Things to Do in Catania
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Piazza Duomo is both a jewel of the Sicilian baroque and the vibrant heart of Catania. Home to some of the city’s most sumptuous architectural treasures, including Palazzo degli Elefanti, the Cathedral di Sant’Agata (Duomo), and the Fontana dell’Elefante, this square is a highlight of Catania city tours.
From a road winding through the Sicilian countryside, family owned Gambino Winery (Vini Gambino) appears atop a hillside in the Etna wine region. The unique climate and soil of the area produces some of Italy’s tastiest wines, both white and red. Most wines are derived from either Nerello mascalese or Nerello cappuccio grapes, many of which are given DOC designation. Innovative winemakers in this region are making some of Sicily’s best wines, and while not all are available to taste Gambino Winery allows you to sample quite a few.
Mount Etna being an ancient volcano (the largest in Europe,) views from the winery are scenic and the surrounding landscape is beautiful to take in. There’s nothing like drinking a glass of wine right in the place in which it was produced, and there’s no shortage of great wine or views at Gambino. The winery also serves delicious food, cheeses, and local olive oils.
Catania is best known for its Sicilian baroque architecture, but one of the most important attractions in the city actually dates from centuries earlier: the formidable 13th-century Ursino Castle (Castello di Ursino). Built by Emperor Frederick II, it now houses an impressive collection of art and artifacts in the Museo Civico (Civic Museum).
With its centuries-old baroque buildings, timeworn paving stones and elaborate stairways, Via Crociferi (Via dei Crociferi) is unashamedly photogenic, so much so that a number of Italian films have shot scenes on its sidewalks. Walking the length of Via Crociferi is like taking a stroll through the city’s history, starting at the south end of the street, where the Parco Archeologico Greco-Romano di Catania is home to the city’s most notable Roman ruins and the medieval Castello Ursino towers in the distance.
Via Crociferi is most famous for its Sicilian Baroque architecture and its striking churches and 18th-century palazzi form an important part of Catania’s UNESCO World Heritage site. Highlights include the Arco di San Benedetto, the iconic archway which marks the start of the street and dates back to 1704; the Church of San Giuliano, designed by architect Giovan Battista Vaccarini; the dramatic portico of the Jesuit College; the magnificent Villa Cerami; and the Vincenzo Bellini house museum.
Taking its name from Mount Etna, the imposing volcano that looms over the city, Via Etnea is one of Catania’s most important thoroughfares, lined with shops, restaurants, and cafés. A lively destination both day and night, Via Etnea connects two of the city’s top attractions—Piazza Duomo and Villa Bellini.
Considered one of Italy’s most exquisite public gardens, Villa Bellini has a vast expanse of greenery laced with scenic walkways and dotted with pavilions, flower gardens, and hilltop viewpoints over Catania and Mount Etna. Located at the top of bustling Via Etnea, this public garden is a serene respite from the urban chaos and a city highlight.
Widely acclaimed as one of Italy’s most magnificent opera houses, the grand Teatro Massimo Bellini is a dazzling tribute to its namesake, 19th-century Catania-born composer Vincenzo Bellini, and opened its doors in 1890 with a performance of Bellini’s masterpiece ‘Norma’. Today, Bellini’s works feature largely among the theater’s annual roster of operas, concerts and recitals, and performances in the 1,200-seat auditorium regularly sell out, with summer concerts even spilling over into the adjoining Bellini Square.
Even if you can’t make it to an evening concert, Teatro Massimo Bellini is worth a visit and it’s impossible not to be impressed by its architectural prowess. The inspired creation of architect Carlo Sada, the theater’s imposing façade is a striking example of Sicilian Baroque style, while the opulent interiors include an ornate marble foyer, plush red velvet seating and ceiling murals painted by Ernesto Bellandi, featuring scenes from Bellini’s most popular operas.
One of Europe’s largest Benedictine monasteries and a UNESCO World Heritage site, Catania’s Benedictine Monastery of San Nicolò l'Arena (Monastero Benedettini di San Nicolò l'Arena), is among the city’s top attractions. The stunning monastery was founded in 1558 but almost completely rebuilt in the baroque style following an earthquake in the 18th century.
Despite being repeatedly ravaged by Mount Etna’s eruptions since its founding, Catania retains traces of its long Greek and Roman history, most notably the ancient theaters of the Catania Archaeological Park (Parco Archeologico Greco-Romano di Catania). The most important ruins in the city, these remarkably preserved theaters are a must-visit for archaeology buffs.
Known as the “Sicilian Sistine Chapel,” this baroque church on Catania’s photogenic Via Crociferi is home to dazzling frescoes by the 18th-century painter Giovanni Tuccari, sumptuous stuccoes, a lavish choir loft, and an ornate marble altar. Don’t miss theScalinata dell’Angelo, a stone staircase decorated with statues of angels.
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