There are many things to do in Catania and its surroundings. This is one of the most beautiful and lively cities in Sicily, with plenty of attractions to keep you busy for a few days, and it should definitely be included in your Sicily Itinerary.
Catania is the second largest city in Sicily. It counts little over 315000 inhabitants. However, its metropolitan area goes well beyond 700000. The city is located on the eastern coast of Sicily, at the foothill of Mount Etna, and at about one hour drive from Messina – from where ferries to mainland Italy leave.
The city was founded by the Greeks. However, throughout history Catania has undergone several dominations which include that of the Romans. The Renaissance times were particularly flourishing here and Catania developed a rich culture and arts.
Most importantly, if you plan to visit Sicily, you’ll be happy to know that there are many fun things to do in Catania and that this is a great city to explore. Not only you’ll find plenty to keep you busy in town: the surroundings are incredible! Keep in mind that this is the closest main city to Mount Etna, where a day trip is a must!
These are some excellent guided tours of Catania that will help you get to know the city:
In this post, I highlight all the best things to do in Catania and share some practical information to organize your trip there.
The Cathedral and Piazza del Duomo are unmissable places to visit in Catania
The Most Fun Things To Do In Catania
Visit Sant’Agata Cathedral and Piazza Duomo
As soon as you get to Catania, make sure to head to the main square. The Cathedral and Piazza del Duomo are located in the heart of the old town, are perfect starting point for a walk in the city center. The church is a masterpiece of Baroque architecture. It was originally built over the ruins of the Roman Baths in 1078, and subsequently restored various times, due to the many earthquakes that hit Sicily and Catania in particular.
Inside the church you can admire various frescoes as well as the tomb Bellini, one of the most famous Italian composers.
Make sure to also spend some time in Piazza del Duomo – it’s one of the best things to do in Catania. At the center you’ll find the beautiful Fontana dell’Elefante. This large square is a popular gathering place for both locals and tourists. There are many cafés and restaurants where you can sit for a drink or lunch and observe life passing by.
Walk along Via dei Crociferi
A walk along Via dei Crociferi is a must! This is one of the main streets in the historical center of town. It’s located between the Roman Theater and the Giardini Bellini and here you’ll find many impressive buildings, including a whopping four churches: the church of St. Francesco Borgia; that of San Benedetto and of St. Francis of Assisi; and the Church of Santa Giuliana.
You should not skip the Roman Theater
Explore the Roman Amphitheater
Many cities in Italy have buildings that testify the presence of the Roman rule. Catania is one of them. Make sure to visit the Teatro Romano, which is still very well kept. It’s located between the Benedectine Monastery and the cathedral. It was built in the 2nd century BC. It has a main seating area and a smaller theater to the left.
Go to the Benedectine Monastery
The Benedectine Monastery is located very close to the Roman Theaters. It is one of the largest of its kind in Europe, founded in 1558 and subsequently developed in mixture of many styles. For incredible views of the monastery, make sure to walk up the roof of the Cathedral.
Visit San Nicolò l’Arena
This church is built over am ancient Greek Acropolis of which you’ll still be able to see several original columns that stand on the front façade. It is connected to the monastery. It’s the largest church in Sicily, and one of the most unique ones – mostly weird looking because it was never really completed. Besides, the columns look a bit out of place. Nevertheless, visiting is one of the things to do in Catania.
Walk through Porta Garibaldi
Porta Garibaldi was originally built in 1768 in honor of King Ferdinand IV and his wife. It was then renamed in honor or Italian hero Giuseppe Garibaldi, who in the second half of the 19th century played a vital role in the unification of the country. Make sure to pay a visit, as it is one of the most impressive structures in town.
Make sure to visit Castello Ursino and the Museo Civico
Visit Castello Ursino and Museo Civico.
Sicily has a few well kept castles that were built when it was under foreign rule. One of them is Ursino, which dates back to the 13th century and was built during the Kingdom of Sicily by Emperor Frederick II. A visit is what to do in Catania to learn more about its history – besides, the four towers are great to photograph. Keep in mind that the Museo Civico is located inside, so your visit can have a double purpose!
You just have to eat arancini!
Explore the market and eat all the street food
The main market of Catania is in Piazza Carlo Alberto. Visiting is one of the most fun things to do in Catania: you’ll get to buy fresh produce, observe a bit of local action, and most likely try a lot of local street food – I am sure food in Sicily won’t disappoint you!
A guided tour of the market may be a good idea to fully appreciate it. Here are a few good ones – all of them include some street food:
West of Piazza Carlo Alberto, where the market takes place, you will find the beautiful Giardini Bellini and the Parco Maestranze. Giardini Bellini has a beautiful garden and is famous for its flower beds. Parco Maestranze has several walking trails.
Wander around Catania Botanical Gardens
Not far from the Giardini Bellini, in the heart of Catania and in the grounds of Catania University, the Botanical gardens of Catania are a nice place to explore to relax and connect to nature. They are very well kept and organized.
A day trip to Mount Etna is a must when in Catania
Visit Mount Etna
One of the unmissable things to do in Catania is visiting Mount Etna. This is Europe’s most active volcano. It is easily visible from town, located at about one hour drive from it. You can go there on a day trip, independently or organized. However, keep in mind that you can’t hike it by yourself.
These are some of the best guided tours of Mount Etna – some are classic, others more adventurous and include a hike:
Taormina is on the way to Messina and Milazzo, where ferries to the Aeolian Islands depart from, and you can visit it on a day trip departing from Catania. The city is small, and lovely. You can wander the narrow streets, visit the Cathedral and the ancient Greek Theater.
These are some good guided tours that go to Taormina:
If you visit in the summer, one of the things to do in Catania is heading to the beach. San Giovanni li Cuti is a dark sand beach with black rocks and volcanic ashes – after all, the city is at the foothill of the volcano. The beach gets quite crowded during summer weekends.
Visit Aci Castello
Aci Castello is located at about 12 km off the north of Catania. It’s a lovely village that was originally built around a castle (hence its name), which remains its main sight. The castle was built in 1076 and is a beautiful place to visit.
Go wine tasting
Sicilian wines are world famous for their outstanding quality. The vineyards that grow around Mount Etna produce some excellent wines and one of the nicest things to do in Catania is tasting the unique volcanic wines. I recommend going on a wine tour to get a better understanding of the uniqueness of these wines.
These are some of the best tours that include wine tasting:
If you visit Catania, a day trip to Noto is a great add on
Visit Noto and Syracuse.
Noto is one of the nicest places to visit in Sicily. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002, it is a masterpiece of Baroque style architecture, a maze of narrow streets and beautiful buildings. Visiting is what to do in Catania to experience a truly unique place.
Syracuse, on the other hand, is one of the best remaining examples of Greek architecture in Sicily. The city is lovely, and I actually recommend spending a couple of days there. But if you don’t have that much time, a day trip will do.
You can visit Noto and Syracuse on a day trip from Catania. Joining a guided tour will most likely help you save the hassle of organizing it and take you to all the best places.
These are some of the best guided trips that go to Noto and Syracuse:
There are plenty of good places to eat in Catania. One of the best things to do in Catania if looking for good food is heading to the market. There, you’ll find plenty of eateries and cafés. Il Gambero Pazzo has the best fish and seafood in town. Scirocco serves the best fried fish and calamari. For the best arancini go to Salumeria Scollo.
Best time to visit Catania
Catania never gets too cold. However, if you want to enjoy good weather and hike Mount Etna, make sure to visit in the late spring, summer or early fall months as it regularly gets snow. Early fall is also when you’ll find less tourists. Beaches are at their best in the summer months.
Guided tours of Sicily that also go to Catania
If you are pressed on time or aren’t a fan of organizing your trips, make sure to join a guided tour. The following are some excellent options:
Best of Sicily – This G Adventures 8 days trip goes to all the best places to visit in Sicily, including Catania and Mount Etna. You can review it and check the priceshere.
Catania Fontanarossa airport is well connected to Italy and Europe by regular and budget airlines. From the airport, you have several options to reach the center of Catania.
You can find plenty of taxis just outside the main terminal.
By private transfer
A private transfer can be booked online and will save you the hassle of worrying about the price, traffic, etc. You can do so here.
The cheapest option to get from the airport to the city center is by bus. AMT Alibus runs every 25 minutes. It departs from the terminal and goes to the center of Catania, making various stops along the way.
How to move around and outside Catania
If you are staying in the center of Catania, your best option is to walk around. If you like the idea of getting out of the city, you can do so on guided tours, or else travel by rental car or train.
By bus or train
Traveling by bus or train is very cheap. You can check out the train timetable and buy train tickets here. Keep in mind that train may be running a few minutes late at times.
If you want to save yourself the hassle of using public transportation, or are traveling with friends or family, renting a car may be a good option. Check out the prices of car rental here.
What to pack for a trip to Catania
This short packing list is suitable for the spring and summer months, and takes into account a trip to Mount Etna and one to the beach:
Are you planning a trip to Sicily? Here’s a fantastic 8 days Sicily itinerary that will take you to some unique places and that will be a great introduction to the island.
Fact: you won’t be able to visit all of Sicily in one go – unless you plan to spend a couple of months there. Chances are you don’t really have two months on a row to travel – not if you have a full time job, and most likely not even if you have a part time one with the best possible contract.
It’ll take you several trips to really get to know Sicily and appreciate all that it has to offer – unique history, culture and archeology; beautiful cities; fantastic beaches; nature and mouthwatering food to name but a few.
I wholeheartedly recommend to restrict your visit to a small part of the island if you only have a short time for your trip. By exploring more locally, you will get to better appreciate the places you visit and discover hidden gems. After all, people in Sicily are not only very welcoming, but also quite relaxed – and it only makes sense to be a bit more relaxed when visiting.
This 8 days Sicily itinerary focuses on Catania and the Aeolian islands and is perfect for people who would like to explore a lovely city but at the same time want to immerse themselves in nature, and enjoy volcanoes and hiking. You can easily add more days into it if you feel like exploring even more; or if you don’t even have 8 days, you can push yourself and just spend 5 days in Sicily, cutting a night in each place.
The itinerary starts and ends in Catania, one of the most interesting cities in Sicily. There, an airport connects the island to the rest of Italy and Europe.
Catania is one of the nicest places to visit in Sicily
A Unique 8 Days Sicily Itinerary
Days 1, 2 and 3 – Catania
This 8-days Sicily itinerary starts in Catania, the second largest city on the island with little over 315000 inhabitants (though Catania’s metropolitan area goes well beyond 700000). Catania is located on the eastern coast of Sicily, at about one hour drive from Messina – from where ferries to mainland Italy leave.
Founded by the Greeks, Catania has undergone several dominations including that of the Romans. It was particularly flourishing during the Renaissance, thanks to its rich culture and arts – of which you can still find many traces today.
Most importantly, Catania is a fun city to explore and one of the best places to visit in Sicily. The city has a lot to offer in terms of things to see and do, and the surroundings are just as amazing. Keep in mind that it’s the closest city to Mount Etna, and a day trip there has to be included!
The following are some excellent guided tours of Catania that will help you get a better taste of the city:
The Cathedral and the square where it is located, in the heart of the old town, are perfect starting point to explore Catania. The church is a masterpiece of Baroque architecture, initially built in 1078 over the ruins of the Roman Baths, and restored numerous times following the earthquakes that have often shaken this part of Sicily.
Inside the cathedral you’ll find beautiful frescoes as well as the tomb of famous Italian composer Bellini.
To be fair though, it’s the Piazza del Duomo that steals the show here. Characterized by the famous Fontana dell’Elefante, it is a very large and airy square that is a favorite gathering place for locals and tourists alike. Here you’ll find a multitude of cafés and restaurants where you can sit for a drink or a meal enjoying the views.
The lovely Cathedral and the main square
Via dei Crociferi
Via dei Crociferi is one of the main streets in the historical center of Catania, right between the Roman Theater and the Giardini Bellini. Various beautiful historical buildings are located along this street, including the church of St. Francesco Borgia; that of San Benedetto and of St. Francis of Assisi; and the Church of Santa Giuliana.
The Roman Amphitheater
The Teatro Romano of Catania is stunning. You may well stumble upon it and only notice it when you are there, as it is well hidden between the Benedectine Monastery and the cathedral. It was built in the 2nd century BC and features a main seating area and a smaller theater to the left. It is very well kept and a must when on a trip to Sicily.
The Benedectine Monastery
Very close to the Roman theater, the Benedectine Monastery is one of the largest in Europe. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was founded in 1558 and is a mixture of many styles. The best views of the monastery are from the roof of the Cathedral.
Originally built in 1768 in honor of King Ferdinand IV and his wife, this impressive arch was renamed in honor of Giuseppe Garibaldi who played a vital role in the unification of Italy in the second half of the 19th century. It’s one of the impressive structures in Catania, and you should not miss it.
The well kept Roman theater of Catania
Castello Ursino and Museo Civico.
There are several beautifully kept castles in Sicily, typically dating back to the time when the island was under foreign rule. Ursino is a beautiful one that you should add to your Sicily itinerary. It’s located in the center of Catania. It dates back to the 13th century and was built during the Kingdom of Sicily by Emperor Frederick II. I recommend visiting both the inside, where the Museo Civico is located, and the outside, to observe its four towers.
The market and all the street food
Piazza Carlo Alberto hosts the main market of Catania. It’s a fun place to walk around, not to mention the best place in town to get fresh produce. This is likely going to be the only market you’ll visit during this suggested Sicily itinerary, so make sure to stop by for a couple of hours. It’s also an excellent place to taste some of the best local street food.
If you want, you can even go on a market and street food tour. Here are a few good ones:
Unmissable in any proper Sicily itinerary is a tour of Mount Etna – after all this is one of the best places to visit in Sicily. This is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. It is located at about one hour drive from Catania. You can easily visit it on a day trip and even independently – though keep in mind that you can’t hike it by yourself.
Unless you have a car, I actually recommend joining a guided tour to save yourself the hassle of juggling the public transportation.
As your first stop in your Sicily itinerary, you’ll be relieved to know that Catania has a very good selection of places to stay. You can opt for a small apartment which is perfect if you like self catering (though food is so good, why would you want to miss on that?); a small bed and breakfast or a hotel proper.
This is a selection of the best places to stay in Catania:
You’ll find no shortage of good places to eat in Catania. The area around the market is where you’ll get the best street food and budget eateries. Il Gambero Pazzo serves the best fish and seafood in town. At Scirocco you’ll find the best fried fish and calamari. For the best arancini head straight to Salumeria Scollo.
One of the nice beaches of Vulcano
Days 4, 5 and 6 – Vulcano Island
The second part of this 8 days Sicily itinerary will take you to the beautiful Vulcano, one of the gorgeous Aeolian islands. These are the perfect destination for a sailing trip: the views are breathtaking, the sea clear and perfect if you love diving. However, they are nice to visit even if you are not a fan of sailing.
As the name says, Vulcano is of volcanic origins and there’s no escaping volcanoes when visiting. The island is known for its thermal mud baths which are thought to have multiple beneficial effects and which – to be frank – give out a strong smell of rotten eggs (that’s the typical smell of sulphur!). Whether you are headed there for health tourism or not, there are quite a few things to do in Vulcano to keep you busy for a couple of days.
If you are very short on time during your trip to Sicily but still want to make the most of the Aeolian islands, you can opt for a day trip there. This one departs from Milazzo and goes to Vulcano and Lipari.
Vulcano has a couple of good beaches. If you are keen to add a day at the beach in your Sicily itinerary, this is where you should do it. Both beaches have dark volcanic sand, but the water is transparent and pleasant to swim.
Acque Calde literally means “warm waters.” This name refers to the fact that in one of the beaches of Vulcano you can easily get to a spot where the water is fairly warm thanks to various submarine volcanic fumaroles which eject hot steam right into it.
As I have explained before, the mud baths are one of the main attractions in Vulcano. They are right between one of the beaches and the harbor, and very easy to get to. It costs only €3 to get in. So if you can only bare the strong smell for a short while, you won’t feel like you have wasted that big of a sum.
Valle dei Mostri
Valle dei Mostri is located in Vulcanello, which is on the north side of Vulcano. This used to be a separate island that, following a series of eruptions, was eventually joined to the rest of Vulcano. Valle dei Mostri is a lovely valley from where you can enjoy beautiful views. There, you will see a number of statues that are the result of erosion.
The fantastic view of the Aeolian Islands from Gran Cratere, in Vulcano
Gran Cratere is the main attraction in Vulcano. This is the main volcano of the island, and you can get to it via an easy hike that you can do independently following a well marked trail. You will walk through a series of fumaroles (be prepared for the horrid smell, and make sure to wear a mask to block at least some of it) and be able to admire one of the most stunning views of the entire archipelago. It takes about one hour to get to the main crater, and just about the same amount of time to walk down.
How to get from Catania to Vulcano
In order to get to Vulcano, you’ll have to travel to either Messina or Milazzo, where there are regular hydrofoil departures to Vulcano. Keep in mind there is just one daily ride departing from Messina at 2:10 pm, whereas there are 11 daily departures between 7:00 am and 7:10 pm from Milazzo. Considering the harbor in Milazzo is also much smaller, it’s just easier if you plan to travel from there. You can buy tickets online on Liberty Lines website.
Getting from Catania to Messina or Milazzo
From Catania, you can opt to take the train to Messina or Milazzo Milazzo. There are several daily departures to Messina, and if you want to continue to Milazzo you just have to change in Messina Central Station. The train to Milazzo can take anything between two and four hours, depending on which one you pick (opt for the Intercity one if you want a faster train). You can consult the train timetable andbuy train tickets here.
Alternatively, you can rent a car and take it all the way to Vulcano. However, keep in mind you won’t be able to take the car to Stromboli, as only residents can drive there. Check out the prices of car rental here.
By private transfer
A better alternative for an easier and faster trip may be opting for a private transfer from Catania to Milazzo. You can book it here.
Once you are in Milazzo, you can take the high speed ferry to Vulcano. You can book it here.
Where to stay and eat in Vulcano
Vulcano has a selection of fantastic accommodation options. Some people opt to spend a little longer on the island and rent a private villa. If you only have a couple of days, you may opt for a good hotel or bed and breakfast.
This is a selection of the best places to stay in Vulcano:
Il Galeone is hands down the best restaurant in Vulcano. Malvasia is another great option. If you fancy a good pizza while there, make sure to go to Levante 88.
Stromboli has to be included in any Sicily itinerary
Days 7 and 8 – Stromboli
The third and final part of this Sicily itinerary will take you to the beautiful small volcanic island of Stromboli, one of the best places to visit in Sicily. A lot of people go there on just a day trip from either Vulcano or Lipari, but I believe it is nice to spend a couple of nights (if not more!) to take in the incredibly relaxing atmosphere.
Though Stromboli tends to get a bit crowded in the summer months, no more than 600 people live there throughout the year, often remaining isolated due to bad weather conditions and rough seas.
The main attraction in Stromboli is the volcano that gives it its name and that is the most active in Europe and in the world, with daily explosions every few minutes. However, a couple of days on the island will reveal a real gem of a place. Continue reading to discover the best things to see and do in Stromboli.
Things to see and do in Stromboli
Hike the volcano
Hiking to the crater of Mount Stromboli is an exhilarating experience. During the hike, you’ll get the most impressive views of the island and of the surrounding archipelago as you slowly go through lush vegetation to then start walking on what looks like the moon. You’ll reach the crater in time for a magnificent sunset and to observe the explosion.
The hike is moderate, but keep in mind you’ll be walking on sand for a good part, especially on the way down (which you’ll do after sunset, when it’s dark already). Only guided expeditions are allowed.
If you don’t fancy climbing all the way to the crater of Mount Stromboli, you can opt for the shorter hike to this view point which is located at 400 meters above sea level. You won’t need a guide and once you are at the viewpoint you can admire the Sciara del Fuoco – a lava flow that runs down the northern side of Stromboli. The best time to walk to the viewpoint it’s the late afternoon, in time for sunset. It takes about one hour to get there.
Explore the village
Stromboli has two villages. One is made up of 4 tiny “frazioni” (neighborhoods) all connected one to the other; the other is Ginostra, which is however completely isolated (you can only reach it by boat).
Stromboli village is a lovely place to explore: picture white buildings with colorful doors and windows and overflowing with flowers. Only residents are allowed to drive in Stromboli, but the streets are so narrows that you’ll at most see a few ape cars or vespas around. This means that you won’t have to worry about traffic at all.
The main landmark is the Church of San Vincenzo. The square in front of the church is the gathering point for people waking up to the crater of the volcano.
The gorgeous sea views on a quiet morning in Stromboli
Go to the beach
Stromboli has a few lovely beaches of black volcanic sand. Ficogrande and Piscità are the best known. You can also opt for a walk along Forgia Vecchia, a long stretch of black pebbles and clear waters at around 300 meters south from the harbor.
There surely is a magic ingredient in Lapillo’s gelato, or else I can’t quite explain how it can be so delicious. Pistacchio flavour is by far the best (or shall I say it’s my favorite?). If the creamy gelato isn’t your thing, opt for a refreshing granita. It’s on the main street.
How to get from Vulcano to Stromboli
There are two hydrofoils per day that go from Vulcano to Stromboli – one at 8:50 am, and the other at 2:15 pm. You can buy tickets online on the website of Liberty Lines.
How to get from Stromboli to Catania Airport
There are several daily hydrofoils that travel from Stromboli to Milazzo. The first one departs at 7:15 am, and the last one at 5:30 pm. Get tickets online here.
Once in Milazzo, you have several options to get to Catania Airport. The overall trip from Stromboli to Catania airport takes around 4 hours and 30 minutes. I recommend giving yourself 6 hours or more to make it to the airport on public transportation.
Giuntabus connects Milazzo harbor directly to the airport. Keep in mind it only operates between April and September.
Another option is to take the train to Catania Central Station. You can find the train timetable and buy train tickets here. There are regular buses between Catania Central Station and the airport, operated by AMT Alibus. The bus runs every 25 minutes between 4:40 am and midnight.
By private transfer:
For a faster and more comfortable trip you can opt for a private transfer from Milazzo directly to the airport – book it here.
Where to stay and eat in Stromboli
For as small as it is, Stromboli has some excellent accommodation options. This is a small selection of what is available:
There are several good restaurants in Stromboli. Pizzeria da Luciano makes excellent pizzas and a lot of other local specialties. Punta Lena is a family run restaurant in a very romantic setting.
The mud baths in Vulcano are famous for their healing properties
Practical Tips For Your Sicily Itinerary
Best time to visit Sicily
Any time is a good time to visit Sicily, if you ask me. However, considering that hikes to Mount Stromboli and Mount Etna don’t run in the winter and that you can’t really enjoy the beaches then, I recommend traveling between April and mid October. If you don’t fancy the crowds or are not a fan of the heat, avoid the peak summer months (July, August and the first half of September).
Guided tours of Sicily
If you are pressed on time or aren’t a master at organizing, you may want to join a guided trip to Sicily. The following are some excellent options, though keep in mind none of them follows the exact itinerary I have suggested.
Best of Sicily – This G Adventures 8 days Sicily itinerary goes to all the best places on the island, including Catania and Mount Etna. You can review it and check the priceshere.
Aeolian Islands trekking tour – This is the perfect option if volcano hiking is all you want to do. Of all the suggested tours, it’s the most similar to those I have suggested.
Sicily is well connected to Italy and Europe via its numerous airports. For the purpose of this 8 days Sicily itinerary, the best option is to fly in and out of Catania Fontanarossa Airport. From the airport, there are several ways to reach town.
Once you get to the airport in Catania, just head out of the main terminal and you’ll find plenty of taxis
By private transfer
Another good option to get from Catania airport directly to your hotel is to book a private transfer. You can do so here.
The cheapest option to get from Catania Fontanarossa airport to Catania city center is by bus. AMT Alibus runs every 25 minutes, leaving from the terminal and going all the way to the city center, making various stops along the way.
How to move around Sicily
This itinerary has been created with the idea of allowing you to move as much as possible via public transportation.
You can check out the train timetable and buy train tickets here. One thing to keep in mind is that trains can be late in Italy, especially during peak season – although delays are usually no more than a few minutes. Make sure to factor in possible delays when you have to take a ferry or a flight!
If you are traveling with a small group of people, or with children, you may want to rent a car. However, consider that cars aren’t allowed in Stromboli. Check out the prices of car rental here.
Hiking shoes are a must for your trip to Sicily
What to pack for a trip to Sicily
I won’t go into too much details about what you should pack for your trip to Sicily. My overall recommendation is to pack light and to bring comfortable clothes for sightseeing and some good hiking gear. This brief packing list is suitable for the spring and summer months:
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