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Reviewed on 17 Aug 2019
Sicily’s second-largest city fizzes with energy, its big student population bringing a buzz to Catania’s historic UNESCO-listed centre. There are centuries of history in Catania going back to the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans, yet the city is lively and energetic. Wander through the busy squares where stately Baroque palaces add to the city’s beauty.
Mount Etna simmers and smokes in the background, its snow-capped peak never really out of sight. It’s the tallest active volcano in Europe, and its black lava stone, which flowed through the streets after a 17th-century eruption, went into the creation of many of Catania’s Baroque palaces and buildings.
Start in Piazza del Duomo, Catania’s main square and home to its impressive Baroque cathedral of Sant’Agata. The piazza had to be rebuilt in the 18th Century, after the earthquake, and the result is one of the most handsome squares in Sicily. You can’t help but spot the giant lava fountain in the shape of an elephant with an obelisk on its back – it’s the symbol of the city and a popular meeting place.
Take a stroll through the surrounding streets, past the Baroque buildings before eventually ending up at the ruins of the third-century Roman amphitheatre. Or head down beyond the port where the long sandy beach stretches for 11 miles and offers plenty of places to spread your towel or rent a sun lounger.
There’s a hotel for every budget in Catania, as well as in the villages that hug the coast or lie within the green foothills of Mount Etna. There’s everything from homely, family-run B&Bs in old palaces to grand hotels with pools and access to beaches along the Ionian coast. You could find yourself in the heart of the city, where 18th-century architecture and atmospheric ancient ruins are on your hotel’s doorstep.
Fans of street food will be spoilt for choice among Catania’s markets and the food stalls by the Porta Uzeda and in Piazza Federico di Svevia. Save room for one of Sicily’s tastiest snacks, arancini – deep-fried balls of risotto rice with mozzarella or other goodies tucked inside. The fish market in Via Pardo is a fantastic spectacle – a noisy, riotous affair that’s not to be missed. Handily, the market is surrounded by excellent trattorias specialising in – what else? – fresh seafood.
Head north from Piazza del Duomo and lose yourself among the shops along Via Etnea. You’ll find all of the big national and international chains as well as department stores and small, independent shops. If you need a breather, relax in the cool gardens of the Giardino Bellini.
After soaking up Catania’s culture and the Sicilian sun, you’ll find plenty of choice of appealing hotels wherever you stay. Whether it’s in the city, the Mount Etna region or any of the nearby coastal villages, you’ll find somewhere that will suit your needs.