THINGS TO DO IN ORTIGIA, SICILY: ITALY’S MAGICAL ISLAND

There are so many things to do in Ortigia, Sicily. The town is everything you imagine an ancient Sicilian town to be.

Spelled both Ortigia and Ortygia, the town is a jumble of disparate cultural influences combining to create impressive architecture, a laid-back attitude, and food so good you want to stop strangers on the streets and induce them to try it.

So grab your rental car in Italy and start your Italian adventure as you discover all the things to do in Ortigia.

Il Duomo Cathedral in Ortigia

Where Is Ortigia, Sicily?

Siracusa is the main town, but the adjacent small island of Ortygia, which is the original, historical settlement, is a more enchanting place to stay.  This is an amazing little town on Sicily’s east coast connected by bridge to Siracusa.  

Just wandering its narrow channel separating Ortygia from Siracusa was one of the trip highlights. Ortygia is a well-preserved medieval island with authentic trattorias and specialty shops selling home-made goods down every alley. 

The colorful alleyways suddenly open up on spectacular plazas, brilliant fountains and ancient ruins. I wondered how a place like this managed to remain below the radar. It was overwhelming.  

I love places that have an incredible history. I love the Italian way of life. I love the food. I love the people. I love the attitudes of Italians. – Elton John Click To Tweet

A Brief History of Ortigia, Sicily

Unlike Palermo, the big, bustling capital of Sicily, Ortygia is small. Everything is just a short walk from everything else. It is impossible to get lost in this 1 kilometer long and 600-meter wide island.

It’s also old, about 2500 years. Throughout its history, Syracuse and the adjacent island of Ortygia were part of several cultures; Arabs, Roman, Normans, Byzantines, Spaniards, and others.

The waves of different conquerors, settlers, visitors and invaders of the city are reflected in the island’s architecture.  It’s fascinating to see the different architectural styles as you wander the city’s streets.

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Not only does Ortygia captivate with its historical treasures, but it also boasts breathtaking coastal vistas and pristine beaches.

With its Mediterranean climate, Ortygia offers favorable conditions year-round. Immerse yourself in sunny days and mild evenings, allowing for enjoyable exploration at any time of the year.

Ortygia’s natural environment is truly awe-inspiring and exploring nature is only one of the many things to do in Ortigia.

Can’t Miss Attractions and things to do in Ortigia, Italy’s Magical Island

Temple of Apollo

Ortygia definitely has a cult of Apollo. Just after crossing the bridge from Siracusa the first attraction you see are the ruins of the Temple of Apollo or, Tempio di Apollo which dates from the sixth century BC. 

Over the centuries this structure was a church, market and mosque. Today it sits in ruins as a reminder of the different cultures that flourished here.

Where to stay in Ortygia.

Piazza Archemede

Archimedes, the famous mathematician was from Ortigia and the town has honored its native son with a plaza that sits regally in the center of Ortigia. Nearby is the fountain of Diana with its elaborate stone carvings.

Ortigia Market

Every day except Sunday you can visit the Ortigia market open from 7 AM to 1 PM. Here you can buy anything from shoes to cheese. 

I love markets because they give you an opportunity to see how local people live and go about their daily chores.

Olives at Ortigia market

A really nice experience in this market is to buy yourself a nice lunch; prosciutto, olives, cheese, freshly baked bread, and have your self a picnic at a local park or plaza as you watch the Sicilian world go by.

Piazza del Duomo

A UNESCO World Heritage site, this is the most important plaza in town located in the center of the city of Ortygia. It is rectangular with spectacular palaces on both sides and was once the acropolis of the ancient city.

Its remains can still be seen today incorporated into the magnificent Cathedral of the Nativity of Mary dating from 1753.  The plaza is in the Baroque style designed in a semi-elliptical style with glorious buildings on both sides.

Make sure to watch out for the many cats that haunt the Plaza.  They make for great photo opportunities.

Cathedral of Syracuse (Duomo di Siracusa)

With its stunning architecture and rich history, the Cathedral of Siracusa is a grand structure offering a fascinating glimpse into the island’s past. Take your time to marvel at the intricate details and soak in the serene ambiance.

Il Duomo

Fountain of Arethusa

Get ready to be transported into a world of myth and natural beauty at the Fountain of Arethusa. As you stroll along its tranquil shores, surrounded by lush greenery, let your imagination wander to the tales of nymphs and gods.

Classic fountains of Ortigia

It’s a perfect spot to relax and enjoy the peacefulness of the surroundings; a place of tranquility and a must-visit for nature enthusiasts.

Castello Maniace

Discover the fascinating history of Ortigia at Castello Maniace, a medieval fortress that stands proudly at the island’s edge.

As you wander through its sturdy walls and towers, you’ll feel like a true explorer, uncovering the stories of knights and battles that once played out here.

Jewish Quarter (Giudecca)

One of the best things to do in Ortigia is to explore the different cultures that enriched the town. Delve into the rich history of Ortigia by exploring the Jewish Quarter, known as Giudecca.

Wander through its narrow streets, observe the beautifully preserved architecture, and visit the historic Synagogue.

Let the spirit of the past guide your footsteps as you discover the stories of this vibrant community.

Church of Santa Lucia alla Badia

Art enthusiasts will be delighted by the Church of Santa Lucia alla Badia, home to Caravaggio’s famous painting, “The Burial of Saint Lucy.”

Admire the exquisite artwork and take a moment to appreciate the stunning interior of this Baroque church.

Opera dei Pupi

While exploring Ortigia Island, be sure to immerse yourself in the captivating world of Opera dei Pupi. This traditional Sicilian puppet theater art form dates back centuries and continues to charm audiences to this day.

You can witness live performances that bring to life epic tales of knights, princesses, and legendary battles. The puppets are masterfully crafted and operated by skilled puppeteers.

Places to Eat in Ortigia

I got a recommendation for a good, typical Sicilian restaurant, L’Osteria da Seby, and headed out in a rainstorm that flooded the narrow streets of Ortigia. The food there was on par with the rest of the town, fantastic!  

One of the dishes was so unusual and delicious it merits special mention.  It was a delicate fish wrapped in what looks like an edible brown paper bag. Definitely a culinary highlight!

Ortigia also boasts many delightful seafood restaurants, pizzerias, gelaterias, pasticccerias and wine bars. Enjoying the local cuisine is one of the best things to do in Ortigia.

Ristorante Porta Marina for seafood specialties everyone raves about.

Regina Lucia  Sit at one of their open air restaurants in the plaza right in front of the Duomo di Siracusa. The combination of the magical plaza and the delicious Sicilian cuisine is unbeatable!  Great pasta, desserts and seafood.

Day trips from Ortigia

Noto, A Big Surprise

Basking in the afterglow of Ortigia, Sicily, we headed to Noto not really expecting much.  That’s the charm of Noto.  It takes you by surprise.

The main pedestrian street is lined with beautiful baroque palaces built with a golden color stone that shines in the sunlight. That seemed to be the only outstanding sight the town had, but it sure was enough.  

Archeological Park in Syracuse

Just a short distance from Ortigia, you’ll find the Syracuse Archaeological Park, a vast complex that showcases the ancient Greek and Roman ruins of Syracuse.

The Greek Theater, Roman Amphitheater and other ancient structures in the park are very well preserved. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a delight for the history buff.

Vendicari Nature Reserve

Nature lovers will delight in visiting the Vendicari Nature Reserve, situated along the southeastern coast of Sicily, just a short drive from Ortigia. Here you’ll find white-sand beaches and diverse animals in their natural habitat. This is an ideal location for hiking and just enjoying nature.

Marzamemi

For a taste of Sicilian coastal charm, visit the picturesque fishing village of Marzamemi.

Located approximately 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of Ortigia, Marzamemi is famous for its colorful houses, charming piazza, and delicious seafood. Take a leisurely stroll along the waterfront and indulge in a seafood dinner.

Ragusa

Discover the enchanting town of Ragusa, located about 70 kilometers (43 miles) southwest of Ortigia.

Divided into Ragusa Ibla and Ragusa Superiore, this UNESCO-listed town offers stunning architecture, narrow streets, and panoramic views.

Explore its charming squares, visit the Cathedral of San Giorgio, and indulge in the local culinary delights.

Mount Etna 

Embark on an unforgettable adventure to Mount Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano, located approximately 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of Ortigia.

Join a guided tour to explore the volcanic landscapes, hike to the summit, or take a cable car ride to witness the breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside.

These nearby destinations offer a wealth of cultural, natural, and historical experiences that complement your visit to Ortigia.

Whether you’re fascinated by ancient ruins, crave breathtaking landscapes, or seek culinary delights, these places will enrich your Sicilian journey and create memories that will last a lifetime.

Where to stay in Ortygia

Your visit to Ortigia, you’ll find a variety of accommodation options that cater to different preferences and budgets. 

Here are some recommendations  as per travelers, on where to stay while exploring this charming island:

Apollo Suite

Apollo Suite features accommodations with a bar and shared lounge in the heart of Syracuse. Featuring sea and city views, this guest house also includes free WIFI. The accommodation offers a shuttle service, while a bicycle rental service is also available.

Don’t forget to book your stay in Ortigia! We suggest the Apollo Suite.

Historic Boutique Hotels

Ortigia is known for its historic charm. Staying in a boutique hotel will allow you to immerse yourself in the island’s unique atmosphere.

These boutique accommodations often feature beautifully restored buildings, stylish interiors, and personalized service, providing a memorable and authentic experience.

The magical island

Waterfront Hotels

With its stunning coastal location, consider staying in a hotel that offers waterfront views. Waking up to the sight of the sparkling sea and enjoying the gentle sound of waves can enhance your stay in Ortigia.

Look for accommodations with balconies or terraces that allow you to savor the breathtaking vistas.

Luxury Resorts:

If you’re seeking a luxurious getaway, you’ll find exclusive resorts on the outskirts of Ortigia that offer upscale amenities, spa facilities, and private beach access.

These resorts provide a tranquil oasis where you can relax and indulge in a little bit of luxury.

Don’t forget to read about the other wonderful southern Italian cities in the series.

Things to know before visiting Ortigia

Before visiting Ortigia, it’s important to note that the island has limited vehicle access, so be prepared to explore on foot.

Comfortable walking shoes are essential for navigating the charming streets and cobblestone paths. While credit cards are widely accepted, it’s advisable to carry some cash for smaller establishments.

English is spoken in most tourist areas, but having a few basic Italian phrases can be helpful. Finally, be aware of the siesta period, when some shops and restaurants may close for a few hours in the afternoon.

Best time to visit Ortigia

The best time to visit Ortigia Island is during the spring (April to June) and autumn (September to October) seasons.

These periods offer pleasant temperatures ranging from 20-25°C (68-77°F), making it ideal for exploring the island on foot and enjoying outdoor activities.

The weather is usually mild, and there are fewer crowds compared to the peak summer season.

Learn more about the rich cultural history of Sicily and Ortigia in particular.

Ortigia, Sicily.  I will always remember it as the town whose charm took me by surprise. What destination has thoroughly taken you by surprise?  And don’t forget, while in Italy, make sure to take souvenirs from Italy home with you.

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Talek Nantes

This blog was created to inspire your travels and to explore experiences in fascinating locations. What you will find are thoughts on how to immerse yourself in local culture, food, history and people. On your way to these adventures I hope to provide you with useful information to help you get there. Come see the world with me!

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I may earn from qualifying purchases. Posts may contain affiliate links. If you click on one of them, we may receive a commission at no cost to you.



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