The last thing you'll want to do when you land at Catania Airport or roll into the bus station is head straight off for a hike up Mount Etna. First you'll need to get checked in at your accommodation, unpack, get a shower to freshen up as you'll be feeling the heat, and if you didn't plan it before you got there, start thinking about your Catania itinerary.
A three day trip to Catania is more than enough to see and do all the things this Sicilian port city has to offer if you organize your time properly. Go dashing off willy-nilly and you'll more than likely miss most of the best attractions. Catania has an amazing beach that you'll want to go to, even if you're visiting in the middle of winter, and a beautiful historic center you'll want to explore. Not having Catania Cathedral, the ancient Greek theater, the Piazza Duomo and the Castello Ursino on your list of must-sees would be a big mistake.
Whether you're planning on going solo or prefer to take guided tours, you'll want to make the most of the cooler early mornings and evenings rather than trekking around in the heat of the midday Sicilian sun. You'll also want to take time to relax - it's a vacation after all - and you'll find the cafeterias around the Piazza Carlo Alberto perfect for that and a spot of people watching.
When you visit Catania, unless you're a glutton for punishment or addicted to sweating buckets, you won't want to be wandering around with your bags in hand. If you can't leave your stuff in your room for any reason, you'll find a Bounce luggage storage facility in Catania is the safest place to leave your belongings. Bounce luggage lockers are affordable to hire, individually security tagged, and fully insured, so you don't have to think twice about what's going on with your gear while you go sightseeing.
3 Days In Catania – Sample Itinerary
When you visit Catania you'll want to have the perfect Catania itinerary and while you may not want to follow the one here rigidly, it'll give you a good idea of how to distribute your time and just how many things you can cram into a three-day trip.
Catania Itinerary – Day 1
There's nothing more exciting than the first morning you're somewhere you've never been before. It's a chance to drink in the sights, sounds, and smells of amazing Sicily. When that's Catania, the best place to start is in the historical center in the Piazza Carlo Alberto.
Although you may have read lots about Catania's fish market, unless you're on a self-catering break or specifically want to take photos of dead fish, skip the fish market and head for the market in the Piazza Carlo Alberto instead. It's a lot less smelly and the stallholders sell more than fish.
Before you tackle the mayhem of this huge market, drop into one of the cafes on the square for a cappuccino and a big slice of ciambella, a honey and vanilla-flavored cake eaten for breakfast in Sicily.
The market in the Piazza Carlo Alberto is held every day apart from Sundays from eight in the morning until two in the afternoon. Once you've had enough of the bustle you'll be within easy walking distance of two of Catania's best attractions.
If you want a quiet stroll through beautiful gardens, head for the Villa Bellini which is less than five minutes walk away along the Via Pacino. The Villa Bellini is Catania's largest and oldest public green space. It's an oasis of tranquility where you can escape from the hubbub for a while.
Also within five minutes walking distance, albeit in the opposite direction, is the Piazza Stesicoro which is the location of Catania's Roman amphitheater ruins. The piazza also contains two enormous palaces and a church which are worth taking a look at if you're interested in architecture.
By the time you've seen all of those, it'll be late afternoon or even early evening. Make the most of it by not going back to your accommodation, but take a stroll through the historical center until you find the Via Gemmellaro and join the locals for an aperitif.
Tucked away on this characterful backstreet is a vermouth bar called Vermut – Enoteca Salumeria. This type of bar is very old-fashioned and typical in many Mediterranean countries. Various types of vermouth are stored in casks and served straight from the cask to the glass. The bar also offers an amazing selection of Italian tapas consisting of salamis, cured meats, tapanades, cheeses, and olives.
It's rustic, totally Sicilian, and the perfect way to spend your first night in Catania. The bonus is, eating and drinking here won't break the bank either. While the bar doesn't close until two in the morning, and you may be tempted to stay for a few hours sampling their flavorsome wares, don't stay too late or drink too much, you have an early start on the second morning of your 3 days in Catania.
Catania Itinerary – Day 2
When day two of your Catania visit dawns hopefully you won't have too much of a headache from the vermouth the night before, because you'll be in for a busy day. Day two is the best day for any activity to do with Mount Etna as you'll have recovered from traveling and won't have any further traveling to do for at least thirty hours or more.
There are several ways you can get to see Sicily's famous volcano close-up, but if you want to go as far up as is possible, then you will have to go on a guided tour. Lone hikers are not permitted to go to the summit.
Don't forget, all tours up Mount Etna depend on the volcano's state of activity and if it's deemed unsafe, no-one is allowed up. Whether you choose to take a day trip or go for a half day trip instead, you'll need to go adequately clothed and with good footwear suitable for the terrain. The more expensive tours include walking boots and sticks in the tour price.
If you want to visit Taormina on the island's east coast while you're visiting Catania then opting for one of the full-day trips up Mount Etna will help you save money as Taormina is often included. The full-day trips are great for the more adventurous too as you'll get to see steaming craters, and lava caves and visit a vineyard where the grapes are grown on volcanic soil.
Another option that is equally adventurous is to take a six-hour jeep safari from Catania up Mount Etna. You'll get collected from your accommodation then driven up the mountainside to an altitude of around six and a half thousand feet where you'll leave the transport behind and hike through the volcanic countryside.
When you don't want to be part of a guided tour the best way to scale Mount Etna alone, and the least strenuous, is to take the cable car. To get to the cable car station you will need to catch a bus, one of the best ways of getting around Catania, from the city's main station to Nicolosi which takes around forty-five minutes.
Once you're at the cable car station, you'll have a choice of what altitude you want to go to. You can ride up to eight-thousand two-hundred feet then get out and have a walk around. If you want to continue up to nine-thousand six-hundred feet it isn't a cable car all the way, but includes a 4x4 ride and an hour's guide-led walk.
The Mount Etna cable car operates from nine in the morning until four in the afternoon all year round. If you want to catch the Sicilian sun setting against Mount Etna then you will need to make a reservation for the special rides that depart at five-thirty on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays to do it.
After you've scaled Mount Etna in any way, you'll probably have just enough energy left to stumble across the Piazza Duomo in the city center, and snap off a couple of shots of the elephant statue before you head back to your room for a well-earned siesta.
After your day tour or half a day tour up Mount Etna and waking up from a siesta, probably the only thing you'll want is a nice dinner to finish the day. You'll probably need something hearty to replenish your energy levels so head for the Via della Concordia and the A Putia do Calabrisi.
This rustic restaurant may not have fancy décor, but it serves great Sicilian food that will have you back on form in no time at all. It's inexpensive so you'll spend half what you would anywhere else and it's the sort of food Sicilian grandmas cook every day so you'll be in for a real treat.
Catania Itinerary – Day 3
If there's one place you should head for on your last day in Catania it's the Castello Ursino. The Ursino Castle is a fortress that dates from the 13th century and while it may have once protected this Sicilian port city from invaders, in its more peaceful modern life, it now houses the city's Civic Museum.
The Civic Museum is one of the best museums in Catania. Take an exploratory wander around the castle and you'll feel like one of the knights of old as you pass through chamber after chamber. The museum contains many ancient artifacts dating from the Greek and Roman occupations of the city as well as religious artworks and paintings by Italian grand masters.
If you were late up after your exhausting Mount Etna Excursions and want something more in keeping with brunch rather than breakfast before hitting the museums, try Mad In Italy.
Mad in Italy is an ultra-modern brunch spot just a few blocks from the Ursino Castle on the Via Antonino di Sangiuliano. At Mad In Italy they serve Sicilian food and American dishes with a creative flair that will leave you drooling. They also cater for vegan and vegetarians so you won't need to go in search of the best vegetarian restaurant in Catania to find something for brunch.
If you've fallen head over heels in love with Sicilian cuisine then the best way to spend your last afternoon in Catania is to learn how to cook it. Guaranteed the cookery class will include fish of some description, prawns or lobster plus pasta in some form or another and of course the country's favorite sweet treat, cannolis. They're all amazing things to be able to prepare in true Italian style so don't miss learning how to do it the authentic way.
To make the last night of your whole trip to Catania extra special you'll want to have dinner, or at least a couple of drinks, in the Etnea Roof Bar and Restaurant in the Palace Catania Hotel on the Via Etnea. It's one of the best hotels in Catania and this bar has unrivaled views of the city skyline and the ever-present Mount Etna. Yes, you will pay a little over the top for the experience, but it'll be so memorable you won't mind the extra cost one bit.
If you questioned whether Catania would be such an interesting place to visit if Mount Etna wasn't there then the answer would probably be no. Catania is a typical Italian port city that on occasion can look frayed around the edges and not overly inviting if you happen to step into the wrong neighborhood.
But Mount Etna is there, looming over the city, just a day tour away, and the volcano is one of Italy's amazing natural wonders that folks queue up to see. It's also one of the most accessible volcanoes in Europe so if you're into volcano tourism, how could you possibly say no to visiting Sicily?