In September, I crashed my parents’ city break to Palermo, the capital of Sicily. Since we were visiting for five days, there was ample time to fit in a day trip. But where to choose? Cefalù, as it turns out, is one of the most picturesque coastal towns in Sicily. And it’s super quick and easy to travel from Palermo to Cefalù for a day trip. I’d be surprised if there was a town more convenient and charming to visit from Palermo.
Cefalù, like Palermo, is on Sicily’s north coast on the Tyrrhenian sea and you pronounce the name like ‘Sheff-a-loo’. Its name has Greek origins but like the rest of Sicily, you’ll find many landmarks and buildings from several different eras and cultures like Cefalù Cathedral. It’s a Norman structure with Byzantine-Arab mosaics and it’s one of the nine Arab-Norman churches in the wider Palermo area that make up a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Cefalù is identifiable due to it’s imposing rocky hill and the small city below encroaches the bottom of the rock as you would imagine an army of ants swarm around a dropped ice cream cone. And the gelato-coloured houses tentatively line up mere metres away from the beach. So Cefalù has packed-in, charmingly narrow streets offering shade and places to wander, a turquoise blue sea and sandy beaches. You can also hike the massive rock if that floats your boat. It’s a popular place for travellers to visit on their Sicily trip and attracts millions of local and international visitors every year.
This is my complete guide on how to travel from Palermo to Cefalù for a great day trip as well as things to do in Cefalù and where to eat and drink.
Day Trip from Palermo to Cefalù in Sicily
Travel from Palermo to Cefalù by Train
It is really easy to travel from Palermo to Cefalù by train and I fully recommend you travel to Cefalù this way. Travelling from Palermo Centrale Station to Cefalù Station takes about one hour via intercity (ICN) or regional (REG) direct services which depart around every hour.
The evening before your day trip, I would look at train timetables on a website like Trainline in Italy. I normally like to use Google Maps for planning travel, but they aren’t brilliant at updating their information regularly when it comes to Italian train timetables.
If you want to travel via a regional service, then brilliant. Seats are unreserved and you will easily be able to buy a ticket from one of the ticket machines (which you can use in English) at the station just before you catch your train. And don’t forget you need to validate/stamp your ticket before you hop on a train! Your ticket will cost around €5.60.
If you want to travel on an intercity service (which is a long-distance service to somewhere like Messina or Rome, for example), then you may want to book your tickets in advance. Seats do sell out and you need a seat reservation to use these trains. However, we managed to buy intercity tickets just before our train from a ticket machine so you might be lucky. These tickets cost around €9.00 because they’re nicer trains and you get a guaranteed seat.
Read my tips on travelling by train in Italy here:
Travel from Palermo to Cefalù by Organised Tour
Or, if you want to squeeze in another city on your day trip from Palermo to Cefalù, then a tour is a fantastic option!
Monreale is popular with visitors because Monreale Cathedral is also part of the Arab-Normal Church UNESCO World Heritage Site. In fact, inside is much more impressive than Palermo Cathedral. The small town sits on the Monte Caputo slope overlooking Palermo and the coast. But apart from the view and the cathedral, there isn’t much else to do in Monreale. Make sure you dress appropriately for the cathedral, there is a dress code!
We happened to visit Monreale Cathedral during a wedding ceremony which was quite bizarre/interesting. I don’t know many people who’d want hoards of sweaty and pasty tourists gawking at them during the ‘happiest day of their life’ but again, whatever floats your boat. I can imagine it might be some couples’ dream to be married in such a grand cathedral.
This half-day tour from Palermo will conveniently pick you up at your hotel and take you to both Monreale and Cefalù. It has fantastic reviews and we were seriously considering this tour before we realised how cheap and easy it is to travel to Cefalù by train. Since we had a few days in Palermo, we just visited Monreale another time.
6 Things to do in Cefalù
1. Visit Cefalù Cathedral, Part of the Palermo Arab-Norman UNESCO World Heritage Site
I know I’ve mentioned it before, but you really can’t travel all the way from Palermo to Cefalù without checking out Cefalù Cathedral. It sits in a huge square filled with outdoor seating from cafés and restaurants and is the hub of the city. To be honest, the cathedral is not much to look at from the outside. It’s quite a plain facade when compared to many other cathedrals. But inside, the Byzantine mosaics recreate stories from the bible all over the Cathedral and they’re just gorgeous. Definitely worth a look in! Plus, visiting the Cathedral is free.
You can pay €5 for a ticket to climb up the stairs to the top of the towers so you can see the viewpoint over Cefalù. And that may include the cloisters and treasury houses too, I’m not 100% sure. However, if you’re umming and ahhing about the cost, then don’t do it. Sure, Cefalù is beautiful and it’s always nice to find a good viewpoint of a pretty place. But this viewpoint is covered in black netting which is hugely disappointing. It was difficult to even take photos through it. Personally, I wouldn’t bother again.
2. Walk Along Porta Pescara/Cefalù Beach
Obviously, you need to head to the beach! There’s a little promenade where you can walk out into the sea to look back on the epic beauty that is Cefalù with its big rock and rows of cute pastel houses. If you’re a beach bum you should definitely bring your swimsuits and enjoy the warm weather in summer. It’s a very popular beach, but when we visited in September I wouldn’t say it was really heaving.
Also, if this is your first time visiting my blog, you may not know that I’m a huge film fan and love visiting locations. Well, Porta Pescara in Cefalù was a filming location for the well-loved Sicilian film Cinema Paradiso (1988). I have another blog post detailing the locations in the film around Sicily if you’re interested!
3. Have a Look Around the Lavatoio Medievale Fiume Cefalino
This is a bit of a weird thing to do in Cefalù but it’s free, so why not, eh? Lavatoio Medievale Fiume Cefalino is a medieval laundry/wash house where locals used to wash their clothes up until around the 1960s. It still has fresh running water and the myth is that the water comes from the tears of a Nymph.
I don’t know about that, but it’s an interesting enough place to visit for a few minutes and it’s in a central location. It’s just a hidden part of the city underneath some buildings with little pools of water. The Lavatoio Medievale can get quite busy (as you can see from my photos), so try and visit as early or as late in the day as possible.
4. Climb Rocca di Cefalù and Visit the Temple of Diana
Just wanna preface this activity by saying lol I did not climb Cefalù rock. No way José. We visited on a hot Tuesday in September and it looks like quite a rigorous activity and I was already far too sweaty for my liking. But, loads of people do it so it’s up to you! There are several paths up Rocca di Cefalù, the most popular being the one that takes you to the Temple of Diana (which you can see from the town below).
If you want some exercise on your day trip from Palermo to Cefalù and are willing to work for those gorgeous vistas… Knock yourself out, my friend! There are tonnes of signs in Cefalù telling you where to walk and just make sure you are wearing sensible shoes and take lots of water.
5. Escape the Heat in the Mandralisca Art Museum
Visiting museums whilst hanging out in a beautiful seaside town isn’t for everyone, but if you like generally like art and/or antiquities I thought this was a great little museum.
The Mandralisca Art Museum is down a central side street housed in a compact but beautiful three-story building. I always prefer museums and galleries where the building is also beautiful (snazzy tiled floors and dark wooden furniture, yes please) and not just a hollow white shell. The museum randomly owns one of the most important Renaissance paintings in existence, the Portrait of the Unknown Man by Sicilian painter Antonello da Messina. The rest of the exhibit is filled with other local antiquities, paintings and artefacts.
The €8 ticket price is expensive for what it is as you will probably only spend up to one hour in the museum. So I would only visit if you tend to like museums and art in general, or you need a break from the sun.
6. Shop and wander down the cool, narrow streets in Cefalù
And finally, just wander around! Cefalù is not a big town in the slightest so I would just walk up and down the cobbled streets. On some street corners, you might find street art, colourful tiles and just interesting things to see. There are lots of touristy shops selling a lot of tat, yes, but some of the shops are quite decent and sell locally made and handmade gifts too.
5 Places to eat and drink in Cefalù
1. Antica Porta Terra for Gelato in Cefalù
Technically, Antica Porta Terra is a restaurant in Cefalù (and maybe a hotel too) but they have a little separate room for their gelato counter. And it’s bloody gorgeous gelato! If you want to eat gelato the Sicilian way, order it in a brioche bun. Yep, a bloody French bun of all things. It’s the Sicilian style and I ain’t questioning it. I ate the pistachio gelato and it was delish. Honestly, you probably don’t even need to eat lunch after consuming one of these majestic gelatinous beasts.
2. Pasta & Pasti di Musumeci Teresa Cefalù for a Cheap Lunch
Though it’s slightly out of Cefalù’s centre and nearer the train station, one of the best places for affordable pasta dishes and light bites is Pasta & Pasti di Musumeci Teresa Cefalù. They serve a huge variety of pasta dishes and salad which is perfect for lunch and also if you have kids/picky eaters because you’re all bound to find something you enjoy on the menu.
They’re open from 9:00-16:00 every day.
3. Al Vicoletto for Pizza in Cefalù
We ate at Al Vicoletto while in Cefalù, which is really near Cefalù Cathedral down a little side street. I thought this place was fantastic! They served delicious Napoli-style pizza in individual sizes as well as lots of mezze platters and antipasti. We could sit outside down a quiet, narrow side street which was in the shade yet it wasn’t too quiet, lots of people headed here for lunch. And I appreciated being able to recognise at least one actor on their wall of famous Italians (that would be Marcello Mastroianni who starred in La Dolce Vita (1960)). Good service, lots of veggie options and I definitely recommend if you want to eat pizza in Cefalù!
4. Kalapinta Craft Beer Hall & Bar
I love craft beer. So even though we didn’t stay in Cefalù into the evening and didn’t visit the bar, I had to list at least one craft beer bar in Cefalù. And Kalapinta Craft Beer Hall looks like a really welcoming place with an extensive amount of craft beer on draft. And it looks like they serve flights of beer, too, so you can try different kinds! Looking at their menu, they serve at least 10 local Sicilian craft beers on draft as well as international imports served in bottles.
The bar is centrally located but doesn’t open until 18:00, so if you’re just visiting Cefalù for the day you may leave before it opens.
5. Enoteca Le Petit Tonneau for Aperitivo in Cefalù
I’ve travelled to Italy loads recently but I’m still terrible at finding great bars for aperitivo. As I said, we left Cefalù in the afternoon so didn’t visit any bars. But, if we were staying longer, the Enoteca Le Petit Tonneau wine bar looks like the best place in Cefalù for aperitivo, hands down.
It’s a wine bar situated right on the seafront/beach so you have fantastic views of the sea. And they serve all the nibbles you would expect for aperitivo like olives, cured meats, cheeses and bruschetta. It’s not an expensive bar and what you get for your money is fantastic. I imagine this bar fills up fast in the evening, so secure your place in the bar early for the sunset!
And that’s my guide to an ideal coastal day trip from Palermo to Cefalù! Are you planning a day trip to Cefalù from Palermo in Sicily? Let me know in the comments below!