fbpx
watching Mt Etna

Visit Etna Volcano: a complete guide for first time excursions

Table of Contents

This article is a full guide about Mount Etna to help you choose the best excursion and activity for your first visit to the volcano.

Mount Etna facts

Visiting Mount Etna should be an unmissable experience of any trip to Eastern Sicily.  So if you are wondering whether it is worth visiting Etna or not, here you find some facts about Etna that will certainly clear your mind.

1.We are referring to the highest active volcano in Europe which is also part of the UNESCO World heritage list since 2013.

2. The Vulcano has a surface of 1,190 km2 and its Natural Parc – Parco dell’Etna – covers 59000 hectares whose landscapes and biodiversity are protected.

3. Etna’s fertile soil produces some of the finest Sicilian local food excellences such as the worldwide famous pistachio (Pistacchio di Bronte IGP), the unique wine Etna “DOC”, the sweet honey from Zafferana Etnea and much more!

4. Mt Etna peculiar position on the eastern side of Sicily allows you to enjoy amazing views over the Ionian Coast and the sea from its summits!

5. The volcano activity affecs many aspects of local people’s lives: for instance, Catania’s Airport is sometimes forced to close due to the volcano ash.

Mt Etna, ©Antonella Ravidà

What is the best way to visit Mount Etna?

There is no best way to visit Mount Etna but, on the contrary, there are many fantastic experiences and activities to try during your visit to Etna!

That said, I will try to show you here some of the most significant and coolest excursions to Etna volcano that you might want to consider for your first visit to ‘a Muntagna (“the mountain”).

Etna at a glimpse

It is worth mentioning a few more general information about this Sicilian volcano in order to prepare your excursion at the very best.

Etna Map, ©Gruppo guide alpine Etna Sud

The map above shows just the southern side of Etna – Etna Sud – and you can already get a feeling of the dimension and the many highlights on this territory: craters, signs of past lava flows, paths and viewpoints…

The starting point of any excursion to Etna Sud is Rifugio Sapienza, an historic hotel/restaurant at 1900m asl around which you will find a parking area, the volcanological guides shelter, souvenirs shops, restaurants and tour companies offices.

Next to Rifugio Sapienza you find the cable car entrance, Funivie dell’Etna, from which you can take the cable car up to 2500mt asl (you can also hike all the way up).

The guided excursion with a volcanological guide is the only way to reach the summit craters of Etna at 3300mt (in 2022 local authorities allow to reach max 3000mt).

What about Etna Nord, the northern slope of Mt Etna?! This side of the volcano is probably the least known to tourists because there is no cable car service and less organized tours start from here compared to Etna Sud.

However, its beautiful pine woods – such as Pineta Ragabo – and its unique caves, like Grotta del Gelo and Grotta dei Lamponi, offer to visitors enchanting atmospheres.

Picnic area at Serra la Nave Etna, ©Antonella Ravidà

My Tips for visiting Mt Etna

A few tips I want to give you before your trip to Mount Etna:

  • Regardless of which period of the year you will go to Etna, do not forget that the weather up there is very different from the average temperature of the surroundings. For instance, if in a normal summer day in Catania there are 32° C, make sure that on Etna there will be at least 20° C or even less on its summit. Moreover, the wind can be strong also on a summer day, this is why it is essential that you carefully check the weather forecast before your visit to the volcano and equally important that you wear warm clothes.
  • Bring the right equipment. Since Etna is a 3350mt high mountain, anytime you go for an excursion, you should take with you the usual trekking gear and do not underestimate the characteristics of its natural landscape. Even if you will not hike to its summit but you will just go for an easy walk, always remember to bring proper trekking shoes, wind jacket, hat, gloves, scarf, suncream, enough water, some snacks, and a GPS (especially if you are going without a guide). By the way, if your trip to Mt Etna is during the winter season, you might find the volcano covered in white snow, which means you will need to bring car chains and snowshoes.
  • Book in advance! Mount Etna is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Sicily and Etna tours are the most requested, getting sold out very easily, especially during high season.

Do not hesitate to get in contact with me for a discovery call to learn all about the best Etna tours suitable for you!

Climbing Etna craters,©Antonella Ravidà

Etna Volcano guided excursions

It can be difficult to choose the best guided tour of Etna among the countless offers available on the web, especially if it is your first excursion.

As a Travel Designer, I collaborate with many companies, private guides or associations that offer tours or experiences on Etna. For this reason, I will try to resume here some of the best options you should consider in order to book the right Etna tour for you.

Guided small group tour

If you want to explore Mt Etna but you also do not feel like climbing up for many hours, than this might be the good tour for you.

Usually you join small groups of 6/8 people for an half day excursion lasting roughly up to 6/8 hours.

Often, these tours include the pick up from your accommodation in Catania where you meet your naturalistic guide. After one hour drive to reach Mt Etna, you then explore the side craters at 2000mt asl – Silvestri Craters.

Silvestri Craters and souvenir shops Etna Sud,©Antonella Ravidà

During the walk, the local guide explains you the characteristics of Etna landscape, its history and territory. The excursion continues with the visit of a lava cave and a final stop at a local farm/shop for a delicious tasting of typical products such as honey, wine or olive oil.

My advice is to book this tour if:

  1. You are not used to hike a mountain and/or do not fancy it
  2. You are visiting Etna with kids
  3. You do not have a car and you do not want to use public transport
  4. You want to join a group with other people
  5. You like to be guided and learn more about what you see

My guests at B&B Oblò in Catania often choose to join this easy group excursion to Mt Etna (click on the link to check availability and book the excursion) and I am always happy to help them find the best tour option according to their needs.

walking among Etna’s fumaroles,©Antonella Ravidà

Etna private tour

Have you ever considered the possibility to book an exclusive private tour to Etna with a local guide? This is a great option for those of you who really want to get to know the volcano’secrets and explore less beated tracks with the help of a professional guide.

The private excursion can be crafted as you wish; you can choose the meeting point with the guide, the lenght of the excursion, the routes and locations of your interest as well as the activities and experiences!

Usually a local travel advisor like me can help you find the most reliable guide and choose together the correct excursion, according to your wishes.

Choose this tour if:

  1. You are not keen to join a tour with other people
  2. You are a group of friends or family
  3. You need the tour guide to speak a specific language
  4. You want to visit a specific place which is not usually covered on the standard tours
  5. You want to know Etna more in depth with a guide totally dedicated to you

Etna private tour, ©Sicily hiking tour

Hiking Etna summit craters

Maybe the most exciting excursion you can experience on Etna is climbing up its summit craters at 3300mt! One question usually arises is: “Can you walk up Etna’s Summit without a guide?”

The answer is not! And this is due to the danger you can face climbing an active volcano alone and without expert guides who perfectly know its paths, risks and current condition.

Is Mount Etna summit open in 2022? At the time of writing, the excursion to the top of Etna is limited at roughly 3000mt but the excursion is constantly adapted to the current situation due to the volcano’s unpredictable nature.

 You can climb Etna summit only accompained by the alpine guides. You can book a group excursion (usually max 20 people) or a private excursion (please note that this is only convenient if you are a group, otherwise it is quite expensive).

There are many companies that, partnering with the volcanological guides, offer the complete excursion to the summit – many including the pick up from your accommodation and the cable car tickets.

Alternatively, you can book the group tour directly with the volcanological guides, but you will need to get to the meeting point (at Etna South guides shelter) on your own by car, public bus or private transfer (I will give you more information on that later in this article).

How long is the walk up Etna? Before booking the complete excursion to Etna summit, bear in mind that this is a trekking excursion that includes roughly 5h uphill trekking and for this reason it is addressed to people who are used to mountain hiking and do not suffer from any cardiovascular or respiratory issues.

Usually, you start at 1900mt asl, then take the cable car to 2500mt asl and bus 4×4 to 2750mt. From here, you start to climp up the path which leads you to the summit craters, enjoying spectacular views over this lunar like territory.

The complete excursion is usually from 10h00 to 16h00, walking roughly 11,5 km.

Children from seven years old and that are used to walk are allowed to join the excursion.  

Mt Etna view,©Antonella Ravidà

Visiting Etna on your own without a guide

In case you are planning your visit to Etna without a guide, you may be reassured that you are allowed to walk Etna volcano on your own, as long as you do not exceed the permitted limits.

There are many trails inside Etna natural park where you can walk in a charming landscape made of lava stone, chestnuts, pine forests and lava caves. Check some of the most popular Etna trails or the interactve maps on Etna paths.

You can reach Etna Sud on your own by car from Catania in roughly one hour following the route through Paesi Etnei, getting to Nicolosi town or Pedara. I suggest you to park at Rifugio Sapienza parking area, because from there, you can either start walking along the trails or take the cable car up to 2500mt asl.

In order to visit Etna by public bus you will need to take the AST bus from Catania central station (Piazza Giovanni XXIII) departing every morning at 08.15h.

Unfortunately, as this is the only public bus journey to Rifugio Sapienza, it is recommended you get quite early at the bus station to take your seat. A a matter of fact, you can buy the ticket via their website/app or at the ticket office, but you cannot book a seat for a specific date.

The bus ride from Catania to Etna Sud lasts two hours (arrival at 10h15) however, many tour companies wait for the bus arrival to start their group excursions so, no worries!

The journey back from Rifugio Sapienza to Catania is at 16h30 and usually all tours are over by then, but always inform your tour guide in advance about it.

Currently in 2022, you can walk Etna volcano without the guide up till 2750mt asl.

Visiting Crateri Silvestri, ©Antonella Ravidà

Funivie dell’Etna cable car

One of the easiest and fun experiences you can do on Mt Etna is by far taking its cable car!

Etna cable car price might seem a bit high but this is due to the high risk of the system being disrupted by the volcano activity.

You can choose to buy the return cable car ticket which costs € 30,00 or include the 4×4 bus (68€ total per person). The 4×4 buses connect the cable car ending point 2500mt asl to Torre del Filosofo at 2950mt asl (currently in 2022 you are not allowed by the local authorities to reach 2950mt on your own, so the buses stops at 2750mt. You can walk higher only accompained by a volcanological guide).

4×4 bus Etna Sud,©Antonella Ravidà

The complete return cable car + 4×4 bus ticket includes a tour through some popular craters and view points of the volcano, accompained by the alpine guides that will wait for you at the different stops.

Once you reach the 4×4 stop, you are free to spend as much time as you wish to visit around. Anyway, consider that the whole excursion takes about two/three hours including the cable car ride which lasts 15 minutes.

The cable car is open all year round and you can check Etna cable car seasonal timetable on their official website.

Discover more about my personal experience with Funivie dell’Etna cable car soon.

Alternative experiences to the usual Etna tours

Did you know that Etna volcano offers also unlimited exciting activities and unique experiences?

Have a look at some examples of these special Etna tours:

Etna E-bike tour

In the last few years e-bikes have become such a popular and fun alternative to the more classic hikes or to the exhausting MTB rides!

If you wish to explore the volcano territory on two wheels, this is the right excursion for you! There are several Etna e-bike tours and usually they start from Rifugio Sapienza or Piano Provenzana and lasts from 4h to 7h depending on the trail and the difficulty level.

Bear in mind that you will be on a e – MTB as you will be cycling on dirt roads and mountain trails, so it is suggested a minimum previous experience.

Etna E-bike excursion,©Antonella Ravidà

This was me cycling the “Pista altomontana” on a e-bike a few years ago 🙂 . I was not feeling 100% confident about it but it was a lot of fun!

If you are curious to know more about e-bike tour on Etna, check out this cool excursion!

Etna and wine tour

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, Etna and its surrounding territory offer a very fertil soil for many agricultural products.

Etna wineries are very charming places where you could spend a day trip or even a few overnights if you choose some of the many welcoming Etna wine resorts.

Imagine yourself walking among the vineyards on the slopes of Mount Etna, sipping a glass of Nero d’Avola red wineafter your guided excursion to the volcano…super!

If wine tours are your passion, do not miss out the interesting Strada del Vino dell’Etna (Etna’s wine route) which organizes many tours around Etna wineries including a train ride.

Etna on quad excursion

This is an adventurous tour through explosive craters, lava caves and typical old buildings of Etna. You will drive your quad across the Etna’s forest stopping at beautiful viewpoints for your pictures, always accompained by a local guide who will lead you and explain you about the volcano’s nature.

The excursions usually last roughly two hours in the morning or at sunset.

Etna quad excursion, ©Antonella Ravidà

Etna sunset tour

What about a nice afternoon walk on some of the many paths of Etna’s natural park?! These sunset excursions are scheduled only during the summer season, when anyone who wish to escape from the morning heat can, eventually, enjoy some fresh air in the woods and assist to the magic of the sunset on top of an active volcano!

What is the best period to visit Mt Etna?

Let’s start saying that Etna volcano, with its huge natural park, can be visited all year round. Actually, each season offers a unique different image of this big mountain and you have the chance to make incredibly different activities according to the month you plan your Etna excursion.

The ideal season for nice long walks or trekking is for sure from April to October. The snow has melted by then and the temperatures are nice and warm.

Autumn is a fantastic season to enjoy the brillant foliage on Etna’s forests, to pick mushrooms or chestnuts and avoid the high season “crowds”.

Etna chestnuts, ©Antonella Ravidà

Last but not least, winter is dedicated to snow experiences and outdoor sports.

From November to March, Etna is covered by white abundant snow, thanks to which the volcano becomes a great ski run! There are two ski areas open in winter on Etna: Etna sud and Etna nord ski runs.

If your Etna visit is during these months, you could book a fun snowshoeing across the volcano or simply opt for a hot chocolate at some Etna’s shelters.

hot cholocate at Rifugio Citelli Etna Nord, ©Antonella Ravidà

Paesi Etnei: Etna villages and towns

You already visited the volcano and would like to know more about its history, inhabitants, economy and traditions?! Then, I strongly suggest you to visit some of the many beautiful little towns and villages on the slopes of Mount Etna!

Each of them is a precious witness of a still connected to the roots lifestyle, made of familiar places, old recipes, countryside fields, fresh clean mountain breeze and authentic local delicacies.

The archetecture you find in the majority of Paesi Etnei is characterized by the grey lava stone and you will be impressed by the beauty of the marvellous churches and squares.

Walk among the streets of these tiny towns, shop at their local markets, taste their food specialties – such as the “Siciliana” (fried sort of calzone filled with tuma cheese) in Zafferana Etnea or some mushrooms fettuccine in Milo – but overall, talk to the local people to get great memories of this charming area of eastern Sicily.

Siciliana in Zafferana,©Antonella Ravidà

The most popular towns close to Etna are Nicolosi, Zafferana Etnea, Milo, Pedara, Randazzo, Linguaglossa, Bronte and so on…!

By the way, did you know that there is a beautiful old train journey which connects Catania to Paesi Etnei, called Circumetnea?! I tell you more about this experience soon.

Best Hotels and restaurants near Etna

Choose to spend a few days at some accommodation close to Mt Etna, if you want to immerse yourself into the volcano atmophere.

There are tons of big hotels, boutique resorts, B&B and shelters located at strategic positions near Mount Etna.

This is a brief list of the best accommodations near Etna:

– RIFUGIO SAPIENZA, ETNA SUD

Open since 1947, it is one of the historic first shelters on top of Etna volcano, today a three stars hotel. Its wooden rooms perfectly convey the cozy mountain style.

Its restaurant is very well attended by locals and offers a variety of typical Sicilian meat based meals as well as great pizzas.

Of course its position next to the cable car station represents its strong point.

Pistachio ravioli at Rifugio Sapienza, ©Antonella Ravidà

– HOTEL CORSARO, ETNA SUD

Not far from Rifugio Sapienza and Funivie dell’Etna, this 4* hotel is the right choice if you want to be close by the main Etna trekking trails without renouncing to the comfort of a four star hotel with restaurant.

Last but not least, the hotel has a lovely SPA where you can relax after your outdoor excursions, not bad!

– MONACI DELLE TERRE NERE, ZAFFERANA ETNEA

A charming boutique hotel with restaurant and swimming pool on the slopes of Mount Etna. You can taste fine km0 meals at its restaurant Locanda Nerello and enjoy the slow living in its vineyards.

– CLAN DEI RAGAZZI, ETNA NORD

A lovely chalet located inside Ragabo pine forest on Etna northern side. The chalet has many rooms and cabins simply fornished with no wifi or tv to really immerse in the mountain dimension.

 – BORGO SAN NICOLAO, RANDAZZO

This rustic agriturismo was an old “borgo” (borough) in Randazzo, totally refurbished and converted in a farmhouse. Spending a few days here means immersing yourself in the unique Etna’s countryside with the vineyards, the fields, the stable and the wood.

An authentic place where to experience the Sicilian ospitality.

Among the many excellent restaurants near Mt Etna, these are some of the best you could try:

– PARCO STATELLA, RANDAZZO

 A lovely agriturismo where to stop for lunch or even better, to spend a whole day. The food respect the Sicilian tradition and the locally produced ingredients. The natural environment around the restaurant deserves your visit.

Visiting the stable at Parco Statella,©Antonella Ravidà

– I 4 ARCHI, MILO

A small restaurant located in Milo town. Its historic cuisine is a landmark of the good quality food on Etna territory. The restaurant atmosphere is very welcoming and warm especially during winter nights.

– LA CANTONIERA, ETNA SUD

Located at 1950mt asl near the cable car station, this restaurant offers a traditional menu in a familiar atmophere. It has many tables both inside and in the outside terrace and it is a great choice for a Sunday lunch on top of the volcano.

– TRATTORIA NONNA VITA, FORNAZZO

A family run trattoria in the heart of the tiny Fornazzo village. If you go during the warm season, you can seat in the table outside in the square, enjoying the fresh air in a totally quiet and relaxing atmophere.

Come here if you want to eat fresh Etna mushrooms still cooked as “Nonna” used to. My advice: do not go if you are in rush, as you might wait a bit for your meal, but you are not going to regret it!

pasta tris at Trattoria Nonna Vita Fornazzo,©Antonella Ravidà

CONCLUSIONs

Here ends my guide for your first visit to Etna volcano. I will share with you many more suggestions and experiences to discover this unique natural paradise in its many facets.

In the meantime, follow my instagram profile and check out my reels on Mt Etna and surroundings!

If you want to get more insights on what to do on Etna or wish some advice and good tips for your Sicilian holiday, book a discovery call now and let’s plan together your next trip to Sicily!

Antonella
Antonella

Ciao! My name is Antonella and I am a Sicilian Travel Designer based in Catania, Sicily. My mission here is to share my knowledge and love for this amazing island of Southern Italy and to help you tailor your dream trip to Sicily.

PLAN YOUR TRIP
FOLLOW ME
NEWSLETTER
Blog della community Travel Blogger Italiane
INSTAGRAM
This message is only visible to admins.
Problem displaying Facebook posts.
Click to show error
Error: No posts available for this Facebook ID
PINTEREST
RELATED POSTS

19 Responses

  1. Many years ago, my husband climbed Mount Etna. After he got out, he found the courage to court me… I think it brought us a lot of luck and we should think about going there together for our next anniversary!

  2. One of my travel plans is to climb Mount Etna. Unfortunately when I was there, I hasven’t been able to realize this project because of the weather conditions but I promised myself to go back to Sicily as soon as possible.

    1. I am sorry you could not climb Etna during your stay, unfortunaly as usually happens on top of mountains, the weather conditions are very umpredictable and you cannot avoid this, next time you’ll be luckier!

  3. That must be an amazing experience: walking to the top of the mountain, and looking into the crater! I remember going to Sicily on a school trip ages ago – we took the cable car, but that was the end of our Etna experience.
    I didn’t know about the Etna wine route and I bet this would be an interesting way to discover the local wine and wineries.

  4. I was on Etna in 2016, it seems like a lifetime ago! I haven’t done much trekking but I was still able to admire its majesty!

    1. Mount Etna welcomes everyone regardless of whether people come for a short visit, a long trekking, a picnic or skiing, there are endless possibilities to live this active volcano!

  5. I have never been to Sicily but I would love to visit it. Mount Etna would certainly be the top of my trip; I think it must be very fascinating to see an active volcano. Thank you so much for your tips!

  6. I have visited Etna 2 times, but both were a long time ago. I am happy to have found your guide, concise but full of interesting ideas and useful advice, we have been planning a tour of Sicily for some time, I hope this wish will come true soon.

    1. A visit to Mt Etna should be in any travel wishlist as it is such an iconic place! The good side is that anyone can go and enjoy the volcano safely, you just need to know the options 😉

      1. Wow, i never knew there were so many ways to experience Etna! Climbing all the way to the crater is definitely a must for anyone visiting the area!

  7. We have made several road trips on the Sicilian coasts but we have never stopped to explore Etna there. Too bad, it would be nice to see with children. We will next time!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

FOLLOW ME ON MY SOCIAL CHANNELS
This message is only visible to admins.
Problem displaying Facebook posts.
Click to show error
Error: No posts available for this Facebook ID

Plan my trip

You can also contact me directly to schedule a call or send me an email!