One of the best ways to get your kids excited about a Sicily trip – tell them you’re going to walk on a volcano! It’s an exciting experience, even as an adult, especially if there’s active lava flow.
Good To Know: Don’t worry – if there’s active lava flow, you won’t be anywhere near it. But, you can see it glowing orange at night. On our latest visit, it was clearly visible from Taormina and Castelmola.
I’ve been up Mount Etna before on my own and with other visitors, but this time around I was accompanied by my father and two of my children (ages 5 & 8). The experience is a little more complicated with kids, so I’ve put this list of tips together based on our day on mighty Mount Etna.
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Go on a Guided Tour of Mount Etna
This is my number one tip if you’re visiting Mount Etna with kids.
If you’re independent, you probably don’t want to take a ‘tour,’ but I was most comfortable hiking with our guide for safety reasons, and my kids were exploding with questions about the volcano (that I wouldn’t have been able to answer).
Even if you usually avoid group tours like the plague, don’t discount them for a family trip up Etna. You can even have a private guided tour. We used Etna Est and were very happy on their classic morning Mount Etna tour. Our boys loved stopping at the different viewpoints on the way up to Rifugio Sapienza, and especially walking through a lava cave!
And part two of this one – make sure your guide is reputable. Don’t go up the top of the mountain with Domenico who lives nearby and loves to show people around.
If you absolutely don’t want to go with a guide, you can do it on your own. More on that later.
Choose a Good Month to Visit Mount Etna
The best months to visit Mount Etna are spring and early summer (April, May, June) and autumn (September, October, November). High summer (July, August) is hot and especially crowded (with people and ladybugs). During winter you may get snow, which is fun, but you can’t see terrain, craters, colors, flora, etc.
Helpful Tip: Always check the weather before you visit. I like to look at Il Meteo for Italian weather forecasts (previsioni).
Fun Fact: Our guide Giuseppe told us Etna visitors number up to 50,000 people per day in the summer, and less than 1000 in January.
Fun Fact: Love flowers? Violets typically bloom in April and May typically and Etna yellow broom typically blooms in June.
Dress in Layers for a Visit to Mount Etna
Even in the summer, bring a fleece because it can be chilly (although you likely won’t need it).
Winter is cold, but there are still plenty of beautiful sunny days. Wear layers so you can peel them off in response to the weather.
What We Did: In January, my boys wore:
- Thermal underwear (top and bottom)
- Long-sleeve shirt
- Down coat
- Running shoes
The weather was gorgeous, but we stayed in our coats. There wasn’t really any snow, so we could see the landscape.
Wear Appropriate Footwear
You can see in the photo above what hiking on a lava field looks like. It’s not terrain for Vans or flip-flops.
Make sure your kids (and you) wear shoes or boots suitable for hiking. Good tread is important because you’ll walk on sandy, rocky, and unsteady terrain.
My kids wore sneakers with good tread, and we were fine. If you’re planning on doing a hearty trek with your guide, check in with your guide to make sure sneakers are acceptable.
Helpful Tip: Don’t wear white sneakers. You’ll get them dirty in the lava ‘sand.’
Don’t Plan Anything Else for the Day
A visit to Mount Etna is exhausting physically and mentally for little ones. Not only are you hiking at a higher altitude (almost 2000 meters above sea level), all of the exciting volcano info (and the fact that you’re walking on one) contributes to wearing kids out.
So, don’t plan on driving and checking in to another hotel, visiting a beach, or going to dinner in Taormina. Head back to your hotel, relax, and let your little ones (and yourself) recover!
Don’t Take Public Transport
There are buses from Catania to Etna’s Rifugio Sapienza (2 hrs), and you can see the current schedule on the AST website (in Italian – Orari Autolinee Extraurbane).
The problem is that there’s usually one bus up and one bus down per day. And, you lose flexibility in stopping to check out lava on the way or seeing different viewpoints.
If you take a guided tour, you don’t even have to do any driving – just sit back and enjoy the views and interesting info about Etna.
There is also a train that circulates around most of the base of Mount Etna, but the coolest part is being high up and seeing the craters, etc. You won’t get that from the base (although you will get views of old lava flows).
Fun Fact: You may notice some homes on the road up to Rifugio Sapienza from Nicolosi. Some locals still live on the mountain or have small orchards. When the regional park was created, the government gave residents the option to stay. Those that decided to stay can only pass the property down through family and can’t sell it. When the family dies out, the government takes over ownership of the property. Some houses are already boarded up. Others are still used by the residents and are often surrounded by orchards (apples, pears, chestnuts, hazelnuts) – which thrive in the fertile volcanic soil.
Walk To See Inside a Crater
Don’t just hang out in the Rifugio Sapienza area eating snacks and shopping for souvenirs. Walk to see the inside of one of the many craters!
The easiest ones to see are the Silvestri Craters – five craters sitting in a row. The climbs are steep for some of them, but the views are amazing, and kids can climb up!
Helpful Tip: Buy a map in a souvenir shop. A map is helpful for showing kids what they’re looking at and fun to refer to when you get home. We found this one to be kid-friendly:
Do the Best Walk or Hike for Your Family
There are epic hikes you can do with a guide (including from the top of the cable car), or you can walk on your own. Some of the most popular walks include:
- Rifugio Sapienza (1935m) to the Piccolo Rifugio (2500m, top of the cable car). It’s on a large path (access road for vehicles) that makes its way under the new cable car. While walking, you can see the old cable car destroyed by the 1985 lava flow. The new (green) cable car was built in 1987.
- Monte Silvestri inferior. Reach it on the short path from the south side of the road. Easiest crater to see with little kids.
- Monte Silvestri superior. Reach it with the steep climb from the north side of the road. You can watch others climbing this and decide if you want to tackle it with your kids. My 5-year-old and 8-year-old were happy to ‘conquer the crater,’ and they happily climbed up. We also explored (with our guide, but the paths are well-worn) to the north of the crater and saw lava tubes and enormous boulders that the upper craters had spit out. The great thing about this area is that you can always see where you are and where you’re headed, and you can always turn back. If you have active kids, this is my recommended hiking area.
Decide if You Want to Take the Funivia
When you get to Rifugio Sapienza, you can decide whether to hike in the area or take the cable car (funivia). From the top of the cable car you can also take a 4×4 minibus or take a short walk. You are not allowed to hike past a certain point without a guide. Be sure to check in at the base of Rifugio Sapienza for the current rules!
Good To Know: The cable car is privately owned and the rates are pricey! I’ve done both and can say it’s just as much fun to skip the funivia and hike around the lower craters. But if you’re set on it, go for it!
You can see what the cable car and 4×4 bus look like in this clip from Rick Steves.
What to Bring to Mount Etna with Kids
- Snacks – There are some cafés and restaurants, but it’s nice to have snacks (that your kids like) handy while you’re walking and exploring.
- Plastic bag – So you can take your trash with you.
- Sunscreen – You’ll need it!
- Hat and/or Sunglasses – It’s bright on Etna, and you’ll want a cap or a beanie, depending on the weather. Sunglasses are also nice to have, especially if there’s snow.
- Water – You can buy water at cafes and restaurants in the Rifugio Sapienza area, but you’ll want to have water on your drive up and while you’re hiking. It’s easier (and less expensive) to bring it with you. If you need a refill, you’ll need to purchase water.
- Baby Carrier or Baby Backpack – While you can move around the Rifugio Sapienza area with a stroller, if you’re planning on walking up to see any of the craters, you’ll want a baby carrier or baby backpack. If you really want to move around with a stroller, you trade off with another adult in your group and take turns doing the short walks to see one or more of the Silvestri craters (easy access from the main road).
Good To Know: If you forget something, don’t worry – you can find pretty much anything you’d need in the little ‘village’ that’s built up around Rifugio Sapienza.
There are toilets in the bars or restaurants and there’s a paid (1€ at time of writing) toilet next to the Etna in Miniatura exhibit. You can also change your baby’s diaper outdoors if you have a portable mat with you.
There’s a pharmacy, an ATM, and plenty of shops selling sporty clothing and souvenirs (especially t-shirts, postcards, and things made of lava).
An easy restaurant with kids is the Terrazza dell’Etna, with its self-service meals or arancini. The bar beside the lift is also a good choice for a quick meal.
Read and Learn About Mount Etna Before You Visit
Here are a few recommended books about volcanoes and volcanic rocks. We especially get a lot of use from the National Geographic Volcano book.
Volcanoes (National Geographic Kids), by Anne Schreiber
Rocks & Minerals (National Geographic Kids), by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld
My Book of Rocks & Minerals (DK)
Let’s Go Rock Collecting, by Roma Gans
Look Inside Volcano (DK)
Pop-Up Volcano!, by Fleur Daugey
Volcano & Earthquake (DK Eyewitness)
Volcanoes (Smithsonian Little Explorer)
Volcanoes, by Franklyn Mansfield Branley
Learn about Mt. Etna in an article from Catalyst science magazine for teens.
A NASA project was on Mt. Etna in late 2022 testing out a drone and rover that will be used on Mars. You can read about it and see it in action on YouTube.
My boys loved seeing Mount Etna lava flow and crater videos like this one and this one.
Enjoy your time on Mount Etna with your family!
If you’re visiting Sicily with your kids, you may want to read
Palermo with Kids
Cefalù with Kids
Sampieri – A Family-Friendly Beach Town
Mount Etna with Kids FAQ
Yes, you can technically go skiing on Etna, but there are much better options in mainland Italy and Europe.
At the time of writing, the three main craters had heights of 3370 meters (Southeast), 3340 meters (Northeast), and 3330 meters (Center).
You may be seeing the white smoke, which is the reaction of sulfur and water vapor.
It’s not safe to go close to the lava without an experienced guide who can take you there safely and with the correct equipment. However, if there is lava flow, you can often see it in the distance (we could see it glowing bright orange in early 2023 from Taormina at night).
The volcano is monitored 24-7 in Catania. You will not be allowed onto the volcano or in certain areas if there is a dangerous threat. But of course, there is always a risk when visiting an active volcano.