Exploring Mount Etna: Foothills and Ascent

Starting at the stunning Alcàntara Gorge, we detail a journey that takes you to the volcanic foothills of Mount Etna and tours the region’s black lava villages before culminating in a visit to the volcano’s crater, either by cable car or on foot. Here is our guide to exploring Mount Etna.
Collapsed volcano cone, Mount Etna. Photo: Shutterstock
Collapsed volcano cone, Mount Etna. Photo: Shutterstock

A visit to Europe's largest and most-active volcano can be a once-in-a-lifetime holiday experience. Whether you choose to explore the foothills of Mount Etna by car or ascend the volcano on foot, make sure you choose a clear day for your trip so you can fully appreciate the spectacular views. We've compiled a list of the top places to stop off at along the way, from medieval villages and Norman ruins to volcanic plains and lava mounds, making the most of the sights this ancient landscape has to offer. 

1. The Alcàntara Gorge

The first stop on your tour, this pitted river canyon was created by the collision of volcanic magma and cooling river water, making lavic prisms in warped shapes. There is a lift down to the icy river below and water rafting opportunities for the sporty kind. 

People enjoy ice-cold water of Alcantara river. Photo: Shutterstock

People enjoy ice-cold water of Alcantara river. Photo: Shutterstock

2. Castiglione di Sicilia

Visit the ruins of the Norman castle, the atmospheric village and the churches and alleyways of Castiglione di Sicilia, nestled in fragrant citrus groves. The views over the red-tiled rooftops are truly picturesque. Enjoy traditional home cooking at Belvedere d'Alcantara with more stunning panoramic views.

3. Randazzo

Visit the most put-together medieval village on Mount Etna which, during Swabian times, was a cool summer retreat for the royal court, due to its situation on the northern side of the volcano. Whilst surviving numerous volcanic eruptions, the village fared less well during the bombings of World War Two and what remains pays homage to the religious struggles between the Latins, Greeks and Lombards in the region. 

4. Castello Nelson

In a style similar to an English manor house and home to Horatio Nelson and his descendants until 1981, this estate is well worth a visit. Take in the Nelson memorabilia including naval paintings and the admiral's port decanter and have a look at the remains of the Benedictine Abbey which was mainly destroyed by an earthquake in 1693 and only the Norman Chapel now remains. 

5. Adrano

The market town of Adrano is set on the Southwestern slopes of Mount Etna. The town's battered charm lies in the busy Piazza Umberto, home to a large Norman castle and the neighbouring Chiesa Madre, a restored church of Norman origin. 

Italian village Castiglione on Etna volcano, Sicily. Photo: Shutterstock

Italian village Castiglione on Etna volcano, Sicily. Photo: Shutterstock

6. The crater

There are a few ways to visit the crater of Mount Etna, but be advised by the local experts with regards to the best time to visit (weather and eruption dependent). The easiest and quickest way is by cable car from Rifugio Sapienza which also includes an optional guided tour to the summit. If you are planning to hike, it will take around 4 hours, so always check the forecast before setting off. Let Insight Guides do the hard work for you, with a guided tour of Sicily and Mount Etna.

Whilst you may not witness an actual eruption when you visit Etna, the volcano is still a fascinating place to visit, offering plenty to see and do. If you're lucky you may see a glowing red crater, the belching of sulphurous vapours, a shower of sparks or a gaseous explosion. You can also relax and watch the nightly spectacle of molten bombs shooting from Etna's cones from neighbouring Taormina. 

Taking a holiday to Mount Etna: how to get started

Insight Guides can help you with planning, organising and booking your trip to Mount Etna. Simply, get in touch and share your budget, interests and travel style. Our local experts will create an itinerary exclusive to you and your requirements, which you can amend until it's just right. Alternatively, browse and modify ready-made holidays to create your dream trip today.