Cefalu, Sicily: visit the popular coastal resort and town of Cefalu

Photo of Cefalu (Sicily region)

Visit Cefalu

Cefalu is a leading Sicilian seaside resort, and one of the major centres of art, culture and history on the island. It also has daily connections with the Aeolian Islands and together these two factors make Cefalu a very popular destination in Sicily. Cefalu is roughly half-way along the northern coast of Sicily, facing the Tyrrhenian Sea.

The combination of an interesting old town and harbour and easy access to beaches have ensured that Cefalu is now one of the most important travel destinations on Sicily. It is considered to be one of the most beautiful towns of Italy.

Explore Cefalu

The first thing you will notice when you arrive in Cefalu is the position of the town itself, squeezed beween the sea and a large rock. Originally it was a small fishing port that was squeezed onto this small area of land although more recent development has extended the town to some extent it still retains the feel of a small fishing town. There is also a very nice and very popular sandy beach almost adjacent to the harbour.

Before rushing to the beach or visiting the major monuments be sure to take the time to explore the narrow streets of the medieval centre in Cefalu, which is very picturesque although often busy with tourists.

Cefalu

The old town and harbour are overlooked by the cathedral in Piazza del Duomo, one of the most attractive churches in Sicily. The piazza is a lovely square, planted with palm trees and the perfect place to pause for a coffee.  While beaches, shopping and sightseeing are the main entertainment during the day, Cefalu is almost as active late into the evening, during the summer at least, with a good selection of bars and restaurants to choose from.

Cefalu Cathedral

Cefalu CathedralAway from the coast and in the historical part of the town it is the cathedral that is the most important attraction in Cefalu.

Because of its importance and interest we have a separate feature for the cathedral. For full details of this important 12th century Arab-Norman monument see Cefalu Cathedral.

Cefalu Churches

As well as the cathedral Cefalù boasts other religious buildings of great artistic value, such as the 18th century Madonna della Catena, built in yellow tuff and characterized by a porch formed by a large round arch supported by two pairs of columns with Ionic capitals.

At the center of the façade, between two pairs of windows, is a niche with a statue of the Madonna, then from the loggia, via a few steps, you reach the portal that gives access to the church. Inside there is a statue of Saint Espedito, and to the left is a votive dedicated to San Rocco, the patron saint of the city.

No less interesting is the baroque style Church of Santo Stefano. You enter this church via a double flight of stairs and a portal decorated with baroque figures of souls in purgatory. The left tower, culminating in a spire, serves as a belltower.

Also to visit are the  Church of Saint Trinity whose facade has a portal decorated with floral motifs and heads of angels, and the Church of St. George (now St Leonard), dating from the Norman period of Roger II whose two superimposed galleries, decorated with floral and landscape scenes, are of great scenic effect.

Civic buildings of Cefalu

Among the civic buildings, the so-called Osterio Magno is very important, and thought to have once been the residence of King Roger II. It is also known as the "Domus Regia". Now it is just the tower that remains, of rectangular shape and dating back to the Norman period.

Cefalu

However it really is the general atmosphere and the old streets of Cefalu set against the clear blue waters of the sea that gives Cefalu its charm.

Mandralisca Museum

In the Mandralisca Museum, the archaeological section is very extensive with exhibits from excavations in the area near Cefalu and on the Aeolian Islands. Note in particular a late Hellenistic mosaic, and the famous "Tagliatore di tonno" of the 4th century BC.

There is also an important collection featuring Greek and Roman coins, and another very important section of the museum is linked to nature, with the presence of many fossil shells. See also Cefalu history before visiting the museum.

Sanctuary of Gibilmanna

Close to Cefalù there are also several monuments worthy of particular note including the Sanctuary of Gibilmanna, dedicated to SS. Virgin and surrounded by lush vegetation. The church has a large porch in the gothic style with bell towers with pyramidal spires that recall Cefalu Cathedral.

Inside, there is a Statue of "Mary and the Child" attributed to Antonello Gagini. In the 18th century, the Chapel of Our Lady was enriched with a magnificent Baroque altar with a marble frontal, the work of Baldassarre Pampillonia.

Temple of Diana

Etruscan walls in CefaluOn the rock overlooking Cefalù there is a very old building known as the Temple of Diana made from boulders stacked without any mortar. It takes at least half an hour to climb the steps from the town to the Temple and on to the top of the Rocca (start on Vicolo Saraceni) but both the views and the monument make it very worthwhile.

The temple is a prehistoric megalithic shrine thought to date from the 9th century BC, on which another building was constructed during the Greek Age (5th century BC), and itself later transformed into a Byzantine church.

Adjacent to the shrine is a tank covered with slabs and stone circles and surrounded by a ring of medieval walls. The function of this Temple of Diana has always been considered a mystery.

Among the most convincing suggestions for the origins of the temple is the idea that it was “a sacred spring, which was installed on a primitive indigenous worship of water, which then became a shrine in the fifth century BC” (“Nuova Antologia”, 1930, Vol. 352: 387).

Eating out

As well as beaches, art treasures and scenic landscapes visitors should also take time to enjoy the traditional Sicilian cuisine. As a priority in Cefalu try the ‘Arancine’ with meat, the 'Frittedda' (a dish made of vegetables), the 'Sfincione' (stuffed bread), and among the specialties for a coastal village, the so-called ‘Beccafico’ sardines.

Places to visit nearby

Campofelice-di-Roccella and Tusa are also both popular seaside resorts. Inland, the mountain town of Petralia offers some excellent scenery and a medieval centre.

See also:

Photos of Cefalu

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Map of Cefalu and places to visit

Cefalu places to visit

See more places nearby in the Sicily guide