Many people have never even heard of Cefalu, the rustic Sicilian beach town 70km away from Palermo.
This ancient fishing port is one of the most stunning villages in Italy, and with its majestic Norman cathedral, medieval old town and caramel sandy beach surrounded by craggy rocks and turquoise waters, it’s no surprise that many Italians flock here every summer to enjoy la dolce vita and unwind from their hectic lives.
This tiny town of just 14,000 people has become a popular day trip from Palermo, capital of Sicily, and in this post, I hope to show you why, as well as give you everything you need to know to plan your perfect Cefalu visit.
Cefalu, Sicily – What to Do, Where to Stay, and More
Cefalu at a glance
The picturesque town of Cefalu, Sicily is made unique by the presence of a huge rock that rises 270m high and known to the Phoenicians as ‘Promontory of Hercules.’
Below it, narrow cobblestone streets of the medieval old town are lined with artisan shops and seafood restaurants, all centred around the Duomo, a gigantic cathedral built by Roger II, the Norman.
Emerging through the ancient Porta Pescara doorway, you will discover one of Cefalu’s beaches, with biscuit coloured sand, colourful fishing boats and crystal clear waters.
It is much, much different than the sprawling white sands and lidos of San Vito Lo Capo.
The best bit?
Cefalu is so tiny that the entire town is completely walkable.
I’ve visited twice, as day trips from Palermo, and I’ve never felt that I was rushed or missing out. With that said, there are some truly beautiful accommodation options in Cefalu, and as a pioneer of slow travel, I always recommend that you spend a night or two somewhere if you can!
Only when the sun goes down will you discover the true vibe of a place, and next time I visit Cefalu, I’ll be sure to spend at least a night there.
Things to Do in Cefalu, Sicily
1. Marvel at the Duomo di Cefalu
No Italian village is complete without a magnificent duomo (cathedral) and Cefalu is no different.
This two-towered Norman cathedral is recognised as a UNIESCO World Heritage Site. It was erected between 1131 and 1240 and is a Roman Catholic Basilica, and if you think the outside is impressive, wait until you venture in.
Entry is free, and once inside you can see the phenomenal Byzantine mosaics depicting The Christ Pantocrator.
Once you’re finished, buy a glass of Sicilian wine or some gelato in Piazza del Duomo and enjoy a refreshment with a view.
2. Wander Cefalu’s historic old town
Wander along the streets of Cefalu with a granita in hand, peeping into the artisan shops and galleries that line the medieval streets.
Go down hidden alleyways and get off the main tourist track (nobody seems to do this!) and enjoy the quiet, serene atmosphere of the real Cefalu, which is just a few steps away from the promenade.
Here you will experience a real Sicilian village, not unlike Militello in Val di Catania or Erice, with old men sitting in plastic chairs outside their front doors and nonna’s hanging laundry from their balconies and gossiping with one another.
3. Mandralisca Museum
Pay a visit to the Museo Mandralisca to view Sicily’s answer to the Mona Lisa – ‘Portrait of an Unknown‘ by Antonello da Messina. This ancient painting in Early Renaissance style is said to have a smile as mysterious as Mona Lisa herself, and is a must-see on your visit to Cefalu.
If you’re like me and love anything macabre, you can also wander into the rectangular crypts of the Church of Purgatory, which houses completely dried corpses – spooky!
4. Porto Pescara Gateway
Towards the end of the main promenade, you will find the ancient Porto Pescara gateway, which is one of the entrances to Cefalu beach and a very popular photo spot!
Make sure to take a moment to shelter from the harsh sun and enjoy the views of Sicily from this cute little hidey-hole.
5. Cefalu beach
You can’t visit Cefalu without spending at least a bit of time catching rays on Cefalu beach, because it has to be one of the prettiest places in Western Sicily.
The main stretch of beach is just before the entrance to the old town, but if you come through the Porto Pescara gateway and turn right, you will find the most charming little corner of Cefalu beach that is the perfect spot to while away your afternoon.
Enjoy a swim in the cool blue waters, and don’t forget to look back – the views of Cefalu from the sea are simply breath taking.
6. The medieval wash-house of Cefalu
This may seem like a rather obscure tourist attraction, but I’m a sucker for myths and legends, and the legend behind the Lavatoio Medievale is that the River Cefalino is born from the pain of a nymph who, after killing her unfaithful lover, regretted her actions and drowned the old wash-house of Cefalu in tears.
The medieval wash-house is just a few metres below street level and is accessed by a lava stone staircase and it is where Sicilian women used to do their laundry in the freezing cold waters of the River Cefalino, singing songs together while they worked to make the time pass by quicker.
An inscription on the wall reads ‘Here flows Cefalino, more salubrious than any other river, purer than silver, colder than snow,’ which is just so beautiful!
7. Munch on a brioche con gelato in Piazza Garibaldi
‘What on earth is a brioche con gelato?’ I hear you ask.
Well my loves, it is exactly what it sounds like – a brioche stuffed full of gelato that happens to be one of the most iconic Sicilian foods!
The light, sweet Italian bread is cut in half and filled with a generous helping of gelato, often getting up to 4 different flavours of gelato and adding chocolate sprinkles, crushed pistachios and whipped cream! Not having a sweet tooth myself, I’m not a fan, but my boyfriend couldn’t get enough of them when we lived in Sicily.
You can enjoy brioche con gelato all over Sicily as a snack or even for breakfast – it’s an extremely popular breakfast choice for Sicilians!
Piazza Garibaldi is another stunning square in the old town of Cefalu where you can rest your feet and watch the world go by. It is also where you will find the start of the hike up to La Rocca (more on that next!).
8. La Rocca
One of the most demanding (so I’ve heard) things to do in Cefalu is hike the 284m up to the top of La Rocca, that huge rock that looms over the town.
Both times I visited Cefalu it was in the height of summer so there was no way I was shlepping all the way up a damn rock, but if you can wake up early enough (or visit Cefalu in the cooler months!), I definitely recommend climbing La Rocca.
Once the site of a Norman castle, this craggy mountaintop offers the absolute best views over Cefalu, and although you’ll definitely break a sweat on the way up, you’ll be glad you did.
There is a 4 EUR fee to climb the steps to La Rocca.
9. Tempio di Diana
If you don’t have it in you to hike all the way up to La Rocca, the Tempio di Diana is a great alternative.
Situated part of the way up, the Roman temple was built sometime around the 4th century BC and is dedicated to the Goddess Diana. It was originally meant for worshipping water, and there is a large cistern nearby, as well as ruins of walls, barracks and warehouses.
The main reason that people go up there though, is to look down on the beautiful old town of Cefalu and enjoy some peace and quiet from the crowds.
10. Feast on Sicilian food
Sicilian food is a whooooole different ballgame to Italian food, and boy oh boy is it good.
Cefalu in particular is famous for its seafood, so this is the place to enjoy traditional Sicilian dishes such as stuffed swordfish rolls (Involtini di Pesce Spada), seafood risotto with squid ink, bucatini pasta with sardines and anchovies (pasta con le sarde) and more.
If you’re not a seafood fan then fear not, because Cefalu has tonnes of world class restaurants offering a wide array of Sicilian delights including caponata (eggplant stew), oven-roasted rabbit and tomato and eggplant pasta with ricotta cheese (pasta alla norma).
The best Cefalu restaurants are Le Chat Noir, La Brace Cefalu and La Botte.
For a top quality and reasonably priced aperitivo, head to Tentazioni Meditterranee to enjoy tuna carpaccio, truffle mortadella, bresoala and mozarella and more. They also have a shop where you can buy your favourites to take home!
Getting to Cefalu from Palermo
Located just 70km from Palermo, Cefalu is easily reached by both car and train and if you’re visiting Cefalu as part of your Sicily trip, there is a 99.999% chance you’ll be coming from Palermo!
Palermo to Cefalu by car
Something that lots of people visiting Sicily do is rent a car. You can find the cheapest option on Rentalcars.com
However, something to bear in mind is that although renting a car in Sicily is cheap, you should only do so if you’re a confident driver. Not only do the roads in Sicily tend to be pretty bad, but Sicilian drivers have a (well-deserved) reputation for being aggressive and erratic.
With that said, once you’ve made it out of the hectic centre of Palermo, you shouldn’t have any problems.
Journey time is about 1 hour 5 minutes.
Palermo to Cefalu by train
Although the train timetable from Palermo to Cefalu can vary slightly day by day, trains between the two are very frequent (around every hour) and travel directly to Cefalu, taking about 50 minutes. The train station in Cefalu is about a 10 minute walk uphill from the beach, making it super practical and removing the hassle of trying to find a parking space!
You can check train times for Palermo to Cefalu on the Italiarail website. You can buy your tickets online or at the station, but I always recommend to buy online first to minimise your chance of missing the train, language barrier problems and higher prices!
A one-way ticket usually costs 5-7 EUR.
Where to Stay in Cefalu, Sicily
There are tonnes of beautiful resort hotels with swimming pools in Cefalu but if I can give you one piece of advice, it’s this – look carefully on Google Maps where exactly your hotel is located because a lot of the larger ones are actually outside the town of Cefalu, and if you’re staying here, you want to be right there in the centre!
I recommend getting an apartment while you’re in Cefalu instead.
Cefalu – Know Before You Go
The currency in Sicily is the EURO. Not everywhere accepts card payments so it is useful to carry cash with you.
The best time to visit Cefalu is in shoulder season. It gets super busy in the summer months, but in May/June and September/October, you’ll be able to enjoy the beautiful weather with less crowds.
Cefalu is an incredibly safe town. You can read more about safety in Sicily here.
Relax! Things in Sicily are…different. Restaurant opening times in Sicily are just a guide, and I’m not sure I’ve ever been given the correct change! Sicilians are super lax when it comes to rules, and if you expect everything to be organised and on time then you won’t enjoy Sicily very much!
It is perfectly acceptable to have ice-cream for breakfast in Sicily! Read more about typical Italian breakfasts here.
Sicily packing list
There isn’t anything too specific that you need to pack for Cefalu.
To get the most out of your time, make sure you have a bikini or swimsuit, a beach towel, sunglasses, sandals, sun hat and sunscreen.
You can also buy some fun inflatables to splash around in the sea with and make sure you have some wireless earbuds!
Some other things that may come in useful for your trip to Cefalu are:
Biodegradable Gentle Detangling Hair Set
Solid Shampoo Bar
Wireless Charging Pad
Sun Bum SPF 15 Moisturiser and Tanning Oil
Cantu Deep Treatment Hair Mask
Travel Hair Dryer
Cefalu, Sicily | Final Thoughts
If you’re looking for a true Sicilian beach town with bucket loads of charm, delicious food and that authentic Sicilian feel, Cefalu is the place for you.
Is it touristy?
Yes, of course.
Italians love Cefalu.
However, despite this, Cefalu still feels like the old fishing port that it once was, and you don’t have to wander far to feel as though you’re the only person around.
Until next time Jezebels XO
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