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Sardinia, off the southwest coast of Italy, is almost like a separate country from the mainland. Known for its white sandy beaches and turquoise blue waters, it also has impressive rock formations worth a visit – from stalactites and stalagmites to gorges and grottos – and basilicas and Roman amphitheatres that history buffs will love. Read on for the 15 must-visit attractions in Sardinia.
This impressive rock formation, known in Italian as Capo d’Orso, is a short drive from Palau and has been here since prehistoric times. It is an easy climb to the top, with 360-degree views over the archipelago of La Maddalena, Palau and the old military Forte di Capo d’Orso.
Giuseppe Garibaldi was the founding father of modern Italy. He spent the last years of his life on the tiny island of Caprera, part of La Maddalena archipelago in Sardinia. His house, Casa Bianca, has been transformed into a small museum where you can see the boat in which he rowed to the mainland, as well as his famous red shirt.
This bold, modern structure, in the port area of Olbia, houses some of the island’s most ancient history. Don’t miss the Roman-era vessel that was found in the town’s main port. Entrance is free, which is a nice bonus.
There are more than a dozen giants’ tombs scattered all over the island – massive, ancient Nuragic structures steeped in mystery. You can find a particularly well-preserved example, known as Sa domu ‘e s’Orcu in dialect, which means “The ogre’s house”, near Cagliari.
These magnificent stalactite and stalagmite formations are named after the Roman god of the sea, Neptune. To visit this grotto, you can either walk single file down a long set of steps that begin at the top of the cliff, or take a short boat ride from the port of Alghero.
This striking 12th-century, black and white striped basilica is the most important example of Romanesque-style architecture on the island. It’s deep in the countryside near Sassari, and inside you’ll find beautifully preserved frescoes to admire.
If you are looking for adventure, take the two-hour hike through the ancient Nuragic settlement of Tiscali along the river to reach an immense 457m-high (1,500ft) high gorge. Pack a picnic and test the local legend by looking to see if you can see stars at the bottom of the gorge.
There are sparkly geological wonders to be found here, deep inside the largest cave on the island. This is also the site of one of the most important archaeological discoveries of Nuragic and Phoenician artefacts. You can peer into the Abbisso delle Vergini (Abyss of the Virgins) or explore the 8km (5mi) worth of deep caves with a guide.
The small town of Mamoiada is best known for its traditional masks, known as the Mamuthones and the Issohadores. A visit to the Mamoida Masks Museum is the best way to learn about this fascinating aspect of Sardinian culture. If you cannot be here for Carnival, celebrated from 17 January through to Mardi Gras every year, the museum is the next best thing.
The best way to get a sense of the maze-like seaside town of Alghero is to take a walk along its walls. Spanning from Torre di Sulis in the south and the Porta a Mare in the north, it takes about an hour – allowing for plenty of stops for pictures and gelato.
Located in the Castello neighbourhood in Cagliari, this collection of museums is the perfect way to spend a day when it’s either blazing hot or drizzling with rain. In the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Cagliari, you can see paintings, textiles, jewellery and ceramics and, if you are not shy, the Collezione di Cere Anatomiche Clemente Susini has an impressive collection of anatomically correct wax human figures.
This spectacular example of late 1st-/early 2nd-century Roman architecture is a short walk from the centre of Cagliari in the southern hills of Buoncammino. This Roman amphitheatre once housed more than 10,000 spectators who came to watch gladiators battle with wild animals.
Not far from bustling Cagliari is the ancient town of Nora, perfect for a day trip to explore Phoenician, Carthaginian and Roman ruins. Known as the sunken city, it is one of the oldest towns in Sardinia. If you go diving, there are more treasures to explore from below the water.
Beginning on the first of May and lasting for almost a week, the city of Cagliari hosts a celebration for its patron saint, Efisio, who saved the town from complete destruction in a devastating outbreak of plague in 1652. Parades with decorated oxen and thousands of citizens in traditional dress are just part of the elaborate festivities.