Sicilian Rail Adventure: An Unforgettable Adventure from Catania to Palermo

Sicilian Rail Adventure: An Unforgettable Adventure from Catania to Palermo
Catania by train 2024

Sicily by Train: Catania to Palermo – A Personal Journey

My daughter and I planned another adventure, this time a week-long escape. After countless days of research and comparing routes, Italy beckoned once again. Our initial plan was to explore Belgium and France, with a quick hop to London. However, a week wasn't enough for that itinerary, and the cost-benefit ratio favored Italy.

After falling in love with Naples on our autumn trip, we wanted to venture further south. Sicily was calling. Traveling entirely by train there and back within a week would mean spending most of our time in transit. When I travel with my daughter, I prefer to limit train journeys to half a day at most. Thankfully, we found reasonably priced flights from Prague to Catania, with checked baggage included and the option to change dates before departure. Trains, unfortunately, couldn't compete on price.

Planning a week in Sicily was an adventure in itself. We wanted to stick to trains for our travels within Italy. Despite the tempting €10 flights crisscrossing the country, the departure times were often inconvenient for a parent with a young child. Plus, this was a train adventure, so trains it was – especially overnight trains.

Buying and verifying ticket prices took considerable time. At the time of planning, Czech Railways (ČD) offered almost no overnight trains on my chosen routes, neither between Rome and Vienna nor between Sicily and Rome. Ultimately, I purchased everything from local carriers online, and even in person at a ticket office in Austria for the Rome-Vienna leg. Once again, booking flights was far easier, faster, and more flexible.

With our Catania flights booked, our starting point was set. We chose Catania as our base for the first four days and planned excursions from there. An overnight train connected Catania to Rome, where we'd continue to Vienna and back to Prague. The same train also had a section departing from Palermo. In Messina, the Catania and Palermo sections would merge and continue to Rome. The departure from Palermo had a more convenient time, leaving after 6 pm, so we added an overnight stay in Palermo to our itinerary.

With our plans in place, we were ready to embark on our Sicilian rail adventure.

Catania: Mount Etna, Markets, and Day Trips

We arrived at Catania Airport on a Saturday before noon. The city center was accessible by train or bus. We headed for the train station, about a 10-minute walk away, but an ALIBUS was ready to depart for the city right outside the terminal. For €4 and less than half an hour, we were in the city center near the port. We walked to the fish market and then to our accommodation. We had booked our stay at the airport in Prague, and perhaps we hadn't made the best choice. It was about a 20-minute walk to the center and almost 40 minutes to the train station. While we were in a quiet part of town, we ended up walking quite a bit each day.

Catania Train Station
Catania's train station is connected to the bus station and located right on the coast, offering views of the port. The station has ticket machines, a ticket office, and a bar with refreshments. On the first platform, there's a 1915 FS R370 012 steam locomotive on display, which was in service until 1975.

Catania to Taormina by Train: Our First Excursion

Taormina is one of Sicily's top tourist destinations, famous for its ancient theater. This stone amphitheater offers stunning views of Mount Etna, the island's coastline, and the bay. The train stops below Mount Tauro at Taormina-Giardini station, with buses running to the top of the hill and the town center, where the theater is located. I later discovered that train tickets could be purchased (both at the station and online) all the way to Taormina-Centro, including the FS bus to the center. We had only bought tickets to Giardini and had to purchase bus tickets from the driver for €1.10 per adult.

We bought our train tickets from a machine at the station just before departure. We had been undecided between Taormina and Syracuse until the last minute, with the weather being the deciding factor. Tickets can also be purchased online, and the price for regional trains is the same in advance as on the day of departure. If we had taken an InterCity (IC) train, it would have been worth buying tickets more than two days in advance, as the price is often halved. A one-way regional train ticket cost €5.50, and €2.70 for a child. After purchasing tickets, whether from a machine or at the ticket office, it's essential to validate them!

We traveled to Taormina on an ETR 104 electric multiple unit from Alstom's Coradia Stream family. Introduced in 2019, this train boasts a top speed of 160 km/h, although it doesn't fully utilize that speed on this particular route. Nonetheless, the 45-minute journey was pleasant, and we arrived at the Taormina station at 11 am. We followed the crowd to the front of the station building, where a bus arrived shortly after. I assumed everyone was a tourist heading to the center.

The bus hugged the coastline, and 20 minutes later, we were there. After a brief tour of the small square, we headed towards the theater. We spent about an hour exploring the theater and enjoyed a refreshment break at a café overlooking the bay.

Finding the bus stop for the return trip proved more challenging, and the bus arrived about 25 minutes late. While waiting, about 10 other buses passed by, and we repeatedly asked if they were going to the train station, but none were headed in the right direction. We managed to catch our train back with just a minute to spare, quickly buying tickets at the counter. Trains run approximately every hour. We were back at Catania station in 45 minutes.

Catania to Syracuse by Train

The next day, we planned a trip to Syracuse. Fatigue was starting to catch up with us, so we had a more relaxed morning and caught the 11 am train. The regional train journey took an hour and twenty minutes, and the ticket price was €8.80 for an adult and €4.50 for a child.

From Catania station, the train passed through the city towards the airport, where it also had a stop. So, we did end up taking a train to the airport after all.

We traveled on an interesting Hitachi Blues HTR 312 unit. These trains are equipped with diesel generators and batteries for non-electrified sections. They are relatively new, having been introduced in 2022.

After an hour and fifteen minutes of scenic travel through beautiful landscapes, ports, and past factories, we arrived in Syracuse. The station was smaller and clean. About twenty minutes later, we reached the historic center and went for lunch. We were drawn to a fish bistro, where they fried our selections from the counter. After exploring the city, we returned to Catania by train around 4 pm.

Last Morning in Catania and the Journey to Palermo

On our last morning in Catania, we handed over the apartment keys and headed to the station for breakfast. We had a morning transfer to Palermo ahead of us, which involved taking a bus to Dittaino and then a train to Palermo. The route passed through the heart of Sicily, and trains were replaced by FS buses on the Catania to Dittaino section. There was an option to travel along the coast to Messina, where we could continue along the coast with one transfer, but I ultimately chose the route through the island's interior...