Italy has many beautiful cities, but just a few blend as spectacularly with the landscape as Ragusa in Southern Sicily. UNESCO included Ragusa and seven other cities and towns in its List of World Heritage Sites. The group is known as the Late Baroque Towns of the Val di Noto.
As you can imagine, there are plenty of things to see and do in Ragusa. You’ve probably heard of its picturesque Old Town Ibla perched on top of a hill. It’s a popular tourist area with curvy cobbled streets and charming squares. Most historic churches are here.
But that’s not all. The city center is west of the Old Town. Though it’s as impressive, there are fewer tourists around. Besides, the city’s imposing Cathedral is here. Fantastic mountains and other historic towns nearby complete the feast.
Where to Stay in Ragusa
In Ragusa, you won’t have trouble finding the accommodation that’s right for you. If you want to stay in the middle of the action, then Ibla is your place. Iblaresort Boutique Hotel is in the heart of Historic Ragusa. The chic property is inside a beautiful garden. It features modern décor with tiled floors and stylish furniture. The best units come with views.
For gorgeous views, book a room at the Bed and Breakfast Terra del Sole Ibla. This wonderful hotel on a rock offers the best views of Ragusa’s Old Town. All of their spacious units come with a balcony. We loved the delicious complimentary breakfast. A must.
Nature lovers should stay at the San Giorgio Palace Hotel Ragusa Ibla. The luxurious property is perched on a hill at the southern edge of the lower town. You go up via a lift, and all you see is nature. The best rooms have stone bathrooms and epic views over the valley.
Ragusa’s City Center is less touristy than Ibla. The Relais Antica Badia – San Maurizio 1619 is one of the best hotels in the region. The fully refurbished 18th-century villa is in the heart of the center. It’s got a luxury spa with a sauna and Turkish bath. The elegant rooms feature luxurious fabrics and antic furniture. Everything is chic and classy.
The De Stefano Palace Luxury Hotel is another luxury hotel in downtown Ragusa. With 27 spacious rooms, it is one of the largest in the city. There is a first-class spa with a Jacuzzi and hammam. If you have money to spend, book a suite, and you won’t regret it.
Hotel La Dimora di Piazza Carmine is on a slope overlooking the river at the edge of Ragusa’s City Center. Stay here if you want to be away from it all, but within walking distance of the center. The superior rooms have a balcony with lovely views over the city. The service is warm and professional. Loved it!
How to Get to Ragusa
Buses and Trains
Most tourists land at Catania International Airport and then go to Ragusa. Frequent buses connect Catania to Ragusa between 7 AM and 10 PM. These stop by the airport. The journey takes less than two hours. Be sure to grab a window seat! Please note that Ragusa’s bus station is far from the center and Ibla.
If you are coming from Syracuse, you can take a train or a bus. Trains are a bit old but far quicker and offer a more scenic journey. Buses take 3 hours, while trains some 2 hours. Most trains and buses stop in the historic cities of Noto, Scicli, and Modica on their way to Ragusa.
From elsewhere in Sicily, you have to take a bus or drive. Only a couple of buses daily connect Palermo and Ragusa. Most stop in Catania and take 4 hours. If you are coming from Agrigento, take a bus to Gela and then another bus or train from there.
In all honesty, it’s not that easy to go to Ragusa on your own. I took a train from Syracuse, which went smoothly. However, on my way back, the trains were canceled. Eventually, I was able to find a bus at no extra cost, but it took me far longer than expected to get back.
Unfortunately, public transportation in Sicily is not that reliable. Therefore, if you want to go to Ragusa without a problem, hire an organized tour. If you are a fan of the TV Series Inspector Montalbano, you will love this tour. They take you through many locations featured in the acclaimed series, including Ragusa.
Another great option takes you from Catania to three baroque jewels: Noto, Modica, and Ragusa. Granted, you won’t have too much time in the three places, but you’ll get a glimpse of these iconic Sicilian baroque towns.
Things to Do in Ragusa
Get Lost on the Streets of Ragusa Ibla
Of all the things to see in Ragusa, the baroque Old Town (also known as Lower Town) is a must. Ibla crowns a limestone hill between two deep valleys. Its historic architecture is of exceptional value. Take a walk along its cobbled streets, and you’ll quickly realize why Ragusa is such a popular tourist destination.
Ibla has a long and rich past. The first civilization to inhabit the area was the Hybla Heraea. Then the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, and Sicilians ruled at one point or the other. Ragusa was the county capital for two centuries until Modica took over the honor.
A major earthquake that hit Sicily in 1693 destroyed most of Ragusa. A new city had to be rebuilt following the quake. Baroque was the most popular style at the time. Thus the lavish palaces and churches that dot Ragusa.
Visit San Giorgio Church
San Giorgio is the most special church in Ragusa Ibla. Though locals call it the Duomo di San Giorgio, it’s not the cathedral. Before the earthquake, San Giorgio was the city’s cathedral, but it was in the current Giardino Ibleo. The church we see today is from the following centuries.
The author of the new church is Rosario Gagliardi, a renowned architect from Noto. In 1738, he designed it according to the Baroque principles. Though construction started in 1744, the façade was completed in 1775. The monumental dome is from 1820.
You’ll easily recognize the church as the most imposing landmark on Ragusa’s main square Piazza Duomo. The main façade has three levels and a tower alike appearance. If you think the exterior is imposing, wait until you get inside. Ten stone pillars divide the three naves.
Explore the Historic Churches of Ragusa Ibla
Churches are some of Ragusa’s most impressive attractions. Some of the nicest in Italy dot the city. Walk along the main square and you’ll notice another massive church. San Giuseppe Church is another tower alike building with three levels. Though its architect is unknown, it was surely one of Gagliardi’s close colleagues.
You will see Santa Maria Delle Scale (Saint Mary of the Stairs) as soon as you enter the Old Town. The 13th-century Gothic church survived the earthquake. Nevertheless, it was expanded in the second half of the 18th Century. Thus its Gothic-Baroque appearance.
Another church that survived the earthquake is Chiesa del Purgatorio or Church of the Purgatory. The original church from 1658 was rebuilt in 1740. While the bell tower dates back to the early 18th Century, the façade is from 1757.
Relax in Giardino Ibleo
Old Ragusa has only one park. From the main square, walk along the main pedestrian street and you’ll end up at the beautiful Giardino Ibleo. Different species of plants and various historic monuments populate the beautiful oasis. The views from its esplanade will take your breath away.
The garden opened to the public in 1858. It was the project of local nobles and a large part of the population, who built it for free. The original San Giorgio cathedral was here until the earthquake destroyed it. The whole area fell into oblivion until the garden opened.
The park has three sections. The first one by the entrance is where the Capuchins Convent is. You will see 50 large Palm trees and several Judas trees around the area. The second area is a typical French-style tailored garden with a central fountain and flowers. Finally, we find the third and newest part designed more freely. You’ll notice you are there when you see the Pine trees.
Visit a Palace or Two
Ragusa stands out for the number of palaces that decorate its streets. The most famous one is Palazzo Arezzo Di Trifiletti. The lavish building sits on the main square, across from San Giorgio church. The baroque masterpiece was rebuilt after the earthquake and completed in the 19th Century. It has been the home of the famous Sicilian Arezzo family for over 200 years.
The second palace you should visit is Palazzo Cosentini close to the Church of Purgatory. The palace is on the corner of two important streets. Look out for the statues of San Francesco di Paola and San Rocco, patrons of travelers. However, the palace is famous for its balconies with grotesque masks holding allegorical figures of abundance.
Our last palace is in the Upper Town, a few minutes away from the Cathedral. The Palazzo Zacco is another corner building known for its lavish balconies. You will see three grotesque masks with allegoric sculptures. Though it dates back to the mid-18th Century, it got its current name in the late 19th Century when the Zacco family bought it.
Have Lunch or a Dessert in a Place with the View
Ragusa is all about views and great food. So, why not mix both!? The best place in town to try Sicilian arancini (stuffed rice balls) is Cantunera Ibla in front of the Giardino Ibleo. You can try one of 14 different arancini overlooking the park and the medieval San Vincenzo Ferreri church.
Unlike in most major tourist destinations, in Ragusa you can have delicious lunch right on the main square. Among several good restaurants, we choose the Caffetteria Bistrò Biancomangiare. You can have pasta, salads, sandwiches, and arancini while enjoying the views of the magnificent San Giorgio church.
You can’t leave Sicily without trying its world-famous gelato and cannoli. For the best ice cream in town, go to Gelati Divini on the main square. They have a terrace, so take your time and soak up the views. For cookies and cakes, go to Iudice in front of Giardino Ibleo. Though they don’t have a terrace, you can buy their cannoli and enjoy it in the gardens.
Roam the Streets of Ragusa’s City Center
After the great earthquake, most of Ragusa’s inhabitants moved to the so-called Upper Town, also known as Ragusa Superiore. The Upper and Lower Towns were separated for centuries until they merged in 1926 to become the provincial capital. Modern Ragusa’s City Center is in the Upper Town.
Unlike Ibla’s streets, the ones in the Upper town are long, straight, and wide. That’s why there are more cars. Though it’s a big area, the interesting part is between the train station and the Lower Town. Most of Central Ragusa’s attractions are here.
The City Center’s main street Via Roma is a pedestrian thoroughfare next to the Cathedral. All types of bars, restaurants and shops line the charming street. If you are into architecture, you should not miss the impressive Post Office from 1938 and the former Casa del Fascio from 1934. Both are great examples of Italian fascist prewar architecture.
Visit the Ragusa Cathedral
The earthquake that hit Ragusa destroyed the cathedral, so there was a need for a new one. Since the city center moved from the lower to the upper town, the new cathedral had to be there. The Cathedral of San Giovanni Batista took one year to complete and opened in 1694.
As you can imagine, the newly built church was rather small, so the city began building a bigger one in 1718. The same architects that designed Acireale designed the church. Thus its resemblance to Acireale’s cathedral. However, the interior is from the 19th and 20th Centuries.
The richly decorated main façade has five distinct parts divided by massive columns. There are three portals. The statues of the Immaculate, St. John the Baptist, and St. John the Evangelist are in the center. Don’t miss the two courtyards to the north and south.
Enjoy the Best Views of Ragusa
We know the best place in Ragusa to photograph its iconic skyline. Walk from the train or bus station in the direction of Ibla. Take the stairs next to the Santa Maria Delle Scale church. You will see a viewing platform next to the church. Enjoy the best views of Ragusa Ibla.
On your way from the train station to the city center, you’ll cross a bridge. The Filippo Pennavaria Bridge is relatively new but offers great views of the Santa Domenica quarry. The next bridge is the 19th Century Ponte Vecchio, also known as Ponte Dei Cappuccini. It’s a two-level stone bridge with four arches on the bottom and ten on the top.
If you have extra time, we suggest walking outside Ibla. Start your walk at the Chiesa del Purgatorio and enter Corso Don Minzoni Street. In a minute you’ll pass by Ragusa’s most iconic graffiti piece. Continue in that direction until you reach a small roundabout. Turn right to Via Avvocato Giovanni Ottaviano and walk until the end. Turn left at the Via Risorgimento and walk for about 7 minutes to the large viewing platform.
Go on a Day Trip
Ragusa may be the nicest baroque town in Sicily, but it’s not the only one. Modica, just 7 miles (12 km) away, and Scicli, 12 miles (20 km) away, are two other gorgeous towns. Due to its geography, Modica is especially beautiful. Views from its cobbled streets and squares match those of Ragusa’s, and there are even fewer tourists.
If you like historic castles, hire a car or an organized tour to Donnafugata Castle. Though we don’t know for sure when the castle was originally built, its current appearance is mostly from the 19th Century. There are over 200 rooms in the castle, of which 20 are open to the public.
If you are visiting Ragusa and Eastern Sicily in summer, you should check out some of its beaches. Ragusa has its own, conveniently called Marina di Ragusa. It’s a cute little town with a large sandy beach. All you have to do is to lay down on the sand and enjoy your time under the Sicilian sun.