While I love Palermo, it is clear that the best part of Sicily are the small towns. Luckily, it is possible to have the best of both worlds with a day trip from Palermo to Cefalù.
I promise you that if you have seen a seaside shot of Sicily, you have probably glimpsed Cefalu’s charming port.
The small cove is impossibly picturesque even in the offseason.
How to Get to Cefalù
Located about 40 miles east of Palermo, Cefalù is easily reachable by both car and train.
With the regional train, Cefalù can actually be an easier destination to reach than Mondello – which is closer to Palermo but only has a bus option for public transportation. (Side note: the bus is terrible).
The train schedule can vary slightly depending on the day, but you can check the options for Palermo to Cefalù on the Trenitalia website. Tickets can be purchased online or in person at the station. (And here are some more tips on how to buy train tickets in Italy).
The trains run approximately every hour between the city and the seaside town, so you can be in Cefalu within about 50 minutes. The train station is uphill from the beach, about a ten-minute walk away.
And it is a short trip that is well worth it.
While Palermo’s buzz of hectic scooters and activity can be invigorating, life in Cefalù is decidedly slower.
As with many small towns in Italy, a cathedral dominates the main square.
When to Visit
A town of about 14,000 – the numbers can swell during summer when Cefalu becomes a major tourist destination.
The best times to visit are in the shoulder seasons of April-May and September-October. The beach crowds are sparse during those months, but the shops and restaurants are open.
Things to do in Cefalu
- Visit the Duomo: Cefalu’s double towered Cathedral is at the heart of the city center and no trip to the town is complete without stopping to admire it. The pretty facade adorns many a postcard but you should step inside to ogle the Byzantine mosaics. And those columns in there? They were probably stolen and repurposed from the Tempio di Diana. After paying your respects to the historic church, grab a table in the piazza and order a coffee in order to soak up the Cefalu atmosphere.
- Hike up to the Tempio di Diana: You will see little brown signs pointing you towards the Tempio di Diana as you walk through town. Pick a day when it is not too hot or plan to set out early, then lace up some sturdy shoes and get hiking. The Roman temple to the goddess Diana was built sometime around the 4th century BC and is still a romantic spot to escape the crowds and to gaze out over the sparking sea.
- Climb La Rocca: However, for the very best views of Cefalu and even of the Tempio di Diana, you need to keep going to the top of La Rocca. This craggy mountaintop towers over the pretty town and it was once the site of a Norman castle. The castle was built in 1061 so only the ruins remain but it is the historic landmark that Cefalu is best known for. Be prepared for plenty of stairs – you will have to follow the Salita Saraceni over three layers of city walls to reach the top.
- Take a photo from the molo: That classic picture of the beach and buildings of Cefalu which makes it seem like the photographer snapped the shot from the deck of a boat? It is actually taken in a small cove in the historic center. You will find it if you follow Via Bordonaro to the very end. Walking along the seawall will give you an even higher vantage point to take a photo across the pretty water.
- Walk along the promenade: There is a free beach in Cefalu where you can lay out a towel without having to pay to rent a lounge chair. Stepping into the sea is a pleasure, but so is joining all of the locals on a passeggiata, or evening walk, along the seafront promenade.
Where to Eat in Cefalù
Once you have wandered through town, stop for a local aperitivo at Tentazioni Meditterranee (Via Carlo Ortolani di Bordonaro 23).
The shop sells the gourmet products to take away, but there are also tables outside to enjoy Sicilian snacks like mortadella with truffles and cheese dotted with pistachios. And if you look juuuuust right, you will catch a glimpse of the ocean through the small piazza across the street.
If you are staying for dinner or want a more substantial lunch, book a table at Il Normanno (Via Vanni, 8). The cozy restaurant offers a chance to try slow food dishes from the region.
Where to Stay in Cefalu
Speaking of staying, I highly recommend considering Cefalù for more than only a day trip from Palermo.
I booked two nights in a small studio just off the water and had coffee on my own little balcony before the town came to life.
If you want to stay in the historic center (or close to it), then you should be careful when booking your accommodation in Cefalu and check the location carefully. This is because many of the large hotel and resorts with all those tempting photos of pools to lounge next to are actually several miles outside of town.
I recommend the following places to stay that are really IN Cefalù:
- Cefalù in Blu: This charming B&B is on the upper floor of a building right in the center of town. The cathedral and beach are both a very easy walk from here and you can glimpse the ocean from the windows and small balconies. Breakfast and Wi-Fi are included and every room has a private bathroom.
- Hotel Riva del Sole: If you prefer to stay in a traditional hotel, Hotel Riva del Sole is set just off of the beachside promenade and is literally steps from the sea. It is also very close to the restaurants and main streets in Cefalu, which makes it a very good base.
- Hotel La Plumeria: Set directly in Cefalu’s old town, this hotel is located in a historic building about 3-minutes from the Cathedral. Absolutely everything is walkable, and every room has a cute little balcony. There is also Wi-Fi and AC.
- La Rosa dei Venti apartments: If you prefer to have your own space or are traveling as a group/family, you can find a comfortable and modern apartment when you check into La Rosa dei Venti. They also offer a smaller one bedroom with a sea view, and all are located in central areas of Cefalu.