From seaside villages steeped in local lore to moody mountain towns and the prettiest spot for an Aperol spritz, these are our favourite settlements on one of the most beautiful islands in Italy.
There is no doubt that sea swimming, sailing and sunbathing are rife on the pretty island of Sardinia – and you can trek for miles along the coastline without seeing another soul. But don’t overlook its busier spots, too. Its towns, cities and villages are rich with history, nightlife and authentic local culture and, from the north of the island to the southernmost tip, these are our absolute favourites.
For pure postcard prettiness, there are few places that best this charming little village in the hills above Olbia. With its cluster of original stone cottages (many housing boutique shops and cafes), bar-encircled church square and dramatic Dolomite-like backdrop of spiky granite peaks, it’s a must-visit – even if just to stop by for its weekly bric-a-brac, food and fashion market (every Thursday) and a gelato in its piazza while local kids kick a football back and forth.
With its atmospheric historic centre, veined with snaking cobbled lanes, medieval gothic architecture and traditional tavernas hidden behind colourful, crumbling walls, Alghero is the scene-stealer of Sardinia’s cities. As well as excellent bars – head to the sea wall to bag a prime spot for sunset cocktails – the restaurants are excellent and it has dramatic scenery on tap with views over the glittering yacht-dotted bay towards the towering cliffs of the Capo Caccia peninsula.
There are plenty of hairpin bends on the route to Cala Gonone, but once you get your breath back, you’ll fall in love with this pretty, sleepy town on the east coast. Hidden away at the base of steep rugged mountains, it’s the jumping-off point for boat trips up and down the Gulf of Orosei, where Sardinia’s best beaches lie hidden away, off the beaten path. That’s not to overlook its own beach, which is long, wide and blinding white.
If you fancy a day off from the sea and sand, Tempio – up in the mountains at the north end of the island – has a moody, mysterious vibe, with plenty of excellent hiking routes to set off on. The lush hillsides of Mount Limbara are cloaked in gnarled cork oak trees, which, as well as looking like something out of the Lord of the Rings set, produce the cork products – from keyrings and coasters to shoes, bags and even dresses – sold in the town’s boutique shops, such as Anna Grindi Atelier.
Santa Maria Navarese
Local legend says this pretty coastal town was named after the lovestruck Princess Navarra, who eloped to sea one night with her lover. Tragically, their boat was wrecked, but Navarra was saved and so dedicated a church to the Virgin Mary out of gratitude. True or not, it doesn’t really matter, as this place has enough real fairytale magic on its own. Enfolded within groves of olive and pine trees at the base of soaring limestone cliffs and fringed by a white sand beach, it reeks of romance.
Santa Teresa Gallura
If you want to base yourself in an affordable, easy-going seaside town, Santa Teresa Gallura is for you. Local life revolves around the large, more contemporary Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, which is lined cheek-by-jowl with bars, gelatarias and souvenir shops. It has a large, popular beach and is a short drive from the rugged, romantic Capo Testa, with its wind-carved granite boulders and more secluded little beaches.
The central town at the heart of the Maddalena archipelago, this cute, colourful town is the jumping-off point for exploring the 60-odd islands that dot the Bonifacio Strait. You can charter a private boat to visit those open to the public, or take your car on the ferry over from Palau on the main island and drive over to Caprera, a largely uninhabited island fringed by enough picnic blanket-sized beaches for everyone to have their own.
Founded by a Genovese family during the 12th century, Castelsardo is famous for its ancient castle, crumbling fortresses and traditional handicrafts – throughout the city, you’ll see women weaving patterned baskets for sale. High up on the periphery of the town, the citadel has been preserved and transformed into a cluster of traditional restaurants and bars, with gobsmacking sunset views over the endless stretch of sand along the island’s north coast.
This is an updated version of an article originally by Gillian McGuire.
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. For a true taste of the island, book a table at one of the best restaurants and trattorias in Cagliari.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.