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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.