With nearly 2,000 kilometers of coastline, punctuated with jagged cliffs and white sand beaches, Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean and one of Italy’s 20 regions. Known as Sardegna in Italian, the island is located around 300 kilometers off the southwest coast of Rome below French Corsica, but is Sardinia worth visiting?
From its sprawling beaches to its rugged hinterlands, Sardinia is one of Italy’s most diverse destinations. The island promises a totally different experience to anywhere else in the country and with its long and varied past, there’s mystery to be uncovered at every turn.
That said, Sardinia hides its secrets in plain sight and it won’t take long to convince you that the island is definitely worth visiting. From the food to the people, our guide has rounded up just some of the things that make Sardinia so unique to show you why it deserves a place on your travel bucket list. Let’s get into it.
Sardinia is so much more than its heavenly beaches, upscale resorts, and unspoiled fisherman’s villages, but they’re a good place to start. One of the main things that keep Sardinia’s loyal fans returning is the spectacular sands and the island deserves credit for its turquoise waters and powdery white beaches.
The Cagliari area is best known in Sardinia for its long, sandy shores and this is where many of the resorts are located. Cagliari is actually the capital city of Sardinia, but it’s more than a hub for culture, history, and arts. Check out the southeast corner of this province that dominates much of Sardinia’s south coast for highlights like Punta Molenti in Villasimius. Surrounded by 15-meter-high cliffs, below which sugary sands are lapped by blue-green crystalline waters, this paradisical beach is closer to the Caribean than Calabria in appearance.
Sardinia’s beaches are great for swimming, sunbathing, and snorkeling, especially in the south, but the island is also characteristically wild. Head to the Orosei Gulf on the east coast, marked by the foothills of the Supramonte massif, for stunning rocky coves, most of which are only accessible by idyllic footpaths and climbing routes. Rivers flow through rock formations into the sea and the region is a true hiker’s paradise. The north coast is also decidedly rugged and the beaches are among the most picturesque on the island.
Sardinia is also a premier surfing destination and the best place to get involved in extreme sports in Italy. Thanks to the island’s great exposure to all swells you can find surf almost all year round and at every corner of the island, but the western shores are a magnet for strong swell. Silver Rock reef off the midwest coast produces fast right swells of two to twelve feet and barrelling lefts.
It’s no secret that Italy is a hotspot for history enthusiasts. The country has been the seat of some of the most influential civilizations of all time and its rich past is evident in every town, city, and Roman wall. With its outlying location, Sardinia might not be the first place that comes to mind when you conjure Italy’s ancient landmarks and myths. Nevertheless, the island actually has some of the most dynamic and unique archaeology dating back hundreds of thousands of years.
Sardinia has bolstered early civilization in Italy since prehistoric times. Move over Rome, because there’s actually a reason to believe Sardinia was one of the first inhabited regions in the country. Thanks to the discovery of Paleolithic workshops, there are indications of human presence as early as 450,000 years ago in Sardinia.
Prehistoric tribes also left the Giants’ Tombs and Domus de Janas, both part of a great archaeological complex in Sardinia today that’s worth a visit. The Nuragic people came next and managed to resist invasion until the Romans arrived.
The Nuragic people are endemic to Sardinia and lived from the 20th century BC (the Bronze Age) until 238 BC when Roman colonization occurred. They’re responsible for Sardinia’s unique megalithic marvels, of which more than 7,000 are dotted around the island, serving as witnesses to the presence of the Nuragic peoples.
These large stone monuments are known as nuraghi in Sardinia today, and they’re thought to have served as defensive structures. They take the form of truncated stone cones with corbel-arched interior chambers, resembling bee hives. Also serving as watchtowers, some were believed to be royal residences for tribal kings.
The Phoenicians and Punics have also left their mark on Sardinia, leaving charming cities like Nora and Tharros, which the Romans improved as well as building new ones and a significant portion of the island’s road system that is still used today. Check out the Cagliari Archeological Museum for an insight into the diverse history of Sardinia and an eclectic collection of relics left behind by former inhabitants.
It’s easy to be drawn to Sardinia’s beaches, and we don’t blame you, especially if a relaxing seaside break is at the top of your agenda. However, Sardinia is a sprawling island, measuring over 24,000 square kilometers, and its sandy shores are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the island’s wild nature.
Sardinia’s rugged interior is one of its biggest appeals, yet is still ignored by so many visitors. Nevertheless, with just a handful of tourists venturing in, this makes inner-Sardinia even more authentic.
The Barbagia mountains are one of these areas where there are not only fewer tourists but hardly any human presence at all. In fact, Barbagia is one of the least populated areas in Europe, allowing for unique ecosystems and indigenous animals to thrive. The province is characterized by hard hills and rocky mountains, and the constant of Sardinian resistance. Sardinia’s cultural and natural treasures are preserved in Barbagia and it’s one of the few regions where the Sardinian language, in its Nuorese and Campidanase varieties, is spoken on a daily basis instead of Italian.
Barbagia is great for hiking and wildlife spotting, but there’s also a handful of historic towns like Gavoi, which overlooks Gusana Lake, Orgosolo, famous for its bandit tales and murals, and Oliena, a rich wine area.
Sardinia also plays host to some lush wetlands and they’re not too far from the cities. Sarrabus and Molentargius Park, both in the heart of Cagliari, are some of the most famous lowlands for birdwatching in Sardinia. Still, remember that Sardinia’s wildlife is left undisturbed for good reason. Keep your distance from the unique birds as human interruption can have a detrimental impact on their fragile ecosystems.
The Food and Drink
You can’t talk about any Italian destination without honoring the food and time-tested traditions of the peninsula’s unique cuisine. Italian food is widely regarded as some of the best in the world and you can enjoy seafood favorites and homely pasta dishes all over the island. Yet, Sardinia’s gastronomy also has its own distinct flair that sets it apart from mainland Italy.
Sardinian food is well-connected to tradition and island life. It’s typically divided into land and sea and depending on where you go on the island, you’ll be served either variety. Su Porcheddu, a spit-roasted suckling pig, is one of the most iconic Sardinian meat dishes, hailing from the rural inland. There’s also Malloreddus alla Campidanese, a gnocchi-like pasta dish colored with saffron and cooked in a tomato sauce with ground pork, as well as Culurgiones, a type of stuffed pasta that more closely resembles dumplings. These parcels are filled with mashed potatoes, mint, and pecorino.
Panadas is another classic dish filled with potatoes and meat but are typically pie-shaped rather than made into dumplings, while seadas are a popular regional dessert made from deep-fried pastry that’s filled with cheese and covered in honey. Sardinia is known for its honey but it is traditionally made from strawberry tree flowers and is surprisingly bitter in taste.
The island is also big for wine with grapes that have a recognizably strong taste too, and high alcohol proof. Be sure to try Cannonau, a full-bodied fruity red with strawberry and raspberry aromas and alcohol levels of around 15 percent. What’s more, the homemade liqueur is just as loved by locals as wine. Mirto, made from myrtle berries, and File ‘e Feru, a type of Grappa distilled from grape skins, are the most popular and you’ll be offered them in any Sardinian home or family-owned restaurant.
The People and Traditions
Like some Italians, Sardinians can seem brusque at first. Warmth isn’t often shown through exuberance in Italy, and Sardinians are no different, often coming across as shy rather than open-armed. However, on further inspection, you’ll learn that one thing all Sardinians share is a love for their land and this is never more obvious than in the appreciation they show toward their guests.
Sardinians can be extremely welcoming, and visitors are actually considered sacred in Sardinian culture. This means most locals will go the extra mile to make you feel comfortable, even if they won’t accept thanks in return and seem embarrassed when you try to do so.
Locals will also be ready and waiting to help any traveler who needs it. And with the strong traditions tied to food and hospitality, don’t be surprised if your guest house owner or vacation rental host leaves food and drink for you, or even invites you for a sit-down meal in their kitchen.
All Sardinians are imbued with a strong passion for their island, worshiping the sea, the mountains, and the countryside practices, which also comes out in their strong sense of pride. They might be friendly, polite, and often quiet, but offend a Sardinian and they might never accept an apology. Nevertheless, this trait only makes the connections that they do nurture with you more genuine.
Sardinian identity is celebrated at every opportunity. Festivals take place all year round, with many even concentrated throughout autumn and winter, although the most popular ones, Sant’Efiso in Cagliari and the Candelieri of Sassari, take place in spring.
The villages in the Barbagia region are the most traditional, with costumes, masks, and crafts coming out for every regional event. Each village has its own customs and clothes, as well as arts and crafts from basket weaving to wood carving and silver engraving. Check out the Mamoiada’s Museum of Mediterranean Masks if you want to admire the traditional clothes of Sardinia’s festivities as well as those from the rest of the country. The Ethnographic Museum in Nuoro is the best place to learn about Sardinia’s idiosyncratic culture and folklore.
Italy is known for its sun-soaked Mediterranean resorts and rolling golden vineyards, but Sardinia has a particularly pleasant climate with long, hot summers and mild winters.
Some would describe Sardinia’s weather patterns as micro-climatic as they’re influenced by the variety of ecosystems on the island. With mountains, woods, plains, rocky coastline, and large uninhabited territories, the weather can change by province, but Sardinia is known for its ‘six-month summer’ across the territory, with the sea being warm enough for swimming from May until October.
The temperature hovers in the low 80s for most of July and August, and although the winter can see some heavy rainfall, it rarely dips below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, even in January. This makes Sardinia a year-round vacation destination. It is considerably quieter in the low season, but the shoulder seasons are perfect for a laid-back break if you’re after fewer tourists, pleasant weather, and sumptuous sea temperatures.
Italy has long been associated with refinery and glamor. Sardinia might be a largely untrodden island and much less touristy than places like Rome and the Amalfi Coast, but it has developed its own reputation as a celebrity hangout, and with it, you might have heard rumors of exuberant prices.
For some areas of the island, these myths do hold. There are upscale resorts, swanky beach clubs, expensive real estate, and yacht-studded harbors, specifically in places like Costa Smeralda. However, unless you’re planning to join the likes of George Clooney or Cristiano Ronaldo on their superyachts, there’s no reason for your holiday to Sardinia to cost a fortune.
In fact, Sardinia is much cheaper than other European destinations including much of Italy and neighboring Corsica, which belongs to France and has even more upmarket appeal. Although an island, Sardinia is also no more expensive to fly to than anywhere else in the country, and it’s actually closer to the rest of western Europe than most of mainland Italy.
In Costa Smeralda, you could fork out a fortune for a meal in a fancy restaurant, but you could spend the same on a week’s accommodation elsewhere on the island. Mid-range hotels in Cagliari, surrounded by some of the island’s best white sands, start at around €40 a night, while a double room in Alghero can go for as little as €25 a night. Compared to Rome where you’ll struggle to find a hostel bed for €40, Sardinia can be very reasonable.
The average one-night stay in a mid-range hotel in the high season is only around €125 a night in Sardinia, at large, compared to around €170 in Milan and €200 on the Amalfi Coast. On average, the cost of living in Sardinia (around €1,100 a month) is less than the national average, which sits at €1,225 per calendar month. This means that, compared to Italy’s 20 regions, Sardinia sits around the middle, being more economical than most of the well-known tourist states.
When is the best time to visit Sardinia?
Summer in Sardinia sees the hottest temperatures, but this also means the most crowds and sometimes the July heat can be uncomfortable. If you’re after comfortable sea swimming, sunny days, fewer tourists, and low-season discounts, consider visiting in the shoulder months from April to May and September to October. The weather is much better at this time of year for taking to the outdoors and indulging in Sardinia’s great cycling and hiking trails.
Is Sardinia safe?
Sardinia is a sprawling island, but it’s largely uninhabited, mostly dotted with small villages and holiday resorts that are very safe to travel to. Even Sardinia’s regional capital, Cagliari, demonstrates extremely low crime rates – much lower than the national average – and the island is one of the safest places in Europe. The vast majority of Sardinians say they are not affected by any crime in their daily lives.
How many days do you need in Sardinia?
Sardinia is a big island and it is rather spread out, with things to do in the south and north. That said, if you’re short on time, you can squeeze a lot into just a few days, with most of the action concentrated on the shorelines. That isn’t to say you should ignore the interior of the island, but a lot of it isn’t inhabited and is covered in nature reserves instead. Be sure to dedicate some time to hiking and bird watching if you want to experience Sardinia’s real rugged beauty, but five to seven days in a Sardinian resort is enough for a relaxing break.