Messina sits calmly on a curved harbor at the northernmost tip of Sicily’s Ionian Coast, a few miles from the Italian mainland. A central transport hub for centuries, it remains an influential gateway to and from the reef.
While a disastrous earthquake in 1908 razed many of Messina’s historical monuments, it allowed the town to re-emerge with a precisely Belle Époque air. Wide streets and lower-rise, turn-of-the-century structures radiate a sense of space and calm missing from other significant Sicilian cities. And though the town’s cultural cachet doesn’t really match that of its more coveted contestants, it does claim one of Sicily’s most exquisite cathedrals and an excellent regional museum, not to mention granita and swordfish celebrated by connoisseurs across the city.
How to reach Messina?
Messina is Sicily’s link to the leading Italian train network. Long-distance trains from Naples and Rome cross the Straits of Messina by ferry and continue on to Catania and Palermo. Regular local trains also run to Milazzo, Taormina, Cefalu, and neighboring Syracuse.
Long-distance buses stop in Messina, linking Naples and Rome to Palermo and Catania. Daily buses also run to Milazzo and Taormina.
Top Attractions in Messina:
Museo Regionale Interdisciplinare
Messina’s restored regional museum is one of Sicily’s lesser-known exhibits, with a comprehensive collection of fascinating archeology and art. Its many displays include the ram bow of an early Roman warship, the beautifully symbolic San Gregorio (St Gregory) polyptych by town boy Antonello da Messina (1430 CE–79 CE), and two imposing works by Caravaggio (1571 CE–1610 CE): Risurrezione di Lazzaro (Resurrection of Lazarus) and L’Adorazione dei pastori (Adoration of the Shepherds).
To reach the museum, take a tram at Piazza Cairoli and ride up the sickle-shaped harbor. Halfway along, you’ll notice the 16th-century Fontana del Nettuno in the middle of two bustling roads and the colossal golden statue, the Madonna Della Lettera, overlooking the port. Alight at the Ringo tram stop, from where the Museo Regionale Interdisciplinare is a quick walk.
Piazza del Duomo
Piazza del Duomo houses Messina’s cathedral and its unusual bell tower (campanile). Rising over 50m into the sky, the construction incorporates a mesmerizing astronomical clock, said to be the largest in Europe. Constructed in Strasbourg in 1733 CE, it strikes at noon, setting in motion a parade of bronze automata that sets off a humorous roaring lion and a crowing cockerel. Facing the tower is the 1553 CE marble Fontana di Orione. Designed by Florentine sculptor Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli (pupil to Michelangelo), it honors Orion, the mythological founder of Messina.
Fontana del Nettuno
Situated where Via Garibaldi meets Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia, the 16th-century Neptune’s Fountain (Fontana del Nettuno) is one of Messina’s best fountains. Created by the Florentine sculptor Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli, its figures are copies: the original Nettuno and one of the monsters (mostri) are housed in the town’s prominent Museo Regionale Interdisciplinare that we explored above.
Where to eat in Messina?
Messina has tonnes of options for good drinks and food. The town has plenty of bars, restaurants, and cafés, serving a mixture of cuisines. For authentic Messina pizzas, Agorà is unmissable. Bacco is a go-to place for seafood lovers. Capitano is another wonderful place for authentic pizzas in Messina.