Catania is a charming city, not only because it is the city where I was born and where I live, but also because it is the ideal place for any type of personality and it also lets you enjoy sea and mountain at the same time. Throughout history, Catania was hit by the most devastating volcanic eruptions, such as the one of 1669, which destroyed thousands of hectares of farmland. My city was also devastated by earthquakes, such as the one of 1693, which destroyed it completely. There were more than 15 thousands of victims.
NOTE: You can visit Catania alone or with other people. It is known as the “Milan of the South”, because it is a city that is always alive at all hours. If you love good food, culture and the contrasts between sea and mountains, you have chosen the right destination. My blog’s reader is going to visit it. She doesn’t like to sightsee. She prefers taking photos, enjoying a good pizza and traditional granita and buying souvenirs on a budget.
When you arrive at the airport I recommend you get to Catania by the bus Alibus AMT 457,which takes you directly to the center (according to where your accomodation is). This is the cheaper solution. You can buy the ticket at the airport or on the bus at the cost of €4, or you can catch a taxi at the cost of €20, if you don’t want to wait for the bus which leaves each 25 minutes.
DAY 1 – CENTER OF CATANIA
Spend your day exploring the historic center of Catania, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thanks to its Baroque. The main street is Via Etnea, about 3 km long. Along the street you will see many churches such as the Basilica of Collegiata, built in the early eighteenth century, after the 1693 earthquake, on the ruins of an earlier church belonged to the Aragonese and elevated to the Royal Chapel in 1396.
Near the Basilica there is Piazza Stesicoro, with the remains of the Anfiteatro Romano (Roman Amphitheater), dated around the II century. Admission is free and it is open every day, except Sundays and Mondays.
Behind the Amphitheater there is the S. Biagio Church, also called “Sant’Agata alla fornace”. The church was built in the eighteenth century after 1693.
CURIOSITY: According to tradition, the Church stands where once the furnace of Sant’Agata’s martyrdom was located. After being locked up in jail for refusing to recant his faith, Agata was first tortured by fire and then her breasts were removed. Sant’Agata is the patron saint of my city and she is celebrated for 3 days, from 3 to 5 of February. This feast attracts many tourists from all over the world.
The monument of Vincenzo Bellini, the famous composer from Catania, is opposite the Amphitheater. The white marble statue represents Bellini sitting on a chair. The monument is on a base composed by seven steps, which indicate the 7 musical notes. On the four sides of the column there are 4 statues which represent his 4 famous works: Norma, I Puritani, La Sonnambula and Il Pirata.Behind the Bellini monument, there is a huge market where you can truly find everything and also make good deals: clothes, accessories, perfumes, food. Go shopping! We call this place “Fera O’ Luni”. In Piazza Carlo Alberto there is the beautiful Santuario della Madonna del Carmine, dated 1729, which dominates the market.
Come back Via Etnea and walk down. You will be in Piazza Università (dated about 1696) characterised by two buildings, one front to another, the Palazzo dell’Università and the Palazzo di San Giuliano, built in 1738.
If you walk down, on the right there is Via Antonino di Sangiuliano. Take this street and then turn left, where there is the beautiful Via Crociferi. The road is a symbol of Baroque architecture. In the short space of about 200 meters there are 4 churches: San Benedetto Church, San Francesco Borgia Church, San Giuliano Church, San Camillo Church.Another amazing building is the Collegio dei Gesuiti, with the cloister, arcades and columns of lava stone. At the bottom of the street, there is Villa Cerami, a prestigious XVIII building which houses the University of Law. In Piazza San Francesco 3, a cross of Via Crociferi, you will find the Bellini Museum. The entrance ticket is €5, it is closed on Sundays. It is ideal for those who love music and want to relive the atmosphere of those times. Here there are the composer’s scores.
If you continue to climb the Via Sangiuliano you will find the beautiful Monastero dei Benedettini, built by the monks in 1558, a must for culture lovers and for anyone who loves to take photos of balconies and windows. It is a symbol of the late Sicilian Baroque. Today it hosts the Department of Humanities of the University of Catania. Here is where I studied and graduated 🙂
Guided tours are every day from 9:00 to 17:00. The ticket is €6 for the traditional tour. Here is the link to look at the different Monastero tours. Next to the Monastero dei Benedettini there is the stunning San Nicolò l’Arena Church.
Walk down Via Etnea and you will bump into the stunning Piazza Duomo, a large and bright square. You’ll see the famous Elephant, the lava sculpture, a symbol of the city, which stands on a white marble pedestal in a middle of a marbel pond. On the base there are two sculptures which represent Simeto and Amenano, the 2 rivers of Catania. The elephant points towards the cathedral of Sant’Agata. On the back of the animal there is an Egyptian obelisk, where there is a globe surrounded by a crown of a palm leaf (representing the martyrdom) and a branch of lilies (representing purity).
CURIOSITY: Elephant statue was made by the arquitect Giovanni Battista Vaccarini between 1735 e il 1737. A legend says that when Catania was first inhabited , all fierce and dangerous animals were put to flight by an elephant. People, in a sign of gratitude, erected the statue and called it “Liotru”, which is a correction of the name of the erudite Elidoro. The most reliable hypothesis, according to the Arabian geographer Idrisi, is that the Elephant of Catania is a magical statue, built in Byzantine times, just to keep away assaults from Catania.
The Cathedral of Sant’Agata, was built on the ruins of the Terme Achilliane. Here there is the beautiful Fontana dell’Amenano, a fountain fed by the waters of the underground river Amenano.
Behind the fountain’s you will see the Pescheria, a famous fish market, a real folk place. Walk among the colorful vendor stalls. You can have a snack with typical local foods, such as the delicious “Siciliana” which is a type of fried pizza, stuffed with cheese and anchovies.
It is time to have lunch. Taste the arancino a typical pyramid-shaped fried food, stuffed with rice and meat sauce. Sublime! It costs about €2. Along the Via Etnea I recommend Savia or Spinella and if you want you can eat it at the Villa Bellini (right in front of the bars). If you are in Piazza Duomo you can go to the Etoile bar, near the Pescheria. If you prefer something sweet you cannot lose the granita! Granita is good everywhere. Here is my list with the top places to eat granita!
In the afternoon, you can choose to:
– walk from Via Garibaldi to Porta Garibaldi. You can visit Giovanni Verga‘s house. He was a famous writer.
NOTE: The House Museum is open from Tuesday to Saturday, from 9 to 16. It is closed on Mondays. The ticket costs approximately €4. It would be more fascinating if it were held with higher regard.
– go to Castello Ursino which was surrounded by the lava of 1669. The entrance to the castle is €6. It houses the Museo Civico, with citizen’s assets. Often there are temporary exhibitions of great interest and relevance.
NOTE: if you have spent all the morning shopping, visit Via Crociferi and Monastero dei Benedettini instead of Castello Ursino. You won’t have the time to visit both of them!
In the evening, for dinner, you have many choices. Catania is full of restaurants, especially in the area of Piazza Teatro Massimo and the alleys of Via Umberto. Tonight enjoy a delicious pizza at Al Vicolo Pizza&Vino in Via del Colosseo 5, one of the narrow streets of the Piazza Stesicoro (take the corner where Carpisa shop is, then turn left) Try to arrive before 20. It is always crowded, because here there is the best pizza of Catania at a low cost 😉
DAY 2 – TAORMINA
Taormina is a must for anyone coming to Catania. Buses depart from the bus station in Via D’Amico. A round trip is about €8.50 and it take 1 hour to arrive (depends on traffic jam). You can visit Taormina in half a day, but if it is summer stay all the day long so that you can spend more time at Isola Bella. Here is my tips to spend a day in Taormina.
For dinner go to Via Santa Filomena, one of the most typical street full of nice restaurants. Do you want to taste sensational hamburgers? Go to the to the FUD. Otherwise, choose Il Sale (everything is tasty here).
DAY 3 – ETNA or ACITREZZA AND ACICASTELLO
Here are 2 options:
– Do you love hiking in the mountains? Visit Mount Etna and follow my guide to discover what to do here. The ideal way to visit this stunning Volcano is taking a car so that you can also discover the charming Etna villages.
There are many travel agencies that organize excursions to Mount Etna and offer pick-up at your hotel. Sometimes you can get all the info at your hotel. Etna excursions cost about €55, but look at the website, they often offer discounts. I recommend Etna Moving or Etna Sicily Touring. You can also visit Etna by yourself. The bus AST departs from Piazza Papa Giovanni XXIII at 8.15, and arrive at the Rifugio Sapienza in Nicolosi. The ticket is about €5 one way. Excursions starts from here. If you want to get higher, the cable ticket is €30. The departure from Etna is at 16.30. Always check out timetable!!
– Do you love traditional villages by the sea? Visit Acicastello and Acitrezza. The bus AMT departs from Piazza Stesicoro and other parts of the city. The line is 534.
NOTE: The ticket for local buses is €1.00 and is valid for 90 minutes. Day tickets cost €2.50 and allow you to move throughout the urban area.
In the afternoon, you can go to Piazza Europa (bus AMT line 443) to eat a tasty granita at Caffè Europa. Then take a walk along Ognina seafront and visit the small harbour of San Giovanni Li Cuti. This is my favourite part of the Catania seafront.