Experience Catania, an often overlooked city that is wealthy and elegant city with a rich history, and with stunning surroundings
The eastern coasts of Sicily, the sumptuous beaches of the Ionian Sea, the beautiful slopes of Mount Etna, magnificent natural settings, authentic and tasty seafood markets, architectural wonders of ancient civilizations, the festive hustle and bustle of streets that never sleep: this is all Catania has to offer within its walls. And no, Catania and Sicily don’t boil down to Cosa Nostra and the mafia. With 315,576 inhabitants (2014), Catania is Italy’s tenth most populated city. Although it often plays second fiddle to regional capital Palermo, it has much to offer. It is an effervescent and exuberant baroque city. However apartment rentals can be quite expensive, and it’s better to have a comfortable budget to stay in Catania.
Despite the fact that the city features almost 60 neighborhoods, there are only few truly interesting areas to stay in Catania. In fact, the majority of accommodation – hotels, bed, and breakfasts or youth hostels – is situated in the city center. Here is a presentation of the best places to stay in Catania.
Also read : The 17 best things to do in Sicily
Via Etnea is the main pedestrian street in the historic center of Catania. This small, busy shopping street divides the city center along a straight three-kilometer route. While clothing boutiques and souvenir shops are packed with customers during the day, locals and tourists treat themselves in the street’s array of ice cream parlors, bars, and restaurants. At nightfall, the district loses its shopping spirit and cloaks itself in a festive atmosphere. The terraces are quickly crowded with young people who enjoy drinking and eating in the area’s plethora of brasseries, pubs, trendy bars, and pizzerias.
Sicilian food is hearty and full of flavor, relying on tomatoes and eggplant in many dishes, but Catanian food adds a layer of elegance and richness, in line with the wealthiness of the city. The city is renowned for its fresh and high quality sefood, especially its famed swordfish. you should also try Pasta alla Norma, the Catanese specialty named in honor of opera composer Bellini, with salty ricotta, tomato sauce and of course, eggplants. Arancinu catanese, made from leftover risotto, are a rich version of this traditional fried rice ball dish, with the addition of eggplant. And finally, Sicilian desserts are a marvel, between the local variations of cannoli, often served with pistachios, honey and almonds, and cassata, a rich creamy ricotta and marzipan dish with candied fruit.
In other words, the neighborhood around Via Etnea offers little respite and you won’t get bored if you choose this area to stay in Catania. The area houses many hotels, but also the botanical garden as well as numerous historic buildings, including baroque churches and a cathedral, the elephant fountain, the cathedral square. Take a detour into the Bellini gardens near Piazza Roma, next to Etnea Street. The area surrounding Via Etnea and Piazza Duomo is a great place to stay in Catania, an ideal position to wander in the streets of the city center, hassle-free.
Find a hotel in the center of Catania
Find an Airbnb in downtown Catania
After walking and shopping north of the city center, continue further south on the Via Crociferi to visit baroque palaces and churches. Via Crociferi itself is an almost over the top street filled with elaborate storefronts and exuberant shopping galleries. This is where the city’s wealth is on full display. Don’t let all the shops and agitation take you away from the ancient monuments of the Roman Empire though. The Odeon, Roman amphitheater (as large as the Colosseum of Rome), and theater – as well as the frescoes and the majestic baroque decor of San Benedetto church are all worth visiting. Wander through the narrow streets of the city center, and discover how Carthaginian, Roman, Byzantine, Arabic, Norman and Spanish invasions have succeeded one another. Where to stay in Catania? In the area around Via Crociferi if you are an aficionado of history-laden places.
Only a few miles north of Catania, Aci Castello is a charming little fishing village that will offer a different experience than Catania. The city is less opulent, there will be less agitation and you can sit in one of its many bars and cafes and enjoy a nice frozen granita (try to find one of the places with homemade granita, that will often come in more subtle and elegant flavors such as myrtle, basil, honey or almonds, than the more touristy ones), freshly made brioche with ice cream or simply an espresso. Aci Castello is home to Castello Normanno, an 11th century castle which survived several sieges and Etna eruptions and can still be visited today. To the north of the town, in the Aci Trezza area, you will find the surreal scenery of Isole dei Ciclopi, Cyclops Island. Massive stacks of lava (faraglioni ) have formed into unique shapes visible from the shore.
The beaches themselves are made out of volcanic rocks so they aren’t the most comfortable to lay on. (Sicily has many beautiful beaches in different areas). You might as well stick to the cafe terraces and their large offers of drinks and desserts (did we mention they also have fruit tarts?), they will have a great view and you won’t be laying on rocks.
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