Defined by its historical and volatile relationship with Mount Etna, Catania is a city that stills wears the scars of run-ins with the volcano on multiple occasions. One of the first things you’ll notice about Catania is the color of its buildings.
Many were constructed using lava following a huge eruption in 1669, which gives the buildings their distinctive, unique here. Despite the natural disasters here, Catania is also a lively city with a large student population, slick rooftop restaurants and plenty of delicious food to enjoy.
Catania’s glorious fish market
Catania isn’t just famous for its close proximity to Mount Etna. It’s home to one of Italy’s most celebrated fish markets, which takes up residence around the Piazza del Duomo every morning other than Sundays.
La Pescheria is a great spectacle. Buzzing with energy and noise, fishmongers showcase their catches, glistening in the early morning Sicilian sun. You’ll see succulent giant prawns, clams, octopus, mussels, swordfish, chunky tuna steaks, anchovies and more. It’s part market, part entertainment.
If you’ve worked up an appetite, you’re in the right place. There are several seafood restaurants located nearby, most of which serve up a delicious bowl of the city’s signature pasta dish. Catania is fiercely proud of Pasta alla Norma, a gorgeously rich combination of tomatoes, eggplant and ricotta cheese.
Wander Catania’s streets in the evening and many restaurants set up street barbecues, filling the air with the tempting aroma of grilled meats. It’s impossible to resist.
The splendor of Etna
Towering over the city, grumbling occasionally and still spouting ash from time to time, Mount Etna can’t be ignored. You can drive most of the way there, towards the slopes surrounding the volcano, past the towns and villages close by, and into Etna Park.
At Rifugio Sapienza, take a cable car virtually to the summit. Up here it can feel like a different world from the heat of Catania – take warm clothing to ward off the chill.
The brilliance of Bellini
The composer Vincenzo Bellini is one of Catania’s best-known sons, and his work is honored throughout the city. The Teatro Massimo Bellini opera house is named after him, and regularly stages concerts.
If you don’t attend a performance, go just to admire the sheer decadence and lavish nature of the building. The exterior is grand, but the interior is truly spectacular with four tiers of boxes rising to a majestic ceiling, painted by Ernesto Bellandi and depicting scenes from Bellini’s operas. A guided tour costs very little, and you’ll be rewarded with one of Catania’s finest architectural masterpieces.
Sightseeing in Catania’s old town
Make your way to Catania’s Old Town and meander around many of the attractive sights and historical landmarks. Near Piazza Stesicoro, you’ll discover the ruins of the city’s Roman amphitheater. Sunken slightly below ground level, a large and well-preserved section of the theater is still visible.
Close by is Catania’s impressive cathedral and Benedictine Monastery. When you need a rest, refuel in the Piazza del Duomo – a UNESCO World Heritage site – while indulging in a cone of refreshing gelato.
All of this and more is made easy with car rental in Catania, which gives you the opportunity to explore this captivating city and the rest of Sicily too.