Cagliari is Sardinia’s stunning capital city, perched on the rocks above a bustling port with the longest stretch of beach in Italy and guarded by medieval towers and walls
Described as the ‘city of the sun’, Cagliari is the capital of the emerald island of Sardinia and possibly one of the most attractive cities in Italy. Its year-round warm climate, fascinating medieval district, bustling port and stunning Poetto beach make it a perfect short break destination in the Mediterranean.
Although most visitors arrive via Cagliari airport, 6km north of the city, the port is at its heart and is a hive of activity. It leads on to the Marina district, one of the most colourful and bustling areas of the city and the most popular for hotels, restaurants and shops. Via Roma is a prestigious boulevard of designer boutiques, running parallel with the sea. More traditional goods can be found around Via Manno, as well as plenty of good food shops to sample the local delicacies. Salumeria Vaghi, in Via Baylle, is good for deli treats.
From here, follow the tree-lined streets of Largo Carlo Felice and Via Regina Margherita up towards Il Castello – the historical and cultural quarter of the city. Its impressive ivory towers and bastioned walls, built on a limestone hill, are home to a network of alleyways, squares, museums and galleries. The two white Pisan towers, Torre dell’Elefante, once a prison and execution site, and Torre di San Pancrazio can both be climbed for spectacular views across the city and sea.
Cultural buffs can also learn about Sardinia’s prehistoric past in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, soak up some art in the national gallery (Pinacoteca Nazionale), explore the Orient in the Museo d’Arte Siamese or view a collection of waxwork bodies in the Mostra di Cere Anatomiche. The cathedral, Cattedrale di Santa Maria, also offers a quiet sunny haven in Piazza Palazzo, in the centre of Il Castello, or for a more bustling experience try the flea market in Bastione San Remy on Sunday mornings.
Food, fiestas and flamingos
While making the most of the culture and sights, don’t miss every opportunity to indulge in Cagliari’s wonderful cuisine. While there is, naturally, fresh fish by the shoalful, including sea bass, red mullet and bream, the best known dish of the region is roasted suckling pig – porceddu.
The busy alleyways of neighbouring Stampace are another good place to find typical Sardinian restaurants and a taste of the poetry, art and tradition in which the city is steeped. In early May, the Festa di Sant’Efisio takes over the district as Sardinians parade in national costume in remembrance of the 1652 plague, which killed half the population. Summer concerts are also hosted in the Stampace district, in the 2nd-century Roman amphitheatre in Viale Fra Ignazio.
However, what gives Cagliari the edge as a short break destination is the opportunity to leave behind the shopping, history and culture and head to the expansive white beach at Poetto, with its crystal clear waters and lively hub of cafes and music. It’s where all the residents head and is lined with lidos where you can hire sun loungers and umbrellas. There's also an outdoor cinema, yacht club and diving schools at the southern end at Marina Piccola.
And if more rest and tranquillity is required, the nearby wetlands of Molentargius are the perfect place to sit quietly and watch the flock of local residents – pink flamingos. Alternatively, the Orto Botanico, one of Italy’s most famous botanical gardens in Viale Fra Ignazio, is home to more than 500 species of tropical plants and an idyllic hideaway from city life.
Cagliari is a fascinating city, with a heady mix of beautiful architecture, bronze-age history, thriving marine heritage, typical Sardinian cuisine, a stunning beach and natural countryside. For a taste of the best of what Italy has to offer in one city, the southern capital of Sardinia is a treasure worth exploring.
There are direct flights from the UK with Meridiana, easyJet and Ryanair, to Cagliari Elmas Airport, 6km northwest of the city.
From the bus stop in front of Arrivals, ARST blue buses run to Piazza Matteotti in Stampace every half-an-hour, from 8.45am to 11.40pm daily.
If you prefer to book a package, Just Sardinia is a good tour operator.
The main tourist office is at Via Goffredo Mameli 95; there are also information points at Piazza Matteotti and Elmas Airport.
Where to eat
Convento San Giuseppe: Via Paracelso.
Dal Corsaro: Viale Regina Margherita 28.
Spinnaker: Marina Piccola.
Antico Caffe: Piazza Constituzione.