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Catania is a volcanic jewel in the Sicily region and a port of call on many Italy cruises. Nicknamed the “gray city” due to the signature color of the lava rocks used in many of the buildings, much of the view from the city is dominated by Mount Etna in the not-so-far distance. The ambiance of this city is far from dull though, thanks to the interesting and ornately detailed architecture as well as the deep blue of the Mediterranean that you can spot throughout the city.
Catania is home to over one million inhabitants and many exciting activities. When your cruise to Catania pulls into port, you’ll be able to venture off on one of the available excursions, some of which are related to the volcano and some that pertain to the vast history of the area. While in Catania, you’ll have a chance to see beautiful baroque buildings as well as visit the remains of ancient Greek and Roman settlements.
The Cathedral of Sant’Agata has served as the seat of the Archbishops of Catania since 1859. The church itself, however, dates back to the 11th century and was built in the baroque and Norman architectural style. As you walk up to the cathedral, you’ll instantly see the baroque elements evidenced in its ornate columns and domed roof. Inside, you’ll find colorful frescoes and paintings adorning the walls and ceilings.
This formidable castle located in Catania was built in the 13th century. Over its vast history, Castello Ursino served as the royal castle of the kingdom of Sicily and was also the seat of the Sicilian Parliament. Today, it houses a museum featuring a number of sculptures, paintings, ancient relics, and artifacts.
If you’re a music lover, you won’t want to miss seeing the Teatro Massimo Bellini, a gorgeous theater that opened in 1890. Named after local composer Vincenzo Bellini, this opulent opera house seats an impressive 1,200 people. Those lucky viewers can see a number of shows that are performed throughout the year, including operas, symphonies, and other concerts.
The Amphitheatre of Catania is the largest amphitheater in Sicily and is believed to have been built during the Roman Imperial period in the second century. It is an interesting site to see since it is located right in the center of Catania and is situated below ground—right where it was excavated—while surrounded by the present-day streets and buildings of the city.
You don’t only need to admire Mount Etna from afar during your cruise to Catania. There are many shore excursions that will take you right up to the volcano where you can discover its incredible past and likely powerful future. This still-active volcano has adjacent hiking trails and even a scenic train ride you can take around the side of Mount Etna. There is also a cable car that will take you to the crater of this natural wonder.
Giardino Bellini is the oldest urban park in the city, featuring numerous walking paths through manicured lawns and past artistic shrubbery and colorful flowers. In addition, you’ll enjoy views of Mount Etna in the distance as you explore the park. The large botanical clock situated on the side of a gentle sloping hill makes for the perfect photo op.
On your cruise to Catania, don’t miss a chance to visit the hilltop town of Taormina, which offers panoramic vistas of the Mediterranean Sea. The best place to see those views is at Taormina’s most famous site, the ancient Roman theater that dates back to the third century BC. You’ll be mesmerized as you wander through the Teatro Antico di Taormina, sit on its old stadium seats, and soak in the views of the deep blue sea far below you. The theater has been so well preserved that it is still used for events today. During your trip, you can also visit the small village called Castelmola. Located above Taormina, it features a natural terrace constructed around the remains of a Norman castle and boasts incredible views of the Ionian coastline.
Siracusa is a historic city located on the Ionian coast of Sicily about an hour south of Catania. It’s a popular place to visit for history buffs thanks to its many ancient ruins. Visit the Archaeological Park Neapolis to see the Roman Amphitheater, the Teatro Greco, and the Orecchio di Dionisio cave made out of limestone.
Similar to the rest of Sicily, the cuisine in Catania focuses on local produce. The diet is rich in vegetables and fish, and you’ll find some Greek influences in the dishes, with olives being a staple ingredient for many meals. When dining in Catania, it’s common for pasta to be served as a starter followed by a main dish of meat or fish, so come hungry.
There are many restaurants located in the city center that provide a sit-down dining experience. Street stands selling quick meals are also an option and are located throughout the city. For fast food, try the arancini, which are balls of rice deep fried in breadcrumbs and filled with meat sauce or pistachios; or the cartocciata, an easy pastry sandwich to eat on the go filled with ham, mozzarella, and olive filling. For another quick, yummy snack or an after-dinner dessert, get a cannolo siciliano, widely known as a cannoli. In Catania, you’ll find that the traditional ricotta cheese filling is less sweet, but it pairs perfectly with the decadent chocolate and waffle pastry it’s rolled in. Here, they’re often topped with pistachios or candied orange peel.
Catania was originally settled by the Chalcidians in 729 BC and grew over the next several centuries to become a great power in the region. The powers ruling over Catania frequently switched over the years and included Romans, Byzantines, Saracens, and Normans. While the roots of Catania go back thousands of years, the current-day city center that you’ll see was rebuilt as recently as 1693 after a great earthquake shook the city, which came just a few decades after the city was engulfed in ash and lava during the Mount Etna eruption of 1669. The rebuilding of the city that occurred after these disasters was beautifully done, and today the city of Catania is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition to having a bustling economy centered around the petrochemical and pharmaceutical industries, you’ll also find that Catania is a beautiful university city with an educational vibe and exciting nightlife.
The Catania cruise port is located in the southern part of the city. Your ship will likely dock at Stazione Marittima, where many local ferries arrive and depart. From the cruise ship harbor, it takes about 10 minutes to walk into the city center. The Catania cruise terminal is located in a renovated historic building, and if you find yourself with extra time before reboarding you ship, you can browse through the souvenir and duty-free shops located in the terminal.
The city center of Catania is extremely easy to walk around. If you need transportation or want to go further away from the center of Catania, you have a few options. Taxis are typically waiting outside the Catania cruise port terminal, which is the easiest way to get around. There is also a bus system, but expect long lines and waits that can be an hour or more. If you want to take a train to Mount Etna or elsewhere, there is a metro line that runs between the port and the Circumetnea train station. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to get back to port if taking public transportation.
During your cruise to Catania, the best place to shop is Via Etnea, where boutiques and designer brand names share the street with Baroque monuments. The pretty street also offers views of Mount Etna at the end of it.
The official currency in Catania and the rest of Sicily is the euro, and ATMs are widely available throughout Catania. You’ll find that credit cards are accepted in most establishments, although you’ll want to double check before hiring a service or dining in a restaurant, particularly in smaller towns or at family-owned businesses. Most restaurants have a small cover charge listed on the bill, but this is different from a service charge. Occasionally, a service charge of 10% to 15% will also be added to the bill, but if not, a tip of a similar amount is appreciated. In cafes and bars, if you are ordering a drink, small change is generally left on the counter. For taxis, it’s common practice to round up to the nearest euro as a tip.