What to see in Catania

What to see in Catania – 10 places not to miss your first time

Complete guide to visiting Catania in Sicily

“Melior de Cinere surgo” – I rise from the ashes even more beautiful . This inscription on the Porta Ferdinandea fully summarizes the proud spirit of the people of Catania who have learned to be reborn from their own ashes – Catania has been destroyed several times by volcanic eruptions and earthquakes – and to do it again in a grandiose way.

Main access point to Eastern Sicily , with the busiest airport in Southern Italy, Catania is a culturally vibrant city, home to important universities and wonderful historic buildings, some of the most famous markets in Sicily and a privileged access point to Etna , the largest volcano in Europe and among the most active in the world, to the Etnean countries and Taormina.

Dominated by Etna, a symbol of fertility and deeply loved – for Sicilians Etna is female, while Stromboli is male – despite having destroyed the city in 1600, Catania is an elegant city with opulent architecture typical of Sicilian Baroque ; it is located in a fertile and generous territory where vineyards that produce some of the best wines on the island take root and excellent products are grown, such as pistachios from Bronte , mushrooms from Nicolosi , apples from Pedara, honey from Zafferana Etnea and famous Linguaglossa sausages for which you are willing to drive from other provinces just to have them at the table.

A lively young southern city, ancient but modern at the same time, constantly evolving and in step with the times, it would be a shame to skip it or dedicate little time to it.

I am often asked what to see in Catania and whether it is worth including it in the itinerary or not. The answer is that yes. Catania deserves a few days, there are in fact many things to see, but if you are in a hurry you can in one intense day see it quite well anyway and in this post I will show you all the places to visit in Catania the first time you visit it.
So let’s wear comfortable shoes and let’s go, strictly on foot, to discover Catania!

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Where to sleep in Catania

To make visiting the city easier, I recommend sleeping in the center so you can get around on foot.
As a first option I recommend the Habitat Catania , modern, colourful, in an exceptional position in front of the Bellini Theatre.
Two other beautiful solutions that I recommend you check out are the Duomo Suites & Spa , with a beautiful terrace on the top floor overlooking the Duomo, and the Asmundo di Gisira , a decidedly untraditional B&B furnished in an eclectic style.

Where to sleep in Catania

Catania: what to see in one day – Self-managed walking itinerary

Before going into detail about all the places to see in Catania, I thought of a walking itinerary that can be covered very well in a single day.

To begin your adventure in the city, I still recommend taking part in a two-hour walking tour for small groups that brings together the best of the city.
The cost is negligible and given that the city and its buildings are full of history, a guide will be able to make the difference.

If you prefer a free walking tour, here you will find many to choose from. Book in advance because some tours have limited numbers.

However, if you prefer to do it yourself then follow this itinerary which will help you discover the places you shouldn’t miss!

Stage 1 – Piazza Duomo, u Liotru and the fish market

It starts from the fish market,  A Piscarìa , arriving there from the Amenano Fountain . The fish arrives very early in the morning and these are the best hours to see the market in action.

Continue to Piazza Duomo , where u Liotru is located , the elephant fountain symbol of the city and the Church of Sant’Agata , the Patron Saint of Catania who is celebrated from 3 to 5 February.

Stage 2 – Castel Ursino and the San Berillo district

Visit Castel Ursino , symbol of imperial power in Sicily, and reach Palazzo Biscari , the most important private palace in Catania and a precious testimony of Sicilian baroque.

Enter San Berillo , the productive heart of the city until the 1950s which subsequently became, following demolitions, a neighborhood dedicated to prostitution and in total abandonment. Today San Berillo is experiencing a third life thanks to numerous social revaluation projects aimed at integration. This neighborhood was the birthplace of the writer Goliarda Sapienza .

Stage 3 – Via Crociferi and Piazza Stesicoro

Reach via Crociferi , one of the oldest streets in Catania, a UNESCO site , which houses some of the most beautiful churches in the city and some of the most beautiful Sicilian Baroque buildings.
Walk along Via Etnea , the main road, to then reach Piazza Stesicoro , which owes its name to the Greek poet Stesicoro, who apparently had a tomb in Roman times, and the gateway to Fero ‘o Lumi , the largest and most ancient of Catania.

Stage 4 – Benedictine Monastery and the Roman Theatre

Reach the Benedictine Monastery , a jewel of late Sicilian Baroque and one of the largest Benedictine complexes in Europe. I recommend you take a 75-minute guided tour by Officine Culturali , the city’s historical association and twin of Trame di Quartiere which was the first in the city to dedicate its work to the revaluation of the city.

After the visit to the Monastery, reach the Roman Theater and the Odeon and continue to Villa Bellini , the park of Catania. Before entering the park, stop by Savia , the most famous pastry shop in the city known for its cannoli and rotisserie.

For dinner go to via di Santa Filomena, where excellent restaurants such as FUD Bottega Sicula , La Polpetteria and Sale Art Cafè are located .
If alternatively you want to eat the famous horse meat , go to Via Plebiscito , famous for the vast offer of “putie” specializing in the favorite meat of the people of Catania. Be sure to order the meatball!

For a dinner in a very particular restaurant, book a table at La Putia dell’Ostello , a restaurant where you not only eat excellent traditional and revisited dishes but is famous for the room in the lava cave where the Amenano river flows. For a table in the cave I recommend reserving well in advance

10 places to see Catania the first time you go there

As I usually do, I have explored in detail the 10 places to see in Catania that you shouldn’t miss.
The city center is not particularly large and all the places mentioned can be visited on foot in a day . So if you really have to choose what to see and, unfortunately, what to skip, by including these 10 places you will be sure to see the best of Catania.


Piazza Duomo, U Liotru and the Church of Sant’Agata

Piazza Duomo, a UNESCO world heritage site, is the main square of Catania. Designed by Vaccarini, it concentrates some of the most important baroque buildings in the city which delimit its perimeter:

  • the Elephant Fountain (u liotru), symbol of Catania
  • the Amenano Fountain – with the Palazzo dei Chierici and Palazzo Pardo in the background – which marks the entrance to the fish market, the facade of the Cathedral of Catania , dedicated to Sant’Agata, the patron saint of Catania
  • the Bishop’s palace , Porta Uzeda
  • the  Palazzo Senatorio or Palazzo degli Elefanti today home to the Town Hall

The Cathedral, whose façade is one of Vaccarini’s masterpieces, was built at the end of the 11th century by the Norman Roger I but was then rebuilt following the earthquake of 1693.

Opposite is the elephant fountain , called  u liotru , which dates back to 1735. The elephant is made of black lava stone , on its back lies an ancient obelisk which features hieroglyphs relating to the cult of Isis.
In past centuries, the elephant was considered a lucky charm by the students of Catania who had the habit of squeezing its rather disproportionate testicles as a good omen.

Sant’Agata is the patron saint of Catania and one of the most loved and celebrated saints in the world .
Catania celebrates it every year for three days, from 3 to 5 February , giving life to one of the most evocative religious festivals in the world.

An important role during this celebration is played by votive candles, which vary in size and weight depending on the grace requested or received, and which are carried on the shoulders by devotees. Some can be gigantic and reach 75kg or more.

Furthermore, on the occasion of this festival all the pastry shops in the city will be full of small cassatelle in the shape of breasts, the minne of Sant’Agata (the minne in Sicilian are breasts), which pay homage to the martyrdom that the young woman had to suffer.

In fact, at the age of 15 Agata decided to consecrate herself to God and become a nun, rejecting the advances of the proconsul Quintilian who, unable to bear the refusal, accused her of contempt.
Among the various tortures that Agata had to undergo there was also the tearing of her breasts, from which she is said to have recovered following a vision and a miracle.

Amenano Fountain

The Amenano fountain is located right next to Piazza Duomo and marks the entrance to the fish market.
Built in white Carrara marble by Tito Angelini, it represents the Amenano river which is embodied in a young man who pours water from a cornucopia into a basin where two tritons, in turn, pour it into the channel of the Amenano river which can be seen right here slide.

The people of Catania also call this fountain Fontana dell’acqua a linzolu , sheet water fountain, because in the past women came here to wash clothes and also because the effect of the water pouring into the river seems to give a draped sheet.


Castel Ursino

The Ursino Castle in Catania was commissioned by Frederick II of Swabia who entrusted the work, between 1239 and 1240, to Riccardo da Lentini .
The construction costs were borne by the citizens who had to pay, following the emperor’s invitation, two hundred ounces of gold.

The Castle was part of a larger fortification project that had already been in place for some years and was built in a different position from others of the same type: no longer isolated but instead close to the city center and on a promontory overlooking the sea.
The eruption of 1669 which destroyed the city, leaving the castle intact, caused it to lose its original military functionality which, at this point, was no longer on the sea.

Over the years the Ursino Castle has played various roles: fortress, royal residence, prison and barracks and today an important place for cultural events and includes the Civic Museum with many works in particular by Sicilian artists.

The Theater and the Roman Odeon of Catania

The Roman Theater of Catania is located in the center of the city between via Vittorio Emanuele, Piazza San Francesco, via Timeo and via Teatro Greco. It seems that this theater could accommodate up to 7000 people.
The Prince of Biscari in the 18th century, carrying out excavations with the intention of freeing the ancient structures which were now covered by houses, recovered numerous decorative elements of the scene which are preserved in the Municipal Museum .
Between 1950 and 1970, extensive re-evaluation work on the area brought to light and recovered the auditorium and most of the ambulatory.

Here I recommend visiting the Regional Antiquarium of the Roman Theatre , which is spread over two structures: the Ex Casa Pandolfo, in which the decorative fragments recovered in the excavation campaigns (from 1997 to 2007) and the ex Casa Liberti are exhibited , which houses the discoveries made from 1980 to 2008 arranged according to a chronological criterion from prehistory to the 19th century.

Near the theater is the Odéon of Catania , dating back to the 2nd century AD. Musical and dance performances were held here and it is still used today in summer for artistic performances. The Odeon could hold up to 1500 people.

Stesicoro Square

Piazza Stesicoro is an important square that marks the entrance to San Berillo, the access point to the Fero ‘o Lumi and home to the Roman amphitheater of which only a small section is visible.
The amphitheater was probably built in the 2nd century, in the part of the city that was used as a necropolis.

San Berillo – The red light district of Catania

To get to know the many faces of the city, I believe that one of the places to see in Catania is the San Berillo neighborhood . This was one of the most famous neighborhoods dedicated to prostitution in Catania but also among the best known in the Mediterranean and its history, like the change it is experiencing, is worth a visit.

The neighbourhood, which today is experiencing a process of revaluation based on coexistence and cooperation, was once one of the most important production centers in the city , full of shops and very populated.

Following the 1963 Val di Noto earthquake and the subsequent reconstruction of the city, what was an important neighborhood was practically forgotten, despite its proximity to important archaeological finds and its centrality.

An area of ​​the city that was once noble, or suited to being so given the high presence of baroque buildings and important monuments, it became the neighborhood of the marginalized, and remained so for a long time.

Thanks to the desire to revalue it , but also to revalue the people who live there, for some years we have been working to bring back its ancient splendors. The result is truly remarkable.

Visit Piazza Golidarda Sapienza, and the Sangiorgi Theatre , in the past the theater of the Catania bourgeoisie which later became a red light theatre, which today returns to being the stage for events of great appeal.
Continue to the ReBa museum, made up of seven rooms spread over two floors where exhibitions and exhibitions are held and there is also an outdoor amphitheater and a war memorial. Continue along Via San Michele which is the artists’ street. Stop for a drink at Ramataz Wine Bar .

The neighborhood continues to be home to the city’s sex workers , including Franchina, the most famous trans person in the neighborhood and protagonist of director Maria Arena’s film “Jesus Died for the Sins of Others”.
Prostitution exists and continues to operate in San Berillo, this restructuring process has brought to the surface social issues of no less importance: the coexistence between the inhabitants of San Berillo (sex workers, immigrants) with an important structural change which also involves the their lives.


Trame di Quartiere and its ambitious transformation and integration project

Trame di Quartiere’s objective is to “lay the foundations for an urban transformation that aims at an inclusive and cohesive city and that conceives and enhances diversity as resources.

This process occurs through the involvement of multiple territorial actors in a dialogue on innovative practices of urban co-design and cultural production, which overcome the material and economic value of space and which approach it with narrative tools capable of disseminating its memory and enhance its potential in the current historical moment.

The reactivation of abandoned spaces becomes a concrete opportunity to trigger collaborative and cooperative processes of participation of inhabitants and citizens in the creation of new housing and economic possibilities”.

Underground Catania

Destroyed by earthquakes and eruptions, Catania was reborn seven times until its latest version evident to all: the Baroque one.

Yet the Catanias of the past are making a comeback starting from the discovery of the underground city where you can walk among tunnels and underground lava caves , necropolises and buried churches, Roman thermal complexes and medieval crypts , Byzantine sites, underground waterways.
A world apparently hidden but which tells of not one but many Catanias.

I highly recommend the Catania Underground tour which in about 3 hours will make you discover the city from a different and super fascinating point of view.

Mercati di Catania – La Fera ‘o Lumi e la Piscaria

Seeing Catania also implies seeing its markets. The  Sicilian markets are worth a visit because they are real, noisy, impossible not to be stunned by the constant shouting, and picturesque.

If the markets of Palermo are certainly the most famous and, I would like to point out in favor of the capital of Sicily, they are actually also the most picturesque, Catania knows how to keep up.
The historic markets of Catania are the Fero ‘o Lumi and the Piscaria , the fish market.

The Fera ‘o Lumi , whose name apparently derives from the fact that in the past it was held on Mondays, but today it is daily except for Sundays, is the largest market in the city where everything is sold, from food to clothing.
The market is held in Piazza Carlo Alberto which can be accessed from Piazza Stesicoro.

The fish market, the Piscaria , has been in the same place since the 19th century and extends as far as Piazza Alonzo di Benedetto, Piazza Pardo up to the Archi della Marina.

It is a wonderful market to visit in the morning with the arrival of the fish, it is reminiscent of the Arab souks, in the end our traditions are the result of different dominations including the Arab ones, and it overwhelms with colours, smells and characteristic characters.

What to eat in Catania – Horse meat, Rotisserie and Pasta alla Norma

Perhaps not everyone knows that in Sicily they don’t eat the same things, each province has its own peculiarities even at the table. So if you have to go to Palermo for bread and panelle , Catania is the city of Pasta alla Norma,  the best rotisserie in Sicily and horse meat.

Pizzette, arancini (be careful, in Catania they are machi and woe betide you if you call them ORANGES!), small onions, pastries filled with tomato, mozzarella, ham and onion, scacciate and Siciliane, fried bread dough with mozzarella and anchovies inside to be eaten hot!

The arancini obviously play the main role and are available in all tastes, from the classic ones with ragù and white ones with butter and peas, to the more imaginative ones with pistachio or aubergines .

But Catania is also famous for horse meat , on Via Plebiscito you can find many “putie arrusti e mancia” – who cook this meat exclusively to eat with a sandwich or in the variant of meatballs to combine with the ever-present tomato and onion salad.

I haven’t been able to understand why we like it so much and why it is so widespread in the city, but what is certain is that when I return home I never miss a horse meat sandwich and raid the takeaways to stock up. of fried bombs, spring onions and arancini.

Ah, obviously you will also want to eat some cannoli, don’t hesitate and go to the historic Savia bar , where you will find a variety of desserts and rotisserie pieces that will make you lose your mind!

To ensure you don’t miss any Catanese delights, I recommend a guided tour of street food in Catania which guarantees an overview of the city’s complex and varied offering.


When to visit Catania

Catania can be visited all year round but in summer it becomes particularly hot. If you decide to travel to Sicily in winter then make sure to attend the feast of Sant’Agata, from 3 to 5 February.

Otherwise my favorite months are April, May and June but, even more so, September and October, months in which you can certainly also combine swimming in the sea!

How many days do you need to see Catania?

To see Catania one day is enough but you can take advantage and use it as a base if you want to discover the surroundings, such as the Etna volcano, the Etna villages, Taormina. If you want, you can also quickly reach Syracuse if you don’t want to stay there overnight.

Do you need a car to visit Catania?

If you just visit the city you won’t need a car, the center of Catania is quite small and you can get around very well on foot. However, you need a car if you want to visit the surrounding area.

What to see around Catania?

Catania is the perfect base for visiting Etna but also the Etna villages such as Zafferana, Randazzo and Milo. Also not to be missed are Acitrezza, Acicastello and Acireale (also a city famous for its carnival).

Can you go to the beach in Catania?

The most famous beach in Catania is La Playa , an 18 kilometer long beach which I personally don’t like very much. To stay in the surrounding area my advice is to head to Ognina and San Giovanni Li Cuti (both black rock beaches) or move directly towards the Riviera dei Ciclopi in Acitrezza, the beach of Acicastello or the beach of Fondachello.

Catania is not a more dangerous city than others in terms of safety, so the usual advice applies: pay attention to your bags when on public transport and in the markets. When I’m in the car I generally lower the safety locks because in the past thefts were also done while sitting in the car (a moped alongside, they opened the door and stole the bag from the driver’s side). I don’t hear about it anymore but perhaps I remained tied to the memories of the times when Catania was a bit “wild”. But be careful when driving, it seems that Catania is the most dangerous city in Italy when you get behind the wheel (overtaking on the right, cars that carelessly speed along emergency lanes, optional use of indicators etc etc). So no stress but be careful when behind the wheel!

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