If you’re headed to Sicily, odds are you’ll pass through Catania! Here’s what you need to know to make the most of the city.
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Catania sits on the east coast of Sicily, tucked under Mount Etna. It’s one of the major cities, so check flights here if you’re planning to stay on the east coast or do a road trip.
When planning a Sicily trip, I’d say you only need one day in Catania. It’s good for a wander, has some interesting history and excellent food! But its main draw for multiple days is the proximity by train for day trips to Mount Etna, Taormina, or Siracusa.
I love Catania for the architecture. It’s straight up gorgeous to wander. The best way to experience the city is a walking tour. Here are the highlights listed in an order that hits the major sites:
Start at the Fontana dell’Elefante. The elephant is the symbol of the city. Like many of the buildings, the elephant is carved from volcanic rock – that’s why so much of the architecture is black stone rather than the more typical Italian and Greek choices of white marble.
Sitting at one end of the same piazza is the Cathedral of St. Agatha. Much of the city’s architecture is called Baroque Sicilian, and this cathedral is a great example of the typical style. The inside is more simply decorated, but it’s free to enter so consider sticking your head in for a few minutes!
Legend says that nearby Arco di San Benedetto was built in one night to defy a local law related to building design safety. Even back then, Sicilians knew architecture mattered when you live in the shadow of an active volcano!
Piazza Stesicoro is important for what you can find here. The Roman amphitheater ruins are pretty cool, and a great example of the way the city has been built over itself layer by layer through the centuries. The Bellini Monument nearby is to one of Catania’s favorite sons, an opera composer.
Villa Bellini isn’t a villa, it’s the major park of Catania. It’s known for its beautifully landscaped grounds, so if you need a break from city walking, head here.
Benedictine Monastery of San Nicolo is another beautiful building with a long history. It’s now part of the University of Catania but was a monastery for nearly 500 years.
Catania hotels & restaurants
While in Catania, we stayed at Relais Anfiteatro. It’s a modest hotel, that offered good rates and plenty of modern amenities (excellent water pressure, mattresses, and air conditioning) and is well located just a block off via Etnea, on of the major thoroughfares.
The really cool part of staying at Relais Anfitheatro is that the building itself has the Roman amphitheater ruins in its foundations. So you can see parts of them that aren’t visible to the public – both inside the building and on their patio overlooking another bit!
If you’re taking day trips like we did, you need a few back-pocket dinner options for when you get back. Here are a few of my favorites!
Splurge at Osteria Antica Marina. This Michelin—starred restaurant sits adjacent to the fish market behind the arch, so it has the freshest options imaginable! They offer modern takes on classic dishes. You can reserve online, which is great because they’re booked up every night.
Locanda Cerami is a great pizzeria that serves good food at reasonable prices. Its outdoor seating extends under a beautiful church. It’s the kind of place I love for grabbing a bite after a day trip – good food, nothing too complicated.
Ristorante Antica Sicilia splits the difference between those two, and it was probably my favorite meal in Catania. They serve mostly seafood dishes but have excellent pizza as well – one of the best red sauces on a pizza I’ve had in Italy! I had a great scampi here. This place feels homestyle in the best ways, and the prices are super reasonable. If you have one meal in town, go to Antica Sicilia.
Overall: my advice is to use Catania as a jumping-off point. Whether you take day trips or pass through on your way, it’s worth a quick stop!