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!
In this post, I highlight all the best things to do in Catania and share some practical information to organize your trip there.
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 one of the things to do in Catania! 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.
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
Visiting the Benedectine Monastery is one of the things to do in Catania. This 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.
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!
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. You can book yours here.
Relax in Giardini Bellini / Parco Maestranze
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
One of the coolest things to do in Catania is visiting the Botanical Gardens. Not far from the Giardini Bellini, in the heart of Catania and in the grounds of Catania University, these are a nice place to explore to relax and connect to nature. They are very well kept and organized.
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.
For more information about Mount Etna, read my post Everything You Need To Know To Visit Mount Etna.
Go to Taormina
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.
For a tour that goes to Taormina click here.
Spend a day at the beach in San Giovanni li Cuti
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.
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.
Practical Information For Your Trip To Catania
Where to stay and eat in Catania
Catania has an excellent selection of places to stay. You can stay in a small apartment where you can cater to all your needs; a small bed and breakfast, a hotel or a hostel.
This is a selection of the best places to stay in Catania:
- Balconi al Duomo is beautiful apartment right by the Cathedral. Click here for the latest rates.
- Duomo Suites and Spa is a gorgeous luxury hotel in the heart of the city. Click here for the latest rates.
- Le Suites del Duomo is a comfortable bed and breakfast right by Piazza del Duomo. Click here for the latest rates.
- Eco Hostel is the best budget option. Click here for the latest rates.
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 Best of Sicily – 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 prices here.
How to get to Catania
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.
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.
Check out my post A Guide To Renting A Car In Catania.
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:
- A pair of hiking boots
- A pair of hiking sandals or flip flops
- Hiking pants. I like Kuhl Horizn hiking pants.
- Hiking shorts. I am a fan of the Kuhl Cabo shorts
- A t-shirt or tank top. I often wear my Kuhl Acacia and the Juniper tank top. If you are traveling to Catania in the spring, take a long sleeves t-shirt as the Airkuhl Hoody
- A sweater. It gets very cold on Mount Etna so make sure to pack an extra one. I normally bring my Kuhl Lea Pullover.
- A jacket. For the summer or spring Stryka Jacket by Kuhl is perfectly fine. You may need a thicker one if you go to Mount Etna.
- A hat.
- A good sunblock and a lip balm
- A swimsuit.
- A quick dry towel
- A camera – I have a Nikon D3300 with a 18-105mm lens. A smartphone with a good camera is an excellent alternative if you prefer packing light.
Other useful information
Make sure to always get a good travel insurance. You can get a good one here.
Read my post Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance.
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