Ciao, welcome to Cagliari, Sardinia’s largest city and capital. Located on the south of the island, this magical place has everything and more you’d want from an Italian city. There are so many amazing things to do in Cagliari, here are just a few…
Prepare to lose yourself in the colourful alleys, swim in the sparkling sea of the Mediterranean, drink delicious coffee and eat the tastiest food. But you can do that in many Italian cities, what’s so special about Cagliari?
Well, for one, you can spot wild pink flamingos in the National Park next to the city, but we will get to that later. Trust me, you’ll not be disappointed when you see the beauty of the hilly capital.
Get ready to see Vespas zooming up and down Cagliari’s narrow streets as you would elsewhere in Italy.
However, Sardinians generally don’t consider themselves to be Italian. But why you may ask? You’ll understand more by looking further into the history of the island. Some of our favourite things to do in Cagliari are budget-friendly and easy to get to.
A History on Cagliari
Firstly, Sardinia was called ‘Ichnusa’ by the Greeks, which can be translated to mean ‘footprint’. Coincidently, this is also the name of the local beer, which you must try at any of the local bars or supermarkets. The island has been subject to many conquerors, each leaving behind their ‘footprints’ on the land dating back to the 8th century BC. This includes the Phoenicians, Romans, Pisans, Catalans and most recently, the luxury yacht owners…
According to D.H. Lawrence, who wrote a travel book named ‘Sea and Sardinia’ in 1921, the island is ‘Lost between Europe and Africa, and belongs to nowhere’. Like Lawrence, you can start your Sardinian travels in Cagliari, but there’s a lot to see and do around the city itself that you don’t necessarily have to venture further afield.
Cagliari derives from the Punic word ‘Karel’ meaning a ‘rocky place’ and this will become obvious when you arrive. You can feel the blanket of history as you walk through the city up the hills. It truly is special.
- Official Languages: Italian and Sardo (English is widely spoken in the city)
- Currency: Euro €
How to get to Cagliari
There are two ways to get into the city of Cagliari from the airport.
The International Airport ‘Elmas Mario Mameli’ (CAG) is located 7km from the city and has great, low-cost connections from many European cities thanks to Ryanair. This includes direct flights from Manchester and London in the UK.
From Rome, Naples and Palermo you can get an overnight ferry to Cagliari’s port, which takes around 12 hours and leaves twice a week.
When is the best time to visit Cagliari
Luckily, the temperatures in Cagliari are mild all year long, but it will come down to what you want to do when you arrive. For example, if you want to go to the beach, it is better to visit during the summer months. With that in mind, the busiest tourist months are July and August and because of this, the prices rise.
Therefore, if you want the sun without the crowds, visit during the transition months, May, June, September and October.
The biggest event on the calendar is the Feast of Sant’efisio, which happens annually on May 1st. If you can time your trip with this magical festival, you won’t be disappointed.
Dating back to 1652, you’ll witness Sardinian’s greatest festival, dedicated to Sant Efisio, a Roman soldier, who allegedly saved Cagliari from the plague with 100 Sardinian villages parading with their traditional costumes. The streets will be coated with colourful ‘ramadura’ petals and essences.
How to get around Cagliari
To get around Cagliari and to the Poetto city-beach there is a well-developed bus system, argued to be one of the best in Italy. You can buy a ticket around the city but it’s easier to buy it online using the CTM Cagliari Busfinder app. This app is really useful to move around and includes a journey planner.
Please note, there are no Ubers in Cagliari but there are a lot of taxis, but they can be expensive. Therefore, to explore more cities and towns around Sardinia there are decent connections by train. If you fancy going for a day trip to nice beaches along the south-east coast you can use the travel bus of the company Arst.
There are 3 ways to get from Cagliari Airport to the city centre: train, taxi and bus.
- The easiest way to get into the city is the train. It takes you from the airport directly to the city centre in less than 7 minutes and the price of the ticket is very cheap, just €1.30.
- Taxis are widely available for an average cost of €15-20.
- It’s not advised to get a bus, as there are not many running. However, this is a budget-friendly option if you arrive after the last train which is around 10 pm, check the Trenitalia website for up to date information.
Budgeting for Cagliari
Depending on where you stay and where you eat, Cagliari can be either cheap or expensive. There are options for every wallet. It’s worth mentioning, prices are subject to a remarkable change between the summer months and the winter months.
A weekend in Cagliari could cost you from €200 if you choose an Airbnb and cheaper restaurants, to €400, if you prefer a more comfortable hotel option and gourmet restaurants.
For an even cheaper budget, you can visit with less than €200. Taking advantage of the cheap budget accommodation in the city centre and trying out the different street food around town.
If you would like to visit the monuments, you can get a combined ticket ‘Beni Culturali’ for the amphitheatre, Tigello Villa and the Crypt of Santa Restituta. It’s just €6 and is valid for one week. Also, if you are aged between 18-25 the museums and monuments offer reduced-price tickets, this can be up to 50% off the normal price.
Depending on what you do in Cagliari will depend on your budget!
Top 12 things to do in Cagliari
1. Wander around the port and Via Roma
Definitely one of the most beautiful areas of the city to walk around is the waterfront. Discover the many shops, cafes and restaurants nearby and admire the many boats and cruise ships in the docks. A must-visit for your list of things to do in Cagliari.
2. Explore Bastione and the Castello Quarter
Another of the best things to do in Cagliari is a visit to Castello is the oldest district in Cagliari and is situated on the top of a hill. Don’t let the hills put you off though; there are many elevators that can take you to the top. Of course, you will be rewarded with unbelievable views of the city.
Bastione Saint Remy is on the southern end of the quarter, and is a striking monument in the city, with impressive views over the Mediterranean.
Whilst you are here, admire the Cattedrale di Santa Maria. Dating back to the 13th century, this Cathedral is magnificent and is free to visit. It’s open every day from 8am-1pm and then from 4pm-8pm. Local tip: climb the tower for €3 for incredible city views.
3. Elephant Tower and Tower of San Pancrazio
The two striking towers were built by the Pisans in 1307 and literally can’t be missed in Cagliari, as they soar above the other surrounding buildings at over 30m high. Not only are these towers rich in history, today the more refined tower, Torre dell’Elefante is used as a viewing platform and is open every day for just €3. The winter opening times are from 9am-5pm and summer from 10am-7pm. Additionally, you can easily find the entrance is on the right side of the church of St. Joseph.
4. Learn at the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari
The perfect place to enrich your knowledge of Sardinian history is at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale. Learn about the island’s ancient cultures from the pre-Nuragic age to the Medieval Period. Remember it is closed on Mondays but is open Tuesday-Sunday 9am-8pm.
5. Step back in time at the Roman Amphitheatre
It’s true, you don’t have to visit Rome to see an impressive amphitheatre. Built-in the 2nd century AD, it once could hold up to 10,000 spectators, pretty impressive, right? It’s open every day besides Monday and costs €3 to visit and can be found at Viale Sant’Ignazio.
6. Divulge at the Fresh market- ‘Mercato di San Benedetto’
If you’re a foodie, then the top of your list of things to do in Cagliari should be a visit to the lively market should be on your list. This is one of the largest indoor markets in Europe and is open Monday to Saturday from 7am-3pm. Taste delicious Sardinian foods over two floors… your tastebuds will thank you later!
7. Basilica di Bonaria
Another amazing things to do in Cagliari is a visit to this beautiful church. The entrance is free to this magnificent 14th-century Basilica and it is open daily from 9:30am-12pm and then again from 4:30pm-7:30pm. It is a little out of the city centre but you can reach it easily on foot or by bus. It’s argued to be extremely special to the local people and you can see why they have over 300 weddings a year here. Also, you’ll get breathtaking views over the city from this church!
8. Unwind on Poetto Beach
Picture a similar scene to Venice Beach in California: locals riding bikes, exercising and rollerblading down the promenade. In short, Poetto beach stretches over 8km and is a slice of paradise next to the city. There are clear waters, bars, and cafes. At night it’s the perfect spot for a lively local night out, with live music events, going into the night, especially in the summer months.
9. See flamingos at Molentargius Park
Did you know that you can see wild pink flamingos in Cagliari? This well kept, 1600 hectare nature reserve is open everyday and is free to enter. What’s more is that you can access it at several points in the city including Poetto beach.
10. Hike The Devil’s Saddle
Reach ‘Sella del Diavolo’ from Calamosca. Ensure you wear trainers because it is rocky to reach the top, but is relatively easy as there are green markers that help guide you. Undeniably, the views at the top are unbelievable and include: the harbour, Molentargius Park, the city and Poetto beach.
Local tip: buy an Ichnusa beer from the supermarket for €1.50 and climb for sunset. Cheers! A must-do thing to do in Cagliari.
11. Castle of San Michele
It would be rude not to visit the medieval Castello di San Michele whilst you are in Cagliari, located on one of the highest hills in the city. After all, it dates back to the 12th century and showcases the rich history of the city. Open Tuesdays to Sundays it only costs €3 and again offers spectacular views.
12. Drive the panoramic coastline to Villasimius
Undeniably, Sardinia is famous for its beaches, so why not hire a car or take the bus (€5) and enjoy a day trip. Just one hour away from the city, you’ll arrive in paradise and it’s likely you will want to stop along the way. Another of the most beautiful things to do in Cagliari.
Top places to eat in Cagliari
Once you’ve completed your list of things to do in Cagliari, you will certainly be hungry.
Without a doubt, Cagliari’s food, much like the rest of Sardinia, has been influenced by its diverse past. You’ll be able to enjoy pasta, exquisite seafood, meat and beans. Trying the local food is a must, and there is a range of options and prices depending on what food you’re like.
For vegetarian food try Cavo Bistro. Prices range from €30-40. In summary, they promote seasonal, organic and whole wheat food.
For vegan food try Gintilla. Prices range from €20-30. Here you’ll find local, fresh organic food. Including a generous buffet for lunch and great menu choice for dinner.
For seafood, try Ristorante La Pola and Stella Marina di Montecristo. Generally, the price ranges from €25-35 and you’ll enjoy fresh locally caught fish every day.
If you fancy something traditional then try Su Cumbidu. Every day there is a different menu. Try the “porceddu”, this is a traditional slow-roasted piglet with Mediterranean herbs. A Sardinian favourite for meat-eaters.
Pizza Il gallo D’oro. Pizza is not a Sardinian traditional food, but certainly, you can find exceptional quality pizza in Cagliari. This pizzeria is the delicious Gourmet Pizza that will enlighten your stay in Cagliari.
Local Tip: Head to Bobocono for the tastiest homemade gelato. Whether you are at Poetto beach for a walk or in the city centre this ice creamery tastes great at any time of the day or night!
Top places to drink in Cagliari
And once dinner is over, you’ll be desperate for a drink, so check out these three places for an amazing beverage.
Libarium is the best place for combining a refreshing spritz with a majestic view of the city from above.
On Poetto beach, there are over 20 beach bars that you can choose from according to what you like. Therefore, there are options for everybody, club-like, classy and live music. Just walk along the coast, feel the vibe and find your place.
Go to any of the bars in Piazza Yenne and Piazza San Domenico for a real local atmosphere. You’ll find locals sitting on the square benches, enjoying a beer and a pizza.
Where to stay in Cagliari
After long days completing your list of things to do in Cagliari, you will need some shut-eye and a comfy bed.
Cagliari’s centre is split into four districts. These are Castello, Marina, Villanova and Stampace. However, the city is still quite small, so staying in any of these districts means you can get around easily. Of course, there is a range of accommodation to suit every budget.
Hotel: For a double room, the price is from €100 a night
- Palazzo Doglio – £205 per night
- Hotel Villa Fanny – £210 per night
- Arcipelago 41 – £100 per night
- Boat and Breakfast Sissi– £72 per night
- Brezza Marina Luxury Rooms – £91 per night
B&B/ Guest Houses: There are numerous B&Bs in Cagliari that are from only €40 a night, a great budget option if you are a couple.
- La Casa di Adele B&B Cagliari – £77 per night
- B&B Marina di Castello Cagliari – £100 per night
- B&B Fior di Loto – £73 per night
Airbnb: The average cost for 2 people per night is around €50-90 depending on whether you want a private room or have the entire place to yourself.
Hostel: Stay at the centrally located Hostel Marina for €25 a night for a dorm bed.
[Photos below are of Hotel Villa Fanny – our top recommendation!]
So are you prepared for your trip to Sardinia?! I hope this guide of the top 12 things to do in Cagliari will help you plan your visit to Cagliari.
Author Bio: Nico is a Sardinian traveller, who has lived in Lithuania, Slovakia, Australia and the UK and runs the travel blog averagelives.com with his partner Rachel. He aims to promote a love of affordable travel and shares extraordinary travel stories. Follow his journey on Instagram.
If you are looking for advice on travelling to New Zealand, check out Nico and Rachel’s guide to one month in New Zealand. Or if you are heading to the United Kingdom, then a trip to the north of England is a must. Thes guys have written about one of the UK’s most underrated cities Leeds! Their guide on how to spend 3 days in Leeds is great!
Photo credit: Authors own and Pixabay.
My Travel Tips and Recommendations
To book flights, I always use flight search engine, Skyscanner, I regularly use the Everywhere tool to find the cheapest places to travel. It’s how I get to travel so much all around the world. I find it the easiest way to compare flight prices across airlines and get the best deals.
For accommodation, I usually book most of my hotels or hostels through Booking.com. I love using this platform as it provides me with some amazing deals for accommodation all around the world. Or if you prefer, I also recommend using Airbnb. If you haven’t signed up with Airbnb already, you can use this link to get £25 off your first visit!
Photography and Technology
Here is a list of the technology I always travel with:
- Canon G7X Mark II
- Canon EOS M50 and lens
- GoPro Hero Black 7
- DJI Mavic Pro
- RØDE VideoMic GO On Microphone
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