How to visit Sicily’s Mount Etna by bus from Catania

You don’t need to spend a fortune to visit Mount Etna. Europe’s liveliest and tallest volcano is easily accessible by bus from Catania.

Mount Etna by bus from Catania | The Gap Year Edit

Etna, baby!

Read on for how to get there, and what to expect when you arrive.

The bus to Mount Etna from Catania

The bus to Etna from Catania leaves at 08.15am, the kind of time when a morning cappuccino would be preferable.

There are a couple of bus stations in Catania, located within a block of each other and the train station. For the Etna bus, you want the lot nearest the train station just beyond the city transport bus stands. This houses AST buses.

Buy your tickets at the AST office in advance. The office is over the road from the station down a side street (the street has a WIND shop on the corner).

A return to Etna will set you back €6.60 Euro (just over £5 or about $7.50). The office is open early enough to get your tickets on the day, although in the height of summer you may want to get them the day before to make sure of a seat.

The bus winds its way up above Catania, stopping halfway at Nicolosi. Nicolosi is a pretty place, and the bus makes a handy half hour stop – enough time to grab a belated cappuccino and breakfast of granita or brioche in one of the central square cafes.

You’ll arrive at Etna’s Refugio Sapienza, at a height of 2000m above sea level, at around 10.15am.

The bus back is at 4.30pm – don’t miss it! It takes a little less time, as there’s no pause to break the journey in Nicolosi. You’ll arrive back in Catania at 6pm.

Getting to the top of Mount Etna from Refugio Sapienza

If your budget doesn’t stretch any further, there are a couple of old volcanic craters you can explore around Refugio Sapienza.

You could also hike up the remaining 1000 metres from here. Be warned though, the first 500 metres isn’t pretty; walking by the side of the cable car route along a dusty black lava-strewn road.

Fortunately, other options are available, although they’ll cost you a few Euro. Choose your package depending how active you want to be.

Cable car plus hike

For adventurers who want to stretch their legs and experience what Etna has to offer, the cable car plus a 2km hike up the remaining 500 metres is the way to go. The cable car takes you up to 2590 metres, with each car capable of holding six (small!) people.

Mount Etna by bus from Catania | The Gap Year Edit

The impact of Etna is all around. How much lava?

Public transport all the way

If you prefer to keep hiking to a minimum, you can book a jeep to take you from the 2590 metres point where the cable car ends, up to 2900 metres. From here it’s a shorter climb of 100 metres or so.

Costs

A return cable car ticket costs €30; check the times so you don’t get stranded (when we were there in April, the last cable car back down Etna was at 4pm).

A return jeep ride is an additional €39, which includes a mandatory guide.

You can pay by cash or card.

Pretty pricey when you add it all up, but the costs of operating on Etna are high. The cable car has been volcano’d out of action three times in the last thirty years!

Hiking from the cable car to the top of Mount Etna

You can feel the thinner mountain air at the top cable car station, some 2590 metres above sea level. Only another 500 metres or so in altitude to go!

The 2km walk up isn’t particularly difficult; although it’s occasionally disrupted by dust from the passing jeeps. Walk on the left on the way up to minimise being dust-blown and allow up to a couple of hours to reach the summit.

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The views on the way are stunning. In April there were still patches of snow, which made for some pretty incredible contrasting photos.

Etna has four craters, and you can visit two of the lower ones (at around 3000 metres) easily and without a guide. Both offer variety – one is black lava, the other has a mars-like red glow.

It’s cold and windy at this altitude. On the day we visited it was 26 degrees Celsius in Catania; but my down jacket, gloves and hat were all made full use of on the summit! Don’t leave the sunscreen at home though. The factor 15 we took and reapplied twice still wasn’t quite enough for my now pink boyfriend!

Practicalities for visiting Mount Etna

  • Bring: Water, snacks, high factor sunscreen, sunglasses, hat, gloves, plus other warm clothing and shoes suitable for walking. You can rent warm jackets, walking boots and socks at the top cable car station for €3 Euro per item.
  • Buy: Appropriate travel insurance. Many policies don’t cover you for hiking above 2000 metres, so check the small print and upgrade if needed.
  • Gifts. Shops selling lava souvenirs, liqueurs, honey, wine and more are plentiful at Refugio Sapienza. The cable car gift shop is more expensive than other stores.
  • Eat: Food is in plentiful supply at Refugio Sapienza, plus some liqueur samples on offer when you get off the return cable car. There’s also a snack bar at the top cable car station.
I used the Lonely Planet Guide to Sicily for my trip. Help the site by buying the guide through this link, at no extra cost to you.

If you’re after a day trip in Sicily, you could do a lot worse than visit Mount Etna by bus from Catania. Crazy landscapes and endless photo opportunities await, along with the chance to tick off a bucket-list achievement (or is that just me?)

Prices and info correct in April 2016. You can also check out my other recommended day trips from Catania.

Have you been to Mount Etna? Did you go by bus or our a tour? Share your experiences below.

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11 Responses to How to visit Sicily’s Mount Etna by bus from Catania

  1. Deborah Nisbet 10 June 2017 at 12:56 pm #

    This is great info. What about Mid-december. Is is open to the top. What sbout temps?

    • Julie 11 June 2017 at 7:29 pm #

      Hi Deborah, it depends on the weather. Some readers recently visited in January and they could only get as far as Refugio Sapienza due to a snow storm 🙁 At the very least, there will be snow at the top at that time of year.

  2. MT 22 May 2017 at 6:25 am #

    How long does it take to reach summit from Sapienza by foot and back also by foot?

    If im staying in Catania, is it doable to catch the early bus, hike all the way up and down and catch the bus again?

    • Julie 22 May 2017 at 4:01 pm #

      Hi, I’ll answer the best I can. The short answer: in theory, yes. The long answer: it depends! To expand a bit more on that …

      The way up is two parts: Sapienza to cable car upper station (walk or cable car this part) and cable car upper station to summit (walk or jeep/walk this part). We only walked the second part there and back – it took us about 1hr 45 minutes on the way up, we then had some time at the summit, and then about 1hr 20-30 minutes on the way back down. We are both physically fit and didn’t suffer from altitude sickness. We stopped quite a bit to take photos. We were back at Sapienza for about 1.30-2.00pm.

      The first part is a shorter walk than the second part, but is steeper (and a lot less scenic). If I was estimating how long it would take me to walk it, I’d guess at about an hour each way. Hope this helps 🙂

  3. Jan 14 May 2017 at 10:02 am #

    Very useful, thank you very much! Just one thing I would like to mention, it is recommended to be early at the bus (back and forth) since, at least as I was there, the bus was very full and we have to sit on the aisle.

    • Julie 14 May 2017 at 3:43 pm #

      Good point, thanks Jan 🙂 (in April it wasn’t so busy!)

  4. Bo 7 May 2017 at 12:32 pm #

    Hello, very interesting explanation 🙂

    One question though, is it possible to buy the cable car return ticket or the jeep return ticket in advance, or did you buy it on the spot ?

    • Julie 7 May 2017 at 1:36 pm #

      Hi there, glad it was helpful 🙂
      I bought my tickets on the spot. It looks at though you will be able to buy online in the future – the Cable Car website says that “online tickets will be available soon” http://funiviaetna.com/en/online-tickets/

  5. IP 4 May 2017 at 7:51 am #

    theres no way i can do this by sunset time?

    • Julie 4 May 2017 at 9:21 am #

      Hi, I didn’t look at this option, but you could perhaps stay at Rifugio Sapienza and then get the return bus the following day? Or see if any of the tour companies offer a sunset option if you don’t mind being with a group.

  6. sam 19 April 2017 at 11:54 pm #

    Very good. Thank you for your blog and share

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