Day trips from Catania by public transport

Sicily’s second city of Catania makes an ideal base for day trips by public transport to Taormina, Syracuse and Mount Etna. Here’s what to see and how to get there.

Catania day trip 1: Taormina – for ancient ruins and vertiginous viewpoints

Taormina is famed for its ruined Greek theatre, which dates back to the 3rd century BC. Teatro Greco may be hyped up, but it’s worth the visit – the relatively intact amphitheatre looks to the stage, and Mount Etna looms (or smokes!) as a backdrop.

day trips from Catania by public transport - Taormina Teatro Greco

The Teatro Greco in Taormina. Who wouldn’t want to take a day trip here?

The rest of Taormina is postcard pretty, but has the accompanying tourist factor. Prices are far higher than Catania and elsewhere in Sicily.

To escape the crowds, head up to the Monte Tauro viewpoint, a 20 minute signed schlep up from the bypass (Via Circonvallazione), which runs roughly parallel to the tourist drag of Corso Umberto. The views over Taormina are worth the effort.

day trips from Catania by public transport - view over Taormina

A steep hike, but well worth it!

How to get from Catania to Taormina on public transport

The Catania to Taormina bus departs from Catania’s main bus station. The main bus station (not to be confused with the bus stands and small lot in front of the train station) sits a block back from the main road that runs past the train station.

Buses between Catania and Taormina are run by Etna Trasporti. They’re every half hour or hour, depending on the time of day you depart, and take about an hour and ten minutes to make the journey. A return ticket is €8.50. You can find timetables at the Interbus website.

Buses arrive fairly centrally in Taormina in a small bus station. It’s about a 5-10 minute walk from here to the centre – just follow the line of gift shops! Catch the return bus from the same small bus station.

There is a Catania to Taormina train, but the station in Taormina is 2km downhill from the centre. It’s also infrequent. The bus is a better bet.

Catania day trip 2: Syracuse – for beautiful buildings and creepy catacombs

Syracuse’s historical centre is on the peninsula of Ortygia. You could spend hours wandering its alleyways and coastal lookouts.

day trips from Catania by public transport - Syracuse Ortygia

A photo-opp on every corner …

Despite the tourist-attracting UNESCO world heritage status, Syracuse feels a lot more real than Taormina, and prices – even in prime locations – are very reasonable.

The Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square) is the centre piece of it all. This picture gives a flavour for how spectacular it is, and speaks louder than my words.

day trips from Catania by public transport - Syracuse Ortygia Piazza del Duomo

Niiiiiice! Syracuse’s Piazza del Duomo doesn’t disappoint.

Underneath the square, and accessible from it, are the Catacombs of St John. Now set out as a museum, they have some pretty interesting exhibits down there!

day trips from Catania by public transport - Syracuse Ortygia catacombs

One of the original inhabitants of Syracuse’s catacombs.

Away from Ortygia, Syracuse is also home to ancient Greek ruins, spread out over the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis. The 5th century Greek theatre is impressive – but – in my opinion, not a patch on the one at Taormina. However, the scale of the park overall is larger, and it’s worth a visit if you have a couple of hours to spare.

How to get from Catania to Syracuse on public transport

You can reach Syracuse by bus or train from Catania.

The train takes between 1hr 5 minutes and 1hr 20 minutes and costs €6.90 each way. Trains are every hour or two hours, depending on the time of day. You can find timetables and buy tickets at the Trenitalia website (available in English as well as Italian). Syracuse is Siracusa in Italian. As with all Italian trains, validate your ticket before you board.

There are also regular (approximately hourly) Interbus buses between Catania and Syracuse. They take around 1 hr 25 minutes. Find the timetable on the Interbus website.

Buses leave from the bus station in Catania, located as described in the Taormina day trip. They arrive at Syracuse’s bus station, which is a couple of blocks from its train station.

It’s a walk from Syracuse’s train and bus stations to the attractions. At a decent pace, it takes about 20 minutes to walk to Ortygia and around 20 minutes to the ruins. They’re in opposite directions from one another.

Catania day trip 3: Mount Etna – for mild adventures at altitude

The summits and craters of Europe’s most active volcano boast an other-worldly atmosphere, alternating between a dark ashy hell and a red landscaped Mars. Both are incredibly photogenic, especially against a bright sky.

day trips from Catania - visiting Mount Etna

A volcano, or Mars? This pic was taken in late April, and the hat/jacket and sunscreen were most definitely needed 🙂

From Refugio Sapienza at 2000 metres above sea level, you can cable car and/or walk/jeep to the summit and craters at 3000 metres.

At this altitude, be prepared for a possible shortness of breath, intense sun, and all weathers. There’s loose ash everywhere, so beach flip flops are not recommended ☺

How to take a day trip from Catania to Mount Etna

There’s only one bus a day each way between Catania and Mount Etna, so don’t miss it ☺

The AST bus from Catania departs from the small lot near the stands outside the railway station (not the main bus station) at 8.15am. It takes 2 hours – with a stop en-route – to reach Refugio Sapienza, which is the closest you can get on public transport. The return bus is at 4.30pm, arriving back in Catania for around 6pm.

Buy your bus tickets in advance from the ticket office, and your cable car / jeep tickets for the summit at the Refugio. Check out my full and detailed post about Mount Etna logistics, timetables and pricing to find out more.

[box type=”info”]I stayed in an Airbnb apartment for most of my time in Catania (££ discount off your first Airbnb stay with this link), and also had a one-night stay in the slightly fancy and recommended Liberty Hotel. I used the Lonely Planet Guide to Sicily as an overview guide. Help the site by using these links, at no extra cost to you.[/box]

These are just three possible day trips from Catania by public transport. And there are more … you could also take day trips to Noto and Enna. Catania itself is also full of charms – sometimes of the shabby chic variety. Just writing this makes me want to go back!

Have you used Catania as a base for day trips? Where else would you recommend? Share your tips and ideas below.

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

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

Mount Etna by bus from Catania | The Gap Year Edit

Etna, baby!

Read on for how to catch the bus 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 Mount 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.

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.

[box type=”info”]I stayed in an Airbnb apartment for most of my time in Catania (££ discount off your first Airbnb stay with this link), and also had a one-night stay in the slightly fancy and recommended Liberty Hotel. I  used the Lonely Planet Guide to Sicily as an overall guide. Help the site by using these links, at no extra cost to you.[/box]

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?)

[box type=”info”]Prices and info correct in April 2016. You can also check out my other recommended day trips from Catania.[/box]

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

Bologna – where hipsters meet history

Famed for its porticoes, leftish tendencies, and a deserved foodie reputation; Bologna and its surrounds echo with the united footsteps of old and new. It’s a city where hipsters meet history.

Cyclists’ simultaneously pedal slowly and talk quickly on their mobile phones.

Students in converse trainers and skinny jeans chat to their amici, smoke curling from their cigarettes, as they scuffle across cobbled piazzas towards the university quarter’s latest outpouring of graffiti.

Fitness devotees pound the ancient portico steps on their evening workout to and from the Santuario di San Luca, a continuous 4km colonnade that climbs out of the city.

Look up, look down!

Bologna and its environs invite you to explore with your senses.

Visually, it’s a feast; and you’ll miss out on a lot if you keep your explorations at eye-level.

Join the huffing and puffing tourists (refreshingly few in number) to ascend the 498 steps of Torre degli Asinelli for €3, and snap pictures of its’ perilously leaning neighbour Torre Garisenda. The Leaning Tower of Pisa has nothing on this guy!

Gawp in wonder at the frescoed ceilings and walls which adorn university buildings, the cathedrals and Castello Estense in neighbouring Ferrara (35-55 minutes by train from Bologna, sights are around half an hour walk from Ferrara’s train station).

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Tread lightly over the world’s longest sundial, housed on the floor of the enormous Cathedral de San Petronio on Piazza Maggiore.

For a taste of something a little more 20th/21st century, head to MAMbo (€6), Bologna’s modern art gallery. The current temporary design exhibit features cool designs of showrooms, airport lounges and more. The Museo Morandi (previously in a separate building) is housed here too – one ticket covers both.

[box type=”info”]I used the Lonely Planet Guide to Italy to help me find out about Bologna and surrounds. Help the site by buying the guide through this link, at no extra cost to you.[/box]

Eat, drink and be merry from breakfast to bedtime

In the morning, do as the Italians do. A coffee (espresso or – before 10.30am – a cappuccino) at a local coffee bar. Sneak in a brioche to tide you over for a couple of hours.

Explore your senses and let your nose lead you through the streets around via Clavature.

You’ll find the indoor Mercado here – opt for a mixed meat and cheese platter for lunch, washed down – of course – with a local glass of wine. Delish.

6pm, and join the Bolognesi as they partake in an aperitivo called Spritz. It’s bright orange. To me the combination of Aperol, prosecco and soda water wasn’t smooth enough, but join in and you’ll get nibbles for free.

If you’ve not overdone the aperitivo buffet, head to a local trattoria for Bologna’s most famous dish, tagliatelle al ragu. This is the original and uncorrupted version of spaghetti bolognese. Without spaghetti or a tomato in sight, it’s a dish full of flavour. Try it at Trattoria del Rosso, home of local food at local prices, eaten with local people. The set menu (7-8pm) for a pasta dish with a glass of wine, water and coffee comes in at €10.

For your evening passagiata (walk), ice-cream is THE choice. The local Ferrara “Estense” flavour includes sumptuous fudge pieces. Prices everywhere are around €2.50 for two scoops. Mix your flavours for maximum taste heaven.

Costs and practicalities

  • A city walking tour, departing the tourist office on Piazza Maggiore ever afternoon at 4.45pm, costs €13. Book in advance. I personally didn’t rate this tour, but the Tourist Office is a good source of information with English-speaking staff.
  • The streets around via Clavature make for idyllic photo opportunities with flowers, fruits, vegetables, meats and cheeses jostling for place with shoppers and red buildings.
  • To walk the 4km portico to the Santuario di San Luca, head south-west out of the city to start at Porta Saragozza. Number 20 bus goes to the Porta and some of the way beyond for €1.20. This is a good choice for a Monday, when many of the city museums and galleries are closed.
  • Neighbouring Ferrara, Ravenna and Modena are all within easy reach and provide “day out” options. A return train ticket to Ferrara is €9.20, castle entrance fee €6.
  • A frequent bus runs from the train station to the airport for €6.

To sum up

Bologna’s atmosphere is one of a city going about its daily business, albeit in a hipster cool kinda way. Take in the architecture, the atmosphere and the calories without the tourist hoards; and round it all off with a Spritz.

Salute!

Where else have you been that has a hipster vibe? How do you think Bologna compares against other Italian cities?

How Bologna gave me the courage to act on my gut feel – pronto!

I’d only been in red-bricked Bologna a few hours when I had the feeling my original calling here could be a spurious one.

Bologna gut feel pronto!

Over the “oohs” and “ahs” of the flavoursome discoveries of the famed ragu, I’d spent my first evening there talking with Judy, an inspirational Canadian lady who’s been travelling Europe since May.

Judy, with her top coaching qualities, has a 115-strong “I am going to do this” list. The idea being that if you commit something to paper, you’re more likely to then make it happen.

Why 115? If you aim for 100 you’ll only think of 90 and then get stuck.

Egged on by the memory of Judy’s words and being the keen “do-er” that I am, the first 25 items of my own “115 list” were committed to hard-drive the following evening.

Number 25 – motivated by numerous occasions when I’ve delayed acting on my gut feel – is this:

Have the courage to follow and act on my gut feel earlier and not succumb to some British “being polite and nice” thing I seem to do, even when there’s no need. This doesn’t mean be rude to people, rather that I don’t have to extend the hand of friendship to people whose actions deserve only civility.

Little did I know I’d be putting it into practice only two days later.

The original calling

Italian ice-cream gelato

Gelato. Love it.

I confess, I’d had an ulterior motive for wanting to visit Bologna. Sure, the leftist red-bricked city had been on my Italian wish-list for all the reasons I’ve long loved Italy – culture, food, wine, ice-cream, architecture, people. But that was only 80% of it.

The other 20% came in the form of 6 foot 2 Italian hot-ness by the name of Giovanni. A Bologna resident, I met Giovanni in Rome last year when he approached me in a bar to say he “knew me from Scarborough” (my home town). I was floored.

Several thoughts ran through my head, chief of which was: “I’m pretty damned sure I’d have remembered YOU in Scarborough!”

So after one night of merriment between our respective groups of friends that ended with a very chaste peck on the cheek and an exchange of numbers at 2am; and having turned down at least three previous invitations, I arrived in Bologna some eighteen months later, as part of my month-long trip from Budapest to Athens.

The plan? To do my own thing sightseeing, and to catch up with Giovanni on the Tuesday evening I was in town.

Fast forward two days. Tuesday, 8.40pm

no shoe shopping on my career break

These were in the wrong country.

I’m stood inside Palazzo Gnudi with Giovanni and his friends. A frescoed ceiling is above me, girls in dresses and high heels are all around me. I’m not exactly in scruffs, but I feel decidedly under-dressed. This is a super-trendy bar that’s a million miles away from Bologna’s marginally casual – by Italian standards – leftist vibe. My numerous pairs of suitable heels are three countries north-west.

I feel decidedly like I’m an afterthought. A hungry afterthought at that.

A combination of factors have led me to this conclusion. His vagueness about arrangements and lack of mention of the bar/dressy factor, being half an hour late without apology, lack of desire to tell me anything about places I should see whilst I’m in town, lack of offering me a drink when he was buying a round.

I have a flashback to number 25.

Have the courage to follow and act on my gut feel earlier and not succumb to some British “being polite and nice” thing that I seem to do, even when there’s no need.

I don’t really know Giovanni from Adam; I don’t owe him anything.

My mind is made up.

I scan the bar with a cursory 360, check he and his friends are out of view, find the stairway, and leave; replying to his “where are you?” message ten minutes later with a text that is far more polite than necessary.

I seek out the local pasta speciality of tagliatelle al ragu – it’s more sumptuous than any hot Italian could ever be. Thanks Judy, I feel illuminated.

Do you have a list like Judy’s? Have you found it a help or a hindrance? Or have you ever gone somewhere for one reason and found you remember it for something completely different?