There are many more things to do in Cagliari than you’d expect – so many, that even locals hardly get to do them all.
Sardinia is one of the hottest holiday destinations in the summer, with people crowding its gorgeous beaches. What most ignore is that even the cities are beautiful. Cagliari, the capital, is a fantastic place to visit any time of the year, and one of the best places in Sardinia to get a good understanding of the island’s history, culture and spirit.
No matter what your tastes in travel are, and regardless of the time of year you visit Cagliari, this city has something for you and you are bound to fall in love with it. The same happened to D. H. Lawrence when arrived here in 1920. He found it to be “…strange and rather wonderful, not a bit like Italy.”
Cagliari, whose name comes from the Punic Karel or Karalis (rocky place), has a long history: founded by the Phoenicians in the 8th century BC, it saw Roman, Punics, Arab, Pisans and Aragonese dominations, among others.
In Sardinian language, however, Cagliari is called Casteddu, which means castle, a name that refers to the walled medieval city where the doors were closed every night. Cagliari is beautiful, and quite unique too. Facing the Mediterranean Sea but with mountains at its back; on the hills yet right by a big plane; mixing a variety of architectural styles and layers and layers of history, this is a city worth discovering.
Cagliari is the perfect destination for a city break, and a great starting point for your Sardinia holidays. Curious to find out more about it? Continue reading.
30 Fabulous Things To Do In Cagliari, Sardinia
Take a walk around Castello
A walk around Castello is a wonderful introduction to Cagliari. It’s a beautiful hilltop citadel with domes, towers and palaces that used to be home to the local aristocracy. This is the medieval part of the city – the one that gives it its local name, Casteddu.
Castello is a maze of narrow, cobbled alleys and crumbling buildings – much to the locals dismay. It is packed with interesting places to visit, and several viewpoints to different sides of the city – some perfect for sunset, others for sunrise. There’s also a few interesting cafés and bars where to have a good drink.
Don’t skip Via Stretta! It’s a narrow alley where residents have placed beautiful flower and plant pots outside of their doors to adorn the street.
These are the best tours of Cagliari that also go to Castello:
Walk up the Torri
To get fantastic views of the city, walk up one or both of the two Pisan towers that dominate the city. Torre dell’Elefante and Torre di San Pancrazio were both built at the beginning of the 14th century by the Aragonese rules, for protective reasons. Walking up is not what to do in Cagliari if you are afraid of heights. If you manage to get over your fears, you’ll be rewarded with splendid views.
You may want to opt for the “Biglietto Integrato Beni Culturali Cagliari” which gives you access to one of the towers, the Roman Amphiteather, Santa Restituta Crypt and Villa di Tigellio.
Visit Cattedrale di Santa Maria
Cagliari’s Cathedral, in Piazza Palazzo, is one of the most beautiful churches in town. It dates back to the 13th century, and its interior is a fantastic example of Baroque style. To the side of the altar there is a beautifully decorated crypt where the tombs of the members of the Savoy royal family are located.
You can also climb up the recently reopened Cathedral tower.
Then go to Palazzo Viceregio
Right next to the Cathedral, Palazzo Viceregio is where the headquarters of the provincial assembly are located. It used to be the residence of the Spanish and Savoy viceroys. Exhibits and concerts are often held there, and it’s possible to visit throughout the year. It’s open every day.
Visit the Archeology Museum
Cagliari Archeology Museum has an incredible exhibit of artifacts displaying millennia of history, with a collection of bronzetti (bronz figurines), providing insights into the nuragic civilization of Sardinia, and a few of Mont’e Prama Giants (the rest are on display in Cabras’ Museo Civico), enormous stone statues that date back to the 8th and 9th century BC.
The Museo Archeologico Nazionale is located in Piazza dell’Arsenale, in the Castello District.
And the Pinacoteca Nazionale
The Pinacoteca Nazionale is right next to the Archeology Museum, and has an incredible collection of art dating between the 15th and the 17th century, with works of Catalan and Genoese artists, as well as Sardinian ones.
Walk around the Ghetto degli Ebrei
Little remains of the area where the Jewish community lived until it was expelled in 1492, but the area between Via Santa Croce and Via Stretta in Castello is truly pretty. The Santa Croce church in Via Santa Croce has been built on top of a synagogue.
Enjoy sunset from Via Santa Croce
If you are a fan of the golden hour, head to the terrace of Via Santa Croce in time for sunset. The view of the roofs of Stampace and that of the coast is breathtaking. There is a very popular bar, called Libarium, that’s also a fantastic place to sit and have a drink.
Take in the views from Bastione
Speaking of views, another place for incredible ones is the Bastione di San Remy, which was built between 1899 and 1902 . In the summer months, it is a gathering point as there are a couple of good bars on the terrace. There is a staircase that from Piazza Costituzione takes up to Bastione. Alternatively, you can get there from Via Università, in Castello.
Visit the Roman Amphitheater
Cagliari’s Roman Amphitheater is located in Viale Sant’Ignazio, and it dates back to the 2nd century AD. It’s been entirely carved out of rock. At the height of the Roman empire, it would hold up to 10000 people. Until a few years ago it was regularly used for concerts and shows in the summer months.
Explore the Botanical Gardens
Not many people know, but the Botanical Gardens in Cagliari are among the most famous in Italy. They were first opened in 1858 and there are more than 3000 species of flora. Going for a walk through these beautiful park is one of the most relaxing things to do in Cagliari. Inside, there also is a Punic cistern and a Roman quarry.
Visit Villa di Tigellio
One of the nicest things to do in Cagliari for lovers of Roman history is visiting Villa di Tigellio, which dates back to the 1st century BC and was the residence of Tigellio Ermogene, famous Sardinian poet and musician.
Visit Basilica di Bonaria and the annexed cemetery
The Basilica di Bonaria is one of the most impressive churches in Cagliari. In the Sanctuary right next to it there is the relics of a wooden statue of Virgin Mary and Christ, which according to legend has saved a 14th century Spanish ship during a terrible storm.
At the base of the church there is a beautiful historical cemetery, no longer used as a burial ground in 1968. It can be visited from Tuesday to Sunday, and there occasionally are guided tours which cost €8 and have to be booked in advance. More information can be found on the website of Cagliari Tourism Board. If you are in town on one of the days when tours are organize, I highly recommend it.
Visit the other beautiful churches
If you have some extra time, one of the nicest things to do in Cagliari is visiting more churches, as they are examples of different architectural and artistic styles and places to admire fine arts. Among the nicest ones there is the Chiesa di San Michele, in rococo style; the nearby Chiesa di Sant’Efisio, which holds the statue of the Saint Patron of Sardinia, and from where the famous Sant’Efisio Parade departs every 1st of May. San Saturnino Basilica is one of the oldest churches in Sardinia, built over a Roman necropolis.
Go to Castello di San Michele
The Castello di San Michele is located on top of a hill from where there are beautiful views of the city. It dates back to the 10th century and in the 14th century it became the residence of the Carroz family. Nowadays, it hosts art exhibits. There is a nice park around it.
Walk around the historical center
Cagliari historical center is roughly divided into four main areas. One of them is Castello, which I have already mentioned. Stampace used to be Cagliari’s medieval working class district; Villanova has recently become one of the trendiest areas in Cagliari; and La Marina is the heart of Cagliari nightlife. Each of these quarters hides some of the nicest gems in town. In Stampace, you’ll find Santa Restituta crypt, which has been used since pre-Christian times and became the home of the martyr Restituta in the 5th century.
These are the best tours of Cagliari that also go to the 4 historical districts:
Explore the area of Via Roma
The most beautiful view of Cagliari is the one you’ll get from the ferry either docking or leaving the harbor. Via Roma is one of the nicest streets in town. This is where the Palazzo Civico – aka the City Hall – is located. This beautiful palace built between 1899 and 1913 holds the works of various Sardinian artists. It can be visited on Saturdays, when the on-site guide will take you around, or else you may have to take an appointment.
Explore underground Cagliari
One of the quirkiest things to do in Cagliari is visiting its undergrounds. It’s a fantastic way to learn about the many civilizations that followed one another in ruling the city, what happened in Cagliari during World War II, and appreciate its complex history. There is no way of doing this independently. You need to join a guided tour.
I recommend this guided tour of Cagliari underground – I took it myself a few months ago and it was excellent.
Enjoy the airy squares
If you want to catch a bit of local action, spending some time in one of the many, beautiful, airy squares is what to do in Cagliari. Piazza Yenne is possibly the most popular hang out place in town, thanks to the many lovely cafés and bars. Other beautiful squares are Piazza del Carmine and Piazza San Domenico, in Villanova.
Go to the market
Visiting the markets is what to do in Cagliari to learn more about the food culture in Sardinia. The recently renovated Mercato di Santa Chiara is located right behind Piazza Yenne, so it makes for a nice stop for food on your wanders though the city. Mercato di San Benedetto is one of the best fish markets in the Mediterranean. It’s open Mondays to Saturdays, from 7:00 am to 2:00 pm.
Go to Sant’Efisio Parade
If you happen to be in town on 1st of May, one of the ultimate things to do in Cagliari is following Sant’Efisio Parade. This is a beautiful parade of traditional Sardinian costumes from various villages around the island, in honor of Sant’Efisio, the Saint Patron of Sardinia.
Go to one of the beaches in Cagliari
Cagliari is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Sardinia. They can all be easily reached from the center of town and are great places to hang out. Going to the beach certainly is one of the best things to do in Cagliari, and locals love it!
Poetto is the most popular of the urban beaches in Cagliari. It is a long stretch of white sand with clear waters. There is a bike and running lane, and several small cafés and restaurants where you can have lunch or a drink.
Calamosca is smaller, located on the other side of the Sella del Diavolo. It has white sand and clear waters, and there is a small kiosk too.
Cala Fighera is a bit of a hike to get to, but one of the most beautiful, hidden beaches in Cagliari. It’s a famous nudist beach: if you don’t mind that, it’s a lovely place with incredibly clear and clean waters.
Check out my post on the best beaches in Sardinia and make sure to read my post A Guide To The Beaches In Cagliari And Its Surroundings.
Hike up Sella del Diavolo and Fortino S. Ignazio
Hiking is what makes me truly love my hometown. I love the fact that I don’t have to go far to get that refreshing out of town feeling. The best urban hike is that to Sella del Diavolo (Devil’s Saddle), one of the local landmarks, from where there is an incredible view of Poetto beach and Molentargius Lagoon. It’s a nice and easy hike, lots of people go there regularly to train, or for trail running. You can access the trail from Calamosca beach.
Another easy walk that starts more or less in the same area is that to the Fortino di Sant’Ignazio, a fort that dates back to 1792. Close by there also is a lighthouse and a watchtower, from where you’ll get yet another incredible view.
If hiking is your way of having fun, make sure to read my post Hiking In Sardinia – 14 Incredible Trails.
If hiking is not your thing, and you are more for water sports (did you know Sardinia is great for surfing and windsurfing?) you can even kayak around Sella del Diavolo.
Check out my post on the best surfing spots in Sardinia.
Go to one of the many city parks
Cagliari is packed with beautiful parks. The most unique one is the necropolis of Tuvixeddu, which is the largest of its kind in the Mediterranean basin. Other nice parks are Monte Urpinu, a beautiful pine grove with a small pond and several animals; Terramaini, one of the newest ones and a favorite of locals; Monte Claro, located on a beautiful hill from where there are nice views of the city, and often used for concerts and events; and Parco della Musica, a smaller park in the center of town.
Admire pink flamingoes in Molentargius Nature Reserve
Cagliari and the surroundings are nesting spot for pink flamingoes and other species of birds. Going to Molentargius Nature Reserve is what to do in Cagliari for great chances to see flamingoes from a close distance. The best access point to Molentargius is Poetto beach. The park is open daily from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm in the summer, and from 9:00 am to 6:30 pm in the winter. Admission is free but you may want to rent a bike to explore it.
There even are guided tours that to all the way to Molentargius. Here are some of them:
Go to an art exhibit
Cagliari has a thriving cultural life. If you are a fan of art, one of the things to do in Cagliari is heading to either Ex Ma, the former abattoir, which often hosts exhibits and cultural events. Another place is the Lazzaretto. This is in Sant’Elia, in a lovely location overlooking the sea and in a beautifully restored building that used to be a leper hospital.
Go to a soccer game
One of the most fun things to do in Cagliari is going to a soccer game to support the local team, which plays in Serie A. It’s a nice way to spend a couple of hours and to mingle with the locals. You can buy tickets in advance online, or directly at the kiosk. You need to bring your ID card.
Get out of town
The surroundings of Cagliari are beautiful, and getting out of town is what to do in Cagliari if you want to explore a bit more of the region. You have several options. Lovers of wine should head to Serdiana and Dolianova, two lovely villages around 20 minutes drive from Cagliari where there are several incredible wineries.
San Sperate, famous for its murals, is at just 15 minutes drive from Cagliari. You can visit on this San Sperate murales tour.
The surroundings of Cagliari have several unique archeological sites. Nora is home to a gorgeous Roman site; whereas the Nuraxi di Barumini is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Sardinia. Both of them can be visited as day trips. Another option is to visit the beautiful mines of the area of Sulcis.
These tours all depart from Cagliari and go to the nicest archeological sites in the area:
If you are into hiking, you should definitely can join a guided hike along one of the nicest trails in the surroundings of Cagliari. I am a massive fan of the ancient Roman Road hike. The coastal views along the way are incredible!
Last, but definitely not least, you should plan a road trip along the coast for the incredible views.
Check out my post The Best Day Trips From Cagliari.
Try local food
Food in Cagliari is fantastic, and you’ll find some specialties that you won’t see in the rest of Italy. The first one that comes to my mind is pizzetta sfoglia, which you’ll find in any good coffee shop and bakery and is a common thing to have for breakfast. It’s a pastry (similar to filo) filled with tomato sauce, oregano, capers and at times also anchovies. A food tour is what to do in Cagliari to discover the local specialties, and if you want to go a step further, you can even opt for a cooking glass.
For more Sardinian specialties head over to my post about All The Sardinian Food You Should Try.
Jump into the local nightlife
Cagliari comes to life at night, when the locals head out for a drink. I often hang out at Florio, in the Villanova District, which attracts a good crowd all week long. Babeuf is a nice wine bar, also in Villanova. B Flat is not in the the city center, in Via del Pozzetto. They have live music every weekend. Reservations are encouraged.
De Candia and Caffè degli Spiriti are both on Bastione and they are great places to have a drink. The best cocktails in town are at Libarium, in Via Santa Croce in Castello, and at Biffi American Bar, a rather retro place in Via San Giovanni, Villanova.
Practical Tips For Your Trip To Cagliari
Where to stay in Cagliari, Sardinia
Cagliari has a very good selection of places to stay, scattered around town, for any budget and any taste. This is just a selection:
- Hostel Marina is in the heart of the Marina district, perfect for easy access to attractions and nightlife.
- Villa Fanny is an incredible boutique hotel, minutes away from Stampace.
- T Hotel is a great business style hotel in the center of town. Its main perks are a spa and a fantastic lounge and bar area.
- Apt Is Fradis is a lovely small apartment in Villanova.
- Antico Corso Charme is a stylish bed and breakfast in the heart of Cagliari.
Where to eat in Cagliari, Sardinia
One of the nicest things to do in Cagliari is eating. My go to places are all in the city center.
Framento makes the best pizza: only local ingredients, incredibly fragrant dough made with natural yeast. Reservations are recommended.
Grains is another excellent pizzeria: the staff is incredibly caring, pizza delicious and they have a fabulous selection of beers.
The best gelato is at Cremoso, right off Largo Carlo Felice and at Gocce di Gelato e Cioccolato, in Piazza del Carmine.
The best seafood places are all in La Marina. La Stella Marina di Montecristo is a good local eatery where for a reasonable price you’ll get a full meal – it’s delicious, but nothing fancy. You have to reserve in advance. Ristorante Italia is one of the best known restaurants in Cagliari. Sabores is a great place if you want to try local cheeses and cold cuts, accompanied by great wines.
For amazing burgers prepared with strictly local ingredients go to Bombas in Via Università.
For something unique, make sure to go to Osteria Kobuta – it’s a fusion between Sardinian and Japanese food, which may sound weird. But I promise you it’s fabulous.
Stay tuned as I will be writing more about the best restaurants in Cagliari.
How to get to Cagliari, Sardinia
Cagliari is well connected via ferry, with rides from and to Civitavecchia, Naples and Palermo (all of them take around 13 hours), and it is also a cruise port.
Cagliari also has an airport. There are regular and budget airlines flights to Cagliari from various cities in Italy and Europe.
Reaching the city center from the airport is easy.
It only takes 7 minutes to get from the airport to the center of Cagliari by train.
You’ll find plenty of taxis outside the arrivals terminal. A ride to the city center should cost between €17 and €20, depending on the time of day.
By private transfer
Another option is to book a private transfer which for the same price of a taxi ride will take you anywhere you want. You can book it here.
How to move around Cagliari
Public transportation works quite well. If you are staying in the city center, one of the best things to do in Cagliari is walking, anyways. If you are planning to use Cagliari as a base to visit other places in Sardinia, you may opt for guided tours or prefer to rent a car. You can get a quote for car rental here.
When to visit Cagliari, Sardinia
Any time is good to visit Cagliari. Winter is usually mild. Fall, winter and early spring are the rainiest times of the year, but also the best times to experience Sardinian culture and festivals. Summer is hot and it can get very busy but you can go to the beach to cool down!
Check out my post 21 Incredible Places For Winter Sun In Europe.
The length of your stay in Cagliari is a matter of choice. With all the things to do in Cagliari, I think you should spend a minimum of 4 days here – longer if you want to get truly acquainted with the local spirit and explore more in depth!
Make sure to read my other posts:
- A Complete Guide To Alghero Sardinia
- A Complete Guide To Bosa Sardinia
- A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia
- A Local’s Guide To Costa Rei, Sardinia
- A Complete Guide To The Island Of Asinara, Sardinia
You may also want to read my Italy trip planning posts:
- 17 Reasons To Visit Italy As Soon As Possible
- 67 Extremely Useful Travel Tips For Italy
- What To Do And What To Avoid When Planning A Trip To Italy
- A Perfect Italy Itinerary: What To See And Do With 10 Days Or More