Situated on the northeast corner of Sicily, just three miles away from the Italian mainland, Messina is an area rich in history and culture. This medieval city’s port is the gateway to an adventure back in time. The streets and structures were built by the Greeks, Byzantines, Arabs and Normans when they lived on the island. Messina is also a popular stop on European cruises that pass through the Mediterranean.
One of the best — and most convenient — ways to explore Messina and its surroundings is by booking shore excursions. You choose the destination, and we will handle the details. All you have to do is choose fun!
If you’re wondering what to do in Messina, we’ve got you covered with 8 must-do activities.
1. Trace the Steps of an Iconic Mobster Film
About an hour drive away from the port of Messina, you’ll discover the two villages used as the backdrop for the Sicilian scenes in The Godfather movies. Follow the path Michael Corleone walked with his bride in Savoca and the stop for a drink in Forza d’Agro’s Bar Vitelli where he asked her father for permission to marry. Even if you’re not a fan of the movie trilogy, you’ll enjoy the views of medieval castles and churches you’ll see along the way.
2. Spend Time in the Sun on Mount Etna
Rising above the Sicilian landscape, Mount Etna is a special place that’s earned a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The ancient Greeks believed the active volcano was the home of Vulcan, and Homer made it the setting of the Cyclops scene in The Odyssey.
Today, Sicilians store meat and wine in the natural caves along the side of the mountain. It’s also a fantastic place for hiking and exploring the unparalleled terrain.
3. Admire the Views from the Greek Theater
Take a one-hour drive from Messina to Taormina and see one of the most spectacular structures on the island. A testament to the different cultures that have all influenced the area over centuries, the Greek Theater dates back to the third century B.C. Over the years, it has hosted dramatic performances, musicals and even gladiator battles.
Today, it is the second largest theater in Sicily and a popular spot for performances. With its prime location near water, be sure to enjoy the panoramic views of the sea and Mount Etna as you climb up and down the stone stairs while visiting the theater.
4. Wander the Streets of Taormina
Walking on the cobbled streets of Taormina feels like a step back in time. Everywhere you go, you see the remnants of the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Normans who once called the city home. Stroll through the city’s center along Corso Umberto and admire the colorful, decorative ceramics.
Check out the baroque fountain in front of the city square or stop to enjoy a snack or a glass of granita at Piazza IX Aprile with its spectacular views of the water.
5. Taste Sicilian Wine
Sicilians started making wine as early as 4000 B.C., and the tradition continues today. Although it’s best known for Marsala, Sicilian winemakers produce a variety of wines from the local, indigenous grapes.
More recently, regional wines produced around Mount Etna have gained a following due to the distinctive flavors the volcanic soil produces. Experience these unique flavors by taking a tour of a winery where you can sample some regional favorites and discover the buzz for yourself.
6. Tour the Duomo di Messina (Cathedral of Messina)
Messina’s cathedral has an interesting history that reflects the history of the city. Built in the 12th century, the church has been destroyed by fires, earthquakes and bombs and has been rebuilt several times.
Although little of the original structure remains, it’s still a popular site for tourists who want to admire the blend of Norman and Gothic architecture. After touring this cathedral, you can explore the outdoor plaza that connects it with the Bell Tower and Fontana di Orione.
7. Watch the Show at Messina’s Bell Tower
One of Messina’s most popular attractions is its Astronomical Clock Tower of the Cathedral of Messina. Not only does it contain the largest astronomical clock in the world, but it’s the site of an entertaining show. At noon each day, gilded bronze statues — including a lion, the moon and biblical figures — put on a show highlighting the city’s history and culture.
After, take a behind-the-scenes tour of the bell tower’s clock and see how machines and cables move the statues through their performances.
8. Take Pictures at the Fontana di Nettuno
There’s no shortage of fountains dedicated to Neptune in Italy, but Messina’s Fontana di Nettuno holds a special place in the hearts of residents. It represents the tenacity of city in the face of adversity and the gifts of the sea that have supported its development and growth.
Created in the 16th century by an associate of Michelangelo, the fountain features two monsters subdued by the Roman god and ornate details that make it an excellent backdrop for photos with friends.
If you’re planning a Carnival cruise to Italy, it’s never too early to think about your on shore itinerary. Check out our shore excursions to discover the unique and exciting activities that Messina has to offer. Whether you’re a history buff, architecture aficionado or a foodie, you’ll find something to make your stop in Sicily a memorable part of your cruise vacation.