catania monastero san niccolo larena monastery

The Best Things to do in Catania

Unlikely many other coastal cities, you may find Catania less appealing than Siracusa or Palermo. For this reason the visit to the second largest city in Sicily can be easily done in a day. With that said, I honestly appreciated visiting Catania because of its authenticity. Unlike Taormina or Noto, Catania doesn’t live on tourism, therefore I find it more revealing of Sicilian culture. So without further delay let’s see which are the best things to do in Catania!

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Visit Sant’Agata Cathedral and Admire the View

Situated in the city’s center, Sant’Agata Cathedral is a jewel from the Baroque period. The interiors are richly decorated and absolutely worth admiring.

For a small fee I highly recommend going on top of the Cathedral to admire the 360° view. You can see the city, the coast, and of course the majestic Mount Etna.

catania view of sant'agata cathedral

Sit by the Elephant Fountain in Duomo Square

In front of Sant’Agata Cathedral stands the Elephant Fountain. The monument takes its name from the elephant statue made from lava stone that supports an obelisk.

The origin of the statue is mysterious to this day. The first testimonies of the statue are from the 11-12th century, and in 1239 the elephant officially became the symbol of the city.

After an earthquake the fountain was renovated and the obelisk was located on the elephant’s back. The origin of the obelisk is unknown as well, even if people says it was probably from an ancient Roman Circus.

Why is the elephant the symbol of Catania?

There are several myths and hypothesis around the choice of this animal. One of them says that the elephant became the symbol of Catania when the Libyan army was defeated in a battle and their elephants were captured.

catania elephant fountain piazza duomo

Explore the Fish Market

While getting to the fish market from Duomo Square, take a moment to appreciate the Amenano Fountain. The fountain was created in 1867 by Tito Angelini using the water of the underground river Amenano in one of the few spots where it’s on the surface.

The fish market (pescheria) is one of the busiest and most colorful area in Catania. I’d couple it with a visit to the markets nearby to buy some of the delicious Sicilian food, especially if you visit on your last day.

The fish market is open from Monday to Saturday and from 8 AM to 2 PM.

catania fish market pescheria

Visit the Monastery and the Church of San Nicolò l’Arena

Today the beautiful monastery built in the 16th century hosts the University of Catania. You can visit the decorated interiors and the cloisters. The cover picture is the interior of the university.

Next to the monastery you’ll see a bizarre building. I dare say bizarre because Saint Nicolò l’Arena Church is unfinished! Its front facade has half built columns and the roof is clearly missing. But don’t let the exterior aspect fool you. Inside, it houses a large collection of art and beautifully decorated rooms.

For a small fee you can climb on top and enjoy the view on Catania.

catania chiesa san niccolo larena church

Villa Bellini and its Gardens

A green oasis in the center of Catania, Villa Bellini has one of the most beautiful gardens in the city. When visiting you can’t skip the gazebo with a view on Mount Etna.

The park is very popular and often crowded, but it’s absolutely nice for a walk. Fun to see: there is a large hedge that is cut in form of the current year and month.

view of a park with stairs villa bellini
Photo by Matthias Süßen. License.

Take a Street Food Tour

Arancini, panelle, sfincioni, and many more! If you are a foodie don’t miss the opportunity to take a street food tour. Taking place nearby the market, thanks to the street food tour you will have the chance to learn more about the delicious Sicilian cuisine while also eating it.

Looking for a food tour? On Viator and GetYourGuide there are several. The one I recommend you is this one from Streaty that has the best reviews on both sites and TripAdvisor.

colorful umbrella hanging on a street full of restaurants in catania street food tour

A few extra things to do close to Catania

Catania is strategically situated and if you rent a car (we always rent ours on Discover Cars) in no time you can visit one of the places below. For those of you who don’t want to drive, I’ll put the links for the guided tours at the end of each activity.

Enjoy the Sea in Aci Trezza

A few kilometers in Catania’s North, you will find the three Aci’s town (Aci was the name of an ancient river in the area): Aci Castello, Aci Trezza and Acireale. In the last few years Aci Trezza, a fishing village, has become an important seaside tourist location.

What I loved the most about the beach were the cliffs! The legend says that the eight large rocks were thrown by Polyphemus while trying to kill Ulysses when he managed to escape from his cave.

Legend or not, the charm of this coastal trait is undeniable and if you can visit it during sunset that’s definitely a plus, I mean just look at the colors down below!

cliffs on the coast nearby catania aci trezza

Go Hike Mount Etna

Towering on Catania with its threatening smoke, the majestic Mount Etna was the best part of our trip. I loved exploring its gentle slopes and craters, and walking amid its black dunes was one of my favorite experiences.

Exploring Mount Etna is one of the most exciting activities in Sicily, for this reason I highly recommend taking two full days to explore it, and you can find our detailed guide to plan your trip here. But if you don’t have the time, check out one day/half day tours from Catania on Viator and GetYourGuide. Or if you have a car you can check out our one day on Mount Etna program here.

mount etna north summit

Explore Alcantara Gorge

Alcantara Gorge is an impressive canyon carved by the Alcantara River, in the middle of the basalt rocks that Mount Etna expelled during the centuries. In some traits the canyon walls go up to 100 ft (30 mt) creating an impressive landscape.

On Viator and GetYourGuide there are a few tours that combine Mount Etna with Alcantara Gorge, I honestly don’t advise you to choose those tours as I think that both visits in a day are rushed. I wrote a detailed guide that will help you plan your trip including the fun activities you can do (river trekking, body rafting).

alcantara gorge guide view from terraces alcantara river

FAQ about Catania

How long should I stay in Catania?

You can easily see all the best Catania offers in a day and even half a day. It’s a comfort visit to kill time before catching planes, or an ideal base to explore the surroundings, especially if you are traveling by car.

Is Catania worth visiting?

This is a tough question because I don’t like diminishing the value of a city, but I’m also always brutally honest. So let’s say that Catania’s center is nice to visit if you have an half day before catching the plane to occupy.

Otherwise explore the amazing natural wonders around Mount Etna and Alcantara Gorge and the cute cities and villages nearby Siracusa, Noto, Taormina.

Explore Eastern Sicily

I loved exploring Eastern Sicily. People, culture, food, and landscapes are incredible. For those of you who like slow travel you will love it! It’s simply another jewel in Italy, by the way are you planning a trip to Italy? I’m a native from Tuscany and if you are searching for more inspiration to discover my amazing country check out our italian itineraries and guides!

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