Things to Do in Catania with Kids
Catania is the second largest Sicilian city, but we didn’t get lost as we did in many other big cities. Catania is very compact, and all the sights are connected and close to one another. Located beneath the Etna volcano, Catania was destroyed by several volcanic eruptions and earthquakes and finally rebuilt in a luxurious Baroque style. They used lava for building the city, so it is mostly a dark grey color. I admire people who still live beneath volcanoes knowing that they could activate!
We wanted to be insiders for a while, so we rented a modest apartment in an old, typical Sicilian neighborhood about 20 minutes walking from the city center. We didn’t order a wake-up service, but we got it. Merchants shouted under our balcony in the early morning, “Broccoli, broccoli, broccoli!” Of course, why wouldn’t you buy broccoli at eight o’clock in the morning?
Thanks to the volcanic minerals in the area of Catania, the most delicious broccoli and other fruits and vegetables are grown. One of the most vibrant places in town is La Pescheria’s fish market, full of colors and noises. Even if you don’t have the intention of buying something, it is worth visiting and feeling that authentic hurly-burly atmosphere. The parsley was so good that the kids ate it like chips.
The heart of Catania is the main square Piazza Duomo, with a baroque cathedral and giant elephant sculpture. Unlike most other elephants that look serious, this elephant is unique because it is laughing. When you see a laughing elephant, you can’t help but immediately feel better. The elephant has been a symbol of the city for several centuries. There are many theories as to why the elephant is a symbol of Catania. One says that people believed it brought happiness and protected them from the eruption of the nearby volcano.
The main street in Catania is Via Etna which is full of shops, cafes and restaurants and from where you can see the Etna volcano in the distance. A little bit tired from walking, Aura and Pia pretended to be traffic police officers who tried to stop the tourist bus.
After a long walk, we found some rest in a green oasis, the most beautiful park in Sicily – Giardino Bellini. The gardeners did a great job there. There are several playgrounds for children of all ages (including me), swings, slides, and some exercise machines.
Eating in Catania
Bellini is the famous musician who composed the opera, Norma. He wouldn’t even dream that his opera would become the name of one of the most delicious Sicilian pastas – Pasta ala Norma (with eggplants, tomatoes, and salted ricotta cheese). Not far from the park, we found a nice restaurant, Trattoria Giglio Rosso, with an authentic and unpretentious ambiance. In most other restaurants, we stayed hungry after having only one course (primo piati). In this trattoria, the pasta itself is a full meal. The staff didn’t speak English, but the conversation was fluent. We were asking in English, they were answering in Italian. When they were asking in Italian, we just looked blankly at them, but it didn’t matter; Norma is a universal word. Little children learn foreign languages quickly, but this is not the case with our kids. After one month in Italy, they knew only two Italian words; gelato and aqua. They evaluated that it was just enough vocabulary to survive and have ‘la dolce vita’. After a generous lunch, it is always an excellent idea to share the dessert. This cake is called ‘cassata’, a traditional Sicilian sweet. Cassata consists of a round sponge cake moistened with fruit juices or liqueur and layered with ricotta cheese and candied fruits.
There are a variety of museums in Catania. We decided to visit the Museo Civico, housed in a fascinating but grim-looking 13th-century castle called Ursino. The museum is another name for boredom and torture if we do not make it entertaining for the kids. In the rooms on the ground floor, we met the voices of ancient Catanian, preserved in stone. Aura is just learning how to read big letters, and we pretended it was some secret code to read.
When we unlocked the ‘code,’ we could enter the other chambers of the castle to find out what was beautiful inside them. We found a collection of some archaeological finds, sculptures, and paintings representing Sicilian art from the 14th to 18th centuries. Pia found the man with the wig hilarious.
In the room on the top floor, we saw a fragment of a fairytale — a spindle (part of an ancient textile machine). It reminded us of the story of Sleeping Beauty, so the girls pretended to prick their finger on the spindle. They almost fell asleep. I am not sure if it was from that or museum boredom.
On the top of the museum, there is a small self-service coffee place with snacks and a lovely terrace with a view of the city.
The most popular beach in Catania – Playa
Catania is a harbor town, so there is no beach in the very center of the city. Outside the city, there are some sandy beaches with lots of fun facilities for children. The coast that is undoubtedly preferred by the locals is the Playa, a-3 kilometre-long sandy beach to the south of the city. We went there in November, so everything was closed, but the Sicilian sun was still doing its job and we had a warm and relaxed time on this beautiful sandy beach.
If you travel to Sicily, you might find some inspiration in our travel stories, because we try to see things from the new point of view.