Etna is one of the most active volcanoes in the world and also one of Sicily's most popular attractions. In addition, it is also the largest as well as the highest volcano in Europe, which is located in the east of the island, near the Catania. From time to time, Etna comes to life spewing clouds of smoke, and lava flows out of the crater. Access to Etna is facilitated by the presence of a cable car and off-road vehicles. Etna is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. All this makes a visit to and tour of the Etna volcano a must-see on any trip to Sicily.
Update June 2022:
At present (as of June 2022), due to the volcano's significant activity, it is not even possible to reach Torre del Filosofo independently. About halfway between the upper station of the cable car and Torre del Filosofo (at an altitude of about 2,750 meters above sea level, right next to the viewpoint), the road is gated. Off-road vehicles also access the road so far. It is possible to climb higher (to 3000 m. above sea level ), but with a licensed guide.
As for the 2023 status, it is best to find out directly from the guides.
How to get to the Etna volcano? Directions
We start our tour and ascent of Mount Etna in Catania, the second largest city in Sicily. If you are staying in Palermo, it is worth considering a trip and overnight stay to Catania the day before. The trip from Palermo to Catania alone takes as much as 3 hours.
The first stop is Rifugio Sapienza, which we will get to either by bus or car. A trip by cab misses the point, as the price for this means of transport is about €100. It is worth noting that at the Rifugio Sapienza hostel you can lodge. From there we will start either on foot or by train. There are also off-road vehicles available from the railroad upwards. We have 1,000m of elevation gain to overcome, and our goal is to Torre del Filosofo, or further (with a guide) - Cratere Centrale.
Etna - how to get there by car?
If we have decided to car rental in Italy and in Sicily by car, the matter is easier - we are more flexible. Travel time by car from Catania to Rifugio Sapienza is about an hour. The route is just over 30 kilometers. On site there is a large parking lot for cars and buses. Parking prices are as follows:
- hour: €1.2
- half day: €3.5 (until 13:00 and from 13:00)
- full-day stay: 6€
Travel from Catania to Etna by bus
I went to Etna by bus and recommend this mode of transportation. AST bus leaves from Piazza Giovanni XXIII, near the train station at 8:15 a.m. from bus stop No. 6. In high season it is better to be at the bus stop earlier. My bus at the stop already approached at 7:30 a.m. As far as I know, an additional bus is substituted in case of greater interest, but I preferred to blow the whistle and showed up earlier.
The return bus is at 16:30 - don't miss it! The return trip takes an hour and a half, I was in Catania around 6 p.m. The bus leaves from the same place where it stopped in the first direction.
A round-trip ticket costs €6.60. You can purchase it from the driver (with cash), but I heard that it is better to purchase it in advance, at the AST office near the bus stop. This is what I did, and after 7:00 I purchased the ticket. Interestingly, a €0.4 fee was charged for payment by card, so the final ticket cost me a round €7.
Below you will find the exact location of the office (and there is a bus stop at the traffic circle):
Railroad to the Etna volcano
Railroad to Etna will allow us to cover the first 500m stress-free. Queue Funivia dell'Etna It takes us to an altitude of about 2,500m, and the duration of the trip is several minutes. We reach the upper station of the cable car Stazione d'arrivo Funivia. We can continue on foot, or use off-road cars that will take us even higher. I only took advantage of the cable car and started walking up the mountain. The cost of the Funivia dell'Etna cable car is €30 round trip.
Independent ascent of Mount Etna - trekking
We start the trip from under the Rifugio Sapienza (about 1910m above sea level). Deciding to trek from under the hut, we must be aware that we will have about 1000m of elevation gain to overcome. The sign from under the hostel indicates the following trekking times:
- upper railroad station: 1h50min
- Torre del Filosofo: 3h30min
- central craters: 4h15min
The trail leads directly under the railroad. Already after overcoming 300m of elevation, the first extinct craters of Mount Etna will appear before our eyes. The road is rather straightforward, however it leads decidedly uphill. Our first stop will be the upper station of the Stazione d'arrivo Funivia cable car. I chose the train option, in order to save time.
The upper station of the railroad
Being under the upper station of the cable car, we have a choice of trekking or using off-road cars. The cars will take us to an altitude of about 2750m above sea level. In my opinion, this makes no sense, as we lose the charm of the whole trip.
We have another 500m of elevation gain to overcome. To the plateau Torre del Filosofo (our main destination of the trip) leads several trails. The most popular is the one followed by off-road vehicles. So we set off up the mountain. From time to time we are passed by the aforementioned cars with tourists.
This route is not very demanding. The walking pace is steady, only the dust from the cars passing us every now and then is disturbing. We pass first the majestic Laghetto crater and then the concave Cisternazza crater. We will visit both of these craters on the way back. Etna is getting bigger and bigger, and the views are getting more interesting.
The gravel road slowly disappears and turns into a regular path. Now the trek is definitely more challenging. Finally we reach our destination: Torre del Filosofo.
Torre del Filosofo and Crateri Barbagallo
Torre del Filosofo is the last point where we can reach without a high-altitude guide. Further on, towards the Central Craters, we can only go with a guide. The views, however, are stunning. Torre del Filosofo is the perfect place to admire the majesty of Etna!
Next to us are also the impressive Crateri Barbagallo. The photo unfortunately does not show the enormity of this crater.
A moment to rest, have a second breakfast and go down. But this is not the end of the tour! The next destination is two large craters that we skipped - right next to the train station.
Cisternazza is a concave crater located about 2700 m. Very accessible, it is quite close to the cable car.
Cratere del Laghetto
Right next to the Cisternazza crater is the huge convex crater Cratere del Laghetto. It can be seen very well from Torre del Filosofo. Being there, it is impossible not to pay attention to it. The approach to the crater is slightly demanding, but everyone (as long as they are not in sandals 🙂 ) will manage. The views will compensate for the effort in excess!
We take the cable car down. Near the Rifugio Sapienza hut are two more noteworthy Silvestri craters.
And that's the end of the Etna tour. Time to recuperate and have lunch at the nearby restaurant La Terrazza Dell'Etna. At 4:30 p.m. I board the bus back to Catania. It was really a successful trip!
How to prepare for a visit to Etna?
Let's remember that our destination is at an altitude of about 3000m. - Higher than the highest peak in the Tatra Mountains! The weather in Catania can be quite different from that of Etna. You should prepare as you would for a mountain hike.
First of all appropriate clothing. It's best to "wear onions," meaning 3 layers of clothing. We should not forget thermal underwear, fleece, and a softshell or winter jacket. However, it all depends on the season. In June, when the temperature in Catania was about 35 degrees, a t-shirt alone was sufficient. Nevertheless, I had a fleece prepared in my backpack. It can be windy on Etna! Gloves may also be a good idea.
Mountain boots, preferably ankle-high, are a must. The terrain is gravelly, and the omnipresent dust means that using ordinary athletic shoes we will most likely be forced to throw them away after the trek. If we don't have such shoes, we can rent them near the Rifugio Sapienza. Long socks will also come in handy.
Let's watch out for the sun. At such an altitude it literally "burns". So an indispensable part of the clothing will be baseball cap and sunglasses. For this high SPF cream, which will protect us from sunburn.
Food and water
Before the trip, let's prepare something to eat, such as sandwiches. Let's also take something sweet - a candy bar, chocolate. Let's not forget about water! 1 liter of water is the bare minimum.
Etna - accommodation in Catania
Wanting to visit Etna, it is best to stay in Catania. If you are stationed in another city, it's worth buying an overnight stay at least for 1-2 days in Catania. We stayed at the Urban Pop BnB hostel, close to the fish market and the center itself for a fairly competitive price.
FAQ - frequently asked questions
How much does a bus to Etna cost?
The bus from Catania to Mount Etna (under the Rifugio Sapienza) costs €6.60 round trip.
How much does it cost to train to Etna?
The Funivia dell'Etna railroad to Etna costs €30 round trip.
How long does a trip to Etna take?
As a general rule, a full day should be spent exploring Etna and trekking. However, it all depends on our starting and ending destination and whether we choose to travel by train or trek independently.
Is it dangerous to visit Etna?
Basically, no. Let's remember that volcanologists have custody of this and other volcanoes. In case of a possible threat of eruption of the Etna volcano, we will be informed in advance.