ORTIGIA, SICILY – ULTIMATE GUIDE
Are you going to Ortigia in Sicily, Italy and you need help with planning your trip, including finding accommodation? You’ve come to the right place!
This complete and up-to-date guide will lead you straight to the best accommodation, restaurants, things to do, and all the logistics necessary to make this an unforgettable experience.
Together with a real insider into Ortigia – Antonia Fest – we will hopefully get you to fall in love with this beautiful town!
So let’s not waste any more time and go straight into planning your perfect holiday!
What you need to know before you go
There are a few things you need to know before you visit Ortigia. We have broken them down into the below key five questions:
Is Ortigia worth visiting?
If you’re touring the south-eastern region of Sicily, you cannot miss Ortigia. This little nook covers a small area but makes up a large part of the island’s identity.
So why should you come? Creamy Baroque architecture, splendid piazzas, glittering waters, and rocky bays infuse Ortigia with unparalleled charm. Indeed, it is the perfect town to visit for a day or two or even to stay in for the entire duration of your trip.
With shops, bars, restaurants, culture, and beaches at your doorstep, boredom is not an option. A quick read through this guide will be all the proof you need! And what is more, a short drive away, more Sicilian sights await.
How to get to Ortigia?
The closest airport to Ortigia is Catania which is the largest city on the eastern coast and also worth a visit if you have the time.
In Sicily, public transport has not yet been perfected and it is strongly advisable to rent a car during your time there. This will give you the most independence and flexibility to travel with ease around the island. Having said that, Ortigia is arguably one of the most convenient towns in Sicily to not have a car.
If you want to explore the area in great depth without straying too far, you can rely on the (limited) public transport and your own two feet! Ortigia itself is very small and mainly pedestrian.
To reach it via public transport, there is a train from Catania to Siracusa station. From the train station, it is a 10-minute walk into Ortigia.
Finally, you can also use interbus.it for cheap bus tickets that will get you from the airport to Siracusa. This website is the best to use for travelling to other towns as well.
How much time do you need?
Whilst Ortigia is small, there is lots to see and do in the immediate and surrounding areas. With some of eastern Sicily’s loveliest beaches, best restaurants, most impressive scenery and richest culture, 1 week to 10 days will still leave you wanting more!
When to visit Ortigia?
It is important to note that visiting Ortigia is best during the summer months and shoulder seasons. From around end of October to March, most restaurants and bars are closed and options for activities are significantly more limited.
The best time to visit would be either early June or throughout September.
Can I park in Ortigia
In the height of Summer, parking in Ortigia can be a nightmare. If you have booked a hotel or residence in town, you will likely also receive a reserved parking spot or pass to enter the town.
However, if you are staying elsewhere and driving in, you can sometimes struggle to find a free space. The trickiest time to park is early evening just before aperitivo and dinner time.
INSIDER TIP: You can try your luck at the free parking space, Riva Nazario Sauro, 6. Alternatively, there are carparks called Parcheggio Talete and Parcheggio della Marina (you have to pay for those). If all else fails, drive into Siracusa and find a space in the new town. From there, you can walk into Ortigia which won’t take longer than 15 minutes.
A brief history of Saracusa island and Ortigia
Sicily is an island with a strong, colourful and abundant past. Ortigia’s position in it has consolidated its important role in history. As the pearl of Sicily, Ortigia is connected to the island via two short bridges and is therefore a tiny island in itself.
Once you cross the bridge, you enter a past world of spectacular beauty. Ortigia bears the traces of ancient Greece and Rome, Ottoman rule, Norman conquering and medieval roots. This is recognisable in the food, architecture and sites which adorn the small town. The ruins of a temple dedicated to Apollo is one of the first marvels to greet you as you walk through the historic center.
A stone’s throw away is the Piazza Archimede full with bars on all sides and a magnificent fountain in the middle. Further delights in the old town include the elegant yet imposing cathedral, the Fonte of Aretusa which is the location of a Greek myth, and a street market that engages all the senses.
With its strategic position in the Sicilian waters, Ortigia was an important stronghold and trading center. It is worth visiting the Castello Maniace which lies at the furthest coastal point. This medieval castle and citadel was built on a protective fortress and it controlled the harbour and city of Syracuse. It is clear that in every corner of Ortigia island, you will find a nugget of ornate history to further colour this pocket of Sicily.
Where to stay in Ortigia
Ortigiahas plenty of Airbnbs and since it is so small, any area will be central and well-located. Villa rental sites are also a great option and The Thinking Traveller offers a stunning property (called Ortigia) that overlooks the sea. The rooftop terrace is the perfect spot for morning coffee or an evening drink.
INSIDER TIP: When browsing properties, make sure they specify their position because Ortigia and Siracusa are very different! Ortigia is a charming and historic town within the region of Siracusa. However, somewhat confusingly, the modern city is also called Siracusa and is far less beautiful.
If you are looking for the hotel experience, here are 3 favorites:
A very cute and friendly boutique hotel with simple but beautifully designed and spacious rooms that mirror the authentic atmosphere of Ortigia. There is attention to detail in every nook and cranny, not an easy feat when each room has its own unique character.
Old world Sicilian glamour meets pure comfort and hospitality. Rooms are spacious, comfortable and classic. Their lovely terrace is one of the few establishments with a sea view and you can enjoy breakfast or sunset drinks whilst overlooking Sicilian waters. A spa, private beach, and pool are just some of the enticing amenities of this luxury Liberty-style and historic hotel.
With a very recent refurbishment, Des Etrangers offers the full package. Cosy yet classy, sumptuous yet sleek, effortless yet elegant. Its position right by Ortigia’s marina offers sensational views especially if you opt for a room with a sea-facing balcony. If not, no fear as the hotel’s roof terrace is open to all and is the perfect place to wind down the day with a perfectly prepared spritz.
Where to eat in Ortigia
BEST FOR: unparalleled seafood dishes, imaginative but authentic cuisine, smaller groups of up to 6, dinners over lunches
Without a doubt one of the best restaurants in Ortigia. As a seafood restaurant what better position can La Lisca have in than in the heart of the town’s fish market? In the evening, when the street vendors have long packed away their stalls, a special atmosphere envelops the area. That, paired with the mouthwatering dishes, guarantees a flawless meal every time.
Whilst the dishes are inventive, they are not flamboyant or exaggerated. What is more, the charismatic manager, Francesco will guide you through the dishes and extensive list of Sicilian wines.
- Whilst it is open for lunch, La Lisca is your best option during dinner service.
- La Lisca is a small and intimate space and the best seats are outside. As such, it is not the best restaurant if you are in a large group. 2-6 people is the best amount.
- Dont miss out on the tuna tartare, one of the best dishes on the menu!
BEST FOR: Lively meals, authentic Sicilian seafood, fresh
Next door to La Lisca lies La Carnezzeria. It is another seafood restaurant but where La Lisca is small, casually elegant and inventive, this is large, vibrant and abundant.
Tables sprawl across the street and every night, La Carnezzeria fizzes with life. Delicious aromas waft from the kitchen as waiters dash out with fine Sicilian dishes. And to attest to the freshness of the seafood, a stall is set up outside with the catches of the day lined up inside! If you’re lucky, they’ll have some oysters and sea urchins to include in your meal – two delicacies of the south-east!
- The swordfish caponata is a must-order! It’s the taste of Sicily!
BEST FOR: Sharing platters, a speedy lunch, Sicily’s finest meats and cheeses
There is something for everyone at this Siracusan institution which has consolidated its position at the end of marketplace! It began as a humble salami shop in the mid–1900s and has since grown into a thriving delicatessen and restaurant. You dine outside on simple wooden furniture whilst street vendors sell fruit and vegetables opposite.
Spectacular cured meats and cheeses are freshly sliced and served on beautifully presented on wooden platters. There are also stuffed sandwiches made with crispy, doughy bread. Or, if you want the flavours of the sea, Fratelli Burgio also serves some excellent raw fish selections.
Finally, veggies and vegans don’t need to worry as they also have some options on the menu! This is also a fantastically stocked deli and perfect for purchasing some gastronomical souvenirs to bring home!
– You cant reserve a table at Fratelli Burgio and on a busy day, be prepared to wait a little while for a table. It shouldn’t take long and is worth the wait!
BEST FOR: lunch on the go, iconic street food, award-winning sandwiches
On a hot summer’s day sometimes you just want to grab a quick lunch and waste no time getting to the beach. Yet, in Sicily, ‘fast food’ takes on a whole other meaning. At Caseificio Borderi enjoy award-winning sandwiches which are stuffed with the very best island produce. This sandwich kiosk is one of those rare spots which deliver on quality and quantity.
Their viral success on social media is well-deserved! Slivers of cured meats are paired with local cheeses, roasted Sicilian vegetables and irresistible spreads. Watching the staff prepare the sandwiches is mesmerising performance art! The panini is priced at under €10 and is the perfect takeaway meal. Otherwise, you can take a seat at one of the outdoor tables and enjoy market life go by. Beyond the sandwiches, salads and sharing platters are also on offer.
- Queues for the sandwiches can sometimes be quite long so factor in a waiting time or try to go in off-peak lunch hours!
BEST FOR: picture-perfect aperitivo, tranquil evenings, gorgeous settings
Cortile Verga is a bar/restaurant with tables adorning the prettiest courtyard in Ortigia. Cool creamy stone walls glow from the candles which from the candles and lamps which surround the space. Waiters glide out of the indoor area with jewel-like drinks balanced on their trays. Whilst Cortile Verga also serves dinner, they are the perfect spot for drinks before dining elsewhere. Let it be known that they are the local favourite and so booking in advance is highly advisable!
- To book in advance, Cortile Verga is best contacted via their Whatsapp number which is found online or their online booking site. Make sure to specify that you would like table in the courtyard!
- They are open from 17:30 onwards for drinks and dinner
BEST FOR: breakfast with a view, perfect pastries, caffeine kick
With a view overlooking the gorgeous cathedral of Ortigia, there is no better place to start your day than at Condorelli. This is an iconic chain of cafes in Sicily serving a whole array of typical pastries, biscuits and confections to take away. Don’t miss their pistachio croissant which oozes with their delectable homemade spread and pair it with a quintessential Italian cappuccino.
Or, if you want the full Sicilian-style breakfast, opt for their granita with broche. A granita is a semi-frozen sweet treat made from typical Sicilian products like almond, lemon, pistachio and more. Locals will order these at breakfast in Summer along with a brioche to dip into. Beyond breakfast, Condorelli is open all day in case you want to stop off for a drink or snack as you explore Ortigia.
Their outdoor tables which overlook the square and the cathedral, is the perfect spot for people watching!
Cortile Santo Spirito
BEST FOR: Very special occasion, Michelin Star splendour, intimate dinners
Among the rugged charm of Sicily, a few restaurants stand out for their elegant take on the island’s cuisine. At Cortile Santo Spirito, which earned its first Michelin Star this year, you enter an oasis of calm in the heart of Ortigia.
On balmy summer nights, you dine in their romantic courtyard, the perfect setting for an intimate and special occasion. Tasting menus range from 4 to 6 courses all aiming to showcase Sicilian cuisine through refined, thoughtful and artistic dishes.
Indeed, the food is inventive and also takes inspiration from other cultures to best allow Sicily’s ingredients to shine!
BEST FOR: On the go, Italian excellence, simple done right
This is a real insider’s secret and whilst Officina 77 doesn’t have the most gorgeous location, it has phenomenal food. You will need to leave Ortigia and cross the bridge into Siracusa City.
A 5-minute walk down Corso Umberto I will lead you to your destination. A small menu of pasta, pizza, and veggie dishes served on paper plates seems deceptively simple. But the food is extraordinarily good and whilst not necessarily all traditional Sicilian, you are sure to eat well. For example, their version of the Roman cacio e pepe is exceptional and you really shouldn’t miss it! Pair it with a refreshing beer on a hot day!
- Cortile Santo Spirito also has an indoor dining area but the best atmosphere is in the outdoor courtyard.
What to do in Ortigia
You can come to Ortigia and do absolutely nothing (imagine yourself sipping a coffee and watching the locals go by their daily business), or be very active (imagine yourself hiking and swimming).
Whatever your preference, Ortigia has a lot to offer:
See the Duomo
You cannot leave Ortigia without visiting the beautiful Cathedral in the town’s Piazza duomo. It is a honeystoned structure which changes colour throughout the day depending on the sun’s hues. Sicily was dominated and ruled by many different civilisations throughout history, and the cathedral is testament to this chequered past.
The first building which was erected on teh site of the duomo was a temple of Athena in 5BC. You can still see its ancient columns built into the walls. Now, stands an ornate 18th-century Baroque cathedral dedicated to the patron saint of Siracusa, Santa Lucia. Inside is just as beautiful – the best time to visit is at golden hour where the duomo takes on a special atmosphere, glowing in the setting sun’s light.
Go swimming & enjoy the beach
For those who dont have the want or need to leave Ortigia, two darling beaches line the coast, inviting you to spend a lazy day with them. The first is Solarium Forte Vigliena which is comprised of a rocky crag as well as a wooden platform constructed in the water. Bathers will sprawl their towel wherever there is space and spend the day tanning, swimming and cliff jumping. This is rustic but charming beach-going at is best!
A 5 minute walk away is Spiaggia di Cala Rossa, a small pebbled bay that locals frequent all summer long. It is best to head there early in the morning before the crowds arrive. Beyond that, the sun only hits in the morning and disappears in the early afternoon. When that happens, its time to head to the Solarium.
If you are looking for an upgraded beach experience with deckchairs and beach bars, a short drive away there is Fontane Bianche. This is a long sandy stretch with plenty of lidos as well as public beaches. A favourite is Lido le Nereidi, a Solarium-esque club with a beach bar. In high summer, booking in advance is highly advised. Fair warning that in the peak summer months, Fontane Bianche can get very crowded!
See a Caravaggio painting
Among the beautiful churches dotted around Ortigia, the Church of Santa Lucia alla Badia is probably the most worth it. Nestled within this small structure that flanks the main square lies a painting by one of history’s greatest artists, Caravaggio. ‘The Burial of Saint Lucia’ is an extraordinary masterpiece depicting the moment Siracusa’ patron saint was laid to rest. With less than 60 paintings surviving by Caravaggio, it is a rare honour to view one of his fine works.
Visit a street market
The Street market of Ortigia is the town’s beating heart. Every morning from Monday to Saturday, street vendors will set up their stalls and sell the island’s greatest local produce. Whilst it is historically a fish market, you can also buy anything from fruit and vegetables to Sicilian street food and sweet treats. Try and head there early in the morning to watch the locals do their weekly shop. Around lunch time you can pop to one of the many delicious restaurants, delis as well as kiosks mentioned above. Alternatively, you can book a Street food tour where a local expert indulges you in the history and importance of Ortigia and its gastronomy. One of the best tour operators in Sicily is Uncovered Sicily, which offers tours all over the island
Being a small island off the island of Sicily, Ortigia has water on all sides. It is therefore the site of two marinas with boats of all sizes. These boats will happily whisk you across Sicilian waters to explore the island’s sparkling seas. Whether you’re looking for a short excursion or a full day charter, a sailboat or a speedboat, a day of sunbathing or a day of snorkelling, there are options for everyone. You can find plenty of providers online or even stroll down to the marina to choose your desired ride!
Watch a tragedy at the ancient Greek Theater
During the summer months (usually May to September), the ancient theatre of Siracusa puts on Greek plays. Whilst they are in Italian, the breathtaking atmosphere of watching a spectacle in an amphitheater that dates back thousands of years, is worth the visit. The shows tend to last 1 hour 40 minutes and booking in advance is important. Google ‘Inda Fondazione Siracusa’ to review tickets, shows and timings.
Neapolis Archaeological Park
On the outksirts of Ortigia, lies one of Sicily’s most impressive archaeological sites. As a hub of ancient history, the Greek and Roman ruins which spread across the Neapolis park are some of the most extraordinary examples of the island’s lengthy past. You can spend hours walking around the site before heading into the museum to marvel at intricate artefacts. Don’t miss the underground catacombs, the largest ones in Siracusa!
What to do outside of Ortigia?
If you make it to Ortigia there are a few things you really should do to take advantage of your location!
One of Sicily’s most iconic towns is about 30 minutes away. Noto has so many beautiful Baroque buildings, trendy restaurants and buzzing crowds on warm summer nights.
Explore Pantalica Nature Reserve
If you want to escape the beach for just one day, head to Pantalica which is a beautiful canyon with fresh water streams running through. Its a bit of a hike down but worth it for the refreshing waters which lie in wait. Bring water, snacks and a towel and spend the whole day sunbathing on the rocks in between little swims.
This is an adorable fishing town near the most south-eastern point of Sicily. You are spoilt for choice with restaurants and bars in the sprawling main square and close to some lovely lidos! Spend the morning at the chic beach club, Baiamuri followed by an evening stroll, drinks and dinner in Marzamemi’s town centre!
Go to Palazzolo Acreide
Somewhat off-the-beaten track, many travellers don’t end up visiting Palazzolo but they are missing a trick. Why? Because this is a lovely Baroque town with many amazing sights and restaurants (Da Andrea is a favourite). This is the perfect place to spend the afternoon and evening before heading back to Siracusa.
Pay a visit to Vendicari Nature Reserve
The Sicilians are serious about protecting their most beautiful landscapes and Vendicari is another Reserve in the area which maintains all its natural splendour. This is located along the coastline and contains multiple beaches all of which you can explore. Since its a protected area, there are no facilities at Vendicari so make sure to bring sustenance with you! Enjoy your time beach-hopping and observing the flora and fauna. If you are lucky, you might even spot some flamingoes!
Ortigia really is a very special place not only in Sicily but also in Italy!
Please consider the following points to make the most of your stay:
- The best time to visit would be either early June or throughout September. Avoid at any cost August!
- Try to spend at least 2 nights here to fully get to know the area. I would recommend staying longer and using it as a base to explore the rest of the South-Easters Sicily
- Make sure to rent a car, because you will need it to explore all the pretty spots and it will give you flexibility!
- Finally, book your accommodation in advance to get the best deals!
P.S. Make sure to follow Antonia’s beautiful journey, full of great insights here and soon on her website!