Catania it is the second city of Sicily and it is a city that can divide visitors, especially if you stop at the appearance. Arriving in the center from the airport, you pass through quite ugly suburbs, heavy industries and port areas that are difficult to appreciate, but when you arrive in the heart of the historic center it is a completely different story. The center is full of magnificent Baroque buildings, monumental churches, theaters (Roman and otherwise) and markets and has one lively nightlife. I've always loved Catania, especially since I had the opportunity to go there during the feast of S.Agata (which takes place every year between 3 and 5 February). It is an ancient celebration (it has been taking place for 500 years!) And during those days the whole city is celebrating, the saint is carried in procession for 3 days and everything is accompanied by fireworks, stalls and concerts ... a party crazy that I highly recommend. Catania is still beautiful for me, with theEtna that watches over her and a decidedly youthful and, I would venture, international mood (at least compared to the rest of Sicily). You can visit it for a weekend or for several days and you will not be disappointed!
How to reach the center of Catania from the airport
Catania Fontanarossa Airport it is located just 5 km from the city center with which it is connected by a very convenient bus service called Alibus. They leave about every 20 'and the ticket costs 4 euros (you can do it either in the kiosk at the airport exit or directly on the bus). At this link you will find the timetables and the map with the stops (if you are staying near the Duomo you should get off at the second stop, the one on the port, and then walk).
Alternatively you can take a taxi, there is a fixed rate of 20 euros for Catania center.
Where to sleep in Catania
- B&B Palazzo Bruca: I slept in this super central B&B (located 100 meters from the Duomo and 30 from Via Crociferi). The B&B is housed in a beautiful period building with a beautiful courtyard and the rooms are modern, nice and functional.
- Elephant Hostel: if you are traveling alone or on a low budget I recommend this beautiful and very central hostel housed in a beautiful building always attached to the Duomo. Among other things, it has a beautiful terrace perfect for an aperitif (see the paragraph "Where to drink in Catania"). They have both multiple dorms and single / double rooms with private bathrooms (at great prices I would add).
What to see in Catania: 10 places not to be missed
1. Cathedral of S. Agata
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Piazza Duomo with the Cathedral of S.Agata is undoubtedly the first thing to see in Catania. It is a beautiful baroque square with a fountain in the center on which stands the symbol of Catania, the elephant. A lava elephant surmounted by an Egyptian obelisk that acts as a talisman and protection against the eruptions of Etna for the people of Catania. Then there is the big one Cathedral of S.Agata, with several chapels inside: there is that of S.Agata (of course!), the Chapel of the Madonna where the ashes of the Aragonese kings Frederick II and III are kept, and the Bellini's tomb (on the floor), a native of Catania.
2.Church of the Abbey of Sant'Agata
Next to the Duomo, on Via Vittorio Emanuele II, there is also the small church of the Badia di Sant'Agata where it is worth entering especially for its roof and dome. Paying 3 euros you can in fact get on Terrace overlooking the church and from there to the dome. From up here you will have the most beautiful view of the city and undoubtedly it is one of the most beautiful places to see the sunset. In fact, the view opens to 360 °, on Piazza Duomo, Piazza Università, Via Etnea and Mount Etna.
3. Benedictine monastery of San Nicolò
Among the things to see in Catania you cannot miss this immense monastery, which is the second largest convent in Europe. The Benedictine monastery of San Nicolò today it is the seat of the Department of Humanities of the University of Catania, but it is possible to visit it by participating in one guided tour between the courtyards and cloisters. The visit lasts about 1h 15 'and it is really worth it! There are visits at different times and the ticket costs 8 euros. Here you will find all the information on timetables and how to book. Trust me, it is a truly magnificent place!
Thanks to the port, the Catania fish market it is one of the best markets in Sicily, as well as being decidedly folkloric. La Pescheria (as the market is called) is located just a few steps from the Duomo and is a riot of colors and people screaming and haggling. In the side alleys there are stalls selling fruit, vegetables, meat and other foods. All around the fish market there are also several fish restaurants among the best known in the city such as La Paglia or Aldo.
Built after the terrible earthquake of 1693 by the richest families of the time and by the most influential religious authorities, among the things to see in Catania you cannot miss this road. Via dei Crociferi it is in fact the street overlooked by the most beautiful buildings in Catania as well as several noteworthy churches. On one of the two ends of the street there is the eighteenth century Villa Cerami, now the seat of the Department of Law of the University of Catania, with a monumental staircase and a garden, while on the other side it ends in Piazza San Francesco. Being close to the University, the street is full of bars and restaurants.
Not far from the port and the Pescheria there is what was once the ancient fortress of Frederick II, Castello Ursino. Originally the castle was located on a cliff overlooking the sea, but the eruption of Etna in 1669 took it away from the sea and left only the tower intact. Today inside the Ursino Castle there is the Civic Museum which hosts both temporary and permanent exhibitions.
Yes, in Catania there is a Roman theater right in the center! The theater dates back to the XNUMXnd century BC but it fell into decline in the 80th and 2th centuries and was used / covered with dwellings. Only in very recent years (XNUMXs) did the Superintendence of Antiquities for Eastern Sicily adopt a hard fist against those who lived above the theater (which are actually XNUMX, one large and one smaller called Odeon) and started a campaign of expropriation and liberation of the ancient structures. Today the Roman theater can be visited and is used for shows, operas and concerts.
8. Bellini Museum and Massimo Bellini Theater
I have a particular love for the houses of important historical figures so I could not fail to include the birthplace of the composer Vincenzo Bellini among the things to see in Catania. The Bellinian Museum is located in Via dei Crociferi and it is here that he was born in 1801. Today it houses relics of various kinds, photographs, engravings and his death mask (he died very young in Paris at 33, but his body was brought back to Catania and today rests in the Cathedral). The city has also dedicated a park, a square and above all, to Bellini Massimo Bellini Theater, the main theater of the city (which you can visit - find the info on the website).
Via Etna it is the street par excellence of Catania, the “struscio” street as they say in Rome. It starts from Piazza Duomo and reaches the slopes of Etna (which can always be seen on the horizon) and is the street where the people of Catania come for a walk in the evening or on holidays to eat a minna di S.Agata (the typical dessert of city dedicated to the patron saint), a granita or an arancino from Holly or from Sap, two of the historic pastry shops in Catania. It overlooks Via Etnea University Square, with several bars with outdoor tables and the University founded by the Aragonese in the XNUMXth century.
10.The Chimneys (Zo Cultural Center)
Proceeding northwards along the seafront, behind the Central station, there is what used to be the huge industrial area occupied by the sulfur refineries of Catania; it extended for tens of hectares near the station and the port and was characterized by large buildings built in bricks and lava stones, flanked by tall chimneys that were used to disperse the fumes coming from the sulfur refining furnaces. Today the area has been converted and hosts museums, trade shows, exhibitions and congresses in what it is called Cultural Center Zo. Among the museums, there is the one on the landing in Sicily in 1943 La Gumina Collection (a permanent exhibition of ancient geographical maps of Sicily), the Romeo collection (a vintage radio exhibition) and a Cinema's Museum.
What to see around Catania
Anyone who has been reading me for some time knows how much I love volcanoes and Etna is simply a show !! With his 3323 mt is the highest terrestrial active volcano in Euro-Asia and is visible from all over north-eastern Sicily. Being an active volcano it is not always possible to get close to the main crater, but the excursion to Etna is certainly one of the most beautiful trips that can be done in Sicily. The ascents on the volcano normally start from villages of Nicolosi and Linguaglossa which are located on its slopes; the best view is enjoyed by climbing from the north side to Provençal Plan and from there to Rifugio Citelli (1741 mt). To see it you can participate in a 3h 30 'trek with an environmental guide that starts from Linguaglossa. The most used and "touristic" approach to the volcano is instead the one that rises from the south side, at Sapienza Refuge (1910 m), where the cable car is located and you can get there by direct buses that leave in front of Catania Central Station. The return ticket costs 6,60 euros and at this link you will find timetables and info. With a micro-walk from Rifugio Sapienza you can easily reach the Silvestri craters. If, on the other hand, you want to reach the top of the summit, you can participate in a 3h and 30 'excursion with a mountain guide that includes the transfer by cable car, and then reach 2400 meters with a 4 × 4 minibus and finally the summit on foot. Attention .. on Etna IT IS COLD even in summer because you will be at high altitude so, if you decide to do this excursion, bring something heavier.
Aci Castello and Aci Trezza
If you go to Catania in the summer and you want to do some sea you can reach Aci Castello, located 9 km north of the city. From here starts the coast of the Cyclopsi with the famous Rocks of the Cyclops, of the blocks of lava stone that are located right in front of the coast; in summer, walkways are put up over the black rocks and boat trips are organized to see the rocks and other caves in the area up close. Also very nice is the Castle that rises above the sea from a spike of lava rock. Walking a couple of kilometers north you can then reach Aci Trezza, the fishing village made famous by Verga with I Malavoglia.
Where to eat in Catania
As happens a little in all of Sicily, even in Catania on eating I would say that you always fall on your feet! If you are oriented on a fish dinner there are several historic trattorias near the Pescheria (via Gisira and surroundings), but there are excellent restaurants almost everywhere in the center. I would like to point out some of them:
- Vuciata: excellent restaurant near the fish market. Very nice and really good. Typical Catanese cuisine.
- At Pino's house: family restaurant always in the market area. You eat well and spend the right amount.
- Trattoria La Straw: historic trattoria in the fish market for a simple but genuine lunch.
- Me Cumpari Turiddu: hipster / vintage restaurant near San Berillo. Nice decor and excellent cuisine (both traditional and creative).
- Trattoria da Mario: meat trattoria in Via Crociferi, cheap and very good (eyes at the appetizers that seem endless!).
- Canni & Pisci - Meat & Fish: excellent fish restaurant with top starters and fixed menus (all fish) at 25 or 35 euros.
Where to drink in Catania
Going out in the evening in Catania you will immediately realize how lively and full of young people it is. Whole streets and squares are full of kids and there is a very respectable music scene (at least there was, pre-covid .. and we hope it returns). The nightlife areas are those around the Massimo Bellini Theater and San Berillo, a former slum area now redeveloped.
- Elephant Hostel: the small rooftop bar of the Ostello degli Elefanti is perfect for an aperitif at sunset overlooking Etna. Book a table in time!
- Boheme Mixology Bar: a mixology bar a stone's throw from San Berillo for cocktails lovers.
- First: very nice bar in the main square of San Berillo.
- BarnAut: very nice atmosphere bar near the Ursino Castle.
You might also be interested in these other articles I wrote about Sicily:
- Western Sicily: 3 days between Marsala, Mazara, Selinunte, Segesta and Gibellina
- What to see in Palermo in 3 days
- What to see around Palermo
- Where to eat in Palermo
- Favignana: the beaches, where to sleep and where to eat
- Marettimo: how to reach it, what to see and where to sleep
- Levanzo: how to reach it, what to see and where to sleep
- 10 beautiful farmhouses with swimming pool in Sicily