What to do for one day in Catania or during a layover / stopover
If you have followed me for some time you would have realized by now that I don’t believe that you can “do” ANY place in just one day yet alone an entire city! I understand that limited time and budget have pushed travellers to the rush side and I have fell to this trap myself too but we need to face the reality: even the most “boring” city can not be done within few hours. Having said that I had a bit over one day in Catania, Sicily during a layover- I was travelling from Greece to Malta through Italy- so I did my research to use my time there as efficiently as possible. Soon after I realised that most of the recommended Catania things to do include day trips to Etna / Taormina / beaches / other villages around Sicily etc. Oh no people, I just want to explore Catania itself! Long story short, I took my notes from different sources, asked Italian friends, considered some TripAdvisor comments, walked countless hours and took a lot of photos so I could write a guide of what to do in Catania in one day / layover for other people who want to spend time in this Sicilian city!
A bit more about Catania
Founded by Greeks around 700 BC Catania is not the tiny city you might have imagined! It has approximately 320.000 inhabitants and along with its Metropolitan area the number climbs to over 1M! Hence, it is the 10th largest city of Italy and the 2nd largest in Sicily after Palermo. Catania has been through major earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and wars throughout the centuries and as a result it has been rebuilt many times; now its old town is considered one of the most important baroque architecture style in Italy protected by UNESCO.
Catania Points of interest
Because of that undoubtedly the historical centre is a must do! I do believe that walking as much as you can is the most important thing to do in Catania especially if you have only 1 day to spend here. Considering you are coming from the airport I would recommend you to stop at Borsellino square and work your way north-west to reach the historical centre. There are important buildings everywhere mingled with narrow streets, shops and graffiti – this reminded me a bit of Athens. However, if you are planning to stay for at least 1 night here you can check out some deals on hotels/ hostels.
During my long walk I stumbled upon at least 5 different palaces (palazzo) -including Hernandez, Platamone and many others for which you need a week to visit thoroughly. Some used to be monasteries or famous people’s homes and in nowadays are either open to the public as touristic attractions or exhibitions places or are under construction.
A stroll around the old town will definitely lead you to Piazza Duomo in some point where you can see the Fontana dell’Elefante, a Roman fountain built in 1757 featuring a carved elephant sculpture which is now the symbol of the city! Awkward, right? The fountain is surrounded by the Palazzo degli Elefanti (oh yes the palace of the elephants whatever that means!) and the Baroque Cathedral of Sant Agata; of course, as any other Italian piazza Duomo, the square has a lot of (touristic) restaurants, cafes, hotels and some museums around and it is the soul of the city.
More things to Do in Catania : Theatres
Two historical landmarks are the theatres of the city – the ancient and the opera. The Roman Theatre of Catania (Teatro Romano ) which was built around 300BC, is less impressive than Colosseum of course but still very beautiful considering its age! It is located western of Piazza Duomo just 5 minutes on foot via Vittorio Emanuele II and it is rather small so you don’t need to spend much time inside. On the other side of the city, northeast of Piazza Duomo and less than 10 walking distance one can find the Opera house (Teatro Massimo Bellini located on the homonym square) which hosts a lot of concerts, ballet plays and operas. From time to time there are even guided tours inside the theatre open to the public (with a small fee of around 6€) but for the most updated information please head to their official website.
Where & What to Eat in Catania
I am pretty sure you are already aware of how tasty the food in Italy is, even if you have yet to be here it is so famous worldwide that you couldn’t have missed this information! I won’t write about the horse and the donkey meat the Sicilians eat (I am vegetarian after all!) but I will focus on the veggie options that you need to try! Arrancini : the fried balls filled with rice and other ingredients ; the vegetarian recipes I love are the spinach & ricotta (“agli spinaci”) and the eggplants (“alla norma” – typical from Catania) ones. Regarding pasta choices Pasta alla Norma (tomato sauce, eggplants and ricotta) and Pistachio Pesto are two excellent vegetarian choices. Catania is full of traditional restaurants (=trattorias) so you won’t have a hard time to find where to eat. Regarding desserts the crispy cannoli are the Queen here (I eat a lot of them in Malta anyway hehe) which are filled with ricotta or cream in different flavors and can be found in any pastry shop. As I have been to Italy over 35 times so far I do not really note down the places I eat anymore but in Catania I discovered a beautiful decorated desserts /coffee shop which felt like a grandmother’s home, in fact it’s name is I Dolci di Nonna Vincenza (Grandmother’s desserts!) and as I found out later, their Sicilian recipes have travelled to Milan and Rome too! Don’t worry, you can find cannoli here!
When to visit Catania
The season you will be visiting Catania plays a vital role. The winters are mild with temperature running from 5oC – 17oC but the summers are hot with the temperature running up to 40oC! Since Catania is a perfect sized city for an all day walking tour you may have difficulties doing that in the summer, especially if you are not used to the high Mediterranean temperatures! I was in Catania mid November and I just needed a light jacket in the night and an umbrella for the unpredictable showers throughout the day! On the other hand if you want to swim in the near beaches, winter is a no-no! Needless to say that having one day in Catania won’t leave you time for swimming anyway!
Catania Layover/ Stopover : From the airport to city centre
Sicily is a popular destination and not too far from Central/ Northern Europe. To give you an idea London to Sicily flight time is a bit over 3 hours! Additionally, it is super easy and convenient to reach Catania centre from the airport (which is called Fontanarossa by the way!). There is the local bus no 457 which costs 1€ only but it is scheduled every 40 minutes and the AMT Alibus which costs 4€ but the service is more frequent and the ticket is valid for 90 minutes for all urban lines in Catania. If your stopover is short I definitely recommend the latest option. I used both buses (the local bus to reach the city and Alibus on the way back as I was in a hurry for the flight!) and both are fine, fast and reliable. However, please take into account that the traffic can be challenging! The total journey is 20-30 minutes as the airport is only 7-8km away.
Is Catania worth visiting?
This is an easy one… yes! I loved its vibe and the history of the town, the students’ alternative corners, shops and alleys and the seaside lifestyle. Moreover, the controversial of seeing the baroque style next to the ruined houses, that graffiti wall next to a palazzo and the ancient ruins next to the contemporary shops. It can feel dirty but it is vibrant and hippie too, a late-nightlife city; Catania is worth visiting even if it is sometimes overlooked by lots of travellers or just used as a base for the surrounding more popular landmarks/ sites as before-mentioned!
Last but not least: since it is Sicily here, is it safe to visit Catania?
I know there is an ongoing conversation about the safety in Southern Italy. In general I have never felt unsafe in Italy more than other European countries, even late at night. As a solo female traveller in Catania I felt safe but some neighbourhoods around the historical centre had indeed a dodgy feeling after 9-10PM. However, nothing unfortunate happened. Next time I will be there I will check beforehand if I have to avoid any specific streets late at night but that’s all! Of course being aware of your surroundings is as always a must!
Hehehehe, now you caught a glimpse of Sicilians! Do you agree with that? Would you explore the city during a layover/ stopover or if you had only one day in Catania? Please comment below, I am curious to know!