Beaches and rolling hinterlands combine on the sland of Sardinia. The crashing waves from the Balearic and Tyrrhenian seas momentarily interrupt the eye-catching turquoise waters that hide their own secrets below. The contrasting mix of land and sea sets the scene for travelers to enjoy some of the best settings that Italy has to offer.
Speckled between the craggy wilderness and the cove-laden coastlines are intriguing villages that stoke interest and inspiration. Ancient history is on display both in local traditions and the surrounding architecture, which help tell part of the story of Sardinia’s often tumultuous past.
A Mediterranean gem, Sardinia, has fallen into the hands of Catalonians, Arabs and Greeks. This has created a strong pride in the island’s residents, one that has blossomed over the centuries. But hints of the past remain in the historic ruins that are spread around its edges.
Whether you’re an adventure-seeker, a history buff, or just looking for a serene getaway, there are plenty of things to do in Sardinia for every type of traveller. In this article, we’ll explore some of the best places to visit on this enchanting Italian island.
Map of Things to do in Sardinia, Italy
A nice day trip from Cagliari is the town of Bosa. Found a two-hour drive to the north, Bosa boasts rolling hills, colorful houses and very few tourists. This coastal town is best seen via a short climb to the top of Castle of Serravalle for a magnificent 360 degree view of all its beauty.
If you are searching for a good mix of history and art, find your way to Casa Deriu. This manor house, which has been restored, serves today as an open museum with furnished rooms and a gallery of art. Once you have spent enough time wandering the streets of pastel homes, consider the coastal drive from Bosa to Alghero for more awe-inspiring views.
13. Pozzo Santa Cristina
Found in the Province of Oristano, is an architectural gem known as the Pozzo di Santa Cristina. Dating back as far as 3000 years ago from the Nuragic civilization, this holy well temple’s impressive state gives it a feel of modern construction.
Featuring a vestibule, stairwell and underground chamber, many mysteries surround this well and it is believed it once served as an astronomical observatory. The reason behind this theory falls within its alignment. During the equinoxes, the sun comes through the stairwell and reflects on the water, creating a rather perfect illumination of the well.
Another phenomenon occurs with the moon. When the moon reaches its maximum height, occurring every 18.5 years, light passes through the opening at the top of the sacred well.
Less than an hour east of Cagliari is one of the top holiday destinations in Sardinia. Villasimius features beaches, outdoor activities such as hiking and biking, along with amazing food and drinks.
One of the favorite beaches among locals is Simius. Sharing part of its name with Villasimius, it boasts soft white sand and crystal clear water. If you venture to the pond of Notteri, you can even spot some pink flamingos as well!
Feeling more adventurous than just sunbathing? Simius Beach also has wind and kite surfing lessons available. For those who love history, check out Fortezza Vecchia, an old fortress situated right by the sea. It dates back to the 16th century and was originally used to shelter boats.
11. Asinara Island
If you are looking to escape the beach crowds, a 90 minute ferry ride will place you on the island of Asinara. Situated off the northwestern tip of Sardinia, this prison turned national park offers a great mix of history and natural beauty.
This island is best explored by bike or electric car which are available for rent. Much of the island is also protected. It was closed off to the public for over 100 years! So travelers should know, if you are looking to cool off, make sure you’re at one of the three beaches approved for swimming.
However, no trip to Asinara is complete without seeing the indigenous albino donkeys. They are the reason behind the name of the island, with “Asino” meaning donkey in Italian.
While you can enjoy Asinara as a day trip, the island does have two options for overnight stays. A hostel for a more basic island experience or for a more exclusive feel you can book one of the six luxurious rooms at the island’s only hotel, La Locanda.
10. Gola di Gorropu
Limestone walls soaring to an impressive 500m (1640 feet) in height make up Sardinia’s most renowned gorge. The Gola di Gorropu is a natural canyon formed by millennia of surging water, predominantly from the Rio Flumineddu, excavating its walls.
With a wide range of hikes varying in difficulty, there are many ways to enjoy the canyon. Treks such as the Ghenna Silana are well-marked and rewarding to complete on your own. However, Jeeps are available to rent for either one-way or round trip as an alternative way to see the canyon in style.
Although the gorge can be enjoyed year-round, the best hiking climates are typically from September to the end of April. It’s also best to avoid the canyon after heavy rainfall.
9. Costa Smeralda
If luxury resorts, fine wine, mega yachts and white sandy beaches are your vibe, then look no further than Costa Smeralda. Translating to Emerald Coast, the striking blue water gives good reason for the name.
The undisputed capital of Costa Smeralda is Porto Cervo. It’s a fantastic place to explore expensive boutiques, try posh cocktails and even people watch as Porto Cervo is known to attract many of the rich and the famous.
The emerald coast is also home to one of the best diving spots in Sardinia, Cannigione. Pristine water and a deep inlet make this an incredible place to explore above and below the surface.
Sardinia’s second-largest city is bustling with history and culture. A city known as Sassari sits a stone’s throw from the coast but is also deep with cultural roots.
Piazza Castello is the ideal place to start your tour of Sassari, which has been the primary meeting point for the city’s residents since the 1300s. However, because it was once the site of Sardinia’s Spanish Inquisition Court, much of it was destroyed in 1877. What remains is a unique insight into the town’s ancient past.
Beyond the Piazza Castello, you’ll find bustling town squares such as the Piazza Italia, where locals and travelers mingle and admire the surrounding architecture. Not far from this square are historic churches, such as the San Nicola da Bari Cathedral.
Plus, it’s also worth a short journey to Santissima Trinità di Saccargia, whose exceptional Pisan architecture is backed by beautiful fields of grazing animals.
7. Maddalena Archipelago National Park
Best reached by boat from the little port of Palau is the magnificent Maddalena Archipelago National Park. Made up of 62 little islands featuring rugged rocks and crystal waters, this is a dream destination for those looking for seclusion, sunbathing and even scuba diving.
One of the most beautiful beaches in the archipelago is Cala Francese. Found on the southern portion of La Maddalena, the main and largest island, turquoise waters along with green shrubbery and white granite combine for stunning views.
A fun fact about this beach is there is a granite quarry near the entrance that was once part of a French-owned operation. The one that used this stone for projects, including the Statue of Liberty.
The second largest island is known as Caprera Island. The island is accessible by a bridge from La Maddalena. This is yet another great spot for beach lovers, one that also features a number of well marked hiking trails. These paths guide you to wonderful views and even wild goats. The latter being the inspiration for the island’s name.
6. Su Nuraxi, Barumini
While Sardinia is home to many nuraghe, which means “mount of stone”, the most complete and best preserved example is by far Su Nuraxi. Regarded by UNESCO as one of the best restorations in the Mediterranean, it won’t take long to see why Su Nuraxi is the most famous nuraghe in Sardinia.
These megalithic defensive structures date back to the Late Bronze Age and are only found in Sardinia. You heard that right. That means this is the only place in the world you will find them! Once used for social and defensive reasons, Su Nuraxi is believed to have been abandoned around the 6th century BCE.
When excavated in the 1950s, archaeologists noted that it had maintained high levels of authenticity. There is very little use of modern materials that have been used to maintain the structure.
The best way to get to Barumini, where Su Nuraxi is located, is by car. It’s an easy 45 minute drive from Cagliari. However, if you do not plan to rent a vehicle, several guided tours depart from Cagliari daily, making Su Nuraxi a simple, unmissable experience.
A charming place with a great historical background is Sardinia’s 5th largest city, Alghero. With a good variety of things to do, including the historical center, museums, and beaches (because it is Sardinia, of course), Alghero is highly recommended.
While exploring the historical center, the first thing you will want to take note of are the walls, also known as “bastioni”, and how they protect the old city center. These walls run from Porta a Mare to Pizza Sulis, where you will also find the famous Sulis Tower.
Since Alghero is situated in the Coral Coast, you’ll want to check out the Museo del Corallo to learn how coral became a large part of the Alghero economy. Speaking of coral, the Riviera del Corallo is a place where you can find tons of jewelry made with the gorgeous pink and red anemone.
A charming medieval village, Castelsardo, sits on the northern coast of Sardinia. Having found its place on “100 Most Beautiful Italian Villages” list, it’s easy to see why this is a must on your trip to Sardinia.
The Dorio Castle, now converted into a museum, is high on our list. You will find a lot to be entertained with as each room in the castle has its own theme, ranging from bakery and fishing to basket weaving.
Once you have explored within the castle, take a stroll around the town and admire the traditional baskets hanging from many houses. These are a popular decoration here in Castelsardo. Finish up by checking out some of the 17 watchtowers built to keep Castelsardo safe by the Aragonese.
About 45 minutes southwest of Cagliari is the ancient city of Nora. In the 8th century, it was seemingly abandoned. Fast forward to the late 19th century and a storm surge unearthed an ancient cemetery, and the rest is, well, history.
Now one of Sardinia’s most important archeological sites. It’s here that you can discover a preserved thermal complex, public buildings, the aqueduct complex, and even an amphitheater. The latter of which is yet to be fully excavated.
The most notable, however, is the Teatro Romano. Not only is it the singular Roman theater in Sardinia, but it’s so well preserved that it’s still used for concerts and shows to this day.
2. La Pelosa
Known to be one of the most beautiful and picturesque beaches in all of Sardinia, La Pelosa is equally popular. In fact, it’s so beautiful that you may need to book your visit in advance.
If you plan to visit between the months of June and September, you will need to make a reservation via a local app or website to ensure you will get to experience its serenity in person. With your booking sorted, you’ll find La Pelosa’s tranquil waters ideal for sunbathing along with all sorts of water sports such as windsurfing, kayaking and snorkeling.
You will find the beach, however, will have everything you may need for the day from beach chairs available to rent and food kiosks. So once you lock in your reservation, you are set for a relaxing or adventure filled day.
High on the hills overlooking the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean is Sardinia’s capital, Cagliari. With winding medieval streets, an intriguing archeological museum, impressive churches, and defensive towers that can be climbed for jaw-dropping views of the coast, there is so much to do year-round in Cagliari.
If you’re interested in the culinary scene of Sardinia, a favorite is Mercato di Dan Benedetto for amazing local seafood. If seeing pink flamingos in their natural habitat is exciting for you, head to Molentargius Nature Reserve to see not only flamingos but tons of other species of birds.
The Botanical Garden, home to over 3000 species of flora, is incredibly beautiful with an amazing history as well, having opened for the first time in 1858. Lastly, the city boasts some beautiful beaches, including Poetto which has fine sand and crystal water or Calamosca for a more secluded vibe. Both are great for some fresh air, swimming, or to even catch a sunset.