A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia

A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia

There are many more things to do in Sardinia than one would expect. It is a real pity that the vast majority of people outside of Europe don’t even have an idea of where Sardinia is, so that when they visit Italy, they limit themselves to the most famous attractions, exploring Rome, Cinque Terre and little else.

Those who venture to Sardinia do so in the summer months, to discover its amazing beaches, and hardly ever explore all the other beautiful places that the island has to offer. Yet, as a proud local, I won’t ever tire to say that there’s more than beaches in Sardinia. In fact, there are so many things to do in Sardinia that even those who, like me, have lived here most of their lives, have not done all of them.

Finally, and contrary to what most people think, Sardinia is great to visit any time of year – or else, would we Sardinians stubbornly make it a point of spending our life here? Let me say it loud and clear once again: there are things to do in Sardinia in any season, for any taste and for any budget (and despite the reputation the island has for being an extremely expensive place to travel to).

This post highlights the things to do in Sardinia throughout the year, as locals enjoy them, and gives a few tips to make the most of the island – whatever the season. Keep in mind that for each activity I recommend, the list is absolutely non-exhaustive as there simply are too many options!

things to do in Sardinia

There is no doubt that going to the beach is one of the things to do in Sardinia

A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia

Go to the beach

I know I said that there’s more than beautiful beaches in Sardinia, but why lie? One of the top things to do in Sardinia is – indeed – going to the beach, and sure enough we never miss an opportunity to do so.

In the summer time, one of the nicest things to do in Sardinia is spending endless hours laying under the sun, swimming in the clear waters of the Mediterranean, soaking in the marine breeze.

During the off season, we still go to the beach to walk, run, bike or skate. Some enjoying playing beach volley or beach tennis. Whatever the sport, it’s a fact that exercising on the waterfront is what to do in Sardinia to stay fit.

Urban and at times even more remote beaches are used for festivals, concerts and events – large or small. In fact, many think that one of the things to do in Sardinia is having wedding celebrations at the beach.

But there’s more. The many kiosks and small restaurants along urban beaches – such as Poetto in Cagliari, the island’s capital – are fantastic places to hang out and meet friends for a quick coffee or lunch break any time the sun is out. Having a break at the beach is one of the things to do in Sardinia.

I have already written a guide on the best beaches in Sardinia – though I keep thinking I need to add more to my selection.

things to do in Sardinia

Sailing is one of the things to do in Sardinia

Sail around the island

With such a beautiful coast and almost persistent winds, it is only obvious that one of the ultimate things to do in Sardinia is sailing. There are several harbors from where to set sail around the island, and various protected bays to spend some relaxing hours. Several companies offer chartered sailboats and personnel to travel around the island. It is the ultimate way to appreciate the amazing sea of Sardinia.

Among the best places in Sardinia for sailing there are the south coast with the tiny bays of Cala Regina, Mari Pintau, Torre delle Stelle all the way to Villasimius and Cala Pira; the North East coast and the Maddalena Archipelago, and the north west coast around Asinara island.

These are some of the best boat tours in Sardinia:

Visit the nearby islands

Speaking of other islands, one of the nicest things to do in Sardinia is exploring the smaller islands off its coast. Sant’Antioco can be easily reached from the mainland, to which it is connected via a bridge. This small island is home to the lovely fishing villages of Sant’Antioco and Calasetta, is packed with nice beaches and is connected by ferry to the nearby island of Carloforte.

Off the north east coast of the island, La Maddalena archipelago is one of the best places in Sardinia, with a myriad of stunning beaches. There, Caprera is where the house of Garibaldi, one of the most prominent figures of Italian history, is located.

Asinara island, located on the top north west of Sardinia, can be reached on a short ferry ride from either Porto Torres or Stintino. It used to be a leper colony, and then became a prison colony. In 1997 the prison was closed and the island became a national park. Currently nobody lives there except the park rangers. The island is absolutely gorgeous and visiting is one of the top things to do in Sardinia.

Here’s some tours of the nearby islands:

Things to do in Cagliari

Cagliari is one of the best places in Sardinia

Visit the beautiful cities

Sardinia is a large island, but few people live there. Thus, there isn’t any really big city. The biggest one is Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia; followed by Sassari, at the top north; and Quartu Sant’Elena, which is right by Cagliari. Oristano and Nuoro are smaller in size, but charming. Alghero is an absolute gem. One of the things to do in Sardinia is visiting the lovely cities.

I’ll admit to be completely biased, but I find Cagliari to be the nicest city in Sardinia. The city where I grew up is one of the most underrated cities in Italy, yet to be discovered by mass tourism. However, it has a lot to offer to those who visit. It is packed with fantastic museums and art galleries; beautiful archaeological sites; lovely squares and splendid churches. There’s many gorgeous cafés and some fabulous restaurants. Visiting Cagliari is definitely one of the top things to do in Sardinia.

Sassari is a bit smaller in size compared to Cagliari, but culturally rich. There is always some event in the massive and gorgeous Piazza Italia; the center has some beautiful churches – the Duomo is just one of them; and there are a few good museums. Hardly known to tourists, Sassari is one of the places to visit in Sardinia.

Oristano reaches its peak during Carnival, thanks to the Sartiglia, which dates back to medieval times. It is a skills tournament during which masked men and women dressed in traditional clothes and riding horses at full speed have to spear a star. Sartiglia is one of the favorite local festivals, and attending it is one of the top things to do in Sardinia.

The small Nuoro is located in the heart of Sardinia, surrounded by mountains. Home of Nobel Prize winning writer Grazia Deledda, it also has a fantastic museum of Modern Art – MANN. Paying a visit to MANN is what to do in Sardinia for art lovers.

Alghero is by far one of the best places to visit in Sardinia. This Catalan enclave faces the Mediterranean and is characterized by an well kept bastion; its narrow alleys are perfect for a late afternoon stroll; there’s shops and restaurants galore and the nearby beaches are absolutely gorgeous. Visiting is one of the things to do in Sardinia.

Here’s some guided tours of Cagliari and other cities in Sardinia:

things to do in Sardinia

Visiting Bosa is one of the things to do in Sardinia

Explore the quaint villages

Sardinia is packed with beautiful, quaint villages. Needless to say, one of the nicest things to do in Sardinia, is exploring them – and the good news is that this can be done in any season.

Among the best places in Sardinia there’s Bosa, a village located on the west coast, north of Oristano and on the banks of the river Temo. Dominated by the Malaspina castle, from where there is a stunning view of the village and of the coast, 3 kms west of it, the village is a series of beautiful alleys and colorful houses, and some antique tanneries, witnessing what once used to be the main economic activity in the area.

Castelsardo, on the north of Sardinia, was built around the castle that was erected in the 12th century by the Doria family, and from where there’s a splendid view of the village below and of the coast. It is a maze of narrow alleys and the atmosphere is peaceful and relaxed. Visiting is one of the things to do in Sardinia.

Fonni is the highest village in Sardinia, located at over 1000 meters above sea level. Famous for its murals, much like the nearby Orgosolo and Mamoiada, it’s one of those places that give a totally different perspective on the island, and it gives access to an incredible number of hiking trails in the Gennargentu area. Visiting is what to do in Sardinia when wanting to explore a lesser known part of the island.

One of the unmissable things to do in Sardinia is visiting the gorgeous Calasetta, on the island of Sant’Antioco, is located off the south western coast of Sardinia. It was founded in 1769 and the main economic activity used to be coral and tuna fishing – tuna is the main ingredient in local cuisine. The entire village is white; a combination of narrow alleys where time seems to have stopped.

Visiting Baunei is what to do in Sardinia when wanting to combine the very best of the island: a pretty village from where there are stunning views of the coast; some of the best beaches in Sardinia nearby, and access to some of the most incredible hiking trails on the island.

Last but definitely not least, San Sperate, at a mere 15 minutes drive from Cagliari, is a lovely village with lots of art: murals, sculptures and a quaint environment make it one of the places in Sardinia worth visiting.

Here are some of the best tours of villages in Sardinia:

things to do in Sardinia

Molentargius (the lagoon in the distance) is one of the best places in Sardinia to admire wildlife

Enjoy nature and wildlife

Sardinia hardly comes to mind as a nature and wildlife destination. However, enjoying nature is definitely what to do in Sardinia. The island is very mountainous; the countryside is gorgeous, and it is also home to the highest sand dunes in Europe! (By the way, stealing sand is strictly prohibited, as well as getting on the dunes).

Admiring wildlife is one of the things to do in Sardinia. Those who visit may be pleased to know that there are many nature reserves where it is possible to do so. Giara horses are a species that can only be seen in the Giara region of Sardinia; pink flamingoes nest in the lagoon around Cagliari and in other parts of the island (visiting Molentargius nature park to observe flamingoes is one of the things to do in Sardinia). Dolphins are often spotted along the coast (some of them actually live in Cagliari harbor!).

Here are some good tours to nature reserves:

things to do in Sardinia

One of the things to do in Sardinia is discovering the unique archaeological sites. This is Su Nuraxi, in Barumini

Discover unique archaeological sites

Sardinia is home to some of the most unique archaeological sites in the world. Nuraghe date back to the age between 1900 and 730 BCE; they are typical of the island, had defensive functions and villages were built around them. There are many scattered around. The best preserved one is that of Barumini, at about 45 minutes drive from Cagliari and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visiting Su Nuraghe of Barumini is one of the things to do in Sardinia.

Nora, near the lovely Pula and at around 45 minutes drive from Cagliari, was founded under the Phoenician domination, but it was then conquered by the Romans in 238 BC. It used to be a rich market town and a prominent harbor thanks to the protected bay from which it was possible to sail under any wind. The remains are really well kept, and visiting is what to do in Sardinia to learn more about its Roman past.

Another of the best places in Sardinia to uncover its history is Tharros, a Phoenician site located in the Sinis Peninsula, right on the coast.

Cagliari itself is home to several interesting sites – first and foremost the beautiful Roman anfiteather which is located in the heart of the city; the necropolis of Tuvixeddu, dating back to Phoenician times. They are some of the most interesting places in Sardinia.

Here are some of the best tours to archaeological sites:

Visit the old mines

One of the most interesting things to do in Sardinia is visiting the old mines. There are various mines in the south of the island, in the region of Sulcis. The mines of Buggerru, Nebida and Masua are all stunning. One of the best places in Sardinia is Porto Flavia, built between 1923 and 1924 and which was the harbor that served the mines in the area. The views of it from the sea are stunning. Come to think of it, this area has some of the most spectacular beaches in Sardinia, such as Masua Pan di Zucchero and Cala Domestica.

The following tours go to the mines and Porto Flavia:

And the caves

Scattered around Sardinia there are many caves, all different one from the other. One of the unmissable things to do in Sardinia is exploring them. The most famous ones are the Grotte (caves) di Nettuno, a bit outside Alghero. It takes 600 steps downhill to get there, and the same uphill on the way out, but it is well worth the effort. Grotte Is Zuddas, in Santadi (at about 40 minutes drive from Cagliari) is another beautiful cave to explore.

Other caves that make for an interesting visit are the Grotte del Bue Marino, in the area of Golfo di Orosei and which can be visited on a boat trip departing from Cala Gonone, near Dorgali, and the Grotta del Fico, in the same area. Grotta di Janas, near Sadali, was thought to be home of the janas (half fairies, half witches). They are among some of the best places to visit in Sardinia.

These tours go to some of the nicest caves in Sardinia:

things to do in Sardinia

Castello di San Michele – one of the most interesting places to visit in Sardinia

Explore the castles

One of the things to do in Sardinia is discovering the many castles. I have already mentioned the castles of Bosa and Castelsardo, but it pays to know that there’s many more on the island. One that I wholeheartedly recommend visiting is Acquafredda castle, in Siliqua, at around 40 minutes drive from Cagliari. It’s undergone renovation works and on a clear day the views expand all the way to Cagliari.

Located on a hill that dominates the city, Castello di San Michele in Cagliari used to have defensive functions. The views of the city from there are stunning, and there’s a beautiful park around it with a nicely kept cat colony. It’s one of the most interesting places in Sardinia, though not many tourists visit it.

things to do in Sardinia

One of the nicest things to do in Sardinia is discovering the countryside churches. This is Santa Maria di Sibiola, near Serdiana

Get a glimpse of the many countryside churches

One of the nicest things to do in Sardinia is wandering around the countryside to discover the many lovely, tiny countryside churches. There’s quite a few scattered around the island. My favorite is Santa Maria di Sibiola, a romanic church dating back to the 11th century AC located in the countryside of Serdiana, at around 20 minutes drive from Cagliari. It’s small, beautiful and it’s where my family members get married (one more reason for me to love it).

Some of the other countryside churches include Santa Maria in Monserrato, not far from Cagliari; Santa Trinità di Saccargia, in Codrongianus (north of Sardinia); San Simplicio, near Olbia; Santa Giusta, which is the main church of the village of Santa Giusta; Sant’Antonio Abate, in the lovely village of Orosei. They are some of the best places in Sardinia for those who want to get out of the typical tourist path.

things to do in Sardinia

Attending a festival is one of the unmissable things to do in Sardinia – this one is Sartiglia, in Oristano

Attend a festival

Sardinia is a land of festivals and events. There’s one just about any week, to celebrate pretty much anything. From traditional religious festivals in honor of local saints to music or wine and food festivals, there is something for just about anybody and one of the unmissable things to do in Sardinia is joining in the celebrations.

The most popular local festival is Sant’Efisio, which has been taking place for over 400 years each 1st of May. The parade sees representatives of a selection of villages of Sardinia, who walk the 50 km from Cagliari to Pula in traditional clothes to celebrate Sant’Efisio, saint patron of the island. Attending is one of the things to do in Sardinia to get a glimpse of the beautiful traditional costumes, and listen to traditional music.

The list of religious festivals is huge, and I can’t possibly name all of them but a few. Among the most interesting ones there are I Candelieri, which takes place in Sassari each 14 of August; San Simplicio, taking place each June in Olbia; the Corsa degli Scalzi, taking place each first weekend of September in the Sinis Peninsula.

The list of other (non-religious festivals) is just as long. Autunno in Barbagia is a series of village festivals during which for 28 weekends, starting in September and until mid December, the villages of the Barbagia region celebrate their traditions, culture and food. Autunno in Barbagia is a favorite of Sardinians, and attending is one of the things to do in Sardinia in the fall.

This tour goes to Autunno in Barbagia: Full day discovering the heart of Sardinia from Cagliari.

Girotonno takes place every June in San Pietro Island. The whole festival is about the fishing and the eating of tuna (eating is one of the things to do in Sardinia), but there’s also lots of music involved.

One of the things to do in Sardinia for jazz lovers is attending Time in Jazz, which takes place each August in Berchidda and the surrounding countryside and villages. It is a full week of open air concerts in a gorgeous setting; the founder of the festival is Paolo Fresu, world famous Sardinia-born trumpet player.

Among the things to in Sardinia for wine lovers there’s going to one of the many wine festivals that regularly take place. One of them is Calici Sotto Le Stelle, happening each year in August in the lovely setting of Jerzu.

things to do in Sardinia

Kite surfing – one of the things to do in Sardinia

Practice all the water sports

The coast of Sardinia is perfect for water sports. One of the top things to do in Sardinia is surfing. Depending on the winds, it is possible to catch waves in various locations around the island. Check my post about the best surfing spots in Sardinia to find out more. Sardinia is also a paradise for windsurf and kite surf, and it regularly hosts kite surfing competitions.

SUP is quickly becoming a favorite of the locals, and while this is one of the nicest things to do in Sardinia during the summer, many enjoy it also at other times of year. Nowadays, some companies even offer SUP expeditions, going along the coast from one beach to the other, enjoying lunch off shore, and appreciating the wonderfully clear waters.

Finally, among the things to do in Sardinia there’s diving. There are several areas in Sardinia that are perfect for that: one is the area around Capo Carbonara, off the coast of Villasimius, which is a protected marine park and where marine life is thriving. Similarly, Carloforte has some very good diving spots. There also are some great shipwreck dives around the island.

things to do in Sardinia

Climbing is one of the things to do in Sardinia – Su Gorropu is perfect for that

And the adventure sports

Sardinia is a paradise for hiking. There are a multitude of trails around the island – coastal trails that go to some of the nicest beaches around the island; mountain trails that take to beautiful waterfalls and springs; trails that go all the way to deep gorges. There is no doubt that hiking is one of the things to do in Sardinia that can be enjoyed throughout the year – though I do not recommend hiking in the summer.

Among the best hikes in Sardinia, there are the various trails that go to the Gorropu Canyon, one of the deepest gorges in Europe. Some of them depart outside the village of Dorgali, others outside Urzulei, and they have various levels of difficulty. The ultimate coastal trail is Selvaggio Blu. This is a challenging 6 day hike that connects a number of isolated beaches on the east coast of Sardinia. Sentiero Italia can be walked in around 3 weeks and crosses the entire island.

Included in the list of things to do in Sardinia is rock climbing. There are many places in Sardinia to do that. Cala Fuili and Cala Goloritzé have incredible climbing walls and to top the already incredible experience, the views of the sea are stunning. The Gorropu Canyon is a must for anybody who enjoys climbing.

One of the best ways to discover Sardinia is on a bike. Mountain biking is becoming more and more popular, and there are several trails. Yet, one of the best things to do in Sardinia is to get the bike and go explore the magnificent Asinara island. As nobody lives there, there is virtually no traffic other than the regular bus that connects the main attraction points, making it incredibly pleasant to explore by bike. Several companies organize biking expeditions to Asinara.

These are some guided hikes and adventure activities in Sardinia:

things to do in Sardinia

Trying local specialties is one of the things to do in Sardinia

Try all the local specialties

Food in Sardinia is simply delicious, and eating is one of the ultimate things to do in Sardinia. Here, all dishes are prepared using strictly fresh and local ingredients. Even burgers are prepared using locally sourced produce, and some pizzerie have now started offering pizza made with a base which uses “su framentu” – natural yeast.

Among the must tries there is fregola con le arselle: it looks like a rough and thicker cous cous, which is slowly simmered with a tomato and clams sauce and a few other ingredients. Bottarga – fish roe – can be eaten by itself (with lemon, olive oil and bread) or sprinkled on pasta and other dishes.

If eating is what to do in Sardinia to fully appreciate its flavor, culurgiones are a must: these are the local version of ravioli, and each village on the island has its own recipe for them.

Another must is malloreddus – a small gnocchi pasta which is traditionally cooked with a (obviously Sardinian) sausage and tomato sauce, and topped with pecorino cheese.

For more Sardinian specialties head over to my post about the best food destinations in the world.

To accompany all the amazing food, drinking the local wine and beer is what to do in Sardinia. There are some excellent vineyards around the island, making some fantastic wines. In fact, wine tasting is one of the things to do in Sardinia. Some of the best ones are located in Serdiana, at a mere 20 km from Cagliari: in a village of no more than 2500 souls, there’s a whopping 4 vineyards!

Funny enough though, Sardinians are the largest beer consumers in Italy. The local beer is Ichnusa, which comes plain, unfiltered and raw. It is a plain kind of lager, and though we admit it is not the best beer in the world, we are proud of it and it becomes an easy choice when having a drink. Ordering an Ichnusa is one of the things to do in Sardinia! The craft beer market is growing steadily too.

Last but by far not least a local must is Mirto – a thick liquor made with myrtle berries that is typically drunk after meals.

These are some of the best food and wine tours of Sardinia, including some excellent cooking classes:

things to do in Sardinia

Sella del Diavolo, in Cagliari, is one of the best places in Sardinia for panoramic views

When To Visit Sardinia

Any season is good to visit Sardinia. Winter is typically mild on the coast, though it does snow in the mountains. The highest chances of rain are in the late winter months and in November, though it may also rain in April and May. Spring and fall are the best season to enjoy all the things to do in Sardinia other than the beaches. The temperatures rise a lot in the summer, making it perfect to enjoy the amazing beaches.

How To Get To Sardinia

There are 3 airports in Sardinia: Cagliari, Alghero and Olbia. The island is well connected to the rest of Italy via regular and budget airlines. There also are direct budget flights from various European destinations – several cities in the United Kingdom, Spain and Germany; France; Poland etc. There also are seasonal direct flights to Israel.

Since one of the best things to do in Sardinia is driving around, catching the ferry from mainland Italy may be a good options it allows visitors to come with their own car. There are regular ferries from Livorno, Genoa and Civitavecchia, as well as from Naples. There are occasional ferries from Barcelona.

Moving Around Sardinia

Public transportation in Sardinia is fairly good and connects all the main cities and villages, as well as some of the main tourist attractions, but it can be painfully slow. I would dare say that one of the things to do in Sardinia is renting a car to reach all the most interesting places to visit around the island and be more independent. Here’s a great company for car rentals.

things to do in Sardinia

Porto Pino is one of the best places in Sardinia to appreciate the nature: it’s one of the areas that have beautiful sand dunes.

Best Places To Stay In Sardinia

My recommendation to those visiting Sardinia is to pick one of the main cities as a starting point from where to explore the rest of the island. Cagliari and Alghero are generally the best places to stay in Sardinia (unless on a beach holiday), with lots of accommodation options for all budgets and tastes. There are a few fabulous hotels and resorts around the island that are worth the trip in and of themselves.

If one of the things to do in Sardinia is picking a suitable place to stay, the following list of the best places to stay in Sardinia will be of great help:

Cagliari

Cagliari has some of the best accommodation options in Sardinia. Here’s a small selection of them:

Alghero

Alghero has some lovely hotels in the heart of the old town. Here are some of them:

Rest of Sardinia

There are some excellent places to stay scattered around Sardinia. Here are some of them:

Have you ever been to Sardinia? What are your favorite things to do in Sardinia?

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Discover all the things to do in Sardinia - via @clautavani