Looking for the best places in Sardinia to learn more about its millenary traditions, its history and culture? You’ve come to the right place.
Whenever people ask me what the best time to visit Sardinia is, I tell them any time is good to visit, but suggest that they avoid the summer months, when the island is crowded with people that are only here to hang out at the beach.
Indeed, provided that people outside of Italy even know where Sardinia is (yes, many have no idea!), most only know it as the ultimate summer holiday destination in the Mediterranean. They visit in the peak months and hardly look for where to go in Sardinia other than the beaches.
I don’t blame them, really: beaches in Sardinia are gorgeous.
Yet, there is so much more to this island than just beaches; there’s a whole world of history, culture and traditions that want to be discovered and preserved, and many fantastic Sardinian places where it’s possible to do so. It was with the idea of allowing people, even those that arrive on the island on a cruise-ship to discover a different side of Sardinia that the project ItinERA Sardinia, part of a much larger European project, was implemented.
In this post, I highlight some of the best places in Sardinia to learn more about its history, culture and traditions. You can visit these places in the summer, for sure. But I think you should visit Sardinia in the fall or winter, when you will have the beautiful places all to yourself.
The 9 Best Places In Sardinia To Appreciate Its Millenary Culture
The capital of the island, Cagliari is one of the best places in Sardinia to discover its history and culture. The city is packed with archeological sites, beautiful churches and good museums, and since it is not crowded with tourists yet, it’s a fantastic place to mingle with the locals and observe how they live.
Cagliari deserves at least 3 days to be fully appreciated, but if you are tight on time and can only visit on museum, head to the Archeological Museum in the Castello quarter. The exhibit is very well organized and takes you through the various civilizations that have lived and thrived on the island.
TIP: The Archeological Museum is located in one of the nicest parts of town, so make sure to go for a walk after your visit! And if you want to linger a little longer, head to the terrace of Via Santa Croce for one of the most beautiful sunsets you’ll ever experiences.
Located in Capo San Marco, at the southern tip of the Sinis Peninsula in the province of Oristano, on the western coast of Sardinia, and overlooking the Gulf of Oristano, Tharros is one of the best places to visit in Sardinia if you are into history and archeology.
Founded by the Phoenicians between the end of the 8th and the beginning of the 7th century BC, though there is proof that people lived in the area even in the Nuragic period, Tharros was subsequently conquered by the Punic in the second half of the 6th century, and then by the Romans when they arrived in Sardinia. The Punic enlarged the site, whereas the Romans significantly changed it once they took over in the control of Sardinia.
Throughout the early Christian period and the High Middle Ages Tharros suffered persistent degradation. Although it remained the seat of the bishop until 1071, the city started being slowly but steadily abandoned by the inhabitants, who were sick to have to deal with the Saracen invasions and violence.
A visit to the well kept and beautifully located archeological site of Tharros is bound to give you insights into the history of Sardinia, showing the many cultures and civilizations that at some point dominated the island.
If anything, you’ll leave knowing that the history of Sardinia is significantly more complicated than it seems!
TIP: If you visit Sardinia in the summer, you will be glad to know that right next to Tharros there is the gorgeous beach of San Giovanni di Sinis waiting for you as soon as you are done exploring!
One of the best places in Sardinia to learn about its traditions and history is Cabras. This small fishing town is Sardinia’s main center for mullet fishing and for the production of mullet roe (the famous bottarga di muggine), a local delicacy.
While Cabras itself is rather non-descript, you’re bound to have some of the best seafood in Sardinia. Another reason to stop by is the small archeology museum.
Museo Civico Marongiu is at the southern end of Cabras, and the main attraction there is the Giants of Mont’e Prama. These large statues, discovered by chance in 1974 in one of the most sensational archeological discoveries in the Mediterranean, were found in what resulted to be a burial site. They date back to nuragic times and depict archers, wrestlers and boxers. It took years to piece together the over 5000 fragments of the statues. They are unique in their genre – so you can see why Cabras is one of the best places to visit in Sardinia!
You may not know it yet, but Sardinia produces high quality wines, and the cultivation of grapes and the production of wine is part of the traditional economic activities – and as such, part of the traditional culture – of Sardinia. Tramatza is one of the best places in Sardinia to discover one of its most famous and unique wines.
The vineyards around this village near Oristano offer the perfect environment to grow vernaccia, an endemic grape that is used to produce the homonymous wine – perhaps, with vermentino, the most famous Sardinian wine.
Vernaccia grapes and vernaccia wine have been produced in Sardinia for more than 3000 years. However, the change in trends and taste in recent years has caused a loss of interest for the production. Thanks to the efforts of small wine producers such as the Orro family, of Cantina Orro (a small local vineyard), the tradition has now been revived.
If you love the idea to learn more about one of the historical Sardinian wines, this is one of the best places to visit in Sardinia. A visit to the vineyard usually include sampling of various vernaccia wines, and a number of appetizers that are all home made and delicious.
The lovely Santu Lussurgiu is set on the eastern slopes of Monti Ferru, a volcanic massif with beautiful, pristine forests, natural springs and lots of hiking trails. It’s the kind of place where you’ll feel time has stopped, especially if you happen to visit on a cold, rainy winter day – like I did. It’s one of the few Sardinian places where traditions such as knife making are still a vital part of the local economy. Make sure to pay a visit to Vittorio Mura, a knife lab and shop in Viale Azuni where you get a chance to see how the knives are made and you can even buy one.
Not far from Santu Lussurgiu, San Leonardo de Siete Fuentes is a tiny village with a nearby woodland and some natural springs. The name actually refers to the seven fountains where the water is channeled. There even is a beautiful 12th century Romanesque church. It’s one of the best places in Sardinia for a family picnic or a lazy Sunday out.
The small yet beautiful Oristano is one of the best places in Sardinia to appreciate its traditions. The city has some pretty churches, a good archeology museum, and a lively center with popular cafés and busy shopping streets. Yet, here in Sardinia it is mainly famous for Sartiglia, the local carnival which is by far the most beautiful on the island and that likely dates back to the 13th or 14th century.
Sartiglia takes place each year on the last Sunday and Tuesday of carnival. Participants wear traditional costumes, and the festival includes medieval jousts, acrobatic riding and an exciting horse race during which a masque knight has to spear a hanging star. It’s a fantastic, thrilling show and I wholeheartedly recommend attending as one of the most unique things to do in Sardinia to learn about its culture.
TIP: Oristano gets crowded during Sartiglia, so make sure to check the calendar of the events and to reserve your hotel well in advance. The show is free to attend, but if you are hoping to take good photos you may want to reserve seats in the places that have the best views. You can get tickets on the official website of Sartiglia.
For more things to do in Sardinia, check my post “A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia.”
At 550 meters above sea level, and surrounded by the mountains of Gennargentu, Nuoro is the kind of place that people wouldn’t imagine to find in Sardinia. One of the cultural epicenters of the island for the last two centuries, despite small Nuoro is thriving and culturally alive, making it one of the best places in Sardinia to learn about the history and traditions of the island.
To give you an idea of how intellectual Nuoro is, suffice it for you to know that it’s home to Nobel Prize Winner for literature Grazia Deledda. She, and many other local writers who became just as famous, are celebrated daily at Caffè Tettamanzi, a literary café in the center of the city. A great place for a coffee, this is actually an institution in town: it was established in the late 19th century; with gorgeous interiors that include stuccoed ceilings and vintage furnishings. It’s the kind of place where locals hang around to discuss politics and the latest news.
Nuoro has some of the best museums in Sardinia. If you only visit one during your stay, pick the Ethnographic Museum. It’s incredibly well curated, with an exhibit that will take you across the history and culture of Sardinia, with a room entirely dedicated to traditional Sardinian breads and another one to the beautiful, intricate costumes from various Sardinian villages. This definitely is one of the best places in Sardinia to learn about its culture.
Right on Piazza Satta, dedicated to famous Sardinian poet Salvatore Satta and one of the most beautiful in town, there’s a concept store called Monti Blu. I’d hardly mentioned a store as one of the best places to visit in Sardinia, but this deserves a mention. It’s a place where you can eat, drink and shop but, more importantly, where you can also learn about Sardinian culture and traditions. Here, you can join a workshop to learn how to make sebadas, a famous Sardinian dessert where a light pastry is filled with cheese, then fried and doused with abundant honey for a very yummy result.
If you are lucky, you may even get to meet Paola Abraini, one of a very select group of Sardinian women that still hold the secret to su filindeu – the rarest pasta in the world. It’s made with just water, flour and salt and the dough is stretched and pulled seven times to create 256 incredibly thin strands that are then laid to dry out.
Mamoiada is the most famous village of Barbagia, thanks to its compelling carnival, a sacred ritual that has been preserved for centuries, and for its masks – the best known ones are the mamuthones, who wear sheepskin and beastly black wooden masks, and the issohadores. The show is so unique that Mamoiada easily qualifies and one of the best places in Sardinia for carnival celebrations.
If you can’t visit during the Carnival, in February, make sure to go to the Mediterranean Masks Museum, whose exhibit includes several mannequins wearing the sheepskin and the mask.
Another place to visit in Mamoiada is the Sedilesu winery. This is specialized in Cannonau, the most cultivated grape in the area of Nuoro and its surroundings, which is used to produce another fantastic Sardinian wine. The most popular wine produced by Sedilesu is called Mamuthone. From the winery, there are beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and of the village.
There are many reasons to love Baunei. This is one of the best places in Sardinia to access the incredible, secluded beaches of the Gulf of Orosei; many hikes depart from the beautiful Golgo plateau right above the village.
Check out my post “Hiking In Sardinia – 14 Incredible Trails.”
What many people don’t know is that Baunei and the Ogliastra region of Sardinia are blue zones, one of only six in the world where people tend to live longer than those in the rest of the world. Research – which is ongoing – has proven that a combination of factors helps in ensuring a healthy and long life. Close family bonds, where the elderly is always taken care of by family members; an active lifestyle, where people walk everywhere and breathe fresh air every day; and obviously healthy food (this is where the famous Sardinian culurgiones are from) and small amounts of wine.
Baunei is also one of the best places to visit in Sardinia to appreciate its traditional crafts. Sa Naccara is specialized in filigree, a traditional way of threading metals (mostly gold and silver). At Sa Brocca, the young owners have worked hard to revive the ceramics making tradition. Tessere is a textile lab that at the same time focuses on the production of traditional items – carpets, blankets and the like – and at the creation of items with recycled fabrics.
TIP: Make sure to spend a couple of days in Baunei to appreciate the village and the surroundings. The Golgo Plateau is a fantastic place for walks and hikes and it’s best enjoyed in the full sunlight!
Practical Tips To Enjoy Sardinia
Where to stay and eat in Sardinia
Sardinia has a fabulous selection of places to stay and of restaurants. These are only some of them, needless to say all tried and approved by me.
- In Cagliari, Villa Fanny is a fantastic boutique hotel in a lovely area, walking distance from the center of town. Rooms are cozy and spacious and the in-house restaurant serves delicious gourmet food. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- In Santu Lussurgiu, Antica Dimora del Gruccione is a fantastic boutique hotel with rooms scattered in various beautiful, historical buildings across the village. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- In Oristano, Hotel Il Duomo is nicely located in the city center and has plain but very clean and comfortable rooms. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- In Nuoro, Domo Mea is a good bed and breakfast with spacious rooms and right in the center of the city. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- In Baunei, Hotel Bia Maore is a lovely small hotel with large, comfortable room and incredible views of the mountains and the coast. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
Make sure to read my guide on the best hotels in Cagliari.
- In Cagliari, at the top floor of La Rinascente department store there is a fantastic place for a good Sardinian style aperitivo. There is a great selection of wines, local cheese and cold cuts.
- In Santu Lussurgiu, Chef Sara Congiu and Sous Chef Daniele Craba bring out the best of Sardinia ingredients in an innovative way at Antica Dimora del Gruccione.
- In Oristano, Chef Salvatore Camedda works at Somu and prepares some fantastic dishes knowingly mixing traditional local ingredients with a modern touch.
- In Nuoro, Montiblu serves Sardinian delicacies in a beautiful, cozy environment.
- In Baunei, Ristorante Il Golgo, located on the Golgo Plateau, is a bit out of reach but will reward your efforts to get there with some of the best traditional dishes in Sardinia.
When to visit Sardinia
I won’t ever stress this enough: any time is a good time to visit Sardina, but if you like the idea of having beautiful places all to yourself and you are interesting in discovering a side of the island that is lesser known, opt to visit in the late fall or in the winter.
Sardinia has a Mediterranean climate, meaning that it gets hot summer and generally mild winters. Fall and winter are the rainiest times; and the mountains and places like Nuoro, Mamoiada and even Baunei regularly get snow. The wind blows throughout the year.
Getting to Sardinia
You can easily reach Sardinia by ferry or by plane.
There are a few harbors scattered around Sardinia, where boat regular ferry lines and cruise lines dock. Cagliari and Olbia are the biggest cruise ports on the island. Other ports include Arbatax, Porto Torres, Golfo Aranci and Santa Teresa di Gallura.
Should you opt to visit Sardinia in the winter, keep in mind that the sea conditions are often rather rough.
There are three airports on the island: Cagliari, the main city; Alghero, on the west coast; Olbia on the east coast. All of them are served by main airlines and budget ones, and are well connected to the rest of Italy and to other European countries.
Moving around Sardinia
The easiest way to reach all the best places in Sardinia is by car. Unless you arrive by ferry with your own car, I recommend you rent one. You can compare prices here.
The public transportation system connects all the villages and cities. Make sure to check the timetable before planning any day trip. You can do it on the website of ARST.
Legal Disclaimer: I would like to thank Alessandra Guigoni, Anna Mussetti and all the staff at the Assessorato al Turismo of the Region of Sardinia for putting together a wonderful itinerary for the ItinERA Sardinia project. Needless to say, the views expressed in this post remain my own.