Should you take a night ferry to Sardinia? Despite the rising costs of car ferry travel, you might end up saving a bit of money and having a much more pleasant evening and morning than you might if you had to end up at an airport and spend time renting another car while you leave yours on the mainland. The ferries from mainland Italy to beach-heavy Sardinia aren’t little rusty tubs sitting in industrial ports, either. Here was our return vessel:
When we were young, we got a ticket and slept on the deck. Well, we rolled out a map and pretended to sleep as the wet night air spattered our exposed faces.
But this year we took our buy-back lease car on the night ferry. It was spring, outside the busy summer season. The passage was exceedingly pleasurable—in more ways than we expected.
When you make a reservation for yourself, your car, and a cabin, you’ll be told to arrive 2 hours in advance of the ferry’s departure time. So if your boat leaves at 9pm, you’ll arrive around 7. Leave some extra time for the possibility of a customs search of your vehicle.
So you might think your evening is ruined. You have to eat before you get to the port, right? And that’s too early, unless you want to grab something quick. To eat after 9pm might be a little late…
So here’s a little tip for you: You get there at 7, they let you on the ferry at maybe 7:30 or 8. You check into your room and head out to explore the boat. And they’re serving dinner! while they’re in port. Yes, plan to have your dinner leisurely on the boat and watch the port sink below the horizon as you sip your second glass of wine. The food isn’t usually expensive. Afterwards you can head to the bar where someone with skills might be playing a piano. By the time you know it, it’s time to hit the sack and wake up early at your destination.
Here’s the informal restaurant serving cafeteria style. Reasonable prices, pick your own seat:
Here’s one where you might linger and get your food served to you:
It’s really a nice way to travel if you have a cabin—and if it’s off season. Here’s a twin cabin. It has a bathroom with a shower as well. And even though I’m prone to seasickness, I didn’t have any symptoms at all, modern ferries are more stable than they used to be.
In this way, taking your car and getting a cabin, you save the hassle of renting a car and paying the cost of a hotel. You get in plenty early. You roll of the boat and you’re on the coast road so fast it might astound you. We were on our way less than 10 minutes after the ferry docked, which was right on schedule.
In a cost comparison, our friends who traveled at the same time flew from Pisa to Alghero and rented a car. They spent about 100 euro more than us, had limited luggage, paid for airport parking, and spent more than half a day traveling both on the day of arrival and on the day of departure.
Just remember to pack a bag for what you’ll need on the boat. You can leave the rest in the trunk of your car.
How to Travel to Sardinia by Ferry
You can search the web for the best deals. Here are the companies that serve Sardinia: Tirrenia, Moby, Corsica & Sardinia Ferries, GNV, Snav, Grimaldi Lines and SNCM. We traveled on Corsica & Sardinia Ferries.
In the off-season there are fewer ferries but costs are usually lower. Also, if you can, plan to go on a weekday to avoid the Italian crowds heading for the beaches.
Most of the ferries land in the north of Sardinia, usually at Golfo Arancia or Olbia, which are very close together. You can also get to Arbitax and Cagliari on the southern end of the Island.
Here is a large map of Sardinia showing the ports and rail lines, which correspond pretty closely with the main roads.
If you’d like to tour the island with a native, English-speaking guide, we recommend Maria Paola Loi. You can find out about her services and places to go on Sardinia Tours.
Sardinia is a really fascinating island to explore. Take the ferry and enjoy it.