10 Things to do in Catania at Christmas

Christmas in Catania is all about nativity scenes, typical sweets and music of traditional instruments. I'll tell you everything that awaits you in this Italian city, you'll love it!

Sonsoles Jimenez

Sonsoles Jimenez

10 min read

10 Things to do in Catania at Christmas

Christmas in Catania | ©Leandro Neumann Ciuffo

In Catania, Christmas begins in early December. It is the time when the whole city is illuminated and decorated for these special dates. In addition, the typical Christmas markets are set up and the atmosphere is filled with joy. However, enjoying all this is only a small part of what you can do.

Seeing nativity scenes that are works of art, listening to the sound of bagpipes, tasting sweets that will make you sigh with pleasure or even sliding down the slopes of a snow-capped volcano are some of the best things to do in Catania at Christmas. And there are even more surprises in store for you, which I'll explain below.

1. Walk around the city to see the Christmas illuminations

Lights of Catania| ©Metro Centric
Lights of Catania| ©Metro Centric

One of the essential plans to enjoy the city of Catania at Christmas is to walk through the center when night has fallen. Coinciding with the celebration of the feast of the Immaculate Conception, on December 8, it is dressed in its best clothes and remains so until Epiphany, on January 6.

I recommend a leisurely stroll through the Via Etnea, is the most stately street of Catania and its main artery. In it you will enjoy the lighting and the Christmas atmosphere like nowhere else and, incidentally, you can browse in their stores. If you have to buy a gift, you'll be in the perfect place.

Nor can you miss another great protagonist of Christmas in the city: the huge tree that adorns the Piazza del Duomo. During the holidays, the square also hosts various cultural events and concerts. All this without forgetting that the cathedral of Catania is the scene of the great religious celebrations.

You can make the tour on your own. But my advice is to do it with an expert guide. There are different tours of Catania to choose from. This way you won't miss anything of the city and, in addition, you will get to know a lot of curiosities, stories and typical Christmas traditions.

Find your tour in Catania

2. Visit some typical Sicilian Nativity Scenes

Catania Nativity Scene| ©Yeastx
Catania Nativity Scene| ©Yeastx

To talk about Christmas in Sicily, and therefore in Catania, is to talk about cribs and nativity scenes. There is no better place to get to know the Italian nativity tradition. My advice is to spend a few hours to visit at least the most important ones. Don't miss the nativity scenes in the Duomo, in the church of San Benedetto or in the church of St. Francis of Assisi and the Immaculate Conception.

In fact, you will see nativity scenes in countless places and many of them are made up of figures that are true works of art. You will immediately notice that they are made with great attention to detail. Pay attention to the expressiveness of the faces, realism is one of the typical characteristics of Sicilian nativity scenes.

But if there is a very special nativity scene that I recommend you visit is the one in the church of Santa Maria della Neve, in Acireale, a stone's throw from the city of Catania. Here, in a grotto of volcanic origin you can visit a beautiful eighteenth-century crib with more than 30 life-size figures.

Don't miss the living nativity scenes

In Sicily , living nativity scenes are also traditional. And not too far from the city of Catania you can visit some of them, such as those of Caltagirone, Forza d'Agrò, Vizzini. If you have time, visiting them is a good way to immerse yourself in the Christmas traditions of this part of Italy.

Book a day trip from Catania

A special museum: the International Museum of the Nativity

If you have plans to visit Catania in two days or more, and you decide to visit Caltagirone, in addition to its living nativity scene there is another attraction in the town that you should not miss: the International Museum of the Nativity, the Luigi Colaleo Collection.

The collection consists of about a thousand pieces of nativity scenes from different periods, some of them unique. It is a magnificent journey through the best of the Sicilian nativity tradition and the work of figurinists who have been and are true artists.

3. Take a tour of the Christmas Market in via Minoriti

Catania Christmas Market| ©LaMarx
Catania Christmas Market| ©LaMarx

Christmas markets are very typical all over Italy. One of the most important in Catania is the Christmas Market held in the courtyard of Palazzo Minoriti, a magnificent Baroque building located in the historic heart of the city.

Via Minoriti is transformed into a magical place reminiscent of those traditional markets of northern Europe. Wooden huts give shape to a village that is worth a leisurely stroll to enjoy the Christmas atmosphere. Of course, you can also buy a gift or a detail to take home a nice souvenir of Catania.

In its stalls you will find small jewels of craftsmanship, including typical Sicilian puppets, figurines for the nativity scene and a host of beads or small decorative objects made with the volcanic stone that has so much prominence in Catania.

4. Tasting typical Christmas delicacies

Buccellato| ©CRISTINA
Buccellato| ©CRISTINA

If you appreciate good food, Christmas is a great time to visit Catania. The atmosphere is filled with aromas and flavors that are impossible to resist. I start at the end, with the sweet. The most typical is the buccellato. It is a puff pastry in the shape of a donut that is filled with chocolate, raisins, honey, nuts and other delicacies.

Although they are typical of the feast of St. Joseph, they are also eaten at Christmas. I'm talking about the sfinci, round bites of fried dough sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. And another sweet you must try is the giurgiulena or cobaita, which is made with caramelized honey, sesame and almonds and whose origin is Arabic.

I will now tell you about the starters and main courses of Christmas in Catania. On the Christmas table you can not miss the crispelle, fritters made with flour and brewer's yeast that are filled with ricotta or anchovies. Also very typical are dishes like pasta ncasciata, fried cod or falsomagro, which is a very thin meat stuffed and rolled.

As you can see, the typical Christmas food in Catania is delicious, even if it is not exactly light. If there is a dish you particularly like, you can take advantage of your visit to learn how to make it in a cooking class. Without a doubt, one of the tastiest experiences you will take away from Catania.

5. Enjoy like a child at Villaggio di Natale

Meeting Santa Claus| ©Art DiNo
Meeting Santa Claus| ©Art DiNo

If you have to make plans with children in Catania during Christmas, I recommend you to visit this authentic Christmas village. It is a magical space where the little ones will be able to greet Santa Claus. Take pictures with him and ask for his wishes.

But in this Christmas village, which is set in the University Square, there is much more to do. A host of activities and events are organized here for children to have a great time: jugglers' performances, storytellers or workshops to unleash their creativity, among many others.

And, as it is also a Christmas market, you can also buy some gifts, typical Christmas decorations or sweets that you can only try if you visit Catania at Christmas.

6. Spending a day in the snow

Visiting Mount Etna| ©bekassine...
Visiting Mount Etna| ©bekassine...

No visit to Catania is complete without climbing the most famous mountain in Sicily and the largest active volcano in Europe: Mount Etna. But doing it at Christmas time is very special. The reason? If you're lucky, it will be snowy and you can enjoy the most spectacular image of Sicily, with a white summit contrasting with the blue sea.

Do you like skiing or snowboarding? Perfect. In case you didn't know, Etna has great ski slopes where you can practice your favorite sport. The two resorts, Linguaglossa-Etna Nord and Nicolosi-Etna Sud, have slopes for all levels.

The skiing area is not comparable to that of other major European resorts, that's true, but 30 kilometers of slopes are enough to have a good time. Besides, on your return home you can boast of having skied in a really special place.

If you have never skied before or you prefer a more relaxed activity, you can always practice trekking in the areas prepared for it. Or you can simply enjoy doing a snowball fight with the kids. Just remember to always wear appropriate clothing and footwear, goggles and a good sunscreen.

Book an excursion to Mount Etna

7. Visit Palazzo Biscari

Biscari Palace| ©Luigi Strano
Biscari Palace| ©Luigi Strano

Palazzo Biscari is one of Catania's great architectural treasures. And at Christmas, it is also the scene of one of the most special events held in the city. Therefore, it is a good excuse for you to visit it.

That event is the "Magical Christmas", a unique flea market where you can see and buy gifts, handicrafts or typical products. All of them are carefully chosen so as not to clash with the classic and elegant look of this building. If you are looking for a gift for someone very important to you, this is the perfect place to find it.

The market is set up inside the palace, so I recommend that you do not just look at the stalls. Don't miss the elegance and beauty of the halls of this building, a magnificent example of the . The frescoes on the ceilings and walls, the mirrors and its careful ornamentation will make you travel back in time.

If you feel like visiting the palace a little more calmly, you can do it later. The price of general admission is about 10 euros and will allow you to tour its magnificent halls and rooms with guided tours.

8. Enjoy one of the most unique Christmas traditions: the Zucco

Zucco in Catania| ©Roberto Brancolini
Zucco in Catania| ©Roberto Brancolini

On Christmas Eve there is a tradition that I recommend you not to miss if you are in Catania, which is called Zucco. It is a tradition of pagan origin in which the great protagonists are the bonfires. In case you didn't know, mythology tells that Etna is the home of Hephaestus, the Greek god of fire.

Days before Christmas Eve, huge piles of logs and branches are set up in the squares of villages and towns of Catania. Just before dinner, people gather around them and, after being blessed, they are lit. It is a moment of gathering, but also of celebration that is accompanied by popular songs and music.

The fire, on that "holy night", is the light that drives away the darkness and purifies. But the tradition does not end when the bonfire is lit. The typical thing is to return after dinner, when the celebrations are over, to take a piece of wood. It is a kind of amulet to attract good luck.

9. Do not miss the sound of the bagpipes

Celebrating Zampognarea| ©Fondazione Enpam
Celebrating Zampognarea| ©Fondazione Enpam

Christmas in Catania has a very special sound, you are sure to hear it at some point during your visit: the sound of the bagpipes. In any flea market or living nativity scene you can't miss the zampognari. They are musicians dressed in typical shepherd costumes who play the zampogna, which is a bagpipe with several pipes, and the cornamusa, a kind of flute.

It is one of those traditions that have endured over time and have a special meaning. In the old days, the zampognari used to go through the streets of the villages a few days before Christmas to announce the arrival of the festivities. Today you can see and hear them in Catania in much the same way as centuries ago.

In fact, your visit may coincide with Zampognarea. It is a festival in which the great protagonists are the bagpipes and the traditional music of Catania. A host of concerts and traveling exhibitions are organized between the beginning of December and after Christmas, so it's easy to take part in an activity during your stay, wherever you are.

10. End the year by attending a concert in Piazza del Duomo

Duomo of Catania| ©Roberto Saltori
Duomo of Catania| ©Roberto Saltori

Are you spending New Year's Eve in Catania? Then you can say goodbye to the year in a different way. Where? In Piazza del Duomo. Here concerts are usually organized in the evening on December 31 to liven up the wait until the countdown and the arrival of the new year.

If your visit does not coincide with New Year's Eve, don't worry. The Duomo square itself also hosts concerts on the previous nights. They are concerts, moreover, of artists of various musical styles. My advice: check the cultural billboard of Catania.

Tips for enjoying Christmas in Catania

Streets of Catania| ©Metro Centric
Streets of Catania| ©Metro Centric

A Christmas in Catania can be unforgettable if you know how to make the most of it. Here are some tips to make the experience as complete as possible:

  • The first thing to keep in mind is the climate in Catania. It is a mild climate, with average temperatures between 10 and 12 ºC, but highs of 16 ºC can be reached. Knowing this will help you to choose the clothes to pack.

  • If you plan to participate in any of the excursions to Etna, keep in mind that the mountain has an altitude of 3,300 meters. You may not reach the summit, but it is still essential that you are fully equipped for the cold and wear snow gear.

  • My advice is to walk around the city. You will discover corners that you would otherwise overlook and you can fully immerse yourself in the always lively atmosphere of Catania, much more so at Christmas.

  • During the holidays, monuments and museums have special opening hours, and also organize events and activities, especially for children. You should take this into account when making your plans to visit Catania.

  • Do not forget to book in advance if you plan to have lunch or dinner in a restaurant, because especially in the central days of Christmas, they are usually quite full. Anyway, street food is a tradition in Catania, so you won't have any problems when it comes to eating.