Catania is filled with wonderful attractions that locals and tourists love to visit. From wandering through breathtaking piazzas to spending a lazy morning at the iconic fish market, you will find several amazing things that will not bust your budget when in Catania. It's a beautiful region with fertile soil thanks to the neighboring volcano that intrigues everyone who arrives. Sicilian cuisine is another big draw for tourists so be sure to try the budget-friendly local street food while here.
The graffitied walls throughout the city may be a bit intimidating, but if you look closely, you will find that much of the graffiti is quite interesting. As day morphs into night, Catania does come alive and the streets become crowded with locals and tourists. The city itself is between a very active volcano and the Ionian Sea, showcasing breathtaking views from just about anywhere. Try to climb Mount Etna while in Catania, Italy even if you have to spend a bit of cash for a rental car – it's a once in a lifetime experience!
When you are visiting Catania on a budget, have fun and look outside the box to find activities that will not cost a thing but still give you the full Sicilian experience. Before you begin exploring and checking out the top free things to do, find a luggage locker in Catania to stow your belongings. The less you carry, the more you can see!
Piazza del Duomo
It is always free to explore the historic piazzas throughout Catania and you will see some amazing architecture along the way. Head to the city centre and spend time exploring the Piazza del Duomo where you will find the Fontana dell Elefante or the Elephant’s Fountain which was created out of black lava and carved into the shape of an elephant complete with an Egyptian obelisk on top. The inspiration is thought to be the Bernini's elephant obelisk of Rome.
Folklore states that the Fontana dell Elefante has the power to appease Mount Etna’s anger and stop its violent eruptions. After you have visited the fountain, check out the Loggia Giuratoria, or Town Hall. The Town Hall was built in 1659 but had to be reconstructed after an earthquake destroyed it in 1693.
The Piazza del Duomo is a great starting point for those taking a self-guided tour, which by the way, is free. You can join a guided tour, but you have to pay for the tour and tip your guide. You can also use the multilingual audio guide that takes you through the city’s best must-see attractions in a short 40-minute tour.
Duomo di Catania
The Catania Cathedral is found in the Piazza del Duomo and is behind the Fontana dell Elefante. You can visit the cathedral any day at no charge. If you want to leave a small donation, you are welcome to do so but it is not required. You cannot miss the breathtaking white marble façade but the ornate interior is what draws people in.
The cathedral’s interior is dedicated to Saint Agatha. Agatha was a very young virgin who was tortured for rebuffing the advances of a rather amorous Roman prefect. She became a martyr and the patron saint of Catania. Saint Agatha is celebrated during the Feast of Sant’Agata held every year on February 5th.
The tomb of the famous classical composer, Vincenzo Bellini, is also found in the Duomo di Catania. Bellini was born in Catania in 1801 and is the author of the opera Norma as well as other wonderful operas and classical pieces.
Located just behind the Piazza del Duomo near the Piazza Alonzo di Benedetto, the fish market is a true marvel. It will take you a minute to get used to the overwhelming smell and remember, this is a real fish market, so you will see fish in various forms of cleaning and processing.
You will watch bins being emptied and worked with. Wear closed toed shoes because the floor does get wet and has bits and pieces of sea creatures and offal. The market is open to the public Saturday and Sunday mornings. It is one of the most interesting and chaotic markets in Catania. La Pescheria dates back to the early 19th century.
If your budget can afford it, you can grab lunch. Then head across the street and visit another smaller market where you will find a large selection of cheeses and some rather interesting animal carcasses; you do not want to miss it.
Views of Catania
Some of the best views in Catania are free! If you head behind the Catania Cathedral, you will find Chiesa della Badia di Sant’Agata, which is home to the best views in Catania. You will take a narrow staircase up to a terrace for nice views of the coast, then keep climbing the stone stairs toward the dome of the church for 360-degree views of Catania and Mount Etna.
The Piazza del Duomo is home to several great views of the city, you just have to know where to look. After checking out Chiesa della Badia di Sant’Agata, walk through the plaza checking out the various sites and attractions along the way. Bring along your camera to capture some of the picturesque views you will get to see.
Located on Via Etnea on the southern end is the Piazza dell’Universita which is surrounded by two palaces that actually face each other. The first palace is the Palazzo dell’Universita which is home to the old university and the second is the Palazzo San Giuliano.
Both palaces are breathtaking to look at and their manicured inner courtyards give you a glimpse of the rich history of the city. Be sure to check out the four lampposts in the courtyards, each one symbolizes a mythical time period of Catania. You can even explore parts of the university for free. You do have to pay an admission fee if you want to go inside the Palazzo San Giuliano.
Piazza Carlo Alberts di Savoia Flea Market
Why not meander and shop? The Fera ‘o Luni or Monday Fair is a sprawling flea market where locals tend to congregate to find great deals. Fresh produce is abundant at stalls throughout the market. You will find counterfeit handbags and vintage clothes, paintings and home décor, pretty much anything you can think you might want or need will be found here.
Vendors expect you to haggle over the price and if you are hesitant to do so they will try to take advantage of you. They are especially gleeful when they realize you are a tourist because they will raise prices. But you can still find some pretty interesting and cool deals. You can also just browse and experience the ambiance for free.
You will definitely want to check out this 13th century castle located just a stone’s throw from Piazza del Duomo. This castle was ordered to be built by Roman Emperor Frederick II. The location of the castle was discussed at great length and it was decided to be constructed on a promontory. The sea surrounded Castello Ursino, which was a great way to bolster its defenses.
Through the years, Catania has grown up around Castello Ursino since the earthquake of 1669 changed the topography of the city making the castle more accessible. The castle was used during the Sicilian Vespers as the home of the Sicilian Parliament. Today, you can stroll through the grounds surrounding the castle and imagine what it looked like during the 13th century when it was first built.
Step inside the castle walls and make your way through the rooms and check out the exhibits that are on display. You can visit the Civic Museum of Catania, but there is an admission fee for the museum. Take a self-guided tour or sign up for a guided tour, just remember, you will need to tip your tour guide.
Amphitheatre of Catania
While not a very photogenic site, it is still an important part of history. This Roman amphitheatre is not as impressive as the Greek amphitheater in Siracusa or the Roman one in Taormina, but it still has a historical significance that you feel as soon as you step foot inside.
Catania’s amphitheatre was built during the 1st century AD and is located right in the heart of the city instead of like others that were built just outside the city. Catania has grown up around the amphitheatre over the years and the more modern buildings that encircle this historic open-air venue give this area a bit of an eclectic vibe.
You can explore the passageways and tunnels behind the seats and imagine the gladiators waiting for their turn. The original amphitheater held around 15,000 spectators and is believed to be the biggest one of its kind in Sicily.
Church and Monastery of San Nicolo l’Arena
With about 90 churches in Catania and the surrounding area, you do not want to spend your entire vacation checking out old churches and such. But when you are on a budget and searching for free things to do in Catania, some of these historic and exquisitely ornate churches should definitely be on your sightseeing list!
The Monastero dei Benedettini di San Nicolo l”Arena is one of the biggest monasteries in Europe and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The church is located only about ten minutes from the fish market on the western end of Catania. The façade is a great example of late Sicilian Baroque architecture but the interior should not be missed.
The Bellini Trail
Famous opera composer Vincenzo Bellini was born in Catania and therefore the city pays homage to the man and his legacy. You will notice his name is quite prominent throughout the city and such is the case of the Teatro Massimo Bellini or the Bellini Trail.
Opened in 1890 and located within the Piazza Vincenzo Bellini, you will stroll along and enjoy a picturesque walk through Catania. Join a guided tour to learn more about this area; tours typically last about 45 minutes and are offered from Tuesday to Saturday. You do have to tip your tour guide.
When visiting Catania, put the Villa Bellini on your list of must-see attractions. Breathe in the fresh air and stretch your legs as you stroll through the manicured gardens. Located on Via Etnea, Villa Bellini is open every day until 10:00 p.m. so pack a picnic and plan to spend several hours exploring the biggest green space in Catania.
Check out the ornate fountains and sculptures that are on display throughout the park. Sit in the shade on one of the benches and relax as people walk by or watch your kids as they play on the nearby playground. There are several great festivals held at Villa Bellini throughout the year. Spend time checking out the gardens here.
The villa itself is open on special occasions and you can purchase a ticket to explore the interior of Villa Bellini or spend several hours for free in the park surrounding the villa. It is a wonderful place for families to get out and enjoy spending time together. Villa Bellini is a terrific activity for kids.
Visit Catania, Italy, and include Mount Etna
Fly into Catania Airport on the lovely eastern coast of Sicily and plan to spend time exploring the city center and beyond! This unique town is located in Eastern Sicily and has several great examples of baroque buildings and Roman sculptures. Catania is the largest city in Sicily and backs up to the tallest active volcano in Italy. While here check out Cathedral Square and Catania's fish market.
Finding free things to do in Catania is easy! Meander through Old Town, see churches like The Convent Church of Sant'Agata or The Church of San Benedetto and piazzas such as the Piazza Federico di Svevia and the Piazza Carlo Alberto. Browse a botanical garden, admire a cathedral built in baroque style, and marvel at the monumental gate of Porta Garibaldi, dedicated to King Ferdinand IV.