A trip between the sea and Mount Etna
Catania rises along the eastern coast of Sicily, nestled between the blue Ionian Sea and the volcano Etna. Chief town of its province, it is the most populated Sicilian city after Palermo. Catania is the fruit of a crossroads of cultures that have succeeded one another throughout history, giving life to a metropolis with a thousand facets. It is visited every year by thousands of tourists that choose it as a destination for their holidays, thanks also to the beauty of its baroque architecture. Catania is part of the UNESCO World Heritage of Val di Noto.
Choosing Catania as a destination for your holidays in Sicily means experiencing the best of the island atmosphere, tasting its typical specialties, losing yourself in a lively and bright world and dipping into a wonderful sea. You will never want to go back home!
Discover how to make the most of your holidays in Catania.
What to see in Catania
Catania preserves many important examples of baroque architecture, reason why it was inserted in the UNESCO World Heritage list of Val di Noto in 2002. The particular features of the baroque in Catania can be found in the use of the black lava stone. Walking through its streets you can notice dozens of buildings and churches with black and white facades. The spectacular streets of the old town, which have been restored after the earthquake of 1693, wind through straight lines and flow into the main street of Catania: via Etnea. Full of dress shops and boutiques, this long shopping street leads to the Giardino Bellini, a park rich in tree-lined avenues and fountains, which is the green lung of the city. Into those gardens there are playgrounds for children, you can have long walks far from the city chaos or you can just chill on a bench. Sometimes you can also attend concerts and events.
One of the stops not to be missed is Piazza Duomo with its beautiful baroque cathedral and the Fontana dell’Elefante, which stands out in the centre of the square and is considered the symbol of Catania. The name of the fountain derives indeed from an elephant statue made in basalt on whose back a small obelisk rises. The cathedral of Sant’Agata has been destroyed and rebuilt many times during centuries, until acquiring its actual baroque aspect, dating back to the works done after the earthquake of 1693.
Via Crociferi is one of the most beautiful historic streets of Catania, where many baroque buildings and churches overlook. Among these, the church of San Giuliano and the Collegio dei Gesuiti are worth a visit.
Another important symbol of the city is the Ursino Castle, a fortress dating back to the XIII century wanted by Frederick II. It was royal residence and then seat of the parliament during the Sicilian Vespers. Nowadays it hosts the Museo Civico from 1934.
Catania hides several ancient treasures, such as the ruins of the Roman amphitheater of 300 B.C. It is located in Piazza Stesicoro in an open-air archaeological excavation. A second Greek-Roman theater rises between Via Teatro Greco and via Vittorio Emanuele.
Here is a list of the main monuments to see in Catania:
Catania is a big city and has many museums. We recommend you some not to miss. One of the most important is the Museo Civico del Castello Ursino, which was originally a fortress wanted by Frederick II. Today the museum hosts an archaeological gallery and an art gallery.
The Casa Museo di Giovanni Verga is another museum that is worth a visit. It is inside an ancient XVIII-century building that was Giovanni Verga’s home and preserves still its original characteristics.
For art lovers we recommend the Palazzo della Cultura hosting important expositions, events and concerts. This palace was obtained from the ruins of the former Monastero di San Placido, destroyed by the earthquake of 1936, and from those of Palazzo Platamone.
In the end, you may visit the Museo Civico Belliniano dedicated to the musician Vincenzo Bellini. It includes Bellini’s former apartment.
Things to see nearby
In 1693 a disastrous earthquake destroyed the towns of southeastern Sicily, but at the same time it marked their rebirth with a brand new aspect. Buildings, churches and main streets were rebuilt in baroque style and acquired an aspect rich in grotesque forms, faces and symbolic representations that give the idea of being in a majestic and vivacious stage made of spectacular perspectives, terraces, domes, balconies and staircases. Not only Catania, but also Acireale and Militello in Val di Catania are some of the main examples of baroque towns in this area. These two towns, together with Catania, are part of the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Val di Noto. However, in the province of Catania the baroque architecture developed some particular features, such as the combination of black and white in the decoration of facades, which is due to the use of black lava stone and white stone from Comiso.
The area of Catania is rich in typical Sicilian landscapes, such as the wide fields of citrus groves, from where the famous Sicilian oranges and lemons come from. Moreover, among the main natural beauties of this area, we can find the Gole dell’Alcantara, a series of canyon where the flow of a river has created unique ways and rocky formations.
If you go on holiday to Catania, you can’t miss one of its best attractions: the park of Mount Etna. The slopes of the volcano are rich in woods and are perfect for relaxing walks into nature. Hiking lovers, instead, can venture out to discover the craters and the lava deserts at the highest altitudes. If you would like to go on an excursion to Mount Etna you can look for an expert guide or an agency. Visit also the ancient villages rising on the slopes of Etna, such as Bronte, famous for the production of pistachio, Zafferana Etnea and Trecastagni. Don’t forget to taste the typical specialties of this area.
From Catania, you can easily reach Taormina for a one-day trip. It is one of the most popular and wonderful towns in all Sicily and is only 50 km from Catania.
What to do in Catania
Events and concerts
Even in winter, in the month of February, Catania attracts thousands of tourists thanks to the celebration of the feast of Sant’Agata, patron saint of the city. The typical procession of the statue of the saint, representing her half-bust, lasts a whole day and proceeds very slowly. The previous day, instead, you can assist to the traditional offering brought as a gift to the saint, which consists of a procession where people bring big candles called “candelore”. During celebration days, the people of Catania forget everything to concentrate in one of the most heart-felt Sicilian feasts. The feast of Sant’Agata is repeated on 17thAugust with less celebrations.
If you love going to concerts and you are staying in Catania, you can be sure to find in every period of the year very interesting artists stopping in one of the theaters in town. Usually concerts of popular singers take place at Palacatania or at Teatro Metropolitan. Also for New Year’s Eve there are concerts in the city center.
Street markets and food festivals
Catania is very lively and rich in typical Sicilian scenarios. The fish market is one of the must-see stops. It is just a few steps from Piazza Duomo and is a maze of colours and flavours. You will hear the typical yells, called abbanniari, of the fishmongers announcing their products to attract clients.
For those who love antique trade, every Sunday the flea market takes place at the Archi della Marina, near the harbour.
Moreover, the villages on the slopes of Etna organize dozens of food festivals and typical events all over the year. Attending these events is a unique experience in order to discover the ancient culinary and folkloric traditions of the area of Catania.
What to do in the evening
Catania is always bright and lively, a city that offers hundreds of pubs for those who want to have fun and enjoy the night. The heart of the nightlife is concentrated in the streets of the old town, among Piazza Duomo, Piazza Teatro Massimo and Piazza Università. Pubs attract both tourists and young people coming from all eastern Sicily. In every corner you will find pubs and dance clubs with live music and parties for all tastes, the perfect atmosphere to have a drink with friends and stay up all night.
At the end of the day, in Catania you will never get bored!
Where to eat in Catania
Sandwich with horse meat (panino con la carne di cavallo) is certainly the most loved street food by people in Catania. If you want to taste one, you have to go absolutely in one of the paninerie around the Ursino Castle, where you will find the best panini in town. Near the castle, we recommend you the restaurant “Trattoria Camelot”, where, other than the typical horse meat, you can taste some meat-based traditional Sicilian dishes such as steaks, sausages, rolls and cipollate (rolls with bacon and spring onion). Deli shops are the best places where you can find the delicious fried rustici, the typical street food of Catania: scacciate, cartocciate, cipolline and, of course, arancini. “Savia” is one of the historic and best deli shops in town, located in via Etnea. Their delicacies will make you drool!
If you visit Catania, you must try the typical Sicilian breakfast: granita e brioche. Here the brioche has a traditional round shape with a dough ball on the top. Every coffee bar is the perfect place to have the traditional Sicilian breakfast. However, a very popular and historic coffee bar in Catania is “Caffè Europa”, located in Piazza Europa, near the promenade.
Where it is and how to get to Catania
Catania is located along the eastern coast of Sicily and rises between the sea and the slopes of Etna. It is the first commercial and industrial center in Sicily, as well as having the largest airport in the island.
If you land at the airport of Catania, you can rent a car in one of the car rentals of the terminal. It is also possible to reach the city by taxi.
You can reach Catania from Palermo and Messina following the highways A18 and A19. If you have rented a car and are planning a visit to the Val di Noto, from Syracuse, Caltagirone, Palazzo Acreide and Noto you can reach Catania in about an hour, Ragusa and Modica in about an hour and a half and Scicli in almost two hours.
The main companies connecting Catania to the other Sicilian towns are AST, Etna Trasporti, Interbus and Sais. Check out their official websites for more information about routes and timetables.
The central railway station of Catania is one of the most important junctions in Sicily and guarantees connections with the main Italian cities. Even if the railway network is not very efficient on the island, Catania remains, however, one of the more connected cities with the other Sicilian municipalities through the Trenitalia national service.
Catania International Airport is the main terminal of the island and guarantees flights with more than 70 destinations. For more information, visit our section Sicily Airports.
You can get to Catania by ferry from Salerno and Malta. The companies operating on these routes are Virtu Ferries and Grimaldi Lines. For more information, check out their official websites.