Looking for the best things to do in Cefalu, where to stay, tips for food and drinks, the best spot to park, or just how to get there on your Sicily adventure? We’ve got you covered.
In our curated guide to Cefalu, you’ll find everything you need to plan the perfect trip.
Anchored between salty water and craggy rock sits the charming small town of Cefalù. An ancient fishing port at heart, in relatively recent years it has become the beachside break of choice for those seeking sun and sand along the Tyrrhenian coast of Sicily.
Yet unlike Taormina to the east, which can be a little too busy to be pleasant, Cefalù - even in its peak summer months - remains a wonderful place to visit. In the cooler early morning hours, the warren-like tangle of streets are filled with people, but the obvious mix of locals alongside the well, not-so-local, is refreshing. Even the beach, this perfect crescent slither of biscuit coloured sand, heaving under the weight of a thousand colourful umbrellas screams out to all who pass to give in, lie down and simply live the dolce vita for a little while.
Unfortunately, Cefalù (pronounced Shef-a-loo) also represents a feeling of slight regret for us: its reputation as a popular tourist draw preceded itself, and so we had low expectations and chose not to use it as a base on our one month road trip across Sicily. However, after only a few hours exploring it in glorious sunshine, we knew that was a bit of a mistake and wish we had chosen to spend a few more days there splitting our time between the charms of old town, the incredibly picturesque beach against the city walls, and doing absolutely nothing else.
Things to do in Cefalu
Grab Breakfast in the Piazza Duomo
We’re not usually the biggest fans of cathedral squares in Italy; absolutely beautiful, but usually overpriced, overfilled, and often, a little overrated.
That’s why we’re recommending you head to Cefalù’s early in the morning or in the early evening. Lined by small osterias, the obligatory gelato place, and bars perfect for a pre-dinner aperitif, it’s the tables in the centre of the plaza that you’ll want to sit down at. Osteria del Duoma is always a good bet, especially if you opt for their coffee and pastry combo - the cornetti are some of the biggest we came across in the island!
When you’re done, do take a moment to visit the spectacular Duomo, if even for a few minutes. Built nearly a century ago, it houses one of Sicily’s greatest artistic treasures, and a vision in gold: beautiful mosaics depicting The Christ Pantocrator. There’s no entry fee, and even as two travellers who have seen more than their fair share of churches, it’s pretty impressive.
Tip | If you find yourself in the Piazza late afternoon and don’t mind paying a little bit more for your evening Aperol, we’d recommend checking out the pavement step hangouts of Agorà and La Cantina. The plaza is a popular spot for a pre-dinner passeggiata and you will find locals and Italian visitors alike engaging in animated conversation over ice-cooled drinks.
Hike up La Rocca
Any viewpoint worth its salt requires a bit of legwork first - and La Rocca is no exception.
It’s a 284m climb along a progressively worsening trail to reach the craggy mountain top that was once the site of a Norman castle. It’s not easy in the summer heat, but with spectacular coastline views out towards Palermo in the west and Capo d’Orlando in the east, it’s more than worth the effort.
Be sure to also take a moment to visit the ruins of Tempio di Diana, which you’ll actually encounter first on your hike up to La Rocca. It’s from here that you can enjoy a wonderful view over the old town, the orange rooves edged by that stunning aquamarine sea.
Need to Know | There is an entry fee of €4 per person to access La Rocca and Templo di Diana. This is inserted into a machine at the bottom of the stairs, which then provides you with a valid ticket. Note that it accepts correct change only, but you can pay by card if necessary. When we visited there was a chap who checked these tickets on our way back down so be sure to keep a hold of yours. On your walk up across a small section of stone stairs and then dusty gravel for the majority, you’ll notice that this fee doesn’t seem to go towards maintaining the trail or signs (to be honest, we’re not entirely sure what it covers…).
Although you absolutely do not need hiking boots, we would strongly recommend having closed toe shoes for the hike up. We both managed to do it in sandals (just about), but would have felt much more comfortable in a pair of trainers, for example.
Additionally, be sure to apply plenty of sunscreen prior to heading up and carry as much water with you as you think you’ll need; getting to La Rocca is no joke in the summer sun. In fact, you are best to do this hike in the morning or later in the afternoon. There are no facilities on the hike.
To reach the entrance to Parco de la Rocca (Google Maps), take the stairs up the narrow Via Giuseppe Fiore for 5 minutes. It’s open from 09.00 - 18.45 from 1st April - 31st October, and 09.00 - 16.00 from 1st November - 31st March.
Have a drink in Piazza Garibaldi
Far enough away from the cathedral and the beach for the tourist crowds to thin just a tad, Piazza Garibaldi is a wonderful place to catch a little shade during your daylight wanderings.
We also highly recommend the ice cream place (pictured below). If you haven’t yet had a chance to indulge in a brioche con gelato whilst in Sicily (literally ice cream in a brioche bun), head here, pick the pistachio flavour and thank us later.
This square also marks the quickest start point for the Rocca entrance. That beer you’ll have in the piazza makes great hydration before an afternoon climb!
Tip | We though the best place for lunch and evening food (in terms of atmosphere and options) was Via Carlo Ortolani di Bordonaro. Just remember that lunchtime opening / closing hours are strict in Sicily, and you won’t find many lunch options open after 14.00 . Continue further along this road and the crowds disperse and there are a handful of hidden away archways accessing the sea!
Find the shade at lavatoio medievale
Or so states the plaque that hangs at the entrance of this medieval wash house.
Accessed via a wide lumachella and lava staircase, and built atop a river said to flow with the tears of a nymph who cried for a dead lover, it’s certainly a curiously beautiful example of life in ancient Cefalu.
Need to Know | You can find the lavatoio medievale on Via Vittorio Emanuele. We recommend visiting first thing in the morning, when we had only to share the space with a busker. When we returned later in the day, it was much busier.
Visit Museo Mandralisca
Okay, we admit it, we got distracted by the beach (yeah, we’re not very good at taking our own advice!) and didn’t quite make it here.
If you’re visiting on a not-so-glorious summer’s day, we recommend that you don’t follow our bad example and actually try to make your way to Museo Mandralisca, which hosts the famous ‘Portrait of an Unknown Man’ by Antonello da Messina (1465). With a smile that said to be as intriguing as that of the Mona Lisa, not stopping by is like visiting Paris and never entering The Louvre (yep, we just really fancied that afternoon that day).
Need to Know| Museo Mandralisca is found on Via Mandralisca, and is open every day between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. Entry is €6 per person, and you should allow around an hour to visit the entire collection.
Hang out at Cefalù beach
Remember the perfect crescent slither of biscuit coloured sand to which we referred earlier? Well, that’s also one of the most popular stretches of beach along the entire northern coast of Sicily. It’s the main reason why Cefalù simply booms come summer time with many locals and holidaying Italians.
Need to Know | Most importantly, get there early - especially if you’re travelling in a group of more than two people. Space is at a premium, and if you need a lot of it, you’ll need to beat the Italians to the public part of the beach! There are a number of lidos on the beach where, for a fixed price, you can rent two sun loungers and an umbrella for a day (we know ‘lidos’ can be a confusing notion for many foreigners, so keep your eyes peeled for our no nonsense guide, out soon).
The water is warm enough to swim in up until the end of October (some people even venture in until November) and it’s generally calm and wave free.
Tip | If you would prefer to get out on the water and not just enjoy it from the beach, we’d recommend this three hour sunset sailing tour - complete with aperitivo, naturally.
The old harbour
There’s always one spot in every town, village or city that draws us in, cameras raised, and in a perpetual state of click-click-click.
In Cefalù, this place was undeniably the old harbour. In fact, once we stepped through the ancient porto pescara gateway and ambled along the concrete walkway which yawned out into the sea, that’s the exact moment when we knew we’d made a mistake in not having another day to chill out by the sea in Cefalù. It’s busy, but bloody hell is it atmospheric when the sun is shining.
Make sure to head across to the cement outcrop across from the small harbour beach, as the spot comes alive in late afternoon with fisherman trying the luck in the water below and kids using the platform as a make-shift diving board. This is also from where you’ll capture an iconic photo of Cefalù in all its rustic, sea-side glory.
Top tip | If you’re looking for a quieter spot for a dip, make your way to Bastione di Capo Marchiafava. There’s a great viewing platform, but also access to a couple of swimming holes that, even in high season, were pretty empty - save from a couple of elderly locals cooling off in the ocean. Nearby you’ll also find Bastione Innovazione Cibo Cultura, a cultural space which houses both Museo Digitale (a museum which showcases Cefalu’s past through the digital media) and the fantastic Bastione & Costanza, a restaurant that focuses on everything sustainable, has a great no plastic policy and, amongst the traditional Sicilian fare, delicious plant-based cuisine options.
Wander, explore, get lost…
Guidebooks, tourism board websites, this blog. All of us have countless things to see and do in Cefalú, all listed, rated and presented in easily digestible chunks. But it’s not here, hidden between activity A and activity B that you will discover your love for this beautiful city.
No, it’s within its streets.
Naturally, any visitor will spend time tracing the steps of thousands before them along the popular Corso Ruggero, or Via Vittorio Emanuele, each offering up countless restaurants, bars, and souvenir shops (the tasteful kind, thankfully), we certainly did. But once you have orientated yourself, just wander.
Cefalù is best appreciated through that serendipitous decision to go left and not right, through breaking off from the tourist throngs and seeing where your feet or your camera lead you. And whether it ends at the ocean or at a table with another Aperol spritz, we can guarantee it will have been a good day.
Tip | Quite rightly, you are not allowed to walk without your shirt or on in a bikini in the old town streets - this is to keep some semblance of a distinction between the beach and the historic atmosphere. So, if you’re having a beach day, please respect this.
Where to Stay in Cefalu
Although the parking situation is a little less than desirable for long stays (see the next section), don’t let that put you off making Cefalù your base for a few days in the north of Sicily - it’s ideally located for day trips and the small town has everything you need.
The first thing you need to note before booking your accommodation however, is that the vast majority of the large hotels and resorts listed on booking sites as being in Cefalù are not actually, well, in Cefalù. Instead, they’ll usually be around a twenty minute walk away. Absolutely not a problem if you want a summertime retreat for a week, but potentially less than desirable if you’re only in town for a couple of nights. We’ll make it very clear below whether the hotels/B&Bs/Airbnbs below are centrally located.
Hotels in Cefalu
Agrodolce | Slap bang in the historic centre and only a few minutes walk to the beach, Agrodolce is a charming little B&B with a Mediteranean vibe. Great breakfast that can be taken on the pleasant little terrace. Private doubles from £75 a night. For more information or to check availability, click here.
Hotel Kalura | One of the out-of-town options, but Hotel Kalura is too beautiful (and popular) not to mention. Modern and stylish rooms with balconies overlooking the sea and access to a private beach. Comes with all that you would expect form a luxury standard resort hotel as well. For more information or to check availability, click here.
Azzurro B&B | Homely yet chic design, this small B&B has a great location in the old town (just a few minutes from the beach as well), and comes highly rated amongst guests. Exceptionally helpful staff and a great breakfast to boot. For more information or to check availability, click here.
Lirma B&B | Comfortable yet well designed rooms, a large outdoor area overflowing with plants and greenery, great staff and an excellent breakfast. It’s also well located for the old town and beach, only a few minutes walk to each. For more information or to check availability, click here.
Airbnbs in Cefalu
Is it wrong that we only want to recommend one Airbnb in Cefalù? Because seriously, it’s incredible.
Click here, book it, and thank us later.
However, because we know that this is a popular place to holiday, and that there is a possibility that that particular Airbnb will be booked up when you visit or out of budget, you’ll be glad to know there are a good selection of alternatives starting from £55/night.
| Luxury with a perfect view of the ocean | View
| Large apartment with exceptional terrace | View
| Beautiful apartment a few steps from the Duomo | Take a look
| The ultimate hipster choice in Cefalú | View
| Small but perfectly formed (and budget friendly) | Check it out
How to get to Cefalu from Palermo
Cefalù’s proximity to Palermo makes it an ideal day trip spot, or an easy second destination on your itinerary if you’re planning to fly into Palermo and explore Sicily from there - either by public transport or, as we did, via a road trip.
If you’re just visiting for the day, the easiest way to access Cefalu is by train. These depart every hour from Palermo Centrale, taking around one hour and twenty minutes to arrive in Cefalù train station, which is a 10 minute walk from the centre of the old town. You should expect to pay €5-6 for a ticket bought on the same day. To book tickets in advance online in English, click here.
Parking in Cefalu
In the words of our Airbnb host 30 minutes down the road, ‘parking in Cefalù is a nightmare, always’. It was in fact the main reason for us opting against this gorgeous little apartment we found in the old town; the thought of having to lug all our possessions across town in the heat was just too daunting.
This is an historic city, and therefore littered with ZTLs (read more about these in our Sicily road trip guide - published soon); taking your car anywhere within the city walls will result in quite a hefty fine. This however doesn’t mean that you can’t drive your hire car to Cefalù for a day trip or longer stay - you just need to plan ahead, arrive nice and early (we got there at 8 a.m. and had plenty of empty spots to choose from) or be patient enough to drive around for a while seeking out a free parking place.
The best spot to park is along the Lungomare Giuseppe Giardina (often referred to as just ‘lungomare’) where you’ll find kerbside parking on both sides of the road (€1/hour), as well as a very large parking lot (€5/half-day)- it costs €8 to park all day in either. From here it’s a very short walk to the beach (you’re right next to it) and less than five minutes to the gates of the old town. Easy!
If you’re planning on spending a night or two in Cefalù, then our main advice is to contact your Airbnb host or hotel in advance to confirm where the best overnight parking spot is for you, and how much it will cost. It is possible to park overnight and for free in Porto Presidiana (the harbour), but you’ll need to pay €4-5 for the small electric shuttle bus to take you and your luggage to the door. Again, the responsibility is on your accommodation to let you know what’s best - and feel free to let us know in the comments about your experience of overnight parking in Cefalù to help future visitors!