Catania’s beautiful historic centre is characterized by architecture that is unique in the world. In short, there are many things to do and see in Catania, one of the most dynamic cities in Sicily. So let’s get started right away and discover the perfect itinerary for visiting the city.
What to see in Catania, a Sicilian pearl in the shadow of Etna
Catania, located on Sicily’s eastern coast, is born and “dies” with Etna. Porta Garibaldi, a triumphal arch constructed in 1768, bears the inscription: "Melior de cinere surgo", which translates as “I rise from the ashes more beautiful than before.” These words refer to the fact that Catania has been destroyed several times: earthquakes, eruptions, invasions and wars have repeatedly razed the city to the ground, yet it has always returned even more beautiful than before. The Catania that we visit today “dates back” to the terrible earthquake of 1693, after which the city was completely rebuilt. It was constructed at the height of the Baroque period and this is reflected in the architectural style used and, consequently, in the city’s atmosphere. So without further ado, let’s find out what there is to see in Catania.
Piazza del Duomo, Catania Cathedral and the historic centre
Let’s start our trip to Catania in one of its most famous places: Piazza del Duomo. The square contains one of the city’s most beloved symbols: "O Liotru", which is Sicilian for “the little elephant”. Perched on a fountain, legend has it that the elephant is responsible for protecting the city from the fury of Etna. The elephant is not the only point of interest in Piazza del Duomo, which is surrounded by numerous splendid buildings: from Palazzo degli Elefanti, a perfect synthesis between Baroque exuberance and Neoclassical order, to Palazzo Dei Chierici, which is joined to Catania Cathedral by a passage above Porta Uzeda.
Let’s focus our attention on Catania Cathedral, a splendid example of religious Baroque. Its exterior is built with Carrara marble and its features were masterfully designed by Palermitan architect Giambattista Vaccarini. The interior, which is characterized by three naves and a Latin cross, conceals various treasures: in addition to the relics of Saint Agatha, contained in the chapel of the same name, inside the church – right in front of the altar – you can find the tomb and remains of composer Vincenzo Bellini, who was born in Catania.
If you are passionate about architecture and want to learn more about Catania’s unique Baroque style, our advice is to walk around the city, where you will be amazed at every step: from the numerous churches to the Benedictine Monastery, the Palazzo dell'Università and the aforementioned Porta Uzeda , admiring the city’s Baroque wonders will make it immediately clear why Catania’s historic centre is now a World Heritage Site protected by UNESCO.
Continue along Via dei Crociferi and prepare to be astounded after passing the Arco di San Benedetto. After the famous Angel’s Staircase, which belongs to San Benedetto church, and the cloister inside the Jesuit College, you then come to the Chiesa di San Giuliano, which is universally considered as one of the masterpieces of Catanian Baroque.
Next, take the time to admire the splendid features of the Teatro Massimo Vincenzo Bellini, named after the famous musician from Catania. Built in 1890, it is a truly beautiful place, which you can also visit inside.
Underground Catania: the memory of a bygone city
Catania, a magnificent city in the light of the sun, also hides wonderful treasures underground. Just like Naples, this Sicilian city has an intricate network of underground caves and tunnels which, during the Second World War, were used by residents as a bomb shelter. So in addition to admiring the attractions on the surface, it is also necessary to take the time to discover what the city offers below ground, in so-called Underground Catania, since Catania, which has been destroyed and reborn several times, preserves the memory of its past under the road surface.
Here, you can witness the Roman city, with its wonderful Achillian thermal baths, sumptuous domus, catacombs and necropolis; next, you can admire Early Christian Catania with the Chiesa di San Gaetano, immediately followed by medieval Catania, which then gives way to the modern city. On the surface stands the splendid city as we know it today. Catania has a truly unique layout and this is why it must be visited in full, from its remotest labyrinths to the magnificent modern city that shines in the light of the sun.
San Giovanni Li Cuti: the small fishing village in Catania
Lying in the shadow of Etna, Catania is a maritime city and it partly preserves this heritage. San Giovanni Li Cuti is a small village whose unique atmosphere, which resembles that of a small fishing village, captivates tourists. Small, but beautiful, San Giovanni Li Cuti continues to resist urbanization and its marina is a marvel that is admired by residents and tourists alike. If you visit Catania in the summer, you can also enjoy the small black sand beach here.
The Catania seaside: the nearest beaches
Given that we have just referred to the black beach of San Giovanni Li Cuti, we must necessarily mention the beach life that every tourist can enjoy in Catania’s surrounding area. You just need to walk along the coast for a few kilometres to reach splendid seaside resorts. The most famous of these is undoubtedly Plaia, which is located less than 20 km south of the city. In addition to a stunning sea, you will also find a resort equipped with facilities, bars and restaurants. If you happen to be in the area during the summer, it is certainly a must-visit destination.
Trip to Catania: an Etna excursion
Etna rises majestically behind Catania. It hangs over the city and invites you to admire its contours. If you want to take a closer look at Europe’s highest volcano, an Etna excursion is the perfect solution: there are many possibilities, routes and transport options for getting there. Consult an experienced guide, who will be able to recommend the route that is most suited to your skill and interests: you can go on a walk or take a trip by car. However, many people decide to use the Circumetnea railway, which runs around the volcano’s lower ring.
What to eat in Catania: the gourmet side of a trip to Sicily
The city’s monuments and architecture enchant your gaze and its cuisine delights your taste buds. Catania thrills every sense and pleases the palate. Catanian cuisine – and Sicilian cuisine in general – is among the most delicious in the world: it is genuinely difficult to be left dissatisfied by one of the many dishes that symbolize this land. Tempt yourself with the restaurants, trattorias and kiosks that are scattered throughout the city: their cuisine is suited to every palate. Let’s start with the quintessential street food: the arancino. Because you cannot claim to have been to Catania if you have never tasted one. The most ardent carnivores will appreciate one of the city’s oldest culinary traditions: horse meat, prepared in many different ways, which will certainly not disappoint. One of the most notable first courses is “pasta alla Norma”, a masterpiece of goodness. However, the most tempting part of Catania’s cuisine is its desserts: from “cannoli” to “minnuzze” pastries and iris, the quintessential Catanian dessert, which consists of sweet fried dough with a white or chocolate cream filling. In short, there is no lack of good food in Catania.
To visit Catania and Italy, you must have a passport or ID card that is valid for travel abroad. The country is part of the European Union.
If you are planning a trip to Catania and you do not want to devote yourself to beach life, avoid the summer: Catania is one of the hottest cities in Italy. If you want to visit the city’s attractions, the best time to visit Catania is undoubtedly spring: temperatures are pleasant from late March to late May, the sky is clear and there is minimal rainfall. Although temperatures in autumn and winter are certainly not harsh, you nevertheless have to take into account the greater chances of experiencing rainy days.