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 explore things to do in Catania, Italy.While getting lost in a new city is always an adventure, Catania offers gems that can’t be missed. There are many magical places to explore, places to eat, and charming overnight stays in the picturesque city – you just have to know how to find them all.
You can use my guide as a stepping stone for things to do in Catania. Wander along the cobblestone streets with the world’s freshest gelato and take in the city’s atmosphere.
Easy to explore by foot, you can discover important buildings and museums that feature baroque architecture and beloved cathedrals. You can also use this guide to find incredible places to please your palate (try saying that three times fast). Italian delights and dreamy accommodation options to rest your head.
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.
HISTORICAL FACTS ABOUT CATANIA
One of the best parts about visiting a new city is discovering the history of the destination. You’ll be kept on your toes at each of these destinations, as they all have their own story to tell.
The city has gone through major changes throughout its history. Take a look at Catania’s history and what makes it so special.
- Catania is the second-largest city of Sicily after Palermo and is located on the east coast facing the Ionian Sea. It is the Metropolitan City of Catania, one of the ten biggest cities in Italy, and the seventh-largest metropolitan area in Italy.
- Catastrophic earthquakes destroyed Catania in 1169. In 1693 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 the Chalcidians Greeks. 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.
- 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.
HOW TO GET TO CATANIA
Getting to Catania won’t require much effort. It’s a popular travel destination and is accessible from most countries. I would recommend using public transport, taxis, and walking, rather than opting for a car if you’re just staying in the town. Driving in the town is tricky, with narrow roads and few parking spaces.
WHERE IS CATANIA ITALY?
Catania is the second-largest city in Sicily, Italy, and is 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
Depending on your starting point, there are several travel options.
Bussing is often the cheapest, but it’s also the longest and steals from your travel time. Especially if you plan on having a short trip, like just 2 days in Catania. Flying is a great way to make the most of your time.
PLANE – FLIGHTS TO CATANIA, SICILY
Catania flights allow you to land at Catania-Fontanarossa Airport, also known as Vincenzo Bellini Airport. It’s 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 25 minutes, from 5.00 AM to midnight, and the 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.
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.
There are ferries to Catania from both Naples and beautiful Malta. Arriving by boat is ultimately cheaper than flying but takes forever. Also, many passengers have complained of a very bumpy ride, so if that sounds like it could be you, bring or buy seasickness medication.
I arrived in Syracuse from Malta by ferry and didn’t even feel the ship moving, so take that for what it’s 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.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN CATANIA SICILY
Before hopping on a plane and embarking on an adventure in Catania, you’ll need to book your accommodation. Airbnb tends to book a minimum of two nights. 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 these gems.
BTW for those backpacking, take a look at these carry-on backpacks that are perfect for your one-day Catania trip.
Duca di Uzeda Luxury and Style
I loved the stylish rooms and gorgeous bathroom in Duca di Uzeda Luxury and Style. 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.
Just 200m from the Catania Cathedral, you’ll be in the prime spot for exploring the best parts of the city.
WHAT TO DO IN CATANIA, ITALY: 13 MARVELOUS ADVENTURES
The idyllic Sicilian city is an important cultural and heritage hub for the entire country. Each of these attractions and sights tells an exciting tale of its history and boasts spectacular architecture.
If you’re spending one day in Catania, you can easily squeeze three or four of these attractions into your itinerary.
CHECK OUT THESE FUN THINGS TO DO IN CATANIA, SICILY – PLUS, THEY WON’T BREAK THE BANK!
1. PORTA UZEDA
Porta Uzeda is a gate that connects 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. This spot can be explored using the GPSmyCity map, and you’ll most likely be spending half an hour marvelling at the structure. You’ll find several souvenir and snack shops – perfect for making an afternoon pit stop.
If you’re travelling around the city on foot, book a private walking tour with a local guide and discover the city’s secrets.
2. 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 mounted on a smiling elephant. It boasts a group of other monuments such as the bell tower and the cathedral.
If you’re wondering what to do in Catania for one day, the city square is the best place for getting an authentic feel of the city.
3. CATHEDRAL OF SANT’AGATA
No visit to Catania is complete without seeing this gem. The 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 restorations due to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions of nearby Mount Etna. The architectural style of the Cathedral of Sant’Agata is Norman and Baroque.
4. 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.
5. 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, with glorious amber-coloured alters. However, the Church of the Badia di Sant’Agata is most noted for its magnificent panoramic views from Catania center, where onlookers can see the towering Mount Etna to the north.
6. ANFITEATRO ROMANO DI CATANIA
The Anfiteatro Romano di Catania or Roman Amphitheater in Catania was built initially with lava stone then covered in marble. The theatre was built around 300 BC and was once used for events, plays and other 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, comprises 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.
7. 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 reconstructed in the 18th century. It is believed to stand on the site where St. Agatha was martyred.
8. 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 sanctuary 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.
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9. TEATRO ROMANO AND ODEON
Teatro Romano and Odeon, located in Via Vittorio Emanuele, are 2 Roman theatres 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.
10. 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 has three-wide aisles with regular double columns. This architectural feature illuminates the Church. This is made all the more spectacular with white marble that complements the lights wonderfully. It sits next to the Church of St. Benedict, so optimize your time with these two idyllic places to see in Catania.
11. CHIESA SAN GIULIANO
The magnificent Chiesa di San Giuliano or Church of Saint Giuliano follows most Catania churches’ tradition. 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.
12. TEATRO MASSIMO BELLINI
The Teatro Massimo 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’s and the world’s finest singers since the 19th century.
Depending on your itinerary, you can visit the theatre each morning from Tuesday to Saturday. If you’re more of a late sleeper, Wednesday to Friday allows for afternoon visits.
13. 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’s also one of the only few buildings in Catania that survived the earthquake of 1693. This Catania museum showcases the artifacts and cultural markers from the Catania area and Sicily.
14. 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 Ionian Sea’s fresh seafood and the essence of life in Catania.
Unfortunately, when I arrived in Catania, the Market was finished for the day, which left me very upset. However, while watching Netflix, I caught my travel idol’s show Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. Part of the episode was filmed in Catania, and I connected the dots with what I missed.
PLACES TO EAT IN CATANIA SICILY
You’re in Italy, be prepared for feasts after feasts! The city has some great attractions, but this isn’t a trip that’s always going to be filled with a busy schedule. Instead, you’ll have ample time to try out quaint cafes and mouth-watering restaurants. While in the city, check out my recommendations for these Italian delights.
SCARDACI ICE CAFÉ
When it comes to gelatos, sorbets, and almost any other Italian dessert, there’s practically 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 blended into their sweet and delicious cannolis. Scardaci, you had me at cannoli. I think that is officially my favourite Italian dessert.
Scardaci, you had me at Canoli. I think that is officially my favourite Italian dessert
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. Come to think of it, there was a football game on the TV – I local game between Italian cities.
Me, I was looking for that Sicilian beer I tried back in Syracuse that I really enjoyed.
This list wouldn’t be complete without a pizzeria recommendation. Eat Pizzeria is a casual, on-the-go cafe that gives you a proper experience of Italian pizza. Picture your food drizzled in the tastiest olive oil, sprinkled with herbs, local hams and cheeses and fresh vegetables.
Full up your tummy after a busy day of galavanting around Catania. And what better way to end a day than with pasta? Made with fresh eggs and the finest produce, you can expect to find a traditional Italian cooking style. Pasta is the star of the show, but if you happen to pass Al Tortellino during the day, be sure to grab a panini sandwich or salad.
DAY TRIPS FROM CATANIA
Wondering what to see around Catania? The city is in a prime spot for day trips. Sitting on the coast of Sicily, villages and coastal towns, like the charming seaside town of Taormina, can easily be explored. Adventure inland and you’ll be blessed with Mount Etna and the hilltop town, Ragusa.
While much of Catania can be explored on foot, a rental car is a great travel companion for getting you around the island of Sicily. Many of these day trips require over an hour of travel time.
Here are some of the must-dos when visiting Sicily.
Psst… If you’re planning on staying in Sicily longer, a weekend in Syracuse is in order!
The word Etna comes from the Greek word αἴθω (aithō), which means “I burn.” Fitting, because it’s the highest in Europe and one of the world’s most active volcanoes. Mount Etna (over 3,350 metres) is about two and a half times the height of Mount Vesuvius near Naples, Italy.
A 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).
The best way to explore the volcano is to book a tour. This tour is by far the most popular. As well as seeing Mount Etna, you’ll have the opportunity for a real Italian wine tasting experience.
It’s about an hour and fifteen-minute bus or train ride down to Syracuse from Catania Airport. After leaving Valletta, Malta, I took a ship over to Syracuse & Ortigia and spent two incredible days with the incredible Mediterranean Ocean. Like most of Italy, Syracuse has tons of history; the Temple Of Apollo, the Archaeological Park Neapolis. It contains both a Roman and Greek theatre, dating back to as early as the 3rd century AD and so much more!
You can hang 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.
Militello is a picturesque village of 7,300 residents just 35km southwest of Catania. If you want to experience small-town Sicilian life free 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.
CATANIA TRAVEL BLOG: YOUR ADVENTURE AWAITS!
Catania is a gem of a city, offering a spectacle of sights and impressive architecture. With each of these activities in Catania, you can visit new sights and still be in awe of the city. It’s a fantastic place for all kinds of travellers, whether you’re there for the beaches or the history. Not only that, but it also offers some delectable dining experiences and adventurous day trips. Stay in a centrally located Booking.com hotel and venture out each day. For day trips, book a daily rental and travel to the coast or countryside.
Keep this guide close by and you’ll have yourself an unforgettable journey in this dreamy city.