Things to Do in Sardinia
Travelers who walk through the doors of Cagliari's National Museum of Archaeology (Museo Archeologico Nazionale) will be immediately transported back in time. In addition to an impressive collection of Graeco-Roman artifacts, visitors will find Egyptian relics, iconic European sculptures, original carvings, stunning frescos and even ornate mosaics from the city of Pompeii.
Visitors can easily wander the halls and galleries on their own, but travelers who want to learn more about the museum’s most iconic pieces may prefer to purchase an audio guide that offers up rich details of the museum’s top attractions, like Hercules and the infamous raging bull.
Best visited in conjunction with the nearby Su Nuraxi archaeological site, this center is dedicated to Sardinian culture and civilization from the Bronze Age to now. Check out historic photographs and a scale model of Su Nuraxi to see what the neolithic structures once looked like, and learn about the island’s artisan traditions.
The capital of Sardinia, Cagliari, sits on the island’s southern coast in the middle of the large bay created by the Gulf of Cagliari (Golfo di Cagliari) - also known as the Golfo degli Angeli, or Gulf of Angels.
The gulf is often busy with ships and ferries - Cagliari is an important port city - but it’s also a recreation hub. Many of the beaches surrounding the gulf are beautiful sandy beaches next to clear water. Sardinia is a haven for outdoor sports, including horseback riding, hiking, and a multitude of water sports.
One of the most recognizable features of the Gulf of Cagliari is the St. Elia Promontory in the middle of the bay near the city of Cagliari itself. It’s known as the Devil’s Saddle for its distinctive carved-out shape, and it’s a popular hiking location. There are some ancient ruins on the promontory, too, including the remains of a huge Punic water tank and Roman cistern.
Other historic sites ring the gulf, including the ancient Roman and pre-Roman ruins at Nora on the western end of the gulf. The ancient theater at the archaeological site is still in use for performances during the summer.
There is a distinctive rock formation on a promontory near Cagliari that, because of its shape, is known as Devil’s Saddle, or Sella di Diavolo in Italian. The promontory overlooks the city’s popular Poetto Beach.
The easiest way to see Devil’s Saddle is simply by visiting the beach, but there are also hiking trails along the promontory for a more close-up look. Hikers can walk along what began as an ancient Roman road and can climb up to one of the points on Devil’s Saddle.
Among the sights to see near Devil’s Saddle are the remains of a Roman cistern, an 11th-century monastery, and fortifications from World War II. There are even Punic ruins to see that date from the 6th century BC, before the ancient Roman era. A Punic temple was built on the promontory, dedicated to the Goddess Astarte. For many visitors, though, the main draw is the panoramic view from the top of the hill.
One of the premier megalithic sites in northern Sardinia, the Lu Brandali Nuragic Complex (Complesso Nuragico di Lu Brandali) was discovered in the 1960s. Comprising a group of nuraghi—limestone dwellings dating from between the Bronze and Iron ages—the site offers some insight into the mysterious Nuragic culture.
Situated on the Punta Falcone, between the bay of Santa Teresa Gallura and the postcard-perfect Rena Bianca beach, this 16th-century tower is one of the most striking sights on the Sardinian coast. Climb to the rooftop observation deck to enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the pristine coastline and turquoise water.
One of the most important archaeological sites in Sardinia, this group of 38 burial chambers carved into the sandstone date from as far back as 4200 BC and are known as domus de janas, or “fairy houses.” Tour the site to see Neolithic engravings of bull’s horns, false doors, and other enigmatic designs.
This excellent museum teaches visitors about a basket making tradition that has existed in Sardinia’s coastal town of Castelsardo since the Nuraghic period. Trace the evolution of weaving through the millennia, and view an impressive collection of these works of art made from dwarf palm fronds.
For deserted lagoons, turquoise waves, and fabulous beaches, set sail for the Maddalena Archipelago (Arcipelago della Maddalena), just off the Costa Smeralda. The group of seven islands and dozens of islets between Sardinia and Corsica is a national park, with crystalline waters for diving and unspoiled coastlines.
Set in the lush countryside outside the town of Barumini, Su Nuraxi is Sardinia’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the island’s most important Nuragic-age ruins. The highlight is the main tower, dating from 1500 BC and incorporated over time into a vast fortified nuraghe compound.
More Things to Do in Sardinia
The ancient city of Nora was once among the most powerful settlements on Sardinia. Founded by the Phoenicians, this coastal capital later became an important Punic and Roman metropolis. Inside the ruins, you can visit a Roman theater and baths and see mosaic fragments and other archaeological artefacts.
Not far from the town of Santadi in southern Sardinia is a network of caves that stretches more than a mile underground. It’s called the Caves of Is Zuddas (Grotte Is Zuddas), and they are a popular tourist attraction in the region.
While the caves themselves go on for more than a mile, the portion that can be visited by tourists is a little less than one third of a mile long. In that distance, visitors go through multiple large chambers and see the incredible stalactite and stalagmite formations for which the caves are famous. There are also remains of a rodent species that was only found on Sardinia and nearby Corsica, and is now extinct.
Visits into the Caves of Is Zuddas are only possible with a guide. Some guided tours of the Is Zuddas caves also include other geological points of interest in the area, too, such as the Cave of Campanaccio and Cave of Capra.
Set in a stylish contemporary building overlooking the Sardinian coastline, this small gem of an aquarium is a fun attraction for both kids and adults. Spend a pleasant hour looking at the various river and ocean creatures housed in open sea, deep sea, and tropical tanks, including piranhas, hound sharks, clownfish, and tortoises.
A cluster of the island’s unique limestone edifices dating from between the Bronze and Iron ages, this 3,500-year-old Nuragic village is one of the most captivating megalithic sites in Sardinia. Tour the main towers and meeting hut to learn about the enigmatic Nuragic culture and its striking architecture.
Housed in the 16th-century residence of the Zapata family (who once ruled southern Sardinia), this small museum complex includes the remains of an Iron Age Nuragic settlement, artefacts from the nearby Su Nuraxi archaeological site, and exhibitions about the local culture and the Zapata dynasty.
The Italian island of Sardinia (Sardegna) is known for its stunning natural beauty, including a pristine coastline and tiny offshore islets. In 1997 one of these, the island of Asinara, became Asinara National Park (Parco Nazionale dell'Asinara)—a nature reserve that is home to wild animals, historic ruins, hiking trails, and idyllic beaches.
Italy’s idyllic island of Sardinia is known for its beaches and turquoise waters, which encircle beautiful inland parks and natural areas. One of the most important is Molentargius - Saline Regional Park (Parco Naturale Regionale Molentargius - Saline), a wetland of shallow pools once used to harvest salt that now hosts a wealth of bird life.
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