Cagliari is a vibrant and exciting destination that offers visitors plenty to do, from its picturesque beaches and historical sites to its bustling nightlife. From ancient monuments to modern shopping malls, you will find something to enjoy while exploring this stunning Italian island.
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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Why you should visit Cagliari
When visiting Cagliari, taking in the city’s old-world charm and unique culture is part of the experience. The historic center of Cagliari offers plenty of sights to admire, such as the 16th-century towers, churches and chapels that make up the Piazza del Carmine. You can also visit the impressive Basilica di San Saturnino or stroll along the cobblestone streets of Castello.
Cagliari also offers plenty of outdoor activities, including stunning beaches. From Poetto Beach to Chia Beach, there’s something for everyone when it comes to lounging in the sun or participating in water sports. You can explore the beautiful coastline by boat or stroll along the beach.
If you’re looking for exciting nightlife, Cagliari is home to some of Italy’s best bars and clubs. From lively pubs and cocktail bars to underground discos and dance clubs, there’s something for everyone when it comes to experiencing the nightlife of Cagliari.
Food lovers won’t be disappointed either — Cagliari has delicious restaurants serving delectable Sardinian cuisine. From traditional dishes such as bottarga and fregola to freshly caught seafood, you’ll find something to satisfy your taste buds. Plus, try some of the city’s renowned local wines.
Where is Cagliari, Sardinia?
Cagliari is the capital city of Sardinia and it’s located in the south of the island. Home to stunning white sand beaches and crystal clear waters, it’s the perfect destination for those looking to explore the Mediterranean Sea. The city itself is surrounded by two mountain ranges, making it an ideal location for outdoor activities such as hiking and biking.
A brief history of Cagliari
Cagliari has a long and fascinating history dating back to the ancient Phoenicians. Much like Rome, the city was built on hills and is located on the beautiful Bay of the Angels (Golfo degli Angeli). This strategic position has made Cagliari a vital port city that has played a significant role in the Mediterranean Sea for centuries.
While the Phoenicians turned Cagliari into a thriving Punic city commercial port, the Romans used it as a military base and added their architecture and style. In the Middle Ages, various dynasties ruled it, including the Pisans, Genoese and Aragonese.
The Pisans fortified the town before it passed 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, Sardinia is one of five autonomous regions of Italy and Cagliari’s port is Sardinia’s economic and industrial hub. 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.
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 passed 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.
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 San Remy/Bastione Saint Remy
Located in the heart of the city, the Bastione di San Remy was a defence fortification built 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. You can access the top by the stairs on Piazza Costituzione or take the elevator from the Giardino Sotto Le Mure. The elevator is free and runs 24/7.
The Bastione di Saint Remy is another must-see sight in Cagliari. This 17th-century fortification offers excellent views of the city and is a great place to get a panoramic view of the bay. The bastion also has an interesting museum, which provides an insight into the region’s military history. On certain days, there are also guided tours where you can explore some of the underground chambers that housed troops during battle.
Castle District/Il Castello
The Castle district is Cagliari’s oldest and most iconic neighbourhood. Once a walled Medieval city, this part of the city dates back to pre-Roman times and contains some of the Cagliari’s oldest buildings. The iconic Pisan towers in the district are a reminder of the people who once lived here, as well as their fortifications against enemy attacks. Be sure to explore the many narrow streets in the area for some beautiful views.
It’s also a great way to discover the past and marvel at the architecture from the past. When Cagliari was a Roma city, the Castello was self-contained with churches, residences and government buildings. Today, you’ll find many restaurants and bars popular with tourists and locals. It’s one of those things to do in Cagliari that you might stumble upon even if you’re not looking for it.
The Royal Palace/Palazzo Regio
Located in the historical city centre and overlooking the Piazza Palazzo, the Palazzo is worth adding to your things to do in Cagliari list. During the 18th century, the palace underwent several extensive renovations and additions. It was also the seat of the royal family of Savoy between 1799 and 1815.
It served as the official residence of the Savoy royal family and the viceroy’s seat since 1337. The viceroy represented the king of Sardinia during the Aragon, Spanish and Savoy domination. This beautiful building is now a government office and a city hall, and you can visit some of the spaces, as the rest is a private residence of the magistrate. On the first floor, you can see the portraits of all the viceroys who had a seat there and the frescoes by Domenico Bruschi.
Santa Maria Cathedral/Cagliari Cathedral
The beautiful cathedral of Santa Maria is quite the sight as you’re making your way up in the Il Castello district. A stop by the church is definitely worth adding to the list of things to do in Cagliari. The original church dates back to the 13th century. Today, it’s a fusion of architectural styles, including Pisan Romanesque, Catalan Gothic and Baroque styles.
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. These improvements included an intricate facade, soaring bell tower and intricate chapels with stunning frescoes. 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.
Church of San Michele/Chiesa di San Michele
The Church of San Michele is a beautiful church located in the Il Castello district of Cagliari. The Jesuit church’s striking blend of Catalan Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance styles is a testament to the island’s historical connections with various cultures.
Inside, you’ll find opulent frescos and ornate carvings that reflect the dedication and craftsmanship of Catalan and Genoese artists that went into its creation.
Santa Maria del Monte
The oldest church in Cagliari, Santa Maria del Monte (or San Saturnino), is believed to have been established by the Romans in the 3rd century. Perched atop the city’s highest hill, Santa Maria del Monte offers not only a spiritual haven but also panoramic views that will take your breath away.
The first records of this church go back to 1264. It has undergone various renovations and expansion works throughout its history and today stands as one of the city’s most beloved churches. It’s decorated with over 200 ancient fragments, including a magnificent 12th-century mosaic floor and a unique fresco of 15th-century Italian painter Pietro Cavalli in the apse.
Santuario and Basilica Di Nostra Signora Di Bonaria/Bonaria Basilica
A complex of buildings 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 World War II 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.
Cittadella dei Musei (Citadel of Museums)
Also in the historic city center, 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.
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 are 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.
Piazza Monumenti is an interesting place to explore when you visit Cagliari with many monuments and statues from the city’s history. From the obelisk of King Vittorio Emmanuel to the statue of Eleonora d’Arborea, it is a great reminder of the city’s rich past.
Marina Piccola is a great spot for visitors to enjoy some outdoor activities and take in the spectacular views of the waterfront. With plenty of restaurants, bars, cafes and shops nearby, this bustling area has something for everyone. There are also plenty of boats offering sailing trips around the bay if you’re looking for a bit of adventure.
Gnomo Park is a unique little park located in Cagliari’s city center. It’s filled with fantastical sculptures and brightly coloured buildings, making it a great spot for some fun photo ops. The park also has an array of different activities such as paddle boats, mini-golf and a small zoo to keep the little ones entertained. It’s definitely worth a visit to see this quirky part of Cagliari.
A list of things to do in Cagliari can’t be complete without a visit to the Roman amphitheatre. Dating back to the 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 Roman 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.
Delving into Cagliari’s ancient past, the Roman necropolis (Tuvixeddu Necropolis) offers a glimpse into the island’s pre Christian times and the pre-Roman era. Carved into the rugged landscape, these ancient tombs hold stories of a bygone era. Walking through this archaeological site, you’ll feel a connection to the island’s ancestors and the passage of time.
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.
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.
Museo Archeologico Nazionale
The National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari is located in the old San Remy fortress and houses a large collection of artifacts from Sardinia’s past, including Greek-Roman ceramics, coins, sculptures and jewelry. The museum also features an auditorium with regular screenings and lectures on various topics related to archaeology.
The Archaeological Museum offers visitors an informative look at Cagliari’s past, as well as providing a glimpse into the cultures that inhabited Sardinia over the centuries. The museum is divided into two sections – one dedicated to ancient and classical archaeology and the other focusing on prehistory and protohistory.
Explore the waterfront
As a port city, Cagliari has a well-developed waterfront. You can stroll along the tree-lined promenade and 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. If you’re planning on taking the train, bus or boat from Cagliari, this is where you’ll also buy tickets.
Day trips from Cagliari Sardinia
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 is located just south of Cagliari and stretches 7 km along the coast. Poetto is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike, offering a wide range of activities from swimming and sunbathing to kite surfing and volleyball tournaments.
If you crave some beach time, head to Poetto Beach about 15 min by bus from the centre. Despite the title 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.
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 Natural Park is located just outside the city center and covers over 1,600 hectares of marshland. Here you will find fresh and salt-water basins, a memory of Cagliari’s once-dominant salt industry. The park is also home to a visitor center, where you can learn about the park’s history and the unique bird species that live there.
The park is a haven for wildlife, with more than 250 species of birds inhabiting its grounds. Here you can take guided tours through the park or explore it independently on foot or by bike. The center has interactive exhibits, audiovisual presentations and educational activities for kids. You can bring your own binoculars so you can admire pink flamingoes that live here.
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 its beauty 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 the city centre or the nearby Poetto beach.
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 robust food culture and a great selection of restaurants, bars and cafés that offer fantastic flavours of the island. When it comes to things to do in Cagliari, culinary exploration is definitely a great option.
San Benedetto Market
Also on your things to do in Cagliari, there should be a stop at the Mercato di San Benedetto. It offers two floors of Sardinia’s gastronomical treasures and foodie heaven. The ground floor is dedicated to the treasures of the sea. You’ll find fruits, vegetables, meat and everything else on the second floor. It’s an experience for the senses and a great opportunity to sample some local cuisine.
Traditional Sardinian Cuisine
For a truly unique experience, why not sample local delicacies such as culurgiones, fregola sarda and porceddu. Culurgiones are handmade ravioli stuffed with potatoes and cheese. Fregola sarda is a type of pasta made from semolina flour which resembles couscous. Porceddu is the traditional spit-roasted suckling pig. All of these are typical Sardinian specialties and very popular in the region.
For a taste of local sweets, don’t forget to try seadas, a round pastry filled with sheep milk cheese and drizzled with honey. Another must-try is gattò di patate, a potato-based tart filled with jam, candied fruit and pine nuts.
Cagliari is full of surprises when it comes to food – there’s something for everyone! Whether you want to sample traditional Italian dishes or explore local specialties, you’ll surely find plenty of exciting culinary options in this city.
Restaurants and Cafes
If you’re looking for a cozy cafe or restaurant, Cagliari has plenty to offer. From Italian-style trattorias to gourmet restaurants and traditional Sardinian eateries, there’s something for every taste.
Whether you’re looking for a good coffee shop or a restaurant serving local food made using only local ingredients, there are many culinary options that will make your mouth water.
Take a local food tour
For a unique experience, join one of the many food tours available in Cagliari. The locals will guide you to their favourite restaurants and cafes where you can sample delicious local dishes. You’ll also learn about traditional Sardinian cuisine and get an insider’s view of life in this beautiful city. Recommended tours:
- Pasta cooking class in Burcei – book now!
- Don’t miss it! San Benedetto Market Tour, Pasta Workshop & Lunch
- Winery Tour and Wine Tasting Experience – Experience local flavours!
Vibrant Events and Festivals
Cagliari is a vibrant city with plenty of cultural events and festivals to explore. The annual La Festa della Sardegna is an event you don’t want to miss. Celebrate the region’s heritage with music, dancing, and traditional dishes prepared by local chefs.
Check out the lively street markets which take place every summer in Cagliari. Here you can buy traditional crafts, sample local produce and get a glimpse into the daily life of this vibrant city.
Cagliari is also home to some of Italy’s best music festivals, showcasing international talents as well as local bands. Whatever your taste in music, you’re sure to find something that will suit your interests.
Cagliari is a city that offers something for everyone. With its stunning beaches, vibrant culture and delicious food, it’s the perfect place to explore and soak up the atmosphere of this beautiful Italian destination. So what are you waiting for? Come discover all that Cagliari has to offer.
Climate and Best Time To Visit Cagliari Sardinia
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.
Summers usually last from June to August, with July/August being the hottest months. The summer is 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, architecture, towns, and events. Between December and February, temperatures average around 10°C (50°F).
Spring and fall are the best times to visit, as temperatures can reach 20-25°C (68-77°F). The sea is almost always warm enough for swimming during these months.
How to get to Cagliari Sardinia
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 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.
Twice a week, on Monday and Friday
Twice a week, on Tuesday and Thursday
Once a week on Saturdays
Visiting Cagliari – where to stay
Choosing the right accommodation is key to making your Cagliari stay enjoyable. If you’re looking for a luxury hotel, there are plenty of options in the Marina neighbourhood and around the city. For a more affordable solution, look into bed & breakfasts and Airbnb apartments located closer to the center. No matter your preference, make sure to book in advance to ensure the best options are still available.
Getting around Cagliari Sardinia
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!
Is Cagliari worth visiting?
Yes, Cagliari is a fantastic place to explore and definitely worth adding to your list. Sardinia is a beautiful island with a lot of history, charm and stunning views. While most people tend to travel to the major Italian cities, not many make the trip to Sardinia. There are many free things to do in Cagliari to keep everyone happy. It’s also a great place to start a road trip around the rest of the island.
Our trip to Sardinia turned out amazing. We discovered a new favourite Italian city 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 out for yourself.
Planning your next trip? Check out the resources I use and start planning your perfect getaway today!
- Flights: Find the best flight deals on Kiwi.com (my new go-to for flights)
- Book your accommodations: Find the best prices on hotels with Booking.com
- What to do: Find the perfect tour with Viator
- Need a car? Book your ride with Rentalcars.com
Check out my travel resource guide for more resources to help you plan your trip.