We started our Sicilian adventure in Catania, Sicily’s second-largest city, after Palermo. It’s located on Sicily’s east coast facing the Ionian Sea and lies under the shadow of Mount Etna.
Following the devastating earthquake of 1693 that destroyed most of the city and killed more than 30,000 of its inhabitants, Catania was rebuilt in the decorative Baroque style that you see today. With wide streets, huge piazzas and endless ornate churches and palaces, much of it built from black volcanic rock from Mount Etna.
The town is a little scruffy with many crumbling palazzos, but that adds to its charm. It’s one of those cities that the more you explore and discover new neighbourhoods, the more you fall in love with the place. And oh, the food!
Piazza Del Duomo
Catania’s historic centre (Centro Storico) is centred around the Piazza del Duomo, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It’s Catania’s central piazza and is surrounded by baroque style buildings, built with an eclectic mix of lava and limestone.
The Piazza del Duomo is also home to the quirky Fontana dell’ Elefante statue. It’s a black lava elephant balancing an Egyptian obelisk on its back. It’s said that the elephant has magical powers and can predict any eruptions from nearby Mount Etna.
Top Tip – We found WiFi a bit iffy at times in Sicily, but if you need a good, fast connection in Catania, head for coffee at the Cafe Duomo. It’s nothing special, but it offers decent coffee, a view of the square and cathedral and high-speed WiFi.
Cathedral of Saint Agatha (Duomo Di Catania, Cattedrale Di Sant’Agata)
The baroque facade of Catania’s Cathedral dominates the Piazza del Duomo and is dedicated to Saint Agatha, the patron saint of Catania.
Originally, constructed in 1078-1093, on the ruins of the Roman Achillean Baths, the cathedral has been destroyed and rebuilt several times because of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions from nearby Mount Etna. The most catastrophic event was the earthquake of 1693, which almost completely destroyed the building. It was subsequently rebuilt in the Baroque style that you see today.
Best Viewpoint Of Catania City
No city break is complete without climbing a million steps to appreciate the view and Catania is no exception. Just off Piazza del Duomo and around the corner from the cathedral is the Church of the Abbey of Saint Agatha (Chiesa della Badia di Sant’Agata.) For €5, you can climb up to the top.
You initially come out on a platform, and you’ll think nice view but not really worth €5, so be sure to go all the way up to the top via the spiral staircase. It’s a bit narrow so don’t eat too many cannolis beforehand and then you’ll think yay, that was worth it.
Catania Fish Market
An interesting place to experience when in Catania is the smelly, but fun atmosphere of their famous fish market. The market is open every day from 7 am to 2 pm, except on Sundays. But go early as many stores start closing around midday.
Its located on Piazza Alonzo di Benedetto, just off the central Piazza del Duomo. Just follow your nose!
The market is quite lively and animated, with the stallholders and local fisherman shouting and gesticulating to attract buyers. As well as fish, there’s a great selection of local fruits, vegetables and cheese!
Roman Theatre of Catania (Teatro Romano)
Sicily has several Roman Theatres, and the Teatro Romano in Catania is just one of many we visited on our Sicilian adventure. It’s just up from the Piazza del Duomo as you head towards the Via dei Crociferi.
Built during the 2nd century BC, the theatre features a central seating area and a smaller Odeon theatre to the left-hand side.
The theatre seats and other sections are created from volcanic lava from Mount Etna. It’s in excellent condition and worth the entrance fee.
It’s open daily from 9 am to 5 pm except on Sundays when it’s open from 9 am to 1 pm. Admission fee is €6.
Via dei Crociferi
From the Roman Theatre, continue towards Via dei Crociferi. It’s a beautiful street packed with historic buildings, churches and archways.
Roman Amphitheatre of Catania
We were just wandering the streets like you do when we stumbled upon a Roman Amphitheatre. Not really expected at a fairly significant crossroads in the centre of town, just to the north of Piazza Stesicoro, but that’s what we love about this corner of the world.
You can look down at the amphitheatre from street level, but of course, we needed to take a closer look. It was free to enter, but note it’s closed on Sundays and Mondays.
Only a small section of the structure is visible, roughly about a tenth of its original size. But in its heyday, it’s estimated that from
the theatre’s dimensions it could hold 15,000 sitting spectators and probably double that number for standing spectators.
Did You Know?
Probably the main difference between a Roman theatre and a Roman Amphitheatre is the shape. Theatres have a semi-circular arrangement of raised seating that looks onto a stage, whereas an amphitheatre is usually circular or oval and the seating surrounds a central open area. ‘Amphi’ comes from the Greek word for around.
Via Etnea is Catania’s main shopping street. It’s one long straight road that starts from the Piazza del Duomo and leads right up to the foothills below Mount Etna. On clear days, you can see Mount Etna rising majestically at the end of it. The Via Etnea is lined with shops, bars and pavement cafes.
Villa Bellini Park
The Villa Bellini Park, just off the Via Etnea is the largest park in the heart of Catania. The park was finished in 1883 and includes several green areas, a staircase and two hills, from which you get a lovely view of Catania. As green space is limited in our current home base in Malta, it was nice to relax here in a shady spot under the trees for a while.
Piazza Carlo Alberto Market
The Piazza Carlo Alberto Market is one of the leading markets in Catania. It’s packed with stalls selling all kinds of food, clothes and goods. Usually, we love strolling through markets on our travels, but in Covid times, we opted to avoid the crowds and admire from a distance.
Castello Ursino – Catania’s Castle
The castle looks pretty impressive from the outside, but we arrived too late to enter. Anyway, we had come to this part of town to eat; now there’s a surprise. There were several cool looking bars and restaurants close to the castle.
San Giovani Li Cuti
About a 30-40 minute walk along the coast, you will come to a cute little fishing village San Giovani Li Cuti with its black lava rock beach. To be honest, a coastal walk may sound lovely, but it wasn’t as scenic as it sounds. You are walking alongside a busy road most of the way with a train track on the other, so maybe opt to drive there or take local transport.
Once you arrive, you see a picturesque small harbour at the northern end of the beach, that’s full of old wooden fishing boats that are still used by the locals, and several bars and restaurants.
This was embarassing…
On our way to the Li Cuti, the heavens opened so we ran for shelter. A backpacker laid stretched out on the only bench that was out of the rain. Even though many others were waiting nearby, he wasn’t budging. As I’m learning Italian, out of curiosity, I looked up how to say selfish pig to show Jonathan for a laugh. Not realising the sound of my phone was on, my mobile blared out, ‘maiale egoista’. Rather embarrassing, but the guy moved.
Catania’s Signature Dish – Pasta alla Norma
We always love trying the local speciality, and here in Catania, the signature dish is Pasta alla Norma. I knew I would love it because it’s made from tomato sauce, eggplants, ricotta cheese, and fresh basil and anything with eggplant is just fine by me!
The dish is named after La Norma, the famous opera composed in 1831 by Vincenzo Bellini, a native of Catania.
We had some great food around Catania. We were only in town for three nights, but we had some fabulous meals. Here are some of our favourites.
- Trattoria U Fucularu – when you see a line of people waiting, and the adjacent restaurants are empty; you know the food has to be good. Make a reservation or go early to get a table. We had a delicious pasta here with blue cheese and a fabulous array of fish for an antipasto to share. Apparently, their Pasta alla Norma, Catania’s signature dish is terrific here, but we didn’t know of that until afterwards!
- Pizzeria/ Trattoria La Quartara – stopped here for lunch and enjoyed Pasta alla Norma, which soon became my go-to meal throughout Sicily. Jonathan enjoyed a massive plate of fried fish. The waiter was very kind and encouraged my abysmal attempts at speaking Italian.
- Eat Pizzeria – Venturing a bit further from our guesthouse; we came across this place. It’s a modern pizza restaurant but came highly recommended. Well, you have to have at least one pizza on your travels in Sicily, don’t you? Just thinking about this place is making me crave pizza.
- Il Gambero Pazzo – well, you can’t come to Catania and not have some fish. Friends of ours in Malta recommended this place. It’s not too far from the Castello Ursino. It was a little bit tricky to find, but when you did, you are met by friendly staff and served great seafood on a charming leafy terrace.
Best Time To Visit Catania
The best time to enjoy sightseeing in Sicily, without the crowds and excessive heat is to visit in spring and autumn. You’ll have some gorgeous weather but do bring an umbrella, especially in autumn as when it rains, it really rains.
How To Get To Catania
Coming from Malta, we took the fast ferry from Valletta to Pozzallo with Virtu Ferries. Only 90 minutes and plenty of space onboard. From Pozzallo, there’s a train to Catania via Siracusa.
However, there is an airport in Catania. From the airport to the town, buses depart every 20 minutes or of course, taxis. Taxis overall were a bit pricey in Sicily. The likes of Uber don’t exist.
Top Tip: We travelled to and onward from Catania by train. We used the OMIO app. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m technically challenged but using the app to find train times and book tickets was really easy. It’s free to download and use too!
Next stop: Taormina
Have you been to Sicily? Tell us about your trip in the comments below – we’d love to hear!