What to do in Catania

vulcano etna catania
The snow-covered Etna that dominates the city of Catania

The first thing you will see once you arrive in Catania is mount Etna.

From its 3,350 meters height, it dominates the entire flat area that surrounds it, becoming the main actor in the life of an entire territory. “Idda” (she), as the people from Catania call this mountain, with its grandeur, majesty and shiny lapilli will conquer you at first sight.

At its feet the dark and beautiful Catania, which viscerally attracts and fascinates visitors thanks to the skilful use that has been made of the lava stone.

This has been molded in a scenic way, appearing absolutely theatrical in the eyes of those who observe it with a succession of squares and architectural scenes.

The sumptuous baroque that enriches Catania, however, stands in sharp contrast with what the city offers: the shouting of the merchants and the smells of the Pescheria (the ancient fish market of Catania) make the center a perfect combination of culture and daily life.

The city was built during the most ancient Greek colonization and gradually passed under different dominations, which made Sicily what it is today.

Catania has experienced moments of strong abandonment mainly due to volcanic eruptions and earthquakes (the most violent in 1693) and, subsequently, of marvelous rebirth that today lead it to be one of the favorite destinations for tourists from all over the world.

Let’s go now to discover together what to see in Catania during your next stay in Sicily, so as you know the best things to do in Catania and you don’t miss absolutely nothing of the beauties that the city holds.

Best things to see in Catania: between art and history

We suggest you start the tour of Catania from Piazza del Duomo, seat of the civil and ecclesiastical power of the city where the most important roads converge.

In the center of the square you will first notice the famous Elephant Fountain (which the Catania people call “u liotru“, or “the elephant“, in Sicilian dialect) created by combining an ancient artifact in lava stone from the Roman age and an Egyptian obelisk with hieroglyphics relating to the cult of the goddess Isis.

The elephant statue in Piazza del Duomo (Catania city center) , created by Giovanni Battista Vaccarini between 1735 and 1737.
The elephant statue in Piazza del Duomo (Catania city center) , created by Giovanni Battista Vaccarini between 1735 and 1737.

The Cathedral, with its façade of polychrome marble, dominates the entire square and invites you to enter to admire its wonders up close.

Dedicated to Sant’Agata, patron saint of the city, it houses the Holy Relics of the saint in a precious reliquary bust and in a casket, magnificent evidence of Sicilian flamboyant Gothic.

Going back outside, you can head towards the Ursino Castle by crossing the Uzeda Gate, built in 1696 as a scenic opening of the walls onto Piazza del Duomo.

The Ursino Castle, built by Frederick II of Swabia, was the residence of several royalty and a fortress surrounded by high walls. Inside, the rooms still retain some original structures of considerable interest. It is home to the Civic Museum born from the union of different collections.

Passing through the narrow streets of the historic center, you will arrive at the Roman Theater. It will show itself to you almost like a precious gem, appearing among the buildings that had practically incorporated it.

One of the most monumental and significant environments of the Catania Baroque period is the Via Crociferi, along which there are the Arch of San Benedetto, the Badia Grande, the Badia Piccola, the majestic Church of San Benedetto, the Jesuit College (today the seat of the Institute of Art) and countless palaces and other churches also worthy of note.

Taking Via Antonio di Sangiuliano, also full of palaces with a strong Baroque appeal, you can reach the Church of San Nicolò, an imposing building that was to become the largest place of worship in Sicily.

However, the works were blocked several times and today the structure unfortunately remains unfinished. Despite this, the façade turns out to be really impressive with the mighty limestone columns that stand out free along the back wall.

What to do in Catania: the church of San Nicolò, in Piazza Dante Alighieri in Catania
The church of San Nicolò, in Piazza Dante Alighieri in Catania

Another fundamental artery is the famous Via Etnea, the representative road of the rich Catania bourgeoisie. Today, however, it has a strong nineteenth-century appearance, a period in which the city developed towards Etna.

It is the main street in the heart of Catania, it is about 3 kilometers long and boasts seven churches and several noble palaces.

A walk here is a must for those who want to literally immerse themselves in the history and culture of this beautiful city, admiring what architects of the caliber of Vaccarini and Battaglia built respecting the canons of the Sicilian Baroque of the time.

If you wish to know more about the city, you might be also interested in our blog “Visit Catania in 3 days”.

You are probably thinking that in addition to understanding what to see in Catania during your stay in the city, as per good Sicilian tradition, you would also like to know in advance what are the culinary temptations that you can encounter while walking through the streets of the city.

Let’s say right away that among bars and street vendors you will more than once see the famous almond granita, coffee with cream or rice “crispelle” covered with honey to name a few, but how can you say no to pasta alla “Norma” (with eggplant and ricotta salata, named in honor of Vincenzo Bellini from Catania) or the sweet olivette called di Sant’Agata.

Finally, walking the streets of Catania you will certainly come across some typical drink kiosks: it will be the right occasion to taste the famous “Seltz, salt and lemon“, the drink most requested by the inhabitants of the Etna city, especially in those hot days when this delicious and healthy drink is just what it takes to cool off a little.

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