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Architecture probably isn’t the first thing people think of when they picture Sicily. And yet, there’s a corner of the Italian island that’s famed for its all-encompassing Baroque architecture. Known as Sicily’s Baroque Trail, this collection of Baroque cities and towns runs through the Val di Noto region of south-eastern Sicily. The small city of Noto is one such destination and with a day trip to Noto you’ll see why the Baroque Trail is so special. Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Noto and its incredible architectural time capsule.
Day Trip to Noto
Before digging into what you can do in Noto, let’s first focus on just getting there. If you’re planning on doing a day trip to Noto, the chances are you’re coming from either Syracuse or Catania. Both are larger, more popular cities and serve as gateways to this part of Sicily. The cities are also common cruise ports so you may be visiting Noto as a cruise excursion.
Either way, Syracuse is the easier of the two to get from, with trains that take 30 minutes running every few hours. Catania, on the other hand, has both bus and train connections. Buses take roughly 1.5 hours, but you’ll have to ask at the bus station for times as working out bus timetables in Sicily can be a challenge. Alternatively, you can take the train to Syracuse and continue on from there, which will take a bit over 2 hours.
Then there’s always the option of visiting with a tour if you don’t want the hassle of public transport. Guided tours to Noto all run from Catania and generally bundle it together with Syracuse as the two are close together.
Of course, you don’t have to go as a day trip if you don’t want to. Staying in Noto overnight can work well if you’re travelling through the region. There’s actually loads of accommodation in Noto to choose from, so don’t let that be a concern. If you do want a recommendation, Simonetta’s Rooms was where I stayed and it was quite cosy. Plus the view of the city skyline from the balcony was pretty great too.
What has made Noto such a popular tourist destination in Sicily is the city’s extensive Baroque architecture. Walk through the city centre and you’ll see countless elegant buildings all sharing this exact style. It’s rare to see a town or city have just one look to it because you usually have buildings from all different eras in the mix. Not so with Noto though.
Like many cities and towns in Sicily, Noto was devastated by an earthquake in 1693. It’s believed half the city’s population died during the disaster, along with most of the city’s buildings. Before 1693, Noto had passed from the Romans to the Muslims to the Normans, each likely leaving their mark on the city’s appearance. But with the earthquake the people of Noto were forced to rebuild and the result is the impressive city that stands today.
Having changed very little since its rebuilding, Noto is a city trapped in the 17th century. But it’s not the only Sicilian city or town to have been rebuilt in the Late Baroque style. In fact, there’s a whole cadre of them that includes Catania and Ragusa. So well-preserved are these cities that they’ve been inscribed on UNESCO’s world heritage list as the Late Baroque Towns of the Val di Noto, after the region in Sicily in which they’re all found.
While it has some competition, Noto is often seen as the most complete example of this heritage. And it’s easy enough to see why. Simply take a stroll along the Corso Vittorio Emanuele, Noto’s main pedestrian street, and you’ll enjoy a visual feast of Baroque architecture. Noto is definitely a destination made for appreciating by foot.
A sensible place to start your Noto visit is with the Porta Reale at the eastern end of the city centre. This triumphal arch marks the point where the Corso Vittorio Emanuele becomes a pedestrian street and is the symbolic gateway to the Old Town. Although it look like it should be older, it actually dates from the 19th century. Regardless, it sets the tone for the grandeur to come.
The most talked about landmark in Noto is hands down the city’s magnificent cathedral. Once you reach it feels like the whole city revolves around it. The Noto Cathedral just has an immense presence to it, no doubt aided by the great wide staircase that leads up to the cathedral door. These steps are an extremely popular spot for people to sit for a moment, but it’d take crowds and crowds to fully cover them. All of this gives this area in front of the cathedral the feeling of a main town square.
But back to Noto Cathedral. It took quite some time after the 1693 earthquake for the cathedral to be built, with it only finished in 1776. However, the cathedral has had to undergo work many times since, with it’s most recent work finished in 2007. Because of all this the interior isn’t all that lavish, but the newly painted cupola in the ceiling is quite nice. It’s really the cathedral’s magnificent Baroque exterior that’s its best feature.
Directly opposite Noto Cathedral stands a grand old building almost its equal. This is the Palazzo Ducezio, a 17th century palace that is home to Noto’s Town Hall. Visit inside and you’ll be able to see the exquisite Hall of Mirrors, a room that’s all stucco, gilding and reflections. But you also get access to its panoramic terrace, which has the best vantage point of the cathedral. It’s not the only viewpoint in Noto, but it’s a pretty great one.
Teatro Tina Di Lorenzo
One of the hidden gems in Noto is the Teatro Tina Di Lorenzo, aka the Teatro Comunale. While the exterior of the theatre is nice enough, inside is where it shines. After paying the entrance fee you can head into the main hall and admire its richly decorated interior. The U-shaped balconies are gilded and draped with red curtains, while the ceiling bears a fantastic mural on it. It’s so extravagant that you have to wonder whether the setting would enhance or distract performances held there.
Other Noto Attractions
While I’ve mentioned some of the big attractions in Noto, there’s plenty more to see and do there. The city has plenty of other churches to visit like the Chiesa di San Carlo and the Chiesa di San Francesco d’Assisi all’Immacolata. Then there are its many palaces, chief among them Palazzo Nicolaci which I sadly missed. You can also fill your day with museums and art galleries, including the Noto Civic Museum. Safe to say, you won’t run out of attractions to visit.
But Noto is also as good a place as any to try traditional Sicilian treats. Fill up on delicious arancini for lunch or enjoy a nice cold granita to cool off after walking up and down Noto’s steep streets. Thanks to its popularity as a tourist destination, finding these things won’t be hard.
Noto by Night
One of the perks of spending the night in Noto is getting to see the city illuminated at night. The city’s Baroque architecture looks just as spectacular and grand lit up, so make sure to take a walk in the evening if you can. Noto is also much quieter in the evening with day trippers gone, which just makes it even more pleasant to experience.
If you’re planning a trip to Sicily, there are plenty more great places to visit in these other Sicily blog posts:
- Don’t Miss These Sights to See in Taormina, Sicily
- 5 Tips to Make the Most of Visiting Ragusa, Sicily
- 9 Best Things to Do in Syracuse, Sicily
- The Extraordinary Mosaics of Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily
- What It’s Like to Visit Agrigento and the Valley of the Temples
- The Effortless Sightseeing Guide to Catania, Sicily
Have you had the chance to make a day trip to Noto in Sicily? Do you enjoy seeing destinations with interesting architecture or do you need something more to connect with them? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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