Asinara is one of the most beautiful places you can hope to visit – not just in Sardinia, but anywhere in the world; and if you are traveling to Sardinia you should make it a point to include it in your itinerary.
This small island off the north west coast of Sardinia is as wild as it gets – at least by Italian standards. Picture a place when nobody lives; with abandoned buildings scattered around; animals roaming freely; and wind sweeping the most beautiful beaches, with the clearest waters you could swim in. This is Asinara.
In this post, I will highlight everything there is to know about Asinara, and share some useful information to better plan your trip there.
The Aragonese watchtower in Trabuccato
A Few Facts About Asinara Island
With its 52 square km, Asinara is the second largest island of Sardinia. It’s located off the north west coast of Sardinia. Contrary to common believe, according to which Asinara takes its name from the many albino donkeys (asini bianchi, in Italian) that live there, the name actually comes from the Latin “sinuara,” which means sinuous and which refers to the shape of the island.
Asinara is blessed with unique landscape and it is a safe haven for wildlife (more about that below). It is dotted with abandoned buildings. Some date back to the 1600s, when a community of shepherds and fishermen started residing on the island (though there is proof that it was inhabited since Neolithic age).
Not many people lived on the island when, in 1720, the Habsburgs, who had succeeded the Aragonese in the rule of Sardinia, decided to surrender Sardinia to the Savoy in exchange for Sicily. That’s when shepherds coming from Corsica started moving there.
For about 30 years after that, King Charles Emmanuel pushed to turn Asinara into a productive island. Local shepherds moved out of the island in 1767 when the French Velixandre brothers bought their land. That’s when around 150 French settlers moved in. These, however, left soon after realized they had been swindled by the Velixandres.
From 1774 onwards a small community of shepherds coming from Liguria moved on the island, which at the time was being ruled by Don Antonio Manca Amat.
From 1885 onwards the residents of Asinara were forced to leave, as this was designed to become a maximum security prison and a sanatorium. Prisons were established in Fornelli, Cala d’Oliva (the main village), Campu Perdu, Trabuccato and various other places on the island. The sanatorium was built in Cala Reale and it’s where people suspected of diseases such as leper and cholera were quarantined.
In 1915, during WWI, Asinara started hosting Austrian prisoners of war. Around 20000 of them lived on the island and 7000 died of cholera and other diseases, and ended up being buried in mass graves scattered around the island.
In the 20th century Asinara became known as the Italian Alcatraz and remained completely off-limits until 1997. Its prison hosted famous criminals such as mafia bosses Bernardo Provenzano and Toto Riina were held. It’s in the main village – Cala d’Oliva – that public prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino (who both died at the hands of mafia in 1992) resided for a few months in 1985 as they were preparing their trial against the criminal organization.
The island was officially declared a national park (the smallest of the 3 national parks in Sardinia) in 2002. That’s when it finally opened to visitors, who can since enjoy the incredible beauty that its complete isolation helped preserving.
Continue reading this post to discover the many things to see and do in Asinara, and how to organize your trip there.
A coastal hike offers incredible views of Cala Sabina
11 Things To See And Do In Asinara
Hiking is the best way to enjoy the island of Asinara. There are several excellent hiking trails of various difficulty levels, each of them offering different views and a different experience. Keep in mind that it can get seriously hot in Sardinia during the summer, so if you intend to go hiking in Asinara you should make it a point to visit no later than May.
Sentiero del Granito is a circular route that starts in Fornelli, one of the docking places for ferries from Sardinia.
Sentiero del Castellaccio, also starting in Fornelli, goes all the way to a medieval castle from where you can appreciate incredible views. It’s a short hike that will take you no more than 3 hours, but the walk up the castle can be a bit challenging.
Sentiero dell’Acqua is another circular route starting from Fornelli, that follows the coast to get to a small lagoon where you will be able to admire local birds.
Sentiero della Memoria trail starts in Cala Reale and it allows visitors to discover some of the most historically relevant places on the island. It is a circular trail that goes all the way to Campu Perdu, where prisoners enjoyed a more permissive system that allowed them to cultivate land – there even used to be some vineyards in the area.
Sentiero dell’Asino Bianco starts in Cala Reale and goes to Trabuccato, all the way to an Aragonese watchtower from were you can enjoy magnificent views.
Sentiero del Leccio is the one that, starting in Cala d’Oliva, goes all the way to the viewpoint of Punta della Scomunica, which at 408 meters above sea level is the highest peak on the island.
Sentiero del Faro is by far the best on the island. After about one km you reach Cala Sabina, one of the nicest beaches on the island. After that, you can continue to Cala d’Arena and then all the way to a lighthouse. The views along the hike are simply spectacular.
If you want to join a guided hike, your best bet is contacting one of the local companies such as La Nassa.
Ready to jump in the clear waters of Cala Sabina
Enjoy the beaches
Asinara has some excellent beaches, blessed with incredibly fine, white sand and the clearest, cleanest waters of a million shades of blue. And since nobody lives on the island, this means that even on a crowded day the beaches are much emptier than their equivalent Sardinian beaches.
Cala Sabina is one of the best and most easily accessible beaches. It’s a 15 minutes hike from Cala d’Oliva, on a trail that offers incredible views – it’s the one that continues to the lighthouse. There’s a small gazebo for shade on the beach, and a small one with tables and benches if you fancy a picnic.
Another lovely spot is Cala dei Detenuti, a tiny cove with plenty of trees for shade and a nice platform from where you can get in the incredibly clear water. There’s not much of a beach, really – but it’s as beautiful as it gets. Trabuccato is another nice beach. And for a cool swimming spot, go to the bridge near the ossuary.
Keep in mind that not all beaches are accessible in Asinara – some of them are heavily protected, in an effort to allow the marine life to reproduce. Places like Cala Arena and Cala S. Andrea are close to the public.
Sail around the island
One of the best ways to fully appreciate the beauty of Asinara is on a sailboat. Several companies depart regularly from Stintino and sail around the island’s most beautiful places – though keep in mind they can’t access the restricted areas either. Sail trips cost around €85 and include lunch and several stops for snorkeling and swimming in the sea.
Considering that there’s more to see in Asinara than you’d ever think, one of the best things to do there is exploring it by bike. Mind you – some of the hiking trails are really too rough to be suitable for bikes. But others are just perfect. Besides, there is also the paved road that can be used and since there are basically no cars on the island (other than service cars for the only hotel, and the occasional police car checking around), biking is super pleasant.
Keep in mind that much like Sardinia, Asinara island is very hilly. If you aren’t a pro biker, you’re probably better off using an e-bike. There are several charging stations around the island.
Diving and snorkeling
Asinara probably is one of the best diving and snorkeling spots in Sardinia. Protected as it is, marine life is thriving there and if you decide to get under water you are bound to see a great variety of fish and even corals.
If all you want to do is snorkeling, make sure to bring your own snorkeling equipment and jump in anywhere it is permitted. If, on the other hand, you want to dive, you will need to join a guided expedition that keeps you away of restricted areas.
There even is a diving and free diving school located in Cala d’Oliva, called Cala d’Oliva Diving, where you can get certified.
Donkeys are the majority inhabitants in Asinara
Admire local wildlife
Asinara is famous for its wildlife. Don’t expect anything tropical, but if you enjoy the sight of wild donkeys you’ll be in for a treat. They are literally everywhere, they wonder around undisturbed, at times getting to the beach or walking the streets of Cala d’Oliva, the only place on the island that resembles a village. Keep in mind that donkeys and other animals are protected, and it is forbidden to touch them and to feed them. Just enjoy their presence and take photos of them!
Mouflons and goats also live freely on the island. The first are harder to spot, whereas goats can be seen chewing on grass and licking salt from the rocks on the way to the beach.
Wild boars wander Asinara too. Shy during the day, if you hang around the village in the evening chances are you’ll be able to spot a mama wild boar with her cubs looking for food.
Last, but not least, peregrine falcons are among the most beautiful bird species that live on the island.
Fornelli prisons and the white donkeys visitors
Visit the prisons
As I have explained, Asinara used to be home to a maximum security prison. However, there isn’t just one but ten different prisons on the island.
The main prison is the one in Fornelli. This is where people that were accused of acts of terrorism were kept in the 1970s. Following an insurrection in 1979, security measures were increased heavily. This is also where people accused of being connected to mafia were held.
At the time of writing, Fornelli prison is closed to the public as it is in desperate need of restoration works. You should still try to see it at least from the outside as it is quite an impressive sight.
The prison of Trabuccato was built right after WWI to host dangerous criminals. These were forced to work on the island and had to look after the nearby vineyard – unfortunately, nothing remains of the vineyard so there is no way to taste Asinara wine.
Similarly to Trabuccato, the prison of Campu Perdu was established right after WWI, though the buildings existed before. Prisoners living there used to work in the fertile land that surrounded the prison.
Another prison is located in Cala d’Oliva and there are two different sides of it. One is known as “Diramazione Centrale” and has the cells built around a very large garden; there was a small doctors’ office, and even a barber shop. Prisoners were free to leave the prison and dedicate themselves to the land.
Another side of the prison in Cala d’Oliva is known as “bunker” and it’s where mafia boss Totò Riina was held. It was also meant to hold Bernardo Provenzano, but by the time he was finally captured, Asinara prisons had already been dismantled. In order to avoid communication between the two bosses, a small courtyard was built right in front of each cell so that they could each enjoy their hour of fresh air but not communicate with each other.
During the 112 years the prisons in Asinara existed, only one prisoner – Matteo Boe – successfully managed to flee the island in 1986. At the time, he was nothing more than a common criminal but he was later on accused of much more serious crimes.
The picturesque Cala d’Oliva as seen from the watchtower
Walk around Cala d’Oliva village
Cala d’Oliva is the only real village on Asinara, and people stopped living there altogether when the prison was established in 1885.
It’s a lovely small white village that can be easily explored in no more than 30 minutes. The location is idyllic: the village faces the magnificent Mediterranean sea, and it is overlooked by an Aragonese watchtower that dates back to the 17th century. Among the places of interest in the village there are the house where public prosecutors Falcone and Borsellino lived in 1985, the church, the school and the prison.
The only people that currently live in Cala d’Oliva are the seasonal workers – those employed in the only hostel on the island, at the coffee shop, and the rangers.
Admire the Aragonese towers
There are three Aragonese watchtowers in Asinara. The first was built in the area of Trabuccato as early as 1609. The tower surmounts a beautiful beach and can be visited inside.
The watchtower of Cala d’Oliva dates back to 1611 and was used to communicate with Porto Torres, on Sardinia’s mainland. The tower of Cala d’Arena was built in 1611, but it was abandoned in 1721.
Walk up the Ossuary
Not far from Campu Perdu and right by one of the nicest swimming spots on the island, there is an ossuary that was built upon request of the Austrian authorities in 1936. This hosts the remains of the more than 7000 Austrian soldiers that were held on the island as prisoners of war and ended up dying there.
Shop for locally made products
Farmasinara is the only shop in Asinara where you can buy products made with locally sourced ingredients. It’s a really tiny building located at the back of the restaurant of Cala Reale where you can purchase high quality cosmetic products.
The tiny cove of Cala dei Detenuti is a fantastic spot for snorkeling
Practical Information For Visiting Asinara
How to get to Asinara
Asinara is connected to mainland Sardinia by ferry.
During peak season Delcomar has three daily ferries departing from Porto Torres and going to Cala Reale. They depart at 8:15 and 11:30 am and at 4:30 pm. The ride lasts about one and a half hour and costs €15 one way and €20 round trip. The ferries from Cala Reale to Porto Torre departs at 9:45 am and at 1:00 and 6:00 pm.
Linea del Parco / Ausonia ferries depart from the tourist harbor of Stintino and go to Fornelli. There are two ferries per day, one departing at 9:30 am and one at 10:30 am. The ride lasts less than 30 minutes and costs €20 – it is not clear whether the price is for one way or round trip. The ferries from Fornelli to Stintino depart at 5:00 and 6:00 pm.
Private boats depart from Stintino upon request. They are significantly more expensive than the public service.
How to explore Asinara
Cars are not admitted on Asinara island and you’ll only see the odd police car or the van that belongs to the only hostel running around for errands. Other than obviously walking, these are the best ways to move around the island.
A lot of people that visit Asinara decide to explore it by bike. Bike rental is available in Fornelli or Cala Reale. Alternatively, you can either bring your own or rent it in Porto Torres or in Stintino, before boarding your ferry – please take care to note that the ferry ride from Stintino is more expensive if you carry a bike. As the island is very hilly and biking can be quite challenging, I wholeheartedly recommend opting for an e-bike.
By electric car
If you don’t feel like biking, the best option to explore Asinara is by electric car. There are 2 and 4 seats one. The 4 seater costs €100 for the day, so it doesn’t end up being too expensive. You can pick up your car in either Fornelli or Cala Reale. I recommend booking in advance as this is a quite popular way to move around the island. The best way is to call in advance. This is the number +39 079512290.
By train on wheels
There are a couple of trains on wheels that roam around Asinara. Tickets cost between €45 and €55 for the whole day, depending on the season (children under 12 pay between €35 and €40). The train makes several stops around the island. It’s a good option if you can’t find an electric car or if your group is larger than 4 persons.
On a jeep tour
Of all the ways to explore Asinara, this is a good one if you have limited time and want to see as much as possible. Jeep tours depart from either Cala Reale or Fornelli as soon as passengers get off the ferry, and they stop at all the most important places around the island. Jeeps carry up to 7 passengers, so if it is a full group the car can get filled up.
Several companies run the tour, which costs €55 and has to be booked in advance. It does not include lunch.
Occasionally, a public bus runs around Asinara island, connecting Fornelli to Cala Reale and Cala d’Oliva. This year it isn’t running. I will update this post accordingly if there are news.
Cala Sant’Andrea is highly protected and nobody can get near it
When to visit Asinara
The best time to visit Asinara is spring, when it is in full bloom and the colors of the wild flowers pop out. That’s also when the temperatures are mild and you can best enjoy the hikes. If you enjoy swimming, then the best time is by far the summer when the water is warm enough to swim.
How long to stay in Asinara
The majority of people who visit Asinara go there on a day trip. It’s a pity, because spending the night in Asinara is one of the best things you can do! At night, it becomes incredibly silent – all you hear is the occasional donkey, and the wind. The sky is incredibly starry, and the atmosphere truly unique.
On my last visit, I spent 2 nights and 2 full days on the island, and I honestly wished I had stayed longer. Make sure to take your time to fully enjoy all that it has to offer.
Where to stay and eat in Asinara
Until a few weeks ago, the only place to sleep in Asinara was the hostel in Cala d’Oliva. It’s a very basic place, with dorms and private rooms, all of them with shared facilities. The prices include breakfast and dinner. It would be a good option, where it not for the fact that meals are not exactly good (it reminds me of a cheap high school cafeteria) and the hostel staff isn’t exactly kind and available to share information and help guests.
The good news is that you can now opt to stay at the newly opened La Locanda del Parco, which has 6 beautiful rooms and where you can also eat much better meals prepared using locally sourced fish and seafood.
The other two places where you can have a bite are the restaurant in Cala Reale and the coffee shop and restaurant in Cala d’Oliva called “Asino Bianco”. I can’t really comment on the restaurant in Cala Reale, but I can really recommend Asino Bianco for a drink, for the freshly made sandwiches and for the kindest staff you can hope to encounter.
Other useful information
Internet is hardly a thing in Asinara, so don’t be surprised if your phone hardly catches the signal. The hostel and the newly opened bed and breakfast both have wifi, but this is not really reliable.
A few movies have been filmed on Asinara island, featuring it in the plot. The most recent one is “La Stoffa dei Sogni,” a beautiful movie that was filmed and aired in 2016.
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.
Cagliari is one of the best places in Sardinia
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.
The beautiful site of Tharros is one of the best places in Sardinia to discover its multi-layered history
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!
Mont’e Prama Giants were one incredible archeological find
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!
Sardinian pecorino is served to accompany the best Sardinian wine
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.
One of my favorite places in Sardinia is Santu Lussurgiu: don’t you love its cobbled alleys?
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.
Sartiglia makes Oristano one of the best places in Sardinia for Carnival
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.
Piazza Satta, in Nuoro – one of the best places to visit 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.
The interior of Montiblu, a lovely concept store in Nuoro
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.
What many people don’t know is thatBaunei 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!
Sebadas, a local specialty that make Sardinia one of the top food destinations in the world – photo courtesy of The Wandering Heart (flickr)
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, 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.
Make sure to explore the interior of Sardinia: you won’t be disappointed
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.
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!
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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!).
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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 May 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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
Sella del Diavolo, in Cagliari, is one of the best places in Sardinia for panoramic views
Practical Information To Organize Your Trip To Sardinia
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.
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 has some of the best accommodation options in Sardinia. Here’s a small selection of them:
I can spend hours browsing social media just staring at amazing pictures of Sardinia. This island, where I grew up, is the place to be in the summer – though I insist that there’s plenty of things do to in Sardinia throughout the year.
Not only do I like looking at pictures of Sardinia. I also like taking them. I never go out without my camera, and if I don’t have that for whatever reason, I find that my iPhone takes very good photos too. My friends are now used to me taking random photos while we walk around and talk, or asking them to “walk in the picture” when I need that extra touch.
Perda Longa is one the nicest places to take pictures of Sardinia
I appreciate that to many Sardinia is still an obscure destination; a lot of people outside of Europe don’t know where Sardinia is. Besides, too many of those who visit Italy just stick to the mainland, going to Rome or Cinque Terre and little else, because Sardinia takes too much of an effort. With this in mind, I have decided to put together a post with my favorite pictures of Sardinia, complete with the exact photo location and description of the places where I took them.
Let me add a little disclaimer, however: I am based in Cagliari, the main city in Sardinia. It’s so gorgeous that National Geographic enlisted it in the most underrated destinations in the Mediterranean. Anyways, being from Cagliari means that most of my pictures of Sardinia have been taken around the South of the island, where I have the chance to go photo shooting more often. Having said that, I also believe that the north is amazing to visit!
Also, keep in mind that this post is meant to give tips of locations for places to take Sardinia photos in the summer months, so that you can enjoy the beach and take photos at the same time. Needless to say, the places I mention are wonderful any time of year, and while you won’t be able to enjoy the sea in the winter, photos will look even more amazing because there won’t be any crowd at the beach!
Anyways, without further ado, here’s where to take the best Sardinia photos.
Poetto beach is a great location for Sardinia photos
Where To Take The Best Pictures Of Sardinia
Ok, Poetto may not be the best beach in Sardinia in terms of beauty (well at least not for us!). Yet, it makes an excellent location to get a feel for the island and to take some Sardinia images, especially when in Cagliari. Locals love hanging out here, so it’s the place to be if you are after a real local experience.
It’s easy to reach (there’s buses from the city center, in Piazza Matteotti and Via Rome, typically any “P” bus goes there). There’s several bus stops along Poetto, and locals typically identify the spot they hang out with the bus stop number. I took my photo from “sesta fermata” (sixth bus stop).
Poetto beach is incredibly long; and there’s plenty of places to rest for a coffee, a drink and a light meal. The best time of day to take pictures of Sardinia in this location is in the early morning hours, as the beach gets really crowded as the day goes on. Or else, go right before sunset. Do not go when it’s windy, unless you fancy being covered in sand.
I love taking pictures of Sardinia from Sella del Diavolo
Sella del Diavolo
Sella del Diavolo is by far one of my favorite spots in Cagliari, not only as it’s perfect to take gorgeous pictures of Sardinia, but simply because, although being within easy reach from the city center, it feels like a million miles away.
In order to get to Sella del Diavolo, take bus n. 11 from Via Einstein, and get off at the last bus stop in Calamosca. From there, follow the road on the left until you get to the entrance of what looks like a park, and follow the trail. It’s an easy walk, around 30 minutes at most to the panoramic view point from where I took this photo (one of my favorite locations for pictures of Sardinia). The view of the city, Poetto beach below and of Molentargius Protected Natural Oasis are gorgeous. I think the one above is the best view, but the trail goes further so there’s more good Sardinia photos opportunity.
More Sardinia photos opportunities at Sella del Diavolo. The views are stunning!
The best time to go is either in the morning (sunrise from there is splendid) or in the late afternoon (though this isn’t a sunset spot).
I love the dramatic views of this location – it’s perfect to take amazing pictures of Sardinia. The beach below is Calamosca.
Faro di Sant’Elia
To be fair, this isn’t the exact spot on the photo. The lighthouse (faro) is right behind (in the other photo). It’s very easy to reach from the center of town. Just take bus n. 11 and get off on the first stop in Calamosca. It is a short hike towards the lighthouse, but the area is packed with incredible photo opportunities, with some of the nicest pictures of Sardinia that can be taken in Cagliari. I really like the view from the Sant’Ignazio abandoned fortress.
The small beach below is Calamosca (the one I mentioned before), which is one of the urban beaches in Cagliari and a favorite of the locals. The area doesn’t really get crowded. The best time of day to go is in the late afternoon, especially for sunsets (though I wasn’t that lucky when I went last time, as it was just about to rain). To date, I think this is one of the best Sardinia photos I have ever taken.
As far as city life, I am a huge fan of Villanova, in Cagliari. To me this is one of the best places to take pictures of Sardinia
My friend Margherita calls me Miss Vicoletti (narrow alleys) for wherever in the world I may be, I make it a point to take photos of all the small streets. It’s where I find the best photo opportunities, and I enjoy the atmosphere. There’s many streets in Villanova that I like to take photos of. I think this is one of the best places to take city life pictures of Sardinia.
Either way, I love to walk around there to take photos, especially in the summer. Villanova is one of the oldest parts of Cagliari, but it has undergone major works in the last decade, to clean it up and bring new life to the beautiful buildings. The area is closed to traffic (so there’s plenty of time to sit and wait to take the best Sardinia photo), so it is the kind of place where locals and tourists alike enjoy a late afternoon walk and a drink; and where children can be still seen playing football in the streets.
Another shot of Villanova. Go on and tell me this isn’t the perfect place to take city-life pictures of Sardinia
The photos here were taken at various locations around Villanova: Via San Domenico, Via San Giacomo, Via San Giovanni and other small alleys which I find perfect locations for colorful, urban Sardinia images. The best time of day to go to take photos is in the late afternoon – in the summer season, any time between 6:00 and 7:00 pm. That’s when there’s the most action before it gets dark (it’s quite packed at night for those who like night photography).
Lots of people enjoy taking pictures of Sardinia from Castello
Castello (and Stampace)
I have yet to decide whether I prefer Villanova or Castello. In doubt, I spend time in both of them. Castello is another perfect location to take great pictures of Sardinia in Cagliari. It’s one of the oldest parts of town, but contrary to Villanova it hasn’t undergone any major renovation work, with the result that most of its buildings are crumbling (something that the people who live in the area often complain about).
Darling pictures of Sardinia: I love the view of Stampace from Castello
Castello has all the charm of the narrow alleys that Villanova has, but added to that there’s the fact that it’s on a hill, so the views of the city are stunning, making it one of my favorite places for Sardinia images. Furthermore, thanks to it’s orientation, it’s a great place to photograph at any time of day: go to the terrace of Via Santa Croce for the perfect sunset view (and a drink in one of the locals’ favorite spots). On the other side, towards Piazza Mafalda di Savoia, there’s beautiful sunrise views.
More pictures of Sardinia around Castello
And all the alleys in between are perfect throughout the day.
I took the Sardinia images seen in this post various locations around Castello: Via Santa Croce is where the terrace with views of Torre dell’Elefante is located. Looking on the right, the view of Stampace quarters is splendid. And looking behind, there’s just lovely views of the buildings. The other photos were taken in Via Lamarmora, one of the most historic one, and Piazza Mafalda di Savoia. There’s also a photo of the Cathedral, just in case!
The internal side of Via Santa Croce – great for urban-life pictures of Sardinia
I did say before that I am mostly based in Cagliari. So, for as much as I like to travel around the island in search of gorgeous beaches (hey, that’s easy: they are literally everywhere) and to take the nicest pictures of Sardinia, I mostly end up going to the beaches that are no further than a couple of hours drive from home (yes, Sardinia is that big!). So, the following is a very personal selection of my favorite beaches to take Sardinia photos. Please note, it may be subject to change!
Sardinia beaches: no better places to take excellent pictures of Sardinia. This is Baccumandara
I went to this beach for the first time last summer. Kind of strange, considering that it’s on the way to Costa Rei, where I have been going since I was born, and it’s really close to Cagliari (around 40 minutes drive). It’s a great place, and a fantastic location to take iconic summer pictures of Sardinia.
Baccu Mandara is best reached by car. It’s East of Cagliari, on the way to Villasimus and Costa Rei, so once out of the city (either following the main road along Poetto, or SS 554), follow the signs to either Muravera on the new Strada Statale (SS) 125, getting out at Geremeas to then take SP 17, or to Villasimius on the Strada Provinciale (SP) 17, and take the exit after Geremeas. I suggest driving along the SP 17 actually – it’s a bit longer, but there’s plenty of photo opportunities so fabulous to take Sardinia images.
Baccu Mandara orientation is such that the nicest pictures of Sardinia can be taken both in the late morning (that’s when I took mine) or at sunset. In order to take this photo (one of my favorite of my Sardinia photos repertoire) I walked to the left of the beach and climbed the rocks (it’s fairly easy, but do wear at least flip flops as it may be slippery). The view from there are simply stunning.
When hiking, there’s plenty of opportunities to take gorgeous pictures of Sardinia
I am absolutely in love with this tiny cove. It’s never too crowded, even during the peak summer months, and it’s the perfect location for amazing pictures of Sardinia. It’s located west of Cagliari, and there’s no direct road access – either drive west from Cagliari following SP 71 until a sign pointing to La Pinnetta, where there’s a gated parking lot and a short trail.
Alternatively, hike all the way from Cala Cipolla (about one hour drive from town along SP71, take the exit for Chia), then take the trail that goes all the way to Capo Spartivento lighthouse and continue walking. It is a good couple of hours walk – not the best in the summer, though the views are splendid and there’s many a possibility to take Sardinia photos. Finally, another way to do it (the most relaxing one for sure) is by boat. There’s boats departing from Capo Malfatano, further on SP71.
Some of the best pictures of Sardinia are taken from a boat – like this one of Cala Antoniareddu
The images I have of Cala Antoniareddu are among my favorite Sardinia images. I have taken them from pretty much any angle – during the hike, directly from the beach and from the boat. Unfortunately in order to get the best light it’s better to go during the day, when the sun is really strong. But it’s worth it, I promise!
If it’s beaches that you are after, Monte Turnu is a great place to take pictures of Sardinia
I love this small cove, it’s the perfect location to take amazing pictures of Sardinia. It’s on the way to Costa Rei, very easy to find – drive east of Cagliari on SS125 towards Muravera, take the first exict to Costa Rei, drive a couple of km until you reach a small bridge and a traffic light. Go straight and then take it left, but go slowly as the turn for the beach is soon after, on the right.
Monte Turnu tends to get crowded in the summer. I won’t let it deter me, especially if I am after Sardinia photos. The best time to go to take photos actually is between 2:00 and 4:00 pm. That’s when I took my photo. I walked right at the kiosk and got straight into the water.
Sunrise pictures of Sardinia are best taken on the east coast. This is Costa Rei
This is home to me, and here’s what I think is one of the best beaches in Sardinia. My parents would take me there as a baby, then they bought a property where we’d spend the summer months when I grew up. And even now, that’s where they spend the summer, so I go all the time. It’s among my favorite locations to take pictures of Sardinia.
Costa Rei can actually be reached by bus – there’s regular buses leaving from Cagliari main bus station, it takes a couple of hours. Otherwise, it takes around one hour by car, depending on traffic, along SS125. Alternatively, follow the old SP17 to Villasimius and take SS125 from there – there will be plenty of opportunities to get good Sardinia photos along the way.
As I go to Costa Rei all the time, I take photos at about any time of day. The orientation is such that this is a good place for sunrise – so wake up extra early for beautiful sunrise pictures of Sardinia. Or else, the best time for photos is when the sun is bright in the sky, between 11:00 am and 3:00 pm.
Santa Giusta in Costa Rei: gorgeous to take pictures of Sardinia, but expect crowds in the summer
Also, don’t expect this to be a secluded beach with no crowds. Quite the opposite: as it is easy to access, it gets really crowded in the summer months. So perhaps your best shot for some solitary Sardinia photos in the area is at sunrise.
For my sunrise photo, I walked down Via delle Rose and left once on the beach. I just shot randomly with no specific idea in mind, but I loved finding the boats on shore as they added an extra touch to the photo.
I took the other photo from Santa Giusta, where I went on top of the massive rock – an incredible location for great pictures of Sardinia. Keep in mind I took that at the beginning of October, that’s why the beach looks so empty. Unfortunately it’s not nearly as peaceful in the peak summer months as there’s a resort nearby. Either way, the views are gorgeous.
This is one of my favorite pictures of Sardinia, and I took it in my beloved Costa Rei
The last of my pictures of Sardinia in Costa Rei was taken near a kiosk called “I Tarocchi” – the kiosk isn’t too nice, it’s quite run down to be honest. But there’s a bit less people on this stretch. I walked along the beach, to the left, until I got to this massive rock that I climbed and that gave me great views of the water and all the action.
Bodderosa is an incredible location for pictures of Sardinia. This was taken on beach 4
This is one of the most amazing places in Sardinia, and the best part of it is that access is restricted to only 140 cars per day in the overall natural park, which counts 5 beautiful small beaches. This means that Oasi Bidderosa is never crowded, and it’s simply perfect to take amazing Sardinia photos. Do keep in mind though that, as access is restricted, it’s better to book in advance.
Bidderosa is at about 10 km north of Orosei, a lovely village on the East coast of Sardinia. The best way to get there is from Nuoro (along the route of SS131 bis), one of the main cities on the island. Once there, take SS129 and, from Orosei, SS125 heading north.
The beaches in Bidderosa are numbered, and it’s possible to move from one to the other throughout the day – better to walk, though, as the parking lots near the various beaches get full. I find beach 4 to be an excellent location to take iconic pictures of Sardinia, as there’s beautiful rocks that give photos that extra depth.
As Bidderosa never gets crowded, it’s a fantastic location to visit even throughout the summer months. The best photos are taken during the day (it’s facing east, so unfortunately there’s no sunsets). I took my Sardinia photos of Bidderosa during the early afternoon, at beach 4; whereas the photo of me walking almost like a soldier was taken a bit later on the walk between beach 3 and beach 4.
Straight to business: walking around to find perfect locations to take pictures of Sardinia
More Amazing Pictures of Sardinia
As I have said, my list of locations to take pictures of Sardinia is not exhaustive. There are fantastic places that have lots of street art in Sardinia – the traditional kind though! There are some incredible and unique archaeological sites, such as the famous nuraghi.
I have browsed Trover and found some more incredible pictures of Sardinia, complete with locations. I have compiled a list and embedded it below for you to see. If you have any other Sardinia photos to add to this, get on Trover and also let me know!
If you have been to Sardinia and would like to recommend your favorite places to take pictures of Sardinia, you should upload them on Trover so others can be inspired too!
I have a bunch of friends who travel the world in search of good waves and tell me there’s plenty of good surfing spots in Sardinia. Simone has moved to Lanzarote because he wants to have good weather year round and warm waters to catch waves. Alessandro plans a surf-stop wherever he goes. When he planned his trip to Central America, he was enthusiastic to find that there is great surfing in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
However, our very own Sardinia has some incredible surfing spots. Acclaimed for its amazing beaches, its nature, its beautiful small cities, the unique archeological sites, the great hiking trails and the ancient culture, Sardinia offers good surfing year round.
Biderosa is one of the most beautiful beaches in Sardinia
Sardinia enjoys a very favorable position in the Mediterranean, such that it always gets small to medium sized waves year round, especially along the west coast. If winter is by far the best season to catch good waves, it is also possible to do so in other seasons, especially when the strong mistral wind sweeps the island. Those who are fortunate enough to travel to Sardinia in the summer may get the best of both: incredible beaches to relax on sunny days, and great surfing spots on windy ones.
Following is a selection of the best 11 surfing spots in Sardinia, as recommended by my friends who love surfing.
11 Amazing Surfing Spots in Sardinia
Su Giudeu, Chia (Domus de Maria)
Don’t be fooled by the picture: while Chia is a fantastic beach to hang out on quiet days, it also is an incredible surfing spot. Located on the south coast of Sardinia, Su Giudeu, Chia is a favorite of locals for many reasons.
There is a lagoon right behind the beach, where pink flamingoes live; the sand is fine and golden and has formed gorgeous sand dunes; there is a small island that can he reached easily from the shore and, as if this is not enough, when the winds blow from the north east or the north, Su Giudeu, in Chia is ideal for surfing.
Wonderfully still Su Giudeu becomes and excellent surfing spot when the wind blows – photo courtesy of Elena Giglia (flickr)
San Nicolao and Portixeddu (Buggerru)
San Nicolao and Portixeddu are located on the south west coast of Sardinia. They are two beautiful white sand beaches that are not far from the former mining village of Buggerru. They get excellent waves, up to 3 meters high, when the mistral winds blow. It’s been the location of competition run by The European Professional Surfing Association.
Portixeddu – photo courtesy of mezzosakko (flickr)
Not far from Portoscuso and on the south west coast of Sardinia, Guroneddu is an excellent surfing spot in the winter months, while summers tend to be mostly flat. The best time to go is when the wind blows from the west. It is an exposed reef, and there’s also rocks and urchins to watch for. Guroneddu isn’t easy to reach, but worth the search.
Guroneddu – photo courtesy of Alessandro Abis
Putzu Idu and Capu Mannu (San Giovanni di Sinis)
On the west coast of Sardinia and not far from Oristano, one of the main cities on the island, there’s the Sinis peninsula. At the north of the Peninsula there’s a beautiful strip of white sand called Putzu Idu, which is ideal for any water sport, such a windsurf, kitesurf and even surf. Capu Mannu is close to Putzu Idu, to the north, and get some of the biggest waves in the Mediterranean. They get the best surfing conditions with either mistral or south west winds.
Capu Mannu – photo courtesy of Simone Piras
Porto Ferro (Alghero)
Porto Ferro is a beautiful unspoiled beach close to Alghero, one of the most beautiful cities in Sardinia. It is a stretch of sand of around 2 km of sand, with clear azure waters, where surf junkies love going right after storms from either south west, west or north west. It’s a good surfing spot even with active south west wind.
Isola Rossa and La Marinedda (Trinità d’Agultu e Vignola)
Isola Rossa and La Marinedda are located on the north coast of Sardinia, not far from the lovely village of Castelsardo and in what is known as Costa Paradiso. Isola Rossa takes its name from the small island located just 400 meters from the shore. Its main feature is a large coastal Spanish watch tower built in medieval times in order to protect the area from the invasions of pirates.
The nearby La Marinedda, is a small cove where some easy hiking trail afford splendid views of the clear waters. Both beaches are perfect for surfing whenever the mistral wind blows.
Sa Marinedda, one of the most beautiful beaches in Sardinia, turns into an excellent surf spot when mistral blows
Porto Giunco (Villasimius)
On the south east coast of Sardinia and at about one hour drive from the main city, Cagliari, Porto Giunco, not far from Villasimius, is one of the most amazing beaches on the island. It is a beautiful bay with incredibly fine, soft, white sand and the most amazing blue waters; right behind it the salt pods of Notteri are inhabited by pink flamingoes. With south east and east swells, Porto Giunco becomes a fantastic surfing location.
Porto Giunco is one of the most beautiful beaches in Sardinia, and a great surfing spot – photo courtesy of Marcello Chiodino
Racca Point, Capitana (Quartu S. Elena)
Located on the south coast of Sardinia at about 25 minutes drive from Cagliari, Racca Point is a lovely beach with clear waters and one of the best places to surf in the island. The best time to catch waves is when the wind blows from north east. That’s when there are long waves to ride.
Hi, my name is Claudia. One day I packed my life and started traveling… except I packed too much. Follow me as I fill my life with dreams, drop the weight and inspire you to live your dreams. View and download my media kit here (updated July 2019). Learn more about me here…