Sardinia is one of the hottest travel destinations in Italy for the summer thanks to its sun-soaked days and pristine beaches. However, not many know that the island makes it for a perfect trip any time of the year. Whether you are planning your trip to Sardinia in summer or winter, this post will tell you what are the best things to do in Cagliari.
Cagliari, located in the south, is the capital of Sardinia, and in the local Sardinian language, it reads as Casteddu, which translates into castle. Why? Because Cagliari’s oldest centre was actually a castle. A big one, with many buildings, much life inside, but still a castle with the gates that opened in the morning and shut in the evening allowing only the residents to stay in.
An ancient city with a long history, Cagliari has been under the rule of several civilizations, each of which left their own imprint in the architecture and the traditions. Just like other historical cities, beneath the modern surface layers of history vouch for thousands of years of human presence.
With beaches framed by green slopes, historical treasures around every corner, pink flamingos that in summer fly over the city travelling from pond to pond and a mouthwatering cuisine it comes as no surprise that the things to do in Cagliari are endless.
Among the reputable travellers who stopped by, Ibn Battuta, Islam’s first travel writer on his way to the Maghreb from Andalusia, reported on his Travels: “We reached the island of Sardaniyah, a Christian island in which there is a wonderful harbour with huge beams of wood around it and an entrance like a gate, which is opened only with their permission. On the island are fortresses, one of which we entered and in which there were many bazaars. I vowed God Most High that if He delivered us from this island I would fast for two months, because we had learnt that its people had resolved to follow us and take us prisoner when we left. But we departed from the island in safety, and after ten days reached the coast of the Maghrib.”
One of the biggest ports in the Mediterranean, a busy haven for cruise ships during the summer and an international airport that connects Cagliari with other Italian and European cities makes it an ideal destination any time of the year and absolutely a must during all Sardinia holidays.
⇒ Tip: Book a car rental from Cagliari airport to travel around Sardinia because public transport is seldom seen.
Top things to do in Cagliari in three to four days
1. “Castello” neighbourhood
The elevated heart of old and modern Cagliari, “Castello”, the Italian for castle, “Casteddu” in Sardinian language, the ancient “Castrum Kallaris”, is the city’s oldest and most iconic neighbourhood. A walk around Castello is one of the best things to do in Cagliari, essential to delve into the city’s medieval history and vestiges and to enjoy the architectural gems and forts raised during the Pisan rule.
Reaching Castello might not be the most relaxing walk as it’s continuously uphill, but it’s definitely not hard to spot. Wear comfortable shoes and keep going up, once you enter one of the medieval gates you will know you reached your destination. Just like in a proper fortified area, the medieval gates of the citadel were opened every day in the morning to allow workers and traders to get in and shut down in the evening for the night with only the residents inside. Castello comprised of different buildings, be it residences, churches or government buildings, and today some are open to the public to visit.
2. Bastione di Saint Remy
Located in Piazza Costituzione, Bastione Saint Remy is considered the symbol of Cagliari and one of its most emblematic landmarks. The stronghold, named after the first Piedmont viceroy, was built in white limestone on top of the medieval defensive barriers at the end of the 19th century when Cagliari ceased to be a military fortress and the defence walls could be pulled down.
The sight from Piazza Costituzione is a double staircase surmounted by a large, imposing arch. The Bastione has been closed now for years for renovation work. Now the works have been completed and everyone is expecting the Bastione to be reopened soon. Once it’s open, you can go up the stairs to reach the top and have a walk in the vast terrace to enjoy a beautiful view. If you feel tired, you can use the lift working 24/7 and free of charge that is about 100 meters further up along Viale Regina Elena.
If you are on a date, you really don’t want to miss the romantic sunset before getting to dinner either in the area or in the Marina neighbourhood where in summer restaurants place their table outside and the streets are a feast of colours, flavours, and intoxicating scents.
» Insider’s tip: If you are feeling like walking up to the Castle’s hill, check out the segway tour to the old town.
3. Santa Maria Cathedral, Cagliari Cathedral
The Cattedrale di Santa Maria or Cagliari Cathedral is definitely one of the most important places to see in Cagliari. The city’s main Catholic cathedral, this old church lies on top of Castello quarter and overlooks a stunning view. Named after Santa Maria (the Holy Mary), the saint patron of the cathedral is Santa Cecilia, Roman martyr.
The construction of the Cagliari Cathedral started in 1254 when Pisa occupied Cagliari in the fight against Genoa to win the control over Sardinia. The first church was of modest appearance and size as Pisans were busy fighting Genoa so didn’t have much time to think about their temples, they just needed one because they were living there. Further development in the construction of the cathedral and the addition of new elements were brought about by the following Aragon and Spanish reigns, especially the latter, when the archbishop Francisco Desquivel elevated the presbytery and hosted in the underground crypt the relics of no less than 159 local martyrs moving them from the necropolis of early-Christian San Saturnino basilica.
Imposing both outside and inside, during your visit do devote some time to the crypt of Cagliari Cathedral, finely decorated with a ceiling embellished by an alternation of diamond-shaped and flower-shaped stone roses, it also preserves the graves of two members of former Italian royal family the Savoia.
Entrance is free of charge for both the cathedral and the crypt. Open every day 8 am-1 pm and 4 pm-8 pm (4,30 pm-8,30 pm on Sundays and holidays).
⇒ Insider’s tip: Book a half-day tour to explore Cagliari’s old town, its Poetto beach and Molentargius wetlands.
4. Palazzo Viceregio
On the right-hand side going out of the cathedral lies Cagliari’s Palazzo Viceregio, viceregal palace, that now is the seat of Cagliari’s Prefecture and residence of the prefect.
The palace was the residence of the viceroy during the Aragon, Spanish and Savoia rules, and on the first floor are displayed the portraits of each of the viceroys that inhabited it. This is what to see in Cagliari to learn more about an important part of its modern history.
As part of the building is the private apartment of the prefect, it’s possible to visit only part of the first floor with the former dance hall, now Council Hall, dining and living rooms, but now the private rooms of the former residents.
The entrance fee is €1.50 and it’s open daily except for Monday 10 am-6,30 pm.
READ MORE: Check out our offbeat Sardinia guide for a cultural and unconventional holiday.
5. Nostra Signora di Bonaria Basilica
“Our Lady of Bonaria”, the basilica, the sanctuary and the convent are built on a hill south-east of the city centre about 10-15 minutes walk from Via Roma. One of the must-see attractions in Cagliari, the sanctuary was built in Gothic style in the 14th century when the Aragon rulers decided to besiege the city, while the basilica dates back to 1700 and is an example of neoclassical architecture.
The basilica suffered major damages in 1943 due to the Anglo-American bombings on Cagliari: the frescoes were completely destroyed, as were a large number of other treasures. After World War II the basilica was renovated and the work was completed in 1998. This is mainly why as soon as you enter you will notice it’s very new. To find out how it looked before and after renovation, close to the entrance door there are texts and photos that document the history of the church.
From the large staircase of the basilica, you have a beautiful view of the sea and the port.
There is no entrance fee to enter the church and take pictures. Open daily from 6.30 am-12 pm and 4.30 pm-7.30 pm
6. Monumental Cemetery of Bonaria
Heading towards Via Roma from the basilica, on your right-hand side you will find the entrance to the Monumental Cemetery of Bonaria and the adjoining Park of Bonaria. The cemetery, inaugurated in 1829, was designed by Damiani and Cima architects on the site of an ancient graveyard already in use during Carthaginian-Roman and early-Christian times. Before that, in Cagliari people used to bury their dead in the churches or their surroundings, resulting in several hygienic problems.
Already during the cholera epidemic of 1816, they were forced to look for some space out of the city to bury the casualties, so the need for a big cemetery started being imperative. Crammed with works of art and hosting the graves of local personalities, it’s an open-air museum totally worth including in your list when deciding what to do in Cagliari.
Right on the left side of the cemetery, there is the Bonaria Park where you can go relax and enjoy the beautiful view of Castello quarter.
There is no entrance fee to enter the cemetery. Open daily in the morning, on Thursday also in the afternoon until 6 pm in summer. Monday closed.
READ MORE: Have a better trip with these 20 things to know before travelling to Sardinia.
7. Palazzo Civico
The seat of the local municipality, Palazzo Civico is a majestic building located in the lower part of Stampace quarter in Via Roma on the corner with Largo Carlo Felice. The 1943 bombings caused so much damage that it took many years to bring it back to its original splendour. The palace combines a Gothic style in its arcade and Liberty in the facade, complete with two 38-meter-high towers, while in the corners are four obelisks adorned with a carving of the four moors symbol of the Sardinian flag.
As it’s now the seat of the Council, it’s possible to visit Palazzo Civico only on Saturday when a guide from the same Council will show you around. If you are not planning to be in Cagliari on a Saturday, you can go to the Tourism Office on the ground floor of the same Council palace and ask for an appointment to visit Palazzo Civico during the week.
8. Mercato di San Benedetto
Among the things to do in Cagliari don’t forget to include a quick jaunt to Mercato San Benedetto, large covered fish market in the basement of the building and on the ground floor there is the meat and veggies section. On the basement of San Benedetto market, you also find a fresh bakery that makes all types of bread.
Being Cagliari a sea town, its fish-based cuisine is delicious. As soon as you enter the place you will see everything, snails moving on the counter along the boxes, eels, squids, mussels. The sellers standing behind the counters shout all morning to call customers. While this was not the place where we do our daily shopping, we did manage to spoil ourselves with some fried fish and warm fresh bread.
If you happen to be at Mercato San Benedetto around lunch time, you may want to try the fish they fry on the far left corner of the San Benedetto market and get yourself a warm loaf of bread. To eat your lunch, take the M bus towards Via Roma and get off at the port so you can enjoy your treat on a bench while looking at the calm Mediterranean Sea.
Mercato San Benedetto is in Via Francesco Cocco Ortu, 10 minutes ride with the M bus from Via Roma that will drop you right in front of the entrance. Open Monday to Saturday 7 am-2 pm.
9. Poetto beach
Poetto beach, 8 km long, is on the doorstep of Cagliari city, around 10-15 minutes by bus from central Via Roma. Despite the huge number of tourists every year, this long golden sand beach is unspoiled and in a very good shape. Walking and running along this wide long beach is always relaxing while enjoying the view of Mediterranean Sea, Poetto beach is also suitable for families with children. Along the beach, you find many cafes, restaurants, bars that can entertain you for your day or night.
Poetto Beach is long so you will not find it too crowded except on summer weekends and in August. If you want to stay close to this beautiful beach, you will find several hotels and B&B. I suggest you rent a place along the beach if you are more into spending your time swimming and doing water sports such as windsurfing or kite surfing.
» Insider’s tip: Book a tour to discover Cagliari’s beaches, western coast and the wetlands of Santa Gilla.
10. Parco Molentargius – Le Saline
Parco di Molentargius – Le Saline, located right next to the beautiful Poetto beach, is one of those things to see in Cagliari that you can’t possibly skip if you like to enjoy wildlife. The park includes two fresh water basins and a salt water basin.
Molentargius Park covers an area of around 1600 hectares and is the place where many species of birds stop, especially the pink flamingos, the symbol of the park. The salt water basins, Le Saline, were originally used for salt extraction, formerly one of the richest industries in Cagliari.
The word molentargius, Sardinian for “donkey handlers”, was given because here they used donkeys to carry the salt from the basins. The amphibious animals inhabiting the pond are the tree frog and the green toad, while among the reptiles you will find the pond slider, the grass snake, the green whip snake and the Italian three-toed skink. You can admire some mammal wildlife too: hedgehogs, weasels and wild rabbits, all playing an important role to maintain the ecosystem balance.
Molentargius Natural Park offers several activities such as bike riding along the park, bird watching and attending cultural events performed in summer usually at or after sunset.
How to get there
From the city centre (Via Roma), it is only 15-20 minutes ride with the buses PQ and PF, stop “ex Ospedale Marino”, the entrance will be close in Via Palma.
To visit Molentargius Park it is very much recommended to wear comfortable shoes and clothes. You can also bring your dog with you in the park, on a leash. One of the best ways to discover Molentargius Natural Park is by bicycle, and if you don’t have one, you can rent it at the entrance. In the good season, you can visit the park by electric minibus or by boat. If you are interested, you can also rent a binocular for something around 1 Euro.
Opening hours: from April to October daily 7,30 am-8,30 pm; from November to March daily 8 am-5 pm. Free entrance.
» Insider’s tip: For a fascinating day trip from Cagliari, book a tour to Nora archaeological site.
11. Sella del Diavolo (Saddle of the Devil)
From Poetto beach, on your right, you will see a beautiful rocky mountain. It bears an unusual name, Sella del Diavolo, Saddle of the Devil, but the magnificent views over the sea to be enjoyed from its hilltop totally earned it the status of one of the best things to do in Cagliari.
If you are a brave mountain-bike rider or even if you are only looking for a quiet hike, head to Sella del Diavolo early morning (especially in summer as temperatures can become stifling hot) and enjoy the breathtaking views of the bay. If you are travelling with your family, do take your kids with you, the route uphill is not difficult and green signs mark it all along the way. I recommend you wear your comfortable shoes and clothes.
It is only 10-15 minutes ride from the city centre, Via Roma by bus. Get off at the last stop of bus number 5 which is 10 minutes away from the beginning of the hike. On weekends you can take the 5/11 which goes all the way to the parking area at the entrance of the route. Before you get to the mountain you will see signs of the local military base of Calamosca, make sure you don’t trespass. Not suitable for people with physical disabilities.
12. Monte Urpinu
A green and relaxing oasis in the heart of the city is Monte Urpinu urban park, one of the best places to visit in Cagliari. A thick pine grove, Monte Urpinu park is the best place to take a break from the hustle and bustle of city life, enjoy the nature and the many animals that live there, from colonies of cats, peacocks, gooses, chicken, ducks, rabbits, blackbirds, robin redbreast, goldfinch, kestrel and other species of birds.
From the park, you can enjoy a view of the pink flamingos of Parco Molentargius, Poetto beach, Sella del Diavolo and Golfo degli Angeli bay, while from nearby Viale Europa you have a view of San Michele castle and the old city.
With a bar and a kiosk, here you can even stop for a quick lunch. There is an area dedicated to children (paid entrance), one of 15,000 square meters for dogs and a lake.
Entrance gates are in Via Pietro Leo, Viale Europa and Via Vidal. Open daily 7 am-6 or 7 pm in winter, 5 am-11 pm in summer.
Best time to plan your holidays in Cagliari
The best time to plan your holidays in Sardinia, so Cagliari too, is every season of the year. Sardinia weather is mild all year long, so it really depends on what type of holiday you are planning. Are you longing for a week on the beach? Weather-wise, any time from June and September is perfect, with July and August being the most crowded months. However, these are also the most expensive months both for hotels and flights. As usual, booking in advance might save you some money.
If you are interested in visiting Sardinia inland areas, villages, delving into tradition and taking part in festivals, prefer seasons such as spring or autumn, mild temperatures and pleasant to wander around, unlike summer when inland you can barely breathe due to the oppressive heat. Winter, too, is a good season. Cold but not too extreme, Sardinia winter has also sunny days. Plus, February is usually Carnival time, celebrated all over Sardinia, each town a different way.
How to get to Cagliari
Cagliari has an international airport in Elmas “Mario Mameli” located 7 kilometres from the city centre, Via Roma, that connects Sardinia’s capital with many other Italian and European cities through different airlines, from Alitalia to Ryanair to Easyjet. There is a regular bus connecting the Cagliari Airport to the city and trains connecting Elmas airport to Cagliari’s main train station and other cities in Sardinia.
You can also reach Cagliari by ferry that will stop at the port on the side of central Via Roma. Cruises are operated by Tirrenia and depart from Rome Civitavecchia, Napoli in the Campania region, and Palermo in Sicily.
The route Civitavecchia-Cagliari runs twice a week, on Monday and Friday, and it takes around 13 hours. Click here for more information on timetables and prices on the Tirrenia route Civitavecchia-Cagliari.
The route Napoli-Cagliari runs also twice a week, Tuesday and Thursday, and it takes 13 hours and a half. Click here for more information on timetables and latest prices of the Tirrenia route Naples-Cagliari.
The route Palermo-Cagliari runs once a week, on Saturdays, and it takes 12 hours. Click here for more information on timetables and current prices for the route from Palermo to Cagliari.
How to get around Cagliari
Cagliari city centre is pretty easy to walk, but if you want to go to places such as Parco Molentargius, Devil’s Saddle or Monte Urpinu, you might want to take a bus. Many are the buses that depart from or go past Via Roma and the train station, and to get around you can either go to the Tourism Office located in Via Roma at the Palazzo Civico and ask for a paper map with the bus lines or download the official app CTM Bus Finder.
Check out these tips on how to get wifi in Italy to know how to stay connected while travelling.
Where to stay in Cagliari
**Our pick** Cagliari has a huge variety of accommodations able to meet all needs and budgets. We stayed at FortyFour B&B in Via Ravenna 21 and we loved it. Room and bathroom were very modern and well equipped, the breakfast was perfect and plentiful, and the location ideal as it was in a quiet residential area, well connected with the public transport, close to Monte Urpinu, Bonaria basilica and cemetery, close to bus 5 stop for Parco Molentargius and Poetto beach, and around 15 minutes walk to central Via Roma. The owner has lived in the UK for twenty years so she speaks perfect English. We highly recommend it.
For a more central option, a great place is stylish Chambres Du Monde in Via Francesco Crispi 19, 50 meters from Via Roma and 5 minutes walk from Piazza Yenne, shopping hub, and favourite evening hang-out spot. Rooms are large and equipped with all modern comforts such as a minibar, satellite TV, free WIFI, room service. They offer a delicious breakfast.
If you would rather stay right on the beachside, a good option with moderate prices is B&Beach, with a choice of two rooms, one double/twin and one double. Located 5 km away from the city centre, albeit well connected via public transport, this lovely B&B is only 1 minute from the beach, so for a relaxing summer holiday, it’s ideal. Among the facilities, a good breakfast, free parking, free WIFI, and garden.
Another great option overlooking Poetto beach is Hotel Nautilus. Free WIFI, parking, garden and bar, every room has air conditioning, minibar, flat-screen TV and a private bathroom equipped with hairdryer, towels and free toiletries. This one, too, lies literally 1 minute from the beach.
Summer is a very busy and packed season, if you are going, book in advance!
READ MORE: Check out our guide to the best hotels in Cagliari.
Where to eat in Cagliari
It might not be an attraction, but one of the best things to do in Cagliari is to enjoy its culinary tradition. Cagliari is a Mediterranean town with delicious seafood cuisine, even though you can find any type of cuisine, vegan and vegetarian included.
A restaurant that we tried and liked is Mi Asian Restaurant in Viale Bonaria 22 (on weekdays they offer an all-you-can-eat formula for €13,90). To eat vegan, we went to the “fast-food” Italian style Universo Vegano in Corso Vittorio Emanuele 14. Their selection is pretty wide and you can order sandwiches, zucchini noodles, falafel, spicy soy burger, pizza, kebab and much more cruelty-free and local products.
We enjoyed also the vegan restaurants Terra di Mezzo (via Porto Scalas 1) and Gintilla (Corso Vittorio Emanuele 210). While for Sardinia traditional cuisine with both fish and meat-based dishes, go to Antica Cagliari in Marina quarter (via Sardegna 49).
Shopping in Cagliari
If you are looking to do some gift shopping in Cagliari, I suggest you walk along Via Garibaldi and Via Manno. They both are located in the very city centre and easy to reach from the main train station in Piazza Matteotti going uphill on Largo Carlo Felice.
From the station, you can walk along Via Roma, a scenic road with the sea on the right and a series of arches, palaces, and shops on the left. Here is also the historical building of La Rinascente shopping mall.
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