Catania city of the sea, cosmopolitan port, so as to be defined by more than one Catanian: South American city is the destination of this trip.
follow meI will take you around Catania with me suggesting what to see even if you have only a few days available.
Crossing this city you immediately realize that each of its streets is a world unto itself. Destroyed nine times and resurrected as many times, Catania is today one of the most populated centers in Sicily: think that the Municipality of Catania has 298,000 in habitants, but the Metropolitan City of Catania with its 58 common makes 1 million inhabitants!.
Catania is so chaotic that a friend from Catania told me:
“however you move in the car, whether you turn to the right or to the left, you are in the way. And however you move here they play you. Imagine if you have to go around Catania with a 7-metre camper!”
But Catania is a destination that you cannot miss when visiting Sicily: first of all, you are struck by the vitality and symbiotic relationship with A’ Muntagna (Etna): these are two characteristics that make Catania extraordinarily unique in Sicily.
And then: parks, University, the food and the nightlife. Everything contributes to the charm of the youngest and most dynamic city in Sicily. Did I intrigue you? and then let’s go!
Catania what to see in a few days
If like me you enter from the port and cross Porta Uzeda, you immediately find yourself in Piazza Duomo with a splendid panorama consisting of:
- Palace of the Clerics
- Diocesan Museum
- Achillian baths
- Cathedral of Sant’Agata
- Palace of the elephants of 1600 now seat of the Town Hall of Catania
in the center the splendid elephant fountain, symbol of the city.
Slightly hidden remain instead:
- The beautiful Amenano Fountain
- A’ Piscaria
- and alleys such as via Gisira and via Pardo with colorful hanging umbrellas where you can stop to taste the typical products of Catania.
Not even 500 meters from this square in via Sant’Anna at number 8, the house of Giovanni Verga with his museum. And just further on in via Vittorio Emanuele II the ancient greek-roman theater and the birthplace of Vincenzo Bellini with its museum. Don’t forget the MACS the Museum of Contemporary Art Sicily.
From Piazza Duomo begins the great Via Etnea, the shopping and festive strolling street of the people of Catania. On this street from which “a’ Muntagna” can be admired, there are large historic buildings, such as Palazzo San Giuliano and the University of Studies, both on Piazza Università with its bronze lampposts. Or the Basilica della Collegiata in which La Candelora is found, carried on the shoulder for the feast of Sant’Agata, patron saint of Catania.
It may seem strange to you but the distance traveled is only a few kilometers and you already realize that there really are many things to see in Catania!
But let’s proceed in order
Elephant Square and the Cathedral
The square is dominated by the fountain made up of an elephant carved in black lava on which an Egyptian obelisk rests. A legend is linked to this fountain: it seems that the statue has the power to appease the wrath of Etna.
The Duomo is the Cathedral of Catania; in Baroque style, it allows you to glimpse Norman remains and the previous Roman basilica and can be visited for free. Inside it contains the relics of Sant’Agata martyr and patroness of the city, the tomb of the Catania composer Vincenzo Bellini (do you know Callas singing the aria Casta Diva from La Norma?). But I also invite you to enter the Basilica to admire the beauty of the interior and the historic organ Made by Théodore Jaquot in 1877.
Next to the Duomo is the Diocesan Museum with the Achillian baths. I recommend you enter and climb the terraces to admirethe unmissable panoramic view. For visits read who.
Catania is crossed by the Amenano River which, due to the numerous eruptions of Etna that occurred over the centuries, was gradually buried, making it the underground river we know today.
The river is a bit the symbol of Catania which despite the lava and the ashes has always been reborn. And if you want to know what to see in Catania, look for the Fontana del’Amenano: it was built in 1867 and serves to channel the river that often flooded Piazza Duomo on its journey under the city.
If you have left the fountain behind, you will surely hear the agitated shouting of the sellers and the distinct and perceptible smell of fish. One thing in Catania that in my opinion you must see is the fish market; perhaps better in the early morning, when the almost theatrical show is staged among stalls full of fish, outdoors and under the arcades. You can not miss it.
We continue our walk along via Etnea, paved with black stone. The contrast between the black of the sidewalks and streets, with the white of the limestone of the buildings, especially in the rain, is clear, and it is easy to understand why Catania is also called the Black City.
Catania what to see continues
Basilica The Collegiate
The splendid Baroque facade of this which is among the oldest churches in Catania is inserted in the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The beautiful church today is often used for weddings and holds inside one of the candlesticks that precede the fercolo di Sant’Agata during the procession. By paying €5.00 you can go up to the terrace and admire the 360° view of the city from here too.
Now let’s move a few hundred meters: we are in via Crociferi, a very particular street in Catania, full of churches which unfortunately I found closed. But the impact of the architectural beauty of this street, the set of several films, remains: thinkin no more than 200 meters there are four churches with three monasteries and a college.
In our walk to discover what to see in Catania, we go back to the port and stop at
Ancient Greco-Roman Theater
Practically in the central area of Catania, this theater was built in an area where the Acropolis once stood. Nohe years it has been the scene of cultural events, even of a certain importance. The theater is crossed underground by the Amenano river which floods the proscenium of the theater in winter. It is thought that it was used in ancient times for water shows. One of the monuments in Catania to visit for sure.
And the last top is:
The Ursino Castle
In the mid-1200s Frederick II of Swabia had this castle built as a defensive fortification not far from the sea and surrounded by a moat. And looking at it now it wouldn’t seem like it. But during the eruption of 1669 it was surrounded by lava and the flow, continuing towards the sea, distanced it from the sea by several hundred metersas it appears to us today.
The castle has a long and “lived” history: think that in addition to being the royal residence of sovereigns, some of the most important moments of the war of the Sicilian Vespers were lived in the castle at the end of the 1200s. Since 1934 it has become the civic museum of Catania with a rich art gallery and numerous archaeological finds. It can be visited at a cost of €6.00 per person.
But at this point our walk through the streets of Catania, what to see, made us hungry, don’t you think?
Well I think that in order not to dwell too much here, the topic requires a dedicated article. And we won’t disappoint you: in Catania there is so much to taste and appreciate. Whether sitting comfortably at the table or following the scent of street food.
In the meantime, if you want a preview of the goodness of Sicilian cuisine, read Monica’s article visiting Trapani
5 typical dishes to eat in Trapani
The walk through Catania can continue towards the Roman Amphitheater now under renovation, or the lush gardens of Villa Bellini without forgetting the ancient 1500s Benedictine Monastery. And in the end the kilometers on foot will be many!
Or, and I advise you to do so, leave the city by bicycle or scooter and get to the seaside resorts of Aci Castello, Aci Trezza, Capo Mulini, the Sunday destinations of the people of Catania and get to Santa Maria la Scala…here by scooter or camper However.
Catania what to see in the surroundings
Obviously speaking of Catania, one immediately thinks of Etna, which dominates the landscape of the entire coast from Taormina to Augusta, and is a stage that absolutely must be included. You want for its importance: it is the highest volcano in Europe and the most active one. But also for the lava landscape that embraces it and the difficulty of vegetable and human life that coexists on its slopes.
But check the weather first; we left Catania with the intention of taking the cable car, but when we arrived at the Sapienza refuge, a thick blanket fell and it started to rain.
I want to suggest you instead Santa Maria la Scala, a small fishing village inhabited in winter by 200 souls.
It is nestled at the foot of the Timpa di Acireale (an imposing escarpment), with the small port, an ancient mill, now a restaurant and a beautiful promenade, where out of season you can park in a camper, overlooked by the ancient fishermen’s houses.
This small village, intact in its original marine architecture, was the port of Acireale for centuries. Here arrived the goods that went up, thanks to a mule track. paved and still viable, which starts from the Antico Mulino and going up the Timpa, had the Fortezza del Tacco as a stop (now the site of a nature reserve) and arrived in Acireale. It goes without saying that the panorama from the mule track towards the sea and the coast is really exciting. Right under the mill still today a stream of fresh water comes out where the women of the village used to wash the laundry until the mid-70s. So a friend of the village told me.
If you think of one stop of taste, you are in the right place. We stopped in a trattoria that for 3 generations has been offering genuine and simple cuisine made with local products and catch of the day.
I advise you to book: places are very few and The Grotta restaurant it is known. Before ordering you will be advised to check the fish counter and choose. The fish will be weighed for you before entering the kitchen to be prepared.
Do you want to know what I chose? In this corner of Sicily I discovered a particular mollusc: the Occhio di Bue also known as Orecchiette di Mare or Abalone. It is typical of the Etna coast, it has a shell with which it attaches to the rock and is fished manually. Exquisite simply boiled and seasoned with parsley and lemon oil. A great find!
How to get around and where to stay in Catania
On this trip, the best way to get around this chaotic city is public lines or two wheels. In this regard, I point out the Catania Pass is the tourist card that allows for €12.50 per day, free or discounted access to affiliated museums, unlimited use of urban public transport, including the Alibus line and the metro. Purchasable at the Info Point and in the AMT travel ticket sales points.
For the motorhome stop instead, apart from following the advice of friends from Catania, not to leave the camper unattended in public car parks (this is a common problem in many large cities), there are some possibilities.
- In Presidente Kennedy Avenue is the Area Lua Beach. Open all year round, it offers 30 pitches on grass with electricity connection, showers and loading/unloading service, a 20-minute walk from the historic centre. Rates at the bottom: €10.00 for parking €5.00 for electricity coin-operated showers.
- In Giovanni da Verrazzano Street there is a fleet of vehicles next to the Carabinieri barracks private and guarded 24 hours with spaces for cars, trucks and campers, with light connection, water columns and drainage pit.
We opted for the Camping Jonio directly on the sea of rocks, in a quiet residential area. Stn the cycle path that leads to the beach of San Giovanni Licuti and Catania and towards Aci Castello. Open all year round, it offers mixed pitches with artificial shading, internal restaurant and laundry services, and a nearby shopping centre. A very peaceful stop where you can relax even enjoying the out-of-season sun and where we ate delicious squid ink linguine, cooked with a very special recipe.
I know thinking about Catania what to see in a couple of days, I could also tell you about the whole Etna area, about Bronte and the very famous pistachios: by the way, did you know that the pistachio gives us its precious fruit every two years?
Or Zafferana Etnea considered the gateway to Etna, but I think it is worth savoring this metropolitan city in small bites, to appreciate the beauty, but also to understand the great difficulties in which it lives (municipality of the police station since September 2022). Also, as you can see, I haven’t told you about his cuisine yet!
So I’ll wait for you with my next tip on Catania.