Visit Catania: what are the best things to do and see in this emblematic city of Sicily?
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2002, Catania, a delicious Baroque city of 500,000 inhabitants, is nestled at the foot of Mount Etna, on Sicily’s eastern coast, and follows the lavish outline of the Ionian Sea shoreline, shaped by the eruptions of the latter.
An ancient city founded around the 8th century BC, Catania is an attractive old lady typically southern and with a strong temperament. Destroyed and then rebuilt 7 times in its history by natural disasters, conquered and shaped by many successive civilizations, it became over the centuries a privileged space for exchanges and cross-fertilization. This cultural richness is still expressed today by the nobility of its late Baroque architectural heritage, and the power of this Mediterranean commercial platform: visiting Catania, Sicily’s second largest city after Palermo, is discovering the island’s true economic engine… and a first-rate tourist site, which takes advantage of the kindness of its inhabitants and its exceptional geographical position.
Whatever the length of your stay on site, we hope you will find everything you need in our list of things to do in Catania: from unique activities to unforgettable treasures. Enjoy without further delay!
Also read : The 17 best things to do in Sicily
1. Explore Piazza del Duomo
Piazza del Duomo is the main square of the city, it is the obligatory passage for any visitor wishing to visit Catania and soak up its soul. Completely pedestrian, it is the heart of the city, serves as a market place and shelters in its center many historical buildings including the “fountain of the elephant“, built in white marble and volcanic rock, dear to the natives for its symbolic significance: dating from antiquity, the elephant was said to have the power to soothe the burning fevers of Mount Etna…
The statue faces the majestic cathedral of Sant’Agata, which today houses the relics of Saint Agatha and the remains of the famous composer Bellini; built towards the end of the 11th century in honor of the patron saint of the city, restored with taste and in accordance with ancestral techniques, it is a Baroque masterpiece and the diversity of architectural styles intertwined throughout the reconstructions bears witness to an intense cultural mix.
2. Walk along Via Etnea
A true artery of the city, Via Etnea is a historic alleyway, with its warm and lively layout modified time and time again over the centuries, offers a multitude of small pleasures to consume without moderation on its stalls; visiting Catania would not be possible without walking through the carved lava stone slabs of the avenue, which is full of stores and craft shops, as well as numerous bistros highlighting Sicilian cuisine. Ideal for a glass of local wine, or to eat after a day full of adventure!
3. Rest in the gardens of the “Villa Bellini” (Giardino Bellini)
Located on Via Etnea, Villa Bellini is Catania’s green lung and invites you to relax on the large, impeccably maintained lawns and refresh yourself with the many fountains that blend perfectly into this natural setting, home to splendid century-old trees and many rare plant species.
A place to meet in a family spirit, it will give you the opportunity to enjoy its calm and serene atmosphere or to indulge in the pleasures of running! Lots of the outdoor activities in Sicily – from hiking to touring temples and a castles and of course, the beaches – tend to provide little to no protection from the Sun so you’ll enjoy this cool and shaded park in between visits.
4. Go and relax on the beach San Giovanni li Cuti
San Giovanni li Cuti is certainly the most famous beach in Catania. The presence of black rocks and ashes resulting from volcanic activity makes San Giovanni li Cuti the most characteristic natural place in the city. In summer, the beach welcomes locals who seek to escape the heat of the city to bask in the water. There are also several wooden boats that are still used by local fishermen, making it a place of cultural discovery as well as a natural delight.
Also read :20 Best beaches in Sicily
5. Get altitude on the slopes of Mount Etna
A legendarily angry volcano, responsible for the destruction of many ancient cities, Mount Etna is an unmissable natural site, ideal for excursions of all kinds: hiking, quad biking, 4×4 visits, romantic horse rides… Many local guides offer you the opportunity to climb the Sicilian Giant and enjoy breathtaking panoramas, or even to descend into the craters and millenary caves, carved by lava flows!
6. Follow in the footsteps of Frederick II at Ursino Castle
A real gem, often overseen, which stands out among the things to do in Catania, the castle of Ursino is a monumental 13th century fortress erected by Emperor Frederick II of Sicily. It is one of the few buildings to have resisted the devastating earthquake of 1693. Remarkably, over the centuries – and in the wake of successive natural disasters – the castle which initially dominated a cliff by the sea, is now located nearly a mile inland.
Full of stories and anecdotes, its museum and art gallery will allow you to observe many wonders of the period!
7. The Catania Amphitheater
Dating from the 2nd century AD, the Catania amphitheater was only partially discovered through excavations in the first half of the 20th century. It is made of magmatic stones, brick and marble and has kept its elliptical shape. Whether you have a passion for archaeology and antiquity or not, this place deserves to be visited, preferably under the guidance of a guide who can comment on the visit and tell you about the past of the place. Parts of this amphitheater are still hidden under Piazza Stesicoro and in the neighboring streets via Manzoni and via Penninello.
8. San Nicoló l’Arena and the Monastero dei Benedettini
The Monastero dei Benedettini and the adjoining San Nicoló l’Arena church were originally part of the same religious complex and survived several massive volcanic eruptions, with lava completely surrounding the monastery in 1669 but miracously not destroying the monastery. The monastery building was donated to the University of Catania in 1977, who have done an extensive job of repairing and renovating these gigantic buildings. The remaining church is well worth a visit but the real spectacle here are the Monastery Buildings that can be admired from the outside for the most part, though the beautifully renovated marble cloister can be visited.
9. Aci Castello
A couple miles north of Catania, Aci Castello is a charming little fishing village outside the city center. It won’t be as ritzy and elegant as Catania but this borough has undeniable charm and many distinctive monuments and natural marvels to boot. Castello Normanno, an 11th century castle which survived several sieges and Etna eruptions, can still be visited today. It is a massive defensive castle built in Norman style, on an impregnable position. 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 and we recommend you sit in one of the many bars and cafes on the waterline and enjoy the view with 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. 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).
10. Other ideas for things to do in Catania
- Enjoy “arancini”, a popular Sicilian dish
- Admire the ruins of Aci Castello
- Discover the Monastero dei Benedettini
- Marvel at the amazing Palazzo Biscari
- Visit the Museo dello Sbarco, reporting on the 1943 landing in Sicily
- Go to Piazza dell’Universita where you can find the Palazzo dell’Universita which houses the former university and the Palazzo San Guiliano
- Rent a car and explore the baroque villages of Ragusa, Modica and Scicli
How to get to Catania?
Many airlines fly to Catania from major UK cities, from London, Glasgow or Manchester, with easyJet or Ryanair most often offering the best prices, you can just compare flights usingSkyscanner. If you are flying in then we suggest you rent a car directly at the airport.
You can also reach Catania via a ferry boat which will allow you to travel freely on the island with your own car. Ferries leave from France and other Italian ports.You can book your ferry to Sicily online on the DirectFerries website.
Where to stay in Catania?
Catania is not a huge city, but to make your stay easier, choose a hotel or apartment in the old town center, around Piazza Università for example, to be close to tourist attractions and places to eat and go out. It might be hard to park there so think about booking a parking spot in advance. To find a cheap hotel in Catania, try searching a online booking service or you could also book an apartment or homestay via Airbnb.
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