Catania - Visit Sicily (2022)

Cosmopolitan, exuberant, eclectic. Catania is a multicoloured universe, from the glittering whiteness of its Baroque stuccoes (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) to the lava black of the Liotru, the elephant sculpted from basalt that greets us in Piazza Duomo in the heart of the city.

Catania Piazza Duomo – ph. Paolo Barone

But we mustn’t waste time! Here are ten sights not to be missed in and around the city.

  1. Palazzo Biscari

This is the city’s most important palazzo and a symbol of Catania’s Baroque architecture.

Following a devastating earthquake, the building was rebuilt by Ignazio Paternò Castello III, the fifth prince of Biscari, a great scholar, archaeologist and lover of the arts, who not only made it his home, but also established the first major Museum open to the public, containing his great archaeological collection.

It was here that the prince received Goethe during his European Grand Tour, who later described the magnificence of the collections and the palace in detail in his writings. History, charm and beauty all come to mind when describing the building.

Palazzo Biscari a Catania – ph. Paolo Barone

The palazzo is accessed via a large gate on Via Museo Biscari, which leads to the central courtyard, adorned with a large double-ramp staircase. Its interiors include the rococo ballroom with its complex decoration of mirrors, stucco and frescoes.

Today, as well as being the home of the Biscari family, it is also the venue for cultural and prestigious events and, with prior booking, you can visit the palazzo and listen to stories of its past and its families, told by the descendant of the princes himself.

(Video) CATANIA City Tour / SICILY / ITALY

  1. The Fish Market

Behind the cathedral in Catania, a tunnel created in the city walls built by Charles V houses the fish market; it is partly covered and partly in the open air. A place where every day, under the big red tents and on the white marble stalls, the ritual of selling fish, meat and fruit has continued since ancient times.

The shouts of the vendors, the stalls with steaming roasted peppers and tripe sold to passers-by make it one of the city’s most emblematic landmarks, the ideal place in which to immerse yourself in Catania’s popular and fascinating culture. But also (and above all!) to immerse yourself in Sicilian street food!

  1. Catania’s Historic Monastery San Benedetto in via Crociferi

A UNESCO heritage site in Catania, it is one of the city’s symbols, recognisable by the arch that opens onto Via Crociferi.

Via Crociferi a Catania – ph. Paolo Barone

The monumental monastic complex is now, after centuries of absolute and impenetrable seclusion, a historic and artistic site that offers visitors a cultural tour, a synthesis of an extraordinary combination of history, art and contemporaneity.

Observing a respectful consideration for the cloistered nuns who still live in the Monastery, visitors can enter with a guided tour to admire many magnificent works of art. These include the ancient 18th-century parlour, the set of Franco Zeffirelli’s film “Storia di una capinera – ‘Sparrow’ in the English title“, based on the novel of the same name by Giovanni Verga; the Church of San Benedetto and its imposing entrance staircase, known as the Scalinata degli Angeli – Staiway of the Angels; the Sicily Museum of Contemporary Art (MACS in its Italian acronym), located in the Monastery’s smaller abbey.

  1. The Benedictine Monastery of San Nicolò l’Arena

At a 10-minute walk from Catania Cathedral you will find the Monastery of San Nicolò l’Arena, a jewel of late Sicilian baroque architecture and one of the largest Benedictine complexes in Europe.

The monastic building, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to the Humanities Department of the University of Catania. It houses a Roman domus, cloisters and a splendid hanging garden.

The Monastery is a unique place that recounts the human and historical events of Mount Etna’s city, from antiquity to the present day. A daily preset itinerary is open to all, with extra activities comprising guided tours outside regular hours, theatre and music performances, children’s workshops, cookery courses, workshops and events.

(Video) Catania CITY TOUR! One of Sicily's Most Confusing Cities? Part 1

Monastero dei Benedettini di San Nicolò l’Arena a Catania – ph. Paolo Barone

  1. Catania’s kiosks

Let’s stop at a cioscu (or better still “u’ciospu” in the local dialect) to pay homage to an ancient but enduring Catania tradition. These kiosks are identitary meeting places, a form of “popular institution” that encapsulates all of Catania’s history. They are refreshment and meeting points in the neighbourhoods, both by day and by night – a universal symbol of daily life in this city.

We find them in Piazza Roma, Piazza Cavour and Piazza della Borsa, to name but a few in the city centre, but the most famous are those in Piazza Umberto, a stone’s throw from the Fera o’ Luni, Catania’s market.

The history of kiosks dates back to the end of the 19th century, when circular wooden structures began to appear in the corners of the city in the shade of trees. From the window-like openings, the vendors offered passers-by “acqua e zammù“, water with a few drops of aniseed extract.

Today, the kiosks have become cult places, nighttime haunts where you can end your evenings out on the town with a delicious refreshing drink from the kiosk, even in the middle of the night!

Ingredients and implements have always been the same: sugar, fruit, mixers, small glasses, measuring cups and presses for squeezing citrus fruits.

Today, natural plain water is mixed with sparkling water from the slopes of Mount Etna, syrups and soda. Catania’s “cioscari” compete to make their products more inviting, often producing syrups made with Sicilian citrus fruits to make mandarin and tamarind drinks, the famous “orzata”, or the famous “sciampagnino” (citronette with water and soda), and the “completo” (orzata, fresh lemon juice, aniseed and soda). The traditional drink is made from freshly squeezed lemons, soda water and a generous spoonful of salt: the effect is highly thirst-quenching and digestive.

  1. Underground Catania

Catania’s wonders are not all bathed in sunlight. Mount Etna most certainly played its part, with its rivers of lava that over the centuries have repeatedly covered the signs of the City’s past, artefacts that remain slumbering beneath the chaos of the city.

These include the Achillian Baths and the Roman Amphitheatre, one of the largest Roman amphitheatres in Italy, inferior only to the Flavian amphitheatre in Rome (the Colosseum) and that of Verona. Then there is the Church of S. Gaetano alle Grotte, whose dating is still a mystery, with its underground tunnels. Gaetano alle Grotte, whose dating is still a mystery, with its underground tunnels, was perhaps once used as a catacomb complex, and the body of St. Agatha is thought to have been buried there. The Amenano ingrottamento, the Roman Hypogeum, is also known as the “Square Hypogeum”. Other fascinating underground sites are the Gammazita Well with its fascinating legend, the Crypt and the wash-houses of S. Agata la Vetere, the City’s first church; Agata la Vetere, the city’s first cathedral, where the martyr’s breasts were severed; the Gladiators’ Baths at S.Agata al Carcere and the Bonajuto Chapel, a Byzantine monument set in the heart of Catania’s Baroque.

Catania sotterranea – ph. Paolo Barone

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In short, under Catania’s “basule“, layers of ash extend as they have done for ages, chronicles of the city’s thousand-year history, with its streets, churches, baths, palazzi and even road signs.

At numerous spots, you can descend into the depths, in whose darkness, far from indiscreet eyes, nuns and monks engaged in amorous affairs and bandits hid from justice.

  1. The Festival of St. Agatha

The 3rd, 4th and 5th of February are the high point of the of St. Agatha commemoration event. The three days of worship are preceded by a month of intense preparations, during which Catania gathers with great faith and devotion around its Saint. But this is also the third most popular religious festival in the world in terms of participation of the faithful, after the Holy Week in Seville, Spain, and the Corpus Christi festival in Cuzco, Peru.

Counting the faithful and visitors, up to a million people visit the city every year.

Tipica Candelora per la Festa di Sant’Agata – ph. Paolo Barone

The procession retraces the sites of the martyrdom and the oldest roads in the city, with the parades featuring the “Candelore“, monumental, richly decorated candlesticks, carried on the shoulders of the devotees in their typical white sack vestments, to the cry “All ye faithful, all citizens, long live Saint Agatha“.

The spectacular fireworks remind Catania’s townspeople that Saint Agatha is always there to watch over Mount Etna’s fire.

The counters of all Catania’s pastry shops are full of sweets linked to the history of the virgin, patron saint of Catania: the “Cassateddi di Sant’Aita“, also known as “Minni di Sant’Aita“, and the “Olivette”. The former refer to the martyrdom and brutal severing of the girl’s breasts at the hands of the Roman emperor Quinziano for refusing his love and deciding to consecrate her life to the Christian faith.

The little olives, on the other hand, refer to the legend according to which the young girl, pursued by Quinziano’s guards, while stopping to rest and bending down to lace up a stocking, saw an olive tree growing out of nowhere that protected her from the guards’ view and gave her its fruit to feed herself.

  1. The coastal villages built on lava rock

This is an ideal itinerary for those who want to enjoy an unusual experience and admire the scenic beauty of the Etna Ionian Riviera.

With their natural and historic points of interest close to the city, let’s explore the picturesque coastal villages near Catania.

From San Giovanni Li Cuti and its small port of Ognina to Acitrezza, passing through Acicastello and, in the Acireale area, from Capomulini to Santa Maria La Scala, passing through the splendid Timpa Nature Reserve with the evocative and silent Chiazzette and the hamlet of Santa Caterina, from you can enjoy splendid and evocative seascapes.

(Video) Top 10 Things to do in Catania, Sicily! 🇮🇹

Acicastello – ph. Paolo Barone

And again from Scillichenti to Riposto, touching on the seaside villages of Stazzo, Pozzillo and Torre Archirafi: a fascinating journey along the Villages built on lava bedrock, enhanced and made unique by breathtaking views, sensations, points of interest, with scents and fragrances typical of our Mediterranean scrub.

Let’s spend a day on a deep-sea fishing boat with the fishermen, exploring the calm waters, the coastal environment and the secrets hidden in the depths of the sea. On these boat trips, we can enjoy those special bathing spots that can’t be reached from land, discovering small natural gems.

And, why not, we can enjoy freshly caught fish on board or ashore in one of the charming restaurants, rediscovering traditional local recipes.

  1. Open-air cinema in summer: Catania’s arenas

On summer evenings, after a long day under the beach umbrella at Plaja beach, what could be better than an extra round of relaxation in these unusual down-town spots?

Films we may have missed during the winter are projected on large canvas screens in a jasmine-scented courtyards, with sound that is never perfect. But the vintage atmosphere will make the experience truly unique. We take our seats in one of the rows of blue chairs, strictly made of iron: luckily, the modest cost of admission also includes a cushion!

To finish, in true Catania style, let’s have a “gazzosa e semenza”.

  1. Mount Etna

As soon as you land on the runway of Catania’s Fontanarossa Airport, you can’t help but notice it: Mount Etna, Europe’s highest active volcano, situated between the Alcantara and Simeto rivers, towers over the whole of Sicily.

This extraordinary natural oasis is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as one of the “most emblematic and active volcanoes in the world”.

An exclusive destination for summer hikers visiting the active craters on the summit areas, in winter this volcano offers an amazing opportunity for snow sports, just a few kilometres from the sea and with a breathtaking view of the Ionian Sea.

Excursions on foot climb along the paths of the Etna Park, through woods and verdant orchards, up to the highest altitudes with fascinating views of lunar landscapes, age-old lava flows, caves and active fumaroles, revealing all the fascination of this area.

Find out more about Catania on the izi.TRAVEL audio tours

(Video) Visit Catania

FAQs

Is Catania Sicily worth visiting? ›

While it doesn't attract the same kind of attention as Palermo, Catania's unheralded delights are worth exploration: fine architecture, bustling markets, lively cultural events and centuries of history dating to the city's beginnings as a modest Greek colony.

Which is better to visit Palermo or Catania? ›

Catania has more of a city feeling and in this respect, I like it slightly less than Palermo. But it's the perfect destination for a visit to the Etna and the lovely and charming Taormina, besides the unique Noto. Mondello Beach in Palermo is, however, so beautiful and unmissable if visiting in summer.

What is the nicest part of Sicily? ›

Top 15 Places to visit in Sicily
  • 1) Taormina. ...
  • 2) Syracuse and Ortigia Island. ...
  • 3) Lampedusa and Rabbit Beach - Pelagie Islands. ...
  • 4) Val di Noto. ...
  • 5) Aeolian Islands. ...
  • 6) Agrigento and the Valley of the Temples. ...
  • 7) Cefalù ...
  • 8) Mount Etna.

What is Catania Sicily known for? ›

Catania today is the industrial, logistical, and commercial center of Sicily. Its airport, the Catania-Fontanarossa Airport, is the largest in Southern Italy. The central "old town" of Catania features exuberant late-baroque architecture, prompted after the 1693 earthquake, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

How many days do you need in Catania? ›

Catania is a city that can be explored in two days, but you'll need to be ambitious! If you want to really experience the city and give yourself some downtime, it's three to four days should suffice before moving onto the other cities in Catania.

What is the best month to go to Sicily? ›

March through June and October are ideal, with few crowds, lots of festivals, and mild weather. The days leading up to Easter are full of celebrations, and worth planning around. July and August are hot and can be crowded — especially at beaches and resorts. September is the busiest (and most expensive) month.

Where should I stay in Sicily for the first time? ›

If you are visiting Sicily for the first time, Palermo is the best area to stay in Sicily. It is packed with baroque buildings, churches, palaces, museums, and art galleries; it has a great nightlife with many bars, restaurants, and plenty of accommodation options that suit all budgets.

Is Catania walkable? ›

Catania lies on the east coast of Sicily. It is nestled at the base of Mount Etna, one of the two most active volcanoes in Europe (the other is Stromboli, also in Italy). It's a very walkable city, with many of the main sights being close together in the city center.

Is Sicily cheaper than Amalfi? ›

When it comes down to cost, Sicily is a clear winner as a holiday destination if you are looking to travel on a budget when you are visiting Italy. Whilst there are many expensive and luxury accommodation options across the island, overall it's a relatively cheap part of the world to travel to and explore.

What city should I stay at in Sicily? ›

If you are planning on just 2 places to experience then the city of Palermo and Trapani are perfect. They both have a lovely historical centre and access to beautiful beaches. Taormina on the East Coast of Sicily is the winner if you fly to Catania.

How many days in Sicily is enough? ›

Sicily can be experienced in as little as 3 to 5 days if you are short on time and interested in a quick coastal retreat. However, it's much better to spend at least a week discovering this Mediterranean paradise. If you have 7 days you can explore a meaningful section of the island.

Is Sicily English friendly? ›

Wherever tourists can be found around the globe, people speak English. Sicily is no exception. Many tourists, of course, pass through Sicily's three airports. At each airport you will find it easy to make your way using English, especially since the auto rental offices at each airport also use English.

Is Taormina better than Catania? ›

Taormina is unquestionably more scenic than Catania, although I much preferred Siracusa as an east coast base. Taormina is also a major tourist trap, and is not on the beach but up a cliff.

Is Catania cheaper than Palermo? ›

When we compare the travel costs of actual travelers between Palermo and Catania, we can see that Catania is more expensive. And not only is Palermo much less expensive, but it is actually a significantly cheaper destination. So, traveling to Palermo would let you spend less money overall.

Do I need a car in Sicily? ›

If you are visiting Sicily for 2 or 3 days and staying in Palermo or Catania, more than likely you will not need to rent a car. Public transport is readily available and there is so much to do in the larger cities you will spend most of your time without a need to travel further.

Is Sicily Italy cheap? ›

The cost of living in Sicily is very affordable. Sicily enjoys one of the lowest costs of living in the whole of Europe.

Is driving in Sicily difficult? ›

Most travelers will find that driving in Sicily is not overly difficult, especially in larger cities like Palermo and Catania. When navigating around some of the island's more complex historic centers, drivers will need to be on top of their game.

What is the rainiest month in Sicily? ›

The month with the most rain in Sicily is December, with an average rainfall of 2.8 inches. The rainless period of the year lasts for 2.5 months, from June 6 to August 20. The month with the least rain in Sicily is July, with an average rainfall of 0.1 inches.

What should I know before traveling to Sicily? ›

10 Things you should know before traveling to Sicily
  • There's breakfast and then there's Sicilian breakfast! ...
  • Forget the “don't eat after 6 o'clock rule”! ...
  • You'll catch up on your sleep! ...
  • You'll re-learn the time. ...
  • Learn some Italian words/phrases. ...
  • Cash is king! ...
  • Tipping is optional. ...
  • Getting round.
4 May 2016

What is the best way to see Sicily? ›

Unless you've decided to stay in one place and make daytrips, the best -- if not the sanest -- way to see most of the island is to fly into either Palermo or Trapani, located in western Sicily, and travel eastward, winding up your trip in Catania and flying out from there.

Is 1 week enough in Sicily? ›

To travel around and visit the whole island, you'll need at least two weeks. Thats not to say that you can't enjoy some of Sicily's highlights in a week. In the ten years that I have been visiting Sicily, we've spent as little as a week and as much as three weeks exploring the island.

Is Sicily walkable? ›

If you're a walking enthusiast then Sicily is a brilliant place to come on a vacation, with a variety of different trails on offer that are suitable for everyone from beginners right up to experienced hikers.

What is the safest city in Sicily? ›

Ragusa is one of the safest places to stay in Sicily, with very low rates of all types of crime. Obviously, as always, common sense must be used, but in general the streets are safe to walk and there is even little of the opportunistic theft that plagues other parts of Italy, and even more crowded areas in Sicily.

How far is Catania from airport? ›

How far is Catania airport from the city centre? Catania International Airport is located just 6km southwest of the city centre, taking only 15 minutes to reach by car or by taxi.

Is it easy to get around Sicily without a car? ›

The best way to get around Sicily is by train, as it allows you to quickly and affordably get from the island's various cities while still enjoying the scenery. Be sure to validate your ticket before boarding to avoid fines. Buses are another affordable transportation method and may be your next best option.

Is 3 days enough in Sicily? ›

They also require travel to the countryside to experience Sicily's natural wonders. Three days is enough to experience one of these cities and surrounding areas. If you have more time to explore the island, consider this seven-day tour or this two-week trip around the island.

Should I go to Sardinia or Sicily? ›

If you're looking for classic historical sites and lots of Greek history then Sicily is the best option, whereas Sardina has much older examples of ancient monuments and has more Roman history than the other island.

Which part of Italy is cheapest? ›

Abruzzo. Located to the east of Rome, Abruzzo is arguably the cheapest and the best region to live in Italy. It has great mountains, fantastic scenery, good food, lovely Italian people and plenty of expats. This region is often compared to Tuscany.

What currency is used in Sicily? ›

Sicily Currency

The same money is used on the islands on the Italian mainland, so the Sicilian currency is also the euro.

Is Taormina better than Catania? ›

Taormina is unquestionably more scenic than Catania, although I much preferred Siracusa as an east coast base. Taormina is also a major tourist trap, and is not on the beach but up a cliff.

Is Catania nice to stay? ›

Catania is a great place to use as a base for visiting Sicily, due to its nearby airport, great hotel offering, and its proximity to the Etna, one of the world's most active volcanos, which is almost always in a permanent state of eruption. The best area to stay in Catania is its historical centre.

Is Catania a good holiday? ›

Catania is a wonderful city, and there is a plethora of cultural attractions for the traveler to see. The location of the city, overlooking the Ionian Sea, makes it ideal for holidays on the beach. It is also great for excursions, mainly due to the paths that lead to the discovery of the still active Etna volcano.

Is Catania walkable? ›

Catania lies on the east coast of Sicily. It is nestled at the base of Mount Etna, one of the two most active volcanoes in Europe (the other is Stromboli, also in Italy). It's a very walkable city, with many of the main sights being close together in the city center.

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