Visit Etna: climb Sicily’s famous volcano

It would be a shame to plan a trip to Sicily without climbing Mount Etna! Here are our tips for visiting Etna!

Considered Europe’s most active volcano, with over a hundred eruptions in the 20th century, it is also the continent’s second-highest after Teide (3,718 metres) on the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands(Spain).

From its height of 3,330 metres, this 500,000-year-old volcano overlooks Sicily and the town of Catania, attracting thousands of tourists all year round.

The slopes, made up of fluid lava flows and ash accumulated over the course of eruptions, have created a volcanic edifice of more or less steep slopes, with several calderas and a dome at the summit, making it a stratovolcano.

The first eruptive activity dates back 500,000 years and the last one was in 2016. Here are our tips for hiking the slopes and climbing Mount Etna.

Etna, identity card

The formation of this mountain of fire has been traced back 500,000 years, and the volcano’s eruptions are predominantly effusive, with very fluid lava giving way to basaltic rock as it cools.

Etna has five summit craters: the north-east crater appeared in 1911, the Voragine in 1947, the Bocca Nuova in 1968, the south-east crater in 1971 and the new south-east crater, which appeared in 2007 at the eastern foot of the old one and has been active ever since.

The city of Catania,Italy ‘s tenth-largest city and in the direct vicinity of the crater, has suffered the volcano’s curses and wrath on several occasions throughout history: lava flows and destruction, rains of pyroclastic material…

When the weather is clear, the volcano can be seen over a large part of Sicily’s east coast. Its eruptions make it one of Europe’s most important geological sites. The advantage of an effusive volcano is that it’s also safe to climb its slopes.

Indeed, eruptions release a plume of ash and smoke, but there are no gas explosions or fiery clouds, as the pyroclastic blast rushes down the slopes at a speed of between 200km/h and 600km/h and at a temperature of between 300°C and 500°C.

Etna National Park was created in 1987, and the site is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A visit to Etna allows you to admire a variety of landscapes all year round, except in winter, from volcanic craters and barren lava fields to woods and vineyards.

A lunar landscape reveals itself to the hiker as he climbs the slopes, which become steeper and steeper towards the summits. Finally, Etna covers an area of 1,200 km².

Climbing Mount Etna: what you need to know

By car, we head for Nicolosi from Catania: this is the last village before entering Etna Park, on its southern flank.

The route to Etna is fairly straightforward: you’ll have to climb up to the Sapienza refuge, where you’ll be close to the Silvestri crater, considered inactive. There’s a parking lot nearby where you can park and start your visit to Etna. Like all tourist sites, there are stores, restaurants and bike rental outlets.

In Sapienza, you can take the funicular up to the 2,500 m Funivia Terminal. Please note that the funicular is closed in fog and high winds.

It is open from 9 a.m. to 4.15 p.m. in summer and from 9 a.m. to 3.45 p.m. in winter. The walk up to the Funivia Terminal takes 4 hours.

Once at the Terminal, you can take a minibus to an altitude of 2,920 metres, to tour the crater and observe the fumaroles escaping from it. The more adventurous can hike up Etna, adding a 2-hour walk on the signposted trail.

Trek and excursion on Mount Etna from Catania, Palermo and Taormina

Would you like to visit Etna on your own? Or would you like to benefit from the experience, anecdotes and advice of a guide? If so, you’ll be pleased to know that there are a number of excursions and treks available, lasting one day or more. Accompanied by a tour guide, these expeditions can be made from Catania, Palermo or Taormina.

Prices obviously vary according to the length of the tour and the services included. You can also choose the time of day, morning or evening for example, or the means of transport. To help you choose, we’ve listed some of the Etna guided tours available.

? See excursions to Etna from Catania

? See excursions to Etna from Palermo

? See excursions to Etna from Taormina

Guided hike to Etna’s craters

Randonnée Visiter l'Etna

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Volker Rauch

The most common guided tours generally include the trip to the Sapienza refuge. The cable car ascent and minibus journey are not always included. However, some tours include a private 4×4 ride to the summit. In this case, you won’t have to pay for the minibus.

You should also make sure that the tour company picks you up at your hotel. Some tours start at the cable car only. Others take you from Catania, or even Palermo or Taormina. With this option, you don’t have to worry about transport to the refuge.

With these excursions, you will of course be accompanied by a guide to the summit. The hike around Etna’s craters lasts 2 hours, during which you’ll discover this incredible place.

Your guide will lead you through the lunar landscapes of the lava fields, along nature trails. Along the way, he’ll share stories and information about Europe’s largest active volcano.

Please note that this type of trek is not recommended for pregnant women or people with reduced mobility. Medium-level trekking requires good equipment: warm clothing and walking shoes.

Prices range from €50 to €80 per person for this guided hike to the summit of Mount Etna. These experiences last an average of 6 hours and start in the morning.

Sunset or sunrise hikes

Visiter l'Etna

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Pop Joe

For an even more striking experience, you can also opt for a sunset or sunrise hike to visit Etna in an original way. As with the previous excursion, the hike takes place in the craters only.

So be sure to check what is and isn’t included when booking your activity. Of course, there are also excursions departing from Catania, Taormina or Palermo.

With this experience, you’ll enjoy many of the same options as with a classic excursion. You’ll discover the different craters, follow the same paths and enjoy sublime panoramas.

But you can admire these surreal scenery under the light of the rising or waning sun! The colors and atmosphere are very different, and there are far fewer visitors. This experience generally costs as much or slightly more than a classic hike.

Guided trek to the summit of Mount Etna

Visiter l'Etna

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Frog Dares

With this type of excursion, you won’t have to take the cable car up to the craters. Instead, you’ll be accompanied by a guide from the Sapienza mountain hut, and make the ascent on foot!

The 4-hour hike will take you through the fantastic scenery that covers Etna. You’ll also enjoy a variety of panoramic views of the surrounding area.

Last but not least, there are the 2-hour crater hikes described above. These excursions usually last a full day.

Depending on the tour you choose, you may or may not be picked up at your hotel. Prices range from €50 to €100 per person.

Other climbs and thematic experiences

Visiter l'Etna Vigne

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Georgia Carini

As you already know, Etna isn’t all lunar landscapes, cooled lava flows and smoking craters. The volcano is surrounded by a protected Natural Park. And the rocky scenery is complemented by forests, vineyards and other plant life.

A variety of high-quality local products are produced on and around its slopes. These products are enriched by the unique minerals hidden in these very special soils. You can also book excursions, climbs and other gastronomic experiences.

After exploring the craters or the base of Mount Etna, you can sample some of the local produce. These include wines produced on Etna’s soil, honey and olive oil.

You can also opt for an excursion, with a hike to the summit, under the conditions described above. At the end of the trek, you’ll enjoy a tasting of local produce at a dedicated site, sometimes a local farm. For this type of experience, again, expect to pay between €50 and €90 for a half-day (6 hours).

You can also choose to take an excursion themed solely on Etna’s specialities! Instead of hiking to the summit, you’ll discover a variety of family farms and wineries.

The result: wine tasting, local specialties, or both. All you have to do is choose the gastronomic excursion that suits you best. For example, a wine-themed tour with lunch costs €100.

What can you see on top of Mount Etna?

Visiter Etna, sommet

Photo credit: Flickr – Anna Hesser

To visit Etna, it may be worth stopping at Torre del Filosofo, an ancient refuge on the way, at 3,000 meters above sea level. Here you can see the summit, made up of a 200-metre-wide cone and the large dome.

The path to the crater dome leads around the crater to the west: you reach an altitude of 3,250 metres, with panoramic views that are unique in Sicily, a view of the three craters, Boca Nuova, South-East Crater and North-East Crater, with red fumaroles and sulphur fumes.

Beware of those wishing to visit Etna on a self-guided tour: in the high mountains, fog can quickly settle in, and the flat, lunar landscape up to 2,500 metres altitude can quickly make you lose your bearings without a certified guide.

If you decide to climb Mount Etna in winter, the volcanic colossus even has a ski resort on its northern flank: the Plano Provenzano resort. You don’t want to hike or you’re a thrill-seeker? Take a helicopter flight over the volcano from Castiglione di Sicilia!

Visiting Etna: our practical tips

Visiter l'Etna

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Romas_Photo

Climbing Mount Etna is not to be taken lightly during your vacation in Sicily. First and foremost, you’ll need quality market shoes, so as not to twist your ankle. Rocks and pebbles litter the paths, and a mishap can happen very quickly.

Even if it’s 30 degrees at the bottom of Etna’s slopes, bring warm clothes! With every metre of ascent, the temperature will drop drastically and the winds will blow harder.

Once you’re almost at the summit, you’ll need a large coat or windbreaker to keep out the cold and strong winds.

Where to stay near Etna?


Photo credit: Shutterstock – Vadym Lavra

If you want to climb Mount Etna first, staying at the bottom of the volcano’s slopes might be a good solution. In fact, you might want to watch the sunrise on Etna’s slopes, which is a magical experience!

Likewise, if you want to enjoy the scenery around Etna, there are accommodations just right for you. You can look at accommodation in Nicolosi, which is the village with the most accommodation at the foot of Etna. You’ll also find Airbnb in the area.

A good, more authentic solution is to stay in an agriturismo near Etna. There are many such asAgriturismo Valle dell’Etna, Agriturismo Biologico Dell’Etna, Agriturismo dell’Etna, or Agriturismo Etna-Mare.

The views of Etna from your window are breathtaking! Imagine having breakfast with Etna in the background… To see all the possible options, don’t hesitate to use a hotel comparator