Travel with kids: Exploring Catania, Sicily – 10 unmissable activities for families

When my 78-year-old mother asked me to accompany her to Sicily to visit her 100-year-old aunt, I was apprehensive about the idea of a family reunion, dealing with the logistics of travelling with her dog, and managing my 17-year-old son’s expectations. He would have preferred to spend the rest of the summer with his friends rather than travelling with his mum and grandmother. Despite the challenges, the trip to Sicily turned out to be enlightening and beautiful. We set off for Catania without knowing that we would return transformed for the better. Sicily is a captivating destination. Here’s what we visited and what we learned along the way.

catania panoramic view roof terrace

Nestled on the picturesque east coast of Sicily, Catania, the second-largest city in the region, stands as a vibrant city rich in history, culture, and natural beauty. From its impressive architecture and lively markets to its intriguing history and delectable cuisine, Catania offers a range of experiences for families seeking a memorable holiday. Whether you’re strolling through bustling streets or exploring ancient ruins, there’s something for everyone in this charming Italian city. In this article, I’ll explore the ten must-do activities in Catania that create lasting memories for families, just as it did for mine, making it an ideal destination for a vacation.

catania beach

  1. The Historic Heart of the City: Piazza del Duomo

My son and I began our Catania adventure at the heart of the city, Piazza del Duomo, also known as Cathedral Square, a lively place where locals and visitors gather. It often hosts events, festivals, and markets, making it a hub of cultural activity.

Catania Badia sant'agata

This grand square is surrounded by some of the city’s most iconic landmarks, including the Catania Cathedral, Elephant Fountain, and Palazzo degli Elefanti. The centerpiece of the piazza is the unique Fontana dell’Elefante, a black lava stone fountain with an elephant statue on top. Children will be fascinated by the legend behind this statue and its intricate design. Take a leisurely stroll around the square, allowing your family to absorb the architectural beauty that defines Catania.

The Duomo di Catania is dedicated to Saint Agatha, the city’s patron saint. The cathedral, built on the site of a Roman bath complex, is an excellent example of Sicilian Baroque architecture, characterized by ornate decorations, dramatic contrasts, and a sense of grandeur. It was primarily designed by Giovanni Battista Vaccarini in the 18th century.

The Elephant Fountain (Fontana dell’Elefante) is in the center of the square and is made with an iconic lava stone fountain featuring an elephant statue, known as “Liotru,” which is also the city’s symbol. The statue is of Roman origin and is said to have protective powers.

Palazzo degli Elefanti: On the eastern side of the square stands the Palazzo degli Elefanti, the city’s town hall. This historic building is an example of late Baroque architecture and is characterized by its distinctive elephant-themed decorations.

Palazzo dei Chierici: Adjacent to the cathedral is the Palazzo dei Chierici, an elegant Baroque building that now houses the Diocesan Museum. The museum contains a rich collection of religious art and artifacts.

 

  1. Stay at a Bed & Breakfast in Via Etnea

We stayed at San Demetrio Rooms at Via Etnea 55, right in the middle of the action and the city centre!

Catania San Demetrio Rooms

  1. Ancient History: Roman Theatre and Odeon

Step back in time by visiting the well-preserved Roman Theatre and Odeon. These archaeological marvels offer a glimpse into Catania’s rich past. The Roman Theatre once hosted grand performances and today remains an impressive site for history enthusiasts. The adjacent Odeon, a smaller theatre, provides a unique contrast. Wander through the ancient structures, imagining the theatrical spectacles that once took place on these grounds.

Ancient History: Roman Theatre and Odeon

Ursino Castle: Also known as Castello di Ursino, this is a medieval fortress that holds centuries of history within its walls. The castle houses the Civic Museum, where you can delve into Catania’s past through a collection of artefacts and artworks. Children will be intrigued by the medieval atmosphere and the opportunity to learn about the city’s evolution over time.

castello ursino catania sicily

  1. La Playa di Catania

Catania La Playa Lido Le Capannine

Escape the urban buzz and head to Playa di Catania, the city’s main beach. This sandy stretch along the Ionian Sea is perfect for family relaxation and fun. Build sandcastles, take refreshing swims in the clear waters, or simply bask in the Mediterranean sun.

Catania Lido Azzurro Agosto 2023 collage mamma

Beachside cafes and restaurants offer delectable seafood, providing an opportunity to savour authentic Sicilian flavours with a view. My teenage son Diego and I visited two beaches in particular, the family-friendly Lido Azzurro and the hipsters’ favourite beach Le Capannine, located at the opposite ends of La Playa.

Catania Lido Azzurro

 

  1. Hiking on the Etna Volcano

No visit to Catania is complete without encountering the majestic Mount Etna, Europe’s most active volcano. This natural wonder offers a range of family-friendly activities, from guided hikes to educational tours at the Parco dell’Etna.

Hiking on the Etna Volcano

Marvel at the surreal landscape as you ascend the mountain, and for the adventurous, consider taking a cable car to even higher altitudes. The geological phenomenon of Mount Etna is bound to ignite a sense of wonder and awe in every member of the family.

Hiking on the Etna Volcano monica costa and son

  1. The Vibrant Markets: La Pescheria and Fera o Luni

monica costa la pescheria catania ombrellini installation

For an authentic taste of Catania’s local life, meander through the bustling markets of La Pescheria and Fera o Luni. La Pescheria is a vibrant fish market where vendors display their catch of the day in colourful chaos. The sights, sounds, and lively atmosphere create an unforgettable sensory experience. Fera o Luni, on the other hand, offers a variety of fresh produce, cheeses, spices, and artisanal products. Engage your family in a treasure hunt for local delicacies and souvenirs, immersing yourselves in the city’s vibrant culture.

monica costa la pescheria catania spaghetti al nero di seppia

  1. Sicilian Cuisine

Sicilian cuisine is an enticing blend of Mediterranean flavours, and Catania stands out as a true culinary haven. Immerse yourself in a delectable food tour that acquaints you with renowned dishes such as arancini, cannoli, and pasta alla Norma.

Begin your gastronomic journey with a visit to Don Peppinu (in Piazza Duomo/Via Etnea) for their delectable (and best in town) Brioscia with Gelato. This delightful treat combines a fluffy brioche bun with a scoop of creamy gelato, creating a harmonious marriage of textures and flavours.

monica costa eating brioscia Catania local life

Next on your list should be the Granita with Brioscia, a refreshing concoction of shaved ice infused with fruit flavours, perfectly complemented by the soft, buttery brioscia. This combination provides a delightful contrast of temperatures and tastes, leaving your palate thoroughly invigorated. One of our favourite and most typical flavours is almond.

sicilian sweets

 

For a taste of Sicily’s savoury side, don’t miss out on Caponatina. This traditional dish showcases a medley of eggplants, tomatoes, olives, and capers, all harmoniously blended with a tangy sauce. The result is a burst of rich, complex flavours that exemplify the essence of Sicilian cuisine.

Venturing further, you may encounter the unique and bold option of horse meat. This distinctive offering is a testament to Sicily’s diverse culinary heritage, providing a taste experience that may be unfamiliar yet undeniably memorable.

Finally, indulge in the delicate yet robust flavours of Sword Fish, a quintessential Sicilian seafood dish. At the Pescheria street market and restaurant area, they grill it to perfection and season with a blend of local herbs and spices. This dish offers a taste of the region’s coastal bounty, evoking the essence of the Mediterranean sea.

Embarking on a culinary journey through Catania promises not only a delightful sensory experience but also a profound appreciation for the rich tapestry of flavours that define Sicilian cuisine. In 10 days spent there, we tried quite a few and I could not give a single bad review. It’s quite exceptional. Italy in general has very high standards when it comes to eating and eating out, but Sicily has surpassed my expectations.

 

  1. Baroque Architecture: Via dei Crociferi

Catania boasts a wealth of Baroque architecture that showcases the city’s artistic heritage. Stroll down Via dei Crociferi, a street renowned for its elegant buildings adorned with ornate facades and intricate details. The street is home to several churches, each a masterpiece of Baroque design. Families will appreciate the opportunity to explore these architectural gems and witness the captivating blend of history and aesthetics.

 

  1. Taormina: La Piazzetta, the Greek Theatre and the Isola Bella

Just a short drive from Catania lies Taormina, a coastal town famous for being perched on a lava rock overlooking the sea.

Taormina: La Piazzetta, the Greek Theatre and the Isola Bella

Taormina anfiteatro greco

The town offers a unique opportunity for families to explore underwater wonders.

Taormina La Piazzetta, the Greek Theatre and the Isola Bella

Grab your snorkelling gear and discover the marine life thriving in the clear waters of the protected marine area. Children and adults alike will be enchanted by the colourful fish and fascinating rock formations.

Taormina the Isola Bella

  1. Festivals and Events

Catania is known for its lively festivals that celebrate local traditions, culture, and history. Depending on your travel dates, you might have the chance to participate in events like the Festa di Sant’Agata (five full days in February), a grand religious procession that draws pilgrims and spectators alike. The festival’s vibrant atmosphere, adorned with lights and decorations, is sure to leave a lasting impression on the entire family.

Catania Villa Bellini

 

From exploring ancient ruins and indulging in local cuisine to basking on sandy shores and marvelling at architectural wonders, Catania has it all. This captivating Italian city invites families to embark on a journey of discovery, creating cherished memories that will last a lifetime. Whether you’re walking through bustling markets, hiking on Mount Etna, or simply savouring a scoop of Sicilian gelato inside the Brioscia, Catania promises a holiday filled with wonder, joy, and adventure for all ages.

 

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