It is the second largest city after Palermo in terms of population , about 300,000. Let’s start with a bit of history and then discover the 14 things to see in Catania. Its origins go all the way back to the Greeks, who after founding Naxos, built near the Benedictine monastery the first urban center, Katane. Catania was subsequently dominated by other peoples, each of which has left its mark. Peoples such as the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs and the Normans, who found here a rich and fertile land.
The past of Catania has however been very troubled, a city that has always coexisted with the volcano , Mount Etna . This coexistence was not at all easy, as when in 1669 the lava destroyed part of the city . This event was followed a few years later, in 1693, by a terrible earthquake which severely damaged the city.
And so the city rose again and was rebuilt with the Sicilian Baroque style or, like the cities of Scicli , Modica , Ragusa Ibla , Palazzolo Acreide , Militello , Noto and Acireale , all cities, together with Catania, declared a World Heritage Site. The city is now very busy, chaotic at times and the inhabitants generally have a fiery character, just like the volcano.
Tip from Topsecretsicily: To discover all the secrets of the city you can book a guided walking tour.
Let’s go now to find out what to see in Catania.
1. The Cathedral of Catania
Piazza Duomo is the heart of the city of Catania . What we find here today is the result of the reconstruction carried out after the earthquake of 1693. On this square there are various Baroque palaces and the cathedral dedicated to S. Agata, while in its center there is a fountain, with the characteristic liotru, a lava stone elephant that supports an obelisk.
The fountain itself was built around 1750, while the elephant and obelisk have much older origins. In fact, the obelisk seems to come from Egypt, brought here by the Romans. The origins of the elephant in lava stone are less certain. It seems that it was built during the domination of the Carthaginians, therefore more than 2500 years ago, to protect Catania from the eruptions of Etna. But why was an elephant built ? According to an ancient legend, it seems that the animal saved the people of Catania by chasing the ferocious animals out of the city. Being today the symbol of the city, it is rightly included among the things to see in Catania.
Duomo and Terme Achilliane
The first cathedral dedicated to Sant’Agata was built by the Normans around the end of the year one thousand , above the Achillian baths which can still be visited today. However, the monument was destroyed by the earthquake of 1693 and was then rebuilt in the Baroque style.
Sant’Agata Cathedral opening hours:
Monday through Saturday: 07:00-12:30, 16-19, free admission.
Opening hours of the Achilliane baths:
Monday to Friday 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Tuesday and Thursday 3.00pm – 6.00pm
Saturday 9.00 – 13.00
Sundays and Holidays by reservation.
Price: 5 Euros
In the museum you will find a number of religious artifacts, liturgical furnishings from the Cathedral and other churches in the city. The terrace where you can admire Catania from above is very beautiful.
Monday to Friday 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Tuesday and Thursday 3.00pm – 6.00pm
Saturday 9.00 – 13.00
Price: 7 Euros
It is a passage opened in 1696 between the ancient walls of the fourteenth century , to allow access to the square. The name derives from the viceroy Francesco Paceco, duke of Uzeda, to whom it was dedicated. Visiting the diocesian museum, as mentioned above, you enter the terrace of this door with a beautiful view of the city, the sea and Mount Etna.
Fountain of the Amenano
A very particular fountain dating back to the second half of the nineteenth century. In fact, its waters come directly from the Amenano river, a river that has been present here for millennia , but today it flows under the city, due to the lava flows that have buried it.
2. Palazzo Biscari at the Marina
The Palace was built in Baroque style, after the earthquake of 1693 by the will of the Prince of Biscari, Ignazio Paternò Castello. The palace is really very large, in fact it consists of about 700 beautiful rooms and already at the time it housed a museum of archaeological finds found by the prince himself.
Cost of the ticket with guide: 10.00 Euros, duration: 1 hour. Opening hours: Mon-Sat 10 a.m.-1 p.m. and 5-7 p.m. Times and prices may be subject to change.
3. La Pescheria, Catania’s fish market
Going to visit the fish market is absolutely one of the things to see in Catania . It has been taking place here for more than 200 years and it is certainly a unique experience, which in some ways seems to take you back in time. In fact, forget the classic neat and little noisy markets of the city.
This market is very lively if not chaotic, but this, together with the sympathy of the sellers, makes it truly fascinating. Here you will find fresh fish as well as meat, vegetables, meats, cheeses and other products, it is definitely an experience to be had. The fish market takes place every morning except Sunday.
Tip from Topsecretsicily: If you wish, you can book a street food tour, discovering the history and culture of Catania away from the classic tourist routes. Included in the visit is, of course, the fish market.
4. Porta Garibaldi
It is a triumphal arch in lava stone, with the typical dark black and white stripes, built in 1768 to celebrate the marriage between Ferdinand of Bourbon and Maria Carolina of Austria.
5. Ursino Castle
The castle was built by the will of Frederick II of Swabia in 1250 and over the centuries it was used as a residence, barracks and even a prison (the prisoners’ drawings are still visible on the walls). Just think that once the castle faced the sea, like the Maniace Castle in Syracuse. It was then the lava flow of 1669 to lengthen the coast and today the castle is surrounded only by mainland. The Ursino castle houses inside a beautiful civic museum, which preserves archaeological works from the Greek and Roman period and paintings from the fifteenth century to the nineteenth century.
Ticket: 6 Euros. Hours: Mon-Sun 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Rates and times may change.
6. Top Secret Tip: Terme della Rotonda
Here is a little known, top secret place to see in Catania. Here you will have the opportunity to enter the Roman baths of the first century AD, therefore about 2000 years ago. These baths are very particular, in fact they were later closed with a dome by the Byzantines, who transformed them into a small church. In fact, you can still see today written in Latin and traces of Byzantine and eighteenth-century frescoes.
At present, unfortunately, it can only be visited from outside.
7. Roman Theater and Odeon
A very original theater in lava stone, so incorporated into the eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century urban fabric, that it is only possible to see it by first passing through an ancient building . In fact, starting from the Middle Ages, construction began on top of the theater, until it almost completely disappeared. Only from the last years of the nineteenth century was this destruction put to an end and over the following years the theater was slowly brought to light, after the demolition of various buildings and restoration work.
Today the theater presents itself in all its beauty, with those buildings that now create an enchanting setting. Within this setting, precisely in the theater orchestra, there is something very particular that makes everything even more fascinating and original, a small lake .
The curious fact is that the ancient Romans had built conduits, which on the occasion of the water games, carried water from the Amenano river to the theater orchestra. Now about 2000 years later, more or less the same thing happens, with the water of the Amenano river (now underground as it is covered by lava) which, for still uncertain causes and methods, reaches the theater. It’s hard to think that the Romans have nothing to do with it ..
Together with the theater it will also be possible to see the nineteenth-century house of the Liberti family, which houses archaeological finds and the Roman Oden, much smaller in size and used for poetic or musical performances.
Ticket: 6 Euros. Hours: Mon- dome 09:00 – 19:00. Rates and times may change.
8. Via dei Crociferi – Catania
Via dei Crociferi is an ancient street located near the Roman theater, where you can admire many Baroque buildings and churches. Lately it has also been made a pedestrian zone and you will also find many small bars and restaurants along the way.
9. The Benedictine Monastery
The Benedictine Monastery is truly impressive and is today the seat of the University of Catania . It was built around the middle of 1500, only to be damaged first by the lava and then by the earthquake. It was then rebuilt in the following years and today it houses a Roman domus, cloisters and a hanging garden.
Ticket: 10.00 Euro. Hours: Mon-Sun 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m. In August every day from 11:00 to 18:00. The guided tour lasts about 75 minutes and starts every hour.
10. Roman amphitheater of Catania
To see it today it is difficult to think how imposing it was once, it has remained until today in fact only a part of the ancient amphitheater of the 2nd century AD Although not much remains and is surrounded by asphalted roads, it is worth a visit. both for its ancient history (gladiators fought here about 2000 years ago) and for free admission.
Free entry. Hours: Tue – Sat 09:00 – 13:30 / 14:30 – 17:00. Rates and times may change.
12. Via Etnea
The reference to Etna is very clear, the volcano is in fact weather permitting clearly visible from here. Along this street you can admire the Collegiate Basilica built in Baroque style, the beautiful Piazza Università, not far from Piazza Duomo and the Villa Bellini, the green heart of Catania.
13. The dome of Badia di Sant’Agata
The dome has been open to the public for a few years and is definitely a must see in Catania. The beautiful baroque church Badia di Sant’Agata offers you from the top of its dome, a breathtaking 360 degree view of the historic center of Catania, Mount Etna and the sea.
Ticket: 5 Euros. Hours: Tuesday 9.30-12.30, from Wednesday to Saturday 9.30-12.30 / 17.00-20.00, Sunday 9.30-12.30 / 19.00-20.30.
14. Piazza and Bellini Theater
Piazza Bellini is very fascinating, overlooked by various elegant Baroque palaces and the Massimo Bellini Theater inaugurated at the end of the 19th century. In the evening in this square and in all the adjacent streets, many young people meet to spend the evenings in the various pubs and restaurants in the area.
These are all the places to see in Catania. Obviously it is not possible to see everything in one day. So plan at least 2 days if you want to visit all the places described.
Activities loved by tourists in the surrounding area or in Sicily in general
Interactive map of Catania – Points of interest in purple
To locate yourself once in the area, click on the enlarge symbol at the top right of the map.
Where to eat in Catania
The typical dish of Catania is horse meat. If you like to try it you can go to the Camelot restaurant , near the Ursino castle. Here you can also opt for other types of meat, appetizers, pasta and good wine. If you want to try some diner, like arancini for example, you can go to the Savia pastry shop , which is located in via Etna in front of Villa Bellini. Here, in fact, in addition to excellent desserts, you will also find arancini, cartocciate, onions and much more. In general, however, Catania is full of restaurants, bars and pizzerias and prices are generally low or at least not as high as other cities in Italy. You can orient yourself by following the reviews of Google or Tripadvisor to choose the place that best suits your needs.
Here you find what to eat in Catania and surroundings .
Here instead i typical Sicilian dishes .
Tip from Topsecretsicily: As written above if you wish you can book a street food tour, discovering the history and culture of Catania away from the classic tourist routes. Included in the visit is, of course, the fish market.
What to see around Catania
Here you find the places to visit in Catania and surroundings .