How to visit Mt Etna

Etna is the tallest active volcano in Europe and its lunar landscape is one of the most interesting natural attractions in Sicily. It is a must for every trip to Sicily, especially for those who stop along the eastern side, but to visit this natural wonder it is advisable to organize and plan the trip well, also considering the type of excursion you want to do: local agencies and tour operators organise various guided tours, both day and evening, but it is also possible to make the trip independently.


There are various routes of length and difficulty for trekking enthusiasts and more “comfortable” alternatives such as the train. So let’s see in this article how to visit Etna and what are the options.

How to get there: by car or bus

By car take the A18 Catania-Messina motorway, and at the last exit Gravina di Catania follow the signs for Nicolosi – Etna Sud.


If you do not have a car, the only means available is the AST company bus which, however, offers a single daily journey: it leaves from Piazza Papa Giovanni XXIII, in front of the Catania railway station at 8:15 am and reaches Piazzale Cantoniera, in Nicolosi Nord, at 10:15 am; from here you can then take the cable car and off-road buses to the top of the volcano. The return is scheduled in the afternoon at 4.30pm.

Where to start: Etna Park Headquarters

As a first stop on the Etna excursion, we recommend visiting the Etna Park headquarters, located in Nicolosi within the former Benedictine Monastery of San Nicolò La Rena.


On the ground floor, you can visit the Volcanological Museum which tells the story of Etna, illustrating its formation and characteristics. The museum also displays lava rocks formed after the eruptions. Outside you can walk along the Sentiero del Germoplasma a sort of botanical park where you can discover the plant species of the area, including aromatic and medicinal herbs, fruit trees and vineyards.

What to see: the Sylvan Craters

Despite being an active volcano, there are some excursions that allow you to reach the top, right on the mouth of the large central crater, but it is essential to be accompanied by an expert guide. However, a visit to this crater is not always possible for safety reasons.


Among the simplest excursions, there are the “sylvan craters”: five extinct craters located on the south side of the volcano, next to the village of Nicolosi.


The sylvan craters were formed during the eruption of 1892. Being easily accessible by means of transport, they are the destination of numerous tours.


In fact, hotels and agencies offer trips departing from Catania or other neighbouring cities up to the well-known CAI Rifugio Sapienza, located at 1900 mt. From the hut, you can easily visit the lower crater, located near the restaurant, or take a slightly uphill path to reach the upper craters, from which you can enjoy an even more suggestive landscape.

Cable car and off-road buses

If instead, you want to climb higher to see some active craters, the so-called Summit Craters, next to Rifugio Sapienza there is the cable car that leads to 2500 meters, from which you can then continue with an off-road bus up to 2900 meters, accompanied by authorised guides. The ticket can be purchased directly in the square of the cable car and you can choose whether to buy the ticket for the single return ticket by cable car (30 euro) or a combined cable car + off-road ticket (65 euro).


Our advice is to opt for the second alternative, as you venture into the cable car, it is worth going all the way to complete experience. Thanks to the off-road vehicles, in fact, you will arrive near some smoking craters and from here you will enjoy an incredible panorama over the whole of Catania. Once you get out of the car you will only have to walk a short distance. However, consider the timing: it takes about 3 hours to complete the entire journey from the shelter to the craters, so if you want to do this excursion it is best to arrive early in the morning.


There are several opportunities for those keen on hiking, there are also many guided tours available locally. Those preferring doing it independently can find out about the main hiking trails in the area and decide which one is best suited to their needs.


There are some simple itineraries, suitable for everyone, and more popular among tourists, including the “Path of the Donkey’s Back”, a total of 5 km long and of medium difficulty, with a starting point near the Rifugio Sapienza; allows you to walk among the endemic vegetation and admire the Valle del Bove.


Another path among the most suggestive and popular, is that of the Sartorius Mountains, about 4 km long and easy to follow. It is located in the north-east side of Etna, starting a few meters from the Rifugio Citelli.

The Circumetnea

An unusual alternative to visit Etna is through the Circumetnea train service, a historic train inaugurated at the end of the 19th century that travels along the slopes of Etna through small villages and truly suggestive lava landscapes. The starting point is the Catania Borgo station, while the arrival is at the Riposto station. The entire journey takes more than 3 hours, but keep in mind that the train does not reach the volcano’s craters as it travels at low altitude but still allows you to admire Mount Etna and can be ideal for those who have difficulty walking, but often it is also used by hikers to reach the trekking routes.


The ticket for a full trip costs around 8 euros and there are various trips during the day, but not all of them make the same stops, so it is best to check on the official website.

How to dress

One of the most important recommendations concerns clothing: it is advisable to wear comfortable shoes, even better if trekking, and it is always better, even in summer, to wear long trousers and wear a jacket. Even in good weather, you could find snow or it could be very cold.


In the winter months instead, it is a good idea to prepare with heavy jackets, gloves, scarf and hat. Near the shelters, you will also find technical and ski clothing shops, should you need them.

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