Everything you need to know about Ortigia, Syracuse

I’ve seen a lot of talk about Ortigia, the island that contains the historic center of Syracuse, Sicily, this summer. Between features in major news publications and all the Instagram stories imaginable, it’s definitely not a “hidden gem” by any means for those familiar with southern Italy. 

But for people visiting Italy from abroad, Sicily can seem like a more challenging destination, without the familiarity and comfort of Rome, Venice or Florence, where no one speaks English and getting around is a nightmare. 

Most of those things are untrue (transportation around the island is not extremely accessible if you don’t rent a car) and after spending a couple of weeks around the southeastern part of the island, I wanted to share some tips for anyone looking to make Sicily their next adventure. Keep reading for my exhaustive list of where to stay, what to do and what to eat in Ortigia, Syracuse, as well as some of the resources I used when planning my trip.

Some background…

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For some reason, I decided to book our stay on Ortigia for the weekend after Ferragosto, Italy’s biggest summer holiday celebrated with vacation, beach trip, meals out and general chaos. We circled around the island for an hour looking for parking and eventually ended up turning around and driving until we found a random restaurant to eat at. Coming back at midnight, we left the car in a lot off-island and walked over to our b&b. A few notes so you can avoid the absolute stress that we experienced:

Consider leaving your car behind: if you flew into Catania and are only interested in seeing Catania, Syracuse and maybe a day trip to Noto or another small town, leave your car at home. Ortigia and Syracuse are completely walkable and so much of the stress is alleviated you don’t have to think about looking and paying for a parking spot. 

Park off-island: If you’re doing a road trip of Sicily and Ortigia is just one of your stops, park in one of the lots further outside the center and take a bus/cab/go by foot to reach your accommodation (this lot is walkable from Ortigia). Don’t think that you’ll find street parking (because you won’t) and be prepared to spend at least €15/day in parking. I recommend leaving your car there for your time in Ortigia and instead exploring the town, cooling off on the rocky beaches and eating at one of the *many* spots I’m sharing here

Don’t go in peak season: the most obvious piece of advice and the one I ignored. If you’re visiting Sicily in August, stick to the smaller towns and areas that aren’t as well known/touristy. I’ll be sharing more next week on my favorite low-key towns to visit but essentially, be realistic with yourself. If you want to enjoy the famous towns like Ortigia, Taormina, Noto, Ragusa and Modica, head there in the spring or fall (I’ve heard May, June, September and October are BEAUTIFUL times to visit). Unless you thrive in chaotic, crowded situations, don’t force a trip to these popular destinations in high season.

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Where to stay

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Now that that’s out of the way and you’ve planned your timing and transportation, next stop’s accommodation. A quick note (so many notes, so little time): consider your location on the island of Ortigia. During the summer and especially on weekends, it’s a very popular place for people to visit for aperitivo and dinner. There will be crowds and musicians playing in the streets and lots of noise. Pair this with the thin walls of historic buildings and the sleeping situation is perilous at best. The room where we stayed was right over a restaurant on one of the main streets of Ortigia and seemed like a prime location at first but we quickly realized the drawbacks. I’d really recommend finding a place on the farthest side of the island or along one of the smaller side streets, which stay a bit quieter even at night. 

I’ve heard great things about the following accommodations:

Il Salotto di Maria Pia: I found this through Livia Hengel (head to the bottom on this post for all resource credit!) and fell in love with this adorable B&B (€120/night).

Gut Ortigia: Found via Elizabeth Minchilli, this is a lovely boutique hotel with a sea view available for a very reasonable price (€70-90/night).

What to do

Shopping

Crochet & Art: the cutest boutique with locally sourced goods like jewelry, accessories, bathing suits and clothing with the nicest owner, who I later ran into at my go-to breakfast spot.

Cool de Sac: handmade, artisanal products like purses, clothing and other beautiful items (a must if you’re looking for a special piece to remind you of your trip to Sicily).

Beaches

If you’re looking to spend the whole day at the seaside and want a large, sandy beach to hang out on, you’ll need to dive out to one of the many beaches nearby Syracuse. If you want to avoid taking your car out or just want a few hours to cool off in the water, these are the 2 “beaches” on the island of Ortigia.

Spiaggia di Cala Rossa: A very pebbly beach without much space, but with beautiful water.

Forte Vigliena: some boulders that have been turned into a sun-bathing space, where you can either jump off into the water or climb down a ladder to cool off.

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Activities

Market tour and cooking class: I didn’t make it on a food tour in Sicily (sacrilegious, I KNOW) but I heard this one with Alessia was life changing. It includes a market trip to pick up ingredients and then a private cooking class, totaling 4 hours.

The Greek Theater: A UNESCO World Heritage site located right in Syracuse, this Greek theater dates back to the 5th century BC and is a stunning piece of history in the area.

Duomo: The duomo of Siracusa is located in the heart of Ortigia and is one of the most beautiful cathedrals I’ve seen. The entire piazza just begs for photos to be taken at dusk.

Caravaggio Exhibit: Caravaggio’s history with Ortigia means that it’s one of the best places to view his work. When we were there, there was also a temporary exhibit with his Crucifixion of Saint Andrew

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Where to eat

For a city known as “touristy”, Ortigia still has a ton of super delicious food stops. And after an intense food marathon of 5 days there, I’m sharing my top favs. 

Breakfast: 

Bar Pasticceria Midolo: the spot where all the locals go for coffee and pastries in the morning. Make sure you stake out one of the few tables they have on the street if you want to sit and relax.

Bar Marciante: little pasticceria and coffee bar on Ortigia where Edoardo was VERY impressed with the brioche with gelato

Market:

Caseifcio Bordieri: Italy’s highest rated panino

Fratelli Burgio: The spot to get your tagliere and genuine Sicilian products like pistachios, chocolate, cheese and meats

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Pasta & things:

Trattoria la Foglia: Whimsical and delicious spot for primi and secondi with local wine

A Putia: A reasonably-priced restaurant with two locations and a great atmosphere

Apollonion Osteria da Carlo: The restaurant with a 6-course, €35 tasting menu that people rave about

Street food:

Antica Guidecca: The best arancino on the eastern coast of Sicily (don’t @ me)

Voglia Matta: Fantastic gelateria with A+ gelato and brioche

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Drinks

Wine Shop @: wine bar with a decent by the glass list

Cortile Verga Ortigia: cocktail bar with lovely outdoor seating

Resources I used for planning my trip

I didn’t come up with all of these recommendations myself and I want to give credit where it’s due! The following IG accounts and blogs really helped when planning my Sicily trip. Check them out!

Instagram highlights

Livia Hengel

Elizabeth Minchilli

Sara White (Verbalized)

Marta Sallemi

Sofie’s World

Articles:

The New York Times: 36 Hours in Syracuse, Sicily

A Curious Appetite’s Sicily archive

Sara’s Sicily: Extreme South

Honorable mention to my bff Sofia for her WhatsApp reccos