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