Last updated on March 12, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, founder of MEL365, following extensive travelling in Sicily

15 key differences: Is TAORMINA or CEFALU better in Sicily?

Let’s compare these two destinations on 15 points including beach, nightlife and budget to understand if it’s better to visit Taormina or Cefalu in Sicily

I love both but they are so different in what they offer and in the budget you need to plan. Taormina is more pretentious meanwhile Cefalu is understated. The best would be of course to visit both but they are not really next to each other and getting around Sicily is not always as easy.

This article directly compares key factors between these two popular Sicilian towns in a Taormina vs Cefalu showdown. Discover insights across categories spanning ease of arrival, budget tips, sightseeing, nightlife, safety, transportation, shopping and more to decide which one works best for you.

But let’s jump straight to the key points.

Taormina or Cefalu – Compare the Key points

I have organised this table that compares the two destinations on the major key points. Click on the subject to check my take or keep reading for the full version. Swipe left or right on a mobile to see the entire table.

SubjectTaorminaCefaluVerdict
AccessEasily accessed by train, bus, or car. Has a cable car to the coastLimited direct public transportation from major cities.Taormina for better connectivity.
CostMore expensive, with budget options available if planned.Generally more budget-friendly with cheaper lodging and dining options.Cefalu for a more budget-friendly visit.
BeachesRequires travel and they can be very busyBoasts easily accessible, family-friendly and sandy Cefalu for better access and experience.
For FamiliesLimited attractions and challenging terrain for families.Wide range of family activities and accommodations.Cefalu is more suited for families.
For CouplesOffers breathtaking views and charming alleys, ideal for couples.Laid-back, with a cozy and authentic atmosphere for couples.Tie, depends on the couple’s preferences.
NightlifeVibrant nightlife with upscale bars and clubs.Quieter, with cozy wine bars and early closing times.Taormina for a lively nightlife scene.
Safety and SecurityLow crime rate but watch for petty theft.Extremely safe with low crime rates.Both are safe, with Cefalu possibly edging out slightly.
Historical CentrePicturesque with ancient sites and scenic views.Charming with medieval atmosphere and unique landscapes.Tie, depends on interest in grandeur vs. authenticity.
3-Day ItineraryAncient sites, a swim and day trip to the Etna Volcano.Cathedral visit, relaxing time, nearby natural and historical sites exploration.Tie, based on personal preferences for historical sites or natural beauty.
Cuisine and Food SceneDiverse with influences across ages, slightly pricier.Focuses on Mediterranean flavours, generally more affordable.Cefalu for a more relaxed and affordable food scene.
HoneymoonSpectacular scenery and romantic boutique hotels.Cozy authenticity with coastal charm.Tie, based on preference for opulence or authenticity.
AccommodationPredominantly boutique hotels and luxury, pricier.A mix of options, generally more affordable than Taormina.Cefalu for more budget-friendly lodging.
Local TransportationComprehensive local bus and gondol.Compact size makes walking practical, with efficient bus connectivity.Taormina for the unique cable car experience.
ShoppingLocal designers and chic souvenirs.Artisan goods and locally crafted items.Cefalu for authentic local crafts.

Access to Taormina and to Cefalu

Taormina

Taormina is easily accessed by train, bus, or car via the A18 Autostrada from cities like Catania (1 hour), Messina (1 hour) and Palermo (3.5 hours by car, 4-5 hours by public transportation).

As a popular tourist destination, Taormina has regular transport links across Sicily. The Taormina-Giardini train station on the lower coast connects directly to Italy’s rail network.

Budget flights also serve Catania Airport just 50 minutes away by shuttle bus. Transport to Taormina is frequent, inexpensive and streamlined, though the hill town itself requires some uphill walks.

There is also a small gondol that will take you from the city centre to the coast in a few minutes and with plenty of amazing views.

Taormina is a good base to explore the Etna Volcano (DIY or with an organised tour) and with the train (2 hours), you can easily go for a few days to Siracusa and Ortigia and possibly even Noto, amazing destinations you should not miss on the east coast of Sicily.

Cefalu

Reaching Cefalu involves more complex logistics unless you rent a car in Sicily to explore the island on a beautiful itinerary.

The trip to Palermo is straightforward, the direct train takes around 1 hour, but overall Taormina, being more popular, is better interconnected with other destinations..

There is currently no direct public transportation between the Palermo airport and Cefalu and you will have first to take the bus to the Train Station and from there to Cefalu. Overall the trip may take 2-3 hours and a bit of a headache with the connections.

While very accessible for self-drivers, Cefalu remains more remote by public transportation compared to better-connected Taormina.

In this video, you can see how to access Taormina from Catania with both the bus and the train

Is Cefalù or Taormina cheaper

Taormina

While Taormina has exceptional views and historical attractions drawing elite clientele willing to pay premium prices, budget options still exist for thrifty travellers.

Lodgings under €100/night are available off-season if carefully sought out. Cheap eats like pizza or pasta can be found from €6-15 at casual cafes and wine bars if you avoid the touristy restaurants.

Many historical sites and panoramic lookouts don’t charge entry fees. So with strategic planning, Taormina can work on a modest budget, although overall the city is certainly not cheap, in fact probably one of the most expensive in Sicily.

Cefalu

Charming Cefalu is less touristy than Taormina and more budget-friendly as a consequence.

Mid-range lodgings average €60-120 in high season for far nicer quality than you would find in Taormina. There are also abundant camping and Airbnb options under €50/night for bargain hunters.

Beyond hotels, in Cefalu you will find reasonable prices for food, shopping and sightseeing, all falling well below Taormina rates.

Sicily is not as expensive overall, but if travelling on a budget, Cefalu gives much easier bang for your buck.

Is Sicily Expensive
Is Sicily Expensive

Taormina or Cefalu for beaches

Taormina

Taormina itself perches high on mountainous cliffs overlooking the sea, so you must take the cable car or alternatively a 15-minute bus down winding roads to reach the nearest section of grey volcanic coastline and adjacent pebble Isola Bella island nature reserve.

While scenic against mountain backdrops, the humble Taormina public beaches offer very basic facilities for sunbathers.

Better maintained spots can be found farther afield in Giardini Naxos or Letojanni with amenities like umbrellas and lounge chairs catering largely to summer crowds.

I visited Taormina last year end of September on a warm sunny weekday and it was hard at 4 pm to find a place at the beach in front of Isola Bella to lay down my towel. I don’t want to imagine how the place is in July and August.

Cefalu

Blessed with a crescent bay framed dramatically between medieval towers and granite cliffs, Cefalu offers an amazing sandy shoreline.

Families converge on family-friendly Spiaggia Lungomare, the main beach, for paddle boating, volleyball and lively seasonal activities. Spiaggia Mazzaforno lies west in a quiet cove perfect for swimming.

Don’t miss Spiaggia del Porto Vecchio tucked within the shadow of the Old Town citadel for quintessential Italian charm.

With choices plentiful, free public access, and vibrant facilities, Cefalu easily outshines Taormina.

The beautiful Cefalu
The beautiful Spiaggia del Porto Vecchio in Cefalu

Cefalu or Taormina for families

Taormina

While popular with couples, Taormina offers limited family-friendly attractions beyond its beaches and Giardini Naxos waterpark. As a mountaintop village of winding alleys and stairs, the hilly terrain proves challenging with strollers.

Souvenir shops overwhelm other retailers. Hotel rooms tend to be smaller and more expensive, not catering to budget needs.

While beautiful with ancient sites and scenic views that may appeal to older children, Taormina lacks child-centred activities, dining and affordable spacious lodgings that make vacations easier for families.

Cefalu

From sandy beaches with water sports to gourmet pizza restaurants and lively pedestrian streets, Cefalù hits the sweet spot for pleasing every family member.

Active kids can kayak and snorkel while parents enjoy seaside relaxation. Plenty of family-sized accommodation options keep groups comfortable.

The compact historical centre offers “granite” (Italian slurpees) stops, moped tours and vibrant streetlife to engage children of all ages within an atmospheric coastal setting.

As one of Sicily’s most child-friendly destinations, Cefalu gives families everything needed for an enjoyable and memorable vacation together.

The stunning Porto Vecchio Beach
The stunning Spiaggia Porto Vecchio in Cefalu

Cefalù or Taormina for couples

Taormina

Taormina sets the scene for romance with its breathtaking vistas of the East Coast and Mount Etna coupled with charming narrow lanes dotted by flower boxes and ivy-covered balconies.

You can stroll picturesque through gardens hand-in-hand, enjoy candlelit dinners on cozy terraces then cozy up in one of the many boutique hotels hidden throughout ancient buildings.

The lovely mountain-village ambience offers plenty of privacy for travelling duos along winding backstreets made for getting lost together while discovering hidden cafés, gelato stops and scenic lookouts.

Cefalu

Understated compared to Taormina, Cefalu charms couples with its laid-back fishing village vibe punctuated by a grand medieval fortress and labyrinth of alleys made for wandering around.

Outdoor cafes and wine shops are the best places to enjoy the local vibe with glasses of local Nero D’Avola wine. Handmade ceramics and gourmet seafood capture the daily rhythms still present.

Accommodations range from cozy Airbnbs on the water to posh suites hidden within ancient buildings.

I find it hard to say which one works better for couples. They are both so beautiful but at the same time so different too. Taormina is more opulent meanwhile Cefalu is more laid-back.

Taormina - View from the top of the cable car
Taormina – View from the top descending to the coastline

Is Nightlife better in Cefalu or Taormina

Taormina

Taormina bustles well into the night during summer months as European tourists flock to its upscale cocktail bars, swanky nightclubs and trendy wine lounges clustered around the lively pedestrian Corso Umberto.

The Time Out offer cozy hideaways to linger over drinks. For dancing the night away, Morgana Lounge tempts with house and techno DJs spinning amid flashing lights.

Cefalu

As a quainter village with more limited options, Cefalu trades flashy nightlife for authentic local charm. Low-key pubs and cozy wine bars scattered through the historical centre fill with youths gathering over €3 beer pints and free tapas plates into the night.

Occasional live music might feature at the cocktail bar Piper, but venues shut down promptly by midnight due to strict noise policies in this sleepy fishing hamlet.

Late-night party animals should look to rowdier Palermo, but couples and culture seekers will enjoy Cefalu’s laidback nights.

With its glittering social scene catering to an international moneyed crowd through the wee hours, Taormina remains one of the best nightlife hotspots on the island together with Palermo and Catania.

Partying in Taormina
Partying in Taormina

Safety and Security

Taormina

Taormina maintains a very low crime rate, perhaps due to its contained size and constant tourist crowds making the hilltop community feel quite secure day or night. Petty theft however sporadically occurs – primarily pickpocketing focused on naive tourists.

Standard precautions like securing valuables apply when touring busy sites like the Greek Theatre or Corso Umberto shopping street.

Cefalu

Charming little Cefalu claims one of Sicily’s lowest crime rates thanks to vigilant polizia and a great local community. Violent incidents seldom occur while petty theft remains largely opportunity crimes snatching unattended purses or phones.

Female travelers in particular give rave safety reviews. Standard street smarts still apply: leaving high end jewelry or electronics securely back in hotel rooms, using hotel safes, and remaining alert when withdrawing cash avoid most issues.

Beyond normal big-city precautions, both Taormina and Cefalu’s crime levels prove pleasingly negligible.

Taormina vs Cefalu Historical Centre

Taormina

Taormina’s picturesque hilltop Historic Centre delivers postcard-perfect views of Mt Etna and the Ionian Sea around every turn of its winding medieval lanes.

In the Old Town, you will also find the ancient Greek amphitheatre still hosting summer concerts and film festivals together with a few smaller Byzantine chapels and tiny public gardens.

One of my secret places, a total hidden gem, is the Naumachia, a narrow garden area where you can see the foundation of the Historic Centre (free entrance)

In the pedestrian main street, Corso Umberto, you will find plenty of bars, designer shops, and Sicilian speciality food bistro converging at Piazza IX Aprile where you will have panoramic lookouts of the lovely coast with a dramatic volcano backdrop.

Cefalu

Cefalu is a charming coastal town with a medieval atmosphere. The town’s historic structures are built on a rocky headland, creating a unique and interesting landscape.

The centre of the Old Town is the beautiful Cathedral, one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites to visit in Sicily, in a small square with the old castle on top of the rock in the background.

Narrow vicoli (lanes) open suddenly onto picturesque hidden piazzas with Byzantine mosaics and Arab-Norman architecture blending through the ages.

The sight of drying sheets fluttering across brick passageways under deep blue skies completes the time travel effect. And finally, a cute fishing harbour and breezy promenade link Cefalu’s core to sandy shores by the glinting sea.

My tip: Head to Bastione di Capo Marchiafava and from there walk down the stairs on the left that will take you to a hidden path that develops through the rocks and follows the coast next to the oldest buildings of Cefalu, magical!

Both Historical Centres are so beautiful, with Taormina being more imposing and grand, meanwhile, Cefalu is more understated and still with a few hidden secrets like the path through the rocks

The Greek Theatre in Taormina
The Greek Theatre in Taormina

3 days Itinerary?

Taormina

DayDescription
1Taormina ExplorationStart your time in Taormina by exploring the heart of the city, beginning with the ancient Greek Theatre, renowned for its stunning views of Etna and the Ionian Sea. Stroll down Corso Umberto, the main pedestrian street filled with shops, cafes, and historical sites. Visit the beautiful public gardens, Villa Comunale, for a peaceful retreat. End your day with a sunset dinner at a terrace restaurant overlooking the sea.
2Day Trip to the Etna VolcanoEmbark on a day tour to Mount Etna, Europe’s highest and most active volcano. Do it yourself or join an organised tour that typically includes a hike or gondol ride to the craters, a visit to the lava flows and tubes, and a sampling of local products from the fertile volcanic soil, such as honey and wine. Return to Taormina in the late afternoon.
3Taormina’s Beaches and Isola BellaSpend your final day enjoying Taormina’s beautiful beaches connected to the Historical Centre by cable car. Start with Isola Bella, a small island connected to the mainland by a narrow path, often referred to as the “Pearl of the Ionian Sea.” Enjoy snorkelling, swimming, or sunbathing. In the afternoon, explore the nearby Mazzarò or Spisone. Conclude your trip with an evening walk.

Cefalu

DayDescription
1Discovering CefalùBegin your journey through Cefalù by visiting its most iconic landmark, the Cefalù Cathedral. This Norman cathedral, with its stunning mosaics, sets the tone for the town’s rich history. Spend the afternoon exploring the medieval streets, and visiting the Mandralisca Museum to see its collection, including the famous portrait of the Unknown Sailor. End your day with a stroll along the Lungomare, the waterside promenade, and enjoy a seafood dinner at one of the local restaurants.
2La Rocca and Beach RelaxationStart your day early with a hike up to La Rocca for breathtaking views of the seaside resort town and coastline. Explore the ruins of the ancient castle at the summit and the Temple of Diana. Descend and spend the rest of your day relaxing on Cefalù’s sandy beaches, such as the main town Spiaggia Porto Vecchio or more secluded ones like Mazzaforno. Alternatively in the morning go to the street market, one of the best in Sicily, definitely worth a visit.
3Exploring Nearby WondersDedicate your final day to exploring the natural and historical wonders near Cefalù. Take a trip to the Madonie Regional Natural Park for hiking or visiting charming hillside villages. Alternatively, explore the Himera archaeological site, an ancient Greek city, to delve deeper into Sicily’s ancient past. Return to Cefalù in the late afternoon for some last-minute souvenir shopping in the old town.

Cuisine and Food Scene in Sicily

Taormina

Taormina cuisine showcases the best of the island’s culinary traditions with an emphasis on seafood and local produce blended with Greek, Roman, French and Arab influences across the ages.

Classic pasta dishes feature healthier eggplant, chickpea or pesto sauces versus the heartier meat ragu styles of western Sicily. Must-try local specialities include spit-roasted porchetta and cannoli pastry shells stuffed with sweet ricotta cream.

Cefalu

Cefalu cuisine centres firmly around Mediterranean flavours using ultra-fresh seafood caught locally paired with simple ingredients like lemon, olive oil and herbs.

You’ll find exquisite yet unfussy dishes spotlighting grilled fish or mussels, shrimp ravioli, sea urchin pasta and lighter condiments.

Local country bread and Pecorino, one of my favourite Sicilian cheeses, feature heavily across rustic tavola calda eateries and fine dining restaurants alike.

Overall the cuisine in Taormina and Cefalu is pretty similar. The main difference is in the food scene, more pretentious in Taormina and relaxed in Cefalu.

10 Exceptional and Typical Sicilian Cheeses

Honeymoon in Cefalu or Taormina

Taormina

For honeymooners seeking spectacular scenery, cozy hideaways and romantic indulgences in Sicily, Taormina is the place to be.

Imagine sharing candlelit dinners on a cliff overlooking the sea or popping champagne on the balcony of a suite adorned with colourful Italian ceramic tiles.

You will find a few great boutique hotels that are just perfect for one of the most memorable times of your life. I am thinking here of the San Domenico Palace, or The Ashbee Hotel and the UNAHOTELS Capotaormina.

Cefalu

Understated Cefalu forgoes flashy publicity to shine as a hidden littoral gem offering honeymooners cozy authenticity instead of glamour romance.

Imagine yourself enjoying glasses of silky Nero D’Avola wine grown in the nearby mountains while watching the sun sink into the sea from your heritage hotel.

For a unique stay, I suggest Le Calette N.5 or the BM Rooms and Suites

Best places for a romantic honeymoon in Sicily - towns and boutique hotels
Best places for a romantic honeymoon in Sicily – towns and hotels

Accommodation in Taormina and Cefalu

Taormina

Lodging options throughout Taormina predominantly fall into small luxury hotels and rental apartments.

On average, prime locations along the pedestrian Corso Umberto or overlooking Piazza IX Aprile run €250+ nightly with more distant accommodations like at the medieval Naumachie district running around €150/night.

Many lodgings feature beautiful sea views, charming antique Sicilian décor, flower-filled balconies and friendly hospitality although cheaper picks suffer dated style. Reserve at least 6 months ahead if visiting in peak summer.

I have written extensively about where to stay in Taormina with the best areas and hotels. Here is a quick summary table.

Area NameBest forAverage CostSuggested HotelsBars & RestaurantsTransportationCharacterBeachNightlife
Old Town (Centro Storico)History and romantic couplesHighVilla Schuler or
Le Chevalier
445NACocktail bars
Taormina MareCouplesHighVilla Bianca or
Panoramic Hotel
4
beach clubs
44
Nature
45
Giardini NaxosFamilies with kidsModerateCasa dei Nonni or di Laura45353
LetojanniOn a budgetMod-LowFamiani B&B
or Girasoli
35342
Best areas to stay in Taormina
Where to stay in Taormina Italy
Where to stay in Taormina Italy

Cefalu

From medieval townhouse rentals to family-run B&Bs to posh hotels, Cefalu has a bit of everything with costs that are usually cheaper than Taormina.

Most lodgings congregate in the pedestrian Old Town or along Lungomare beach promenade keeping the sights convenient. Similarly to TAormina, try to book your stay as early as possible if visiting in July and August.

I have written extensively about where to stay in Cefalu with the best areas and hotels. Here is a quick summary table.

AreaBest ForSuggested HotelProsConsCharacterBeach (1-5)Couples
(1-5)
Families
(1-5)
Restaurants (1-5)
Old TownHistory lovers, romantic staysLa Plumeria or Sweet HomeHistoric charm, central, scenic viewsLimited parking, pricier, noisyHistoric, Romantic4545
LungomareBeach enthusiasts, nightlife seekersRiva Del Sole or Incanto B&BBeach access, vibrant scene, parking easeFar from Old Town, noisyModern5454
Next to the StationBudget travellers, short staysSerenety HouseClose to the station, affordable, convenientLacks charm, far from attractionsModern and Practical 2333
Le CaletteLuxury seekers, romantic getawaysLe Calette BayStunning views, serene beaches, luxury staysHigher cost, less central, no nightlifeScenic, Serene5544
Best areas to stay in Cefalu
Best areas to stay in Cefalu + HOtels
Best areas to stay in Cefalu + HOtels

Cefalu and Taormina size

Although Taormina municipality is bigger, both towns have a similar population (12-14,000 people) and tourist size. They are both very walkable with the old towns mostly organised as a pedestrian area.

Local Public Transportation in Taormina Vs Cefalu

Taormina

Local buses connect Taormina proper with the cliffside Lido area and seaside sister community Giardini-Naxos very frequently, running until the evening hours for convenient transportation down to the water and back up the steep hill. The bus services also reach farther destinations like Letojanni.

There is also a small gondol leaving from Taormina (metres from the bus station) down to the Lido La Pigna which offers easy and quick access to the water besides beautiful views of the coast and the Etna Volcano.

Taxis stand service late-night partygoers and areas unreachable by bus.

Cefalu

Cefalu’s super compact size makes walking the obvious and most enjoyable mode to get around for able visitors. But a simple bus network also efficiently connects the hilltop medieval district to the seaside Lungomare strip and inland attractions like the Mandralisca Museum or Temple of Diana ruins.

Service runs regularly from morning to late evening.

Taxis are usually available at the train station for an easy and quick (5 minutes) transport into the Historic Centre if laden down with luggage. Walking takes around 10-15 minutes.

You can definitely visit both cities without a car. In fact, you will need to park it outside of the ZTL area if driving around Sicily and walk in with your luggage

You can always find surprising cars on sale in Taormina
You can always find surprising cars on sale in Taormina

Shopping in Taormina and Cefalu

Taormina

In Taormina, you can find prestigious designer shops like Prada, Gucci and Oscar de la Renta clustered along central Corso Umberto under blooming flower boxes.

Beyond haute couture, this is also where you can buy chic souvenirs from custom limoncello liqueurs to colourful hand-painted ceramics and intricately carved marionette puppets representing the local folk arts.

Cefalu

In contrast to flashy big names, Cefalu focuses its shops on locally crafted artisan goods from delicately painted ceramics to embroidered lace linens to decorative olive wood carvings.

There is not really a main street where you can locate all the shops. Venture instead in the maze of lanes of the Old Town where you will surely find a few surprises.

The Sicilian markets host some amazing craft and design makers
Stefano Ferro - MEL365.com Founder and Editor

About the Author

Stefano is a seasoned travel expert and the visionary founder of MEL365.com, a leading travel website with traffic across 6 continents. With a rich background in the travel industry, Stefano spent four pivotal years at Amadeus Travel Distribution System, gaining invaluable insights into travel technologies and distribution.

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