Start your day with an Italian-style breakfast of cappuccino and a sweet pastry at the historic Antico Caffè dal 1855 right at the entrance to the Castello district and the Bastione di Saint Remy. Next up is some culture. If you would like to dive deep into the ancient history of the island, the excellent collection of artifacts at the Museo Archaeological Nazionale.
If art is more your thing, you have the Pinacoteca Nazionale. Both of these museums are in the Cittadella dei Musei complex. There is something for contemporary art lovers too, with the Municipal Art Gallery. Get your bearings for the city from the Torre dell’Elefante, the only medical tower still standing.
Cagliari’s multicultural history spans Roman, Byzantine, Pisan and Spanish influences. Find a lunch spot on the maze of streets in the Castello or leafy Villanova neighborhood, before you take a quick tour of significant churches. The early Christian basilica San Saturnino complex dates back to the 5th century and is dedicated to a martyred saint.
The city’s main church, the Duomo di Cagliari is a mishmash of architectural styles including work on the facade by the 12th century builder of the tower of Pisa, Maestro Guillermo. Inside, you’ll find pre-Christian and Roman era tombs, and a crypt with an elaborately painted ceiling, filled with the remains of martyrs. Stately 19th century buildings line the streets and boulevards of Cagliari’s shopping district, centered around via Manno, via Garibaldi, via Alghero and via Dante.
Locals gather to watch the sunset at one of the stylish cafés along the ramparts, near the Bastione di Saint Remy. Enjoy the view out towards the two lagoons, the Molentargius and the Santa Gilla, with your spritz or a glass of Sardinian wine, while you make dinner plans. Cagliari has a reputation for having a great nightlife. You can dance until dawn, listen to jazz or grab a craft beer.
Plan on an early start and head straight to the Mercato San Benedetto. This enormous food market is spread out on two levels and sells everything from vegetables, fish to cheese and pastries. Shop for gifts to bring home to your foodie friends and for a picnic lunch. Look for salami studded with myrtle berries, pecorino cheese and some pane moddizzosu, a local sourdough bread. Don’t miss a snack break with the town specialty pizzetta sfoglia, a delicious cross between a pizza, a sandwich and a pastry.
Cagliari is of course a coastal city, and there are some beautiful beaches within very easy reach by bus or car. Spend the afternoon with your toes in the sand at the nearby Poetta Beach lounging under an umbrella. If you are the active type, there is a windsurfing club where you can rent a board and see where the breeze takes you. Or if you’d rather stay in the city and relax, a few hours at a spa is the perfect holiday indulgence.
Begin your evening on a sweet note with a meringue at Caffè Tramer, or a gelato at Bobocono, with the Italian tradition of a passigiata—a leisurely stroll—the main goal being to window shop and people watch. For dinner, pick one of the popular pizza restaurants. A night at the opera or ballet is the perfect end to a whirlwind visit to Cagliari—so try a performance at the Teatro Lirico.