11 sights and activities to see in Catania in 1 day
One day in Catania
You’ve just arrived at Catania Fontanarossa Airport for the start of your Sicily trip. With just 1 day (and night) to see Catania, you want a quick guide on the must-see sights.
The city of Catania itself is pretty big and 1 day isn’t enough to see it all. We stayed in the center during our trip at the wonderful Asmundo di Gisira guesthouse. Super close to all of the city’s sights, this colorful hotel’s another Catania work of art.
Truthfully speaking, outside the historic center and its main landmarks, Catania’s not that interesting. The majority of the city’s mainly residential, facilitating its citizens as normal.
That said, this post’s all about guiding you towards what sights and activities you can do in 1 day in the center. Easy, peasy, and very Japan-easy, get your walking shoes on, and get ready to visit Catania.
1. Porta Uzeda
Start your one day in Catania at Porta Uzeda. The stone gate’s one of the main entrances to the historic center.
Porta Uzeda connects the seminary with the archbishop’s palace and Cathedral of Saint Agatha (Cattedrale di Sant’Agata).
Upon walking through the gates, your attention is pulled in different directions. Straight ahead is the grand Piazza Duomo, with historic buildings and monuments surrounding its core.
Immediately upon entering, you’ll be greeted by walls that date to the 16th century.
Porta Uzeda was named after the Spanish viceroy, Giovanni Francesco Paceco, Duke of Uzeda. The Spanish viceroyalty in Sicily began in 1687 and lasted in 1696.
If entering Catania’s historic center from via Etnea, Porta Uzeda is at the southern exit from Piazza Duomo. Alternatively, you can find the gate on Via Cardinale Dusmet. This tree-lined street’s home to cafes, bars as well as several souvenir stalls.
2. Palazzo dei Chierici
As mentioned above, the gate’s connected to the seminary building, Palazzo dei Chierici.
The building, dating to the 17th century, is an example of the baroque architectural style, popular of the period. Today, it’s home to the Diocesan Museum, which showcases pieces of religious arts from different eras.
While here, be sure to visit the terrace for some of the best views of Catania. The museum’s opening hours (9am-2pm) are shorter than what you might normally expect, so plan your day accordingly.
Porta Uzeda — one day in Catania
3. Cathedral of Saint Agatha
Like other cities and towns across Italy, the cathedral of Saint Agatha is Catania’s principle Catholic place of worship. Pope Pius XI awarded the church the title of minor basilica in 1926.
Saint Agatha is also the patroness of Catania. Every year, the city celebrates the Festival of Saint Agatha from 3 to 5 February, and again on 17 August. It’s the city’s most important religious festival, with plenty of festivities in her honor.
If you travel to Catania during this period, be sure to look out for the Minne di Sant’Agata. These small Cassata cakes resembling breasts are made especially for the festival. An unusual, but sweet, tribute, to the city’s very own martyr, whose bodily parts were amputated.
Around the cathedral — one day in Catania
The Cathedral of Saint Agatha has several notable features. Its dome, built in the 18th century, has sturdy columns and large windows that illuminate its interior. Architect, Carmelo Sciuto Patti, built the present bell tower and the dome lantern between 1867 and 1869.
The central nave’s home to the impressively grand cathedral organ and the neoclassical choir stalls built in 1926.
Inside the cathedral is also a chapel. An iron gate protects sculptures and religious art dedicated to Saint Agatha keeping worshippers at a safe distance.
Destruction of the cathedral — one day in Catania
On 4 February 1169, an earthquake — also known as the Saint Agatha earthquake — caused the cathedral’s ceiling to collapse. The catastrophic disaster killed most of the people, and the archbishop leading the event, celebrating the patroness’ festivities.
Another earthquake hit Catania 5 centuries after on 11 January 1693. On this occasion, and given its overwhelming strength, the bell tower also collapsed. It was later rebuilt together with the church, along with the bell that fell during the earthquake but remained intact.
The dark stone of the city — one day in Catania
One standout feature that you may notice when exploring Catania’s historic buildings, is the presence of a dark-colored stone. This is Etna basalt, the result of solidified cooled volcanic lava.
Dark grey or black in color, the basalt was used to re-build many of the city’s destroyed buildings.
As you walk around the center, count how many buildings or monuments you can spot using the darker stone.
A sight you can’t miss: Saint Agatha Cathedral — one day in Catania
“Easy, peasy, and very Japan-easy, get your walking shoes on, and get ready to visit Catania.”
Map: Activities and sights to see in 1 day in Catania
4. Elephant Fountain
At the heart of Piazza Duomo is a statue in the form of an elephant, made completely from black basalt. The Elephant Fountain (La fontana dell’Elefante) is considered the mascot of Catania and is also an important landmark.
After the 1693 earthquake, the architect, Giovanni Battista Vaccarini, was called to Catania with the task of rebuilding the city. Making use of the local lava stone, he created the obelisk; the pointed pillar on the elephant’s back.
The elephant’s commonly known as ‘u Liotru’ and is considered the emblem of the Sicilian city.
The detail’s in the elephant — one day in Catania
On the base, are 2 sculptures representing the rivers of Catania, the Simeto and the Amenano. Above is the elephant, whose trunk faces towards the Cathedral of Saint Agatha.
Vaccarini restored the elephant’s rear legs, which were destroyed in the earthquake. He also added white eyes, limestone tusks and the coat of arms of Saint Agatha to complete the statue.
At the top of the obelisk is a globe, surrounded by a palm leaf, and a branch. Above this is an inscription dedicated to Saint Agatha on a metal tablet, with the abbreviation, M,S,S,H,D,E,P,L. While an English explanation doesn’t exist, sources have found its meaning in Italian.
‘Mente sana e sincera, per l’onore di Dio e per la liberazione della sua patria’. Loosely translated, the meaning is about honesty, honoring God and the freedom of the land.
The building behind
The Elephant Fountain sits in front of the building bearing the same name. Today, it’s the home of the city’s town hall.
Building of the palace begun in 1696, 3 years after the 1693 earthquake. Several architects worked on completing the structure — Giovanni Battista Longobardo being the first to be commissioned. Vaccarini then came on board, designing the eastern, southern and western façades.
The building’s a fine example of not only the different architectural styles, but also of the different periods.
Elephant fountain — one day in Catania
5. Roman Amphitheater of Catania
While Sicily is usually known for its number of Ancient Greek theaters, Catania goes slightly against the norm. The Amphitheater of Catania (Teatro Romano di Catania) is an Ancient Roman theater in the historic center.
One of the largest amphitheaters in Sicily, its appearance is said to date to the 2nd century. Researchers suggest that the amphitheater could have held around 15,000 people (seating) and double the number standing.
A theater once filled with marble-covered seats, statues and mythological figures, the theater’s an incredible site of history.
Ruins to explore — one day in Catania
Several decorative elements, such as capitals, columns and marble ornaments were taken from the theater to use for other buildings. These features were used to construct buildings in Catania, such as the city’s cathedral.
Immediately beneath the theater is the Amenano River. Researchers say that the Romans used to collect water here to use in their games.
Twenty-one rows make up the semicircle area, known in Latin as the Cavea. The 8 stairways dividing the sections are made from the local lava stone.
During your visit, I also suggest stopping by Casa Libérti. This 19th century house, adjacent to the theater, holds all the findings made during the excavation of the site. Casa Libérti is open every day except Sundays.
A day in Catania isn’t complete without a visit to its Roman amphitheater
6. La Pescheria
If you like stepping into the shoes of a local when you travel, this next place is one to see. La Pescheria is a fish market that takes place every morning — except Sundays. In true Sicilian fashion, it’s loud, lively, and a must for anyone that likes fish, and food markets.
Fish, glorious, fish — one day in Catania
Located at the southern end of Piazza Duomo, La Pescheria is a snapshot of local life unfiltered. Everyone from grandmas to glamorous Sicilian women come here to get their hands on the day’s freshest catch.
Sample the local fish and seafood for yourselves at surrounding restaurants like Scirocco Sicilian Fish Lab and Osteria Antica Marina.
Instagrammer tip: From La Pescheria, walk towards Via Pardo. This street connects to Via Gisira and is where you can find streams of colorful umbrellas overhead.
7. Try the local delicacy
Out of a score of 10, how adventurous are you in trying new foods when you travel? If the answer’s 10 or above, you may be keen to sample one of Catania’s specialties: horse meat.
A taste of the exotic — one day in Catania
Horse meat (carne di cavallo) in Italy is pretty common. However, it’s not an item that you’ll find on many restaurant menus, but many Italians do eat it.
With a taste similar to beef, but leaner, it’s a delicacy that they serve in Catania. For the curious traveling foodies among you, head to the railway arches opposite Porta Uzeda on Via Cardinale Dusmet.
It’s here where you’ll come across several food stalls, usually manned by older Sicilian men.
Follow the sound of the sizzle of horse meat on the grill, and — if you want — try some for yourself. Come here for a no-frills eating experience, and one that’s very traditional in Catania.
Local life in color at La Pescheria
8. Teatro Massimo Bellini
Unless you’re a fan of the opera, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll have heard of Vincenzo Bellini. Completed in 1890, Teatro Massimo Bellini is an opera house named in honor of its native resident.
Born in Catania, this Italian opera composer wrote several operas, including Norma and I Puritani.
Its exterior follows the classic Sicilian Baroque architectural style of the era. Similar to Teatro Massimo in Palermo, the interior has rich red furnishings running throughout.
Two special features give the theater a unique finish. A foyer made from marble called the ‘Ridotto’, and the ceiling painting depicting Bellini’s well-known operas.
A fitting tribute to Vincenzo Bellini, Teatro Bellini
9. Castello Ursino
Considering it was built in the 13th century, Castello Ursino is in pretty good condition. It was intended to be a royal castle for the Kingdom of Sicily; a ruling period in the island’s history.
Today, Castello Ursino sits in Piazza Federico di Svevia surrounded by a string of shops and restaurants. Operating as a public museum, it showcases art and artefacts from the castle, and also from further afield.
Interestingly, however, the piazza wasn’t always its original location.
As a result of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, Castello Ursino moved a kilometer inland from its initial cliff-side location.
Castello Ursino, 1, Piazza Federico di Svevia
Castel Ursino: the castle turned museum — one day in Catania
10. Get sweet in Catania
On to my favorite subject: food. Generally speaking, the food culture in Sicily is awesome, diverse and incredibly tasty.
I could happily spend the rest of this post listing the best places to eat in Catania. However, with just one day to spare, chances are that you won’t have the chance to try everything.
From Piazza Duomo, continue walking down Via Etnea. Notable sights that you’ll pass along the way include University Square, San Guiliano Palace, and also Basilica della Collegiata.
Eventually, you’ll reach a park called Villa Bellini. Within the grounds are grassy green spaces, a fountain and sculptures.
Three cafes — one day in Catania
Opposite Villa Bellini are 2 of my favorite places to eat in Catania. Pasticceria Savia has been keeping customers happy, and their bellies full, with its mouthwatering menu since 1897.
Rows of sweet and savory Sicilian treats sit behind glass counters. My suggestion? Start with the arancini al ragù, and make room for a pistachio icy granita.
Pasticceria Savia, Via Etnea 300/302/304 and Via Umberto, 1/2/4/6
What to eat in Catania — one day in Catania
Pasticceria Spinella is right next door, also selling similar items to its neighbor. My choice here is the homemade creamy gelato or the mammoth-sized pastries. The quality, and taste, is superb, making Pasticceria Spinella a top choice for breakfast.
Pasticceria Spinella, Via Etnea, 292/298
Last on my list is Scardaci Ice Café. Primarily, the café’s renowned for its wide range of glorious gelato in many tantalizing flavors. However, if your palate’s more savory than sweet, Scardaci Ice Café also sells plump arancini and perfectly-made pizzette.
Scardaci Ice Café, Via Etnea, 158
Satisfy your sweet tooth in one of Catania’s best cafes
11. Tour its most famous resident
Hovering over the historic center — and the surrounding region — of Catania, is the mighty and marvellous Mount Etna.
Taking a tour, whether at sunrise or sunset, is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Catania. Walk, hike or go by jeep, it’s up to you. Whichever mode you choose, the panoramic views of Catania and the region will be completely worthwhile.
Is Catania safe?
Generally speaking, Catania is safe to visit. I feel that it’s worth writing something given that the city (just outside) is the base of the Mafia.
Saying that, it’s rare that you’ll see, or come across any dodging Mafia dealings! However, during our visit, we did see a heavy police presence — some carrying machine guns.
However, as with visiting any destination, keep an eye on your belongings, and stay street smart.
Did you enjoy this quick 1-day tour around Catania’s city center? Which of these sights/activities would you most like to see/do? Let me know in the comments below!
Till next time, happy boutique travels x
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Welcome to my site! I'm Lisa, founder of Following the Rivera. I write primarily for a ‘flashpacker’ audience; a demographic (late 20s onwards) that enjoys glamping over camping, staying at boutique/luxury boutique hotels, sampling the local food and wine, cultural activities, and indulging in a spot of wellness on their travels. Read more here…