This past week I spent a couple of days in Catania, the city built in the shadows of volcano Etna. If you are craving authentic food, Italian dolce vita and an escape from the touristy likes of Pisa, Rome or Venice, this is your hub!
The decision to come to Sicily for a couple of days was solely based on the cheap flights and apartments for out kind-of-last-minute-getaway, I say our as I was travelling with my best friend for a change and not alone. The city of Catania stretches out quite a bit so I would recommend booking an accommodation rather central and close to the city center. Late May may be considered off-season there but it can still get super hot and humid. So make sure to pack your sunscreen and summer dress!
On thing I will say, before giving you my recommendations on the best places in the city, I have never felt so instantly relaxed. We arrived Sunday evening at around 8 pm and headed straight out for dinner. The center was crowded with Italians, also on their way to dinner and yet the city exuded this calming charm of Italy you don’t get to find everywhere. My body instantly turned into Italy-Vacation-Mode and I felt relaxed and ready for the night!
Now for the juicy stuff, the best things to do while there. Most people would say head to Mount Etna and I do agree but I didn’t go. We just let the city swallow us and checked out everything there was way more chilled than ever! So your first stop should definitely be the Duomo. It is adjacent to the Piazza del Duomo and totally worth a visit. The church structure itself is completely different to anything you might’ve seen in Germany or France. It seems smaller when walking in, nonetheless majestic in it’s own way. While in the neighbourhood, the Elephant Fountain in the middle of the piazza and the Fontana dell’Amenano, both the only places in the city where you can see the river, that flows under the city, come up over the ground, are worth checking out.
Keep walking along the Via Etnea, probably one of the longest streets I have seen in Italy. You will pass by Piazza Università with a beautiful courtyard inside the university building. On a clear day you can even see parts of the Etna straight ahead. You will eventually end up in Piazza Stesicoro with remnants of an old Roman amphitheater. Seeing how low on the ground this was built does visualize the tragic history of this town. Several earthquakes and volcano eruptions changed the city’s location and surface completely. Continuing down the road you will eventually reach the Park Giradino Bellini which is the perfect escape form the heat with it’s shadowy alleys and the beautiful view down form the Kiosque Villa Bellini, a pavilion built right on top of the park.
In case you think UNESCO was always on top of the game, I gotta tell you no. No offense but the fact that houses where built basically on top of the Teatro Romano is quite astonishing. Let’s face it the theater is completely surrounded by buildings and you won’t be able to tell there even is one without actually going in. You won’t be able to see something à la Colosseum in Rome but you will see this theater built right into the city or the city right into the theater given that the theater was built in the 1st and 2nd century.
The last absolute must see is the view across town from Chiesa della Badia di Sant’Agata, right next to the duomo. For only three Euro you can climb up the narrow staircase right on top of the cathedral and will be rewarded with a breathtaking view over Catania, the Mediterranean Sea and Mount Etna. You won’t expect much at first but will be blow away by it once you made it all the way up! Plus the church itself is one of the most interesting structures I’ve seen in a while with a round nave and the biggest chandelier right at the entrance.
Ok I lied, I got another one. The beach. You can reach it with bus line D from Piazza Borsellino, it is not the most reliable for the way back but still. As it was off-season we just went to Lido Azzuro and used their parasol for free. The water is chrystal clear, soft yellow sand, blue-white beach huts and the view on Mount Etna are a must see/do while in the city. Plus how could you not want to spend your last day at the beach?
Even though, our flight did end up being delayed by 3h and did land at the wrong airport in Germany due to landing restrictions, I still managed to take the relaxed feeling this city gave home with me. And that’s really all that matters, isn’t it?