The port city of Catania lies in the shadow of Mount Etna on the east coast of Sicily. Standing at more than 3300m, Etna is Europe’s largest and most active volcano which continues to erupt several times per year. Its most destructive eruption in 1669 destroyed many local villages and the lava flow caused some damage to buildings in Catania which lies 45km to the south-east of its crater. Following an earthquake in 1693 which destroyed the city, Catania was rebuilt using lava brick in the Baroque style which remains evident today.
Cruise ship passengers visiting Catania are in for a real treat. Whilst an excursion to Mount Etna is by far the most popular excursion, some visitors prefer to simply spend a day in the city where the many historic buildings tell a fascinating story of a port which has been home to many civilizations going as far back as the Ancient Greeks who first colonised it. Other passengers head for the charming resort town of Taormina which lies along the coast to the north and recently made the world news when it hosted a G7 Summit.
Port of Catania
Passengers on cruise ships visiting Catania should stand on deck on the approach to the port to get beautiful views over the city with Mount Etna in the distance. The docking area lies in an industrial zone just to the south of the city. Whilst some cruise lines provide shuttle buses into the city this is hardly necessary as it’s only a 10 to 15 minute walk to the historic centre.
Getting Around: All of Catania’s tourist attractions are within easy walking distance so there is no need for any form of city transport. As you walk out of the port area you’ll see the Catania Porto metro stop which is a convenient way to quickly travel to Borgo. This is the location of the Circumetnea Train Station from where a narrow-gauge railway runs around Mount Etna. Most cruise ship passengers would be advised to take pre-arranged tours to visit Etna from the port rather than relying on public transport during their limited time in port.
Passengers who are meeting or departing from cruise ships in Catania are best advised to travel through Catania-Fontanarossa Airport which lies just 6km south-west of the port area. With around eight million passengers per year using the airport it is the busiest in Sicily attracting international flights from all over Europe and many domestic services.
There are frequent AMT Alibus services which run into the centre of Catania and to the main train station as well as to other parts of the island from the airport. If you’re taking a taxi from outside the airport terminal to your destination be sure to only use the official Radio Taxi Catania vehicles and make sure that the meter is working when you set off. Alternatively, you can pre-book a private transfer from Catania Airport and have a driver awaiting you on arrival. Transport services are available to the city, the port and to other destinations around Sicily on request.
Catania Tourist Attractions
As well as the Greeks who founded Catania in the 8th century BC, the city has also been home to Romans, Arabs and Normans. Unfortunately, most Greek and Roman architecture was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Etna and an earthquake in the 17th century. There are numerous reminders of the city’s ancient past such as the Roman Amphitheatre which is considered to be one of the country’s finest together with the Castello Ursino which was a 13th century royal castle of the Kingdom of Sicily and now serves as a museum.
Insider Tip: A great place to head for lunch is in the streets surrounding the A’ Piscaria Mercato del Pesce. This fish market just off the Piazza dell Duomo is an absolute must for market lovers. Take a walk around the lively stalls then grab a seat outside one of the many local cafés for a taste of the local cuisine.
During early part of the 18th century much of the city was rebuilt using volcanic stone in a Sicilian baroque style which created what we see today. Highlights of these historic attractions include the Cattedrale di Sant’Agata whose original structure dates back to the 11th century and the beautiful Palazzo Biscari. The city’s main square is Piazza dell Duomo which is home to the famous Fontana dell’Elefante. This lava sculpture of an elephant is a symbol of Catania and one of the city’s most visited attractions. Another site worth a visit is the University of Catania which dates back to 1434 and is the oldest in Sicily. It was completely rebuilt following the earthquake and now represents one of the finest examples of Baroque architecture in the city.
Shore Excursions to Mount Etna
By far the most popular excursion from the Port of Catania is to Mount Etna which lies 45km to the north-west. Tour buses for official excursions meet passengers at the dock then transport them to Rifugio Sapienza (1923m) which is the base for numerous activities including hikes around the Silvestri craters and 4×4 tours. There’s also a cable car here called the Funivia dell’Etna which transports passengers up to 2500m from where it’s possible to walk to the crater area or get there by jeep. Cruise ship passengers will not usually have time to complete the walk which typically takes two hours each way.
Independent travellers may prefer to take a taxi from the port to Rifugio Sapienza then have the driver wait to take them back. Please note, however, that cruise ships will wait for passengers on shore excursions to Etna offered by the cruise line but will not wait for passengers who choose to go it alone.
Another option which is highly recommended is to take a ride on the Ferrovia Circumetnea narrow-gauge railway which runs from Catania and goes around Mount Etna in a clockwise direction. Trains depart from the Circumetnea Railway Station which can be reached from the port by taxi or by taking a metro or bus to the Stazione Catania Borgo. This scenic journey which takes approximately two hours ends in Riposto which is 32km up the coast from Catania. Passengers should check train departure times before travelling and ensure that they allow enough time to get back to the ship from Riposto.
Besides Mount Etna, the other main shore excursion from Catania is to Taormina which lies about 55km along the coast to the north of the port. This charming hilltop resort overlooking the Mediterranean has long been a popular holiday destination which is best known for its Ancient Greek Theatre. It is equally popular with cruise ship passengers visiting Messina which is a similar distance to the north.
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