Cagliari has been the capital city of Sardinia since Roman times and remains the island's biggest town and busiest port, although it has a relaxed atmosphere and easy-going pace of life. The compact old centre of Cagliari above the port, encircled by its defensive city walls, is where most visitors spend their time and is home to its major cultural attractions and myriad bars, shops and restaurants. A climb up either of the two 14th century Pisan towers affords spectacular views out to sea, above the rooftops and the port, and Cagliari is also home to one of Italy's most famous botanical gardens.
In the Piazza Arsenale, the Archeological Museum is open every day of the week except Mondays. It houses all the most important finds on the island from the Phoenicians to the Romans but has also the best collection of pieces from the Nuraghic civilization, Sardinia's intriguing pre-historic indigenous population, including a series of stunning bronze statuettes dating back hundreds of years BC.
The Pisan Towers
The Torre San Pancrazio and the Torre dell'Elefante were built as part of the city's defences by the Pisans in the early part of the 14th century. You can climb the towers for a fantastic view across the old town and the port and sea beyond.
Cattedrale di Santa Maria
The main focus for religious celebrations during the year in Cagliari, the Cathedral was built during the 13th century, although many architectural renovations have taken place over the centuries. Next to the Cathedral is the Archbishop's Palace and the Governor's Palace, the home of the former Piedmontese Kings of Sardinia.
The Roman Amphitheatre
Close to the Botanical Garden, the amphitheatre dates back to the second century AD and was hewn out of the solid rock. Although not the best-preserved amphitheatre on Italian soil, as many of the stones were taken in the Middle Ages to build other churches, it still hosts music and theatrical performances in the summer months. It remains the most important public building of the Roman period.
If you are looking for a guide in Cagliari (or other parts of Sardinia) we can recommend Francesco Manca, Tel. +39 340 0069191. He can do cultural, food and wine or walking tours and can be reached via this website.
Where to stay
This is a boutique B&B with six rooms in the old town of Cagliari, lavishly converted from a nineteenth century building. Excellent position for visiting the city's cultural highlights.
Hotel Villa Fanny
A little further from the centre than The Place, Hotel Villa Fanny is a boutique hotel with 19 luxury rooms and suites and a wonderful, tranquil garden.
Il Gallo Bianco
A family-run B&B close to the port and the railway station. Stylish rooms, reasonable prices and friendly service.
If you prefer to stay near the airport the Holiday Inn is only five minutes drive away and has a restaurant, small pool and fitness facilities. This will be our pick-up point for the Heart of Sardinia tour.
Where to eat
€€Antico Caffe dal 1855
An institution in the town since the date over the door, this Art Deco style eatery on Piazza Costituzione has a restaurant, a wine bar, cocktail bar, tea room, patisserie and a creperie so will suit almost any appetite! Open all day every day. Tel +39 070 658206
A family-run fine dining restaurant with a big reputation in the town for refined dishes and efficient service. 28 Viale Regina Margherita Tel +39 070 664318. Closed Mondays
In the historic Marina district, closer to the Port, Antica Cagliari serves traditional cuisine in the cosy atmosphere of a 19th-century vaulted stone building. Mostly seafood with some meat dishes, the menu is typically Sardinian. Friendly and welcoming staff. Open every day. Via Sardegna 49 Tel +39 070 734 0198
This fabulous pastry shop, café and wine bar is the perfect place for a coffee or tea and a taste of a delicious Sardinian pastry or two. You could also have mini burgers, pizza by the slice or sandwiches for a light lunch. Open every day and well worth a visit. Via Baylle Tel +39 070 674043
What to order
Seafood is most popular in the coastal towns, with lobster being a real favourite of the locals. Look out for fish stews and bottarga - a kind of caviar made from mullet roe. The typical carasau flat bread (also known as carta da musica), suckling pig (porceddu) cooked on an open spit and farm-raised lamb are a constant reminder of the pastoral tradition. Herbs such as wild thyme, rosemary, myrtle and juniper are used to flavour meats. The island also produces about 80% of Italy’s pecorino (sheep’s milk cheese), while the most popular goat cheese is caprino. Possibly less appealing to visitors is the infamous casumarzu, a soft creamy cheese packed with live maggots! Pastries are pretty good in Sardinia too - often flavoured with lemon, almonds or oranges.
When it comes to wine, the best-known reds on the island are made from the Cannonau vine which go well with roasted meats. Sardinia’s only DOCG white is the Vermentino di Gallura, a crisp aromatic wine which pairs well with seafood or you might try the Vernaccia di Oristano, which is made either very dry (secco) or sweet and fortified (Liquoroso Dolce).
Cagliari is connected to many key european cities from Elmas - Mario Mameli international airport. There are half hourly shuttle buses connecting the airport to the city center in Piazza Matteotti, situated between the port and the train station, and you can also take the train from the airport to the city centre. Taxis from the airport to the centre of town should take around 15 mins and standard fares are likely to cost around €20 per journey. The main hub for local and regional buses is close to the train station. GetByBus is a useful website.
The port of Cagliari is situated in the centre of the city and faces directly onto the famous Via Roma. There are daily ferries to the mainland at Civitavecchia (Rome) and the crossing time is approximately 12 hours.
For all train information visit www.trenitalia.com which has an English version. Train travel in Italy is inexpensive and comfortable. Major cities are served by non-stop fast trains known as the Eurostar.