15 Great Things To Do In Cagliari, Sardinia

There is a great offer of things to do in Cagliari. 

Although Sardinia is a popular summer holiday destination, not many realize that Cagliari, its capital, is a fantastic place to visit year round and where you are most likely going to learn a great deal about the local history, culture and overall vibe.

Cagliari will cast a spell on you, much as it did on D. H. Lawrence who in 1920 declared he found it to be “…strange and rather wonderful, not a bit like Italy.” In fact, that’s a common feeling. Most people that end up visiting do so thinking they are going to just another Italian city, but soon realize upon arriving that there is something different here – and they can’t quite put their finger on it.

To give you an idea of how stratified and diverse Cagliari is, let me give you a bit of information about its name. Cagliari comes from the Punic world “Karel” or “Karalis” – which means rocky place and it’s an obvious indication of the morphology of the city. Founded by the Phoenicians in the 8th century BC, Cagliari saw the dominations of – among others – the Romans, the Punics, the Arabs, the Pisans and the Aragonese.

But in Sardinian, one of the official languages of the island (together with Italian and Catalan), we call Cagliari “Casteddu” – a reference to the walled medieval city which had doors that were closed every night.

I guess what’s important, for you, is to know that Cagliari is a splendid city and one of a kind. Perched on the hills and facing the blue waters of the Mediterranean, it has a mix of architectural styles, and layers of history that you will want to discover. It’s a great destination for a long weekend, and a perfect starting point for a trip to Sardinia.

In this post, I highlight the many things to do in Cagliari.

things to do in Cagliari
One of the two standing watchtowers of Cagliari

15 Not To Miss Things To Do In Cagliari, Sardinia 

Explore the historical center

The historical center of Cagliari is divided into 4 quarters: Castello, Stampace, Villanova and Marina.

Castello is a hilltop citadel where you will see domes, palaces, towers – this is where the aristocracy of the city used to live in medieval times, a maze of narrow alleys, old buildings that look like they are falling apart but which hide many a treasure. Make sure to walk along Via Stretta – there isn’t much to it, really; except it is incredibly narrow and local residents have adorned it with lovely plants.

Located in Castello there are the two watchtowers – Torre di San Pancrazio and Torre dell’Elefante. Both of them were built at the beginning of the 14th century by the Aragonese rulers. You can go up but double check they are actually open before going, as they are occasionally closed for renovation work.

Other highlights of Castello include the Cathedral and the Archeology Museum (more on those in a bit) and Palazzo Viceregio, once the residence of the Spanish and Savoy viceroys. It’s open every day from 10:30 am to 6:30 pm in the winter and from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm in the summer. It is free to enter but you have to pay a small fee for a guided tour.

Cagliari version of the city pass is “Biglietto Integrato Beni Culturali Cagliari” and gives you access to one of the towers, the Roman Amphitheater, Santa Restituta Crypt and Villa di Tigellio. Just make sure that all sites are actually open before getting a city pass as there often are maintenance works and closures.

Make sure to also pay a visit to Santa Croce church in Castello. What’s interesting about it is that it was built on top of a synagogue in an area that until 1492 was known as the Jewish Ghetto of Cagliari.

Your wandering across the historical center should also take you to Stampace, Cagliari’s working class district in Medieval times and home of Santa Restituta crypt, which has been used since pre-Christian times, and of Sant’Efisio church; Villanova a colorful area that has recently become one of the trendiest of Cagliari; and La Marina, where you’ll get the best nightlife in town.

These are the best tours of Cagliari that will take you to its historical districts:

In Via Roma, make sure to stop by Palazzo Civico, Cagliari’s beautiful City Hall. Built between 1899 and 1913, you can visit it on guided tours on Saturday, but you have to book them in advance.

Roman Amphitheater in Cagliari

Visit the archeological sites

There is no doubt that one of the things to do in Cagliari is visiting the Roman Amphitheater. Accessible from Viale Sant’Ignazio, it dates back to the 2nd century AD when it was entirely carved in the rock. It could hold up to 10000 people!

The Roman Amphitheater is open daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm but is currently being restored so only a limited part can be visited.

Another interesting site is Villa di Tigellio, a 1st century BC villa once the residence of poet and musician Tigellio Ermogene.

One of the coolest, creepiest things to do is visiting its undergrounds. The city is incredibly stratified and this way you get a good understanding of it. Keep in mind that you can’t do this independently so you have to look for a local guide who knows where to take you. Or you can book a guided tour like this one.

Make sure to also read my post What To See In Cagliari Underground.

archeology museum

And the museums

One of the top things to do in Cagliari is visiting the Museo Archeologico Nazionale. This is located in Piazza dell’Arsenale, in Castello.

The museum has an exquisite collection of bronzetti (bronz figurines), and will give you a taste of the nuragic civilization of Sardinia. You will also be able to admire Mont’e Prama Giants (the others are located in Cabras’ Museo Civico), enormous stone statues which have been dated to the 8th and 9th century BC and on whose significance there is still a lot of mystery.

Next to the museum, the Pinacoteca Nazionale is an art gallery with pieces dating back to the 15th and the 17th century, with works of Catalan and Genoese artists, as well as Sardinian ones.

The museum is open from 9:00 am to 8:00 pm – keep in mind it is closed on Tuesdays and national holidays. Admission is €9.

Make sure to read my post The 12 Best Museums In Sardinia.


Visit a church

The beautiful Cathedral, in Piazza Palazzo, was built in the 13th century in Baroque style and has a beautifully decorated crypt which holds the tombs of the members of the Savoy royal family. Make sure to climb the tower too for an added fee as the views are splendid.

The Cathedral is open every day from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm and from 4:00 to 8:00 pm.

Another impressive church is the Basilica di Bonaria (the annexed cemetery is worth visiting too). You will find a sanctuary right next to it which holds the relics of a wooden statue of Virgin Mary and Christ. Legend says that the Virgin Mary save a Spanish ship from draining in the 14th century.

Right below the church you will find a well kept historical cemetery, which is not in use since 1968. The cemetery can be visited on guided tours Tuesdays to Sundays. They cost €8 and have to be booked in advance – for more information visit the website of Cagliari Tourism Board.

Other notable churches are San Saturnino Basilica, the oldest church on the island and built over a Roman necropolis; San Michele church, built in rococo style; Sant’Efisio church, famous for being the starting point of Sant’Efisio parade every 1 May.

Cagliari sunset views

Take in all the views

There are many places in town perfect for stunning views, but I will never tire of going to the terrace of Via Santa Croce. The views are stunning at any time of day, but go for sunset and you will be in for quite a show. You may even want to get a drink at Libarium, a local bar where they serve excellent cocktails – nothing better for a good sunset experience.

Another place for views is the Bastione di San Remy, which is accessible either from Via Università in Castello or from a beautiful staircase in Piazza Costituzione. Bastione was built between 1899 and 1902 and is now a nightlife hub.

Check out my post The Most Beautiful Churches in Sardinia.

markets in Cagliari
San Benedetto Market is the best known in Cagliari

Go to the market

If you are interested in learning more about the food culture of Sardinia, one of the things to do in Cagliari is visiting a local market. There are many around town, but my favorite one is Mercato di San Benedetto which is a fantastic fish market. It’s open from Monday to Saturday, from 7:00 am to 2:00 pm.

If you need guidance, you may want to opt for a market tour:

Make sure to check out my post 5 Markets In Cagliari For Your Shopping Needs.

Sardinian food

Try local food

Speaking of markets and food culture, one of the top things to do in Cagliari is eating! You will find many interesting specialties in town, some of which unheard of in the rest of Italy. Food in Cagliari is fantastic, and you’ll find some specialties that you won’t see in the rest of Italy.

For a real local treat, make sure to have a “pizzetta sfoglia” for breakfast – you can get one at any good coffee shop. It’s a phyllo pastry stuffed with tomato sauce, anchovies and capers and a hint of tomatoes. It’s truly yummy.

To get better acquainted with local food, you may want to opt for a food tour or even a cooking class:

And here is a selection of my go to restaurants:

Framento – the best pizza in town, prepared with only local ingredients.

Grains – another excellent pizzeria with a strong focus on local ingredients and lovely staff!

Cremoso, La Chiccheria and Gocce di Gelato e Cioccolato, are the best gelaterie.

Seafood is good in La Marina. La Stella Marina di Montecristo is a nice basic eaterie which serves fresh fish – advanced bookings are recommended. Ristorante Italia is a fancier seafood place.

Sabores is where you will find excellent meats and cheese, to accompany the best local wines.

The best burgers are at Bombas in Via Università. They are prepared with local ingredients so in a way you are eating traditional food!

Osteria Kobuta – a fusion between Sardinian and Japanese food. I can’t even explain what it is, but it’s so good that you have to take my word for it!

I Sarti del Gusto – one of the best restaurants in town, it will surprise you with unique combinations. It’s open for brunch, lunch and dinner, perfect for a romantic date. And if you are heading out for the day, you may take advantage of their food baskets – think gourmet sandwiches here!

Make sure to check out my post 15 Incredible Restaurants In Cagliari.


Attend a festival

One of the most interesting things to do in Cagliari if you happen to be there on May 1st is attending Sant’Efisio Parade. It is a massive celebration of Sardinia’s most venerated saint, during which people coming from all over the island and dressed in traditional costumes walk from Sant’Efisio Church all the way to Nora, at about 50 km from Cagliari, to accompany the statue of the saint – which is carried on a beautifully adorned carriage pulled by bulls.

Poetto beach

Spend a day at the beach

Regardless of the season, we locals love going to the beach. We locals can’t really do without it and any excuse is good to go – a coffee with friends, a sunset drink, a walk for fresh air, a swim and even running. As long as we get to see it!

These are the best city beaches:

Poetto a long stretch of fine sand and clear waters, with a fabulous running and biking trail. It can get terribly crowded during the summer months, but we love it all the same. You will find kiosks to have a drink and a meal and places to rent umbrellas and whatever else you may need for the day. It’s served by public transportation.

Calamosca a small cove on the other side of Sella del Diavolo, with nice clear waters. There is a kiosk. You can reach it by public transportation from the city center.

Cala Fighera a popular nudist beach that requires a bit of a hike to get to. It’s gorgeous.

Views from Sella del Diavolo

Hike Sella del Diavolo

What if I told you that hiking is one of the nicest things to do in Cagliari? We have trails in the city, so we don’t have to get out of town to catch views or feel at one with nature. The trail to reach the peak of Sella del Diavolo departs from Calamosca, right behind the beach. It’s an easy to follow and well marked trail and once you get to the top, the views of Poetto beach and Molentargius Nature Reserve are just stunning.

Not far from Calamosca you can access another trail that goes to the Fortino di Sant’Ignazio, a fort (of which not much remains) that dates back to 1792. It is close to a lighthouse and a Spanish watch tower and the views are stunning.

Make sure to read my posts A Guide To Visiting Fortino Di Sant’Ignazio and A Complete Guide To The Sella Del Diavolo.

Pink flamingoes

Admire pink flamingoes in their natural habitat

Molentargius Nature Reserve is the perfect nesting place for pink flamingoes and a favorite of other species of birds. Locals love going there for walks, runs and to just admire the animals in their natural environment.

Molentargius Nature Reserve can be accessed from several places in town. The easiest one for you is likely to be Poetto beach. It is open every day from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm in the summer, and from 9:00 am to 6:30 pm in the winter. There is no admission fee.

If you want to opt for a guided tour, here are some good ones:

Make sure to read my post A Complete Guide to Molentargius.

Orto Botanico Cagliari

Visit a park

There are many nice parks in Cagliari. Locals love Monte Urpinu, a pine grove with a small pond at the center; Monte Claro, on the hills and equally well kept; Tuvixeddu, a large necropolis where you feel like your walk in nature has an historical flavor; Terramaini, the newest park in town.

If you are looking for something special, go to the Botanical Gardens. Opened for the first time in 1858, they are home to more than 3000 species of flora. Make sure not to miss the remains of the Punic cistern and of the Roman quarry.

The Botanical Gardens are open Tuesday to Sunday from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm in the winter, and from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm in the summer.

Check out my post 10 Parks In Cagliari You Should Visit.

San Michele castle

Go to an art exhibit  

If you want to take advantage of its thriving cultural scene, one of the things to do in Cagliari is going to an exhibit. Places like Ex Ma, the former abattoir, or Lazzaretto, located in a beautiful spot by the sea in Sant’Elia, regularly host exibits.

Another place is Castello di San Michele, a fortification located on top of a hill overlooking the city, which dates back to the 10th century – it became the residence of the Carroz, a powerful local family, in the 14th century. The castle has been beautifully restored and it now holds art exhibits.

Castello di San Michele is open Tuesdays to Sundays.

Cagliari nightlife
Cagliari is incredibly lively at night!

Jump into the local nightlife

For as small as it is, nightlife in Cagliari is thriving and you are bound to find something that suits your taste. The ones I mention are my favorite places in town:

Florio is a favorite local spot in Villanova.

Babeuf is a nice bar, also in Villanova.

B Flat, in Via del Pozzetto (outside the city center) regularly has live music. You need to reserve a table in advance.

De Candia is located on the Bastione and perfect for a drink with friends.

For the best cocktails in town, go to Libarium (already mentioned above) or Biffi American Bar in Via San Giovanni, Villanova. The latter is a rather hidden place: you literally have to ring a bell to get in!!

Make sure to check out my post Cagliari Nightlife: A Guide To Cagliari Best Bars.

Santa Maria di Sibiola

Go on a day trip out of the city

The chances you will be stuck with no things to do in Cagliari are very slim, but if you feel the urge to get out of the city, the choice is massive. One of the best options is to go for a wine tasting tour, and for that I recommend heading to Serdiana and Dolianova, two small towns at about 20 minutes drive from Cagliari, with a plethora of wineries and immersed in the most bucolic countryside. I recommend opting for a guided tour so you don’t have to worry about drinking and driving.

You may want to opt for this Winery and oil mill tasting tour from Cagliari.

Check out my posts A Guide To Sardinian Wines and 15 Must Visit Wineries In Sardinia.

Another option may be that of visiting a small village. I am a fan of San Sperate, literally an open air museum with its many murals. If you want to opt for a guided tour, check out this San Sperate murales tour

If you are an archeology geek, make sure to visit at least one nuraghe. The Nuraxi di Barumini is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Sardinia. You may also want to consider visiting the Roman ruins of Nora or the mines in the Sulcis region.

These guided tours all depart from Cagliari and take you to the best sites in southern Sardinia:

If hiking is your thing, you will find many excellent trails in Sardinia. Take care never to go alone and to join a guided hike for the hardest trails.

Check out my post The Best Hikes In Sardinia.

If you are looking for a guided hike, check out this half day ancient Roman Road hike – an easy hike with stunning coastal views.

For more day trips from Cagliari, check out this post.

Further Readings

Make sure to read my other posts:

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Discover the best things to do in Cagliari - via @c_tavani
Read about the things to do in Cagliari - via @c_tavani

31 thoughts on “15 Great Things To Do In Cagliari, Sardinia”

  1. Dear Claudia,
    You’ve provided outstanding information, recommendations and guidance from a native Sardinian’s perspective which is very important to me.
    In April 2022, I look forward to really enjoying my extended, first-time stay in Cagliari from Denver, Colorado, in part, thanks to you!
    Appreciatively and Cheers,

  2. Go figure! Did you know I have lived in Denver for almost two years? Get in touch when you are here – send me an email. It’d be great to meet!

  3. Hi Claudia.
    I am planning to visit Cagliari around February 14-16th. Can you recommend a good guide for a day in the city?
    Thank you.

  4. Dear Claudia,
    Loved your blog. We’re an older couple visiting Cagliari off a cruise ship this October (our 50th anniversary) and trying to plan the BEST itinerary we can imagine. Your comments were refreshing and most informative.
    Can you recommend any private tour guides who could show us Cagliari in 1/2 day with the same passion and insight as yours?

  5. Dear Claudia
    In Calgary for 5 nites Oct 17-21, 2022. Need a B&B in town with owner that references for travel and to see Sardinia. Would love old area but want local transportation to go all over Private bath, air , breakfast
    Reference a guide for in town- museums, churches, can ride a bike. Tour day in wine country
    Tours outside of city

  6. Hello Diana, you should read my “where to stay in Cagliari” post for recommendations on hotels, and my guide to Cantine Argiolas for wine tour. Hope this helps!

  7. Hi, great info thank you. I have been trying to find a local car hire company on line in Cagliari town not the airport but not having much luck. We are happy to walk and explore the city and local beaches, but might want to explore the wider area for a day or two of our ten day trip. Is a car essential or would a train or bus trip be just as good? Hope you can help!

  8. Hello Jo, thank you for your comment. I am not sure what you mean by “local car hire company” – pretty much all car rental companies now are part of a franchising group. With this in mind, I suggest you read my post about renting a car in Cagliari as that may give you some ideas. I recommend Discover Cars as a great comparison site. You can select your pick up location and either use Cagliari Airport or Cagliari downtown. Also – the airport is only 7 minutes by train from the city, so if necessary you can go there to get your car. And by all means you do need a car to get around Sardinia! Hope this helps!

  9. We have recently moved to Lecce and are planning to visit for a week starting this Saturday. If there is anything special going on we would love to hear about it. We plan to visit the animal shelters too as I’m currently on the hunt for a tiny canine travel companion.

    I’m very thankful to have found your blog!

  10. You have just missed the biggest festival in Cagliari – Sant’Efisio! What a pity 🙂 but I am sure you will love Sardinia!

  11. Can you advise me if a leisurely stroll to places of interest or the nearest nice beach is possible from the port. Or would we need to book a taxi

  12. There are buses from Piazza Matteotti, near the harbor, to Poetto Beach. Any with a P sign goes to Poetto. The entire historic center is a place of interest. The harbor itself is by the Marina and Stampace historic districts. I have detailed posts on each of the 4 historic districts of Cagliari.

  13. Hi Claudia

    Thanks for all the great tips!
    I was wondering, can you give any advice on where to find the best pasta, perhaps made in a “cheese wheel” if you know what I mean about that.
    Thanks in advance.

  14. I know what you mean but we don’t do that in Sardinia. Keep in mind food in Italy is very regional and that is not a dish you find here unless you perhaps go to a Roman trattoria. But why should you, when in Sardinia?

  15. Reading this has me so excited about my upcoming trip that I’ve just booked.
    I’m a senior citizen (hate to admit that!!) travelling alone and it all sounds so safe.
    Thank you for your great insight, I’ll be checking out lots of your recommendations.

  16. Dear Claudia, this is by far the best article I’ve read about Cagliari. We (husband, son and I) are heading there in 2 weeks 😊 We’re very excited. Could you tell me, please, where can we find those buckets with tools (toy) for our little one to make sand castles and play in the sand? Thanks a million

  17. You should be able to find them at any store like Carrefour or Auchan, and many smaller shops around town!

  18. Hi Claudia. Would you recommend me a store to buy a nice pretty pair of flat sandals (no heels) in Cagliari please? Nothing expensive just comfortable to stroll around the city. Thanks

  19. Oh there are many many many. I bought really comfortable shows at Nika in Via Bacaredda a few months back, and I also like Cenerentola in Via Monte Sabotino, but the area is a bit outside of the center. Keep in mind that many shops already have winter stuff on sale though…

  20. Thanks a million, Claudia! How is the weather there at the moment? Is it still possible to enjoy the beaches and get around in shorts, T-shirts and dresses, even at night?

  21. Hi. Good morning. It’s me again 😁 Where can I find T-shirts for our 3 years old boy in Cagliari, please? I Googled it, but didn’t find many options. Thanks

  22. Go to Innoi Sardinia in via Dettori. Please tell Juna, the owner, that you got the address from Claudia. She is a friend of mine. She speaks great English!

  23. Hello Claudia! I’ve been traveling around Italy for the last two months and I’m having a blast. Sardegna was the last thing on my list. I’ve read through a few of your posts and I think I’m ready for my trip to Cagliari. I appreciate the info and I hope to meet some locals like you while I’m there. I’ll be using Couchsurfing, so hopefully I can connect with some. I also plan to fly my drone (in the few places that I can in Cagliari) and I’m looking forward to the beautiful shots I get. How is the water in October? Will it be worth going to the beach?

  24. We took your pizza recommendation for Framento and it did not disappoint! What’s great lunch we had while visiting. Thank you for the note on your city. Beautiful place.

  25. I am so glad! I am taking a friend who’s visiting in December. I asked where he wanted to eat and he said that after hearing me brag so much about Framento, he has to try that!

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