It’s a strange feeling, looking up at an active volcano from a city that you’re visiting.
You’re sightseeing, walking along, having a gelato, laughing with your friends, talking about what you want for dinner, planning your beach trip for the following day, and then your eyes catch sight of it and remember, “Oh yeah, that fiery hell-hole could barf out a stream of ash and lava and melt my face off. Worse yet, it would melt this gelato before I could finish it.”
Want to visit this fiery hell-hole for yourself? Read on for my guide to visiting Mount Etna!
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Visiting Mount Etna
Etna and the city of Catania
The mountain wreathed in bright, white smoke looms in the distance from Catania. It’s a formation that has shaped the city, both literally by destroying parts of it completely many years ago, and in a more abstract sense, in that it brings in thousands of tourists a year.
The black volcanic stone is ubiquitous in the aesthetic of the city. It’s used in sculptures, buildings, decorations, charms, keepsakes, and keychains. Everywhere you turn, you can buy products associated with the food that is grown and cultivated in the fertile, ashy soil found in the region, thanks to Etna.
Info on the volcano
One of the most active volcanoes in the world, the area where Etna now stands is believed to have begun exhibiting eruptive activity 570,000 years ago. The last major eruption was in 1992. The last minor eruption started in late July WHEN WE WERE THERE CLIMBING AROUND ON IT. It continued until just a few weeks ago.
There’s a massive research center perched on the southern side of Etna, which collects data round-the-clock regarding the seismic activity of the area, so presumably, they’d know when the time came to evacuate. I stinkin’ hope so anyway.
One of Etna’s explosions was even featured in a Star Wars movie! It’d also be a great place to destroy an enchanted ring, if you’ve got one lying around, or to begin your plan of threatening to destroy the world with LIQUID HOT MAGMA.
Driving to Etna from Catania
If you’ve rented a car, you can easily drive to Etna from Catania like my friends and I did.
It took us a bit of research to find out what to plug into our GPS, but in the end it turned out to be “Rifugio Sapienza,” which refers to the area where the aforementioned research center is.
There is a lot of visitor parking at Rifugio Sapienza. We parked in a space in front of the little semi-circle of shops and paid for parking in one of them. Look for the blue and white “P” sign. I believe we paid about 2 or 3 euros for half a day of parking.
Doing a bus tour of Etna
Multiple tour companies also offer day trips at reasonable rates. The first time I visited Catania, my friends and I took one of these bus tours, and it was really fun. The guide and driver told us a lot of interesting facts and history, flirted shamelessly with us even though they were old enough to be our dads, and gave us shots of “The Fire of Etna,” a cinnamon liqueur that will make you claw at your throat and give you heart burn for days.
Facilities on Etna
You’ll find a few cafés and restaurants where you can sit and look at the spectacular views. Etna also boasts hiking trails and even skiing during the winter.
Find out more information about the history of the volcano as well as the activities available here.
Tourists can visit quite a large area of the volcano. Some parts require a guide, but there are two craters around the Rifugio Sapienza area that you can visit on your own.
What to wear when visiting Mount Etna in the summer
When we visited Etna it was really hot in Catania, about 35/36 degrees C, or about 95/97 degrees F, but it was breezy and cool once we reached the parking lot. Etna is over 3,000 meters tall, so the height means cooler temperatures, which we welcomed.
I stupidly wore sandals, and it wasn’t too big of a deal, but sneakers probably would have been a better choice. I also had sunscreen and my sun hat, which I was glad about because despite the cooler temperature, the sun is still strong and you can easily get burned up there!
Timing your visit
Depending on how much you want to do, I’d say a few hours is probably enough time to visit Etna and enjoy it. Including travel time – about 2 hours round trip – I suggest allotting a half a day.
Impressions of Etna
One of the most striking things about Etna, to me, is the incredible variety of colors you can see there. The glowing blue sky is punctuated with puffy white smoke, which sits atop slopes of rust and russet. The slopes sink into red and black soil. The soil is sprinkled with tender green and yellow, the delicate stems of new life.
As Etna forces rebirth in the natural world, so it has caused rebirth in Catania. It gives and takes away, provides and removes, threatens and comforts with the promise of bounty.
Fiery streams of death barf aside, you won’t want to miss Etna if you’re visiting Sicily’s east coast. Like I said above, you cannot separate the cities, towns, and earth in the region from Etna. They are intrinsically linked, and if you want to understand the local culture and history, you’ve got to understand Etna.
Questions? Thoughts? Let me know in the comments!
More information on visiting Mount Etna
Want to know more? Check out these sites I consulted when writing this piece:
Book one of these awesome Etna tours!
If you’re a bit adventurous, check out this half-day tour buggy tour of Etna! It looks like a really fun way to explore the volcano and the surrounding area. 36 travelers have given it a 4.9/5 rating. Note: you must show an EU or international driving license.
Into the great outdoors? Book this hiking tour, which also includes a post-walk wine tasting and honey sampling! 51 people have rated it 4.8/5.
Want more food and wine and less volcano? Check out this 5-hour tour, which includes a visit to a winery and lunch! 84 travelers have given it a 4.8/5.
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