The coastal city of Catania is the perfect base for discovering Sicily, as one of its major cities it is also a place with plenty of character. While you can easily spend a day or two sightseeing around Catania, the city also has some of the best places to visit in Sicily right at its doorstep. All it takes is a day trip along the coast or into the countryside and you’ll get to see the best of what this Mediterranean gem has to offer. To show you what we mean, here are many of the best day trips from Catania to get you started.
How to Get Around
Although many of these day trips can be undertaken with public transport, consider renting a car for the day to give yourself more flexibility and independence. Your own four wheels allow you to be in control of your time and schedule, and depending on how many people are in your group, renting a car might even work out cheaper than other forms of transportation. You can compare car rental deals and find the cheapest prices at Rentalcars.com, an aggregation site that searches and displays prices and availability from hundreds of car rental companies so that you can be sure of getting the best possible car for your budget.
Don’t want to drive or deal with the hassle of public transport? No worries, we’ve listed the best tour for each day trip (where available).
1. Mount Etna
Mount Etna is the most active volcano in the world, with a long history of violent eruptions and yet it remains one of the most popular day tours from Catania. Visits to Mt. Etna from the south tend to go in stages as you make your way up to its summit of 3,326m. The first stage begins by the Rifugio Sapienza Hotel which is situated at an elevation of just under 2,000 meters. In the surrounding area you can explore the desolate landscape of craters and lava flows. From there, you can either take the cable car or hike to reach the next stage at 2,500 meters in elevation. There you can take a break or explore a lava flow cave. Finally, you have the choice between hiking to craters at 2,900 meters or the higher ones at 3,300 meters – note that you can only go higher than 2,900 meters with a guide.
Getting there: Traveling with public transport to Mt. Etna means taking one of the few daily buses to Rifugio Sapienza; the bus ride takes around 2 hours. A much simpler option that won’t have you worrying about bus timetables is visiting with a guided tour, either in the morning or in time for sunset.
Easily one of the most popular Catania day trips is the enchanting seaside town of Taormina which sits on the far side of Mt. Etna. Start your visit by entering through the Messina Gate and taking a walk through the streets of the town center which is full of restaurants and stores selling typical Sicilian produce. Next, find your way to the impressive Teatro Antico to admire this ancient Greek theater and the sweeping views it offers. Down below the theater are the gardens of Villa Comunale Di Taormina which boast captivating views of the coast out to the imposing outline of Mt Etna. Following the road around the edge of town you’ll come to the Belvedere di Via Pirandello viewpoint which looks down to the idyllic island of Isola Bella.
Getting there: Just a short trip from Catania, frequent buses and trains travel to Taormina and take just over an hour. Do note that the Taormina train station sits down at the bottom of a considerable hill, while the bus station is up in town. Alternatively, you can have someone show you the town’s sights on a guided tour.
If you’re looking for an easy place to escape for the day, then Syracuse is an ideal day trip. Begin your visit to this coastal city by exploring the archaeological park of Neapolis in the modern part of the city. Here you’ll see ancient ruins like the expertly preserved Greek Theatre, as well as the intriguing cave called the “Ear of Dionysius.” It’s then time to head down to the city’s waterfront where you’ll cross over onto the island of Ortygia, home to Syracuse’s Old Town. Wandering about Ortygia will take you down quaint, narrow streets that’ll show you what medieval life in Sicily would have looked like. Contrasting the humble streets with its majestic baroque architecture is the Piazza del Duomo. Around the edges of Ortygia you’ll not only find beautiful sea views but also the occasional beach with sheltered surf.
Getting there: An easy train trip from Catania, Syracuse is about 70 minutes away by train with regular departures. Buses take about the same time but run even more frequently. However, if you want to combine Syracuse with other towns and cities, a guided tour is the way to go.
Sicily is quite famous for its baroque architecture, and the town of Noto is one of the best places to visit from Catania to see it. That’s because Noto was completely destroyed by a huge earthquake in 1693 and everything was rebuilt and now dates back to that era. To enter the town center you’ll first pass through the ornate Porta Reale and then head up the main pedestrian street of Corso Vittorio Emanuele. Before long you’ll be standing between the Town Hall within the grand Palazzo Ducezio and the long staircase leading to the immense Noto Cathedral. The views from the balcony of the Town Hall are worth admission, although the Chiesa di San Carlo down the street also offers terrace views. Other stops you’ll want to make to fully appreciate the splendour of Noto include the elegant Teatro Comunale Vittorio Emanuele, the lavish Palazzo Nicolaci, and the Noto Civic Museum.
Getting there: To get from Catania to Noto, there’s the option of taking a 1½ hour bus ride or a 2 ½ hour train ride via Syracuse, but neither option is very frequent. For ease, and the option to see other places near Noto, it’s best to consider a guided tour.
Another gorgeous baroque city well worth exploring from Catania is the hilltop city of Ragusa. There are actually two parts of Ragusa to explore, the old town, Ragusa Ibla as well as the new town, Ragusa Superiore where the city was moved after the 1693 earthquake. Start in Ragusa Superiore, the new part of the city, with the formidable Ragusa Cathedral and its refined interior. Heading downhill, you should find the start of the Salita Commendatore, a staircase that leads to the Old Town of Ragusa Ibla. Before descending, take time to admire the incredible view of Ibla with the whole historic center splayed out in front of you. Once down in Ragusa Ibla, make your way to the Piazza Duomo where you’ll find the Cathedral of San Giorgio looming over you. Also, don’t miss the Giardino Ibleo just down the hill, with its serene gardens and sublime views.
Getting there: There are regular buses that travel from Catania to Ragusa, the journey taking around 2 hours give or take depending on whether you need to transfer. A simpler option that will also show you other baroque towns is to visit with a guided tour.
To explore the ancient history of the island of Sicily, it’s hard to beat the city of Agrigento. What makes this one of the best side trips from Catania for history fans is the incredible Valley of the Temples which is considered one of the most important proofs of the ancient and classical culture of Sicily. Lost for centuries, the Valley of the Temples is full of wonderfully preserved ruins from around the 5th century B.C. Starting at the Temple of Juno, visitors follow ancient roads westward past multiple temples and tombs, including the incredible Temple of Concordia. Besides the ruins, the valley also offers fantastic views down to the coast as well as back up at the city of Agrigento. Before leaving, make sure to actually explore the city of Agrigento itself by taking a walk along the Via Atenea into the medieval town center.
Getting there: Although it’s quite a distance from Catania, there are regular buses to Agrigento that take just under 3 hours. For a quicker journey and someone to explain the significance of what you’re seeing, you may want to look at taking a guided tour.
7. Alcantara Gorge
Alcantara Gorge highlights just how dramatic and picturesque the island’s countryside is. Alcantara Gorge sits just north of Mt. Etna and features the Alcantara River coursing through a canyon in the countryside. Crystal clear and with an aqua color, the water beautifully contrasts against the worn and rippled walls of the gorge. At the Alcantara River Park, you can not only appreciate views of the river and gorge, but also head down to the beach and walk along shallow sections of the icy river. There are various trails that follow along the gorge, some of which will take you to beautiful little pools that have formed.
Getting there: Because it’s found in the countryside, there aren’t any viable public transport options to get from Catania to Alcantara Gorge. Your only real option to get there is to visit with a guided tour.
8. Villa Romana del Casale
One of the best things to see in Sicily outside of Catania is the incredible collection of mosaics at Villa Romana del Casale. Located near the town of Piazza Armerina in the hilly interior of Sicily, Villa Romana del Casale is an archaeological site with the remains of an ancient Roman villa. The undeniable highlight of this masterfully preserved site is the extensive series of mosaics that cover the floors of rooms, corridors, and halls of the villa. Still sitting exactly in place, these are said to be the best, most complete in-site Romain mosaics in the world. Besides mosaics, this UNESCO world heritage site also includes the remains of Roman baths, columns, statues, and more.
Getting there: There is at least one bus that connects Catania with Villa Romana del Casale (sometimes written as Scavi del Casale), with the rest requiring you to change buses in Piazza Armerina. The trip takes around 2 ½ hours. If you don’t want to worry about that then you’ll want to look at taking a guided tour.
Often overlooked for the other majestic baroque cities, Modica is a small city waiting to be discovered by visitors. Taking a walk through the historical center of Modica, you’ll find striking buildings tucked around the corners of its medieval streets. These include a variety of palaces and churches, including the stunning Duomo of San Giorgio atop its staircase. For views over Modica, find your way up to the Pizzo Belvedere and look out over the city’s rooftops. One thing that sets Modica apart is its love of chocolate. Antica Dolceria Bonajuto has operated since 1880 and is the oldest chocolate factory in Sicily, while the town also has a Chocolate Museum dedicated to this sweet tradition.
Getting there: With public transport usually taking over 4 hours to reach Modica from Catania, the best way to make use of your time is with an organized tour.
For a look at local Sicilian crafts, one great place to visit is the hilltop town of Caltagirone. The people of Sicily are extremely proud of the produce they grow and the crafts they create, which in the case of Caltagirone is exceptional colored ceramics. You won’t need to walk far into town to find stores proudly displaying their vibrant pottery. However, this pottery extends to the town itself and can be seen throughout the streets, balconies, and fountains. In fact, the town’s crowning attraction is the Staircase of Santa Maria del Monte where every step is lined with patterned ceramics. Caltagirone is also a town of Baroque architecture, having suffered at the hands of the 1693 earthquake as well.
Getting there: Getting to Caltagirone from Catania by public transport is quite complicated, so your best option for seeing the town is on a guided tour of the region.
Those are some of the best places on Sicily within reach of Catania that make for great day trips. The trouble now is working out which of these destinations will best suit your trip and how many you want to explore.