The best way to get from Palermo to Taormina is by car. A rental allows you to make stops in all the destinations across the 3-hour route between the two cities. Driving in a foreign country isn't for everyone though, and the train, though slower, is a scenic hands-free ride between the two cities. The bus is the least convenient option as it requires two separate tickets and a potential wait in Catania (which may be a blessing in disguise).
For those with time to spend, this Spectacular Self-Drive Tour Around Sicily begins in Palermo and passes through Trapani, Sciacca, Agrigento, Modica, Syracuse and Taormina. For those shorter on time, these Sicily itineraries include 3-day and 4-day options.
Do keep in mind that Taormina is a summer-only destination that practically shuts down during the winter. Find out more about the best time to visit Sicily.
By Car or Private Transfer
Duration: 3-4.5 hours (more with stops and traffic)
This is the most convenient and the quickest way to get from Palermo to Taormina. It's best to rent the car once leaving Palermo, as traffic within the capital is notoriously congested and difficult for those not accustomed to the local driving ways. The fastest route is the partially-tolled A19. A picturesque stop along the way is the beautiful Ciclopi Riviera and the fishing villages of Acitrezza and Acicastello, which you can read about in more detail in this itinerary of Sicily's East Coast.
Keep in mind that you will have few occasions to use the car within your destination of Taormina and may have to keep it parked during your stay. During the summer, the city is very busy and parking is scarce and expensive.
Duration: 4-5 hours
The train ride between Palermo and Taormina is scenic and is a recommended alternative for those who are uncomfortable driving across the island. However, there are no direct trains between the two cities. All options require at least one change in Catania or Messina (4 hours) and some train options require up to three changes. Trains are run by Italy's national operator Trenitalia and are Regionale trains, meaning that their price is fixed, they don't require pre-booking are there is no seat selection.
Taormina and the nearby town of Giardini-Naxos share their train station; when inserting the Taormina as a destination, make sure to select 'Taormina-Giardini'. This means that Taormini's Piazza Duomo is a 40-minute walk away from the train station. To skip the long walk, you can take the bus (10-20 minutes) using local operator Azienda Servizi Municipalizzati's Linea Verde from the station. Keep in mind that the route does not run late into the night. You can otherwise take a taxi (10 minutes), which will cost between $17-20 depending on your destination within the city center.
Duration: 3.5-4.5 hours
This is the least convenient option to get from Palermo to Taormina as it requires booking two separate tickets with two different bus operators and with one change in Catania. Depending on which pair of tickets you select, there may be also be a long wait in Catania, an appropriate moment for a refreshing Granita and photos in front of the Fontana dell'Elefante (The Elephant’s Fountain).
For the first part of the journey, take a bus run by SAIS Autolinee (2.5 hours). Once in Catania, you can transfer to take an Interbus to Taormina (1-2 hours). Tickets for both buses can be purchased online in advance.