Sardinia for backpackers – where to go in Sardinia: Cagliari
Basilica di Bonaria
What to see in Cagliari:
If you are thinking of where to go in Sardinia, think Cagliari. Not only it is a great place to begin your visit, but also a perfect starting point for many more things to do in Sardinia. Once here, if you took the ferry you will land directly at the harbour near Via Roma, which is the main centre of town. If you took one of the cheap flights to Sardinia, catch the train to the city centre (Piazza Matteotti)– it takes no longer than 7 minutes. You can then reach Via Roma and start a walk that will take you through the picturesque neighborhood of La Marina, and then eventually lead you to the Bastione di S. Remy.
It is a bastion, a fort built at the end of the 19th century on the old walls of the city (dating the beginning of the 14th century), in order to link the neighborhoods of La Marina and Villanova with the one of Castello, above. Walking up the stairs of the Bastione, take a look at the spectacular view over the Golfo degli Angeli. Right in front of you, you will see the Sella del Diavolo, a cape at the south of the city that separates the beaches of Poetto and Calamosca. The legend says that demons, headed by Lucifer, were impressed by the beauty of the gulf and attempted to conquer it.
However, God sent its army, under the lead of arcangel Michael, in order to fight Lucifer. In the battle, Lucifer was unsaddled and lost his saddle which landed on the water and turned into stone, thus giving the cape its saddle shape. Another legend says that Lucifer, during the fight, fell on the cape giving it its shape. Right next to the Sella del Diavolo there is Sant’Elia Stadium, historic stadium of Cagliari Football Club and currently being renovated. On the left, you can see Molentargius pond which is a colony for pink flamingos. If you want to take a look from above, go to Monte Urpinu. Otherwise, take a walk in the Parco di Molentargius to see them up close.
Going up some more stairs from the Bastione, you can enter the neighborhood of Castello, and see the Cathedral and the Palazzo Vice Regio, till you reach the San Pancrazio Tower, built during the Pisan domination of the island. The view from up there is spectacular. You can then visit the nearby Museo Archeologico di Cagliari and, exiting Castello, go towards the Roman anfitheatre, of imperial times, which could host up to 10000 spectators and were the main shows were those of gladiators. Going back, walk along the Ghetto degli Ebrei admiring the view of the roofs of Stampace and the Elephants’ Tower.
Other sites of interest include the Basilica di Bonaria, the lighthouse of Sant’Elia (which you can reach through a free hike offering an incredible view over the Poetto beach), the necropolis of Tuvixeddu and the Castle of San Michele.
If you would like taking part in a guided walking tour of Cagliari, Musement has day and night tours in English, French, German and Spanish and takes you to some of the most important attractions. It also organises guided treks and kayak tours to the Devils’ Saddle.
Cagliari is a good starting point for many more things to do in Sardinia. One excursion could be that to the Castle of Siniscola. If you are interested in a unique archeological site (a must see when you visit Sardinia) go to the nuraxis village of Barumini, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The ruins of Nora, near Pula, are impressive. Other day trips could be to the beautiful beaches of Santa Margherita, Chia, Tuerredda and Cala Cipolla. If you would like a wine tasting experience, go to Cantine Argiolas in Serdiana, where you can also visit the Romanic 11th century church of Santa Maria di Sibiola, fully immersed in the countryside. There are more Romanic countryside churches near Monastir and near Sestu.
Where to stay, eat and have a drink:
For a relaxing walk and an aperitif right before sunset, walk along the Poetto beach. It is easily reached by bus and there are many bars where you can have a drink and enjoy the cool breeze coming from the sea. If you can afford a taxi, go to La Paillote, at the top of Calamosca beach: it is a beautiful lounge bar with a view over a tiny beach and the harbour.
There are restaurants and accommodation for all budgets and taste. Fussy travellers can opt for the modern and comfortable T Hotel, which also has a good restaurant and is right in front of the beautiful Parco della Musica. For something in between, there are many bed and breakfast in the city centre. If you are on a budget, opt for Hostel Marina, beds in dorm of 4 to 6 beds are €22 per night: it is right in the heart of the city and near all attractions, restaurants and bars.
Craving seafood at lunchtime? Go to the fish market (Mercato di San Benedetto, in Piazza San Benedetto) and have freshly fried calamari, fish and shrimps for a few euros. For an excellent pizza (and pasta, meat and desserts!) go to L’Oca Bianca. Nearby, La Stella Marina di Montecristo in via Sardegna 140 offers an excellent seafood menu for no more than € 22 per person – including appetizers, pasta, seafood, fruit, dessert and wine and spirits. It is very popular among the locals, including Gigi Riva (former player of Cagliari who led the team to win the championship). If you can, book in advance. In the streets of the city centre you can also find many kebab places, pizzerias, and ice cream parlours.
Nightlife is lively – but locals tend to go out no earlier than 10 pm. The heart of the movida is around Largo Carlo Felice. Libarium, in Castello, has a great terrace and view of the city; Caffè degli Spiriti or De Candia in the Bastione are lovely. A cocktail normally costs between € 7 and 9, wine and beer are cheaper (around 4 or 5 euros).
Find out more things to do in Sardinia off season on my post “The island of wonders.”