When travelling to Sicily, one place you’ll surely want to visit is the city of Catania. This port city, out on the island’s east coast, is a bit gritty, but it’s also packed with history and personality. If you’re keen to get to know Sicily then Catania is a great place to start.
But, as the city is not as popular as some other major Italian cities, you may not be aware of its highlights. This Catania itinerary will help you get to know the best places to visit in Catania before you arrive. Having a guide like this should also make planning easier, as we’ll show you why 3 days in Catania is the perfect amount of time for your visit.
Best Time to Visit Catania
To have a fun and comfortable time while in Catania, you’ll want to take the time of year into account. That’s because at certain times of year both the weather and crowds of tourists can make things a little less enjoyable. In fact, it’s the combination of high season and hot weather that makes the summer months of July and August a less desirable time to visit.
Instead, the best time to visit Catania is either side of summer in late spring or early autumn. Visit sometime from mid March to June or mid September to November and you’ll avoid the city at its busiest, while still experiencing good weather. It’s during these shoulder seasons that you will likely find accommodation and tours at better prices and with more availability.
Winter, alternatively, is definitely the cheapest and quietest time to go, but it has its drawbacks. Expect cool weather and attractions to operate on reduced hours.
How to Get Around Catania
While visiting Catania you’ll likely spend a lot of time moving from one attraction to the next. To do that it helps to know what options you have for getting around the city. Catania is quite a large city, but thankfully you’ll mostly be sticking to attractions in the city center which means walking should be suitable for a lot of your sightseeing.
Catania’s public transport network is made up of a metro system with a single line, and buses. Most of the metro runs well beyond the center of the city, but it may prove useful to get from Piazza Stesicoro to the main train station and the Museo Storico.
Otherwise, you have the city’s public buses which can be useful depending on where you’re going. Tickets cost €1.00 for a single trip lasting 90 minutes, while a combined bus and metro ticket is €1.20 and lasts 120 minutes.
If you’re arriving in Catania by plane, you’ll want to know how to get from Catania Airport into the city center. Buses run from the airport into the city as well as other destinations in this corner of Sicily and are your only option other than taxis. The trip by bus takes around 25 minutes, with departures every 30 minutes and a ticket bought from the driver costing €4.00.
Where to Stay in Catania
When planning your trip, working out where to stay in Catania is bound to be a high priority. Choose the right place to stay in the right part of the city and it can have a really positive effect on your visit. You’ll also want to make sure you sort accommodation out well in advance to ensure you have as many options as possible and secure a booking at a fair rate.
Luckily, understanding the layout of Catania isn’t too challenging. The best places to stay in Catania are those with the best access to the city’s sights. That means finding somewhere in or near the historical center within walking distance of Via Etnea, Piazza Stesicoro, or Piazza Duomo.
To spend your stay in luxury, the Palace Catania is the way to go. This four-star hotel lies on Via Etnea and boasts spacious rooms and a rooftop bar and restaurant with views of Mt. Etna.
If you want both comfort and affordability, then the Etna Suite Group is a great option for you. This centrally located guest house features little street noise despite its location and the friendly hosts prepare an excellent breakfast which is included in the rates.
For budget accommodation that will help you save money, The Yard Hostel is the place for you in Catania. This hostel offers surprisingly large dorm rooms and comfortable beds, as well as a shared kitchen and terrace.
For more accommodation options in Catania check out Booking.com. They continuously offer the best rates and their custom service is on point.
The Perfect 3-Day Catania Itinerary
Much like all the great cities you can visit in Italy, you’ll encounter a variety of different attractions in Catania. With three days there you should have no problem fitting in the best of Catania and getting a feel for the city. That is of course, if you follow this itinerary which shows you all the best things to do in Catania.
Following this guide you’ll be shown attractions scattered throughout the city’s historical center, even those sitting on its edges. You’ll also have enough time to make a day trip to some of the phenomenal Sicilian destinations nearby.
However, before we get to our Catania itinerary we just wanted to remind you to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and trust us, you do not want to get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it. We recommend World Nomads and SafetyWing. You can get a quick quote with World Nomads below:
Even if you don’t get travel insurance with one of our recommended companies, please make sure to get travel insurance from somewhere.
Having addressed that important matter, we can now properly dive into our Catania travel itinerary. Below you’ll find a thorough outline of what to do in Catania in 3 days to experience different aspects of this complex city.
Day 1 in Catania
Upon arriving in Catania, you’ll want to start with the historic city center to see many of the main attractions.
Piazza del Duomo
The easiest place to begin your first day in Catania is the Piazza del Duomo. This is Catania’s main square and it lies at the heart of the historic center. Looking around the square you’ll be treated to quite a few impressive buildings that each represent a fine example of Sicilian Baroque architecture. Sitting at opposite ends of the square you can see the Palazzo dei Chierici and the Palazzo degli Elefanti; which currently houses the Town Hall of Catania. And in the middle of all of this is the elegant Elephant Fountain, now a symbol of the city.
Cathedral of St Agatha
One more landmark on Piazza del Duomo is the Catania Cathedral of Saint Agatha, after which the square is named. If you only visit one church in all of Catania, make it this one. Destroyed and rebuilt over and over since the 11th century, the current cathedral dates back to 1711 and shares the same Baroque architecture as the rest of the square. Some parts of the cathedral’s interior are rather restrained in their design, which only make the apse and side chapels stand out more.
Catania Fish Market
Just around the corner from Piazza del Duomo you’ll find the Catania Fish Market. The market is located in a sunken square and boasts a range of seafood displayed on tables waiting to be sold. Up on the streets overlooking the square you’ll see plenty of people watching the lively market action from the railing, not to mention a row of food stalls selling fruit, vegetables, and other non-fish products.
Roman Theatre and the Odeon
The impressive ruins of the Roman Theatre and Odeon date from the 300 B.C. and are totally hidden from view of the street. But walk through the small museum and you’ll enter a large arena which held up to 7,000 spectators back in its prime days. You can wander through the rows of seating, venture into the outer hallways, and see the remains of the neighboring Odeon.
Via Etnia Promenade
Heading back towards the center of the city you’ll soon find yourself on Piazza Università, one of many squares along the endless street of Via Etnia. After admiring the various picturesque palace buildings on the square, head out onto Via Etnia to see Catania’s premier shopping promenade. There are all manner of shops and restaurants along this major road, not to mention plenty of buildings with a look of faded grandeur. Traffic along the promenade is minimal so it can be quite a pleasant place to walk along and window shop.
After walking down Via Etnia for a while, you’ll soon spy your next stop, the ruins of the Catania Roman Amphitheatre. This ancient structure that now sits below the street level was once the largest amphitheatre on the island of Sicily. What you’re able to see is only a small part of this theater that likely had a capacity of 15,000 spectators. While the ruins are now squarely within the heart of Catania’s historic center, they actually sat on the edge of ancient Catania. You can either do a lap of the ruins and look down into them or pay to walk through them.
La Villa Bellini
Continuing down Via Etnia you’ll eventually reach the ornate gardens of La Villa Bellini. This is the oldest public park in Catania and really is quite a pleasure to wander through. Entering from the bottom you’ll head up an elegant staircase to the park’s fountain and floral clock. Further up are carefully trimmed hedges and at the top you’ll find a gorgeous pavilion made from carefully designed wrought iron.
Day 2 in Catania
With your second day in the city, you’ll be able to explore further from the heart of Catania to the south, east, and west.
Teatro Massimo Bellini
Taking pride of place on the circular Piazza Vincenzo Bellini, the Teatro Massimo Bellini is a gorgeous opera house built at the end of the 19th century. As impressive as the building is from the outside, it’s even more lavish when you see the inside. A guided tour will show you the theater’s foyer, the hall, stage, and even the Royal Box.
Via dei Crociferi
There are plenty of city streets to explore in Catania but one not to miss is Via dei Crociferi. Found west of Piazza Università this scenic street is lined with three churches all dating back to the 18th-century. At the street’s southern end lies the Arco di San Benedetto, a Baroque archway over the street that helps complete the grand appearance of the area.
Monastery of San Nicolò l’Arena
Heading uphill away from Via dei Crociferi you’ll come across your next stop, the Benedictine Monastery of San Nicolò l’Arena. This immense monastery is actually the second largest Benedictine monastery in Europe and another fine example of Catania’s UNESCO-recognized collection of Baroque architecture. Today this 16th century monastery is part of the campus of the University of Catania and you’re able to freely go inside and check it out. Make sure to see the beautiful marble cloister through the back.
It’s time to see a new part of the city, so venture south until you reach Castello Ursino. This striking medieval castle was built in the 13th century as the royal castle of the Kingdom of Sicily. The castle played a key role in the rebellion known as the Sicilian Vespers, removing Charles of Anjou as king. It has weathered years and natural disasters quite well and now hosts the Municipal Museum with historical artifacts and artwork from Catania and the wider region.
Piazza Carlo Alberto Market
Walking back into the historical center, find your way to the lively street of Via Pacini. This street nicely reflects the atmosphere of Catania as a whole, with plenty of bars and snack joints. But the big draw here is the busy local market which takes place down the end of the street in Piazza Carlo Alberto. With the Basilica Santuario Del Carmine watching over everything, you’ll find all sorts of food and items being sold.
Recommendation: Discover the flavors, aromas, and gastronomic traditions of Catania on this amazing Catania Street Food tour. A must for any foodie.
Museo Storico dello Sbarco in Sicilia 1943
Finish your sightseeing by heading for the Le Ciminiere museum complex. This area north of the main train station is actually an old sulfur refinery, with its most interesting museum being the Museo Storico dello Sbarco in Sicilia 1943. Inside you’ll learn about the Allied invasion of Sicily that took place in 1943 thanks to its comprehensive and immersive exhibits.
Day 3 in Catania
To finish your 72 hours in Catania, you’ll want to set your sights on the other fantastic destinations that call this part of Sicily home. You’ve seen many of the best attractions in Catania and it’s time to broaden your horizons further with a day trip from Catania. While there are plenty you can make, here are the most popular.
1. Mount Etna
The most obvious candidate for a day trip from Catania is the looming Mount Etna, which can be seen from the city. Not only is Mount Etna easily reached from Catania, it’s also a remarkable place to explore since it’s the most active volcano in the world. Despite its habit for violent eruptions, it remains one of Sicily’s most popular destinations.
Trips up Mt. Etna typically involve different stages each of which have their own points of interest, ultimately bringing you to its 3,326m summit. Coming from Catania you’ll take the southern approach which starts outside the Rifugio Sapienza Hotel just under 2,000 meters in elevation. Once there you’ll already begin to see craters and lava flows across the bleak landscape.
Next, you have the choice of hiking or taking a cable car up to a lava flow cave at 2,500 meters. From there, you can choose between hiking up to the craters at 2,900 meters or having a guide take you all the way to the craters by the summit. Regardless, you’ll be seeing a desolate but awe-inspiring volcanic landscape in an up close and personal way.
You can book a guide tour to Mount Etna here.
Lying on the coast north of Catania is the beautiful and immensely popular town of Taormina. Resting on a hillside with wonderful views of the seaside, Taormina is a destination that really has a little of everything for visitors.
Begin your visit by entering the town center through the ancient Messina Gate and strolling along its main pedestrian street. Along the way you’ll encounter plenty of cafes, restaurants, and stores selling souvenirs and typical Sicilian produce and handicrafts. Then, find your way to the Villa Comunale Di Taormina to enjoy some wonderful views of the coast below, as well as Mt. Etna in the distance.
Up above the gardens you’ll encounter the town’s most iconic landmark, the mighty Teatro Antico. This ancient Greek theater still appears to be in decent shape and even offers better views than earlier. One last panoramic outlook to be enjoyed is the one at the Belvedere di Via Pirandello viewpoint which allows you to gaze down at the picture-perfect island of Isola Bella and the beaches there.
There’s plenty of history to be explored in Sicily and one of the most enjoyable places for it is the seaside city of Syracuse. Making a day trip to Syracuse allows you to escape the bustle and grittiness of Catania for somewhere a little calmer.
Rather than making a beeline for its historical center, begin by visiting the incredible Neapolis Archaeological Park. This expansive site is home to an interesting collection of landmarks, with its well-preserved Greek Theatre the star attraction. While there you can also see the Roman Amphitheatre, an ancient quarry used to build Syracuse, and a cave called the “Ear of Dionysius.”
On the far side of the city you’ll find the island of Ortygia which is the historic center of Syracuse. Whether you walk around the waterfront promenade or wander through the quiet and old fashioned back streets, it’s hard not to settle into a more relaxed pace. Soon enough you’ll arrive at Piazza del Duomo, Ortygia’s main square which is home to several palaces and the Cathedral of Syracuse. Right at the end of the island lies Castello Maniace, one of the city’s former medieval fortifications.
Here ends our guide to sightseeing around Catania in 3 days. You should now feel fully prepared for your time in the city and how to make the most of it.