If you find yourself in search of sun, sea, and sand along the Tyrrhenian coast of Sicily, you could do a lot worse than Cefalù. Its convenient location, about halfway between Palermo and Mount Etna, and old fishing town vibes make it the perfect place to base yourself for a few days.
One of the island's well-known treasures, Cefalù, has a fascinating history that makes it a great choice to visit at any time of year. Cefalù was first founded by the ancient Greeks, with following occupations by the Romans, Byzantines, Saracens and the Normans. There are traces of these distinct cultures all over Cefalù with hill forts, a great cathedral, and a rather unusual washhouse.
The tapestry of streets in the old town is interwoven with traditional Sicilian restaurants, art houses, and seafront cafes. It’s a good place to do, not very much at all. But for those that need further convincing, here's a quick overview of Cefalù, Sicily.
Judging by its proximity to Palermo, you may be wondering to yourself “Is Cefalù a tourist trap?”. Well, it’s certainly more touristy than a lot of Sicilian towns, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s not just a beach resort that closes up in winter; it’s a living, breathing town that can be visited year-round.
Due to its popularity, many shops and restaurants stay open in winter, which can be a real benefit if you are travelling around Sicily in the off-season - in beach towns, everything is closed and it can be hard to find a meal out. Much like Taormina (though less busy), Cefalù is a popular spot for tourists for a very good reason - it’s beautiful.
Like much of Sicily, you can expect hot, cloudless summers and mild winters in Cefalù. The Mediterranean climate doesn’t disappoint, with even winter conditions being preferable to much of Europe. In July temperatures average around 27 °C, while in winter, Cefalu is cooler than parts of Southern Sicily, with temperatures dropping to as low as 5 °C.
For beaches, the best time to visit Cefalù is between July and August. But this also coincides with the annual summer holiday in Europe - everywhere will be busy and expensive. The best time to visit Cefalù is in the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn.
This UNESCO listed cathedral is home to the oldest and best-preserved Byzantine mosaics in Sicily. ‘Christ All Powerful’, or Cristo Pantocratore, is depicted by a detailed mosaic within the 12th century Norman cathedral. The square outside is a central hub of the community, grab a brioche con gelato and watch the Sicilians go about their day from the gelateria at Agorà Ristorante.
One of the best things to do in Cefalù involves a bit of a workout. The 284 metre climb up La Rocca di Cefalù will grant you some of the best sights in town. Once the site of a Norman castle, there are now just a collection of ruins at the top, but the views out over the Tyrrhenian Sea are well worth the effort.
About half way up (at around 150 metres above sea level) is the Temple of Diana, which is thought to be the oldest remaining structure in Sicily; built in the 5th or 4th century BC. Wear sturdy hiking shoes and be prepared for steep drop-offs on the hike. For hardened adventurers, you can also go paragliding over Cefalù beach.
Our favourite spot in Cefalù reminded us of the secret bars located just outside the old city walls of Dubrovnik. Through an archway in the old harbour (Molo di Cefalú) you will find a secret pathway carved into the rocks surrounding Cefalù’s northern shoreline.
Follow it around past the viewpoint at Bastione di Capo Marchiafava, and the locals swimming in the small pools of seawater, all of the way to the marina on the other side of town. For dinner try the sustainably-minded Bastione & Costanza restaurant, the literary café serves up slow food and pizza with a side of sunset tinged sea views.
For a slice of modern Sicilian culture, spend early evening in Piazza Garibaldi with an Aperol Spritz and house snacks before dinner (aperitif). We like La Pergola for its central people-watching location and Kalapinta for its fresh craft beers and chilled out vibe.
When the long-awaited time for dinner arrives (around 9pm in Sicily), nearby Ristorante Triscele is one of the best places to eat in Cefalù (and there’s no shortage of restaurants to choose from). The seafood plates are based on traditional meals from this historic fishing town, and are as fresh as you can get.
This medieval laundry house may seem like an odd choice for the best things to do in Cefalu, but it’s one of the top tourist attractions in town - helped by the fact that it’s a wonderful spot to cool off in summer no doubt. It dates back to 1514, and since its restoration you can see the original stone wash basins & cast-iron spouts that locals would have once used to wash in the Cefalino River.
Another interesting stop for art fans is the small, privately owned Mandralisca Museum, famous for its ‘Portrait of an Unknown Man’ by Antonello da Messina. Said to be one of the most distinctive portraits of the Italian Renaissance, this painting was saved by the curator from its former life as a make-shift cupboard door in a house in Lipari. Whether the man's smile is as thought-provoking as the Mona Lisa's however, is up to you to decide.
Cefalù's main beach is a 1.6 km long stretch of soft yellow sand. Sections nearer the old town become packed with umbrellas in the summer months, including the small sheltered bay by the old harbour. Sea temperatures are pretty good through to autumn, with an average of around 23 °C between June to October.
Hourly trains run from Palermo (and the international airport) to Cefalù, taking around 1 hour 20 minutes. It will cost you about €5 for a ticket.
If you want to get around and explore Sicily a little more, the ideal solution is to hire a car. The driving standards in Sicily are notoriously ‘interesting’, so it pays to go with a well-known car hire company and get comprehensive insurance.
Cefalù is walkable if you stay in the right place. Like many historic Italian towns, the old centre is a restricted traffic zone or ZTL, so driving anywhere near it is an absolute no no. It’s worth bearing this in mind if you are looking to stay in the old town; you will have to park a fair distance away and pay around €20 a day for parking.
To reduce stress levels you can park overnight for free in Porto Presidiana and get a €5 shuttle bus to your Cefalù hotel. But in our experience, it's better to stay in the new town and take a quick stroll along the beach to the main sites.
If you are travelling by public transport, the old town has a plethora of sea-view B&Bs that mean you are right in the heart of it all. While sun, sea & sand holidaymakers will head to the major beach clubs that line the western side of town towards Mazzaforno.
The ideal solution to Cefalù’s parking issues is to stay somewhere in the new town that offers a parking space. For living like a local, we loved our stay at Emma’s House.
This fully equipped modern apartment is in a quiet side street of the new town and has everything you need for a short or long stay. With secure private parking and a supermarket next door, it’s much more convenient than staying in the ZTL-restricted old town - plus it’s just a 10-minute walk away via the beach.
While there aren’t as many things to do in Cefalù as there are in Palermo, Catania, or Syracuse, it is a beautiful and relaxed spot to base yourself in for a few days. There are tourist-laden beach resorts here, but the old town is full of character and is a great place to explore at any time of year.
From here, you can head out by boat to explore the Aeolian Islands, take a day trip to the Madonie Mountains, or drive two hours south through Sicily's mountainous interior to the renowned Valley of the Temples.
But nobody would blame you for staying put in Cefalù either. Relax on the pier, rent a boat for the day, and eat as much pistachio gelato as humanly possible.