If you are planning your next trip to the south west coast of Italy, in particular, Sicily, you can fly into Catania airport. This airport is normally a connecting place for people to go further to Syracuse or Taormina. However, if you can spare a day or two, Catania itself is an amazing place to see.
This guide will point you towards the best places to see in Catania that are discreet so you do not bump into large crowds. In this article, we will look at 11 best places or attractions in the city to make your trip more worthwhile.
Getting around the Catania, Sicily’s 2nd largest city, is possible by renting a car at the airport. You can also choose a private service but the airport is your safest bet.
If you are travelling with a family that includes kids, it is better not to take a risk, book your car in advance. After you collect your rental car, be watchful of the driving style of the people of Catania. Oh Boy! It will take some getting used to, but you will quickly get the hang of it.
Parking is another issue that will need your attention. Make sure you book a hotel that has ample parking space. Once you get to your hotel park up your car and you can see the rest of the city on foot.
Let’s look at the 11 must-see places in Catania.
01 Piazza del Duomo
Start your day by going to Piazza del Duomo, which is the starting point for many tour buses. This is the heart of the city. The piazza’s center boasts the city’s emblem: The Elephant Fountain. Known in Italian as fontana dell’ elefante. The beautiful fountain is carved with an elephant in black lava with an Egyptian obelisk.
Historically speaking, this statue is powerful enough to mollify Etna’s volcanic anger. Etna is another place you will see on this must-see list. On the same square, you can see the Palazzo Municipio.
02 Duomo di Catania
Located on the same square, behind the Elephant fountain is Catania Cathedral, Duomo di Catania. Sicily has an abundance of historical, man-made structures and buildings that are mind-blowing. Every building and structure has a legend or a story behind it. The exterior of this cathedral is a beautiful structure made in white marble and stands tall and invincible.
The interior of the cathedral is a dedication to Saint Agatha. Saint Agatha was a virgin who was tortured by a Roman prefect when she refused to comply with his ardent advances. She was a Christian who became a martyr choosing her honor above all else.
This cathedral is free to visit every day where you can pay homage to the patron saint. She is celebrated every year on February 5th and the day is called Sant’ Agata. You will see the relics on display inside the Duomo di Catania. The tomb of Vincenzo Bellini, who was a famous opera composer from 1801, can also be found here . He was born in Catania as well.
03 La Pescheria
As you walk around the square, right behind the Piazza del Duomo, you will find yourself in the hustle and bustle of a live fish market where you will experience absolutely drama at every turn.
Even though you may want to avoid such a busy area, it is truly worth putting up with the crowd to experience the atmosphere and utter street theatre. This market operates every morning on weekdays and is a delight to see. If you are a fan of fresh seafood, you will see that Italians take their fish quite seriously.
You will see decapitated swordfish, sardines, lobsters, crabs and anchovies. Buckets of fish are brought to the market and dumped on the stands in front of you. Be careful not to wear your best white shoes or sandals as you will be stepping through pools of fish blood as you weave through the market.
Nearby you will find the classic Italian market selling cheese. A strange thing you will notice here is that the market also sells carcasses of animals. You will find yourself looking at heads of sheep (horns still attached) among other things. What they do with animal carcasses is something you will have to ask the stall owners!!!
04 Via Etnea
Etna is the famous active volcanic mountain which dominates the landscape of Sicily. I’t’s also one of the biggest tourist attractions on the Island. As you walk from the Piazza del Duomo, you can turn onto Via Etnea As the name suggests, from this street, you can get a full view of the beautiful volcano mountain.
The street is a busy one with little shops and cafes scattered along it’s length for you to sip a fresh cup of Italian coffee while enjoying the view. However, the weather should be clear for you to see the mountain. This is the perfect place to relax and regain your strength for the rest of the day.
05 Piazza dell’Universita
The southern end of Via Etnea finishes at Piazza dell’Universita. Here, you will find yourself looking at two glorious palaces facing each other. One is the Piazza dell’Universita and the other is Palazzo San Giuliano. You can enter the university to admire the interiors; it is after all a historical sight. Both palaces have courtyards that are magnificent to see. Make sure to look at the four lampposts that symbolizes the mystical episodes of Catania.
06 Porta Garibaldi
To understand Porta Garibaldi, it is important to understand the role of triumphal arches and gates in Roman and Italian culture. While it was designed and built in the year 1768 in honor of King Ferdinand IV and his wife, Maria Carolina, it truly represents the rebirth of the city of Catania which has suffered destruction in past times following the eruption of Mount Etna.
Porta Garibaldi is probably the best man-made structure in Catania. The most obvious feature of the archway are the walls created in alternating black and white stone; white stone from Syracuse and black the lava stone from Mount Etna. With marble statues perched upon it, at the very top of the archway is a clock and carved phoenix proudly crowning the entire structure. The inscription under the Phoenix is a testament to the spirit and resilience of the people of Catania
“Melior de cinere surgo”I rise from the Ashes even more beautiful.
The builder and designer of this beautiful gate was Francesco Battaglia and Stefano Ittar. However, this arch is now named after Giuseppe Garibaldi who played an important role in uniting Italy in the 19th century.
07 Villa Bellini
Uncover the true gem of Villa Bellini, it’s huge garden that is to the public at all times until 10 pm each day . It is the perfect place to rest or enjoy a picnic. The freshness and beauty of this garden is sure to raise your mood. Take a stroll around the garden’s iconic, large beautiful trees which look like they were sculpted by non other than Michelangelo.
You can simply sit down on a bench and enjoy the view. If you have kids, this is a great place for them to run around and enjoy the luscious green surroundings.
This is also a great venue for concerts and other festivals, which Sicily hosts in abundance. If you are lucky, you may catch something out of the ordinary happening that day.
08 Via Crociferi
Simply known as Church Street, Via Crociferi is the second street that you must stroll through during your visit. There are about five churches that you can visit and each one has its own historical value. The churches on Via Crociferi are:
- The San Francesco Church: famous for the gigantic candelabra.
- San Benedetto: known to have been built in a single night. This is very interesting!
- San Benedetto Church: a dedication to Saint Benedict.
- San Nicolo all’ Arena Church: this is not as beautiful as others since it’s construction never came to an end.
- San Giuliano Church
You must keep in mind that the churches are only open in the mornings. So if you want to visit all of them, make sure that you go here first.
The must-see on Via Corciferi is the Benedictine Monastery of San Nicolo I’Arena a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is the second-largest monastery in Europe and donated to the University of Catania in 1977 and they have since undertaken the entire restoration You can visit with a tour guide should you wish.
09 Catania Roman Theater
This was once a point of pride for Italians and the people of Catania. The theater has deteriorated immensely since then, due to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and subsequent use of the stone materials in the reconstruction of Catania. While much of the Theater is underground, in the ruins you can still imagine it’s former glory and strange to see such an ancient site juxtaposed with architecture from many eras. This is right next to the Piazza del Duomo and a must-see for any visitor to Catania.
10 Ursino Castle
This huge Norman fortress in Catania is located approximately 1 km inland and what an impressive structure. This has been turned into a museum now and is home to a large archaeological collection. The collection includes painting, ceramic vases, and sculptures with great historical value.
The location of the castle is amazing. It was built on a cliff with a view of the sea on one side and heavily fortified on the other sides. The volcanic eruptions of Etna has changed the landscape of the surrounding areas completely. The eruption of 1669 did destroy a lot of things but thankfully, neither lava nor debris penetrated the castle itself.
11 Mount Etna
This active volcanic mountain is around 10 kilometers away from Catania. Your best option is to go there on a bus that leaves every morning at 8 am. Other private touring companies offer trips to Etna that take you to the foot of the volcano. There, you get a detailed guide on how to go near the crater and on a 4-wheel drive, you can enter the crater. You will be provided with safety gear, which is the necessary to see Etna.
Other things to see in Catania
Catania itself is a small town and you can see everything within two days. However, the outskirts of the city has many more jewels that you must not miss. Let’s look at a few other locations that should be on your list.
On the outskirts of Catania is a small town called Acireale. This is possibly the most densely populated town in terms of churches. There are about 100 churches for only 60,000 locals. The main ones are of course, mentioned earlier located around Piazza del Duomo. This town is worth having a stopover since it is on the road to Taormina.
This place is famous for its legendary story of the Cyclops and Ulysses.
Aci Trezza is a seaside resort that houses Rocks of Cyclops’ or faraglioni. According to the legend, the eight basalt rocks visible from the seaside resort were thrown by the giant Polypheme. He did this in order to prevent Ulysses from leaving the island of Etna.
The surrounding areas are filled with romantic bars and restaurants. It is a good place for a relaxing evening with a loved one.
After Catania, this town has many tourist attractions. Apart from great views of the sea and Mount Etna, it also has a Greek theater.
Taormina Greek Theater is the world’s best-preserved theater and therefore, a must-see. As for the great views, you can get your fill of the scenery from viewpoints located at the Piazza IX Aprile Belvedere and La Chiesa Madonna Della Rocca. You can also go diving and swimming at the beautiful pebble beach with crystal-clear waters at Isola Bella.
Agrigento Valley of the Temples
Listed as another UNESCO World Heritage Site, The Valley of the Temples is an amazing sight and when you visit Sicily, this is conveniently along a lot of routes.
This archaeological site is famous and therefore, you can book yourself a day trip. The buses pick you up at your hotel and drop you back there in the evening. The trip includes typical Sicilian street food and you will eat that at Scala dei Turchi beach.
Visit “The Godfather” Filming Location
Your visit to Italy will be incomplete if you do not visit the famous filming location of The Godfather. The movie was shot in Sicily and has become a famous tourist spot since then. If you aspire to follow Michael Corleone’s footsteps, this is the right place for you.
The best way to get the most of the filming location is to book a day tour with a guide. In this case, choose a guide who is as passionate about the film as you are, otherwise it will not be fun.
You will see the villages of Forza and Savoca. The church where Michael got married – Santa Lucia and the famous Vitelli bar. Other filming locations will also be included in this one-day tour.
So, that’s it. Our round up of all things to see in Catania. What are you waiting for? Get those bags packed!
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