Climbing and visiting Mount Etna

Written by Sam Van den Haute aka CheckOutSam

Mount Etna or the Etna volcano is one of those sights that you simply can not miss when you visit Sicily.
This active volcano is 3300 meters high (10,800 ft) towers above the Italian island, but you don't have to worry. Although the volcano erupts regularly, large eruptions haven't taken place in several hundreds of years. And therefore it's perfectly safe to climb Mount Etna!

Sam Van den Haute CheckoutSam

Hi, I'm Sam, the blogger behind CheckOutSam!

Sam Van den Haute has been a full-time world traveler for ten years and has therefore gained a lot of travel and lifestyle inspiration on all continents. Do you still have questions after reading this blog? Ask them in the comments section or send me a message at [email protected] and I'll be happy to help you wherever I can!

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Excursion to Mount Etna?

Want to explore Mount Etna with a guided tour? Good idea! It makes your visit much more interesting and completely hassle-free! Check-out the excursions on GetYourGuide: they always show real reviews and almost always you can to cancel for free up until 24 hours in advance. Perfect for when the weather conditions aren’t ideal to get a panoramic view from the top – for example!


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Volcanic landscapes and extraterrestrial vistas

If you go on holiday in the north of Sicily, you can see Mount Etna from just about everywhere.
The gigantic mountain is beautiful from a distance, but even more spellbinding when you climb the steep flanks.

It seems like you’re visiting another planet. This fire-breathing mountain caused some of the world’s most bizarre landscapes.
Dozens of craters in black, brown and green hues adorn the area, and when you climb Mount Etna the strange plants that grow there immediately catch the eye.
The black lava stone characterizes the region and contrasts sharply with the bright blue sky and the Roman cities that you see from the top.
Photos and descriptions can never show how beautiful this region is. And so I advice everyone to just go and visit Mount Etna by yourself. I think it’s one of Europe’s most beautiful natural attractions.

Personally, I didn’t think the climb was very hard, but nevertheless don’t underestimate it. The Etna is pretty steep!
You can explore the volcano on your own, or with the help from a day trip. I discuss both options below.

mount etna landscape

The yellow-green plants stand in stark contrast with the dark background. What a magical landscape!

etna volcano sicily visit

It can cool down quickly if you climb this high. Staying in motion is therefore necessary!

Visit Etna as a day trip

From certain cities in Sicily it is possible to arrange a full-day excursion to Mount Etna.
Most of these trips can be arranged from Catania. This second largest city in Sicily is a one-and-a-half hour drive from the volcano and is therefore the perfect base for exploration.
From Palermo it’s also possible to visit Mount Etna, but be warned: the trip to the volcano from Palermo takes at least three and a half hours…

You don’t pay that much for a day trip either. On average, a tour goes from €50 to €100 per person.
However: do pay attention to the differences offered by the tour operators. At some organizations you get lunch and guides included, with others you don’t get any of that…
Curious about the price and possibilities? Look at these excursions:


» All tours and excursions to the Etna

Visit Mount Etna by public transport

Are you adventurous enough to arrange the trip to Mount Etna by yourself? Or would you like to save money on expensive day trips? Then of course there is always the possibility to plan your visit to Etna on your own.
Because this is such a popular tourist attraction, there aren’t that many possibilities to commute by public transport. But… There are some!

AST bus catania etna

The AST bus at the station in Catania. You have to board this bus to vist Mount Etna.

Taking the bus from Catania to Etna

There is only one way to explore Mount Etna on your own, and that is by taking the bus from Catania.

From Catania a single bus leaves daily (from the company AST, see photo above) to Mount Etna at 8:15 AM.
The AST bus departs from the large bus stop right in front of the central station of Catania. This large tour bus has a clear sign on its window with “ETNA” written on it.

Before you get on the bus you still have to buy tickets. A single ticket costs €3.30. A return ticket costs €6.60.
You buy the tickets in the AST store which is located near the pick-up point of the buses. The exact address of the store is the ‘Via Luigi Sturzo 232’ and you can see a photo of what it looks like below.

It takes about two hours to travel from Catania to Mount Etna, and you make one stop on the way. If you didn’t have breakfast yet, don’t freak out. Because along the way you’ll have a break of about half an hour.
After the short pause you zigzag through the steep lava landscapes until you finally reach 2000 meters.

From this parking lot, only one bus leaves for Catania every day. So make sure that you’re back on time: at 4:30 PM the AST bus leaves, and when you return you take about one and a half hour to get back to Catania.

So… In short:

  • From Catania Centrale you take the AST bus towards Etna at 08:15 AM in the morning.
  • Tickets can be purchased at Via Luigi Sturzo 232 and cost (round-trip) €6.60 per person.
  • From the Etna parking spot, the AST bus departs at 4:30 PM back to Catania.

public transportation mount etna from catania

You’ll have to buy the AST tickets from here if you want to take public transportation to Mount Etna.

visit etna public transportation bus catania

Because there is only one bus a day, it can get quite crowded on the bus…. The seats are often taken well in advance, and some people need to stand the whole drive. So be on time!

Tips for a pleasant ride on the bus:

  • Be on time! Since there is only one bus a day, the buses are often full. When I took the bus some people had to stand the whole ride… I visited Etna outside the high season (October), so I expect it to be much busier in the summer. A good time to get on the bus is 7:45 AM – 8 AM.
  • To be certain of a seat during the return, you should perhaps head to ‘La Cantoniera’. A hotel that is located five minutes from the parking lot (where you have been dropped). From the bus parking you should already be able to see the AST bus parked here. The bus to Catania leaves from here at 4:20 PM.
climbing etna crater

The crater closest to the parking lot. If you climb a little higher you get a very nice view over this crater.

Visit Etna with your own transport

Another possibility is to visit Mount Etna with your own transport. The drivers in Catania are quite wild, but all in all it seems to me that you could still drive here. The road to Mount Etna is very quiet, and shouldn’t cause any problems for anyone with a driving license.
Be sure to read this article about my experience with renting a car in Sicily.

Climb the Etna

From the parking lot you start your trek to ‘Mount Etna’.
I recommend starting with the two easiest climbs: the crater right in front of Mount Etna, and the viewpoint right in front of it. Both are fairly easy to climb but take some time.

If you found this difficult, the further climb to Etna (2500 meters or 2900 meters / 8200 ft or 9515 ft ) may be too difficult for you. But you don’t have to climb them! To help visitors, a cable car was installed on Mount Etna. If you want to go higher than 2500 meters you’ll need to hire the help of a jeep.

Cable car and jeeps on Mount Etna

For a single ride on the cable car you pay €24 ($30 or £21), for a return ticket you pay €30 ($37 or £26)
If you want to go higher without climbing, you also have to purchase a jeep trip with a mandatory guide (€9 / $11 / £8). You pay €24 / $30 / £21 extra for the jeep.
To climb from 1910 meters to the summit of Etna (2900m or 9500 ft) with the help of both the cable car and jeeps you pay €63 / $80 / £55.

climbing etna

Are you climbing Mount Etna? Make sure that you packed good hiking boots!

Ladybugs Everywhere?!

As I put my hands in my pockets at this height to get them warm again, I thought I was beginning to hallucinate.
I saw a ladybug.

You wouldn’t expect these small creatures at such a high altitude, right? After I saw ten more –and more than a thousand at the end of the day– I knew that there was something that attracted these little creatures.
Strangely enough, scientists aren’t entirely sure why these small insects migrate to the high volcano tops (or mountains) en masse.
It’s certain that they are spending part of their hibernation here, and that’s probably because they aren’t being bothered by predators at these great heights…

According to estimates, millions of ladybirds are visiting Mount Etna annually, accounting for a total weight of more than 1800 kilograms (3970 lbs)! Don’t think that you start to hallucinate when you come across these black-dotted red insects. You’ll probably see a lot more during your climb!

ladybugs etna

When you’re climbing the Etna you might come across thousands of ladybugs! How bizarre!

Some tips and facts about the Etna

  • There are plenty of restaurants to be found at this altitude. You don’t necessarily have to pack your own lunch. In the parking lot (where all buses, including day trips are found) are a lot of shops and restaurants. They offer tasty lunch packages or hot meals. For a picnic I paid €6 (sandwich + a biscuit + an apple + water). You pay €2.50 for one liter of water.
  • Don’t forget to pack some extra clothes! When I climbed Etna it was 26° C (79° F) in Catania, but only 8°C (46.4 °F) on Mount Etna!
  • Are you too cold? The souvenir shops at the bus parking sell hats, gloves and even coats!
  • Even if you visit the Etna volcano by public transport, you can arrange a guide on the spot.
  • Take good walking, hiking or climbing shoes with you. The Etna is steep!
  • Don’t be put off by bad weather. The weather and the view around Etna is very changeable, but often there are also clearances. Moreover, a misty day on Mount Etna gives a completely different experience than on a clear day. Both are fun!
  • If you would like to know more about the recent eruptions and the damage they caused, I recommend entering some restaurants or souvenir shops. In many you see TV screens with videos or photos that show the damage of the fast flowing lava.

etna eruption

If you’re really lucky (or terribly unlucky…) you might even see the Etna erupt!

climbing etna bible

And if you are afraid that Etna will bring you closer to purgatory … This religious man is happy to help you with your search for enlightenment!

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  1. Maria says:

    It is a really valuable and high quality article – thank you Sam! I hoped to visit both Italian volcanos in just one week but now (thank to you) I know it is not that easy. It is better to be prepared (proper shoes, clotes etc.) than to spoil such an opportunity! 🙂

    • Hey Maria

      Thank you for those kind words!
      It definitely is a good idea to be prepared. Whichever volcano you choose to see: they’re both quite the adventure!


  2. milos says:

    when I buy bus ticket to etna so is there a seat number on it or I just get random seat?
    my second question: is any chance that bus will not take me back even if I have return ticket?

    • Hi Milos

      No, you just can pick your own seat. But I advice you to be on time, because otherwise you’ll have to stand the whole time. On our bus about 5 people had to stand the whole time, and believe me; no one is willing to give up their seat 😛
      I am not sure about your second question. They still take people, even if they can’t sit but stand. But of course the bus also has a limited capacity…
      Just make sure that you arrive early and you will be fine.


  3. Hi Sam, if I was to go to Etna by public transport and hire a guide on the spot so that I can go to the summit do you know how much this would cost?

    • Hey Ben

      I’m almost 100% sure there are no guides on the spot and I also couldn’t tell you how much they would cost… Sorry!


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