Catania simply knows everything about the art of enjoying life to the fullest. It’s the food, the rich heritage and the magnetic energy that make this city one of the most charming Italian gems. Not visiting Catania on your trip to Sicily is almost like missing out on a birthday party as a child. Even in case you’re limited by time. One day in Catania is actually quite enough time to indulge in the local lifestyle, try some Sicilian specialties and plunge into the city’s lively nightlife.
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What’s the best time to visit Catania?
Even though Catania is recognized as one of the best Italian summer destinations, the city can be visited at any time of year. It enjoys mild winters and warm, sunny summers. Italians just love to spend their Ferragosto vacations (holidays in August) there, and with all those international tourists around, you may want to skip visiting Catania in August.
However, June, July and September should be perfect if you really want to spend your trip sunbathing, but be prepared for a lot of heat. Spring and autumn bring less crowds and more affordable prices, but if you really want to experience the city with very few tourists around, go there in winter. The temperatures are mild, around 15°C (59°F), plus it’s when the city’s biggest festivity – Festa di Sant’Agata (the city’s patron saint) occurs. Two days of street parades, from February 3rd to February 5th, with an incredible atmosphere, fireworks and excellent food! Another festa of the same patron saint is held in summer, on August 17th.
A few facts about Catania
Catania is the second largest city on Sicily, located on the island’s east coast at the foot of Mount Etna, the biggest European volcano.
The city that was founded in the 8th century BC still has a very well preserved ancient remains of the Greek and Roman settlements. The city was destroyed multiple times by catastrophic earthquakes in 1169 and 1693 and by several volcanic eruptions. The most destructive was the one from 1669 that destroyed 15 villages together with a big part of Catania. In the city’s reconstruction in years after the earthquake, volcanic rocks were used as the main building material, which is why the city was given the nickname “grey city”. The whole new center that was rebuilt in decorative Baroque style in the following period is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Today, the city is a major transportation hub, a bustling university city and the industrial and commercial centre of Sicily.
One Day in Catania Itinerary
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do on your one day in Italy.
Enjoy your morning at the markets
In Sicily, food markets are the most authentic show of street life. There, you can feel the real soul of the city and the region. Therefore, there’s no better way to start your morning than visiting these bustling locations – the fish market and the food market. Consider taking a street food tour to experience food market like locals do.
At the very center of Catania, only a few steps from Piazza del Duomo, you’ll find the famous La Pescheria (fish market). Loud shouts, chatter, the vibrancy, and a huge variety of fish make this market an assault on all senses. There is a number of great seafood restaurants close by, but leave that for later.
A little further on, you’ll find another symphony of colors and scents at the fresh food market which sells seasonal vegetables and juicy fruit, much of it grown on the fertile soil around the city. In the narrow alleys, you’ll also find stalls selling meat, cheese, herbs, spices and dried fruit, so this is your opportunity to buy some authentic souvenirs.
Spend some time at Piazza del Duomo
After you finish your market stroll, head back to the city’s central square – Piazza del Duomo. This lively square has an abundance of interesting sights, but the stunning Cathedral of Sant’Agata will easily captivate all of your attention. The Baroque cathedral was constructed after a destructive earthquake in place of a Norman cathedral by using volcanic rock as the building material. You can pay a visit to the inside of the church where you’ll find Bellini’s tomb and Cappella di Sant’Agata.
On the square, you’ll also see the quirky Elephant Fountain and two palaces, Palazzo Degli Elefanti (Town Hall) and Palazzo dei Chierici, standing across each other.
In case you want to get a great panoramic view of the whole area, visit the church Badia Sant’Agata that sits on Via Vittorio Emmanuelle II, facing the Cathedral. You can climb up to the dome for a 360° view of the historic centre with the thrilling Mt Etna on the horizon. In case you are looking for a tour to Mt Etna, definitely check this half-day excursion from Catania.
Visit the historic centre along with Via Crocifieri
But Piazza del Duomo is only the beginning of exploring the incredible city heritage. Only a short walk from there, you’ll reach Via dei Crocifieri. This particular street is a symbol of Catanese Baroque period, since there are four Baroque churches in the span of about 200 meters. Make sure to check them all from the street level, and if you want to pay a visit to one of them head to San Giuliano Church. This church offers a private tour to the rooftop terrace for the cost of only a few euros.
After the rooftop tour, head straight until you reach Via Antonio Di Sangiuliano. There’s one particular section of that street lined with oleander trees that’s probably one of the most beautiful spots in the whole of Catania.
Enjoy exquisite Sicilian flavours for lunch
You’re probably hungry by now. Luckily, you’re in a city that offers so many great culinary treats that it’s impossible to bet on only one dish or one restaurant. For the biggest selection of pizzas, head to La Cirra – a relatively new place in town offering all sorts of savory and sweet pizzas.
If you want to enjoy many small dishes at once, visit Uzeta Bistro Siciliano – a lovely restaurant with a wide selection of Catanese tapas (arancini is a must), reasonably priced. If you’re looking for an outstanding seafood restaurant or you want to try the famous Sicilian pasta with sardines, then Filo d’esca is the place to go. And don’t even think of leaving this restaurant without trying their desserts.
Admire the architecture of Teatro Romano
The city that was once under the Romans still has remains older than two thousand years to prove it. And while most of its amphitheater was buried in an earthquake and you can only see a small section of it – the Roman Theatre along with the Odeon is much more preserved and provides a great architectural experience. The theatre can hardly be seen from the street, since it’s tucked away among the houses, but once you pass behind the entry doors you’ll find yourself in the middle of theatre orchestra. Besides the open area, you can explore the internal walkways and rooms for performers located in the area below the seats. Today, the theatre is still in use and houses some musical events and contemporary plays.
Pay a visit to the Monastery of San Nicolò l’Arena
One of the largest monasteries in Europe, the Monastery of San Nicolò l’Arena is another UNESCO World Heritage Site not far from Teatro Romano. It was founded in the 16th century but later modified in the years after the destructive earthquake and Etna eruption. What makes this building so special is the integration of many different architectural styles from ancient times onwards. To fully understand its history, book a guided tour, otherwise just visit its courtyard and the church of San Nicolò l’Arena. Monumental and dark but unfinished external façade of the church is in contrast with its more elegant and white interior.
Admire the monumental Castello Ursino
It’s been a busy day of walking and exploring the cultural and architectural heritage of Catania, and last but not least is one of the most beautiful examples of Italian castles – the magnificent Castello Ursino. This 13th century castle was built as a royal residence of the Kingdom of Sicily and has recently been fully renovated to its former glory. It houses Museo Civico, a charming museum that features art, royal archeological collection, antiquities and other important artifacts from the Classical era onward. The monumental and impressive exterior is worth visiting even if you skip the museum tour.
Enjoy Sicilian seafood
Now it’s time to go back to the fish market. In the afternoon, after the market stalls close, many small seafood eateries around the market square open their doors. These charming fry-up restaurants offer different kinds of seafood snacks, but most of them serve arancini stuffed with shrimps, calamari or any other seafood. If you crave some pizza, try Siciliana – fried pizza stuffed with anchovies and cheese.
However, if you prefer trattoria-style seafood, there’s one family-run trattoria right next to Castello Ursino. In trattoria Il Gambero Pazzo, you’ll find typical Sicilian seafood dishes served with local wine, all very reasonably priced. No wonder the locals simply love it. The place is usually packed during dinner hours, so make sure you reserve your table on time.
Enjoy the bubbly nightlife
The fact that this is a university city makes the nightlife in Catania everything but boring. The student spirit can be felt in the way the city looks and feels, especially at night. During summer, many young people gather around plazas, drinking their cocktails while listening to some live concerts or just sipping their drinks and chatting on the bar terraces.
If you want to enjoy live music at the very center of the city, head to A putia dell’Ostello. To blend in with locals, order yourself an Aperol Spritz – a refreshing, Italian-style cocktail. First Lounge Bar is another great bar, a sort of a hidden gem located in the former rundown part of the city. This eclectic bar will win you over with its artsy courtyard, great selection of drinks and cozy atmosphere.
Where to stay in Catania?
Duomo Suites & Spa
Via Garibaldi, 23, 95121 Catania
You can guess from the name – Duomo Suites & Spa is very close to the cathedral and therefore located in the city centre. As a matter of fact, you are literally just a few steps away from the main square. Modern and comfortable rooms will provide plenty of rest, and you can even order a massage to your room if you’re feeling sore after spending the day exploring Catania. The roof of this hotel terrace is an excellent place to relax, too.
Asmundo di Gisira
40 Via Gisira, 95121 Catania
Staying in Asmundo di Gisira also means staying in the very centre of Catania. You’re just a minute or two away from the cathedral and many other sights, so it’ll be easy to explore everything from here. What makes this place stand out is its unique interior, and you can also enjoy a drink on the shared terrace that’s just above the city streets. Fantastic location, excellent rooms and extremely friendly and capable staff – this is everything you need for a good vacation.
Via Fornai, 44, 95100 Catania
A beautiful blend of modern hostels and traditional stone houses of Sicily, Eco Hostel is a great place to stay for all young travelers who come here. The shared bathroom has a hot tub, and you get continental breakfast every morning. With the location being fairly close to Teatro Romano, you’ll be able to visit some of the city’s most famous attractions without the slightest problem.
Extra tips for visiting Catania
Instead of touring the city on foot, you can take a hop-on hop-off circular bus or train, both departing from Piazza del Duomo every half an hour.
Most of the bars and restaurants include a cover charge in the price, known as coperto. Additional tipping is not customary.
Restaurants have very strict opening hours. Most of them work from 12 PM until 3.30 PM and then reopen for dinner around 7 PM. Finding a place to eat around 5 PM is almost impossible.
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Anca is a travel writer and the founder of One Day Itinerary - the biggest collection of travel itineraries for those who are time-limited or just want to maximize their time while traveling. Although she easily becomes homesick for Croatia, she thinks travel is essential to her happiness. She has traveled to more countries than she is years old and doesn’t plan on changing that fact. In her travel guides she aims to inspire people to travel whenever they have a spare day (or two).