A city set between the Ionian Sea and a volcano, shaped by lava and reborn from the ashes of the 17th century. From its street food to its critically-acclaimed wines, much of the enjoyment of Catania comes from its people, its food, its youthful energy, and its esoteric nightlife, rather than simply going into museums or enjoying pretty buildings. Our job is to help you mix yourself with the real soul of the city, so, don’t think twice and book our tour as the first activity in town: Catania Street Food Tour.
1) A morning at the fish market
There is no visit to Catania without going to the fish market ( A’ Piscaria). Not just any market, but the historic fish market, an iconic place that, through the products and the presence of fish artisans, tells wonderful stories every day. The city’s routine is still embedded in its chaotic rhythm, the truest soul of the land. Go early in the morning to see it more crowded and bustling, and be sure to eat at one of the many excellent places nearby.
Is it Arancino or Arancina? find this out in our blog. Another market you should visit is the bustling market of Fera ‘o luni. Every day, among the crowded aisles it is possible to come across heated arguments, featuring the younger hawkers, looking for the best spot, with the more veteran ones, holders of their “permanent spot”; or in long bargaining between customers looking for cheap stuff and the traders who are then forced to give in to positively close the sale and even the day.
During the rest of the day
– Enjoy the best views of Catania. Located just behind the Cathedral of Saint Agatha is the smaller Chiesa della Badia di Sant’Agata, home to the best view of Catania. Access is via the narrow stone stairway towards a terrace, and then another few more spirals of stairs towards the dome and its 360° views over the city and Mount Etna looming in the distance.
– Further north in the city, the Giardino Bellini / Villa Bellini is the largest and oldest public green space in Catania. Adorned with busts of various Catanese musicians, writers, and politicians, the eponymous gardens are a place to escape the heat of the Sicilian summer or have a break from wandering around the streets of Catania for an hour or so.
– If you want to give someone a magical evening then coincide your visit to Catania with an opera performance at Teatro Massimo Bellini. It’s a delight inside and out. Interestingly, its facade is an aping of the Sicilian Baroque style rather than being an original from the era.
2) Art & History
It may surprise or disappoint the first-time visitor that Sicily’s second-largest city lacks the aesthetics or romantic atmosphere of other seaside settlements in Italy; the basis of this island port city is more industrial than poetic. However, Catania offers a wonderful window into the palate and Sicily’s place in history. This is our top list of attractions:
– Duomo. Both the church and the cathedral are located within Piazza del Duomo, the heart of ancient Catania. On the way out, stop at the curious black lava sculpture of a smiling elephant carrying an obelisk. Known as “Liotru” by locals, stories of a mystical elephant statue revered in Catania have existed for nearly a thousand years.
Curiosity: this elephant and its castle are the symbol and mascot of the city, and the reason why its coat of arms and the crest of the local soccer team-which moves between Serie A, B, and C-have a random elephant adorning them!
– Castello Ursino. The castle was the seat of Parliament during the Sicilian Vespers, the residence of the Aragonese rulers and for a time was also used as a prison. It’s now home to the Civic Museum of Catania.
– Monastero Benedettino. Among the largest Benedictine complexes in Europe. marked by multiple transformations today and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Monastery is considered one of the most significant cultural assets in southern Italy. The mission assumed by Officine Culturali is to make the Monastery a space of integration and aggregation for the community.
– Anfiteatro Romano. Catania’s Roman amphitheater, a small section of which is visible today in Piazza Stesicoro in the city’s historic center, was once used as a necropolis.
– Palazzo Biscari. The most important private palace in Catania and a precious testimony to Sicilian Baroque. The frescoed halls full of charm and elegance provide a splendid setting for concerts, meetings, receptions, galas, and fashion shows.
While you are in Catania, don’t forget to:
– Eat & Drink on via Gemellaro. A Catania nightlife hotspot. One of the coolest streets in Catania.
– Taste Etna Wine. Categorized and protected under the Etna DOC appellation. Nerello Mascalese and its cousin Nerello Cappuccio are the main red grape varieties; Carricante is for white.
– Take a sit at our favorite restaurants: read more Where to eat in Catania like a local! – Streaty
3) A day trip to Mount Etna
On the east coast of Sicily, Europe’s tallest and most active volcano dominates the horizon: 500,000-year-old Mount Etna. In an almost constant state of activity, it is not uncommon to see expanses of thick smoke and sparks of lava, especially from the nearby city of Catania. Although it is possible to visit some areas of Mount Etna independently, climbing and walking on the volcano’s crater is allowed only as part of an authorized guided tour; unless you have a rental car and get there in an hour, a tour also offers the most convenient way to get there and back from Catania.
It’s a fairly easy hike, but it’s not something to do in flip-flops and beachwear, especially given the summit’s 3,300-meter altitude.
TIP: Public transport is not an option here.
Got back to Catania and need to be refreshed? You might need a swim to the local beach of Ognina and dive into the Catanese life. A beautiful landscape to admire, perfectly equipped bathing beaches and a very short distance away, a pleasant as well as fun nightlife.
4) Take an excursion!
In only 20 minute drive, you can arrive at Aci Castello and a bit further north Aci Trezza. Overlooking the sea, these two towns are two small Sicilian treasures, not far from each other. Not to be missed is the marine area of the Isole Ciclopi, which belongs to both and offers itself to the visitor as a marvelous spectacle of nature, formed by an eruption of Mount Etna, home today to colorful flora and fauna. A well-kept secret, these two little fishing towns have managed to remain more of a local’s favorite rather than a tourist draw on the east coast. You can walk from one to the other, there’s a smattering of lidos, old boys gossiping by painted fishing boats, and lots of authentic dolce vita vibes to slowly drink in. At only 10-minute driving distance you can reach the beautiful Baroque town of Acireale.
Do not miss a visit to the Cathedral of Santa Maria Annunziata hosting the relics of Santa Venera, the city’s patron saint. Very impressive is the Le Chiazzette scenic route: a stretch built in lava stone in the 1700s, which connects the center of Acireale to the hamlet of Santa Maria la Scala.
Half day in Taormina
Taormina can be reached in about an hour’s drive. Taormina is not like the booming cities of Syracuse and Catania. Although it has a history dating back thousands of years, it has remained small and tiny. This is largely due to the limits of the plateau on which it stands, but it has also helped keep it walkable from end to end. It is characterized by narrow streets, small stores and ceramics, fountains, and Arab gardens. It is famous for its ancient Greek-Roman theater still in operation.
If you want to do some shopping and enjoy a little movida stroll down Corso Umberto. A city that is all a blaze of colors and art!
Most beaches are within a 20-minute walk of the center. The beaches can be reached by steep stairs that zigzag up the cliffs. The journey can be a bit tiring in the summer heat, but eventually, the refreshing waters of the Mediterranean Sea will please you.