Discover what to see in Caltagirone for a weekend or a longer holiday! In this guide, you will find the most fascinating places to visit, also in the surroundings, and all the most interesting activities.
We are in the South-Eastern inland of Sicily, in the province of Catania, between the Hyblaean and Herean Mountains, and between the two largest plains of Gela and Catania. It is here we find Caltagirone. The ancient town is perched on a hill and famous for its historical-artistic richness still alive in its monuments, ancient churches and palaces, marvellous terracotta and ceramics exported all over the world.
Such ancient artistic production has influenced the city’s architectural development. For this reason, Caltagirone is internationally renowned and included in the UNESCO World Heritage List as one of the most beautiful late Baroque cities in Val di Noto.
Ceramics are produced in Caltagirone thanks to the presence of clay in the area and the dedication of master potters who have handed down the art of Sicilian pottery making since the Arab-Norman period, with further development during the Spanish period. Nowaday ceramics of Caltagirone are known throughout the world for their uniqueness.
Where does the name ‘Caltagirone’ come from? There are various theories about its etymological origin, but the matrix is definitely Arabic: ‘qal’at’, meaning ‘castle’ or ‘fortress’, and ‘al-ḡīrāni’ (الْغِيرَانِ), meaning ‘caves’. The union of the two words forms ‘cave castle’, referring to the numerous caves in the area. The Arab influence on Caltagirone has been very strong over the centuries.
Which is the best period to visit Caltagirone? If you are in the mood for a relaxing holiday, and have no particular interest in the sea, you can enjoy Caltagirone and its surroundings even during the winter months. If you want to experience an intense holiday, during the summer months you can enjoy festivals and cultural, musical and folkloristic events. And from Caltagirone you can reach some of the most beautiful seaside resorts, which we will see shortly.
But let’s hit the road, shall we? Follow our guide to the most beautiful places to see in and around Caltagirone, in one day or for a longer holiday.
Our itinerary also provides activities to do including food and wine tasting, shopping, excursions, sports activities, events, and exploratory walks to discover places to photograph.
In short, there is something for everyone. 😎
Here’s what to see in Caltagirone
[ back to menu ]
Caltagirone is a fairly small city and many of its most beautiful sights are located in the historical centre, which is easily accessible on foot. A half day may be enough to visit them all, but the time to invest will also depend on the pace at which you move along the itinerary.
We start our tour of Caltagirone from the famous Ceramics Museum. 👇
1. Museum of Ceramics
The Museum of Ceramics in Caltagirone is considered one of the most important museums in the world for its vast collection of traditional and modern ceramics from all over Sicily, retracing its history with exhibits ranging from the 5th century B.C. to the present day.
The museum is located in Via Roma and is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6.30 p.m.. Tickets cost € 4.00 (full price) and € 2.00 (reduced price).
2. Staircase of Santa Maria del Monte
What to see in Caltagirone, if not the Staircase of Santa Maria del Monte? It is one of Caltagirone’s most famous and emblematic tourist attractions, accessible from the historic centre.
A long staircase (17th century) flanked by balconied buildings, with 142 steps decorated with magnificent multicoloured tiles of local majolica, connecting the old town to the new one. The styles of the decorations with floral, geometric and figurative elements are diverse and range from Baroque to Arab, Norman, Aragonese, Renaissance, etc.
During the ascent, you can also admire the panoramic view over the town and surrounding countryside, as well as the workshops with ceramists at work. When you reach the top of the hill, you find the Church of Santa Maria del Monte, which houses some valuable works of art, including paintings and sculptures, and the Sacred Image of the Madonna di Conadomini, to whom people have a deep devotion during the Marian month.
3. Street Art in Caltagirone
What to visit in Caltagirone for a different kind of tour? The magnificent works of another kind of art, street art, carpet the walls of the narrow streets of the Aquanova, San Pietro, San Giuliano and Jewish quarters up to the upper part of the old city.
In fact, once at the top of the Santa Maria del Monte, you can enter the Sant’Agostino district where some of the street artists’ works can be found.
For information on the project, visit the Facebook page: Street Art Caltagirone, managed by the Association in charge of the initiative.
4. Villa Comunale and Public Garden
Here is what to see in Caltagirone for a tour of the city’s green spaces. To visit, the Villa Comunale and the Giardino Pubblico. The Villa Comunale is a beautiful park located in the historic centre, with one of the largest gardens in Sicily for a stroll among art, ceramics and greenery.
The Public Garden, designed in the mid-19th century by architect Giovan Battista Filippo Basile in Art Nouveau style, offers a spectacular view over the city and surrounding mountains. Inside, statues, fountains, a variety of flowers and ornamental plants, footpaths, play and picnic areas.
Don’t miss the characteristic Palchetto della Musica decorated with traditional Caltagirone ceramics, made in Moorish style around 1950. The decorations are made of polychrome ceramics. At the top of this cloister, on the dome stands the Aquila del Gonfalone, a majolica eagle with outstretched wings and on its breast the silver shield crossed in red, the heraldic coat of arms of Caltagirone.
5. Cathedral of San Giuliano (Duomo)
In the historical centre, overlooking Piazza Umberto I, there is the majestic Cathedral of St Julian, the Duomo, built in honour of St Julian the Martyr in the Norman era, around the 11th century.
Standing out for its artistic beauty are the big blue dome decorated with prestigious local ceramics, the 48-metre-high bell tower, and the cathedral’s Baroque façade with statues and decorations including a central rose window and cherubs. Inside, there are spectacular coffered ceilings, frescoes by Vaccaro, picturesque stained glass windows and statues of the Dead Christ and Our Lady of Sorrows.
One of the distinctive features of St Julian’s Cathedral is its ceramic floor, designed and made by local master ceramists. This floor consists of more than 2,000 coloured tiles and is a true masterpiece of Sicilian ceramic art.
6. Monumental Cemetery
The Monumental Cemetery in Caltagirone, on a hill in contrada Paradiso, was built in 1866 to the design of architect Giovanni Battista Nicastro, and was declared a national monument in 1931. And that is what it is, a marvellous open-air museum.
Inside you can visit monumental works with ceramic decorative elements and in different architectural styles, from classical to neoclassical, Art Nouveau and Art Deco, the Art Nouveau chapels whose walls are decorated with ceramic panels.
7. The Churches of Caltagirone
What to see in Caltagirone, if not its oldest churches? There are more than 50, but we have collected the most beautiful to visit, in addition to the aforementioned Cathedral of San Giuliano and Church of Santa Maria del Monte:
- Church of Santa Maria del Gesù
- Church of San Pietro
- Basilica of St James
- Church of St Francis of Assisi
- Church of St Francis of Paola
- Church of the Immaculate Conception
- Church of Jesus
- Church of San Giuseppe
- Church of St. Clare
8. The Bourbon Prison with the Luigi Sturzo Civic Museums
We are still in the historic centre of Caltagirone. Here, a short distance from the Cathedral of San Giuliano is the former Bourbon Prison. This eighteenth-century building was built during the reign of the Bourbons in Sicily at the end of the 18th century by the Syracuse architect Natale Bonaiuto on the rubble of the Arab-Norman castle (destroyed in the 1693 earthquake), and then re-evaluated as a structure housing one of the Luigi Sturzo Civic Museums. The torture chamber still exists inside.
The first historical Caltagirone Civic Museum was established in 1914 by Don Luigi Sturzo himself, who also promoted the purchase of many works of art to be included in the permanent exhibition.
The Museum contains several sections: Archaeology, Art Gallery, Historical Collection.
The visit of the Museum is free and available from Tuesday to Saturday from 9.30 to 12.30 and from 15.30 to 19.00 and on Sundays from 9.30 to 12.30.
9. Tondo Vecchio
It is impossible to ignore this ancient monument that resembles an amphitheatre. If you stroll through the historical centre along the main street, Via Roma, you will notice this semicircular structure that nowadays hosts concerts and open-air shows.
Tondo Vecchio was built in the second half of the 18th century by architect Francesco Battaglia as an urban decoration of the new city street layout, the old Via Carolina, now Via Roma. The shape is inspired by the cavea of a theatre, with stone tiers and other decorative elements, from where to enjoy the scenery that opens onto mountains and valleys.
10. Piazza Umberto I
Piazza Umberto I is Caltagirone’s main square, the one where everyone seems to gather. It is here that prestigious buildings are concentrated, which are also worth seeing from the outside:
- Monte delle Prestanze (now seat of the Banco di Sicilia)
- 18th century Palazzo Crescimanno d’Albafiorita, rich in works of art
- Palazzo Libertini di San Marco, former bishop seat
11. International Nativity Museum “Luigi Colaleo Collection”
Also worth a visit in Caltagirone is the Nativity Museum, in the historical centre behind the Villa Comunale. It is housed in an Art Nouveau building dating back to the early 20th century.
Inside, there is a collection of international cribs, donated by the lawyer Luigi Colaleo, from North America, Peru, Venezuela, Asia (India), Africa and Europe. Over 2,500 Italian and foreign works, in ceramic, terracotta, fabric, wood, cotton and other materials; cribs of Neapolitan art; popular cribs from the 19th and 20th centuries and contemporary ones.
Visit Caltagirone and surroundings
[ back to menu ]
What to see around Caltagirone? If you have time, it is worth visiting the other late baroque towns around Caltagirone. In our itinerary, we have considered only the most beautiful ones, which may be reached by car:
- Grammichele (distance 14.9 km, about 10 minutes)
- Piazza Armerina (distance 31.2 km, around 40 minutes)
- Ragusa (distance 59.3 km, about 50 minutes)
- Palazzolo Acreide (distance 59.8 km, approx. 50 minutes)
- Catania (distance 67.5 km, approx. 1 hour)
- Modica (distance 76.2 km, approx. 1 hour)
- Scicli (distance 82.6 km, about 1 hour and 14 minutes)
- Noto (distance 89 km, approx. 1 hour 25 minutes)
- Siracusa (distance 103, km, approx. 1 hour 30 minutes)
Some of the most famous seaside resorts can also be reached from Caltagirone. The nearest is Gela, 33 km away. But among the most beautiful beaches, if you have more time to dedicate to this seaside holiday, consider those of Brucoli, Fontane Bianche, Lido di Noto, and Playa di Marzamemi are worth a visit.
What to do in Caltagirone
[ back to menu ]
We have seen what to visit in Caltagirone to spend a longer or shorter holiday. Now let’s see what are the most interesting activities you can do.
Caltagirone is famous for its traditional art of ceramics and it’s plenty of handicraft shops along the pedestrian streets of the historic centre and in the covered market, where people still work with ancient techniques to create unique and highly prized pieces, including the famous “Teste di Moro” (Moor’s Heads) and “Pigne” (cones) and other handmade products.
The Moor’s Heads are hand-painted ceramic vases depicting the head of a Moor, usually flanked by the head of a young girl. While the Cones are typical pine-cone-shaped Sicilian ceramics used to decorate houses and gardens, featuring various traditional motifs such as flowers, animals and scenes of daily life.
In Caltagirone, the production of hand-carved and hand-painted wooden furnishing objects is still alive, as is that of textiles, including carpets, tapestries, sheets, etc., made using ancient techniques.
Food and Wine Tasting
In addition to ceramics, the typical local gastronomy is very popular in Caltagirone, to be enjoyed as street food, in traditional trattorias or as wine and food tasting tours.
Caltagirone is famous for its food specialities such as cheese, wild fennel, olive oil, wines, preserves and, of course, some typical sweet and savoury dishes, among them:
- Arancini and mixed fried food (vegetables and seafood).
- Pane cunzato: a traditional Sicilian sandwich that is stuffed with ingredients such as olives, tomatoes, cheese, cold cuts and other local ingredients.
- Sfincione: a type of Sicilian pizza with a thick and crispy bread base, stuffed with tomato sauce, cheese, onions and olives.
- Maccu Verde: a speciality made with fresh broad beans stewed to create a puree and with wild fennel, or flavoured in different ways.
- Muffolette: sandwiches made with wild fennel or fennel seeds.
- Cuccia di Caltagirone: typical cake made on the day of Santa Lucia (13 December) prepared with boiled wheat, ricotta cheese and chocolate, or with savoury ingredients including legumes and spices.
- “Panareddi”: typical Easter period cake that recalls the “panaro”, a typical wicker basket used as a food container.
These are just some of the local wines that you can taste during a holiday in Caltagirone, visiting a local wine shop or cellar:
- Nero d’Avola, a red wine made from Nero d’Avola grapes with an intense and robust flavour with notes of ripe red fruit and spices.
- Moscato di Noto, a sweet and aromatic wine produced from Moscato grapes with an intense aroma of flowers and exotic fruit, with a sweet and persistent taste.
- Cerasuolo di Vittoria, a light and fruity red wine produced from Nero d’Avola and Frappato grapes. It has a fresh and fruity taste with notes of red fruit and a slightly spicy finish.
- Zibibbo, a sweet and aromatic wine made from Zibibbo grapes, with an intense aroma of orange blossom and exotic fruit, and a sweet and persistent taste.
Belvederes and viewpoints
If you love photography and enjoy capturing breathtaking views, there are corners of Caltagirone that offer spectacular views and landscapes.
Here are our suggestions:
_ Terrazza Umberto I offers a panoramic view of the city and the valley below. It is a great place to take photographs during the day or in the evening.
_ Town Hall Square is another option for viewing the city from above and taking panoramic photographs. This square also offers a view of the monumental staircase of Santa Maria del Monte.
_ Sant’Anna Hill is a hill with a panoramic view of the city and the valley below, a great place to walk and take photographs, especially at sunset.
_ The Church of Santa Maria del Monte is located on a hilltop and offers a panoramic view of the city and the valley below.
Walking, Trekking and Hiking
For nature and outdoor activities lovers, there are several parks and nature reserves in and around Caltagirone with trails and paths through the hills and mountains for hiking, trekking and walking:
- The Riserva Naturale Orientata Bosco di Santo Pietro is a protected area located near Caltagirone. This park is an important example of a Mediterranean forest with a rich biodiversity of plants and animals, including the lynx, dormouse, badger and roe deer. The reserve also offers various opportunities for outdoor activities, such as walking and birdwatching.
- Monte San Mauro is also a protected area near Caltagirone, a mountainous area with a typical Sicilian rural landscape, characterised by a variety of flora and fauna, including several bird species such as the honey buzzard and the eagle owl.
- The Calatino Nature Reserves, a protected area a few kilometres North-West of Caltagirone.
- The Kamarina Archaeological Park, a nature reserve a few kilometres south-east of Caltagirone with several paths for walking and trekking.
- The Parco Regionale of Etna with the protected area around the famous active volcano, Mount Etna, rich in landscapes, cultivated plains and mountain forests.
Among the activities you can consider, here are the events that take place in Caltagirone at certain times of the year:
Christmas markets and the Caltagirone Nativity Scenes: events and exhibitions that take place during the Christmas period.
Feast of St Joseph: celebrated on 19 March each year and includes processions, concerts of traditional Sicilian music and fireworks.
Infiorata di Caltagirone: from 1 to 31 May, the event is dedicated to Madonna Maria SS di Conadomini. The steps of Santa Maria del Monte are filled with plants of various colours.
Luminaria di Santa Maria del Monte: every year during the first week of July, the monumental staircase of Santa Maria del Monte is illuminated by thousands of candles.
Feast of St James: from 23 to 25 July, the feast is celebrated in honour of the patron saint, during which the Stairway is lit up by many candles creating different designs.
Feast of Sant’Anna: it is celebrated every year on 26 July and includes processions, concerts of traditional Sicilian music and fireworks.
Feast of Ceramics: held every year in August to celebrate the art of ceramics in Caltagirone with exhibitions, open-air markets, concerts and live performances.
Caltagirone Jazz Festival: held every year during the month of August with jazz musicians from all over the world performing during live shows, concerts and jam sessions.
How to get to Caltagirone
[ back to menu ]
Caltagirone can be reached by car, bus, train and plane.
By car, you can arrive in Reggio Calabria and from there take the ferry with disembarkation in Catania. Once in Catania, you can take the state road SS 417 (Catania-Gela) and follow the signs for Caltagirone.
By plane: the nearest airport to Caltagirone is Catania-Fontanarossa airport, which is about 70 km south-east of the city. From here you can rent a car, take a train or bus to Caltagirone. An alternative is Comiso Airport, about 35 km away.
By train: it is also possible to reach Caltagirone by train. The city is served by the Ferrovia Circumetnea, which offers local and regional train services to and from the city. You arrive in Catania and from there you can take a direct line to Caltagirone.
By bus: it is possible to get to Caltagirone by bus from various cities in Sicily and from major Italian cities. There are several bus companies offering services to Caltagirone:
- Etna Trasporti
- SAIS Autolinee
- Azienda Siciliana Trasporti
Now that you know what to see in and around Caltagirone, all that remains is to wish you a good trip to Sicily! 😍