The mountain has an eerie volcanic landscape, with solidifed "rivers" of lava. It is used for skiing in winter, so be prepared for the cold at this altitude, even in summer. Even in good weather in summer, sometimes the top of the mountain is covered in cloud, especially during the afternoon, obscuring the wonderful views.
One bus a day runs to and from Catania to Rifugio Sapienza about 1400m below the summit on the south side, giving you enough time for a trip up the mountain and a wander. The bus leaves at 8.15 am from outside Catania train station. The bus stops at stop number 15 which is next to the area served by local buses. Tickets for the bus are sold on board (4 eur one way, 6.60 eur same day return). The bus is a white coach with AMT written down the side. The return bus leaves Rifugio Sapienza punctually at 4.30 pm - don't miss it, there are no other options to get down.
By tour bus
Many agencies in Taormina offer organised trips to and around the mountain.
Tours can also be arranged by contacting: the Parco Regionale dell'Etna, Via Etnea 107, Nicolosi, tel: +39 095 914588.
There are 2 ways to get around on Mount Etna:
1) From Rifugio Sapienza (Etna south) during good weather, you can pay for a trip on a 4-wheel-drive vehicle + cable car (expensive at 63€ A/R but they have discount agreements with some close hotels) about 800m nearer the top (to walk is about 4-5 hrs round trip and 1,000 meters elevation). In bad weather, walking is the only option, but be prepared for freezing weather.
The cable car runs from Rifugio Sapienza (1900m) to 2500m. its 30E return (August 2016). There is also a path just behind the cable car station if you want to walk . It takes around 2 hours to walk up from 1900 to 2500m. From the top cable car station you can then go in a 4x4 (33E), but if you are even moderately fit it is not worth it: The beautiful hike from the top of the cable car to Torre del Filosofo (2920m), is fairly straightforward, and takes about an hour (~2.7km one way, 400m elevation gain). You can either follow the road, or more interestingly, there are some more direct paths.
Be prepared for some disinformation when asking about hiking options, especially when there is a conflict of interest in selling tours. The hike is moderate at most, you may be told it is steep or even dangerous. Not true. The hike between Rifugio and Torre Filosofo is a slog, but straightforward enough. Taking the cable car, the hike from the top of the cable car is little more than a walk, and kids as young as 4 were successfully doing it. Beyond Torre Sapienza, to hike up to the crater you will need a guide, available at the 2,900m ranger station, and the cost is 25 euros per person. The hike is an extra ~4 hours round trip.
Another good option is to get a guided tour with an electric mountain bike near the base of the cable car, which is 85 euros to the summit at 3,340m. They also have electric and non-electric mountain bikes for rent to explore the area.
2) From Piano Provenzana (Etna north) by walking to arrive on the summit Crater. This is a beautiful tour because it's possible to admire forests and lava sceneries.
There are lots of souvenir shops around Rifugio Sapienza.
There are several cafes / restaurants around Rifugio Sapienza.
The top of the cable car station also has food, with unsurprisingly high prices given the altitude (capuccino e3.5 panini e5).
You can buy many hot chocolates to warm up your bones. Also on colder months, as you go up Mt. Etna you will find several shops and there you can buy the drink, "Fuoco dell'Etna" which is a liqueur which will definitely keep you warm as you hike up. It will get very cold.
You can sleep in Rifugio Sapienza itself.
The public bus leaves at 16.30. It returns to Catania.