a guide to sardinia

Discover the hidden gem of the Mediterranean

Updated: 16th September 2019 
 

From many years living and traveling around Sardinia, I have written many articles about this mysterious island, finding and reading them all isn’t realistic. That is why I have assembled the most useful and interesting information about visiting Sardinia, here in this guide.

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I

An Introduction to Sardinia

The Island of Sardinia expresses its own unique identity. It is part of Italy sharing much of the same culture, but there is an old way of life that lives on.

You will find Sardinia in the Mediterranean sea, equidistant from the mainland of Italy and the north of Africa. For centuries isolated between Europe and Africa, in its own Eden.

Corsica, which shares some historical similarities with Sardinia, is to the north, just 13km (8miles) away. Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean after Sicily.

The crystal Mediterranean sea is complemented by enchanting beaches, on all sides of Sardinia, which makes the island highly popular with tourists, particularly during the summer months.

II

When are the best months to visit?

Over the last two years, I have experienced every season on the island. The summers are hot and sunny, while winter is usually mild with days of rain.

Every season has its own attraction. The landscape changes dramatically through the year from a dry, dusty landscape in Summer to a lush green countryside in the Autumn and Winter.

For me, May & June or September & October are the best months to visit Sardinia. The weather is slightly cooler than July & August and without the summer crowds.

During the off-season from the end of October to April, the island is peaceful, and many tourist areas are closed. It is a great time to explore aspects Sardinia aside from the beaches. There is an abundance of beautiful nature, ancient landmarks, and local traditions to explore.

During the summer months the cost of accommodation, car rentals and flights to the island skyrockets. If you want to visit in Summer, then I recommend booking well in advance. Throughout the off-season, you can find some excellent value accommodation.

III

How to get to Sardinia?

You can reach Sardinia by sea or air. I have traveled extensively between Sardinia and the UK. Also, I have taken the ferry countless times to and from the Italian mainland.

There are frequent flights from cities across Europe. Sardinia has three main airports Cagliari Elmas in the south, Olbia Costa Smeralda in the north-east, Alghero Fertilia in the north-west.

Many budget airlines are traveling to the island, like EasyJet, RyanAir & WizzAir.

Ferries link the island to Italy, France & Spain. You can get some great deals from booking well in advance or by booking on the day or day before of travel.

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IV

Traveling around Sardinia

Driving, Public Transport & Car Rentals

Traveling by car is by far the best way to explore the Island and the most hassle-free option. Renting a car is very expensive during the summer period.

The public transport in Sardinia is affordable but limits the options of where you can go. You can travel from the south to north of the Island vice versa in under 3 hours by bus or train (costing under €20). But to get off the beaten track and explore the most beautiful sites, towns and beaches, it can be difficult or nearly impossible without your own transport.

The trains are slow but reliably connect the major cities of Sardinia. The buses have the task of linking all of the towns and villages, some regions have minimal coverage, and I find the schedules to be unreliable.

V

The glorious beaches of Sardinia

Sardinia boasts majestic beaches that can be found right across it 1849 km coastline. I’ve explored many of the ‘famous beaches’ in Sardinia. I understand why Sardinia is known for having some of the best beaches in Europe.

In July & August, the famous beaches are full of Italian tourists and Sardinia’s enjoying their holidays. Within the long coastlines, you can find delightful beaches that are untouched anytime in the year, and some beautiful wild beaches can only be reached by foot with a backpack of supplies.

My favorite beaches are in the north-west of Sardinia such as Stintino for its beauty & Porto Ferro for the atmosphere. Keep in mind that every coast has its own selection of beautiful beaches.

Many people come to Sardinia for beach holidays, which makes sense for an island with so many stunning beaches. I always recommend dipping your toe into other aspects of this island, maybe visiting some ancient sites or charming towns. The Sardinian culture is rich.

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VI

Eating out in Sardinia

Like all tourist destinations, there are plenty of different places to eat. Many restaurants will specifically target tourists, while affordable local cuisine can go unnoticed. I recommend that you ask locals or your accommodation about the best places to eat.

Traditional Sardinian cuisines focuses on cooking with high-quality, fresh ingredients. At the coast, restaurants specialize in seafood dishes offering fish, octopus, sea urchins, and mussels. Heading inland you will find restaurants cooking with meat. Sardinia uses those staple Italian ingredients that will never fade, pasta, tomatoes, fresh vegetables, olive oil in all dishes.

If you are looking for quick, inexpensive food in Sardinia, then you will find Pizzerias & Tavola Calda. Pizzerias can be found in almost every town, and you should look for a wood-fired oven. Expect excellent quality pizza for €4 to €8 price varying depending on the toppings. I have had my best pizza (outside of Naples) in Sardinia. 

A Tavola Calda translates to ‘hot table’ it can be compared to a deli or canteen. They sell pre-prepared dishes that can be heated or taken home. Food is sold by weight, and it’s a very affordable option for lunch.

Supermarkets usually have a deli counter, where they will make you a sandwich known as Panini, with a choice of local cheese, meats, and grilled vegetables. Costing a couple of euros. It’s my favorite option when spending the day at the beach.

You can generally get a small bite to eat from a bar, especially during the summer. 

VII

The Towns & Cities of Sardinia

The island is home to many beautiful, picturesque towns with their own character and culture. Some of the most beautiful places I have visited are Alghero, Bosa, and Cagliari; these are the ‘ABC’ of must-visit towns in Sardinia.

You can find many more exquisite towns like Orgosolo, Castelsardo, Iglesias, Carloforte, Atzara, Santa Teresa Di Gallura, the list continues.

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VIII

Finding accommodation

There are many different places to stay in Sardinia, hotels overlooking beaches to farm-stays, and everything in between.

When choosing a place to stay, you should consider it as a base from where to explore your interests or idea of a pleasurable holiday.

Sardinia is a big island, so you should stay near towns, beaches, and activities that you will enjoy. It is always possible to travel around the island on day trips.

Many Sardinians have begun to list places to stay on Airbnb, giving you options of staying almost anywhere on the island. During the off-season, you will be able to book accommodation inexpensively.

During the summer months, the cost of accommodation skyrockets and places become fully booked very quickly. So if you are traveling during July & August make sure that you book in advance.

One of my favorite types of accommodation is an agriturismo, which have been a well-kept secret across Italy and Sardinia until recently. It allows you to experience an authentic Sardinian life in the countryside.

Working farms create accommodation for a small number of guests. These farms are in some of the most beautiful valleys, outside beautiful rural towns. Many have restaurants attached to the farmhouse, offering meals that incorporate fresh produce from the farm. Additionally, some offer experiences like horse riding, bee workshops, and cooking classes.

I recommend using Booking.com and Airbnb. If you are looking for inclusive hotels, visit JustSardinia. Agritursmo.it list farm stays across Sardinia.

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IX

Ancient Sardinia

Nuraghi, Giants & Sacred Wells

When you head out into the countryside, you will see the ancient Sardinia. Ancient sites have been discovered across the island. Nuraghi dominate the prehistoric landscape, there are over 7000, and thousands more could be hidden or lost by time.

The giant’s tombs, also from the megalithic period, named for their gigantic dimensions, can be found across the island facing the constellation of Taurus.

Large hollowed-out rocks known Domus de Janas or faerie houses can be found which predate the Nuraghi. They are large echoing chambers often filled with magical and spiritual symbols.

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X

The incredible nature of Sardinia

Beaches, Caves, Mountains, Lakes, and Wildlife

The nature of Sardinia is one of the main reasons why I keep coming back to this island. The landscapes are full of beauty and power.

Due to the long isolation of the island plants and animals have evolved differently from the mainland. Sardinia is full of forests, mountains, lagoons, and wetlands.

A vast network of rivers run through the land, meeting the large lakes and the sea.

The island invites you to explore, on foot, cycling and is excellent for road trips. Whenever I can, my favorite thing to do is make a road trip heading along the coast and stopping anywhere that interests us. If we are lucky, we often find and private beach.

Barbagia is the mountainous region of Sardinia; the name comes from Cicero who described it as the land of barbarians. There are so many outdoor activities in this region and many beautiful towns that have kept their culture untouched.

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XI

Culture & Traditions

Festivals, Folklore, Costumes & Music

Sardinia is rich in traditions and customs of ancient roots that have been handed down for generations to the present day. The traditions of Sardinia are as numerous as the dialects of the Sardinian language, differing from village to village. There is a great sense of pride in their rich culture, and its expressed at the elaborate local festivals and celebrations that take place throughout the year.

Festivals have always marked the life of island communities, and in modern times, they are linked to the desire to reaffirm their unique cultural identity. In Sardinia, going for parties means immersing yourself in an ancient culture to discover unknown sounds and harmonies, rhythmic dances with vibrant traditional costumes, poetic competitions out of time, wild horse races, folkloric parades with precious and colorful dresses of other times.

Cantu a tenore is the most ancient Sardinian music, created by shepherds during long moments of isolation watching over their flock in the countryside. The enchanting music signs about life in nature and the hard work alone in the wilderness. The sound is unique, and its vibrations find a way into your body.

Sardinia is still fiercely Christian. The majority of Sardinians have been baptized as Roman Catholic, much like their Italian counterparts. A 5th of the population still attends Sunday mass, one of the lowest turnouts in Italy. 

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XII

Cycling in Sardinia

In recent years Sardinia has become more popular as a cycling destination, joining its Mediterranean neighbors. When the traffic thins in Spring and Autumn, the number of cyclists increase as they venture across the island, to find the real Sardinia.

The changing landscapes of Sardinia mean no cyclist ever becomes tired of the scenery. There are cycle routes for every type of cyclist, curving roads, hilly mountain routes, and coastal paths.

One of the most beautiful roads is from Alghero to Bosa. The stunning route is light with traffic, maybe a few motorcyclists at the weekends.

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XIII

Trekking, Hiking & Walking

Sardinia boasts some of the most beautiful places to walk on the continent. Every area of Sardinia has something for all levels, from casual walking, hikes, to more strenuous treks.

The mountainous interior invites enthusiasts to explore its wild mountains, pre-historic ruins, marquis vegetation, and dense forests. The Sardinia landscape is rugged but unspoilt.

More serious walking persuits are a new phenomenon to Sardinia. So there are no long-distance routes complete with signage, in fact across Sardinia well maintained paths and marked ways are rare (but that’s changing.)

I recommend bringing a good map with you if you are heading out on longer walks, try and find local walking guides.

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XIV

Volunteering in Sardinia

Volunteering is one of the best ways to immerse yourself into a new culture.

Maybe you want to meet new people, learn Italian, learn new skills, or simply to experience life is a different culture to your own.

Sardinia has a rich and headstrong culture if you spend a couple of months here, parts of the culture will rub off on you, and you’ll begin to look differently at beliefs that you’ve held for most of your life.

The types of voluntary work are predominantly outside such as farming, gardening, animal care but also childcare and language exchanges.
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XV

Driving in Sardinia

Road Conditions, Safety & Rules

Driving a car is the best way to travel in Sardinia and allows you to explore the relentless beauty and mystical destinations without the need to rely on public transport that is sparse is some regions.

There are no motorways in Sardinia, but A-roads such as SS131 connect the major cities together.

Roads throughout Sardinia are generally in good conditions except in a few rural areas and on dirt roads lead out to beaches.

Traffic isn’t an issue that the island has to deal with, although it can be experienced in Cagliari, Sassari and it sometimes builds up heading in and out of popular beach resorts during the summer.

Here are some times for driving in Sardinia

Driving in Sardinia, on the whole, is hassle-free, local drivers are courteous, traffic is confined only to the major towns and driving culture isn’t like that which you would find in Naples or Rome. However, there are a few key things to take note of when driving in Sardinia to ensure safe and enjoyable driving.
  • Drive with confidence
  • Be aware of Restricted Traffic Zones in the center of historic towns
  • Road signs are not always accurate, keep a map with you
  • Keep a distance from the car in front, as often locals don’t indicate
  • Keep all of your travel documents with you
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XVI

Need to know 

Language, Money, Opening Times & Accommodation Tax

Is Sardinia safe for tourists?

Sardinia is incredibly safe for tourists. Sardinians are initially reserved, but once they get to know you and little, they are a very kind, and welcoming people. Sardinia has been invaded countless times throughout history. I think this is why they are wary at first. The coastal areas are more used to tourists than the inland regions.

Language 

Italian is the first language of Sardinia, although the rich Sardinian language, Sardo is still widely spoken by 78% of the inhabitants.

If you are traveling to Sardinia, you may want to to learn a few Italian phrases to be polite, although many Sardinia’s will speak English. The services in cities and tourist areas will have staff that speaks English perfectly.

Additional article: Do many people speak English in Sardinia?

Visas and Passports

European Union (EU) residents and visitors from the US, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia need no visa for a stay of up to three months. Information concerning permits can be obtained at your nearest Italian consulate. Non-EU citizens must carry a valid passport, while EU citizens can travel on a national ID card. We advise you to check the travel requirement before going to Sardinia.

Opening Hours

Museums and archaeological sites are usually open every day except Monday. In winter some sites may close in the afternoon and hours in the summer are extended into the late evening.

Shops are open from 8-9 am until 1 pm and then from 4-5 pm until 7-8 pm. Shops are closed on Sundays.

Banks are usually open from 8:30 am – 1:30 pm and 3 pm – 4:30 pm, Monday to Friday. Banks are closed at the weekend and during public holidays.

Admission Prices

Entrance fees for Museums, archaeological sites and galleries vary between €2 to €12. Sponsored exhibitions are often free of charge, and most local government galleries offer free entrance or a reduced fee to under-18s, senior citizens and students.

Money

The euro € is the common currency of the European Union. ATMs which are called Bancomat in Sardinia and can be wherever there is a bank. Cost for cash withdrawals is set by your bank. ATMs can run out of cash at weekends and during holidays.

Accommodation Tax

In some regions of Sardinia, there is an accommodation tax. We understand that it begins on 1st June 2019 and is operational until 30th September 2019. This would be €2 per person per night in 4 & 5-star hotel, €1.50 for 3-star hotel and accommodation and €1 for 2 or 1-star hotels

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Travel Itineraries