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 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.

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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 stayed in an Airbnb apartment in Catania (££ discount off your first Airbnb stay with this link) and used the Lonely Planet Guide to Sicily for my trip. Help the site by using these links, 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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34 Responses to How to visit Sicily’s Mount Etna by bus from Catania

  1. Maria C 26 April 2018 at 8:24 am #

    Is there a way I can get there any other time of the day by by public transport.

    • Julie 26 April 2018 at 9:16 am #

      Hi Maria, not that I’ve found. There are semi-regular buses to Nicolosi, but it’s an 18km walk from there 🙂

  2. Jana Mifsud Novomeska 25 March 2018 at 6:29 pm #

    HI Julie,

    Thanks for the post, FINALLY a comprehensive information in one place 🙂 We are planning to go next May however we have to go on a weekend day. Would you know what kind of queues, if any, to expect? Is it all doable in those 6 hours we have, to catch the bus back, without running like crazy and be time-stressed? Thanks!

    • Julie 26 March 2018 at 9:29 am #

      Hi Jana,
      Glad it’s been helpful 🙂 In late April we had plenty of time to do the cable car (with no queue) – walk – and be back at the Rifugio for around 2pm … a good couple of hours before the bus. Other readers have said it’s busier in July, and some people had to stand on the bus. They didn’t mention long cable car queues, though I’m sure it was a bit busier. I’m guessing May will be somewhere in between. We had more than 2 hours leeway, so unless you end up in a cable car queue for 2 hours you shouldn’t be rushed 🙂 Have a fabulous trip!

  3. Supriya 16 January 2018 at 1:55 pm #

    hi, thank you for the post. I was trying to find the bus station that you have mentioned (one near the catania central station). is it the one between “the chicken post” and “bar Sapienza”? I also need help in finding the ticket office. Please, could you help me?

    • Julie 16 January 2018 at 4:40 pm #

      Hi, sorry I didn’t note all the landmarks for the bus stop/ticket office when I was there, only the ones mentioned in article. I seem to remember a little booth near the bus stops and I just asked someone there to make sure I found the right stop/ticket office. Sure they’ll be able to help.

  4. Alena Galkina 8 January 2018 at 9:39 pm #

    Hey July! I’m sorry if my question is stupid

    Is there any chance to get lost (at the top after cable car) and be late to the bus to Catania? 🙁

    And thanks a million for useful post!

    • Julie 8 January 2018 at 10:47 pm #

      Hi Alena, there are no stupid questions 🙂
      The route from the top of the cable car to 100 metres below the summit is the same track the jeeps take, so it’s pretty clear. If in doubt, just follow the jeeps 🙂
      Happy travels!
      Julie

  5. Adam 29 December 2017 at 8:27 am #

    awsome thanks I’m planning to go there at the end of January. Hopefully the bus is still running 🙂 I have a question – you mention that only some lower craters are available without a guide…I wonder whether there is someone actually checking who’s climbing up? Especially in winter when it’s probably not that busy. Don’t really fancy paying some guide to walk with me up some pretty easy path for the last 100 meters to be honest

    • Julie 29 December 2017 at 2:18 pm #

      Hi Adam, you don’t need a guide for two of the craters at 3000metres, although you’ll get one by default if you get the jeep up. As for the other two craters (I believe they’re at about 3300 metres), it’s mandatory to take a guide for safety reasons: it’s an active volcano and the ground isn’t always stable 🙂 There are plenty of people around to make sure you don’t attempt to go up alone. The top craters are closed when it’s active, which it has been recently. They may also be closed for snow in January.

      I’m not sure how long the guided trek to these highest craters takes or what this tour involves, eg one crater or both or a longer walk as well. If those are the craters you’re keen on its best to check with the Refugio/tour operators if it would allow you enough time to go by bus or if it’s better just to book a tour. There are a couple of useful links in my reply to Krishna in the comments below.
      Have a brilliant trip,
      Kind regards
      Julie

  6. Krishna 23 December 2017 at 6:23 pm #

    Hello Julie

    Thanks for the details in your post. It really helps!

    We are going to Sicily on 13-Apr-18 and planning for Etna summit trek on 14/04. I have return flight on 15/04 morning.
    We are planning to take cable car and then jeep followed by guided trek to the summit. With this itinerary, I have few questions
    1. Should i rent a car and park near Refugio (lower cable car station) and take cable car, jeeb and tour trek.
    If so, should i book the tour trek in advance and which tour company is the recommended?
    2. Stay near Catania and have tour operators pick me up and do the full itinerary (this could cost me more so looking for better options)
    3. Take public transport bus, take cable car, jeep and hire a guide there (cheapest of the option i believe). However, timing will be an issue considering return bus is at around 4.30 to Catania(ATS)
    Also, if i don’t book any of the tickets in advance, there are chances I might miss out as well.

    Please let me know which option or any other option works best.

    Thanks
    Krishna

    • Julie 24 December 2017 at 12:13 am #

      Hi Krishna

      No problem, glad it’s of help 🙂 I’ll try to answer as best I can…

      There is a car park at the Refugio, so hiring a car is an option if you prefer a car to the bus. It really depends how much you want to spend (car hire in Italy isn’t cheap) and also how used you to are to Italian driving standards and road signage 🙂 You will have enough time if you take the bus. We did cable car – walk (no jeep, which would be quicker) and spent ages taking photos, and we were back at the Refugio for 2.30pm.

      You don’t need to buy tickets in advance. Online ticketing isn’t available yet either (http://funiviaetna.com/en/online-tickets/ – the “coming soon” message has been on this page since May). In April you shouldn’t have much of a wait for the cable car – it’s the same time of year we were there, and it was very quick.

      You simply book your cable car, jeep/tour when you arrive at the Refugio. I didn’t see different tour companies at the Refugio, you just book the elements of the package you want at the ticket office and you go with the next group.

      I’m sure they are some tour operators in Catania that offer an Etna excursion with perhaps more in-depth tour-guiding, but I didn’t use them so can’t comment on their quality/prices. We stayed in Catania for a few days and used it as a base for Etna and other day trips.

      Hope this helps. Have a fantastic Sicilian holiday.

      Kind regards
      Julie

      • Krishna 25 December 2017 at 4:20 am #

        Hello Julie,

        I drive in the USA and not familiar with Europe driving standards :(. This will be one of the challenge to pickup a rental car.

        Additionally, if I take the bus (8.30 start and 4.30 return), this will not give me enough time to hike from Torre del Filosofo to the summit (3340 mts). I read somewhere it takes around 3-4 hrs to hike to the summit and back to Torre del Filosofo.

        Do you think/know if it takes so much time?
        If so, public transport may not work for me. I am still thinking how should I travel from Catania with my stretched itinerary :). Any recommendations are welcome 🙂

        Also, I am interested to know if you have seen people hiking to the summit in mid April?

        Thanks for your help,
        Krishna

        • Julie 26 December 2017 at 10:48 pm #

          Hi Krishna

          If you’re not used to manual/small cars and a fair amount of organised chaos, I wouldn’t hire a car in Italy 😉 If you decide to do so, the smallest car you can fit in is the best option (car parking spaces are small). Petrol (gas) is at least double the price of the US.

          We only went as high as the Torre del Filosofo, so I’m afraid I don’t know how long it takes to hike higher than that. However, Etna has been very active of late – they close the high route when it’s active. A couple of useful links that may help are here:

          http://funiviaetna.com/en/escursioni-3/
          https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowTopic-g187888-i735-k4691797-Hike_to_top_of_mount_etna-Catania_Province_of_Catania_Sicily.html
          http://www.visitsicily.info/en/mount-etna/

          If the higher route is open, then you may prefer a Catania based tour company (I’m afraid I don’t know of any, as we didn’t take tour, but I’m sure TripAdvisor can assist). If the higher route isn’t open, then the bus allows plenty of time to get to Torre del Filosofo and back.

          Sorry I can’t help further. Have a great holiday.
          Kind regards
          Julie

        • Krishna 29 December 2017 at 11:11 pm #

          Hello Julie

          Thanks for the additional details. I will have to check in April, if the larger trek is available. I think its best I plan these details in March/April time. I have high level Itinerary now 🙂

          Your blog helped 🙂

          Thanks
          Krishna

  7. leonieamalia 14 December 2017 at 11:11 pm #

    A Great Post, Thanks 🙂 I am just wondering if you need to buy the cable car or if you could just go by bus from Catania and walk the rest? Budget friendly, you know 😉

    • Julie 15 December 2017 at 12:34 am #

      Hi, glad it helped 🙂 It is possible to hike up the total 1000 metres in elevation from the Refugio. Be warned though, the first 500 metres of elevation (to take you to where the cable car would drop you off) isn’t pretty; walking a very steep gradient at altitude by the side of the cable car route along a dusty black lava-strewn road. I usually go for the walk it/local bus it/keep it budget-friendly route, and I didn’t fancy it 🙂

  8. mary 21 November 2017 at 4:20 pm #

    very good blog thanks is it for 1 person the 30 euro of the cable pls?

    • Julie 21 November 2017 at 5:00 pm #

      Hi Mary, yes it was 30 Euro each for the cable car when I was there.

  9. saramcdonald 18 September 2017 at 10:43 am #

    Hi, I wonder if you know if you buy both the cable car and jeep together at the bottom or you buy the Jeep at the top? Also, how much time needed to do cable car and jeep. Thank you so much. Sara

    • Julie 18 September 2017 at 6:15 pm #

      Hi Sara, thanks for your message. You buy the cable car and jeep tickets together. The cable car journey itself – assuming no queues, which isn’t guaranteed – is about ten minutes. I’m honestly not sure about how long the jeep tour is in total, as we didn’t go for that option. Hope this helps at least in part 🙂 Julie

  10. Jan Bajena 30 August 2017 at 5:25 pm #

    Hi, this post was very useful for us! Thank you for helping us save a lot of money 🙂

    • Julie 30 August 2017 at 9:30 pm #

      You’re very welcome 🙂

  11. 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.

  12. 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 🙂

  13. 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!)

  14. 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/

  15. 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.

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

    Very good. Thank you for your blog and share

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