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Cantania on a Budget


Backpacking in the Historic Sicilian City

Situated on the eastern coast of Sicily and lying in the shadow of its infamous volcano, Catania is the island’s second largest city, after Palermo. Less well known and more affordable than many other parts of Italy, it’s nonetheless rich in the culture, history and dolce vita lifestyle that make the country so popular with travellers.

Staying in Catania

Despite being the gateway to Mount Etna, Catania manages to avoid much of the inflated prices and overcrowding associated with tourist spots. As such, backpackers invariably find the city centre offers good accommodation to match their funds.

Options range from informal private rooms in B&Bs to a number of pleasant one-star hotels. For even more affordable beds in backpacker dorms, meanwhile, hostels in Catania provide a range of both cheap and sociable places for budget travellers to stay in the city.

Complex City History

Catania was founded on a fertile plane at the foot of Mount Etna and the city has been shaped by its proximity to the volcano, from the particular rock used in its construction to the numerous earthquakes and eruptions that have both destroyed and protected its history.

Much like Pompeii and Herculaneum, Catania’s ancient architecture and monuments have been well-preserved and the Roman Forum, 2nd century amphitheatre, Achillean Thermae (bathhouses) and the Greek Acropolis perched atop Collina di Montevergine can all still be seen today.

The modern city centre was rebuilt in the 17th century after an earthquake and is a graceful homage to Baroque style that, with its beautiful churches and wide streets, has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Home to lively cafés and shops as well as the symbolic Fontana dell' Elefante and intriguing cathedral of Saint Agata (the city’s patron), the attractive Piazza del Duomo is one of Catania’s most enduring landmarks and a great spot from which to explore the city.

Mount Etna

With the shadow and dust of one of the world’s largest active volcanoes falling across the city, it’s hard to ignore the imposing sight of Mount Etna during a visit to this part of Sicily.

Excursions can be made to its summit by car or organized tour, although cash-strapped backpackers will find that the cheapest way to scale Etna is by bus from the terminal in Catania. Services leave early in the morning for the Rifugio Sapienza (halfway to the summit) from where travellers can continue on foot and then return to the city in the evening.

Alternatively, the private Circumetnea train line runs around the edge of the volcano from the Borgo metro station and provides some stunning views for around €10.

Beyond to the Beaches

In addition to Mount Etna, there are two beaches that are easily accessible from the city on public transport. South of the centre lies La Plaja, a long stretch of idyllic sand, whilst to the north of the bay the intriguing rocky coastline of the Riveria dei ciclopi extends to the quaint town of Taormina.

Eating in Catania

Catania’s culture is strongly rooted in Sicilian tradition and this is reflected in the restaurants and cafés in the city. With specialities from granitas (ice tea with lemon gelati) to arancini di riso (rice balls) and cannoli di ricotta (sweet pastries with ricotta cheese) readily available it’s a great place to sample the island’s typical cuisine.

There are affordable trattorie–style restaurants and pizzerias scattered across the city but, as throughout Sicily, there are also plenty of ways to pick up cheap fast food for travellers on a tighter budget.

Big kiosks and salumeria selling hot or cold Panini are popular with the city’s student population and provide a satisfying meal for just a few Euros. One word of warning, for less adventurous eaters, though - the city is also famous for its horsemeat and this is a popular filling in Panini!

Catania’s typical food and fish markets are both lively, colourful places to visit and the perfect spot to find cheap, fresh ingredients and local specialities on a budget. The pescheria is the busiest of the historic markets and spreads across Piazza Pardo (near the Cathedral) every morning from Monday to Saturday.

La Dolce Vita!

Like much of Italy, Catania is fond of ‘the good life’, from its fine local wines (particularly the DOC red wines from the foot of Mount Etna) to raucous student parties, and the city’s youthful population and many clubs ensure a lively nightlife all year round.

Although the afternoon siesta is devotedly observed, when evening comes the city definitely wakes itself up. During the summer months, bustling pavement cafés and street musicians build to a lively crescendo.

With around 120 clubs and bars spread around the city, Catania’s nightlife has been compared to Madrid’s famous movida scene and with 25 theatres and a seemingly endless stretch of drinking venues it’s easy to see how this reputation has come about.

The busiest neighbourhoods are the Piazza Teatro and around Scalinata Alessi, the latter of which is in the university district near Via Crociferi where the crowd tends to be youthful and the prices low.

All in all, whether you’re looking for Roman ruins, relaxing beaches or vibrant nightlife, Catania has all the ingredients of an authentic Italian experience. And what’s more, it supplies them on a backpackers’ budget!

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