Cefalù is an enchanting beach resort on the north coast of Sicily, and the perfect location for a day out if you are staying in this region of the island.
With its warren of narrow streets, sandy beach and landmark cathedral in the shadow of a limestone promontory, Cefalù is a lovely town to explore. If you're just visiting for the day, here is a heads up of things to do and where to eat so that you can make the most of your time there.
Image credit: Rolf E. Staerk | Shutterstock
Piazza Garibaldi is a good starting point for a walk around the town. Follow Corso Ruggero to reach the open space of Piazza Duomo, home to one of Sicily’s most splendid cathedrals.
Image credit: Rolf E. Staerk | Shutterstock
What to do in Cefalù
Here you'll find the famous Portrait of an Unknown Man, painted in 1465 by Antonello da Messina. The smile of the sitter is said by some to be every bit as enigmatic and intriguing as that of the Mona Lisa. The collection, donated to the town by the collector Baron Enrico Piraino di Mandralisca, contains a host of eclectic treasures, including a Greek vase from the 4th century BC, depicting an argument between a tuna seller and his customer, and a display of 20,000 shells.
Opera dei Pupi
Visit the puppet theatre on Corso Ruggero where the Cuticchio family still perform traditional puppet shows, telling stories of Sicilian folklore, as well as battles between the Normans and the Saracens. The wooden, hand-carved puppets are nearly 3ft high, and the battle scenes in particular, in which they fight with swords and are adorned in glittering armour, are spectacular.
The Teatro Arte Cuticchio also includes a fascinating puppet museum telling the history of this UNESCO-recognised art form.
Here you will find an exotic array of fruit, vegetables, olives and cheeses. The perfect place to stock up on provisions for your holiday or a picnic on the beach.
Ascend the 278m Rocca
It was here that the population fled to escape Saracen raids in ancient times, and you will find Arab and medieval fortifications as you make your way upwards, as well as the 5th-century so-called Tempio di Diana.
You can start the climb in the Piazza Garibaldi. Once you've reached the summit – it takes 40 minutes or so – you can gaze along the coastline as far as Palermo in the west, and the Capo d’Orlando in the east.
Image credit: Anna Lurye | Shutterstock
The town’s most stylish shops are in Corso Ruggero, while the parallel Via Vittorio Emanuele, which runs close to the sea, offers restaurants, bars, and numerous souvenir shops.
Follow Via Vittorio Emanuele down to the tiny fishing harbour, where you see colourful boats, and fishing nets laid out to dry.
Image credit: Bensliman Hassan | Shutterstock
From here, you can gaze back towards the shops and restaurants built into the town’s ancient walls which jut directly into the sea. Several of the restaurants along here offer terraces with spectacular coastal views.
Turning westwards from the fishing harbour, Via Vittorio Emanuele leads on to the spacious and very pleasant esplanade, or Lungomare, which runs the length of the curving beach. The blocks behind the promenade form part of the new town, and it is here you will find Cefalù‘s two modest supermarkets.
6 great places to eat in Cefalù
Ristorante Le Chat Noir
Don’t let the French name fool you, the food at Ristorante Le Chat Noir is Sicilian to the core. From its location a short distance from Cefalù’s beautiful, 12th-century Norman cathedral, the family-run trattoria serves plenty of simple, yet tasty traditional Sicilian plates like caponata (an eggplant based cooked salad) and spaghetti with sardines, all dished up in a cosy, inviting space complemented by a charming interior courtyard.
Stick around for dessert. Ristorante Le Chat Noir’s delicious homemade tiramisu and panna cotta are particularly popular with guests.
Ristorante Le Chat Noir, Via XXV Novembre 1856, 17, Cefalù, Italy +39 09 2142 0697
La Botte, owned and operated by the Fiduccia family since the late 1980s, offers guests a true taste of Sicily’s melting pot of cuisines. The daily changing menu showcases the very best local, seasonal ingredients. It features an exciting mix of traditional dishes, like couscous with squid ink and fresh ricotta, and contemporary chef creations, such as skewered scabbard fish marinated in orange sauce.
La Botte’s dessert offerings include the likes of semifreddo with pistachio and ricotta, all best washed down with a glass of two from the restaurant’s splendid Sicilian wine list.
La Botte, Via Veterani 20, Cefalù, Italy +39 09 2142 4315
Ristorante La Brace
Though Ristorante La Brace’s owners, Dietmar Beckers, a native of the Netherlands, and Dutch-Indonesian Thea de Haan who opened the restaurant in 1976, may come from further afield than the shores of Cefalù, its cuisine is firmly rooted in Sicilian culinary traditions.
Whet your appetite with a tempting appetizer of bruschetta topped with marinated anchovies, tomatoes and pine nuts or chicken liver salad with arugula, cherry tomatoes and mustard sauce followed by mouthwateringly delicious main dishes including Sicilian-style stuffed swordfish or oven roasted rabbit with cooked chestnuts and balsamic vinegar.
Ristorante La Brace, Via XXV Novembre 10, Cefalù, Italy +39 09 2142 3570
Undoubtedly boasting one of the most scenic locations in town, Al Porticciolo’s welcoming interior features two spacious dining rooms perfect for winter months, while in summertime its picturesque terrace affords stunning views of Cefalù’s rocky coastline.
A beautiful locale isn’t the only thing Al Porticciolo has to offer. Its varied menu is a major pulling point for the popular local restaurant too. Choose from seafood dishes like bucatini with sardines, fennel, raisins and pine nuts, carnivore-friendly options like pasta with a wild boar and porcini ragu, or a range of pizzas, and finish with a traditional Sicilian dessert of cassata.
Al Porticciolo, Via Ortolani di Bordonaro, 66, Cefalù, Italy +39 09 2192 1981
L’Angolo delle Dolcezze
Diners with a sweet tooth are in good hands at L’Angolo delle Dolcezze, owned by local pastry-making family, the Di Vincenzos, the cute shop is the place to head in Cefalù for traditional, artisanal Sicilian desserts.
A smorgasbord of treats await, from cassata and cannoli to cakes and cookies in flavours like almond, lemon and pistachio, but if you try just one thing make sure it’s L’Angolo delle Dolcezze’s famous frutta martorana - small marzipan sweets artfully crafted into the shape of fruit and vegetables.
L’Angolo delle Dolcezze’s gelatos, available in flavours including black cherry, strawberry and hazelnut, are also very popular.
L’Angolo delle Dolcezze, Via Pietro Novelli 2-4, Cefalù, Italy +39 09 2192 3047
Ristorante Kentia al Trappitu
Another of Cefalù’s must-visit waterfront dining destinations, Ristorante Kentia al Trappitu, which focuses on simple, straightforward Mediterranean cuisine, is nestled on the edges of the scenic town’s shoreline and boasts a beautiful terrace overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea.
While plenty of meat dishes and pizzas are served, Ristorante Kentia al Trappitu’s real specialty is its seafood. A true showcase of the bounty of the Mediterranean Sea, guests can expect an array of seafood dishes from oysters and octopus to sea bass and squid freshly caught each day.
Ristorante Kentia al Trappitu, Via Ortolani Di Bordonaro 96, Cefalù, Italy +39 09 2142 3801
How to get to Cefalù
Cefalù is easily reached via the A20. You can leave your car at the big parking area next to the beach for a few euros per day.
There are bus connections to Palermo, Messina and Catania.
From Palermo the train ride takes less than an hour and 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.
Find out more about holidays to Sicily by visiting our Holiday Ideas page.
Featured image credit: Alerio D'Ambrogi | Shutterstock