For an explosive reaction, mixing up bicarbonate of soda or dropping a certain type of mint into a glass of Diet Coke is nothing on Catania in Sicily. Known as the ‘City of the Volcano’, much of modern Catania is constructed from the lava that ran through the city after Mount Etnaerupted with devastating consequences in 1669. The death toll wasn’t so cool, but the fact that it left many of the existing Baroque buildings permanently covered in a layer of black soot is rather exceptional.
Take a stroll through the central square of Piazza del Duomo to see the contrast between lava and limestone, before shopping up a storm on Via Etnea. Then follow the lava trail to Piazza Stesicoroand explore Villa Bellini with its views of the still-active volcano (the tallest in Europe) – a vista to which no half-baked DIY science experiment can compare.
Catania’s Top 10
10. Arco di San Benedetto This arch was built in 1704 by defending forces – in pitch darkness!
5. Chiesa di San Giuliano Some love it and some hate it, but all agree that the floor mosaic is a masterpiece.
9. Piazza dell’Università Stop here if hungry, thirsty and just plain greedy. Or for sustenance before tackling Mount Etna.
4. Roman Amphitheatre Back in the day, this could seat 16,000 spectators. The main event now is the ruins themselves.
8. Le Ciminiere Here you’ll find a large collection of modern art, relics, and photography from WWII.
3. Odeon A crumbling façade has done little to spoil the grandeur of this giant Roman theatre.
7. St Agata’s Cathedral Houses the not-so-well-preserved remains of the young virgin, Agata.
2. Fontana dell’Elefante The famous Fountain of the Elephant is the symbol of the city. Trunk envy?
6. Castello Ursino Once surrounded by a proper moat, the whole area became landlocked after a 1693 earthquake.
1. Chiesa di San Nicolò all’Arena Proof that it is what’s on the inside that counts…
- Catania Duomo – This cathedral, dating from the mid – 18th century, is considered one of the finest examples of baroque architecture.
- U Liotru – The Elephant Fountain, dating from 1736, is the symbol of the city and portrayed by an elephant topped with an Egyptian obelisk.
- Odeon – This ancient theatre and arena dates from the 3rd century.
- Greek Acropolis – The highest point in ancient Catania, the acropolis was only recently excavated and found to contain many archaeological relics and parts of ancient Greek and Roman buildings.
- Roman Forum and Amphitheatre – The remains of the forum and amphitheatre, built during the period when Rome ruled the region, stand prominently in the city centre.
Catania Art & Culture
- Castello Ursino – Built by Frederick II in the mid – 13th century, the castle houses the Civic Museum of Catania.
- Palazzo Gravina – Cruyllas – This building was once the home of the composer Bellini.
- Palazzo Biscari – One of the most beautiful buildings in the city, it was the home of Prince Biscari. It contains frescoes, statues, artworks and archaeological treasures.
- Festival of Sant Agata – This three – day festival held in early February honours the city’s patron saint. Highlights include a costumed procession and fireworks.
- Theatres – There are 25 active theatres in Catania, each specializing in a different type of show, for example, puppets, opera or ballet.
- Corso Italia – All the boutiques of the most famous Italian designers are on this street.
- Carlo Alberto Market – In this open – air marketplace, dozens of stalls sell all kinds of goods and food products. Bargaining is expected.
- Porto Uzeda Shops – A collection of shops selling trinkets and souvenirs including the famous Sicilian puppets.
- Via Etnea – This is Catania’s primary shopping street. All kinds of shops, but clothing, shoes and wearable accessories predominate.
- La Pescheria – This extraordinary fish market sells the freshest seafood right off the boat. Even if you don’t buy, it’s worth a trip to look.
Gay & Lesbian Catania
- Agedo, Circolo Gay Lesbico Trans Open Mind, I Fratelli dell’Elphis Gay Credenti and Arcigay – Gay associations.
- Piazza Grenoble, Porto and Villa Bellini – Cruising spots.
- Sauna Mykonos and Terme di Achille – Gay saunas.
- Pegaso’s Circus and Pegaso’s Disco Bar – Gay bars.
- Le Capannine Disco Club – A popular LGBT club.
- Mt Etna – Europe’s largest active volcano is a must-see experience. The views are fantastic.
- Botanical Garden – On the grounds of the University of Catania, these gardens are the oldest in Sicily.
- Picturesque villages – Take a tour of some of the famous villages in the region, such as Castelmola and Taormina. You will see the most if you hire a guide.
- Deep-Sea Fishing – Excursion boats for deep-sea fishing leave from Catania Harbour.
- Jog around and through the city’s central park, Villa Bellini.
- Enjoy swimming and diving from Letojanni beach.
- Watch the Calcio Catania football team at the Stadio Angelo Massimino.
- Go skiing at the Mt Etna Ski Resort.
- See the “dragon” boat races of the Circolo Canoa Catania.
Get inspired in January at Habita, Catania’s three-day interior-design festival. Leave plenty of room in your suitcase…
February brings the Festival of Sant’Agata, marked by days of celebration.
On February’s Saint Biago Day,people eat leftover panettone washed down with a glass of wine to bless their throats. Now there’s a tradition that needs to catch on everywhere!
Farmers get fancy for the Olive and Bruschetta Festival (also in February), celebrated with a parade on decorated tractors, plus music, dancing and food.
Carnevale comes around 40 days before Easter, with massive celebrations lasting for several weeks.
When To Go
- Catania enjoys a typical Mediterranean climate with warm, wet winters and scorching summers.
- The hottest and busiest months are June to September, when tourists flock to soak up the sun.
- August sees loads of locals leaving town, meaning less crowds but also less restaurants open.
Walking around Catania is easy, convenient and the best way to take in the city.
If you plan on visiting the coast, it is best to hire a car or order a taxi. For getting up Mount Etna, the private train line Circumetnea is your best bet.
Catania is on the east coast of Sicily and with over 300,000 people, is second only to the capital of Palermo in population on the island. In terms of where the city in ranks in Italy in sheer beauty however, the answer is quite simple. High, very high. You can hardly after all, choose a more divine and vivid milieu for a city than the base of Mount Etna and the shores of the Ionian Sea. While the active volcano, well over twice the height of Vesuvius, is a persistent reminder of inherent danger, the peak provides Catania with a dramatic backdrop.
No wonder then, that the ancient Greeks set up here almost 3,000 years ago. Indeed, with such a long history, Catania's evolution as a city has been one of the most extraordinary in modern Italy. After the fall of the Roman Empire, everyone from the Byzantine Empire to the House of Bourbon, from the 6th to the 19th century, held sway over Catania's fortunes. The net result for visitors today is a magnificent cityscape rife with superb historic attractions.
Attractions & Activities
Restaurants & Nightlife
Like the rest of Sicily, Catania has a typical Mediterranean climate, with mild winters and hot summers.
- Winter (December to February) 5-17°C
- Spring (March to May) 6-24°C
- Summer (June to September) 16-32°C
- Fall (October to November) 10-25°C
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