so cool at the same time. Definitely a must see for next time!
Places to Eat in Taormina
Taormina is a city that starts on level ground and continues as you drive up a mountain. The restaurant we ate at was down below the mountain right on the ocean. The views were stunning and you could feel the sea breeze as you ate lunch - it was incredible! It's called Caravella Restaurant & Beach Club and it has some of the best paninis I've ever had!
At the top of Taormina's mountain is an insanely delicious pizzeria called Granduca. It overlooks the Mediterranean and it's especially beautiful at sunset!
Taormina is an insanely beautiful city and one I definitely didn't know existed before visiting! When I thought of Sicily I though of two things: 1. cannolis (more on that in a bit) and 2. Palermo. Don't underestimate Taormina - it's definitely worth a visit! If you're staying in Sicily, I highly recommend taking a day or two to see everything you can in Taormina.
Must Sees in Messina
After seeing as much of Taormina as humanly possible, we drove back to Messina (the city that the ferry port is in). There's even more to do here - again I was completely shocked at real life Sicily versus my vision of Sicily! - and so many things to see. It's a legitimate city so it has intersections, shops, tons of restaurants and more.
The most beautiful part of Messina is Duomo Square; it's a fairly large piazza (town center) with shops, restaurants, street vendors and *the* most beautiful church, Messina Cathedral.
The coolest part is this Astrological Clock in the bell tower of the church. I've never seen anything like this, and to be perfectly honest it reminded me a lot of a scene straight out of Nancy Drew #amiright?! This building dates back to the 12th century, which makes it even cooler that something this intricate was built in a time like that. As the clock moves, you can see the gears turning and it's all made of the most beautiful gold that literally shines in the sunlight. And it's just as stunning inside as it is outside:
This is the main square of Messina, and it's the most gorgeous also. There's lots of streets you can walk through and shops to look through with some of the coolest souvenirs - including *real* handmade turquoise jewelry that was impossible not to buy!
Places to Eat in Messina
Right outside of the Messina Cathedral is a small cafe called Dolce Vita ("sweet life") and it has *really* good coffee! By this point in the day I was in need of a lot of caffeine and I'm not a big coffee person, but I did really like this cafe.
Okay, now we need a drum roll... It's cannoli time friends! We were lucky enough to explore Sicily with my dads very best friend who lives in the same town that he grew up in, and he visits Sicily a lot. It's sort of a nice weekend-type of trip for people who live in Calabria (can you even imagine?!). He and his family said they knew of the best pasticceria in all of Sicily and if only I could reenact my sister and I's faces, ha!! It was a few blocks from the Messina Cathedral but well worth the walk and trust me you'll want 2 or 3 of these cannolis so the walk is much needed. Cristo Re (address: 13 Via Loggia dei Mercanti) is a bakery and gelateria and let me just tell you - you'll fall in love with this place! They freshly bake everything in sight and they make the cannolis to sell - not before so they're *so* fresh.
Heading back on the ferry is just as beautiful as going to Sicily is - we had a beautiful day so the view of the mountains was clear and it was so fun to walk around the open deck of the ferry.