Cagliari is the Italian seaside destination you didn’t know you needed this summer!
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Sardinia (the anglicized name, Italians call it Sardegna) is one of Italy’s major islands. While everyone knows Sicily – and it 100% lives up to the hype! – Sardinia isn’t on travelers’ radars on the same level.
For you, that’s good news! You can pretty regularly find cheap flights there, and the cost of living is pretty affordable. In a summer of ridiculous prices to enjoy Italy, Sardinia has stayed relatively inexpensive.
What do You Need to Know About Cagliari?
Cagliari is the major southern Sardinian city with an airport. It’s a great small city to base your visit in, full of beautiful streets, great architecture, and public transport to beaches. It’s also small enough that renting a car is easy for day trips!
Cagliari is an excellent destination if you want a low-key weekend at the beach, or 3-4 days of exploring the southern end of the island. Give yourself one day to explore the city slowly, and then give the remainder of your time for days at the beach (accessible by bus, car, or organized day trip) or day trips further out!
Take the train into the city from the airport – so easy, 1.30€, runs every 20 minutes and takes about 8 minutes to get into the middle of the marina district. Taxis will cost around 25€.
Cagliari is made of four neighborhoods (quartiere), and each has a slightly different ambiance. You’ll want to check out all four, so here’s what to know about each.
The Castello district sits up the hill, above it all. Historically the ruling class lived here, and you’ll see the oldest buildings here. It feels like that quintessential ancient city I love to wander. There’s a lot to see up here, sightseeing-wise.
The Marina district is where I recommend staying. As the name implies, it’s right along the harbor and provides easy access to the buses and trains you’ll want to get around the island. It has a bunch of great restaurant options, and it still feels like Italy from ages past with quiet pedestrian streets and laundry hanging from balconies.
Villanova district is the most “recent” of the four and historically housed the arts district. It has a few great restaurants and feels more modern than the others.
The Stampace district is historically the oldest district, housing the middle class and merchants. Nowadays it has more of the bar scene and some of the bigger modern-ish buildings. Its most famous site is the Roman amphitheater ruins.
What to see in Cagliari
One of the great things about Cagliari is that it’s small, making it easy to wander! You can easily see all these spots in one day.
Bastion Saint Remy is a massive 19th monument and the gateway to the Castello district. While not so much a monument “to” anything, it’s Cagliari’s most recent showpiece architecturally. Head up here for a few hours of meandering the historic streets, and the next few spots are all clustered here.
The Cagliari Duomo is beautiful! It has a mix of architectural influences, mixing the ornate marbled style developed in Pisa with Baroque influences from later centuries. (Please know I googled all of that. I can tell you it’s beautiful and ornate, and there are tons of beautiful things to look at without knowing tons of art history.)
You can visit one of the cathedral’s crypts, called the Shrine of the Martyrs. Note that one of the chapels is dedicated to St. Lucifer, a noted bishop of Cagliari. (So. Many. Questions.)
If you like seeing churches, there are several clustered in the area worth checking out nearby. Try the Church of Saint Ephysius and Basilica of the Holy Cross.
Higher up the hill sits the Cagliari’s Roman Amphitheater. If you’re into Roman history or archaeology it’s a small but cool piece of history. The natural rocky hillside made carving out an amphitheater easy. Tickets are really cheap at 3€ each, so it’s an easy site to justify stopping by!
If you’re really into archaeology, the National Archeological Museum of Cagliari covers the history of humanity on Sardinia for the past 7,000 years! It’s a good way to learn about the unique cultural heritage of Sardinia. But if you’re not into museums, it’s skippable.
Shopping in Cagliari
While I’m not a big shopper as a way to spend my travel time, I do love a high-quality souvenir that represents that place! Ideally, I look for something like jewelry or something for my apartment: both add value without being another knickknack on my dresser.
I found the best little store full of handmade Sardinian souvenirs! Whether you want to take home a bottle of olive oil or mirto (the local liquor, we’ll talk about that in my restaurant guide!) or a coin purse made in the traditional woven style indigenous to the island, Sardinnya has a ton of options. Everything is priced reasonably and all the textiles are handmade.
Sardinnya is run by two sisters who were full of great insight into the various styles, as well as great suggestions for further exploration of the island. My main regret is that I found it on our last day and didn’t get to take better advantage of their advice! Next time, for sure.
Where’s the Beach?
Let’s be honest, this is one of the things you’re probably most thinking about for an island getaway! The closest beach is Poetto. It’s a sand beach (common in Sardinia, but not for the rest of Italy) and pretty great for a day in the sun. It runs almost 5 miles, so plenty of space with beach clubs everywhere to get a drink or lunch!
Poetto is also the best area for nightlife. So if you mostly want to party, consider staying out here. That being said, you’ll miss all the great food in the city!
Poetto is a few miles out of the main part of Cagliari, so not ideal for walking (says the girl who definitely did it…). But there’s an easy bus (the PQ or PF) directly from Piazza Matteoti in the Marina district. It’s pretty easy, although know that you need to buy tickets before you get on the bus.
Cagliari Hotel Ideas
Cagliari is a really walkable city, but it’s crucial to remember that it’s built into a hill (or small mountain, depending on your definition…) so choosing the right area to stay is pretty important for your knees!
I recommend staying in the Marina district because it gives you easy access to a lot. You can jump on a bus to Poetto, a train to another part of the island, or walk two blocks to great authentic restaurants. It’s an area full of both locals and travelers together – always a good sign in my book.
Archipelago 37 is my favorite hotel! It’s a great location, of course. But the real win is the way the property combines the beauty of a historic building – centuries-old walls, exposed beams, and more – with all the modern amenities you want on a vacation. Great beds, water pressure, the works. The breakfast is also fantastic, more like you’re eating an Italian family-style breakfast with local pastries and eggs cooked to order. Stay here, and tell Grazia I said hey!
If you can’t go there, here are a few other options in the Marina district:
- Hotel Aristeo for a no-frills but comfortable spot at a great price that overlooks the water
- Miramare Cagliari for old-world elegance right with a buffet breakfast
- Vento Suites for more apartment-style accommodation if you’re planning to cook some
If you’d rather stay in the Castello district, head to Birkin Castello. It’s tucked into the oldest part of the city, hitting a sweet spot of historic but somehow also cozy and inviting.
What Else Should You Do in Sardinia?
As I mentioned before, you only need a day to explore the city itself. From there, your best move is to get out there and see more of the island
Sardinia is so relatively uncrowded that it’s an easy place to rent a car and explore on your own! While Poetto Beach is beautiful, you can drive another 20 minutes and get into some of the most beautiful water I’ve ever seen. Completely worth it.
Using Cagliari as a hub for day trips offers the best of both worlds: plenty of great places to eat and centrally located amenities, but you get to see more of the rest of Sardinia without changing hotels every night.
I offer a day trip guide from Cagliari on Thatch that covers any interest: archaeology and history, wineries, beaches, hiking, and more! They’re easy to string together to pick and choose what appeals most but already grouped together for what makes sense in a day.
If you’d rather not drive, jump on an organized day trip! I always use Get Your Guide for organizing tours – they’re so reliably great! There’s something so nice about not having to organize it yourself (or not having to drive if you want to try the local wineries. It’s also a great way to organize a day on the water, whether you want a relaxing boat day or a sea kayaking excursion!
If you’re thinking about a trip to Cagliari, go check out my map-friendly version over on Thatch. It has all these tips as well as outdoor hiking and walking guides within easy reach of the city! The guide gives you everything you need for a car-free, flexible long weekend in Sardinia. I’ve also put together a master guide for southern Sardinia offering multiple day trip options out of the city, so you’ll be spoiled for choice!
Make sure to also check my restaurant guide to Cagliari! You know I can’t visit a place without trying as much local food as humanly possible, so it gets a whole guide dedicated to eating well.
2 thoughts on “Cagliari City Guide: Explore Southern Sardinia”
Emma- you wrote a terrific guide and my husband and I would like to visit Sardinia possibly next year. We will keep all your tips and recommendations in mind. Very well done and thank you!
Grazie mille Janice! I so appreciate that! Working on my Cagliari restaurant guide right now, so that’ll go live next week!