Cagliari is one of the main cities on the Italian island of Sardinia and serves as an important port and a gateway to the north coast of Africa. With a population of 154,000, Cagliari is the capital of Sardinia and is also the most important economic region of the island; it serves as a hub for tourism, and also has a plethora of factories and industries within its municipal boundaries.
Throughout history, a settlement has been present in this region of Sardinia and Cagliari has always played an important role in the Mediterranean sea. Archaeological findings have been found dating as far back as the Neolithic period, and during the times of the Roman Empire, Cagliari was an important military base under the rule of Titus Manlius. After the unification of Italy, this city saw major expansion to both its economic capabilities and residential areas.
As a tourist destination, Cagliari benefits from a host of fantastic historical buildings such as the Duomo and Bastione San Remy, but also from some beautiful parks, gorgeous stretches of coastline, and its well-developed Marina.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Cagliari:
1. The Marina
Cagliari is located on the south coast of Sardinia and is an important port location – due to this fact; it has a fantastic Marina area that is full of shops, restaurants and rolling promenades.
Head down the open Largo Carlo Felice street and onto the Via Roma – this is a fantastic promenade lined with trees and boasting wonderful views out to the Harbor and ports.
Alternatively, if you head onto the Calata Sant’Agostino, you can walk into the port area and see the huge cruise ships docking and unloading their tourists, or watch the immense container ships offloading their cargo.
2. Bastione San Remy
This immense and ornate structure lies in the centre of Cagliari’s historic old town and is one of the city’s most famous icons.
Originally used as a defensive structure to fortify Cagliari, the Bastion now stands as a wonderful viewing platform offering amazing views across to the Mediterranean sea and port areas of the city.
Constructed in the 19th century, the Bastion consists of a wide open terrace, the ornate front façade, and a decadent covered walkway.
Visiting this bastion is one of the first things you should do in Cagliari to see a piece of its history, and to view the city spread out beneath you.
3. Torre dell’Elefante
Cagliari has a variety of historical buildings and the Elephant Tower is one of the most impressive and celebrated.
Located only a short walk from the Bastione San Remy, the tower looms above the surrounding structures and is easy to identify.
Constructed in the middle Ages in 1307, the tower served as a guard tower within the city’s defensive fortification network.
Although it is only simple in design, it has several small details such as the carved elephant statues and the coats of arms that make it hugely interesting.
Furthermore, it is possible to ascend to the top of the tower for unparalleled views of Cagliari.
4. Il Castello
If you are looking for an authentic local experience then head to the Il Castello district of Cagliari.
This charming and enticing area is packed full of narrow streets lined with colourful buildings and is buzzing with local life.
Furthermore it has a plethora of interesting structures such as the Cathedral of Santa Maria, the Palazzo Archivescovile and the Palazzo Reggio.
Wander through the streets, admire the beautiful buildings, and maybe stop for some delicious Italian gelato at one of the cafes in the Piazza Carlo Alberto.
5. Cagliari Cathedral
Located in the heart of the Il Castello district, the Duomo of Cagliari is a monumental building and features a gorgeous front façade and a highly decorated interior.
Built in the 13th century, this church has been restored and modified greatly over the years and it has an amalgamation of various different designs styles including Romanesque and Baroque.
The front façade is reminiscent of the Duomo in Pisa and features a series of stone arches and religious decoration.
Inside, the level of detailed decoration continues with frescoed ceilings, and a series of beautiful altars and small chapels.
6. Museo Archeologico Nazionale
This fantastic complex will provide hours of entertainment and education and serves as Cagliari’s main source of archaeological findings.
You can find this museum in the North West part of the old town in close proximity to the Roman Amphitheatre and this creates the perfect opportunity to combine the two into a single trip.
Held within this museum is a staggering collection of Punic, Greek and Roman artefacts, but also a large wealth of relics collected from the different regions of Sardinia.
Exhibits include collections of coins, jewellery, pottery, statues and other ancient finds.
7. Roman Amphitheatre
Due to its ancient history, Cagliari has several Roman ruins, and the best preserved is undoubtedly the Roman Amphitheatre.
Located in the northern region of the historic old town, this structure dates back to the 2nd Century AD and was partially carved into the hillside rock face.
Gladiatorial contests were held here together with dramatic performances and even public executions.
Today you can arrange guided tours of the monument, and it also plays hosts to a variety of concerts and performances.
8. Cittadella dei Musei
This area of Cagliari is known as the museum quarter and is packed full of interesting structures that house a plethora of different exhibits and displays.
You can find this delightful area in the northern area of the historic town centre on the Via Ubaldo.
Museums contained within the complex include the Cagliari National Gallery, the Archaeological Museum, the Anatomical Waxes Collection and the Oriental Art Museum.
You could spend a whole day here exploring the various establishments.
9. Mercato di San Benedetto
Local markets always provide the chance to find some first rate bargains, and to experience how the residents of a city live and work.
The market at San Benedetto is undoubtedly the largest and busiest in Cagliari and is the perfect place to mingle with the locals.
Located on Via Tiziano, the market is held indoors and is totally covered; inside the building you will find a dizzying amount of markets stalks and shops selling practically everything.
Specialities of the market include fresh seafood, Sheep Cheese and fresh fruit and veg.
10. Santuario di Bonaria
This beautiful Basilica and Shrine is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and was originally created in the 14th century.
The front façade of this structure features a trio of ornate archways that lead into a large open foyer.
In front of the building is a beautifully decorated stone courtyard complete with mosaic patterned tiles.
Although the original frescos inside the basilica were destroyed during WW2, they have been faithfully restored and stand today in all their glory.
11. Palazzo Regio
Another fantastic structure in the heart of the old town in the il Castello complex, the Palazzo Regio served as the official royal residence for the governing rulers of Sardinia for hundreds of years.
Dating back to the 14the century, the front façade that we see today is actually and 19th century restoration that brought its style in-line with current architectural trends.
Tours are possible of this amazing building, and it is possible to see inside some of the beautifully decorated rooms such as the Metropolitan Council Room – the ceiling of this chamber in particular has some stunning 19th century frescos and ornate plaster work.
12. Calamosca Beach
At the southern end of Cagliari past the main port area there is the small commune of Calamosca – here you can find a small but beautiful and quiet beach that is the perfect place to escape and relax.
Crystal clear waters lap the shore and the warm seas offer the perfect opportunity to swim or simply lie on a lido and sunbathe.
Surrounding the beach is a dramatic coastline that has a plethora of rocky cliff faces to explore; there is also the beautiful Torre di Calamosca and the Torre del Poetto.
This really is a great and secluded place to escape too after a busy day of sight-seeing in Cagliari.
13. Piazza del Carmine
Located on the popular Viale Trieste, the Piazza del Carmine is a great place to people watch, grab a coffee or a bite to eat.
This large public square was built in the 19th century and spans an area of approximately 1 hectare.
In the centre of the square is a beautiful statue dedicated to the Virgin Mary and the Immaculate Conception.
Surrounding the square is a series of charming buildings, and in the surrounding streets is a plethora of restaurants, cafes, bars and shops.
14. University Botanical Gardens
Located within the university of Cagliari grounds, this botanical garden is a fine establishment and is maintained by the university staff and students and used as a place of research and study.
Spanning over 5 hectares, the gardens contain over 2000 individual species with a huge collection of Mediterranean plants, trees and flowers.
Divided into three main sections, you can explore vegetation of the world, greenhouse plants, and an extensive orchard.
For any nature enthusiast, this botanical garden is sure to delight and a great attraction in the heart of Cagliari.
15. Parco di Monte Urpinu
Due to its location within a valley, Cagliari is surrounded by mountains and rolling hills – this means that several public parks have been created that utilize this landscape.
The Parco di Monte Urpinu is a vast stretch of parkland that hugs the Urpinu mountain landscape and is known for its plethora of wildlife and challenging hiking trails.
At the top of the park, you are granted with panoramic views of Cagliari and on a clear day you can see for miles towards the sea.
Notable wildlife species within the park include foxes and various bird varieties.