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Best Things to Do in Catania – Markets, Historic Sites and Culture

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It’s time to experience the underrated gem of Sicily: Catania. This city is gaining much-deserved traction after being overlooked by Palermo for far too long. Sitting in the shadows of Mount Etna along the Mediterranean coast – these are the top things to do in Catania.  

Exploring Catania will elevate your travels in Sicily. It’s atmospheric, with gritty Baroque architecture blackened by volcanic ashes. You’ll find some of Sicily’s best-kept secrets and a culture that balances tradition and modernity while under the watchful eye of Saint Agatha. 

From the imposing Mount Etna to Piazza del Duomo and the Ancient Greek Theater, it’s no wonder this city has been dubbed a Unesco World Heritage Site. So, keep reading if you’re itching to explore the baroque jewel of Sicily’s East Coast

 Top Things to Do in Catania, Italy

Let’s explore some of the most promising activities and attractions when visiting Catania. 

Explore Catania’s Buzzing Historic Center

 catania things to do

There’s much to learn about this exciting and mysterious city – so where better to begin than the historic center? 

Corso d’Italia

The Corso d’Italia is the most sophisticated street in the city that runs from the seaside to Mount Etna. Grab your comfortable walking shoes to stroll along this prominent street. It’s characterized by tall buildings with tall windows and Juliette balconies, but you’ll also find designer boutiques, cafés, and hangout spots. 

Piazza del Duomo

catania activities

Piazza del Duomo should be one of the first attractions you should seek out when visiting Catania. Why? It’s not only the main square in Catania, but the buildings with their local Baroque architecture are stylishly ornate.  

The piazza is a Unesco World Heritage Site and the city’s beating heart. You can get lost in the sights, noise, and lingering smells here. Piazza del Duomo was constructed on the ruins of an ancient Roman Thermae between 1078 and 1093. Three streets enter the square, including Via Etnea.

The Cathedral rests on the east end, the smiling elephant statue and fountain sit in the middle, and Fontana dell’Amenano leads to the fish market in the southwest corner. 

Fountain of the Elephant

what to do in catania

While you’re in Piazza del Duomo, missing the adorable and iconic black lava elephant would be impossible. Architect Giovanni Battista Vaccarini designed Fontana dell’Elefante, which is dated between 1735 – 1737, and it features an Egyptian obelisk. So, it’s an intriguing artistic expression that blends various cultures and history.

The elephant is the official symbol of Catania, and interestingly, the reason why people refer to it as the “city of the elephant.” Standing right in the middle of the square, many myths and legends arise from the statue.

One legend states that a dwarfed elephant lived in Sicily during the Upper Paleolithic Times. It further suggests that this elephant protected the early Catanese from dangerous animals.

TOP TIP: Traveling with young children? Take this Family friendly private walking tour of Catania.

Fontana dell’Amenano

This Baroque fountain of mythical creatures is a masterpiece by Tito Angelini dating back to 1867. It also marks the entrance to the bustling food market, La Pescheria. What makes this fountain so special is the material with which it was sculpted: Carrara marble. This astonishingly unique-looking material is professionally crafted from one block to create a distinctive pattern.  

Porta Garibaldi

things to do in catania porta garibaldi

After seeing the Piazza del Duomo, stroll down Via Garibaldi to Porta Garibaldi. This historical landmark was originally built as the Porta Ferdinandea in 1768. Today, this triumphal arch serves as a reminder of the rebirth of Catania with “Melior de cinere surgo” inscribed under its arch.

These words roughly translate to “I rise from the ashes even more beautiful.” It’s an essential message as it allows the people to never forget about the 1669 eruption that destroyed at least ten villages. 

Giardini Bellini

What to do in Catania when you need fresh air and an opportunity to people-watch? The Bellini Gardens is ideal for a relaxing morning or afternoon stroll if you crave quiet time away from the bustling markets.

It’s the oldest public park in Catania, adorned with whimsical gardens filled with lush foliage and magical fountains. Located along Via Etnea, you’ll also absorb stunning views of Mount Etna from the garden.

LISTEN: To our podcast on the charms of Captivating Catania.

Taste Local Food and Browse Through Markets

catania things to do seafood

Sicilians love their seafood – however, there’s more to Catania than local fish markets. So, why not familiarize yourself with some top local dishes?

  • Arancini: stuffed rice balls coated with breadcrumbs and deep-fried.
  • Cartocciata: a small calzone pizza stuffed with various ingredients.
  • Granita with brioche: a semi-frozen dessert (think sorbet) served with brioche bread.
  • Pasta with pistachios: Sicilian pasta made with creamy pistachio sauce. 
  • Minne di Sant’Agata: small round pastries covered in white icing and a candied cherry on top.
  • Ricotta infornata: an oven baked cheese.

catania activities cheese

Here are some top markets and restaurants you should see when visiting Catania:

  • Fish Market/La Pescheria – the legendary fish market of Catania, also known as the pescarilla, is a buzzing market serving the freshest seafood to locals for about 900 years. It operates six days a week from dawn until about 13:00 as vendors loudly announce their catch of the day.
  • Fera o Luni in Piazza Carlo Alberto – a folkloric Street Market brimming with vintage clothing, fruits, baked goods, hand-made trinkets, and more. The market opens its stalls daily from 7:00 to 14:00.
  • A Putia Dell’Ostello – a vibrant restaurant with a dining room in a lava cave.
  • Ostier Vinoteca – an excellent restaurant that serves some of the finest selections of wine.
  • Sapio – a chic Michelin-starred restaurant serving authentic Sicilian cuisine.
  • Savia – a spot across the Bellini Gardens serving the best Arancini in Catania.

If you want a taster of the best local products, then join a food and market tour with a local expert for the best Catania foodie experience.

what to do in catania markets

LISTEN: To our podcast on the delicious food of the island, in Tastes of Sicily.

Visit the Catania Cathedral

Catania Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of Saint Agatha, is an embellished historical building with mesmerizing architecture and intricate interiors.

Santa Agata

santa agata catania things to do

Saint Agatha is the patron saint of Catania and is revered throughout the city. They could not hold her in higher esteem, as seen by all the statues, motifs, icons, and images of her all over the city.

A massive feast commemorating her is celebrated in the first week of February with historical parades, ceremonies, fireworks, and people carrying gigantic candelabra. It’s one of the most spectacular things you’ll ever witness as the city transforms into something extraordinary.

During the festival, Saint Agatha’s remains are carried in a silver-encrusted bust by devotees wearing white tunics and black caps as people swoon in her presence. They would then wave their white handkerchiefs up towards her in hopes of receiving many blessings.

You can visit the cathedral in Piazza del Duomo for free, where you’ll be met with Baroque architecture and graceful frescoes and paintings. It’s open daily between 7:00 am – 12:30, then again from 16:00 – 19:00.

Roman Ruins Under the Cathedral

If you’re wondering what to see in Catania, the best place to start would be one of the most significant buildings of the Roman Imperial age.

Not only was the Catania Cathedral destroyed and rebuilt several times due to Mount Etna’s eruptions, but it was also constructed on ancient Roman Achillean Baths between 1078 and 1093. You can see the remnants of a bygone era beneath the Cathedral itself via a flight of steps on the right side of the Cathedral’s facade, which leads down to a small door.

Access to these underground baths is through guided visits only.

Explore Historical Sites

If you’re a true history buff, you’ll be happy to know there are more sites to explore within Catania’s city center.

Monastery of San Nicolò l’Arena

catania things to do monastery

One highly recommended thing to do in Catania is to visit a former Benedictine monastery on Piazza Dante 30. The Monastery of San Nicolò l’Arena is one of the biggest of its kind in Europe and only a ten-minute walk from Catania Cathedral. Here, you’ll get an overwhelming taste of the late Sicilian Baroque and the Cassinese congregation behind this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

You can expect to find a Roman house, a roof garden, the cloisters, and the Department of Humanities of the University of Catania. The monastery is open daily from 9:30 – 17:00 at a €10 entrance fee.

Greek-Roman Theater

There are two amphitheaters in Catania: the Greek-Roman Theater and the Roman Amphitheater of Catania. The latter is currently temporarily closed, but you can visit the prior in the city center on Via Vittorio Emanuele II. Wander through this ancient and astonishing historical landmark every day from 9:00 to 19:00 at a €6 entrance fee.

Once a striking, opulent structure, this theater dates back to the 5th – 4th century BCE, hosting about 7,000 spectators. The stage would have been intricate and refined, adorned with marble columns.

 

Piazza Federico di Svevia

catania activities piazza federico di svevi

When figuring out what to see in Catania, a visit to Piazza Federico di Svevia should be on the table. Here, you’ll find Castello Ursino, a castle by the sea that showcases breathtaking architecture and a rich history. You can also explore the Civic Museum, a local WWII history museum brimming with artifacts, weapons, gorgeous paintings, and sculptures.

Visit the museum from Tuesdays to Sundays between 9:00 – 19:00. Expect to pay around €10 for entry.

PRO TIP: Marvel at Castello Ursino and other central landmarks with this city highlight walking tour.

Discover Sicilian Culture

Catania’s younger population is ushering in a more modern culture driven by a strong entrepreneurial spirit. That said, they haven’t forgotten their roots, and a powerful sense of vibrant Sicilian culture remains ever-present.

Puppets

what to do in catania puppets

Sicily has a beloved tradition of puppeteering, which sprang to life in the 19th century. It was a form of entertainment, a beacon of hope, and a reflection of the poorer community. The puppet shows were filled with legends and histories that taught people about good and evil, much like our modern films.

Today, the Sicilian community still celebrates this meaningful tradition, as seen at the Fratelli Napoli puppet show and workshop. The Fratelli Napoli is a family of master puppeteers who even create their puppets, including ones that are 100 years old.

Explore Palazzo Biscari

things to do in catania palazzo biscari

Visit the visually stunning Palazzo in central Catania to take in unforgettable sights. You’ll see the elegant exterior of the site as you drive through the aqueduct and come into the town. However, the inside is even more impressive, and you shouldn’t dare skip this one if you adore and appreciate historic craftsmanship.

Explore this private palace on Via Museo Biscari from Tuesdays to Fridays between 10:00 – 13:00 for €10.

READ: Our guide to the Best places to stay in Catania.

Take a Day Trip

Once you’ve experienced the entire city of Catania, you can explore more of Sicily with these exhilarating day trips.

Mount Etna

sicily what to see natural beauty

Mount Etna is not only the tallest active volcano in the world, but it’s also the DNA of Sicilian life. Her looming omnipresence is in every aspect of Sicily – from its cultural heritage and myths to the mineral-rich soil that allows the wine-making industry to flourish.

Nicknamed “Montebello,” which means “beautiful mountain” by the locals, there’s no denying that Etna is Catania’s pride. If you want a closer look, you can climb the mountain with a qualified and experienced guide via a day tour of Etna.

Ortigia

catania things to do day trip ortigia

Ortigia is another fantastic day trip from Catania in under an hour via the E45. Ortigia is a quaint island and historical center of Siracusa, or Syracuse, that overflows with rocky beaches and sea caves. Picture yourself strolling through cobblestoned alleyways with elegant boutique shops and inviting cafes coming into view — it’s dreamy.

Ortigia has historical landmarks like the elaborate Catholic Cathedral, Temple of Apollo, and Arethusa Spring worth visiting. Once you’ve seen all these sites, you can head to Siracusa’s ancient Greek Theater, boasting cityscapes from its position on the south slopes of the Temanite hill.

Taormina

catania activities day trip taormina

It takes roughly an hour to travel to Taormina to experience its village charm that takes you back to an ancient bygone era. Sitting on Sicily’s east coast, this hilltop town overflows with sandy beaches, picturesque buildings, and intriguing ruins. Sites like Teatro Antico di Taormina, Isola Bella Island, and Piazza IX Aprile come highly recommended.

Walking through the luxurious streets and absorbing the town’s opulent atmosphere will keep you busy for hours. The looming Mount Etna and sweeping Ionian seascapes serve as a cinema-worthy background for the picturesque city, which explains why White Lotus II was shot here.

Pop in at chic restaurants and upscale boutiques, or laze away on one of the fine beaches.

TIP:  Discover the wonder of Taormina in a Day trip to Taormina and Castel Moa.

Caltagirone

what to do in catania day trip caltagirone

Caltagirone is a classical city that’ll steal your heart. From refined palaces, astounding churches, and 17th-century villas to a world-renowned production of ceramics, this city should be on any traveler’s radar. You don’t want to miss the opulent Staircase of Santa María del Monte, the Cathedral of Saint Julian with its lovely bell tower, or the postcard-worthy Ponte San Francesco bridge.

Ceramics and pottery play a significant part in this Sicilian town’s traditions and culture – giving you lots to admire as you wander the decorated streets. You’ll notice this in the 142-step staircase adorned in local ceramics, the vibrant Ceramics Museum, and striking Moor’s Heads.

DISCOVER: Add more on the island to your itinerary for the Perfect Sicily stay.

Things to Do in Catania, Sicily – Wrapped Up

best things to do in catania sicily

Overall, is Catania worth visiting? Yes. This often overlooked destination emanates tradition, culture, and history for a unique experience. The tantalizing food, ornamented buildings, and festivities will draw you in, ensuring that you fully embrace its contagious atmosphere. From palazzi and puppets, a smoldering volcano to some of the finest wines and pistachios – who’d want to skip out on Catania?

DISCOVER: Another of Sicily’s resplendent cities in our guide to the Best things to do in Palermo.

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