Italian, primarily, but this is a major tourist center that attracts numerous international travelers so we found English easily understood.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
There are plenty of ATM machines and exchange bureaus in town.
Funky fruit and spice liqueurs from Vico dei Sapori (Teatro Greco 13) such as the traditional limoncello and the anything-but-classic cinnamon liqueur (absolutely delicious). You can even buy the locally made potions in flavors such as bay leaf, cactus, pomegranate and orange. Also, other Sicily-made products, like olive oil and honey.
Where You're Docked
Giardini Naxos. Ships anchor in Giardini Bay and transport passengers to the dock via tenders.
Actually, even though the town of Giardini Naxos (about 20 minutes from Taormina) is merely a place to anchor the ship, it's got wonderful beaches (you rent umbrellas and lounge chairs) and numerous watersports operators right by the dock offering scuba and snorkeling trips. Restaurants, bars, gelaterias and cafes line the beach. The Museo Di Naxos (across from the cruise tender dock) chronicles the history and archeology of the area, the first Greek colony in Sicily.
Taormina, located high on a mountaintop above the harbor, can be a bit torturous to get to. Ships that offer shuttles (free or at a charge) typically start by picking passengers up at the dock in a motorcoach then driving to Lumbi (about half way up) where you are transferred to a mini-van to ascend to Taormina's narrow streets. Taxis also wait at the dock and typically charge about 30 euros each way (for six people) -- and tend to be a quicker and easier mode of transportation. Make sure you negotiate that fare before you get in to the cab.
Renting a Car: Traffic is so horrendous, and drivers are so maniacal, it's better to leave the driving to the pros (locals). However, if you must, Avis (www.avis.com) has an agency in Taormina and Etna Rents (Via Casarsa, follow the signs) in Naxos has scooters, bicycles and cars for renting.
Getting Around in Taormina: By foot. Entirely on foot.
Watch Out For
A lot of walking in Taormina.
In a Nutshell
Ships call here for two reasons: visiting Taormina, one of Sicily's chic-est resort towns and climbing Mt. Etna (see been-there-done-that). About Taormina: Built at an elevation of 650 ft. it offers fantastic views of the sea and of nearby Mt. Etna but also has a wonderfully quaint medieval-village atmosphere. This town is a great shopping (with some of Italy's most exclusive boutiques) destination and also perfect if you like to eat and drink at sidewalk cafes. There are, also, just enough historic distractions to soothe the conscience.
Shopping, strolling and people-watching: The main artery is pedestrian-only Corso Umberto and it is lined with tons of little boutique type stores, ranging from designer shoes (lots of 'em) to antiques (numerous) to gifty-housewares (ceramics, linens, etc.). Important to note: shops tend to close around 1 p.m. for lunch, not reopening until 4 p.m. or so -- so if shopping is important to you try to head to Taormina in the morning. Tourist shops, primarily centered on Teatro Greco, are open all day. There also are numerous pizzerias, cafes and bars (even an Irish-theme pub), some street-side, some off the main drag via narrow alleyways; the latter, by the way, have the best views overlooking the sea and Mt. Etna. The best sidewalk cafes are found around the Cathedral on Piazza Duomo.
Historic Attractions: The Teatro Greco (on Teatro Greco, just follow the signs) is Taormina's preeminent historic monument. Originally built by the Romans in 3rd century (B.C.), it was rebuilt in the 1st century (AD); it used to host everything from musical concerts to gladiator bouts. Other diversions include the 13th century Duomo (San Nicolo di Bari) and the Public Gardens (via Bagnoli Croce); established in the late 19th century there are some 200 different plants and a lovely pagoda.
Been There, Done That
Mt. Etna. From Giardini-Naxos and Taormina the easiest way to see Mt. Etna, one of the world's biggest volcanoes (rises 3,323 meters) and is still active (most recent eruption occurred in 2001 though it was not life-threatening). For cruise passengers with only a limited day, the best bet is to see Mt. Etna via a tour, whether organized by your cruise ship or by a local operator. Compagnia Siciliana Turismo (Corso Umberto 99 in Taormina, www.compagniasicilianaturismo.it) offers pick-up at Giardini and has a range of approaches to the volcano. However you explore Mt. Etna, it's best to dress in layers; it can be cold midway up, even during high summer.
Staying in Touch
Las Veg@s Internet Planet, Salita Alex Humboldt, 7, just off Corso Umberto (2 euros, 20 minutes).
Editor's Note: Due to an anti-terrorism law passed in Italy in 2005, all passengers wishing to use the internet in a public facility must present an internationally recognized document (or a passport) to the establishment providing public communication services.
For More Information
On the Web: www.taormina-ol.it
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The Independent Traveler: Italy Exchange