Taking advantage of the early May bank holiday and as such giving us a little bit more time at the destination than the usual weekend trips, we decided to book well ahead (and thankfully because this destination popped up at a great price with British Airways, much cheaper than with any other airline) the beautiful Italian island of Sardinia. A very large island in fact where my original plan was starting in Cagliari where our flight lands; then onto the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Su Nuraxi, and end the trip in Olbia in the northern side of the island. Unfortunately due to the long distances in the island and because you will need a bit longer than a day in Cagliari if you want to fully enjoy it, there was no time to drive all the way to Olbia. That will be then for another trip in the future.
Cagliari is the capital and largest city, and the most historical in the island. With traces of being inhabited for over 5000 years from the Neolithic till today, the amount of history can be felt in every corner and at the many sights all around the city.
The city in any case is of medium size and you could potentially visit in one day. Since we had to postpone for another trip the visit to Olbia, we decided to enjoy more time in the city and worked very good. You should therefore plan your stay accordingly and unless you want to just stay here (which is already good enough specially if mentioning the nice 8km long Poetto Beach), then consider visiting other places around the island. There are countless destinations to go to.
Even if the city is not too big, you will end up walking a lot, and will be climbing hills up and down very often. The entire old town, what is called the Castello area, is on top of a hill so every road and street heads up and down. Yet this is not the only hill as soon you will find out. The best way to appreciate and see the city from above is by going up any of the 2 fortification towers, being San Pancrazio the tallest and perhaps the one with the best views. It costs only 2 Euros to go up.
Cagliari has an excellent reputation with regards to food. It will be rare the occasion, if any, that you have any trouble finding a nice restaurant and good value for money. Their specialities are of course, any sort of seafood and fish, while the roots of their cuisine are a blend of Catalan, Sicilian and even Genovese.
In our stay, even that this was very limited in time, we managed to also drive in between a bit around the southwestern half of the island, through small fishing villages and beautiful landscapes between sea and mountains, and including a visit to the Bronze age settlement of Su Nuraxi and the ancient city of Tharros.
Should you have more days to spend in Sardinia, then definitely make your way to the north of the island, to the second largest city Olbia. The entire journey point to point between both cities is 274 kilometers. This gives you an idea of how big, especially long, this island is. If you get a rental car that’s the most direct and easiest way to move around, but don’t worry if you don’t drive or don’t want to drive, there is a good network of buses connecting everywhere around, and even a railway line between Cagliari and Olbia, though expect a very lengthy journey yet picturesque.
For more information about Cagliari check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. The currency in Italy is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Cagliari
- Remains from ancient times Scattered around the city at various places.
-Tuvixeddu Necropolis Literally meaning the Hill of the Little Holes, is one of the largest Punic necropolis in the Mediterranean, in use between the 6th and 3rd centuries BC.
-Roman Amphitheater Known by its nickname One Hundred Steps. Was built in the 2nd century AD half carved in the rock.
- Castello Quarter Is the name that receives the old medieval town area where most of the sights are. Located on top of a hill overlooking the Gulf of Cagliari and entirely enclosed by its original walls.
-Torre di San Pancrazio and dell’Elefante Are 2 original 14th century defensive towers, example of Pisan military architecture.
-Cathedral Constructed in the 13th century, has been recently restored to its former glory with the Medieval Pisan style façade. There is a beautiful view of the cathedral and the buildings nearby from the eastern city walls.
-Old City Hall Located next to the Cathedral.
-Royal Palace Also meters from the Cathedral was the residence of the Viceroy under the rule of the Aragonese, the Spanish and the Savoy from the 14th century, and later the troops of Napoleon.
-Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria Built during the Kingdom of Aragon rule between 1324 and 1329 on the hill of the same name, Bonaria.
-Church of the Purissima Was built in the 16th century in Catalan Gothic style.
- Stampace Quarter It can be said is part of the Castello Quarter as it’s right next to it, yet outside of the walls hence the difference.
-Torre dello Sperone Built by the Pisans in the 13th century and originally part of the city fortifications.
-Collegiata di Sant’Anna This Baroque church was started in 1785 but was not finished until 1951. Is one of the landmark constructions in the city.
-Chiesa di San Michele Built between 1674 and 1712 represents the best example of Baroque architecture in the city.
-Terrazza Umberto I Outside the southern edge of the Castello district is this monumental building constructed in white and yellow limestone in classical style with Corinthian columns in 1896. The views from the top are great towards the Mediterranean not far ahead.
- Marina Quarter As the name indicates, is the area of the city near the sea and port.
-Via Roma This is one of the nicest streets in the city, with the marina at one side.
-New City Hall Right on the western edge of Via Roma, a nice art-nouveau building.
-Train Station Next to the New City Hall is the train terminus of the Olbia-Cagliari line, and commuter lines.
- Republic Square Area Is the main square in the city and one of the major transport hubs.
-Via Dante Is the major thoroughfare in the city, running north to south parallel to the Castello Quarter.
-Courts of Justice A large fascist neoclassical building from the 20th century.
-Basilica of San Saturnino dedicated to the patron of the city, was built in the 5th century.
Elmas Airport, not far from downtown Cagliari is is readily connected with the city center by frequent train and buses. This is the largest airport in the island, being the second Olbia to the north of the island, but at 275 kilometers distance. With this you can see how large and long Sardinia is.
Within the city there are plenty of bus and trolley routes serving the entire region, plus a newly built tram line connecting Piazza Repubblica and the University, for what there is no need to get even a rental car should your plans be stay in the city and nearby. Everything around the old town is pedestrian friendly but mind the traffic, as it is for most of the Italian cities.
The choice is great, not only in Cagliari but in the surrounding cities and over all, the entire island. First of all it depends up to you on what your plans are. Beach or city. Since we were on a city break trip and because we had a rental car, we decided in this occasion that there was not need this time to stay in the city center. This saved us first, from paying triple the money or even more for the same standards, and second, avoiding the traffic in the city center which can be terrible and will be terrible coming Saturday evening onwards. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Cagliari, in Viale Umberto Ticca 23. Not far from the airport in fact, and 8 kilometers to the city center via direct road, taking less than 10 minutes. perfect location for us bearing our requirements, but of course, I will not recommend to anyone who does not have a rental car since you will be trapped without transportation to/from Cagliaria hence paying a lot for using taxis.
The hotel was very comfortable, nice, clean and spacious rooms. Good English speaking stuff at the front desk and restaurant. And even that we did not use it, they have a nice sauna and steam room open 24 hours, and an outdoor swimming pool. Check with them for the opening times and days since they only keep it running during summer months.