If you’re in Sicily for only a day or two, most likely you’re in either Catania or Palermo. If you’re in Palermo, you probably won’t be able to go to Catania. If you’re in Sicily for a week or more, a visit to Catania isn’t only a must, it’s inevitable.
Although there are tons of churches, ancient buildings, history, etc. there are two basic things you need to know about Catania, as a tourist with a family—the fish market (or pescheria) and the night life. This article is about the fish market.
The Pescheria is located adjacent to the Piazza Pardo, (near the Duomo), and is a great place to start walking up & down the main drag, Via Etnea. You need to get there early (most vendors start selling before 7 AM), to catch the action & to get the best seafood. However, if you’re just going to take pictures, like a lot of people do, then you can leisurely stroll around 9 or 10 o’clock & there will still be plenty of action, since the market doesn’t really start to shut down until lunch time. Keep in mind, however, that this is not an afternoon tour—you must arrive in the morning, or else you’ll see empty sidewalks & cobblestone with odds & ends strewn about.
Assuming you arrive in time, you’ll find the vast concentration of seafood in one area closest to the Piazza with vendors hawking a variety of seafood, ranging from fresh tuna & swordfish (with the heads on the chopping blocks so you can see how fresh the meat is—if you don’t see a head or the eyes have started to cloud, keep going), shrimp, mussels, and so many weird things your head will start to swim (my oldest son kept wanting to go back to the clams that would squirt water on each other, and the octopi that would open & close up in your hand). You can stroll around and find fresh fruit & vegetable stands, grocery items, grains, fresh bread, butcher stands (with hanging animals like goats, perfectly cut in half, skinned, & organs intact). Definitely an entertaining morning, and a must if you want to tell your friends that you went to Catania.
Do’s and don’ts:
Wear appropriate shoes—you’ll be walking on fish guts, wet cobblestone, and whatever falls off the vendor stands. Not the place to wear heels or sandals.
Bring your camera—you’ll see the coolest stuff, and you can’t show your friends back home if you forget your camera.
Protect your wallet—petty crimes, including pick pocketing, runs amok in Catania. Take precautions the way you would in a place like New Orleans.
Bring very young children, unless you can handle the hustle & bustle. It’s crowded, and this might not be the place for more than one small kid. We had most success bringing our five-year old (he’d sit on my shoulders a lot), and leaving the twins with our sitter.
Bring a purse. Keep it secure in your hotel room. If you must bring a purse, keep it small, and keep it in your hand (thieves can snag it off your shoulder and disappear before you know it’s gone).
Touch anything you don’t want to buy. Vendors are very particular—if you touch it, you’re probably going to end up buying it or get yelled at.
One last tip: If you’re driving, parking is hard to find. You can try to adhere to the rules (buying a parking ticket at a tobacco store (tabacchi) & displaying it in your car. However, a more effective (and legitimate, if not technically legal) is to pay a ‘parking attendant.’ You’ll see a parking space, or a guy waving you to park. By optimizing the world’s most constrained parking areas, these parking attendants fill a particular need for you, the city (by helping to alleviate parking issues), and for themselves. In exchange, you negotiate directly with that person depending on the period of time you expect to stay. Expect to pay approximately 1 Euro per hour, which is comparable to the rate at the tabacchi, and is usually worth it, since the attendant will also keep thieves from your car, and keep the police away from it. Worth every Euro cent.