Sicily's north coast between Palermo and Messina is dotted with charming villges and towns which are all worth a stop, in particular Tindari with the Sanctuary of the Black Madonna and its archaeological site. But Cefalù is definitely the jewel of the coast, a short hour’s drive east of Palermo. The town of the Norman King Roger II is nestling between its natural bay and a huge rock “La Rocca”. The town origins go back to at least Greek times – its name derives from the ancient Greek word “kephalos”, which means head – referring to La Rocca. The town we see now was built by the Roger II, who made a vow in the year 1131, driving in distress at a stormy sea: if he ever would get solid ground under the feet again he would build at the location of his landing a magnificent church. He did – and left one of the most beautiful places to live in Sicily.
Cefalù is small, but offers a great deal, including a unique Norman cathedral, a white sandy beach, excellent restaurants serving the freshest seafood and winding cobbled Medieval alleyways lined with historical houses, streets flanked with shops, and flowers adorning every corner. Like in Taormina, the buildings of the historical centre have been carefully restored, as well as the little Baroque churches that can be found at the end of many a dead end. In the evening visitors from all over the world stroll over the main street Corso Ruggero II and by the many alleys. Restaurants, pizzerias, pubs, bars and cafés are always frequented.
Cefalù is one of the main tourist resorts of Sicily and is included to the “Most Beautiful Villages in Italy”, an association of small Italian towns which stand out for their cultural, historical and artistic heritage, the harmony of their urban structure and the quality of life and services offered to their citizens.
Cefalù welcomes you warmly and is characterised by its narrow cobbled alleyways lined with small, historic houses and flowers adorning every corner. The jewel in the crown is the Duomo which is twinned to the Cappella Palatina in Palermo and the Cathedral of Monreale.
Things to do and see in Cefalù
Cathedral & Dome Square of Cefalù
The Norman Cathedral of Cefalù with its two dominating bell towers was commissioned by King William II, is surrounded by palms and set in the pretty Piazza del Duomo. The rounded portal is enhanced by a rather resplendent bronze door. This golden coloured masterpiece is full of atmosphere, revealing splendid mosaics. The most famous and also the most impressive is that of Christ the Pantocrator, pictured on the end wall in the apse. It is quite simply magnificent. Other mosaics include The Virgin enthroned with Saints, Apostles and Angels, and Noah’s Ark. Try to get there quite early in the morning as the cathedral attracts a lot of visitors, especially groups.
Lavatoio – Medieval wash house of Cefalù
Also of interest is the Lavatoio which is fed by a natural spring and was used until the 1950th. At the entrance, on the right hand side, at the foot of the stairs, there is a poem by Vincenzo Auria: “Here flows Cefalino, more salubrious than any other river, purer than silver, colder that snow”. You go down a picturesque flight of stairs made of lava stone to a room with a low ceiling, which makes the washing place look like a cave. An imposing quantity of water gushes out of numerous mouths. This wash house is unique in Sicily.
Museo Mandralisca in Cefalù
In the Museo Mandralisca you will find one of the largest collections of archaeological artifacts, a library that contains about 6000 volumes, a very rare collection of shells with 20000 specimens from all over the world and a splendid numismatic collection with coins from Cefalù and Lipari. The art gallery's most famous painting is the “Portrait of an Unknown Man" by Antonello da Messina.
More interesting museums in you'll find here
Osterio Magno in Cefalù
According to tradition, the Osterio Magno was built by King Roger II as his mansion. It is a building that has some very interesting architectural features. Roger’s very own residence now houses art exhibitions.
La Rocca di Cefalù
Need a challenge? An ascent of "The Rock" is one, especially in hot summer months. But it is a must for every visitor. The views are absolutely spectacular and the remains of the Temple of Diana and the walls of the old Saracen castle are also quite interesting.
More places to see in Cefalù
Also worth a visit are the Baroque churches “Chiesa del Monte” and “Chiesa di San Castrense”, and the Cloister of the Benedictine Abbey with its elegant twin rows of marble columns, Arab arches and Byzantine mosaics.
Parco Naturale Regionale delle Madonie
The Regional Park Madonie Mountains covers some 35,000 hectares and features mountains over 1,500 m, many towns with Medieval origins, several castles and wonderful churches, 2,600 different species of plants, many of which are endemic to the area, a gastronomy second to none and some of Sicily’s best wines. The locals continue to pursue millennial agricultural activities including sheep and cattle farming and the cultivation of wheat, olives and fruit.
Restaurants in Cefalù
The restaurants and trattorias in Cefalù focus on superfresh sea food and local cuisine. There are many places for fine dining, most of the restaurants are also pizzerias, and in all bars and cafés you can enjoy Sicilian street food.
Great eateries you will find at Restaurants
Accommodation in Cefalù
From hotels located at the beach, city hotels and holiday apartments to cosy B&Bs in the town centre you will find the whole range of accommodation in Cefalù. In the rural surroundings of the town there are plenty of agriturismos. You could also think about staying in the Madonie Mountains. Please see more at our Accommodation page
Shopping in Cefalù
On the main street Corso Ruggero II and in the maze of winding alleys you will find small and colourful shops selling clothing and handcrafted objects such as jewellery, ceramics, accessories and paintings. Cefalù's pastry shops offer some of the best pastries and sweets in Sicily.
More info at our Shopping page
Nightlife in Cefalù
Cefalù’s nightlife is really great in July and August. Live music is drifting from bars, clubs, pubs and lounges, people are populating cafés, chatting and gesticulating vividly, an inviting scent of delicious food is in the air, flowing from restaurants serving fresh sea food and local specialties.
Nightbirds should check here
Sherbeth Festival – International Festival of Artisan Ice Cream
Want to be in heaven? Even if it’s only for four days? Then go in September to Cefalù and be in ice cream heaven. Four days ice cream for everybody! Ice cream from the classic original lemon sorbet to inventive flavours like "Double Malt Beer" and “Peach and Basil”. All prepared with raw materials and strictly natural ingredients by professionals from all over the world. The gelato stands can be found along Corso Ruggero II, at the pier and on the seafront.
My Guide Sicily comment: JUST HEAVEN!
Find more annual events in Sicily here
You can dock in the new port “Presidiana” (please not in the old one) - which is situated to the east of the town and offers facilities as electricity and water supply, repairs of wooden hulls, car parking, toilets and phones. Sailors will find more information here
The best port for pleasure boats at the north coast is Marina di Portorosa, about 120 km east of Cefalù.
Cefalù does not only offer sun, sea and beach, but also very excellent excursion possibilities not only to the Aeolian Islands, Mount Etna and Taormina, to Palermo, Erice, Agrigento, Segesta, Piazza Armerina, Tindari and Trapani. Also all the traditional little towns in the Madonie Mountains can be easily explored - discover their unique traditions, customs and the tasty food and wines, as well as the natural beauties of the mountains: there is hiking, horse riding and plenty of adventures for our young travellers in the Madonie Adventure Park. Cefalù is the perfect solution for those who want both in their holidays: beach and mountains.
How to get to Cefalù
Cefalù is easily to reach by the A 20. You can leave your car at the big parking next to the beach for a few euros per day.
Bus connections to Palermo, Messina and Catania.
From Palermo the train ride takes less than an hour, from Messina two to three hours, depending on the connections. The train station of Cefalù is in the town centre – the beach as well as the historical centre are only a few hundred meters away.