From the 8th century BC, Greeks began colonising southern Italy, Sicily, and the Adriatic, creating the Hellenistic civilisation known as "Magna Graecia". Their very first colony on Sicily appeared here in 735 BC, with settlers from the island of Naxos. Other colonies on Sicily grew large, but the town here never did, and in 403 BC it was smashed for having sided with Athens against victorious Syracuse.
In the 16th century AD, the coast here was fortified against pirate raids - the ruins of these forts remain. Giardini Naxos remained a quiet fishing village until Mediterranean tourism became popular from the 1970s. Nowadays it's a straggly, ribbon-developed resort along the SS114 highway, between coast and mountains. The better-known Taormina looks down on it (in every sense) from its hilltop; the coast and headland just north of Giardini Naxos are actually within the Taormina town boundary.
The nearest airport is Catania airport, Catania Fontanarossa (CTA IATA), 40 km south. Take the Interbus from the airport towards Taormina. Get off at Recanati for south & central parts of town, and at Taormina-Giardini railway station for the north end. Buses run roughly hourly 07:00-20:00, taking 80 min, fare €8.20 (€7.50 if bought online). Use this same bus line from downtown Catania.
The Catania - Messina motorway A18 passes town, exit at "Giardini-Naxos" onto the main street SS 114.
Taormina-Giardini railway station is at the north-east end of the town's seafront. There are trains roughly hourly from Messina to the north and Catania to the south, both taking just under an hour.
The city is small enough to explore on foot, but those who need to get somewhere quick should phone a taxi or rent a car. You need the bus to get up to Taormina.
- 1 Museo e Area Archeologica di Naxos, Lungomare Schisò. Nov-Feb 09:00-16:00, Mar Oct 09:00-17:30, Apr Sep 09:00-18:30, May-Aug 09:00-19:00. Ruins and artefacts of the Greek settlement here. €4.
- Taormina up the hill is a must-see for its historic centre. As well as the Interbus, Taormina town buses circle as far as Giardini Naxos railway station. Don't attempt the path, which remains unsafe and unrepaired after a landslide, and the main road Via Pirandello is too narrow and busy with traffic to walk.
- However from Giardini Naxos it's actually easier to visit the headland just north, than it is from Taormina, which it's part of. Isola Bella is the tiny island which you can paddle to along the tombolo spit. It's now a nature reserve: they charge €4 to get in but there's nothing to see, the small museum is closed, and the island's beach is sharp volcanic shingle.
- Villa Caronia is a small museum near the foot of Via Pirandello. It appears to be closed in 2018.
- A little further north along the coast is Mazzarò, with a collection of hotels and restaurants. The cable-car runs from here up to Taormina.
- Parco fluviale dell'Alcantara, the valley running inland, has the spectacular Alcantara Gorge, a canyon formed by lava flow. The river water here flows off the snows of Etna and is always icy cold, even in summer - hence the name of the nearby village "Fiumefreddo".
- Rent a kayak in some of the beach clubs
- Dal Pirata Beach, ☏ . Near the archaeological area of Naxos, Dal Pirata Beach is contained by two partitions of lava stone from the nearby Mt. Etna. Popular with tourists in the summer, the beach has a number of restaurants nearby with typical Sicilian dishes, and a snack bar. There are boat rentals, or you can simply relax on a sunbed.
- 500 Vintage Tour (Classic car hire & tours), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. A vintage self-drive excursion or a themed tour on a classic Fiat 500, starting from Taormina and Giardini Naxos area. The most popular excursions are themed on the Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather movie and on the Etna Wines Road. You can reach amazing villages like Savoca, Forza D’Agrò and Taormina.
- Al Fagiano (The Pheasant), Via Consolare Valeria 126 (From the motorway, head west on SS 114), ☏ . Th-Tu 12:30-15:00 & 19:30-00:00; closed W. Pizzeria and seafood restaurant at western edge of town.
- Pianeta Pizza, Via Vittorio Emanuele, 184, ☏ . F-W 19:00-23:00; closed Th. Pizza chain, also sandwiches, salads and calzones. From €4 for a single pizza.
- Pasticceria Casablanca Massimo, Via Consolare Valeria, 84, ☏ . W-M 07:30-21:00. Sicilian sweet shop with gelato, cannoli or the trademark pasta di mandorle, a small almond sweet. Also available are wonderfully crafted marzipan fruits and impressive Sicilian cakes.
- Gianni House, Via Pergusa, 47 (just back from main street on seaward side), ☏ . 2-star hostel with dorms for backpackers, rooms for families & couples. Regular pasta parties in summer on the fifth floor terrace, which offers a spectacular view of the sea . from €18 dorms, €20 private rooms.
- La Terra dei Sogni (Land of Dreams), Via Catania-Messina 14, Fiumefreddo (10 km S of Giardini Naxos), ☏ , fax: . 3-star budget hotel with restaurant and swimming pool.
- 1 Kassiopea Aparthotel (Hotel Kassiopea), Via Jannuzzo 31 (Few metres from Recanati bus station), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 11:00. 3-star, central in Recanati. €50 - 120.
- Taormina is the obvious destination for those staying in Giardini-Naxos, tantalizingly placed on the side of a hill to the north. It is in walking distance, but those unsuited for climbing many sets of stairs would do better to take the bus (€1, €2.50 return) which departs from the Recanati bus station. Another bus runs from Taormina further up the hill to Castelmola, which is also worth a visit. Down the hill is the beautiful Isolabella, a small island which juts out from the coast and is usually bridged by a strip of beach, depending on the tide.
- Riposto - harbor town down of the coast, there is a fish market where Sicilian caricatures hawk seafood freshly caught just off the shore. Check the prices, the seafront stands tend to be more expensive than the vendors who are hidden along the sides. The market is close to the main square, faced by a large church.
- Mount Etna - Plenty of agencies offer day trips there, or with your own car you could reach either the Sapienza or Provenzana base stations. To walk to the summit, you must have a guide, warm clothing and stout footwear, clear weather, and a volcano that isn't erupting (which it does quite often).
- Catania is the regional transport hub, so you'll probably have to pass through it; it's worth a day to explore.
- The main attractions further south are Syracuse, Ragusa and Modica
- To reach the north coast, the quickest way is to blat along the autostrada A18. A more attractive route SS185 winds through the hills, with views back over Etna, and through the picturesque medieval town of Novara di Sicilia overlooking ancient Tyndaris and Abacaenum. From the coast either turn west for Palermo, or go a little way north to Milazzo the port for the Aeolian Islands, or turn east to the ferry port of Messina.