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Italy

Ultimate guide to things to do in Cagliari Sardinia

While it might not be as popular to the average tourist as the rest of Italy, Sardinia is a gem in plain sight, especially during the summer. Many have already discovered the beauty of this island with pristine beaches and paradise-like settings. While there are many things to do on the island, there are many delightful things to do in Cagliari, Sardinia’s capital city.

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Cagliari is the capital city of the island of Sardinia and it’s located in the south of the island. The name Cagliari comes from the word Casteddu in campidanese Sardinian. It translates to a castle, which is quite fitting, as once it was a giant citadel. The castle gates closed at night, allowing only the locals to remain inside until they opened again in the morning.

Much like Rome, the city was built on hills and is located on the beautify Bay of the Angels (Golfo degli Angeli). This strategic position has made Cagliari an important port city that has played a significant role in the Mediterranean Sea for centuries. Today, Cagliari’s port is Sardinia’s economic and industrial hub. While Cagliari might lack the glamour and polish of Milan, Florence or Rome, it has its own style and appeal. There are many things to do in Cagliari that will make you forget about those other places soon enough.

Brief history of Cagliari

Cagliari’s history goes back to Neolithic times. Many civilizations have made this place their home since then and added their imprint on the city. There are traces of the Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines and even the Pisans and the Piedmonts.  Here you’ll find a combination of the African feel of palm trees and yellow limestone, mixed with distinctly western architecture. For me, discovering all these cultures was one of the best things to do in Cagliari.

cagliari sardinia italy

The Phoenicians turned Cagliari into a thriving commercial port mainly due to its strategic location. The Romans used it as a military base and added their architecture and style. After a short period of decline in later years, it was during the Byzantine Empire that the island achieved political independence and autonomy. 

The Pisans fortified the town before it passes hands to the Catalans, Austrians and eventually the Piedmonts. It was during this time that the city underwent urban development and renewal. Sardinia became part of modern-day Italy after the unification in 1871. Today the island is one of five autonomous regions of Italy.

Love things to do in Cagliari? You might enjoy all the reasons to visit Italy and keep coming back!

Things to do in Cagliari

With this much history and unique geographical locations, there is no lack of things to do in Cagliari. It all depends on how much time you have to spend here. You might want to spend a few days here before exploring the rest of the island.

Bastione di Saint Remy

Located in the heart of the city, the Bastione di Saint Remy was a defence fortification build in the 19th century on ancient city walls that date back to the early 14th century. This impressive white limestone with an ornate façade has a wide-open terrace and an intricately covered walkway.

Today, this viewing platform provides magnificent views of the city, especially at sunset as you gaze across the Mediterranean. You can access the top by stairs on Piazza Costituzione or take the elevator from the Giardino Sotto Le Mure. The elevator is free and runs 24/7.

Cittadella dei Musei (Citadel of Museums)

Also in the Castello district, is the Citadel of Museums. This museum complex, once the site of the Regio Arsenale (Royal Arsenal) is a result of extensive restoration after WWII. This picturesque area offers treasures from different epochs as well as fantastic views of the city and the coast.

The numerous pink buildings above fortified wall in Cagliari are some of the great reason to explore Sardinia's capital
Pin it! Things to do in Cagliari Sardinia

Here you’ll find a number of museums, including the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, National Art Gallery, Clemente Susini Museum of Anatomical Waxes and the Siamese Civic Art Museum.

Il Castello neighbourhood

This is Cagliari’s oldest and most iconic neighbourhood. It’s also a great way to discover the past and marvel at the architecture from the past. As it’s located on top of a hill, it’s quite steep as you walk along the narrow streets.

During its time as a citadel, the Castello was a self-contained place with churches, residences and government buildings. Today you’ll find a number of restaurants and bars popular with tourists and the locals. It’s one of those things to do in Cagliari that you might stumble upon even if you’re not looking for it.

Parco di Monte Urpinu (Monte Urpinu Park)

One of the first municipal parks in Cagliari and a former military base, Monte Urpinu is a nice reprieve from the bustle and hustle of the city. These 284,000 square meters of land is a treasure trove of wildlife with a wide range of trees and shrubs. From pine trees, myrtle and juniper to oaks, olive and carob trees.

Open daily 7 a.m. to 6/7 p.m. in winter, 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. in summer. The main entrance is on Via Pietro Leo with additional gates at Viale Europa and Via Vidal.

Palazzo Regio (Royal Palace)

Located in the historical Castello district, the Palazzo is worth adding to your things to do in Cagliari list. Former residence and seat of the viceroy since 1337, it is now a government office. The viceroy represented the king of Sardinia during the Aragon, Spanish and Savoy domination. On the first floor, you can see the portraits of all the viceroys who had a seat there.

During that 18th century, it underwent a number of extensive renovations and additions. It was also the official residence of the royal family between 1799 and 1815. Today you can visit some of the spaces, as the rest is a private residence of the magistrate.

Open daily except for Monday, 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. The entrance fee is € 1.50.

Roman Amphitheater

A list of things to do in Cagliari can’t be complete without a visit to the Roman amphitheatre. Dating back to 2nd century AD, the amphitheatre is near the northern entrance to Il Castello.  Carved partially into the Buon Cammino hill, the arena could accommodate up to 10,000 spectators in its heyday.

As you look at what remains of the amphitheatre today, you can almost imagine the gladiators battling each other as well as wild animals in front of crowds. Much of the splendour is now gone, having been hacked apart for building material over the centuries

Open every day, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Entrance full/reduced € 3/€ 2.

Santa Maria Cathedral, Cagliari Cathedral

The cathedral of Santa Maria is quite the sight as you’re making your way up in the Il Castello district. The original church dates back to the 13th century during the Pisan dominance of the city. While the original was simple in design, further expansion and improvements in later decades by the Aragon and Spanish reigns elevated the church’s appearance.  This included the marble floor inside and the façade on the outside.

A stop by the church is definitely worth adding to the list of things to do in Cagliari. The marble façade shimmers almost pink at sunset. You can also enjoy the views of the city around you. It’s a popular spot, so expect a gathering of locals and visitors.

Open daily 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Entrance is free.

Santuario and Basilica di Nostra Signora di Bonaria

A complex of buildings that includes the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Bonaria and a monastery. The original cathedral, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, dates back to the 14th century.

Bombings during WWII destroyed the original frescos inside the basilica. Faithful restoration after the war has brought them back to their glory. If churches are your thing, these are worth adding to your list of things to do in Cagliari.

Open daily, 6.30 a.m. – 12 p.m. and 4.30 p.m. – 7.30 p.m. Entrance is free, donations are welcomed.

Torre dell’Elefante (Elephant Tower)

Built in 1307 by the Pisans as a defence against the invading Aragons, the Torre dell’Elefante (Elephant Tower) looms above all the other structures. Named after the elephant decorating it, it was a frequent display of severed heads. Cagliari’s Spanish rulers frequently adorned the tower with severed heads of prisoners, leaving them on display for years.

Enjoy reading about Cagliari? You might also like reading about Palermo, Genoa and my fave Italian coastal towns!

Not as ghoulish today, it’s a marvellous study of Cagliari’s medieval past. You can climb to the top for spectacular views of the city. This place should be on your list of things to do in Cagliari for that reason alone.

Open daily 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. during summer and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in winter. Admission adult/reduced €3/2.

The waterfront

As a port city, Cagliari has a well-developed waterfront. You can stroll along the tree-lined promenade, admire wonderful views of the harbour, boats, and even cruise ships. On the other side of Via Roma, you’ll find numerous shops, bars and restaurants where you can sit and people watch or enjoy the sunset.

cruise ship in cagliari
Add the waterfront to your list of things to do in Cagliari

The waterfront is a great place for people-watching and enjoying all the activities during the busy times of the day. It’s also a central spot for arriving and departing Cagliari. If you’re planning on taking the train, bus or boat from Cagliari, this is where you’ll also buy tickets.

Things to do in Cagliari – day trips

For a small island, Sardinia has a well-connected infrastructure network. You can do a number of day trips from Cagliari, or take the train to other parts of the island. You can do a number of day trips or a few longer ones, depending on how much time you have.

Poetto beach

Poetto beach, also known as the city beach, is about 15 min by bus from the centre. Despite the title of being a city beach, Poetto is a nice stretch of clean, sandy beach with unspoiled views of the sea. You can easily rent chairs and umbrellas for the day right on the beach.

Poetto beach Sardinia
Poetto Beach

There are a number of bars and restaurants to choose from along the beach. For an extended stay, rent a room at one of the numerous hotels and villas. Italians tend to spend most of August on the beach, so keep that in mind if you’re visiting during that time. Expect higher prices and less choice when it comes to accommodations.

Parco Molentargius – Le Saline

Molentargius Park lies near the Poetto beach.  Stretching over 1600 hectares with numerous species of wildlife, including the pink flamingos. Here you will find fresh and salt-water basins, a memory of Cagliari’s once-dominant salt industry.

Today you can enjoy bird watching, biking and numerous cultural events held throughout the year.

Open daily from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Sella del Diavolo (Saddle of the Devil)

Also near Poetto beach and overlooking the gulf of Cagliari, is a picturesque hilltop with an unusual name. The legends say that demons led by Lucifer were so taken by the beauty of the spot that they wanted to claim it. That didn’t sit well with the god who then sent his own army of angels to fight them. During the battle, either Lucifer or his saddle fell down and petrified, leaving the hilltop we see today. This probably explains where the name Gulf of Angels comes from.

Sella del Diavolo is accessible by bus from city centre or the nearby Poetto beach.

Things to do in Cagliari – enjoy Sardinian food

The food in Sardinia is influenced by the different cultures of the past. It is full of exquisite dishes based on land and the sea diet. From the many varieties of pasta, fish, meat, beans and grains, the culinary adventure awaits you.  

Cagliari has a great selection of restaurants, bars and cafés that offer fantastic flavours of the island. When it comes to things to do in Cagliari, a culinary exploration is definitely a great option.

Mercato di San Benedetto

Also on your things to do in Cagliari, should be a stop at the Mercato di San Benedetto. It offers two floors of Sardinia’s gastronomical treasures and foodie heaven.

Ultimate guide to things to do in Cagliari Sardinia | kasiawrites

With the ground floor dedicated to the treasures of the sea, it’s like a giant fish department. Fruits, vegetables, meat and everything else is on the second floor. It’s an experience for the senses and a great opportunity to sample some local cuisine. 

Open Monday to Saturday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Best time to visit Cagliari

Sardinia’s mild weather makes this an all-year destination, perfect for a weekend city break or a longer holiday. It all comes down to your preference for things to do in Cagliari and the island itself.

evening by the sea one of the best things to do in Cagliari

The summer months between July and August are perfect for a beach holiday. These are, however, the most expensive months to visit and the most crowded. Travelling off-season means lower prices, milder temperatures and fewer crowds.

Winter in Sardinia is not too extreme and is a perfect time to explore the local museums, churches and architecture as well as local towns and events.

Getting here

Cagliari has an international airport, Elmas Mario Mameli. It is located 7 kilometres from the city centre and is easily accessible from other Italian and European cities. There is both a bus and train connection between the airport and the city centre. You can also take the train to other major cities in Sardinia. With an extensive transportation network, finding out things to do in Cagliari is a breeze.

You can also access Cagliari by a ferry from major ferry ports in Italy, mainly Rome Civitavecchia, Naples and Palermo in Sicily.

It is also a popular spot for cruise ships, especially during the summer months.

Route

Frequency

Operator timetable/fees

Duration

 

Civitavecchia-Cagliari

Twice a week, on Monday and Friday

Tirrenia

13 hours

Naples-Cagliari

Twice a week, on Tuesday and Thursday

Tirrenia

13.5 hours

Palermo-Cagliari

Once a week on Saturdays

Tirrenia

12 hours


Things to do in Cagliari: getting around

Cagliari city centre is the heart of all travel activities. Here you can take the bus, train or ferry to other destinations. Buses depart or pass by Via Roma and the train station and are easily marked with where they are going.

You can get the timetable from the tourism office, train station or the bus stop. You can also download the official app CTM Bus Finder.

Want to discover other less known amazing places in Italy? Check out the beautiful city of Catania in Sicily!  

Final thoughts on things to do in Cagliari

Our trip to Sardinia turned out amazing. We discovered a new favourite city in Italy and found centuries-worth of history to explore. While there are many other things to do in Cagliari, I felt that this post would give you enough of a taste to go and check it our for yourself.

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    foodzesty
    17 Oct 2018
    2:37am

    Italy is definitely on my list…thank you for all your great tips and advice 🙂

      kasiawrites
      17 Oct 2018
      5:16am

      You are welcome! I definitely recommend Sardinia 😀

    a mindful traveler
    17 Oct 2018
    7:30am

    That’s one place I am still yet to visit in Italy. Sardinia is definitely on the list! Xx

      kasiawrites
      17 Oct 2018
      7:35am

      It’s like a totally new Italy! I think you’d like it. We would love to go back and explore more to be honest 😍

        a mindful traveler
        17 Oct 2018
        7:37am

        I’ve heard so many good things about it.
        Did you get there from Sicily or the mainland?

          kasiawrites
          17 Oct 2018
          7:40am

          We flew from Rome. It was a very short flight. I think under an hour.

            a mindful traveler
            17 Oct 2018
            7:40am

            👍🏼😊

    SeeItWithYourOwnEyes
    17 Oct 2018
    11:51am

    Sardinia looks lovely! Totally overlooked by me – I was shamefully surprised to see where it was on the map. I literally want to go for Mercato di San Benedetto alone! 🙂

      kasiawrites
      17 Oct 2018
      11:53am

      No need to feel bad! Most people didn’t know where Sardinia was when I was telling them we went there! It’s amazing!

    wigglebee1984
    17 Oct 2018
    4:05pm

    WOW! How informative?! I feel like I know everything about Cagliari now 😀 Thank you for writing this. I’m yet to go to Sardinia (or Corsica in fact) so I’ve saved this post for later and it will be incredibly useful.

      kasiawrites
      18 Oct 2018
      2:07pm

      I’m so happy to hear that! Sardinia was really surprising and I want to go back to see more. Corsica is also on the list but I have not made it there yet!

    shreyasaha1987
    17 Oct 2018
    8:28pm

    Thanks for providing such a detailed summary of what to do in Cagliari, what to eat, what to see, etc. I really like the Citadel of museums, Roman Amphitheatre, Royal Palace. Love you pictures and the way you have clearly put all the information about this place. Also the beaches look so pretty. I am sure I am going to add this place in my bucket list of Italy.

      kasiawrites
      18 Oct 2018
      5:41am

      Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Sardinia is a beautiful island and I def recommend visiting. 😀

    Alexander Popkov
    18 Oct 2018
    8:05am

    Looks like an interesting place for those, who like architecture and food. There is an endless stream of things to do in Italy. Now, when I thought I saw everything, I got to know about Sardinia.

      kasiawrites
      18 Oct 2018
      8:28am

      I totally agree about Italy. Yet it seems that not everyone is aware of Sardinia. Great choice for a nice vacation in my option 😄

    Medha Verma
    18 Oct 2018
    9:01am

    I have been to Italy but not Sardinia. The Sardinian food looks amazing! Also, the architecture seems pretty awesome and a day trip to the beach would be a fantastic idea as well. Loved reading about a place that I am not very aware of!

      kasiawrites
      18 Oct 2018
      9:05am

      I’m happy to bring you another part of Italy to consider 😀

    Lisa
    18 Oct 2018
    2:36pm

    I love Sardinia, and definitely want to spend longer the next time we’re there. Cagliari is so historic; I love that Bastione and the Castello too. The cathedrals and torres are big in Italy in general, so it’s great they’re following suit here! Sardo food is very delicious too, and my mouth’s watering just thinking about it!

      kasiawrites
      18 Oct 2018
      2:41pm

      Totally agree! I can’t wait to go back too! The food was amazing 😍

    emptynestbigworld
    18 Oct 2018
    8:20pm

    I had never heard of Cagliari. This is one reason I love blogs so much. You open our eyes to new places. It looks like there is plenty to do no matter when you visit. The historic architecture is so interesting.

      kasiawrites
      19 Oct 2018
      4:13am

      Totally agree! I have discovered so many new places through blogs!

    Epepa Travel Blog
    19 Oct 2018
    6:58am

    I would love to visit Sardinia one day. I saw in the photos that there are many beautiful beaches.

      kasiawrites
      19 Oct 2018
      7:05am

      Yes! Sardinia is known for beautiful beaches. I would love to go back and check them out!

    jusztravel
    26 Oct 2018
    3:13pm

    I love how there are so many transportation options available and it looks like there aren’t many tourists in that area! And OMG at the food! I feel like I’m going to be spoiled!

      kasiawrites
      27 Oct 2018
      5:46pm

      There are a lot of transportation options for such a small place! The food is amazing! You’ll love it 🙂