The Complete and Essential Guide to Catania for First Time Visitors

Within this article I can tell you all that you need to know so you get the most of your visit to one of the most desirable and alluring destinations Sicily has to offer: Catania.

Catania Sicily

Ciao to everyone, My name is Don Tano Bongiorno, and I am a semi-official tour guide to the beautiful Mediterranean island of Sicily.

Today, along with some local friends, I took a tour through the streets of Catania. I enjoyed a cannolo, a coffee, and even a delicious glass of Sicilian Amaro.

Just to give you a little bit of information, this particular amaro was named Amaro Amara, and it was well worth the tasting.

So, with that one glass, and possibly one or two more, my friends and I comprised a series of useful tips to make your holiday unforgettable.

By now you have already come to know that my intentions are to help you experience Sicily like the locals do, and not just like any other tourist that might land on our beaches.

To put it in other terms, make it like you were born here and lived here all your life.

What you will read here is not the boring and stereotypical tourist guide that you can find somewhere else online, but actual tips that can help you that come directly from the locals.

But you have to be patient.

This city manual is very length, and it is going to take you at least 10 minutes to get through it entirely. You just need to get comfortable and commit to read it all, because the information it contains can absolutely change your entire holiday.

So without further ado, let’s get right to it. Shall we?

Brief Summary

Let me introduce Catania to you in just a few words, though admittedly it would take thousands to learn it completely due to its extensive history.

There are a few cities whose names are capable of expressing their very own nature, and Catania happens to be one of them.

It’s name comes from the Greek prefix “kata”, and this means ‘in the vicinity of’ or ‘leaning on’. It is added on to the name of the volcano Etna to give you Catania.

This came to be because of Catania’s construction at the foot of the highest European volcano, Mt. Etna. This magnificent area overlooks the Ionian coast of Sicily.

Etna Volcano

Few places are like it in the world, as this is quite literally a location where fire and water have met to provide a foundation for the city that UNESCO has declared a World Heritage Site, the seven municipalities of Val di Noto also have this accreditation.

Much like the rest of Sicily, there is an extensive history for Catania.

Since it was founded in 729 B.C. by the Greeks from Chalkidiki, the city has gotten invaded multiple times. Each of these incidents became another enrichment to the arts, architecture and cultural heritage that so uniquely blends together today.

The people of Catania have also been changed by this upswing of cultural influence.

Many different people have colonized the area over the centuries and continue to nurture the defining character of its modern citizens. They continue to show hospitality and peace as their primary way of life.

Not only the history, sea and nature.

The city has been dubbed the Milan of the South” because of its very active nightlife. There are pubs, bars, nightclubs, and restaurants that bring Catania to life every evening.

To generalize it…

This is a city that can offer you almost anything you are looking for. For those that seek history, culture, nature, and impressive events, Catania is a place you need to be. If you visit Sicily, but do not take the time to see some of the later listed places, you might severely regret it.

When Is the Best Time to Visit?

Best Time to Visit Catania

While the climate remains fair for most of the year, there are times that are better than others to visit Sicily or Catania specifically.

Actually, Catania has momre of a subtropical climate throughout the seasons, making its weather even more favorable for travelers year round.

Summer can last for many months here. Despite higher temperatures, travelers do not experience excessive humidity which can exasperate the heat. Rainfall is typically fairly low throughout the year, and it is most likely to get seen through the January and February months.

Winter is incredibly mild, and often only amounts to a few days’ worth of rainfall.

In a Nutshell…

You can come here whenever it suits you throughout the year, but if you really want to enjoy the sea, I would recommend a trip between April and October.

How Do You Get Here?

You can get to Catania in several different ways.

Airplane – There is an international airport of Catania-Fontanarossa “Vincenzo Bellini”. This is the first airport in southern Italy designed for passenger traffic.

You can get direct flights to this airport from Rome, Milan, or other major Italian provincial capitals thanks to Alitalia, but many lower cost airlines also offer flights to Catania.

airplane fontanarossa

This airport is situated nearly 7km from the center of the city, but is accessible through a convenient shuttle service.

Train – A primary railway junction in Catania consists of Central Station of Catania (located in Piazza Papa Giovanni XXIII), which exists at the intersection of main thoroughfares throughout the city.

This station is connected to the port, which makes it then connected to the whole of Italy by long distance trains that provide car transport service to Central Bologna, Milan San Cristoforo, Rome Terminals, and Turin Porta Nuova.

Ship – The port in Catania can easily get reached from Naples or Genoa by a car. If you have one, you can also opt for the port of Palermo, and reach Catania in about 2 hrs.

port of catania

Car – For those that enjoy traveling with a car, just take the A1 Naples-Milan motorway and continue to Salerno-Reggio Calabria. Upon your exit at Villa San Giovanni, you can embark for Sicily to the ports of Palermo of Messina.

To reach Catania from Messina, you have to take the A18 motorway and cover 95km. To get there from Palermo, you have to travel 195 km and take the A19.

Essentially…

You can reach Catania by many methods from anywhere in Italy, and it has an airport for direct flights arriving from all over Europe.

Where You Should Stay in Catania

You should take the time to explore this city if you can.

For this reason, it is wise to carefully decide where you want to stay when you are here to appreciate the history and cultural influences (Greek/Roman, Byzantine, Arab, and Norman), unique architecture and monuments, and the Sicilian Baroque style that ties it all together.

It is a very lively city when the sun goes down.

This entire historical center, which is focused within a 1km radius, is full of people and pubs. You can also find buses and metros throughout this area that are reliable and functional.

Here are the best three areas for you to stay in Catania:

Historical Centre

Historical Centre of Catania

The main square of Catania is via Etnea, which leads to Piazza Duomo in the center of the city. This area is full of shops and often very crowded.

There are also other main streets throughout this area, such as Via Garibaldi, Via Vittorio Emanuele, and Via Mario Rapisardi. You can stay on one of these streets as well, but bear in mind, they are going to be busy.

Corso Italia

Corso Italia in Catania

The area here is elegant, but it is quite a far walk from the centre. Also, because of a larger number of offices, this area is less active in the evenings. You can also make the same argument for the Corso Sicilia area.

Lungomare

Lungomare

Last, but not least is the area of Lungomare around Via Ruggero di Lauria and Via San Giovanni Li Cuti is beautiful and distinct.

It is very busy throughout the summer evenings, and the centre can get reached with just a shorter 30-minute walk. There are two beaches here as well, one is sandy, and the other is made from black lava cliffs.

In a Nutshell…

The historical centre is the best option for where you want to stay, but if you have a car, it can be difficult to park it near your accommodations. In the summer, Lungomare is an excellent alternative to the city centre.

These are the best areas, so let’s take a look at some of the best actual accommodations you can choose from.

Hotels, B&Bs and Apartments in Catania

Hotel Centrum
Address: Monsignor Ventimiglia 37

Hotel Centrum

This is an excellent location to be in the heart of Catania’s historic centre, located behind the Massimo Bellini Theatre and only 500 m from the Duomo.

The owners here are very welcoming to travelers and attentive to the needs of their customers. Breakfast is high quality and the location is very strategic.

👉 See the price and availability of Hotel Centrum here

Catania Inn B&B
Address: Via Gagliani 13, 95124

Catania Inn B&B

The B&C Catania Inn is an ideal location close to the bus station and the city centre. The staff here are helpful and the property is welcoming, nice, and clean.

You can have a hearty breakfast before you set out for the day and have yourself a relaxing cup of tea any time throughout the day. The only drawback here is that the street is located on is not very beautiful, but it is very close to the city centre.

Furthermore, those who have cars can possibly park in a garage near the accommodations.

👉 See the price and availability of Catania Inn B&B here

Hotel Villa Romeo
Address: Via Platamone 8, 95131

Hotel Villa Romeo

This is a three star hotel, but it is worth 4. This hotel is just a 20 minute walk from the beach, only 10 minutes from the city centre, and only a two minute stroll to the train station and bus stop that takes you to Mount Etna.

The rooms and bathrooms are very spacious, clean, and elegant. There is a wide spread for breakfast catering to those who like sweet and savory options. You can also appreciate 24-hour reception service from the helpful staff.

This accommodation also features a private garage exclusively used for their guests.

👉 See the price and availability of Hotel Villa Romeo here

Hotel Trieste
Address: Via Leonardi 24 Catania

Hotel Trieste

Although this might be situated in a lower-cost neighborhood, this 1-star hotel will amaze you. The hospitality of the owners, the cleanliness of the rooms, and the central location all demand a higher star rating for this hotel.

It is only 300m from the cathedral, a 5-minute walk from the Duomo, and only a 20-minute stroll to the beach.

👉 See the price and availability of Hotel Trieste here

Hotel La Ville
Address: Monteverdi 15, 95131

Hotel La Ville

This is a really nice hotel with helpful staff. The breakfast buffet here is abundant and excellently prepared.

This location is a great value for your money and its location is perfect. It is in the city centre, within the main shopping district. It Is great for those staying in Catania that want to get to the station or the Le Ciminiere Conference Centre.

👉 See the price and availability of Hotel La Ville here

Liodoro Catania B&B
Address: Via Gagliani, 13, 95124

Liodoro Catania B&B

You can appreciate this location when you see the spacious rooms and how available and courteous the staff are to the guests that stay here. You will find a spread of local products for breakfast as well.

The location is worth noting as well, as it is only a few steps from the Duomo. Since it is challenging to park in the area, you can put your car in a private garage nearby the B&B for a small fee.

👉 See the price and availability of Liodoro Catania B&B here

Moving Around the City

AMT manages the public transport system here, and this organization stands for Azienda Metropolitana Trasporti, or Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

This is a good system, not without its faults, but much better than one you might find in Palermo.

It is not only equipped with buses and trams to get you around, but there is also a subway that is underused and thereby less than efficient.

One of the best ways to get around the city is through the orange city buses that help you to get from point to point in effective ways.

What You Need to Do and See

Catania is a wonderful city, and there is a plethora of cultural attractions for the traveler to see.

The location of the city, overlooking the Ionian Sea, makes it ideal for holidays on the beach. It is also great for excursions, mainly due to the paths that lead to the discovery of the still active Etna volcano.

Nearby, towns of their own beautiful merit like Taormina and Caltagirone make their own worthwhile day trips.

10 Best Places to Visit

I can tell you the 10 must-see things to do while you are visiting this area.

Piazza del Duomo

Piazza del Duomo

This is the centre of social life in Catania. The square is surrounded by Baroque style buildings that fascinate the senses. This has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Fountain of the Elephant

Fountain of the Elephant

This is in the square opposite of the Duomo, where the elegant Via Etnea starts. It is a monument dating back to the 18th century which consists of a lava stone elephant topped by a granite obelisk. This is considered to be a symbol of both good luck and charm in the city.

Saint Agatha

Duomo also houses the Cathedral of Sant’Agata. The remains of this patron saint of Catania lies within its marble walls. The procession throughout Catania is dedicated to Sant’Agata every February. It is one of the most important buildings in the entirety of the city.

Bellini Civic Museum

Bellini Civic Museum

The most famous Sicilian composer, Vincenzo Bellini was born here in Catania. He has created multiple masterpieces, such as Norma, La Straniera, and La Sonnambula, and these works are renowned around the world. The museum here honors this maestro with artifacts and history, and stands as one of the most interesting museums in Catania.

Roman Theatre

Roman Theatre

One of the most well-preserved Roman ruins in the city can get found in Via Vittorio Emanuele. The Roman Theatre includes gladiator tunnels and a circular auditorium, and is surrounded by buildings from days long ago.

Etna

Etna Trekking

This is the largest volcano in Europe, and is located between Catania and Taormina, and stands at an impressive 3,300m tall. Even though it regularly erupts, it is possible to climb this mountain without reaching its four craters in total safety, as this area is continuously monitored for changes.

Massimo Bellini Theatre

Massimo Bellini Theatre

This is the musical heart of the city. It hosts performances by world class artists, and so it is often very crowded when events are taking place. You can visit the beautiful interior (dating back to over a century ago) through some guided day tours.

Etnaland

Etnaland

Etnaland is three amusement parks: one water park full of slides and pools, a prehistoric park with dinosaur and primitive animal replicas, and another where you can experience merry-go-rounds and other fun activities. In short, this is an ideal location for a child of any age.

Monastery

Monastery

This is a masterpiece of the Sicilian Baroque period. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well, and that is in part because of its symbolism for the city. It is a monumental and marvelous complex constructed in the 17th-century that will take your breath away.

Caltagirone

Caltagirone

This is a small town, less than 70 km from Catania, and it is the capital of ceramics for the island of Sicily. You can admire some of the architectural masterpieces in the streets here, especially some of the decorated walls along the Steps of the Scala di Santa Maria.

Events

There are many events that happen in Catania that showcase the dynamic, creative, and unique citizens here.

I cannot give you a list, as they are going to vary each and every year.

I will tell you about one celebration that you should attend if you can, however.

The Feast of St. Agatha, taking place every year between the 3rd and 5th of February is something that brings all of Catania together.

This event is highlighted by the evocative processions on the 4th and 5th of February, which sees the city crossed by a river of white silhouettes.

No, they are not ghosts.

These are the participants in white shirts, who are transporting the swaying candles and the ferrule of the patroness, making their way through the crowd.

But do not think that Catania is only a city of tradition and folklore, it hosts many musical and art events throughout the year. These all often feature local talents and local products.

Where (And What) To Eat

With the abundance of the land here, Catania is always thriving with fresh vegetables, horticultural products, and fruit. This has helped to spurn a very rich and diverse gastronomy.

Arancini

I can give you a few tips on what you should eat:

  • Seafood salads prepared with octopus, shrimp, ox eyes, and boiled (mollusks typical in this sea region)
  • Pasta with cuttlefish ink
  • Pasta with masculini (fresh anchovies in tomato sauce, cuttlefish, and cuttlefish ink)
  • Arancini (fried rice balls stuffed with ragu)
  • Pasta alla Norma (with sauce and fried aubergines)
  • Pasta Siciliana (thin dough of fried pasta stuffed with tuna and anchovies)
  • Cannoli, Cassata, and Frutta Martorana (almond-based pasta)
  • Brioche with Ice Cream

Honestly, the list is endless but you can try all of these dishes. If you do, you have sampled some of the best fare you can find in Catania.

Bars and Nightlife

Catania is a university city, and as such, has a large number of nightclubs and bars that get frequented by young people studying here.

One of the local favorite options is the beach. Though, as you might expect, this is only ever popular during the summer months.

During the day, they host guests of all ages who can relax in the sun and enjoy a swim. After sunset, they transform into outdoor discos with music and entertainment.

Here are some of the better spots for you to spend an evening.

Mercati Generali

Mercati Generali Catania

This is probably one of the most famous nightclubs in all of Sicily (and regularly is included in international rankings). It is located about 10 km from the City Centre, but it is most certainly worth the trip. It attracts a fashionable crowd that enjoys having fun and can keep the party going.

Zo

Zo Cultural Centre

Zo Cultural Centre offers guests a wide range of events, shows, entertainment and more. There is a romantic candlelit dinner to appreciate inside as well, where you can choose among a long and varied wine list.

A Putia Dell’Ostello

 

This is a spot heavily frequented by locals, especially the porous interior. It is renowned for its superb variety of vegetarian / vegan dishes. On Sunday it serves a vegan lunch, on Wednesdays you can find a DJ, and Friday you can expect to hear live jazz music.

Razmataz Wine Bar

Razmataz Wine Bar

You can find wine, cocktails and beer a plenty served to you in the outdoor area of this restaurant. It is a cherished location for many Catania citizens from aperitif hours. In addition to the drinks you can find here, you will also be able to choose among a food menu that changes daily.

Nievski

Nievski

This location has a very colorful interior and is a popular desination for the artsy, alternative crowd of Catania as well as university students. This is a great spot for them to get a pre-disco drink. Even the stairs in front of the club become filled with young people on favorable temperature evenings.

Shopping Through Catania

You will find that there are many places that you can shop here in Catania.

Here are some of the most popular places to do this.

  • Via Etnea, Corso Sicilia and Via Umberto for clothing stores, department stores and ice cream shops.
  • Corso Italia and Via Monfalcone for luxury designer shopping
  • Historical market “La Pescheria” for the purchase of local gastronomic products

La bottega del puparo

Not so much a street but a shop that I would recommend visiting would be the “La Bottega del Puparo” in Via Reitano 55. The is an historic shop of the Neapolitan family that has existed for generations and focused on making puppets used in performances at the Stabile Theater of the Opera dei Pupi.

Which is Better to Visit: Catania or Palermo?

This is one of the questions that I get asked quite a lot and my answer never changes: both. If you want to make a choice between the two, that depends on multiple factors.

Neither is actually better than the other.

Catania, Briefly

It can be considerd as a proper look at Sicily, since it contains a complete look at the major cultures that offered their influence into the growth and changes of the island. You can find impacts from the Greek-Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Baroque, Aragonese, and even 19th century Art Nouveau.

With all of this within a small travel radius, it is ideal for those that want to visit a highly cultured city without a lot of time to explore.

This is a city that has a lot of stories that it can tell.

It is a city that has been rebuilt and reborn after destruction and cataclysm. It is a city of Saint Agatha, whose presence is everywhere, and not just limited to the places of worship.

Three points of favor for Catania:

  1. It is easy to get around
  2. There are large malls and areas for shopping
  3. It is close to an active volcano to explore

Regarding security, Catania is deemed a safe city, even though its crime rate is higher than Palermo’s according to recent statistics.

Palermo, Briefly

It is a representative of the entire historical life of Sicily. Glory, opulence, and even the evil deeds of men still monumentalized in the city.

Monuments here integrate different styles and cultures, first and foremost being the Arab style which stands as a basis for much of the modern construction and new techniques today.

It is a city that does not renounce a popular spirit, which can be evidenced by the popular street markets and becoming a world-renowned city for street food.

Palermo is instantly discernable, but it is a place that takes a long time to explore completely if it can be done at all. It has so many hidden treasures beyond its main attractions and monuments.

From palaces to churches, Palermo stands as one of the most significant historical centers in all of Europe.

Three points in favor of Palermo:

  1. History and culture (featuring the largest historical centre in all of Europe, though many argue its second-largest)
  2. Historical markets and street food (Street food ranked 1st in all of Europe and 5th worldwide by Forbes Magazine)
  3. The seafront and proximity to incredible islands like Ustica and Favignana

Regarding security, Palermo ranks among the safest in Italy for street crime. Obviously, as with any major city in the world, you should exercise the appropriate precautions.

If you have any questions or concerns about Catania, do not hesitate to reach out with a comment below and I will get back with you as quickly as I can.

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About Don Tano

I’m full-blooded Sicilian born from the noise of the Vucciria market and the gentle sound of the waves of Mondello. I grew up eating “pane e panelle” and “pasta con le sarde”. But most of all, I grew up with an awareness: Palermo is a beautiful city to live intensely and to love without question!