Cagliari, the largest city on the island of Sardinia, is a great place to start your visit of this fascinating island. Because it has both a ferry port and airport, it’s easy to reach and its sights are a good introduction to Sardinian history, culture, food, and traditions.
Cagliari is a good blend of a lively, modern city with the island’s ancient roots, from the prehistoric Nuraghic era through Roman times and the Middle Ages. Top sights include its castle and surrounding monuments, the Marina District by the sea, churches, the archaeological museum, and one of Italy’s top covered markets.
Plan Your Visit to Cagliari
Cagliari is on the southern coast of Sardinia, one of the largest islands in the Mediterranean. Ferries from Sicily and several places in mainland Italy arrive in Cagliari’s port. Elmas airport, just outside the city, has flights from other parts of Italy and from some places in Europe. A bus connects the airport to Cagliari.
Cagliari’s train and bus stations are right in town. The rail line runs from Cagliari to Sassari or Olbia in the north and long distance buses connect the city to other parts of the island. Local buses run through Cagliari and nearby villages and towns can also be reached by local bus.
Where to Stay:
- I stayed at Hotel Miramare, a centrally located hotel right on Via Roma in front of the sea. My room was very comfortable and nicely decorated and the art works by a local artists decorates the hotel.
- See and compare more hotels in Cagliari, Sardinia.
Cagliari has a typical Mediterranean climate with hot summers and cold winters. See Cagliari Climate for more details.
What to See and Do in Cagliari
- A good place to start your visit is in the Marina District by the port. Via Roma, the main street, has a covered sidewalk, shops, and bars with outdoor tables and there are several restaurants on the nearby streets. Piazza Yenne, a big square at the top of Largo Carlo Felice, has lively outdoor bars and restaurants. A few blocks from the harbor is Piazza Sant’Eulalia. Below the Church of Sant’Eulalia, visit Underground Cagliari for an interesting look at the city’s history, showing the continuity of life from the 3rd century BC through the 6th century AD.
- The oldest and highest part of the city is Castello , the medieval castle neighborhood around the Bastione di San Remy. The castle’s rooftop has been converted into an open terrace with several bars and great views of the city and sea. In the Castello district are the Romanesque Cathedral of Santa Maria with Baroque style crypt and a museum, the Archbishop’s Palace, and two towers – San Pancrazio and Torre dell’Elefante, or Elephant Tower, part of the defensive walls that enclosed Cagliari in the Middle Ages. Performances and Exhibitions are often held at the castle and inside is an exhibition area.
- To explore Cagliari’s history further, head to Citadella dei Musei, a museum complex in the former arsenal on Piazza Arsenale. Exhibits at the Archeological Museum include the Neolithic, Phoenician, Roman, early Christian and medieval periods. Also in the complex are the National Art Museum, a museum of Oriental Art, and an overlook point with views of the city below.
- Cagliari’s botanic gardens include caves where ferns are grown, a collection of Mediterranean and tropical plants, and Carthaginian and Roman remains. There’s also a 2nd century Roman amphitheater near the gardens where concerts are sometimes held in summer.
- Mercato di San Benedetto, the central covered market on Via Francesco Cocco Ortu, is a lively and fun place to visit. There’s a whole floor of fish stalls and they don’t mind tourists browsing the fish or taking photos. See Cagliari Fish Market Video for an entertaining look at our visit to the market. Open 7:00 – 13:00 except Sundays.
- The Basilica of San Saturnino is an ancient church that’s still used for services. It’s not usually open to the public at other times but still interesting to see from outside. There’s also a Paleo-Christian necropolis.
- Sagra di Sant’ Efisio, held May 1-4 in honor of Cagliari’s patron saint, is one of Sardinia’s most important festivals. A colorful 4-day procession starts on May 1 from the Church of Sant’Efisio in Cagliari and goes to the pretty Romanesque church of Sant’Efisio on the beach at Nora, about 26 miles away, then returns on May 4. Decorated oxcarts, people in traditional costume, and horsemen from all over the island accompany the saint’s statue. It’s a really beautiful procession and a great time to visit Cagliari. Even if you’re not there during the festival, Nora is a good place to visit for its archeological site with Phoenician, Punic, and Roman remains.
- Sardinia is known for its good beaches and if you’re there in late spring through summer you might want to swim. Il Poetto Beach, about two kilometers from the city center and reachable by bus, is a long sandy beach with good swimming and other water sports. Between the city and the beach, Molentargius Marsh has many species of migratory and water birds, including a huge colony of flamingos.
- Su Nuraxi about 40 miles north of Cagliari in Barumini, is one of the top nuraghi, or ancient stone towers, to visit as much of the village around the nuraghe has been excavated. Barumini Nuraghe is one of Italy’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.