You really should visit Mount Etna when in Sicily.
Visiting Mount Etna is the cherry on the cake during a trip to Sicily. Located on the south east of the island, not far from Catania, this is one of the most active volcanoes in Europe.
Mount Etna actually is a series of stratovolcanoes – a number of volcanoes built by layers of lava flows, ash and blocks of unmelted stone. It has four craters at its summit: the central ones, called Bocca Nuova and Voragine; the Northeast crater; and the newest Southeast one (formed by the 1978 eruption).
Whether you are looking for a hike or you would like to just take it a bit easier when visiting Mount Etna, this post explains everything you need to know to plan your trip, with suggestions for the best Mount Etna tours.
13 Things You Need To Know To Visit Mount Etna
It’s one of the highest volcanoes in Europe
With its 3,350 meters (around 10,991 feet), Mount Etna may not be the highest volcano in Europe (that’s Teide, in Tenerife), but it certainly is the largest one with a base circumference of around 150 km (93.2 miles). It’s so unique that it made the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
As well as one of the most active ones
Mount Etna is the most active volcano in Europe, and one of the most actives in the world, with Strombolian kind of eruptions (producing ash, tephra and lava fountains) that constantly change its shape and elevation.
In 1669, a large eruption destroyed part of the port of Catania. Since then, eruptions have been regular and of a smaller scale, though some can be rather violent. These kind of eruptions are called “paroxysms.”
Mount Etna eruptions and the lava flows occasionally threaten agriculture, transportation, and at times even the local towns surrounding it. The road that the 4×4 buses use to drive visitors up from the cable car has to be regularly re-built by the park authorities, as it gets destroyed by eruptions.
Locals have an affectionate nickname for it
Locals affectionately call Mount Etna “Mongibello” (Beautiful Mountain) – and it is easy to see why. Its sight is mighty, yet stunning. It is a huge resource for local life. Its fertile soil is perfect for the cultivation of olives, grapes and fruit – some of the best Italian olive oil, wines, mandarines and oranges are produced here. And the revenue produced by tourism is thriving, with ski tourism in the winter, and hiking Mount Etna tours the rest of the year.
You need guided Mount Etna tours to reach the peak crater
You can visit Mount Etna independently or on guided tours. The way you do it really depends on your budget and on how much of it you want to see.
If you want to hike all the way to the crater, you need to join a guided tour. Guides are officially appointed among those that know the trail like the palm of their hands, and can navigate them even in bad weather. They are equipped with a radio they can use in case of emergency, too.
Please remember that this is a highly active volcano, where the fumaroles close to the craters eject toxic gases whose direction change depending on the wind. It is not uncommon for guides to have to go rescue groups that venture on their own and eventually get stuck because unable to breathe.
You also have to understand that if the volcano starts erupting, your tour may have to detour, or you may be unable to reach the peak crater – this is for obvious safety reasons.
Guided Mount Etna tours usually meet at the visitor center near Rifugio Sapienza. The price of the tour includes the guide, equipment such as helmets, but not a hotel pick up (you have to make your own way to Rifugio Sapienza) or the cable car and 4×4 that will take you to the beginning of the trail, located at Torre del Filosofo (around 2,950 meters – that’s 9,678.5 feet – above sea level). Tours usually last around 6 hours.
Once in Torre del Filosofo, all groups are met by a local guide to walk around the lower craters. If you are meant to continue hiking, yours will be a strenuous but rewarding experience!
For Mount Etna tours that include a trek to the summit and crater, click here. For a sunset hike to Silvestri Crater, click here.
When booking you guided tour of Mount Etna, remember to read the small print. The price doesn’t generally include the cost of the cable car and 4×4 ride to the top.
The starting point to visit Mount Etna is Rifugio Sapienza
The best access point to Mount Etna is on the southern side, where Rifugio Sapienza is located. That’s also where the cable car station is located. Rifugio Sapienza is at around 1,900 meters (6,233.6 feet) above sea level. There, you will find a series of souvenir shops, coffee shops and a couple of restaurants.
There are three ways to get to Rifugio Sapienza
You can get to Rifugio Sapienza by car (the easiest option – you can rent it in Catania or at the airport). You can park the car at the large parking lot.
Make sure to read my post A Guide To Renting A Car In Catania.
If you’d rather travel by public transport, you can get the bus from Stazione Centrale in Catania. The only direct bus leaves at 8:15 am, so you really should book in advance (at least a day before) if this is what you are opting for. It takes about two hours to get to Rifugio Sapienza, as the bus stops in Nicolosi. This means you only get to Rifugio Sapienza at 10:15 or so – making public transportation not a viable option if you have a booked a tour that departs at 9:00 am.
The bus back to Catania leaves at 4:30 pm – so you have plenty of time to explore Mount Etna on your own.
By guided tour
If you don’t have a car and don’t want to juggle public transportation, your best way of getting to Rifugio Sapienza and visit Mount Etna is on organized Mount Etna tours departing from Catania. Make sure to double check that your tour actually includes transportation from Catania, because not all do.
For guided tours of Mount Etna that include transportation from Catania, click here.
Visiting Mount Etna is not exactly cheap
The cheapest (and most difficult) way to visit Mount Etna is to walk all the way up along the path that follows the cable car. Otherwise, here is a breakdown of the costs:
CABLE CAR, ONE WAY – €24
CABLE CAR, ROUND TRIP – €30 – €23 for children up to 11 years of age, free for children up to 4 years old.
COMBINED TICKET – cable car + 4×4 ride to Torre del Filosofo + guided tour around the craters and calderas €68; €50 for children up to 11 years of age.
I know what you are thinking – this is a lot of money! But keep in mind that the maintenance costs for a cable car on the slopes of a volcano that erupts regularly are very high, and the maintenance is indeed ongoing.
Please remember it is not recommended to hike Mount Etna alone. Check out my post on why I don’t go hiking alone.
But you can visit Mount Etna independently to save a bit
If you want to avoid all the fees that visiting Mount Etna implies, you can opt to take the public bus to Rifugio Sapienza, and from there you will need to hike all the way to the Mountain Hut which works as the Cable Car station and coffee shop. The hike lasts about 1.5 hours. It’s not exactly a nice walk – you are mostly walking on volcanic gravel – and if it is a sunny summer day, you may find it way too hot.
From the Mountain Hut, you can follow the windy road to Torre del Filosofo. You will be able to see a small, dormant volcano on the way. It will take you about 45 minutes to get to the Torre del Filosofo, from where you can walk around a massive crater that was formed in the 2003 eruptions.
This is the highest spot you can get to without joining a guided tour. You will have to follow the same path to walk back down.
You need to be properly dressed
Whichever month you plan to go to Mount Etna, remember there’s at least a 10°C difference between the temperature at the base of the volcano and the top. I visited in mid October, and it was quite cold. It will be really cold – and there will be snow – in the winter.
The following list is applicable to those visiting Mount Etna during the warmest months:
- Hiking boots: the terrain is rocky and sandy at the same time and that extra ankle support will be needed.
- Hiking Pants, a Intent Krossback t-shirt, a sweater, and a warmer wind proof jacket: it does get cold at 3000 meters above sea level! I also recommend taking a scarf and a hat, and gloves to be on the safe side.
- Sunglasses: the sun can be fierce on the eyes in the summer months, and there’s a lot of dust flying around.
- A daypack to carry the extra clothes, plenty of water (especially if planning to hike) and food and snacks.
- A camera to catch the amazing views.
You can rent some nice, thick jackets at the cable car station for a few euro.
You can visit Mount Etna throughout the year
Mount Etna can be visited year round, but the experience you’ll have will vary greatly depending on the season. Go in the winter time and it will be covered in snow – you can even ski there! During the spring and summer months you’ll find the largest crowds; whereas the experience tends to be perfect weather and crowds wise during shoulder season (September and October).
There are a few places to eat on Mount Etna
The wisest thing to do if you are traveling on a budget is to pack your own lunch and drinks. However, there are a couple of places where you can eat around Mount Etna.
Rifugio Sapienza has a selection of sandwiches, salads and meals cooked to order. The Mountain Hut where the cable car stops is another option to get a quick bite.
Where to stay when visiting Mount Etna
If you are planning to rent a car during your trip to Sicily, you have a wide choice of places to stay that are not directly in a city.
I stayed at Bosco Ciancio, a beautifully refurbished rural house, once the ancient manor of the Dukes of Ciancio. The building, dating back to the 1800s, is located in Etna Park and completely immersed in nature. All rooms have stunning views of the countryside, and there is a lovely internal garden and an outside patio. The restaurants serves dishes reflecting the local tradition, using seasonal ingredients.
If you’d rather stay in a city, opt to stay in Catania. This is one of Sicily’s largest cities and you are bound to find some excellent accommodation options.
Other useful information
Make sure you get a good travel insurance for your trip to Sicily, especially if you plan to hike Mount Etna. You can get a good one here.
Make sure to read my other posts about Sicily:
- A Great Guide To The Things To Do In Catania, Italy
- Everything You Need To Know To Visit Vulcano Island, Sicily
- Everything You Need To Know To Hike Volcano Stromboli
- A Fantastic 8 Days Sicily Itinerary
These are posts about Italy:
- 17 Reasons To Visit Italy As Soon As Possible
- 67 Extremely Useful Travel Tips For Italy
- 20 Best Movies About Italy You Need To Watch
30 thoughts on “What You Must Know To Visit Mount Etna”
Thanks for the interesting info Claudia!
You bet! Hope you get to go one day!
Wow! Your photos are incredible! Thanks for such a helpful guide for visiting Mount Etna. My girlfriend and I are planning a visit so we’re definitely going to refer back to this as our travel date approaches. Would you say that some basic hiking gear is good enough? we’re not technical climbers/hikers at all so we’re just going to have some pretty basic gear. Otherwise, we’re really excited to visit and just take in all of the incredible scenery! Thanks for sharing!
Hi Stefan, thank you for reaching out. Whatever gear you use, depends on what you intend to do. Mount Etna can be visited on a really easy trip where you don’t have to do much walking at all – and basic gear is fine for that. But if you intend to hike, good gear (hiking boots, a backpack to carry water and other layers to wear on top, a good wind jacket etc) are necessary. My packing list in the post is a good reference for gear I recommend. Feel free to write me with more questions!
Thank you, Claudia. Mount Etna is definitely going on my bucket list. Thank you for sharing this. The pictures that you have included are simply mind-blowing. Especially the one of Volcano.
Thank you so much, I am glad I inspired you to go!
I am planning to go to Mount Etna for a very long time and soon I am about to go there.It looks that amazing in pictures what will it be in real.
You will love it, that’s what I know!
It looks really cool. I never visit Etna because I only took a day trip from Malta to Catania and didn´t have enough time.
Wow! I hope you get to go soon. Meantime, I hope I also get to visit Malta 🙂
These photos are terrific. I really feel like I’m there! I’ve visited volcanoes before, but this seems to be in a world of it’s own! Thank you for sharing! There’s so much great advice here!
It’s a fabulous place! I hope you get to visit 🙂
We are going to Sicily in September, and this info will be a great help. Thanks!
You will love it!
I climbed Mount Etna a couple of years ago. The view from the top was breathtaking! And you gave good advice on preparing for climbing it. Your description of Etna gives me goosebumps!
Glad you enjoyed the post and you share my point of view. Yesterday I stumbled upon a Facebook post where someone claimed that the best souvenir he ever got was a lava stone he lifted from Etna. I truly hope no more people do this!!
Your pictures are amazing! I got interested and inspired a lot. I will definitely travel to Mount Etna once in my life. Trekking on such mountain must be incredible! Thanks a lot for recommendations and sharing your personal experience!!
This all looks amazing. I have just one question. Until which point does the cable car take us, does that place have a name (like The Philosopher Tower does)?
Hi Marko, I don’t remember the name of the station to be honest. The cable car takes you to about 2300 or 2400 meters above sea level and from there you can take the bus until around 3000 meters. There, you meet the guides that take you to the crater, or you can join the hike to the summit.
Hi! Congratulations for the photos and especially I wish you to make it to the top. Please tell me if it is allowed and if it is possible to hike from the end of the cable station to the limit of 4 * 4 cars on foot.
It is! Lots of people do it. But keep in mind it will be VERY dusty 🙂
I absolutely love your photographs! Thank you for the evocative descriptions and valuable information.
We plan to hike Etna as a family in August. Please can you tell me if there is parking available near the meeting place and will guides need booking ahead of time? We will have a 3 hour drive first from near Palermo!
Hi! Thank you for your comment. Yes, there is a parking lot right by the cable car station. You don’t need to reserve a guide if you are only going to the lower craters (by Torre del Filosofo). But if you plan to actually go on a hike, you should book it in advance – it’s definitely better than swinging by and being disappointed!
Loved the article. I have been in Etna on both the seasons – winter and summer. The drastic difference between the all snow mountain and all black mountain is simply amazing.
Did you visit any of the lava caves?
I actually haven’t!
Hi Claudia, thank you for the useful information. 🙂
I’d like to know as a not so experience hiker with good physical health, how long will it take to hike from 1900m ( where the public bus stops) to Torre del Filosofo out and back?
Will I be able to make it back to catch the bus at 4.30pm? Also, I’m a solo female traveler and wondering the safety of this hike as well.
Hope you can help. Thank you very much!
There are tons of people on the hike so you don’t have to worry about safety. The walk from the 1900 meters spot to the Torre del Filosofo is pretty much along the road and to be honest it’s not that great – you get covered in dust from the 4X4 driving along the road, and the landscape is very barren. If I were you I’d just take the cable car and then consider joining a hike to the top craters, or just join one of the guides to view the craters around the Torre del Filosofo. As explained in this post, it’s included in the cable ride fare.
Hi Claudia, Great article. I was born east of Etna in the little village of Fondagello. I left there in 1949 when I was five years old and came to Australia. I finally went back there in May 2015 and my wife and I and my son and daughter in law were take up Mt Etna by a young lady that lived in a nearby village and who we had met in Townsville Aust. when she visited. On the same evening Etna erupted, what a beautiful sight. I don’t know if it was a “welcome home” or a bring back that piece of lave you souveniered. It was an awesome trip and I would recomend to everyone a visit up Mt Etna.
Tully, Nth. Qld.
Pretty sure it was both 😉