Ancient history collides with modern Italian sensibilities in Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia. Pristine beaches, lively cafe culture and sun-baked streets lined with Vespas are all presided over by the Castello citadel – and all ready to be explored with Culture Trip.
Sardinia’s capital boasts more than its fair share of ancient Roman ruins, archaeological artefacts and gold-shuttered palaces. But despite its rich cultural ties with the past, Cagliari has a modern, cosmopolitan streak running through its Vespa-packed veins. There’s a welcoming Mediterranean atmosphere to the city, particularly present in its many buzzy restaurants, bars and cafes slotted onto terraces beneath shady arcades – not to mention its white-sand beaches. Towering above it all is the historic citadel, Il Castello, a complex of domes, palaces and towers peeking out from the ramparts.
Ready your best Russell Crowe impression as you head into this surprisingly well-preserved amphitheatre. As you might have guessed, it was the setting for countless battles, some between gladiators, others between men and wild animals – not to mention the public executions. It’s grizzly stuff, which makes it all the more fascinating to gaze upon the ancient site and imagine. More Roman artefacts can be seen at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, a five-minute stroll from the amphitheatre, where you can take a vivid walk through Sardinian history.
This city landmark is hard to miss, which is handy because you haven’t really experienced Cagliari until you’ve ascended the several sets of stairs that lead neatly up to the Umberto I terrace. Here, you’ll find blissful views across the Med, which shimmers rose-gold if you’re lucky enough to catch the sunset. Before – or after – kicking back on the terrace, take a stroll around the rest of the bastion, appreciating the various galleries, columns and other architectural feats.
Give your skin a break from sunbathing on Poetto and wander to the southern tip of the beach to Marina Piccola. This quaint little marina is set at the foot of Sella del Diavolo (the Devil’s Saddle), a dramatic rocky outcrop. It’s a lovely spot in which to spend an hour or two gazing out at the boats, from simple fishing vessels to super-slick rides built for boat parties. A few restaurants and bars overlooking the marina invite longer lingering over a glass of wine, as you fantasise about the yacht of your dreams.
Shop like the locals do at Mercato di San Benedetto, a bustling indoor marketplace that dates back to 1957. Covering 8,000sqm over two levels and with several hundred traders, all loudly advertising their wares, it’s one of the largest and busiest covered markets in Italy. You’ll find almost any type of fresh produce imaginable – heavy bunches of violet-coloured grapes, pecorino cheese, salami – but even if you won’t be buying, it’s a valuable glimpse into a particularly lively slice of local life.
You don’t have to ramble miles outside of the city to find a decent walk, as there are great hiking opportunities to be had in Parco di Monte Urpinu, which borders the southeast corner of Cagliari’s city centre. Inside this huge hilltop park, covering around 30ha (74 acres), you’ll find ample hiking routes on which to wear out your walking boots, plus all kinds of wildlife to spot. Look out for swans, terrapins, peacocks and even flamingos, which can sometimes be spotted over in their own city park – Parco Naturale Molentargius Saline – by looking southeast from way up on Monte Urpinu’s higher viewpoints.
Looking for somewhere to stay? Book into one of the best hotels in Sardinia for every traveller, or treat yourself to one of the best luxury hotels on the island. Inspire your itinerary with the top things to see and do in Sardinia, and don’t miss its most beautiful towns. For a true taste of the island, book a table at one of the best restaurants and trattorias in Cagliari.