Mount Etna: A Day Trip Definitely Worth Doing

March 4, 2015

sicily, mount etna, volcano, italy

When visiting Sicily, visiting the island’s towering Mount Etna is a must. It is Europe’s largest and most active volcano (3,329m), is in an almost constant state of activity, having erupted several times in the last five years, and dominates eastern Sicily’s skyline like an enormous earth cloud.

The Greeks believed that the mighty god Hephaestus used it to create Zeus’ thunderbolts with the help of his Cyclops assistants, and that the eruptions and earthquakes were triggered by the Titan Enceladus imprisoned at the mountain’s root, forever battling to break free.

I’d have enjoyed seeing Zeus lob a thunderbolt or Cyclops bat an eyelid but really I just wanted to see some lava.

However, we got acres of dark, burnt out volcanic rock and a very windy walk around the edge of the highest reachable volcanic vent. But if there had been a recent eruption, or indeed, if the volcano was actually in an eruptive phase, we wouldn’t have been able to get so close.

sicily, mount etna, volcano, italy

sicily, mount etna, volcano, italy

A trip up the Funivia (gondola) costs €30. From here we could either walk to the vent or jump in the jeep which comes with a guide, for an extra €30. We hiked; it was a day for the great outdoors and we thought we’d feel as though we had achieved something, however marginal, when we reached the top.

The walk is long, quiet and– other than clusters of tourists slowly trudging their way to the top –there is no life to be found. The air is cold and thin, hence the slow pace, and the sun bright and dangerous. Most uncharacteristically, I’d actually remembered to bring some sun cream, which probably saved my face from burning to a crisp. The further up we walked, the redder the rocks became– not because they were getting hotter, but due to the natural oxidation of iron-containing minerals.

sicily, mount etna, volcano, italy

It takes about an hour and a half – an hour if you’re in good shape. If you’re not in especially good shape, or unable to walk long, uphill distances, the shuttle is your best bet.

The path and road both come to an end at the crater, where a small hut is stationed. From here, everyone walks, or rather battles against the fierce wind, which almost knocks you off your feet! The rocks are deep red, with the odd smudge of white where some have turned to ash. There is the option to continue even further up the volcano, though this is only permitted if you with a professional, licensed guide, and on a blustery day you’d probably give it a miss anyway.

sicily, mount etna, volcano, italy

Here is a checklist for things you’ll need for a day trip to Mount Etna:

1. Warm clothes; you’ll need them up top.

2. Sun cream; the sun at this altitude is fierce and unforgiving!

3. Sturdy footwear; the ground is uneven, stoney and slippery in parts. Take trainers with good grip, not knackered converse.

4. Sunglasses. Obviously.

5. Sugary snacks; keep your energy up during the hike!

6. Water. Obviously.

7. Camera!

Etna is a great place to pick up a souvenir, from fridge magnets and cutlery sets to bottles of fiery Etna Rosso; all of it made from volcanic rock. The prices in the souvenir stores are very reasonable and there is a wide variety to choose from. Don’t be tempted to make your purchase at the gift shop at the upper gondola station; wait and pay less!

Also, it was here that I had my best ever (double) foodgasm. I’d already treated myself to several delectable treats in Catania and Taormina but none were better than the Arancini and Cannoli I tried for the first time at the café/restaurant besides the lower gondola station at Mount Etna. Both were divine, and easily the best things I ate all week. There were lots of other mouthwatering cakes and pastries I’d love to have tried but the cannoli was so good I had to spend my last €3 on another!

arancini, sicily, sicilian food, italy, italian food

cannoli, sicily, italy, italian food


There might not have been any lava on this occasion, but the beautiful views, roads, food, weather and otherworldly landscape make this trip well worth doing whatever the conditions.

Getting there

The gateway to getting up Etna is the Rifugio Sapienza above the town of Nicolosi. You must either drive or take the bus from Catania to get there. The road that winds up the mountain is a joy to drive up/down (in contrast to Catania!), with plenty of spots to stop and take pictures. There are private shuttle bus services in Taormina but it is probably not worth the extra cost and better to go to Catania by bus early in the morning.


  1. Comment by Patti

    Patti March 11, 2015 at 8:02 pm

    Your photos are awesome and this looks like my kind of hike. I love out of the ordinary places such as this and your description as being other worldly fits perfectly! And, if I could be rewarded with those desserts, well then it would be a win-win day! Great information for your readers!
    Patti recently posted…It’s Known as The Bone Church ~My Profile

    • Comment by Josh

      Josh April 3, 2015 at 11:13 pm

      Cheers Patti! Pleased I caught your attention! Those desserts were pretty otherworldly too if I’m honest haha

  2. Comment by Meg Jerrard

    Meg Jerrard March 12, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    Ooooh I would love to visit Sicily and take in Mt Etna! Thanks for the great advice – great checklist – I always forget to pack suntan lotion and then always end up regretting it – glad you included it on your list 🙂
    Meg Jerrard recently posted…Kerry Kijewski – The Inspiring World Explorer Who Travels Blind.My Profile

    • Comment by Josh

      Josh April 3, 2015 at 11:15 pm

      Pretty much stated the obvious with that one I thought but hey I always forget too so maybe not so obvious after all! If you go make sure you visit either side of the summer; August would be agonisingly hot!! Cheers Meg.

  3. Comment by Molly

    Molly March 12, 2015 at 6:48 pm

    A great jaunt up the volcano, good photos.
    Sadly I’ve only been to Italy once (Milan) I’d love to visit the rest of the country… I’ll take note of this Sicily break.
    Italian food… Can’t get enough of it
    Molly recently posted…Short & Mid term rentals Granada SpainMy Profile

    • Comment by Josh

      Josh April 3, 2015 at 11:15 pm

      Too right! You know they serve up Cannoli at the Sicilian pizza place at the end of Elvira in Granada?

  4. Comment by Bram

    Bram March 13, 2015 at 5:45 pm

    I’ve been on Mount Vesuvius before, but not on Mount Etna. We’re heading to the Mediterranean again this summer, so this could be an excellent addition to our travel list. Great post! 🙂
    Bram recently posted…‘Sunglasses and Reindeer’ Release DateMy Profile

    • Comment by Josh

      Josh April 3, 2015 at 11:11 pm

      Thanks Bram, if you’dlike any tips on eastern Sicily just shout 😉

  5. Comment by Jody Robbins

    Jody Robbins March 13, 2015 at 5:58 pm

    That looks like a fantastic day trip. I’ve hiked up to and around volcanoes in Hawaii and Japan, but never in Italy. The price for the gondola seems steep, but then you get this amazing food at a hole in the way cafe that totally makes up for it. I wish our touristy diners offered great food in North America.
    Jody Robbins recently posted…A Year of Intentional ParentingMy Profile

    • Comment by Josh

      Josh April 3, 2015 at 11:10 pm

      Hawaii and Japan!? They both feature among my top 5 must-see countries, and I’m sure I’ll be doing a fair bit of hiking when I eventually get around to seeing them! I’ll have to look you up 😉

  6. Comment by Gran Canaria Local

    Gran Canaria Local March 13, 2015 at 7:21 pm

    Recommending day trippers take warm clothes is a great tip, Josh. We suggest people trekking around Gran Canaria dress like an onion. With plenty of thin layers as the temperatures can go up and down the higher and lower you go.
    Gran Canaria Local recently posted…La FlowerMy Profile

    • Comment by Josh

      Josh April 3, 2015 at 11:08 pm

      That’s a pretty accurate likening which I’ll be using from now on thanks Matthew!

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