Sicily – top tips for staying in Messina

Messina was a hard town for me to like at first. It’s Sicily’s third largest city and the main entry point for all sea, road and rail traffic coming from the mainland, so first impressions are of a rather ugly ferry port. Appearances aren’t helped by the fact that it was destroyed by the devastating 1908 earthquake which wiped out virtually all of its ancient architectural heritage. I associate the town with a feeling of melancholy and sorrow at the loss of a once glorious past. History seems to weigh heavy here.

So it has taken me a few trips to appreciate it as much as I do now. I’ve been three times, twice in 2009 and once in 2019, and have managed to find a few gems and accumulate some good tips which I’ll share later in this post. The first part is more pertinent for my colleagues who might be staying for a few days. You’ll find everywhere I mention on my Google map.

On my last trip my employer put us up at the Royal Palace Hotel at 3 Via Tommaso Cannizzaro. The rooms are okay and the staff are very helpful but otherwise it’s a pretty unremarkable hotel. It’s well located for town, and the ferry port and train station are both within walking distance.

The hotel doesn’t have a gym but in the past, reception have organised a day pass for me (which cost 8€ in 2009) at Sport 4 Club 2 at 7 Via Ettore Lombardo Pellegrino, just three blocks away (take your own water). There’s also a laundromat on the same block, OndaBlu Lavanderia at 68 Via Giuseppe Natoli, which is much cheaper than using the hotel laundry service.

We used to stay at the Hotel Liberty on Via I Settembre which had a lovely dining room with an Art Nouveau stained glass ceiling, but sadly it has now closed. The Liberty was located even closer to the ferry terminal and I remember on my second visit that my employer instructed me to get a cab to the hotel after getting off the ferry, presumably because it’s a bit edgy around the harbourside late at night. The cab driver drove me around the block to the hotel and promptly charged me 20€! I couldn’t have been in the cab for longer than two minutes!! So, watch out for that one…

If you do get into town late after the restaurants have closed, my top foodie tip for a midnight snack is an Arancino at Rosticceria Famulari, a 24-hour fry shop that’s about eight blocks walk from the Royal Palace Hotel. See my Messina Street Food post for a review.

Another great place to eat is Trattoria Al Padrino at 54/56 Via Santa Cecilia, a no-frills family run restaurant, about nine blocks walk from the Royal Palace Hotel, which is riffing on the famous gangster film of the same name. Some of my colleagues have told me off for recommending it so highly, as the food is quite simple, but for me it’s one of the best experiences to be had in Messina. It’s all about the attitude and sense of humour, for which the Messinese are renowned. Another good place is Osteria del Campanile at 7 Via Loggia dei Mercanti.

In terms of cafes, the best one is probably Pasticceria Irrera 1910 at 79 Via Giuseppe Garibaldi (in Piazza Cairoli) where you can try a “mezza con panna” (a half glass of coffee-flavoured granita and cream), served with a brioche, a calorific breakfast combo for which Messina is famous. My cafe post here. There’s also a fresh juice bar called Mahspremi at 65 Via XXVII Luglio (at one end of Piazza Cairoli) for a healthier option.

For booze drinks I recommend sitting outside Il Chiosco Ottocentesco, a kiosk in Piazza Cairoli, but it’s only open during the summer months. Another choice spot for an aperitivo is sitting outside Ristorante Marina del Nettuno, which has some great views looking out over the water. Again it’s best in the summer.

You can find reviews of all these bars and restaurants in my Eating Out in Messina post.

In terms of stuff to do, my map has a few suggestions up the coast which I haven’t had time to try yet. Ditto the local museums. Instead I spent my free time walking around looking for architectural gems. I definitely need to walk off all the calories I consume but I also do love finding beautiful buildings in unexpected places. I’ve written three posts on architecture walks:

Walk #1 – the city centre. If you only do one walk, make it this one as it covers all the most important sights in just a few blocks. The five most essential for me are; the Quattro Fontane (Four Fountains, actually only two in situ), the Église dei Catalani (Catalan Church), the main entrance door of the Duomo de Messina (Cathedral), the Fontana de Orione (Orion Fountain) and finally the Palazzo Zodiaco, a Stile Liberty (Italian Art Nouveau) ‘palace’ designed by Gino Coppedè, one of my architectural heroes.

Walk #2 – north of the city centre. This walk is much longer (you can shorten or extend it) but it has fewer sights, unless you like Stile Liberty in which case there are several quite nice examples. The best thing to see is the Fontana del Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune) but you also get some nice views over the sea and harbour if you walk back along the waterfront.

Walk #3 – south of the city centre. Actually three or four little walks to individual outlying sights, and some suggestions for some I haven’t done yet. The highlight is another of Coppedè’s buildings, Palazzo Tremi aka Palazzo del Gallo at 215 Via Centonze.

There is the odd bit of nice street art unexpectedly brightening up corners of the city.

And that is my Messina. I’ve still left plenty to do next time but please tell me about your experiences in the comments below as I’m sure there’s lots more to be seen and experienced.

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