There are plenty of things to do in Catania. Sicily’s second-city is very deserved of at least a few days of your time.
In fact, you could quite easily spend a month here and still feel as though you have barely scratched beneath the surface. That being said, Catania is frequently bypassed and overlooked.
Many travellers skip Catania in favour of Palermo. Others quickly bypass it en route to Taormina and Syracuse. If you carve the time of your Sicily itinerary to visit Catania, you will not be disappointed.
- 1 Falling in Love with Catania
- 2 A Little Background of Catania
- 3 Exploring Catania:Go it Alone or Guided Tour?
- 4 The Best Things to Do in Catania
- 4.1 Drink and Dine with Locals at Via Santa Filomena
- 4.2 Take a Wine Tasting Tour
- 4.3 Visit a Sicilian Cheese Dairy
- 4.4 Stroll Along the Scenic Coastlines of Aci Trezza
- 4.5 Witness Ferocious Haggling at La Pescheria
- 4.6 Have a Sicilian-Style Meat Feast at Plebiscito Road
- 4.7 Sample Sicilian Street Food Delicacies
- 4.8 Take a Day Trip to Beautiful Taormina
- 4.9 Marvel at the Piazza del Duomo
- 4.10 Stand Beneath the Porta Garibaldi
- 4.11 Window Shop Along Via Etnea
- 4.12 Indulge in “La Dolce Far Niente” at Piazza dell’Università
- 4.13 Shop for Local Produce at Piazza Carlo Alberto
- 4.14 Explore the Grounds of Medieval Castles
- 4.15 Admire the Baroque Churches of Via Dei Crociferi
- 4.16 Tour the San Nicolò l’Arena
- 4.17 Explore the Catania Botanical Gardens
- 4.18 Sample Sicilian Pistachio Cream
- 4.19 See the Excavated Ruins of an Ancient Roman Theatre
- 4.20 Scuba Dive to Mysterious Shipwrecks
- 4.21 Fall in Love with the Quaint Town of Acireale
- 4.22 Enjoy a Picnic at the Gardens of Villa Bellini
- 4.23 Hike Mount Etna
- 4.24 Relax at Catania’s Beaches and Beach Clubs
- 4.25 Board the Train to Syracuse and Ortigia Island
- 4.26 Spend a Day in Noto
- 5 Where to Stay in Catania
- 6 Getting Around Catania
- 7 Travelling to Catania
- 8 When to Travel to Catania
Falling in Love with Catania
At first glance, Catania appears gritty and unwelcoming. Its historical centre is a labyrinth-like network of narrow passageways and cobbled streets.
These little passages laden with graffiti, look intimidating to first-timers. Catania is often referred to as the “Naples of Sicily” on account of its higgledy-piggledy appearance.
However, there is more to Catania than meets the eye. Meander down unsuspecting passageways here and you will find authentic Sicilian eateries, punky bars, and beautiful architecture.
Catania is a youthful city, teeming with life. Its hip, alternative nighlife scene is a welcome contrast from the more aristocratic Palermo. Venturing here for any amount of time provides you the great opportunity of seeing what life is like in the “real” Sicily.
A Little Background of Catania
Sicily is widely known for being the most conquered island in the world. Several civilisations and cultures have inhabited the island over the centuries.
This mishmash of influences could not be more evident in Catania. Here, you will find magnificent renaissance architecture sitting side by side with crumbling Roman ruins.
Catania was founded by the Greeks in 729BC. Today there are still a handful of sunbleached Greek ruins scattered throughout the city.
The entire old town of Catania is UNESCO protected. The narrow cobbled streets and passageways that open out into grand piazzas and palazzos capture the hearts of all those who visit.
Go it Alone or Guided Tour?
One of the best things to do in Catania is to simply take the time to get lost and explore the city with no set agenda. Wander down narrow streets, discover offbeat neighbourhoods, and people-watch in crowded piazzas.
There may be occasions when you prefer the use of a guide. A local guide can provide you with a little more information and context to the places you visit.
If you opt to take a Catania tour early on in your trip, it can help you to get your bearings of the city. A local can also provide invaluable recommendations on the best places to eat, grab coffee, go for drinks, etc.
A selection of recommended Catania tours are detailed below.
The Best Things to Do in Catania
The best things to do in Catania are discussed below. The suggestions range from must-see Catania attractions to off-the-beaten-path local secrets.
Drink and Dine with Locals at Via Santa Filomena
Head to Via Santa Filomena for a spot of lunch, dinner, or an evening tipple. This is the place to go if you want to enjoy authentic Sicilian cuisine.
This tiny street is little more than a hidden alleyway. It leads you away from the overpriced tourist traps to some of the best restaurants and eclectic speakeasies in the city. It is not uncommon to see locals queuing outside of their favourite spots here.
Caffe Curtigghiu, Blanc a Manger, Polpotteria, and Fud are some of the best places to eat in Catania. For drinks, don’t miss the eccentric “Mr. Hyde”. This is a quirky little speakeasy that has been styled like an old London apothecary.
Take a Wine Tasting Tour
There are many wonderful vineyards perched on the slopes of Mount Etna. The rich volcanic soils here contribute to the perfect conditions for growing grapes and producing flavourful wines.
The nerello cappuccio and nerello mascalese grapes are native to this region. Syrah, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon also grow in abundance to make red wines of astounding quality.
Not all Mount Etna wineries allow tastings and those that do often require an advanced appointment. You can also visit several wineries at once on an organised tour.
If your schedule doesn’t allow you enough time to visit vineyards, don’t fret. You can also taste the local wines, cheeses, and cold cuts in one of Catania’s hip bars.
Suggested Catania Wine Tasting Tours
Visit a Sicilian Cheese Dairy
Sicily and wider Italy are globally renowned for their cuisine. In fact, Italian cuisine is UNESCO protected.
There are several wineries located close to Mount Etna, just a short drive away from Catania. Many of these family-run businesses offer cheese tastings and tours of their production facilities.
Here you can sample an array of excellent Sicilian cheeses such as caciocavallo, provolone, pecorino, ricotta, and gorgonzola. Tastings are prepared with local wines and condiments.
Stroll Along the Scenic Coastlines of Aci Trezza
Aci Trezza is a beautiful seaside town situated just 20 minutes away from the centre of Catania. The town is famous for its unique rock formations that jut out of the Mediterranean sea.
According to Roman and Greek mythology, Ulysses was sailing by Aci Trezza when a ferocious man-eating giant attempted to attack him. The giant threw giant boulders at Ulysses. These then became the rocks that you can see jutting out of the water today.
Visiting Aci Trezza is one of the best things to do in Catania if you are looking for a little rest and relaxation. Wander through the pastel-coloured port and have lunch in one of the beloved local fish restaurants. Then, sunbathe on the rocky beaches.
Aci Trezza is home to a number of exclusive beach clubs where you can rent a sunbed and an umbrella for 10 euros or so. It is also possible to rent kayaks and stand-up paddleboards here. Doing so enables you to venture out to the little craggy islands that are a few kilometres away from the shore.
Witness Ferocious Haggling at La Pescheria
La Pescheria is Catania’s resident fish market. The market is an interesting place to stop during any Catania itinerary.
Stopping by here provides a fascinating glimpse of local life. Every Monday through to Saturday, local fisherman head to the Catania fish market to set up stalls displaying their latest catches.
Expect to see ferocious haggling between locals and vendors, both set on receiving the best deal possible. A wide array of weird and wonderful creatures from the deep can be found on display here.
La Pescheria is far from being a touristic market. It is mostly Catania locals that venture here. You can also find stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables, local cheeses, and handmade cakes and pies close to the fish stalls.
Have a Sicilian-Style Meat Feast at Plebiscito Road
Catania (and Sicily in general) is a street food lover’s paradise. Italian food is far more than just pizza and pasta, and that becomes very evident here. There are plenty of places in Catania where you can grab delicious, filling, and cheap street food meals.
Meat lovers should head to Plebiscito road and stop by the numerous butchers that serve “Arrusti e manga” – ‘grill and eat’ food. This tradition entails choosing a meat dish of your choice and having it grilled to your liking.
The options are plentiful and diverse. You can order anything from horse meatballs to pork chops, and veal.
Consider ordering a “salmoriglio”. This is meat seasoned and dressed with drizzles of vinegar, olive oil, and lemon juice, then doused with rosemary and chili.
Sample Sicilian Street Food Delicacies
Sicily boasts plenty of street food options, with something suitable for everyone. At Plebiscito road, consider trying a “cipollata”. These are spring onions that are wrapped in bacon and then grilled.
You will find bars and bakeries all over Catania that serve warm food (tavola calda) throughout the day. Arancini balls are a must-try.
These are deep-fried dough balls that are filled with risotto rice and either meat or vegetables. Sicilian arancini balls can often be found for as little as one euro each, and are a great choice for a cheap snack on the go!
Suggested Catania Food Tours
Take a Day Trip to Beautiful Taormina
A day trip to Taormina is one of the best things to do in Catania and the highlight of any Sicily itinerary. The little town may well be one of the most beautiful places in all of Sicily.
It is perched along a mountaintop and offers sweeping vistas across both the Ionian Sea and across Mount Etna. Taormina is a popular tourist town and is often crowded. However, that does not detract from its charm.
Do not miss the ancient Greek theatre (Teatro Greco), and the lovely beaches of Isola Bella. It is possible to travel to and from Taormina in a day by train from Catania.
Suggested Taormina Tours
- Godfather and Mafia tour from Taormina including lunch
- Taormina food tour
- Taormina coastline boat tour and Isola Bella visit
- Giardini, Taormina, and Castelmola day trip from Catania
Marvel at the Piazza del Duomo
The beating heart of central Catania revolves around the Piazza del Duomo and the piece de resistance – the Duomo itself. The elegant Cattedrale di Sant’Agata is as spectacular inside as it is outside.
Look out for the fountains located in the centre of the piazza. Most notably, check out the Fontana dell’ Elefante.
This is a fountain whose centrepiece is an adorable, smiling elephant. It was built out of black lava and dates back to the Roman era.
Stand Beneath the Porta Garibaldi
Porta Garibaldi is a grand stone archway in Catania. It dates back to 1768 when it was built in honour of King Ferdinand IV.
It was later renamed in honour of Giuseppe Garibaldi who helped to unify Italy. The words “Melior de cinere surgo” are carved underneath the arch.
This means “rising from the ashes”. It represents Catania’s ability to continually rise and rebuild after being destroyed and conquered so many times.
Window Shop Along Via Etnea
Via Etnea is one of the main promenades that runs through the length of Catania. Its name comes from Etna, the volcano that looms above the city.
This is the place to venture to in Catania for luxury shopping. The tree-lined promenade is filled with upscale designer boutiques, quirky coffee shops, and chic restaurants.
Indulge in “La Dolce Far Niente” at Piazza dell’Università
La dolce far niente (the sweetness of doing nothing) is a beloved Italian pastime. It means, quite simply, doing practically nothing and enjoying a lazy day watching the world go by.
One of the best things to do in Catania is to sit beneath the cabanas at one of the coffee shops surrounding the Piazza dell Universita. Here you can people-watch while enjoying a breakfast sfogliatelle and a ginseng coffee. On sunny afternoons, street performers and musicians take to the square.
The courtyard of Piazza dell Universita is surrounded by grand palaces. The Palazzo Degli Elefanti and the Palazzo dei Chierici both boast impressive courtyards. Both are free to enter.
Shop for Local Produce at Piazza Carlo Alberto
The Piazza Carlo Alberto is a sprawling outdoor market – the largest in Catania. The stalls here sell everything from fresh fruit and vegetable produce to street food delicacies, trinkets and antiques.
One of the best things to do in Catania is to browse through Piazza Carlo Alberto and witness the scenes of life. See Italian nonnas buy the ingredients for their Sunday dinners, local fishermen bring in their wares, etc.
Various Catania food tours and Sicilian cooking classes stop by here. The market is a great place to buy ingredients if you are staying in self-catered accommodation.
Explore the Grounds of Medieval Castles
Catania is home to numerous medieval castles. They date back to the 11th and 12th centuries respectively. Most notably, Castello Ursino is well worth a visit.
The castle was built by Frederick II in order to defend and protect the east coast of Sicily. Today, it also houses a museum. Many notable historic artefacts that were recovered throughout the region can be viewed in the exhibits here.
Admire the Baroque Churches of Via Dei Crociferi
Via Dei Crociferi may look like “just another” unsuspecting narrow Sicilian street. However, there are several beautiful churches scattered along its length.
Many of the grand buildings here are fine examples of baroque architecture. In total, Via dei Crociferi boasts four churches that you should take the time to visit.
Namely, those are the San Francesco church, the San Benedetto church, the San Giuliano church, and the church of San Nicolo all’ Arena. All of the churches and buildings can be entered free of charge.
Tour the San Nicolò l’Arena
The Benedictine Monastery of San Nicolò l’Arena is one of the four ornate churches situated on Via Dei Crociferi. The construction of the church was never completed.
Thus why the church has such a peculiar appearance today. San Nicolò l’Arena is one of the largest monasteries in Europe. It is the largest church in Sicily.
You can explore the grounds and interiors of the monastery, including its spectacular cloistered gardens. The monastery was actually built on top of an ancient Greek Acropolis whose marble columns still stand out front today.
Explore the Catania Botanical Gardens
The Catania botanical gardens (Orto Botanico dell’Università di Catania) are a wonderful green oasis in the heart of a crowded city. The gardens are just a short walk away from Giardini Bellini.
They are filled with stunning floral arrangements, cacti gardens, and walking paths. You will often find Sicilian locals having picnics and meeting friends for coffee here. It’s a nice place to enjoy an al-fresco lunch to break up a day’s sightseeing.
Sample Sicilian Pistachio Cream
You will find little jars of sweet pistachio cream sold at every other store in Catania. The cream is prepared with excellent quality pistachios from the village of Bronte.
The nuts are said to have an especially rich taste due to the fact that they are grown on the slopes of Etna. The lava soil here is rich in nutrients and helps crops and grapes (for wine) grow in abundance.
Pistachio cream is found stuffed inside croissants and sweet pastries in Sicily. It is even used as a cooking sauce for savory pasta dishes! It is great as a gift or a souvenir to be slathered on toast.
See the Excavated Ruins of an Ancient Roman Theatre
Don’t miss the partially excavated Roman theatre of Catania. It is located at the crossroads between via Vittorio Emanuele, and via Teatro Greco.
Only half of the grand premises have been exposed. It is believed that the original theatre could host more than 7000 people in its heyday.
Scuba Dive to Mysterious Shipwrecks
Certified divers will be pleased to hear that there are several dive sites off the coast of Catania. Some of these sites, such as San Giovanni li Cuti beach, and Al Caìto are filled with marine life.
Others such as La Tarvenetta have sunken ships waiting in the depths. Various Catania diving tours are available. You will also find plenty of stores in the city selling any equipment that you may need.
Suggested Catania Diving Tours
Fall in Love with the Quaint Town of Acireale
Acireale is a charming baroque style city that is situated just 30 minutes away from Catania. Despite having a small population of less than 60,000, Acireale boasts over 100 churches!
Many of these religious structures date back centuries. They house breathtaking frescoes and ornate furnishings within their structures.
Acireale’s Piazza Duomo is a pleasant place for a spot of coffee and people watching. After spending some time exploring the quaint streets and narrow alleys of the Centro Storico, follow the winding pathways of Via Tocco down to la Timpa.
La Timpa is an area that offers incredible views over the Ionian sea. You can see across to Reggio Calabria, and mainland Italy in the distance. Continuing down the stone steps towards the sea, you are met with a charming port and excellent seafood taverns overlooking the waters.
Enjoy a Picnic at the Gardens of Villa Bellini
The picturesque gardens of Villa Bellini are an area of peace and tranquility in an otherwise hectic Sicilian city. Enjoy a stroll beneath the shade of the leafy palms that are scattered throughout the park, and stop by the water fountains to enjoy a picnic.
Opposite the bellini fountains, the pasticceria Savia is a Catania institution. This is a great place to pick up a couple of fried arancini balls, an iced coffee, or a few cannoli.
Hike Mount Etna
Mount Etna looms over the city of Catania. This is one of the most active volcanoes in Europe.
At its feet, the Parco dell’Etna national park offers many hiking trails. Many of the routes here weave around the foothills of Mount Etna.
If you are looking for more of a challenge, you can opt to trek to the calderas at Etna’s peak. The ascent up the volcano twists and turns past abandoned villages and otherworldly landscapes
The scenery here is more reminiscent of Mars than Eastern Sicily! It is possible to hike up to 2000 m independently.
However, if you want to reach the upper craters, you must be accompanied by a licensed guide. If walking isn’t for you, you can take a jeep to the summit.
Suggested Mount Etna Tours
- Mount Etna half-day morning hike
- Full-day tour of Mount Etna from Catania
- Mount Etna 4×4 half-day tour
- Mount Etna summit crater tour
Relax at Catania’s Beaches and Beach Clubs
Catania may not offer a lot in the way of pristine sandy white beaches. However, it still offers plenty of opportunities for relaxing and swimming beneath the Mediterranean sun.
Notably, the black sand shores of the San Giovanni Li Cuti beach are perhaps the most picturesque place to unwind on a summer’s day. When night falls, head to Playa beach.
This is a hot spot on the Sicilian nightlife scene. During the summer months, all-night beach parties and International DJs are often hosted here.
Board the Train to Syracuse and Ortigia Island
Syracuse and its adjoining Ortigia island are two of the most alluring places that you can visit on a day trip from Catania. Syracuse is characterised by ancient Greek ruins, fragrant lemon groves, and stunning baroque plazas.
Once upon a time, Syracuse was the most powerful city in the Ancient Greek world. It was more powerful than Athens or Corinth. Syracuse’s history is best uncovered at the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis, and the Teatro Greco.
Suggested Syracuse Tours
- Syracuse 1.5 hour private walking tour
- Neapolis Archaeological park tour, Syracuse
- Ortigia Island walking tour
- Syracuse segway tour
Spend a Day in Noto
The charming baroque old town of Nato is a UNESCO-protected spot. Despite its beauty, Noto remains relatively undiscovered and escapes the attention of most international visitors to Sicily.
The elegant Corso Vittorio Emanuele is one of the main promenades here. It is lined with luxurious boutique stores, decadent churches, and grand palaces.
Where to Stay in Catania
Catania boasts a plethora of picturesque guest houses and hotels. You should consider booking accommodation close to the city’s central landmarks.
Staying close to Villa Bellini, Castello Ursino, Piazza Duomo, or Piazza Universita places you within walking distance of all of Catania’s major points of interest. Public transport in Catania is not great.
It is not easy to get around if you book accommodation away from the centre unless you have a car. The area close to the train station is best avoided. A handful of the best hotels in Catania are recommended below.
The Best Hotels in Catania on a Budget
The Best Mid-Range Hotels in Catania
The Best Hotels in Catania for Luxury Travellers
Getting Around Catania
Try to base yourself close to the city centre when you visit Catania. It is easy to navigate around the old town on foot.
Buses in Catania
Buses in Catania are operated by AMT. There are numerous routes that run to various areas around the city and surrounding areas. You can check specific schedules here.
Single journey tickets on Catania buses are valid for 90 minutes. Alternatively, you can buy day passes so that you can hop-on and hop-off buses. Catania bus tickets can be purchased at tabbachi news stalls and small convenience shops.
Catania is home to the smallest subway network in the world. The Catania metro has just 11 stops.
Trains operate frequent services around the main attractions in the city centre. The Catania metro is generally pretty reliable.
Trains to Surrounding Areas
The easiest way to reach the nearby towns of Acireale, Syracuse and Taormina is by train. Trains run regularly, and services from Catania connect you to Palermo and mainland Italy.
You can check the timetables here. Services are usually limited on Sundays.
Renting a Car
Renting a car in Italy and Sicily provides you with a lot more freedom in getting around. This gives you the flexibility of not having to depend on public transport.
Additionally, it makes it much easier to access some of Eastern Sicily’s smaller towns and villages. Many off-beat areas are not serviced by buses.
It can be tricky to find a taxi in Catania. There are ranks at the airport, Piazza Duomo, and the central train station.
However, you seldom see taxis elsewhere in the city. Hailing one in the street is easier said than done. Catania has a number of taxi apps but they are widely used and Uber is not available here.
Travelling to Catania
There are several international flight routes that service Catania. Low cost flights from nearby countries in Europe and the Middle East can often be purchased for as little as $25.
Transfering from Catania Airport
Catania’s Fontanarossa Airport is located just 2km south of the city centre. Getting into the city usually takes around just 20 minutes depending on the traffic.
You can opt to take one of the airport taxis waiting outside the arrivals terminal. The journey should cost no more than €20.
There is also an AMT Alibus that runs every 20 minutes from the airport, It stops at both Catania Centrale station and the Piazza Duomo.
When to Travel to Catania
Catania can be enjoyed as a year-round travel destination depending on what your interests are. Winters in Sicily are much milder than most of Europe. Although the temperatures aren’t warm enough for visiting beaches, they are perfect for sightseeing and visiting historical sites.
The Spring and Autumn months see temperatures of the mid to high twenties (degrees Celsius). Meanwhile, summer can see temperatures soar to as much as 35 – 40 degrees.
It is advisable to consider travelling in late May, early June, or September. This enables you to avoid the bulk of the tourist hordes.
Have any further questions about the best things to do in Catania, Sicily, or planning a trip to Italy and Sicily in general? I spent two months living in Catania and have travelled extensively through the Mediterranean.
I would be happy to answer any queries you may have. Just drop me an email or a comment below.
Safe travels! Melissa xo