13 Must-See Things to Do in Catania, Italy: Your Complete Guide

by Nov 20, 2019Italy, Stopovers & Layovers19 comments

After enjoying a three day Malta itinerary in absolute sunny bliss, I arrived in Syracuse & Ortigia, Sicily, to torrential rain. I just walked into my hotel when it started too. Whew!
The weather cleared up, and all was right in the world again. The Catania, Sicily weather was beautiful, and I couldn’t wait to get to explore – 13 must see things to do in Catania, Italy.

This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.

13 Things to Do & See in Catania

Porta Uzeda

Porta Uzeda is a gate that connects the Duomo Square to Via Etnea. This landmark in Catania was completed in 1696 and is named in honour of a Spanish nobleman- Juan Francisco Pacheco Téllez-Girón, Duke of Uzeda.

Porta Uzeda - things to do in catania

Piazza Del Duomo 

Piazza del Duomo is the city square in Catania. This busy square attracts thousands of tourists and locals every year, and it is also a junction for Catania’s main streets. The Piazza del Duomo is most recognizable by its Fontana dell’ Elefante- an elaborate fountain with an Egyptian obelisk standing on mounted on a smiling elephant.

Piazza Del Duomo

Cathedral of Sant’Agata

Cathedral of Sant’ Agata is a Roman Catholic cathedral dedicated to Sant’ Agata (Saint Agatha), the patron saint of Catania. The cathedral has undergone over a millennium of renovations and restoration due to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions of nearby Mount Etna. The architectural style of the Cathedral of Sant’Agata is Norman and Baroque.

Cathedral of Sant'Agata
Cathedral of Sant'Agata

Fontana dell’Elefante

At the centre of the Piazza del Duomo is the Fontana dell’Elefante. Translated into English as Elephant Fountain, the Fontana dell’Elefante depicts a smiling elephant carrying an Egyptian obelisk on its back. The elephant is locally known as Liotru and has become a symbol of Catania. Local lore has it that the obelisk possesses magical powers.

I love elephants but found this interesting as elephants are not known in the area.

Fontana dell'Elefante

Church of the Badia di Sant’Agata

The Church of the Badia di Sant’Agata is an 18th-century church designed by Giovanni Battista Vaccarini. The simplistic beauty of the Church can be seen from its interior- modest and intricate Baroque patterns and designs.
However, the Church of the Badia di Sant’Agata is most noted for its magnificent panoramic view of Catania, where onlookers can see the towering Mount Etna to the north.

Anfiteatro Romano di Catania 

The Anfiteatro Romano di Catania or Roman Amphitheater in Catania is an amphitheatre built initially with lava stone then covered in marble.
The amphitheatre was built around 300 BC and was once used for events plays and other means of entertainment such as gladiator fights and the Naumachie- simulated naval battles (the ground floor of the stadium was filled with water).
The Cavea, the seating area for the audience, is composed of 14 steps and was also used as an orchestral space. As the years progressed, the Cavea was transformed into a gathering place where the community shared opinions and discussed social classes.

Church of the Badia di Sant'Agata

Church of San Biagio 

Standing at the western end of Stesicoro square is the Church of San Biagio – a Roman Catholic Church. The Church is duly noted for its prominent architectural features and the fact that it overlooks the Anfiteatro Romano di Catania (Roman Amphitheater in Catania). After the devastating earthquake of 1693, the Church was constructed in the 18th century. It is believed to stand on the site where St. Agatha was martyred.

Church and Benedictine Monastery of Saint Nicholas Arena 

The Benedictine Monastery of San Nicolò l’Arena is the second-largest Benedictine monastery in Europe. The monastery is an annexation of the Church of St. Nicholas Arena- a late baroque church that began construction in 1500. The Church is dedicated to the monks who followed the ways of St. Nicholas of Bari. The monastery has been transformed into the house of the Department of Humanities of the University of Catania.

Church and Benedictine Monastery of Saint Nicholas Arena
Church and Benedictine Monastery of Saint Nicholas Arena
Church and Benedictine Monastery of Saint Nicholas Arena
Church and Benedictine Monastery of Saint Nicholas Arena

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Teatro Romano and Odeon

Teatro Romano and Odeon, located in Via Vittoria Emanuele, are 2 Roman amphitheatres dating back to the Imperial Age. The larger of the 2, Teatro Romano, spans 102 metres, with an open-air orchestra pit surrounded by curved corridors and a seating area that could accommodate over 7,000 people. Teatro Odeon is about half the size but is still used today for live music and dance performances. 

Teatro Romano and Odeon

Church of St. Francesco Borgia

The Church of Saint Francesco Borgia church was built approximately in the 18th century. It’s one of the few churches in Catania that three-wide aisles with regular double columns. This architectural feature illuminates the Church.

The Church of Saint Francesco Borgia

Chiesa San Giuliano

The magnificent Chiesa di San Giuliano or Church of Saint Giuliano follows in the tradition of most Catania churches. It was built between 1739 and 1751 in the Baroque style by Sicilian Vaccarini.

The church of San Giuliano is famous for being the setting of the “Selargino wedding”. According to the tradition of a Selargino marriage, the newly married couples write their vows on parchment paper, which are secured in the Church of San Giuliano for 25 years before anyone can access them again.

Chiesa di San Giuliano

Teatro Massimo Bellini

The Teatro Massimo V. Bellini opened for the first time in 1890. It was built by Milanese architect Carlo Sada and is considered to be “the heart of Catania’s musical life.” The theatre is widely-known for hosting some of Italy and the world’s finest singers since the 19th century.

Teatro Massimo Bellini

Civic Museum at the Castello Ursino

The Civic Museum at Castello Ursino is an enormous castle-now-made-museum in the heart of Catania. The castle was built around 1250 A.D. as a royal home for Emperor Frederick II, King of Sicily.  It is also is one of the only few buildings in Catania that survived the earthquake of 1693.  The Museum showcases the artifacts and cultural markers from the Catania area and Sicily.

The Civic Museum at Castello Ursino

Pescheria di Catania

This legendary fish market has been one of the staples of life in Catania. Aside from being the main place where fishers sell their catch, the Pescheria di Catania is a one-of-a-kind gathering place where locals and tourists convene to experience the fresh seafood of the Ionian Sea and the essence of life in Catania.

Unfortunately by the time I arrived in Catania the Market was finished for the day which left me very upset. However, while watching Netflix I caught an episode of my travel idol’s show Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. Part of the episode was filmed in Catania and I was able to connect the dots with what I missed.

Pescheria di Catania

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Places To Eat

Scardaci Ice Café

When it comes to gelatos, sorbets, and almost any other Italian dessert, there’s almost no better place in Catania than Scardaci Ice Café. This quaint dessert spot has an eclectic assortment of tastes ranging from their popular flavour gelato “Etna”- a pistachio and almond gelato blend to their sweet and delicious cannolis. 

Scardaci, you had me at Canoli. I think that is officially my favourite Italian dessert

Exit

Exit is a pub located next to the Teatro Massimo V. Bellini. The pub is known for its lively atmosphere and attracts an eclectic crowd of football (soccer) enthusiasts.

Me, I was looking for that Sicilian beer I tried back in Syracuse that I really enjoyed.

But come to think of it, there was a football game on the TV – I local game between Italian cities.

exit

Historical Fact About Catania

Catania’s History

  • Catania is the second largest city of Sicily after Palermo and located on the east coast facing the Ionian Sea. It is the capital of the Metropolitan City of Catania, one of the ten biggest cities in Italy, and the seventh largest metropolitan area in Italy.
  •  Catania was destroyed by catastrophic earthquakes in 1169 and 1693, and by several volcanic eruptions from the neighbouring Mount Etna, the most violent of which was in 1669.
  • Catania was founded in the 8th century BC by Chalcidians. In 1434, the first university in Sicily was founded in the city. In the 14th century and into the Renaissance period, Catania was one of Italy’s most important cultural, artistic and political centres. The city is noted for its history, culture, architecture and gastronomy.
  • Its old town, besides being one of the biggest examples of baroque architecture in Italy, is a World Heritage Site, protected by UNESCO. Catania has been a native or adoptive homeland of some of Italy’s most famous artists and writers, including composers Vincenzo Bellini and Giovanni Pacini, and writers Giovanni Verga, Luigi Capuana, Federico De Roberto and Nino Martoglio. 
history of catania

How To Get To Catania

Where is Catania Italy?

Instead of taking the train, ferry, train combo from Syracuse all the way back to Rome. I took a train from Syracuse here to Catania. Catania is the second largest city in Sicily and located on the East coast of the island.

Since Catania has its own airport I thought I could explore the city for a day then catch a plane directly to Rome.

Yes, I’m a fan of sustainability but sometimes…I need to sustain my sanity.

Getting to Catania 

Plane

Catania-Fontanarossa Airport, also known as Vincenzo Bellini Airport, is an international airport located about 4.3 km southwest of Catania.
Travelling to and from the airport is easy, due to its vicinity to the city center, but there aren’t many options to choose from.

Airport shuttle: There is an organized shuttle service with AMT Alibus from Catania International Airport to the city center and the Train station. The bus goes every 20 minutes, from 5.00 AM to midnight and ticket costs about 4 euros –  which is valid for 90 minutes. Don’t forget to validate it in the electronic ticket machine on the bus – I forgot to do that once on route to Venice and it ended up costing me 50 euros. The trip takes about 20 minutes to the main square and 30 minutes to the Train station.

Bus

The local bus line 457 will take you downtown from Fontanarossa airport in 20 minutes just like Alibus, but you might have to wait as the bus goes every 40 minutes.

The good thing though is that the single ticket costs only 1 euro! You have to buy the ticket before you enter the bus and you can do that at the newspaper stand (Tabacchi) at the airport. The Bus departure point is at the bus station in front of the airport building.

Boat

There are ferries to Catania from both Naples and Malta. Arriving by boat is ultimately cheaper than flying but takes forever. In addition, many passengers have complained of a very bumpy ride so if that sounds like it could be you, bring or buy seasickness medication.
I did arrive in Syracuse from Malta by ferry and didn’t even feel the ship moving, so take that for what its worth.

Schedules vary depending on the day of the week. Early morning boats may depart before buses start running so confirm you have a ride or you will be forced to drag your suitcase to the dock! Also, trips can be cancelled due to bad weather so confirm the schedule the day before. Oh, and tickets should be purchased in advance.

streets of catania

Best places to stay in Catania Sicily

Airbnb’s tend to book a minimum of two nights and since I was only staying for one night I had some difficulty securing Airbnb 
accommodations.

So I dusted off my Booking.com app and found this gem:

Duca di Uzeda Luxury and Style.
I loved the stylish rooms and a gorgeous bathroom (watch my video episode to see more). In true Italian style, I love the breakfast that was included and they even arranged to have a taxi waiting for me in the morning to take me to the airport!

Good, good stuff! Oh, and the train ran right beside my little balcony. Some might not like that sound but I love trains (my mom worked in a train yard) and I worked with her as a teen.

Booking.com

Day Trips From Catania

Mount Etna

The word Etna comes from the Greek word αἴθω (aithō), which means “I burn.” Fitting, because it’s the highest and one of the world’s most active volcano in Europe. Mount Etna is about two and a half times the height (over 2,500 metres above sea level) of Mount Vesuvius near Naples, Italy. 

UNESCO World Heritage site, Mount Etna can be explored with a tour or partially (certain areas) individually. You will find the visitor center and parking at Rifugio Sapienza (Etna South). Summit tour seems to be the most popular and starts at 9:00 in the morning, last about six hours and cost €35-50 per person + transport. If I had more time, I would have done this tour as its a relatively easy hike.

Mount Etna

Syracuse

It’s about an hour and fifteen-minute bus or train ride down to Syracuse from Catania Airport. After leaving Valetta, Malta, I took a ship over to Syracuse & Ortigia and spent two incredible days with the incredible Mediterranean. Like most of Italy, Syracuse has tons of history; the Temple Of Apollo, the Archaeological Park Neapolis – which contains both a Roman and Greek theatre, dating back to as early as the 3rd century AD and so much more! You can hand out in Castello Maniace, take a swim by Forte Vigliena or spend all morning at Caffe Letterario Siracusa with the beautiful brunette barista – as i did. If food is your thing, then you will love The historic Ortigia market. Some you may recognize while others are unique to the region and the weather are fresh fish and eel, fruits and veggies. You’ll find it all here: How To Spend An Awesome Weekend In Syracuse, Italy.  

syracuse and ortigia

Militello

Militello is a picturesque village of 7,300 residents just 35km southwest of Catania. If you want to experience small town Sicilian life void of large crowds of tourists go there. You will not encounter as many English speaking residents in Militello compared to Catania so have a translation app like Bravolol downloaded on your phone or pack an Italian phrasebook if you travel there independently. If you drive, stop along lookout points to take in sweeping views of Mount Etna across the horizon. 

 Militello is packed with sites for a small town. Visit the Museum of San Nicolo – home to fantastic art including an impressive collection of religious wardrobe and jewelry pieces from the 17th and 18th centuries. Impressive churches include the Church of San Nicolo, Church of San Benedetto and Santuario Santa Maria Della Stella. They all date back centuries and feature incredible craftsmanship. 

 Buy excellent local produce from one of the fruit and vegetable carts. You will not find a more delightfully juicy tangerine elsewhere. If you have an apartment and they’re in season, fresh artichokes are another gem to include in a home cooked meal. Prickly pear cookies are a local specialty to be on the lookout for in a bakery. 

 I visited Militello on a day tour with Wishing Sicily. Contact them about a half day guided tour if you wish to get the inside track on “the Florence of Iblei.” 

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In fact here is a list of the 12 best day trips from Catania. Places like Taormina, Mount Etna, Modica and Ragusa are all a few hours away! If you’re looking to visit the capital of Sicily, Palmero here is the perfect itinerary for Northern Sicily. Speaking of the North. If you’re thinking of visiting Venice in high season here is a great post on saving money.

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