Traveling by train in Sardinia can be challenging sometimes. The island’s railways aren’t the most modern ones (though constant works are undertaken to improve the situation) and the trains lack upgrades as well. All in all, I continue thinking that renting a car is the best way to move around Sardinia. You will have the freedom to go anywhere, no time restrictions, and a comfortable means of transportation.
However, if for whatever reason, you can’t drive during your trip to Sardinia, you can count on public transportation (albeit at times lacking), which includes trains.
Here’s a list of things you should know about traveling by train in Sardinia.
What You Must Know About Traveling By Train In Sardinia
Most trains are operated by Trenitalia
Government-owned Trenitalia operates the main, long distance trains in Sardinia. ARST (Azienda Regionale Sarda Trasporti) is the regional company that manages the connection between smaller towns.
There are two main railway lines
The main railway line goes from Cagliari to Golfo Aranci (Olbia), going through the towns of Assemini, Sanluri, Oristano, Macomer, Ozieri-Chilivani (an important junction station between Sassari, Cagliari and Olbia) before reaching Olbia.
Another line goes from Cagliari to Sassari via Macomer, Abbasanta and Oristano.
Finally, there is a tourist train line – locally known as Trenino Verde – that takes tourists around the most mountainous areas of Sardinia. You can check out the timetable here.
Tickets are sold online and at the ticket counter
There’s hardly the need to book your train tickets in advance when traveling by train in Sardinia – most people get them directly at the station. But if you do want to check the timetable or book your train in advance, there are several apps to do so. I am a fan of Omio, it’s easy to use and reliable. Alternatively, you can buy tickets on Trenitalia directly.
Many trains travel once a day
If you choose to travel by train, you have to be super accurate with your schedule! Several trains only depart once or twice a day and are quite slow. To give you an example, going from Cagliari to Olbia or Nuoro takes four hours by train, and only about two by car. And on top of that, as I said, there are only a few rides available: if you unluckily were to miss your train, chances are you’d have to spend another whole day in your city of departure.
Some trains are old and railways can be even older
Sardinia is the only Italian region that doesn’t have electrified railways: the trains still run on gasoline. This makes for a lot of problems, from air pollution (and terrible smells at the stations) to more modern troubles: no matter how new the trains are, they can’t run at full speed.
This doesn’t mean that Sardinian trains are the newest, top-engineered machines: their average age is about 20 years and there are even more ancient wagons! But some newer models were introduced in 2015: these new trains could travel faster than they do if only the railroads were more up-to-date.
The wagons themselves, like I said, are a huge cause of discomfort among locals and tourists alike. They are often crowded (since they don’t run often) and they aren’t always equipped with heating or air conditioning. Yeah, traveling during the hotter and colder months isn’t a great experience overall.
Also, since the trains aren’t the newest models in the world, they break down easily and you could end up stranded somewhere – or just never catch your train. Punctuality is the real problem of public transportation – in every part of Italy.
Direct trains are utopic
Especially on long distances. If you need to go from a side to the other of Sardinia, be ready to switch a few trains. Some of the most common switching stations are Macomer and San Gavino Monreale. If you need to go to the North of Sardinia from Cagliari, you’ll probably have to stop in Ozieri-Chilivani.
If you are departing from Olbia, the situation gets slightly better – the area has a bigger touristic flow – but the best means of public transportation are buses, which run quite thoroughly in the area.
Alghero is yet another separate reality because it has its own railway system (ran by ARST) which is probably the most efficient on the whole island.
Airports are easy to access
A good point about Sardinian railways is that you can easily reach the major airports. Cagliari has its own stop (Elmas Aeroporto) which is directly linked to the airport building by a covered path – about 200 meters by foot. Olbia offers shuttle buses from its train station in the city center and so does Alghero.
In case you need to reach any major airport, Sardinian public transportation has got you covered.
Some routes are seasonal
This is another awful thing about Sardinian railways: despite the routes being already minimal and insufficient, some are cut during the less-crowded months, causing a lot of trouble for locals (especially students) and tourists who like traveling during less busy times.
Some routes to the villages close to the beaches only run in summer, and some going to the hinterland areas are only activated during the ski season: this creates huge discomfort for the locals, who find themselves cut out from the rest of the region for six months at a time, the only exception being during festivals such as Autunno in Barbagia when several special routes are instituted to accommodate the huge amount of visitors flocking the area.
To sum it up, traveling by train in Sardinia isn’t exactly a walk in the park. You will need to plan your trip with care to detail (and timetables!); be patient; make sure that the route you choose is currently operating and so on. There are better options than trains, but if you really have no other choices, good luck on your adventure!
These posts may come in handy when planning your trip to Sardinia:
- How To Use Public Transport In Sardinia
- How To Get From Cagliari To Alghero
- How To Get From Cagliari To Olbia
- A Guide To Renting A Car In Sardinia
8 thoughts on “What It’s Like To Travel By Train In Sardinia”
Please can you advise me if there are toilets on the train services between Olbia and Sassari.
It’s like in the rest of Italy. There are always toilets on trains – but I can’t attest to the cleanliness on the toilets on that specific service.
I struggle to buy tickets online from South Africa. I want to book for July.
Is it too early to book?
Yes, it is actually. I’d say look about one month in advance. Also – honestly, it’s best to rent a car!!
How can you drive from Cagliari to Olbia in 2 hours, it’s 260km …?
GoogleMaps says driving is 3 horus 3 minutes, Trenitalia says the train is 3 hours 26 minutes. Not exactly half the time… I appreciate the train may be slower, but it’s more of an adventure!
It is a 3 hours drive indeed. Perhaps I mistyped. But the train is slower for sure.
Staying for three nights in Cagliari where would you recommend for a day away travelling by train or bus
Make sure to read my post “the best day trips from Cagliari” for inspiration!