Are you looking for the best things to do in Cagliari for an upcoming Sardinia trip? Keep reading if so!
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Best Things to Do in Cagliari
Roman Amphitheater of Cagliari
Carved out of Cagliari’s rocky hillside is an impressive Roman Amphitheater that was built in the 2nd century AD.
At its time of creation, it housed 8000 people and was one of the jewels of Sardinia. People filled the stands to watch gladiators fight, cheer on various other Roman sports, and witness public executions.
The theater was carved out of natural rock and rock hills that created a dramatic backdrop to it. Most of the seats consisted of bare rock, however, the seats reserved for the wealthy and higher classes were covered in marble.
The amphitheater eventually stopped being used in the 6th century and quarrying activities took place around it for centuries to follow. In the 19th century, the area was taken over by the local government and excavations started to fully see what was left of the beautiful structure.
Visiting the amphitheater in Cagliari is fairly easy although the walk up to is fairly strenuous if you’re not fully mobile (break up the uphill walk by stopping at the botanical gardens located close by).
I love Roman history and find it truly fascinating and take any opportunity to visit these legendary places. When I visited the amphitheater, renovations were ongoing and as far as I understood, work will continue for a while.
Despite the renovations, you can still visit the building and walk down the path to the edge of the building. It’s a great vantage point and you are able to take in the full beauty of it from this angle.
The entrance ticket costs €3 and I have seen people on some reviews saying it is not worth the price, but in my opinion, it’s a small price to pay that is the same as a glass of wine or beer and you will help fund the ongoing renovations.
Once the structure is fully reopened, I believe it’s possible to enter into the area and see the corridors underneath and the cages where the wild animals were kept.
Entry Fee: €3
Villa of Tigellio
Villa of Tigellio is another one of Cagliari’s intriguing Roman-era finds. The site is not actually of a villa but two insulaes on either side of a narrow street.
Insulae were a kind of Roman-era apartment block where multiple families would have lived. Insulae were common in more densely populated areas and would have been home to pretty much all classes apart from the incredibly wealthy.
The site consists of several buildings, including a bathing house and residential buildings. Today, you can only see the remains of the lower part of the walls and two impressive columns standing proudly.
For the €2 entry fee, it’s definitely worth spending 20 minutes wandering around the site and getting up close and personal with buildings built in the 1st century BC. Upon entering, you will need to go into the building at the front entrance to pay.
Once there, you can also take some info about the site, as all the signs dotted around are only in Italian (you will need to return the paper when you leave).
The site is close to the Roman Amphitheater, so it can easily be done at around the same time and doesn’t take too long to explore.
Entry Fee: €2
One of my favorite things to do in Cagliari is to visit the Tuvixeddu Necropolis, a large park that contains hundreds of ancient burial tombs that go back to the Punic and Roman eras.
Dating back to the end of the 6th century BC, the area was used as a burial ground for just under 900 years. Dug into the limestone, over 1500 tombs are present and very well preserved despite the damage in the area from extensive quarrying.
As you look over the limestone, you will see the surface dotted with perfectly carved-out holes that were the entrances to tombs located below the surface.
The discovery of these tombs has led to a deeper understanding of Sardinia’s Punic era, with many of the tombs including rare finds and ornate wall art.
As visitors to the park, you can see the inside of the tombs where the landscape is impressive and eerily beautiful. The park is free to visit and really well maintained, with beautiful flowers and cactuses dotted around the grounds.
Keep a lookout in and around the tombs for lizards and snakes who take the opportunity to bask on the rocks.
The necropolis is located towards the edge of the town and can be easily combined with a trip to the other two Roman sites as you walk back into the city.
The center of Cagliari is split into various districts and the oldest is the Castello Quarter. Sitting on the top of a hill, Castello is a maze of streets and high buildings which makes getting lost very easy.
Saturating this area, you will find some of the city’s best historical sites and viewpoints that look out over the rest of Cagliari and beyond.
The path up to Castello Quarter is relatively steep and stair-heavy, so if you have mobility issues, you may wish to look for one of the numerous free elevators that will take you up the high levels of the quarter.
As you explore the streets, take time to eat, check out local shops, and admire the history and charm.
Sitting high above the rest of the city, from the elevator entrances, you can enjoy some of the best views of Cagliari, with the elevator at Piazza dell’ Indipendenza offering amazing views out to the lagoon where you can see large swathes of flamingos huddled together.
The Cagliari Botanical Gardens
Close to the center of Cagliari, you will find the lush University Botanical Gardens. The gardens make for the perfect way to escape the hustle and the noise of the city and are surprisingly large.
First opened in 1866, the garden houses several thousand species of plants split into three distinct sections like Mediterranean plants, succulents, and tropical plants.
Along with an outstanding array of plants, the gardens are home to ancient Roman relics, such as wells and tanks. The garden costs €4 to visit, although it’s best to visit earlier in the day in order to maximize your time there.
My favorite part was the extensive array of succulents and cacti, which live both out in the garden and in greenhouses.
Succulents are the perfect houseplants for travelers like myself so I have quite a few at home and always love seeing them when on the road.
You can download a map of the garden for free on your phone, via the QR code at the ticket office.
The gardens are located directly between Villa di Tigellio and the Roman Amphitheater and are definitely one of the best places to visit in Cagliari.
Entry Fee: €4
In the Castello Quarter, you will find the main cathedral of Cagliari. Built in the 13th century, the cathedral is relatively reserved on the outside.
However, the second you enter the cathedral, you are smacked in the face with its insane beauty, with grand frescoes adorned on the ceilings and statues surrounding the edges.
It is free to walk around the cathedral and check it out, but make sure you are dressed modestly or you may be asked to leave. At the back of the cathedral, you will find a crypt that can be entered for an optional donation.
The real draw to the cathedral is the option to head to the top of the bell tower, where you can enjoy one of the best views of Cagliari, looking out over the rooftops of the Castello and the city below.
The entrance to the tower is just inside the cathedral to the left of the main doors, and it costs €3. The stairs up to the top are fairly steep and cramped, so they are not a good option for those with mobility issues or a fear of small spaces.
As you climb to the top of the tower of the Cagliari Cathedral, you will pass by the bells that are still functional and do chime very loudly (I timed my exit badly and had my head right next to one as they rang!)
Entry Fee: €3
Bastione Saint Remy
On the southern end of the Castello is Bastione Saint Remy, a large structure that rises up from the modern town below to the ancient district.
The bastion is known for being one of the most impressive monuments in the city and it does not fail to take your breath away as you approach it.
From the top, you can enjoy wonderful views overlooking the city and the sea.
The best time to enjoy these views is during golden hour when the pale yellow stones seemingly glow in the dwindling sunlight eventually reflecting the pink hues of the following sunset.
Inside the bastion is an impressive exhibition space that can be used year-round. The bastion itself was completed at the beginning of the 20th century, replacing two medieval bastions that were built by the Spanish.
At the bottom of the bastion, you will find extremely clean free public toilets (seriously needed to point this out as this is a rarity in Germany!)
Torre dell’ Elefante
Cagliari is a city of viewpoints with plenty dotted around the old town, including the impressive Torre dell’ Elefante, a large tower that dominates the area, standing at around 35m high above the Castello.
The white limestone tower was originally built in the 14th-century, although over the years it was damaged by various attackers and was restored to its former glory in the 20th-century.
On the side of the building, look out for ornate elephant statues. You can enjoy the view from the top for €3 but it was closed for renovation when I visited Cagliari.
The waterfront center of Cagliari is dominated by a large industrial harbor and leaves no room for a city beach, however, there is a long beach on the outer edge of the town.
Poetto Beach is an amazing beach, with white sand and crystal clear water that stretches for about 5 miles (8km).
Reachable from Cagliari’s city center by bus, it is one of the most popular attractions in Cagliari for locals and tourists seeking out some sun.
The Cagliari beach is located in the Poetto district and surrounding the beach, there are plenty of bars and eateries where you can take in the views and enjoy a pleasant day at the beach.
In the evenings after everyone has enjoyed a day relaxing on the beach, the area becomes a vibrant nightlife spot with plenty of bars and clubs offering up a fun night.
Museo Archeologico Nazionale
The Museo Archeologico Nazionale is a fantastic museum where you can learn all about Sardinia’s long and rich history in one place.
Located in the historic old town, the museum has displays of artifacts from the pre-Nuragic Age to more modern pieces, such as waxworks by Clemente Susini.
While visiting the museum, you should set aside plenty of time to explore the exhibits that are spaced out over three different floors.
I recommend visiting the museum before heading out on any tours to see the impressive Nuragic settlements or the remnants of the Roman Empire’s influence on Sardinia.
The displays in the museum are well thought out and there is information in English in pretty much all of the exhibits. It is also possible to book a private tour of the museum to gain further insight into the exhibits.
Cagliari is split into several different quarters, each having its own individual charm and magic. The Marina Quarter is, in my opinion, is one of the nicest.
While the Castello Quarter sits on the hill towering behind it, the Marina Quarter is a maze of streets that house just as much history and culture.
Take time to explore the district, losing yourself in the streets while you pop into shops or stop for some food in the many restaurants that you can find in the district.
As you turn onto each corner, you will find new and wonderful things to check out which really makes it easy to spend hours on end just walking around a relatively small district.
There is a famous picture of Cagliari where you can see the Marina district and Castello in one shot, however, after spending about 3 hours trying to get the complete shot, I realized that this is only possible from onboard a ship much further out.
But, it is possible to get an ok shot from a point further out, if you decide to walk there.
Drink at Caffè Libarium Nostrum
On the edge of the Castello overlooking the city below and out over the harbor, you will find Caffè Libarium Nostrum.
The cafe has a stunning outdoor terrace where you can and take in the breathtaking views of Cagliari and the surrounding mountains.
The terrace quickly fills up, but if you can get a seat it’s an amazing place to chill with a drink as you soak up the sun and scenery.
One of the best times to head to the cafe is at sunset when you can watch the sun sink down below the hills that surround the city as the sky glows orange and pink.
The cafe also serves food and you can enjoy a nice dinner as you wait for the daylight to fade and the nightlife starts to gear up.
Street Art on Via S. Saturnino
Cagliari is a city of intricate beauty, with the historic Castello dominating the center of the city. So, you might be shocked to find out the city has its very own little street art section.
On Via S. Saturnino, you can take a walk down the quiet pedestrian street and admire the colorful artworks that adorn the walls.
All the artwork has been done by local artists and is often replaced and painted over by newer pieces. The street feels a little more rugged and gives a nice glimpse into the real life of Cagliari.
The street can be easily accessed from the Castello or the harbor, however, if you are heading there from the Castello, you will need to work your way down towards the harbor to where the street becomes pedestrianized.
Visit the Flamingos
One of the biggest draws to Sardinia are the flamingos that call the islands’ salty lakes home.
The birds originally used to only visit the islands during the warmer summer months, where they would raise the next generation of Sardinia flamingos, however, due to a changing climate, winters in Sardinia have become warmer and many of the birds no longer migrate to Northern Africa.
Around Cagliari, there are two main spots for visiting the flamingos- Stagno di Molentargius and Stagno di Cagliari.
Stagno di Molentargius is probably the best place to view the flamingos from and can be easily accessed from Spiaggia del Poetto.
Walking to the lake from the city center is highly inadvisable and when I attempted the walk I ended up being lost for several hours, unable to reach the lake and needed to take a taxi back to my hotel. Whoops.
The birds are relatively shy and do not come close to the shoreline often, which means you will need some binoculars or a decent zoom lens to see them fully.
During sunrise and sunset, the flamingos in Sardinia take flight in mass turning the sky pink.
This is definitely one of the best things to do in Cagliari (or even Sardinia!)
Drink Sardinian Wine
Sardinia is home to some of Italy’s most impressive wines and the best way to spend an evening is to hunt down local wine bars and try as many of them as you can.
The island is famous for various different wines but the most common is Cannonau, which accounts for about 30% of wine production in Sardinia.
The red Sardinian wine is a well-rounded drink and packs a punch with a high ABV. Keep an eye out for Torbato, a rare wine made from Spanish grapes.
There are only 200 acres of these grapes grown in the world and they produce an outstanding white wine that makes the perfect aperitif.
Go to Caffè dell’Arte Specialty Coffee
Specialty coffee has had a tough time in Italy and struggles to find a place in a coffee market that is overly saturated with the traditional Italian espresso bars.
However, every time I visit an Italian city, I try to find a place selling specialty coffee to check and support. Luckily, in Cagliari, I discovered Caffè dell’Arte Specialty Coffee.
It is a small, independent coffee shop that strikes the balance between a traditional Italian espresso bar and a place where you can try some unique beans from across the world.
The barista was very knowledgeable about coffee, having spent time in the UK learning the ins and outs of the trade which he has coupled with a raw passion for coffee.
When I visited, he had specialty beans from China in stock, which was pretty amazing as I didn’t even really know that they grew coffee in China.
The barista was able to explain all about the coffee and the taste nuances that Chinese coffee had and the best way for it to be served.
The interior of the cafe is charming, with various antiques and coffee memorabilia hanging around. Sadly, the cafe is only open on weekdays. You can find it at Via Caprera 3.
Durke Sardinian Sweets and Cookies
Hidden in the maze that is the Marina district is Durke, a small shop that focuses on selling traditional Sardinian sweets and cookies.
I stumbled on the shop purely by accident as I wandered the streets on my final afternoon in Cagliari. The small shop is run by three generations of one family, and the lovely women have been baking cookies using traditional methods for decades.
As you walk past, they will do their best to lure you in and excitedly tell you all about the cookies as you try some samples.
It is nearly impossible not to fall for their charm and come out with a box of cookies to take home. Once packaged, they last about a month and make a great souvenir to take home to your family. You can find Durke at Via Napoli 66.
Eat Everything at Lapola
Cagliari is full of places to enjoy an evening meal but none of them are quite as exciting as Lapola. Eating at Lapola is an experience that everyone visiting Cagliari should enjoy.
As you walk into the restaurant, you will leave the quiet and calm city back streets and enter a loud and vibrant restaurant where the waiters move fast and plates come flying out of the kitchen to eager customers.
The restaurant in Cagliari serves a range of fish dishes, however, the main focus is on lobster.
Although there is a standard menu you can order from, the majority of people opt for one of the set menu options that are a phenomenal deal and of great value.
The options at Lapola start from 6 starters, wine, a sorbet, coffee, and liquor up to a menu that consists of 6 starters, a pasta dish, a whole lobster, Sardinian wine, sorbet, a dessert, coffee, and liquor.
Surprisingly, the wine is bottomless and they will continue supplying you with drinks until you stop drinking it (you could be in for a long night).
If you are in a pair, I recommend only one person going for the full-blown set menu as you will realize that the portions are a monstrous size!
The Cagliari restaurant gets extremely busy, so you will most likely need to book in advance, but I can assure you it is well worth the effort. You can find Lapola at Vico Barcellona 10 in Cagliari.
Like everywhere in Italy, Sardinia has its own type of pasta. Fregula is pasta made of semolina and shaped in small balls which are kind of like a slightly larger version of couscous.
The pasta is traditionally cooked in a delicious tomato sauce with various bits of seafood mixed into the mix, although traditionally, they use clams.
You can find fregula in pretty much any restaurant in Cagliari and even though it is normally served as a first dish, I found it very filling and would be satisfied eating it as a main dish.
Indulge in All The Seafood at Fritto Mania
I found Cagliari to be surprisingly expensive and desperately wanted to find a more affordable place to eat during the day.
At the end of my tour to the Nuraghe, my tour guides told me about an affordable lunch place that served up fresh, fried seafood and fish along with handmade potato chips.
Deciding that this sounded like the perfect option, I headed there at the end of my tour and took my place in the long queue.
After a short wait, I placed my order of a large portion of mixed seafood, chips, and some fried anemone and waited for a table inside to become free.
There is limited seating inside the little restaurant, so you will need to be lucky to get a place or you simply can take your food outside to enjoy in the Sardinian sunshine.
The lunch was delicious and you really could tell how fresh the seafood was! The restaurant only opens for a few hours a day during the lunch rush and is a budget-friendly place in Cagliari (but, beware… it is still not super cheap if that is what you’re after!)
You can find Fritto Mania at Viale Regina Margherita 29.
I am a sucker for dumplings or stuffed pasta and was incredibly happy to discover that Sardinia has its own form of stuffed pasta, culurgiones.
The filling of culurgiones changes depending on the region of Sardinia you are in. In Cagliari, the typical filling is ricotta and potato-based.
Sauce-wise, there is more leeway and the pasta is served with an array of sauces depending on the restaurant you visit.
The pasta is interestingly shaped, like a head of wheat, and holds cultural significance around the island and is often prepared for religious holidays such as Carnival and the Day of the Dead.
Eat Sardinian Cheeses
One of my favorite things about traveling is discovering new cheeses.
Luckily, Italy is home to many exceptional types of cheese and Sardinia no exception. The island is home to 3.5 million sheep, goats, and cows and produces some of Italy’s most famous and delicious cheeses, as well as an ‘illegal’ cheese that locals love.
While exploring Cagliari, take time to try some of the amazing cheeses such as Fiore Sardo DOP, a hard cheese made from sheep’s milk and gained protected status due to being sourced from a single flock of sheep.
Sardinia is also home to three amazing types of ricotta that can be found throughout the island.
For the more daring cheese eaters, try and hunt down Casu Marzu, commonly known as maggot cheese.
The cheese is infested with live maggots that ferment the cheese beyond any normal level and should still be alive when it is consumed.
Due to the nature of this cheese, it has been deemed illegal by the EU as it is not considered safe for human consumption, however, that does not mean it can not be found and if you happen to befriend locals during your time there, it may be possible to find some if you so desire!
I didn’t try Casu Marzu… to no one’s surprise.
Try Gelato at Gelataria Peter Pan
There is something about the notion of walking down an Italian street while the sun beats down and you devour your body weight in gelato.
While walking along Cagliari’s harbor front, I noticed a bit of commotion and a large group gathering outside an unassuming shop.
I quickly realized this was a growing crowd outside of a gelato shop and that it would be rude for me not to join them since Peter Pan obviously had good ice cream.
The queue was worth the wait and once at the counter, you were greeted with an array of different flavors and types for you to mix and match in a cone or cup.
The ordering process is slightly stressful- first, you queue up and pay, then, you choose how many scoops you would like and between a cup or cone.
You will then need to fight your way to a counter to select your ice cream. At this point, queuing has gone out of the window and you will need to take note of who has been behind you while paying for your gelato to make sure no one cuts in front.
This may sound relatively stressful, but the reward will not disappoint and you will be able to enjoy delicious gelato at the end. You can find Peter Pan at Via Roma 1.
Take a Barumini Su Nuraxi Guided Tour
⇒ Prices from $88
⇒ Duration: 3 hours
⇒ Book tour here
Sardinia’s history dates back millennia and has been home to some of the world’s most advanced civilizations such as the Nuragic people of the Bronze Age.
The Nuragic people were a complex civilization that built incredible settlements which can still be seen to this day.
The best way to get up close and personal with this ancient history is on an organized tour where you will be able to gain an in-depth knowledge of this ancient civilization and its unique way of life.
This Barumini Su Nuraxi Guided Tour is the perfect excursion to take to visit these mind-blowing structures.
The informative tour guides are incredibly knowledgeable and talk about Sardinia and its history with such passion that it’s impossible to not be enthralled by every little detail.
On the tour, you will visit two locations including a well-preserved Nuragic village. The tour is limited in capacity, only fitting around 8 people and can be done in several different languages. This is the tour I took! It was fantastic!
Best Time to Visit Cagliari
In my opinion, the best time to visit Cagliari is during the summer… if you can handle the heat. Otherwise, I would opt for April-June.
I went to Sardinia in February and I found it to be a bit cooler than expected and it definitely wasn’t the best time to enjoy the beaches.
However, going during this time of year allowed me to have tours privately at group rates. This was definitely one of the redeeming factors for the rather cool temperatures.
How to Get to Cagliari
The best way to get to Cagliari is to fly there. There are extremely affordable tickets from various places in mainland Europe.
I flew in from Frankfurt Hahn which was a direct flight but Ryanair and other airlines have options to Cagliari, as well.
Once you arrive in Cagliari, I suggest either booking a hotel transfer with your respective hotel or taking public transportation to the city.
I opted to take the train from the airport to the city center and it was an extremely fast and seamless process. My hotel was located very close to the train station, so that made the process easy and reassuring.
However, if you’re staying close to the marina or city center and have luggage, I would suggest opting for an airport transfer through your hotel.
Where to Stay in Cagliari
There are several great options for where to stay in Cagliari. I, personally, stayed at Hotel Flora and can highly recommend it to everyone traveling to Cagliari.
I will say that, in true Italian fashion, the breakfast was horrifyingly bad. But, the room was fantastic and I really loved my stay there. It was extremely centralized in the city, too.
Hotel Flora had a nice minibar in my room, a spacious bathroom, elevators for travelers with limited mobility, and an on-site restaurant. Moreover, there were some really nice restaurants in close vicinity to the hotel.
If you’re on the hunt for luxury accommodation or something more on the budget side of things, the following hotels, guesthouses, and hostels are top-rated for Cagliari:
- B&B Cappuccine (lovely bed and breakfast in Cagliari)
- Palazzo Doglio (luxury hotel)
- Lovely Apartment via Piccioni (mid-range apartment)
- Albergo Aurora (budget hotel in Cagliari)
I hope that this guide to things to do in Cagliari helps you plan your trip to the Sardinian city. If you have questions about what to do in Cagliari, please leave a comment or send us a message. Thanks!
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Megan is a travel blogger and writer with a background in digital marketing. Originally from Richmond, VA, she now splits her time between Frankfurt, Germany and Arctic Finland after also living in Norway, Armenia, and Kazakhstan. She has a passion for winter travel, as well as the Nordic countries, but you can also find her eating her way through Italy, perusing perfume stores in Paris, or taking road trips through the USA. Megan has written for or been featured by National Geographic, Forbes, Lonely Planet, the New York Times, and more. She co-authored Fodor’s Travel ‘Essential Norway’ and has visited 45 US states and 100+ countries.