The Best Things to do in Catania: Falling in Love with Sicily’s Grittiest City

There are plenty of things to do in Catania to make the city deserved of a few days of exploration during a Sicilian adventure. That said, the city is frequently bypassed and overlooked.

At first glance, Catania may seem gritty and unwelcoming – its labyrinth-like networks of narrow passageways filled with graffiti and dark alleyways look intimidating to first-timers. Tucked away down each passageway though, travellers can find authentic Sicilian eateries, punky bars, and beautiful architecture.

The Best Things to do in Catania:

I spent two months based in Catania in Summer 2018 and was able to discover plenty of wonderful hangout spots and attractions that escape the eyes of most tourists – even during the height of the summer travel season.

For a little Sicilian travel inspiration, I have detailed the best things to do in Catania below. The suggestions range from must-see Catania attractions, to off-the-beaten path local secrets.

#1 Drink and Dine with Locals at Via Santa Filomena

Things to do in Catania - Via Santa Filomena
Dine with locals at Via Santa Filomena

If you want to enjoy authentic Sicilian cuisine during your time in Catania, head to Via Santa Filomena for a spot of lunch, dinner, or an evening tipple. This narrow passageway 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 lined up outside their favourite spots here.

Caffe Curtigghiu, Blanc a Manger, Polpotteria, and Fud are among those eateries that come highly recommended. For drinks, don’t miss the eccentric “Mr Hyde” speakeasy that is styled like an old London apothecary.

#2 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 Greek and Roman mythology, Ulysses was sailing by Aci Trezza when a ferocious man-eating giant attempted to attack him. The giant threw giant boulders at Ulysses which 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, have lunch in one of the beloved local fish restaurants, and 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 paddle boards here in order to venture out to the little craggy islands that are a few kilometres away from the shore.

#3 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 in order to catch a 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.

#4 Have a Sicilian-Style Meat Feast at Plebiscito Road

Catania (and Sicily in general) is a street food lover’s paradise. Proving that Italian food is far more than just pizza and pasta, 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 (from horse meatballs to pork chops, and veal) and having it grilled to your liking.

I would recommend ordering a “salmoriglio” – meat seasoned and dressed with drizzles of vinegar, olive oil, and lemon juice, then seasoned with rosemary and chili.

#5 Sample Sicilian Street Food Delicacies

Foodies that prefer lighter street food delicacies can feel rest assured that there are plenty of other, less meaty options available for sampling. At Plebiscito road, consider trying a “cipollata” – spring onions that are wrapped in bacon and then grilled.

Around Catania, you will find bars and bakeries that serve warm food (tavola calda) throughout the day. A must-try in Sicily is the arancini balls – 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!

#6 Take a Day Trip to Beautiful Taormina

Things to do in Catania, Sicily - Visit Taormina
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. Perched along the side of a mountaintop, Taormina offers incredible views over to Mount Etna, in addition to spectacular panoramas over the sea.

The little town may well be one of the most beautiful places in all of Sicily. As a result, Taormina is also very touristic, however, the crowds do not detract from its appeal and charm.

Visitors to Taormina should 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.  

#7 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 the Fontana dell’Elefante – a fountain whose centrepiece is an adorable, smiling elephant that was built out of black lava and dates back to the Roman era.

#8 Windowshop Along Via Etnea

Via Etnea is one of the main promenades that runs through the length of Catania. Given its name due to the volcano that looms over the city, Via Etnea’s tree-lined streets are filled with upscale designer boutiques, quirky coffee shops, and chic restaurants.

#9 Indulge in “La Dolce Far Niente” at Piazza dell’Università

La dolce far niente (the sweetness of doing nothing) is a beloved Italian pastime which is quite simply, doing practically nothing and enjoying a lazy day watching the world go by.  

One of my favourite things to do in Catania was to sit beneath the cabanas at one of the coffee shops surrounding the Piazza dell’Universita and 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 that travellers can enter and admire free of charge.

#10 Explore the Grounds of Medieval Castles

Catania is home to numerous medieval castles dating back to the 11th and 12th centuries. 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, and many notable historic artefacts that were recovered throughout the region.

#11 Admire the Baroque Churches of Via dei Crociferi

At first glance, Via dei Crociferi is just another unsuspecting narrow Sicilian street. There are however, several beautiful churches, and grand examples of baroque architecture that make it very worthwhile to wander down here when exploring Catania.

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.

#12 See the Excavated Ruins of an Ancient Roman Theatre

Located at the crossroads between via Vittorio Emanuele, and via Teatro Greco, don’t miss the partially excavated Roman theatre of Catania. Only half of the grand premises have been exposed, but it is believed that the original theatre could host more than 7000 people.

It is possible to visit the site with the company of a local Tour Guide, in order to get more insight into the theatre’s history.

#13 Fall in Love with the Quaint Town of Acireale

Situated just 30 minutes away from Catania, en route towards Taormina and Messina, Acireale is a charming baroque style city that makes a nice day trip.

Despite having a small population of less than 60,000, Acireale boasts over 100 churches! Many of these religious structures date back centuries and 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 – an area that offers incredible views over the Ionian sea and enables you to see across to Reggio Calabria, and mainland Italy in the distance. Continuing down, you are met with a charming port and excellent seafood taverns overlooking the waters.  

#14 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 great place to pick up a couple of fried arancini balls, an iced coffee, or a few cannoli.   

#15 Hike the Slopes of Mount Etna

Mount Etna, Catania
The ethereal landscapes of Mount Etna

Mount Etna, one of the most active volcanoes in Europe looms over the city of Catania. At its feet, the Parco dell’Etna national park offers many hiking trails. Those looking for more of a challenge can opt to trek up Mount Etna.

The ascent up the volcano twists and turns past abandoned villages and otherworldly landscapes that look more reminiscent of Mars than Eastern Sicily! It is possible to hike up to 2000 m independently, but those looking to reach the upper craters must do so with the assistance of a guide.

I would strongly recommend using Get Your Guide to book your Etna tour to ensure that you are hiking with an experienced, reputable company.

#16 Relax at Catania’s Beaches and Beach Clubs

Catania may not offer a lot in the way of pristine sandy white beaches, but it still offers plenty of opportunities for relaxing and topping up your tan beneath the Mediterranean sun. 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 – a hot spot on the Sicilian nightlife scene where International DJs and all night beach parties entertain crowds of trendy Sicilians.

Where to Stay in Catania

Catania boasts a plethora of picturesque guest houses and hotels. Opting to stay close to one of the central landmarks such as Villa Bellini, Castello Ursino, Piazza Duomo, or Piazza Universita places travellers within walking distance of all of Catania’s major points of interest.

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

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

Disclaimer: This guide on the best things to do in Catania may contain affiliate links. In other words, I may obtain a small amount of commission at no extra cost to you should you choose to make a purchase through some of the links on this page.

This aids me in keeping up with the costs of managing High Heels and a Backpack, and enables me to keep providing free travel content.

Melissa Douglas

Melissa Douglas is a British Travel Writer and Blogger based in Athens, Greece. She writes for numerous high profile travel publications across the globe - including Forbes Travel Guide, Matador Network, The Times of Israel and The Huffington Post.

2 thoughts on “The Best Things to do in Catania: Falling in Love with Sicily’s Grittiest City”

  1. OUTSTANDING info!! Will be a month driving around southern Italy and Sicily and will likely just follow your blog advice as we go…THANKS SO MUCH!


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