things to do in catania

The Most Exciting Things to Do in Catania: How to Make the Most of Sicily’s Hip Second City

This is the ultimate guide to the best things to do in Catania, Sicily – probably one of my favorite cities in Italy!
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Oh Catania, a city I had the least expectations for – but which potentially won me over more than any other place in Sicily.

When planning our first trip to Sicily and sorting out things to do in Catania, we were struck by the sheer amount of blogs that advise people to skip Catania, or to see it only for the briefest of stops. It kept being described as “alternative” or confusing, hard to get into and not as appealing as the rest of the beautiful and stunning east coast. We begrudgingly added an extra night to our time in Catania to make our schedule work out, and I was so worried that we would regret the choice.

So you can imagine my surprise when only 15 minutes into walking around the city center both Daniel and I were turning to each other with wide smiles saying how much we loved it here. And that was the theme of our entire time in Catania.

Sweating our asses off walking to the Bellini gardens: “Wow, I love it here.”

Walking to dinner: “The energy in this city is infectious.”

Weaving through the crowds at night to get back to the hotel: “I don’t get why everyone hates on Catania.”

Catania is a city to be experienced, to mesh into and explore without a real goal in mind. If you want a perfect manicured city with a list of attractions to tick off, you might not like it here – but if you want to spend a few days exploring and getting the vibe of Sicily’s second city, this one’s for you!

things to do in Catania: asmundo di gisira

Frequent questions about Catania

Is Catania Sicily worth visiting?

I can understand why someone might ask this question, but I definitely think that Catania, Sicily is worth visiting. Given that the majority of blog posts about Catania seem to label it as “alternative” or only mention it in relationship to Palermo, I was worried, but I have to say that Catania won me over instantly.

Catania has an instant buzz to it, the energy was just palpable here and it’s the kind of city you really want to sink your teeth into. It’s not overly manicured like some European cities, but it’s also not overly gritty or hipster like others. It felt like a perfect blend. If you’ve ever been to Budapest or Sarajevo, those are the cities I would most compare with Catania.

In fact, we’re going back to Sicily this spring, and we’re going back to Catania. There are so many bars and restaurants and I can’t wait to wander around the city again. I think if you’re primarily hoping to visit a city with a lot of “sights” then maybe Catania would be dull for you, but if you’re the type of traveler who wants to just exist in another place, and get a feel for life there, then Catania is your city.

things to do in Catania

What is Catania known for?

Catania is known for being Sicily’s “second city” (the first of course being Palermo). It’s also very well known for being very close to Mount Etna—the famous active volcano.

It’s widely considered to be an “alternative” city, which I believe is reference to the university life and influx of students in the city. Honestly, I didn’t feel that the label was entirely fitting, but to each their own! If anything I think that this is just in reference to the fact that the things to do in Catania center more around bars and restaurants than sights and cultural landmarks.

There’s also of course an airport in Catania, and a nearby beach, all things that Catania is well known for.

Which is better: Catania or Palermo?

This feels a bit like comparing apples to oranges, to be honest.

Palermo and Catania are both… so beautiful and special. Palermo is absolutely a bigger city than Catania (and actually the fifth biggest city in Italy, while Catania is the tenth biggest), but it’s also much more crowded and definitely can feel a bit overwhelmed by tourism, while Catania maintains a more untouched feel in a lot of ways. They both feel equally accessible and inaccessible, exciting and overwhelming, but also so different and conflicting with one another. You just have to go and feel the energy yourself to be honest.

I can say that I loved Catania so much that I wished we had more days there, and we stayed more than recommended. Then in Palermo I felt pretty overwhelmed, but left wondering if I could eventually end up moving there. So clearly they’ve both left an impression on me. I think that both cities are wonderful and you will have an incredible time in either, please don’t make me choose.

My best advice would be to weigh the cities equally, and then choose based on which side of the island they’re on. Whether that means you choose based on which airport makes more sense to fly into, or whether you want to explore baroque architecture (for which Catania is famous) or street food culture (more of a thing in Palermo)—let that guide you! I doubt you’ll be disappointed in either option.

things to do in Catania

How many days do you need to visit Catania?

When we went to Catania we stayed for two nights, which was actually a last minute decision. We planned to only stay one night, because so much of the advice out there suggested that we really wouldn’t need much time in Catania and could easily do it in a day or so. I’m really glad we didn’t listen!

If you’re on a tight schedule, then obviously you can make it work and squeeze Catania into a day or so, but I think that entirely misses the real beauty of experiencing Catania. Unlike some touristy cities, there aren’t a ton of traditionally touristy things to do in Catania, but rather an energy you should aim to experience.

I think having two to three days is ideal for Catania as it gives you enough time to take the city at a leisurely pace, see all the sights, and potentially even check out a nearby small town or village! Then, I would recommend having a little bit of downtime in the city to spend the day like a local – window shopping, checking out the street markets, visiting the Sicilian Museum of Contemporary Art, stopping for coffee and granita whenever you feel like it, etc.

However, if you do choose to go for a shorter stint, try to incorporate some kind of walking tour or food tour to make sure you can really maximize your time (there are a few great recommendations for these below)!

things to do in Catania

What are the top attractions to visit in Catania?

The top attractions to visit in Catania include the fish market, the Piazza del Duomo, the Chiesa della Badia di Sant’Agata and the Cathedral of Sant’Agata.

If you keep scrolling down to the “Things to see” section, you’ll get a more in depth idea of what the top attractions are!

The famous Fish Market takes place most mornings until about 12pm or 1pm. The market happens right off the Piazza del Duomo—another top site to see in Catania. The fish market dates back to the 19th century, and definitely feels like you’re tapping into the pulse of the city when you’re walking through it. Definitely be aware that it’s not for the faint of heart! It will smell like fish, it will be messy, loud and wet, but that’s kind of the whole point. Just don’t wear your Sunday best!

If you go to the fish market you’ll likely also see the Piazza del Duomo, but I really suggest coming back around golden hour/sunset. The way that the light reflects off the stunning baroque buildings is something I won’t be forgetting any time soon. The piazza is where you’ll also be able to see the Chiesa della Badia di Sant’Agata and the Cathedral of Saint Agata, two stunning baroque buildings bordering the piazza. There’s a lovely view if you head to the top of the Chiesa di Sant’Agata.

Mount Etna of course is one of the most famous things to do in Catania (though it’s technically outside of the city).

Is Catania a walkable city?

In short, yes, definitely – Catania is a walkable city. There are also busses, and a metro system!

If you plan to go to any smaller towns or villages nearby, or if you’re heading to the beach you may want a car, though you could probably also just hire a taxi!

While there are loads of things to do in Catania, they’re all mostly concentrated to the city center, and it’s not that large of a city. The only thing I would warn you of is that if you’re going to be there in the height of summer it will be HOT. So, walking will be honestly horrible. Doable, but awful. Trust me, we did it in August and were dripping sweat within 2 minutes!! Though it does make you feel a bit invincible when you’ve managed to survive those conditions.

Now, if you’re planning a trip that involves staying outside of Catania, or traveling around a bit, I would definitely recommend a car. When we visited Sicily that’s what we did – booking with Discover Cars (our tried and true!). We took a taxi from the airport into Catania and then back to the airport to get the car so we didn’t need to deal with it in Catania.

things to do in Catania

Does Catania have a beach?

Yes, technically Catania has a beach! However, it’s not like, the number one beach I would recommend while you’re in Sicily, nor is it my top choice of things to do in Catania. So if you’ll be traveling around the island I’d say skip it.

However, if you’re only going to be in and around Catania and want to make the most of the beaches, I’ve got you covered.

Aci Trezza and Aci Castello are your best bets for a quality beach nearby to Catania. Aci Castello is only a 15 minute drive—or roughly 45 minutes on the bus if you don’t have a car—and Aci Trezza is about 20 minutes/an hour, respectively. All along the coast you’ll find nice quality lidos to park yourself at for a beach day. Lido dei Ciclopi is one of the best reviewed options in the area, though Lido Aquarius is a decent option as well. That being said, there is also plenty of beach that isn’t taken over by lidos, so definitely don’t feel obligated!

If you don’t have a car and/or don’t want to make your way out of the city, you can still make a good beach day happen in Catania. Playa di Catania is a public beach quite close to the city center, so it would be easy to get a taxi there or even take the bus or walk. There’s also a lido on the beach—Lido Azzurro—that’s honestly pretty nice considering it’s in the city center!

Catania Guide: Stay, See, Do, Eat

Where to stay in Catania

I have an entire post on this subject because there are just so many nice hotels in Catania!! (Seriously, the city is just begging people to appreciate it!) You can check that one out here: Where to Stay in Catania: 10 Amazing Hotels in the Heart of Sicily’s Coolest City

For those looking for the highlights, though, here is my absolute top recommendation (where we stayed!):

Asmundo di Gisira

where to stay in catania: asmundo di gisira

Asmundo di Gisira – located right in the center of Catania – is also a literal art gallery. They have work from so many young, emerging artists placed throughout the common areas and rooms of the hotel. If you are into interesting design or just spaces with a strong personality then this hotel is absolutely for you!

things to do in Catania: asmundo di gisira

In addition to the exceptional care taken with design, this hotel includes daily breakfast on the most luxurious terrace overlooking a lively square, a roof terrace where you can sip delicious cocktails before dinner, and potentially the most amazing hotel bathroom I have ever experienced.

I cannot recommend staying here enough – but I will admit that we splurged on this place after we had budgeted out the rest of the trip!! If you’re looking for something in another price range then definitely check out my post about Where to Stay in Catania, which covers every budget tier you could imagine.

What to see in Catania

Okay let’s finally get into what there actually is to see in Catania and all the things to do in Catania!

things to do in Catania: fish market

An absolute must is visiting the Fish Market in the morning. The market happens right off the Piazza del Duomo—another top site to see in Catania. The fish market dates back to the 19th century, and definitely feels like you’re tapping into the pulse of the city when you’re walking through it. Definitely be aware that it’s not for the faint of heart! It will smell like fish, it will be messy, loud and wet, but that’s kind of the whole point. Just don’t wear your Sunday best!

things to do in catania: fish market

If you go to the fish market you’ll likely also see the Piazza del Duomo, but I really suggest coming back around golden hour/sunset. The way that the light reflects off the stunning baroque buildings is something I won’t be forgetting any time soon. The piazza is where you’ll also be able to see the Chiesa della Badia di Sant’Agata and the Cathedral of Saint Agata, two stunning baroque buildings bordering the piazza. There’s a lovely view if you head to the top of the Chiesa di Sant’Agata.

things to do in Catania: piazza del duomo

Mount Etna of course is one of the most famous things to do in Catania (though it’s technically outside of the city). You can see it on your own, but I personally recommend hiring a guide in some capacity—scroll down to the “Things to do” section for more on that.

things to do in catania: mount etna

The Monastero dei Benedettini is really famous and beautiful monastery that makes a lot of things to do in Catania lists, so I felt it was necessary to put it here, but I don’t think it’s like, the top priority of things to see. It’s certainly beautiful and if you have an interest in it, I recommend it, but don’t feel bad if you don’t fit it in.

The “Monday Fair” flea market at Piazza Carlo Alberto di Savoia is another way to get a sense of the local energy that Catania runs on. Here you’ll find all sorts of things, from produce to fish to counterfeit bags to vintage clothes and handmade home decor. I enjoyed this quite a lot because it’s not particularly touristy, and you can find some cute things if you’re looking to shop, or just have a nice afternoon. There doesn’t seem to be official times but it appears that things start winding down around 2pm. It’s at its biggest on Saturday, and it’s pretty wildly large, so you’ve been warned!

things to do in Catania

The Giardino Bellini is a stunning green space worth a visit, and it’s just north up Via Etnea from the Piazza del Duomo. There are lots of footpaths and benches and shade, and it’s a very well manicured space. There are often events held here, so be sure to check if there’s anything exciting on!

The Greek-Roman theatre is a really cool piece of history that you can see in Catania, especially because it’s so casually tucked in between the rest of the city center. I don’t really recommend paying to go inside, as the exhibit isn’t all that well done, but just getting to look from the outside is super worth it. Nearby is Via dei Crociferi, a notable street that has a concentration of beautiful baroque architecture for you to admire.

things to do in catania: amphitheatre

If you’re tired of all the ancient history on display, you can check out the contemporary art museum, MACS. It’s only €5 for a ticket and you’ll get to see a whole different side of Sicilian art compared to the traditional and older works in most churches and official buildings.

Finally, Catania’s other well known museum is housed within the Ursino Castle, just beyond the city center. Not only is there a permanent exhibit of the city’s history, but the castle also houses rotating exhibitions as well as hosting concerts and theatrical performances. Enjoy rubbing shoulders with locals and taking in some culture all at once!

What to do in Catania

I’m sure by this point it’ll come as no surprise that, when it comes to fun things to do in Catania, I’m always happy to just stroll around and take in the energy of the city. In fact, this is one of those cities where sometimes having less of a plan leads to a more exciting time. It’s small enough that you can get lost, but not too lost – you know?

That said, there are a few more structured things to do in Catania that I actually highly recommend to make the most of your visit.

In most cities – no matter where I’m traveling – I am big fan of starting my visit with a walking tour to get oriented. In Catania, we took an amazing walk tour that really gave us the lay of the land and helped us realize very quickly what we loved so much about the city – its people!

Sometimes I’ll choose to a walking tour specifically focused on street food or with a more niche topic – I find that the guides of these more specific tours are often so passionate that I walk away even more satisfied than I would from a general history tour.

In any case, here are some great options (including the walking tour we took – linked first!):

As I’ve already mentioned, visiting Mt. Etna is one of the top things to do in Catania for many visitors to the city. If you have a car it is possible to visit on your own, but my recommendation would absolutely be to take a Mt. Etna guided tour. Not only will your guide help keep you safe on the mountain, but there’s just an opportunity to learn SO much more about whatever it is that interests you – from the geology to the history to the mythology of the volcano.

Oh, and you don’t have to be a major hiker to enjoy Etna! There are plenty of experiences that involve either a jeep ride, cable car, or both. Just keep an eye out for any that don’t prominently advertise “trekking”!

Here are a few excellent options:

Finally, if volcanoes really just aren’t your thing, never fear! You can absolutely appreciate some of Sicily’s best nature during your stay in Catania with a boat tour! Whether you opt for sailing at sunset with aperitivi or a visit to the famous Cyclops islands at Aci Trezza, getting out on the sea is a must if you don’t already have other plans for that during your trip.

Where to eat in Catania

The food! The reason I wanted to come to Sicily in the first place, and one of my favorite categories of things to do in Catania, is of course the FOOD. Let me start by saying that there are so many amazing places to eat in Catania, so don’t feel pressured to take this as gospel – these are just the places that I was taken with!

Also I should note that I’ve excluded breakfast because breakfast just isn’t super common in Italy, so you’ll be hard pressed to find a true breakfast place. Most hotels offer some kind of breakfast, but if that doesn’t cut it for you I suggest just finding any bakery or cafe to get a granita, brioche, and cappuccino—the Sicilian way. If frozen and sweet isn’t your thing, you can always grab a pastry instead!

For lunch

When we first arrived in Catania we were starving, so after a quick walk around what was left of the fish market, we found ourselves at mm!! Trattoria. There’s no set menu but you’re guaranteed to find fresh and delicious options, and for a decent price as well!

If you find yourself tiring of Sicilian food (couldn’t be me, but hey, it happens) Fud Bottega Sicula is an incredibly popular burger restaurant that boasts delicious and well prepared burgers. They offer gluten free options as well, which can be hard to come by!

things to do in catania

For a more casual option, we fell in love with Panetteria Pacini for arancini and other amazing street foods, I highly recommend the ragu arancino. However, if you’re more in the mood for seafood focused street food, Scirocco is your best bet. It’s located near to the fish market, and they mostly sell fried fish snacks in a little paper cone.

La Pentolaccia is located near the center, but when you sit down in their courtyard, you almost forget you’re in the hustle and bustle. They serve traditional Sicilian food that is definitely something to write home about, and the staff is really nice. They’re also open for dinner!

For dinner

It was actually really hard to find pizza while we were in Sicily – maybe it was because of the time of year, maybe we were just getting unlucky, but Pizzeria Coppola really came through for us in our time of need! The aesthetic of this place did make us almost pass it over, but luckily we were in a rush to get to the airport and needed to find somewhere to sit ASAP. I’m really glad we ended up taking a chance because the pizza was so incredibly good. They have a lot of interesting flavors, but I can personally attest to the norma, as well as the burrata and pistachio option.

things to do in catania: pizzeria coppolla

I also highly recommend Razmataz Wine Bar for dinner and drinks—we had the loveliest experience here, the service was incredible and the vibes were great. I can also recommend Me Cumpari Turiddu, where Stanley Tucci ate when he was in town, although I preferred Razmataz to be honest.

La Taverna del Grande Albero and Trattoria Da Peppino di Tumia Giovanni are both super solid option for classic homestyle cooking in a no frills type of setting in a centrally located area.

Vuciata is located quite near the Piazza, on the charming and famous umbrella covered streets. While a lot of these restaurants give off a bit of a touristy vibe, this one is still pretty high quality, and the prices and portions are fair as well.

If you want pizza that’s a bit more upscale than the average spot, Squib Pizzeria is your best bet. They offer Neapolitan, Roman-style & Sicilian fried pizza and say that they have gluten free crust as well! Not always so easy to come by in Italy.

For everything else

I’m a huge dessert person, so let’s start there. You should definitely not miss Pasticceria Savia for world famous cannoli. It’s right off the Bellini Gardens, so you can make a stop inside and then eat your goodies in the park! Additionally Comis Ice Cafe had some of the best gelato and granita we had on our entire trip. I literally think about this place like once a week minimum.

things to do in catania: pasticceria savia

Boheme Mixology Bar had some of the best bar vibes of anywhere we checked out in Catania (in our opinion). The street outside is lined with armchairs and couches for everyone to sit on, and the vibe inside is very cool and curated. The drinks are expertly crafted as well. (Actually, this bar is on the same street as Razmataz and has great nightlife vibes if you’re looking for things to do in Catania at night).

Vermut is perfect if you’re looking for a light dinner, or maybe just want some snacks with your drinks. It’s more of a pub than anything else, but they have tapa-like plates. BarnAut has a similar vibe but is open all day, so you can actually hit them up for coffee as early as 10am, and they stay open until 2am!

Ready to explore the best things to do in Catania Sicily for yourself?

I hope you’re feeling inspired now by all the best things to do in Catania and starting to see why I think Catania is such an amazing city. When I say I am always dreaming of Catania…

If you’re still early in the planning of your Sicily trip, and not sure where else you want to go, check out my guide to 12 of the Best Places to Visit in Sicily. That guide covers the entire east side of the island, which means all of the destinations are within a stone’s throw of Catania.

Enjoy your trip to Catania and beyond – and try not to fall too hard for Sicily, ok?

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Where to Stay in Catania: 10 Amazing Hotels in the Heart of Sicily’s Coolest City

Catania is my favorite part of Sicily and let me tell you - it has some seriously cute and affordable places to stay! Check out this curated list of the best Catania hotels (and Vrbos).

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