Perched right on the coast of Sicily, the Italian city of Catania has a lot going for it! With a history dating back thousands of years, there are heaps of the best things to do in Catania – both in and just outside the city.
In lots of ways, us included, Catania is seen as a gateway city to all the other best places in Sicily to visit. That being said, it’s well worth visiting in its own right – even if that is part of a wider visit to Sicily.
Now, although Catania can seem to be a little ‘rough around the edges’, it’s a city that’s got so much charm and the kind of city you just have to dive right in.
To be honest, the first few hours after arriving in Catania were a blur of sensory overload – it’s a bustling city, but that’s all part of the charm and totally unique.
So, to help you get the most out of your time in Catania, I’m sharing some of the spots we loved most about our visit. Take a look at some of the epic places to visit in Catania. Have an amazing trip travelling around Sicily.
1.) Visit Palazzo Biscari
The private palace of Biscari is one stunning spot to see whilst visiting Catania. You see, way back in the 1600s, the Prince of Biscari was given the right to build a gorgeous palace after a devastating earthquake.
Nowadays, it still stands tall in the city and is well worth taking a guided tour to take a peek inside. Not only is it one of the largest palaces in the city, but in my opinion, it’s one of the grandest.
Whilst on a guided tour, take a peek at the gorgeous courtyard before heading to see the grand hall, hand-painted frescos and the most beautiful staircase. Honestly, this place is a gem to explore.
Now, I won’t spoil the surprise by popping in a photo of the interiors (it’s really that gorgeous), so make sure to head over once you arrive in Sicily.
2.) Take a Trip to Castello Ursino
Built way back in the 1200s, out of lava stone, visiting Castello Ursino is one of the best things to do in Catania if you want to explore the city’s long history.
Yes, it might not be a baroque building that is so famous in Sicily, but Castello Ursino pre-dates these designs and houses so much to see. It literally dates back to the middle ages.
Now, I kind of felt that Castello Ursino was more impressive from the outside (if I’m honest). But don’t let that put you off heading inside – it’s worth seeing the various artworks, paintings and sculptures that now call the castle home.
3.) Go to Monastery of San Nicolò l’Arena
The Monastery of San Nicolò l’Arena might not seem like an obvious choice for a place to visit but trust me here. If you want to know more about the history of Catania, then you’ll want to come here.
Now, guided tours happen on most days and they typically last around 75-minutes. Though, always check the times they operate and be aware that if you want an English tour, then you’ll want to visit at around 1 pm.
Finally, to book a tour, head to their website where you’ll be able to pop an email over to the team and secure your place.
4.) See the Greek-Roman Theatre(s)
Constructed out of rocks provided by the nearby Mount Etna, the Roman Theater of Catania is one epic part of the city to see whilst strolling around.
Yes, you will need to pay a small entrance fee to have a nosey around the site but it’s well worth it.
With thousands of years of history, it’s the kind of place where you can learn more about the Roman empire and its building techniques.
Visits will only last around 25-minutes and it’s really easy to squeeze into a trip.
5.) Take a trip to Mount Etna
Yeah, I know, Mount Etna isn’t Catania – but hear me out!
Remember I mentioned that Cantania is sometimes considered a gateway to wider Sicily? Well, this is one of the times when that rings true. Visiting Mount Etna is easily one of the best things to do in Catania if you’re looking for a day trip away from the bustling streets.
Now, one of the best ways we found to do this is by booking this Mount Etna tour that departs from Catania itself. Not only will you get picked up from Catania, but you’ll head high up, near the summit of Mount Etna in a 4×4 or small bus – all with a qualified guide.
Best of all, this Mount Etna tour will provide a tipple of local wines from the region, too. After all, the terroir is so good around here.
That being said, if you fancy hiking, be warned it’s a 3,300-meter hike and is pretty arduous. Also, don’t forget that Mount Etna is one of the most active volcanoes in Europe – so always go with a guide.
6.) See the Gates of Porta Garibaldi
Porta Garibaldi dates way back to the 1700s when it was constructed as a triumphal arch in the very centre of Catania. To this day, you can walk through the gates and witness one of the best celebratory gates in Italy.
You see, Porta Garibaldi was constructed to celebrate the marriage of the Bourbon king and royalty from Austria. I mean, that’s some wedding gift, right?
Anyway, it’s really easy to see and well worth taking a close gander at the statues and artistry on the gate itself. I don’t understand Latin but someone did say that there’s a quote around Catania rising up. Apparently, it’s in connection to the constant rebuilding of Cantania due to tectonic activity.
Afterwards, take some time to visit the markets and wander through the daily stalls that line the streets past Fontana dell’Amenano and around Porta Uzeda.
7.) Visit Catania Cathedral
Okay, so Catania Cathedral is probably the most beautiful structure in the city and one spot you won’t want to miss.
Best of all, it’s located right in the historic centre of Catania, making it really easy to visit on most days of the week. Once here, be sure to look out for the Norman apses that date back almost 1000 years. Oh, and take a peek at the stunning nave, too.
Totally free to enter, visiting is one of the best things to do in Catania whilst you walk around the city.
Just be aware, there are services that go on throughout the year here. This means you might rock up and find the church closed to sightseers.
8.) Go to Bellini Gardens
The oldest of all the parks in Catania, Giardini Bellini is well worth going for a stroll on a warm day.
Not only are the grounds totally gorgeous, but the garden also has the most ornate stone flooring to the higher points. It’s so intricate and it’s always stuck in my memory.
One thing to remember is Catania can get very hot and that the Sicilian sun is strong. Wear a hat and take sunblock with you – the Italian sun is no joke!
Afterwards, take a stroll to Basilica della Collegiata and take in another one of Catania’s beautiful churches to see.
9.) Head over to Aci Castle
Not too far away from the centre of Catania is Castello di Aci. It’s about a 15-minute drive and well worth visiting for its long history.
Now, Castello di Aci sits on a pretty dramatic cliffside that overlooks the seas surrounding Sicily itself. The views are incredible.
Yes, you’ll pay a small entry fee to gain access to Castello di Aci but it’s totally worth it. Once inside, you’ll get to wander around the small museum and check out the grounds themselves. We loved it.
Afterwards, hop on back to the centre of Catania and check out Scirocco Sicilian Fish Lab.
We had the best calamari and local fried fish. Served as street food, it’s got a few seats outside and all are served in a paper cone. It was all so good.
10.) Spot the Fountain of the Elephant
The symbol of the city, seeing the Fountain of the Elephant is one of the best things to do in Catania. In fact, it’s hard to miss when you’re in the historic centre.
Built almost 300 years ago, it was created by the renowned Giovanni Battista Vaccarini. To this day, it’s said that the Fountain of the Elephant is one of the protectors of Catania – from the brut force of an erupting Mount Etna.
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