The quick answer is no, its cheaper than many European destinations. However, there are areas of Sardinia which are much more expensive, such as the Costa Smeralda. Before planning a holiday to Sardinia, it’s crucial to understand how costly or economical the island is.
An expensive myth
There is a myth circulating that Sardinia is exuberantly expensive, that its a holiday destination for movie stars, bankers, and millionaires. For a small corner of the island, this does hold. But unless you are looking to drink Pina Coladas with George Clooney, and Cristiano Ronaldo at some of the most expensive holiday real estate on earth, then I think you will find Sardinia a very affordable holiday destination. Sardinia is a great value when you take into account the wealth of culture, beauty, and nature on this humble island.
I want to let you in on a little secret. The best part of Sardinia is not the Costa Smeralda, yes it’s beautiful, but it is an artificial playground build for the rich. It’s not a true reflection of Sardinia. There is much more to be seen.
The Costa Smeralda is not a true reflection of Sardinia, and if you can avoid this area, you will save countless amounts of money. It is, however, possible to find hotels for under €40 a night. And if you are careful where you eat, you can manage on a tight budget. If your idea of a great holiday is rubbing shoulders with the rich, and bronzing on the beach. Which I understand will sound great to many of us, then the Costa Smeralda might be perfect for you.
But if not. I urge you to explore other areas of Sardinia. Explore the mysterious West Coast, Alghero, and the North-West or even the mountainous region of Sardinia, if you’re daring enough. The truth is Sardinia is packed with ancient sites, beautiful towns and villages, and there are even more beautiful beaches outside of the millionaire’s paradise.
Anyway, I just wanted to get the Costa Smeralda myth out of the way. As it thinks it is a reason why many of us wouldn’t consider Sardinia as a viable holiday option.
Sardinia is an affordable holiday destination
I want to give you some numbers so you can see for yourself how affordable Sardinia is. But first keep in mind that in Sardinia as with any other destination, there is a spectrum of prices. Take for example the Costa Smeralda which I have previously mentioned, the cost of a meal in one of the best restaurants could equate to a weeks accommodation somewhere else on the island. Sardinia is cheaper than the mainland, making it a prime holiday destination for Italians. It’s important to note, that Sardinia can become expensive in the summer, and busy too.
It is possible to travel around Sardinia on a budget. I am going to go through some tips that will save you some money. The initial cost of any trip will be the transport costs, whether you fly or can take a ferry. By booking ahead, and making the most of budget airlines, then you can save some money at the outset.
By eliminated expensive travel fares, you can enjoy spending more money on meals out, and activities.
The cost of a holiday in Sardinia
Sardinia is not particularly cheap when you compare it to its Mediterraneanian neighbors, but it is considerably better value than the Italian mainland. It is the beautiful beaches, breathtaking nature, and the ancient culture that lives on which brings tourists from across Europe to this island. You’ll find that the trains and buses are reasonably priced. The island isn’t small, but you can drive from the southern tip to the north in 3 hours, meaning that you don’t have to splash out a lot of cash to navigate around the sites and destinations of the island.
It is possible to visit Sardinia on a budget. You do have options such as camping, hostels, or even couch surfing allowing you to travel on a shoestring budget but it might not be the traditional holiday experience which you look for.
Buying food from local markets will save you having to eat out every time. One thing I like to do is make a packed lunch before a day at the beach, and it saves a lot of money and means I don’t have to leave the beach.
The summer months are expensive, because of the amount of demand as tourists flock to the island. Making it hard to find accommodation, and businesses are in the swing to make money from this short season
Coastal resorts are much more expensive than the rest of Sardinia. The further inland, the more economical it becomes, but there are fewer and fewer places to stay, as most tourist facilities are clustered at the coast. That being said, there has been a recent influx in Argiturismi which ofter accommodation and food on a working farm, it is a great way to enjoy authentic Sardinian life, and is very reasonable when compared to a hotel.
Eating out is not too expensive, with the caveat depending on where you choose to eat. You may find that you’ll eat better at a local trattoria than a high flying pretentious restaurant in Porto Cervo.
The cost of living in Sardinia
I have used Cagliari as an example versus the cost of living in Rome. Cagliari is one of the happiest cities in Italy. Also, 1 in 7 Sardinians are living in the city. Living like a local is an entirely different thing to visiting on holiday, but please use these prices to gather a general understanding of the cost of living in Sardinia, and how it compares to your home town.
Traveling cheaply during the off-season
The island hibernates during the off-season. Everywhere is quiet in October before Sardinia wakes at the beginning of April. Many hotels, restaurants, and tourist activities are closed during this the off-season, but there is still so much to see and enjoy. Most of the festivals and celebrations on the Sardinian calendar happen during this time. If you don’t mind the lack of tourist infrastructure at this time, then you can certainly take advantage of the prices and the calmness of the island.
Most tourists visit the island during the summer because of the school holidays, and the warm weather, which is often scorchingly hot. The season could be extended, as the sun is almost a constant feature in the sky for most of the year, subtracting a couple of cloudy days in the middle of winter, and moments of rain.
During the off-season, you can travel for a fraction of the price of the summer months. And guess what? The beaches are uncrowded during the off-season, you’ll most likely find a few beaches empty for you to enjoy by yourselves. I have visited famous Sardinia beaches during the summer, and during the off-season, they are almost unrecognizable without the crowds. I would instead enjoy a beautiful but quiet beach when the temperature is a handful of degrees cooler without needing to battle for a place to lay out my towel. Or hunt for a parking space before I can set foot on the beach.
Off-season travel & accommodation
Traveling to Sardinia during the off-season is much cheaper. You can visit for a fraction of the price. Throughout the offseason flights can start from €20, and ferries from €30.
Also, you can find accommodation much cheaper, often 50% less than in August and July. If you combine off-season accommodation in an untouristic area, you will begin to realize how cheaply you can stay in Sardinia. The places might not be as popular, but they are a window into the real Sardinia.
If you know when to book your accommodation and are looking in the right areas, you won’t find Sardinia expensive at all. Also, if you use websites like booking.com and Airbnb, you can usually find some great value.
The economic reality of Sardinia
Sardinia is home to one and a half million locals, and sadly Sardinia has been experiencing an economic recession for many years. It is one of the more economically weak areas of Italy with a high unemployment rate. Unfortunately, some local Sardinians have to leave their local towns in search of work elsewhere in Europe. Many Sardinians rely on the prospect of tourism to provide an income. These sad points illustrate the fact that Sardinia is affordable. Fortunately, Sardinia still has much to offer in term of tourism as it is a very overlooked island. However, everyone would agree that sustainable tourism is essential to protect its charm and natural beauty.
The fact that many Sardinians rely on tourism for an income means that there is lots of competition. This increases the quality of services and the amount of accommodation on the island. For instance. Alghero can be expensive depending on your preferences, but there are 40,000 local people in this beautiful city during economic hardship, indicating its affordability.
Beaches are free
The great news is that beaches in Sardinia are free, unlike other European destinations. At the more popular beaches, you will need to buy a parking ticket, unless you don’t mind walking further to the beach. If you want to hire a sunbed with an umbrella, prices range from €12-20.
Some hotels have private beaches but don’t worry if you’re not staying there as there are so many beaches in Sardinia, you will find one just for you.
When you arrive in a new country or destination, you can easily fall into tourist traps. Most commonly during the first days or even early hours of a holiday when you are adjusting to a new environment.
But down be worried. Sardinians are very humble and fair people. However, many businesses, such as restaurants, cafes, hotels, and activities, will target specifically tourists as there’s money to be made during the high-seasons. Take, for example, a tourist menu. It’s a great idea that simplifies the process of ordering lunch, but the food on offer won’t be accurate to what Sardinians would eat.
Choosing where to eat in Sardinia
When you are looking for a place to eat, a simple trick to eat tasty authentic food while saving on the bill is to see where the locals are eating.
Ask your host for some restaurant recommendations or even better, learn a few words of Italian and ask some Sardinian locals in the street. If you don’t speak Italian, it will be hard to understand the response. But fortunately, the answer will be animated in typical Italian fashion. Read the directions in the hand gestures and listen out for the name of the restaurant, you can go too far wrong.
Restaurant menus can outside, so you can understand the price of a meal before going inside, allowing you to compare what different restaurants are offering. You can avoid any overly expensive places, without having to leave before you’ve ordered an appetizer.
Peer through the window of a cafe, and if you can only see tourists, then it may be best to head to the next one. To save a bit of money, go to places outside of the touristic zones.
Every town throughout Sardinia will have a local pizzeria. A pizza costs between 4-8 euros depending on the toppings. The could be a cover charge of a couple of euros. A bottle of local wine will cost between 6-8 euros, and espresso at most bars & pizzerias is 1 euro.
Remember that there are high-end restaurants that will quickly burn a hole in your pocket, in areas like Porto Cervo, areas of Cagliari, and Palau, where a meal could be anywhere between 100-500+, this would soon add up especially when travelling with a family if you want to dine out with glamour and have euros to spare, then there are many places in Sardinia to eat.
You can make the most of student discounts in Sardinia. Many attractions allow under-18 and over 65s, to enter for free. Places such as art galleries, museums, and archeological sites.
Restaurant wine markups
A way to double the cost of a meal usually involves a bottle of wine. Restaurants are notorious for marking up wine. Markups are one of the best ways to make money from tourists. I’m no connoisseur, but the wine in Sardinia is top class.
I have even had the chance to work in a Sardinian vineyard, pruning, and also harvesting in Autumn. I know that Sardinian wine is one of the best in the world, I would argue the wine is at the level of Tuscany and Sicily, because of the climate and soil in which wine thrives.
But Sardinians are very modest and didn’t fall into the trend of marketing and promoting their wine like other countries and winemakers. That said, restaurants can mark up the price of wine. Somehow good wine can complete a good meal. But a bottle of wine that costs the restaurant €8 could be sold at €6 a glass and even more at any star-studded restaurants of Costa Smeralda, and major cities.
I agree that a trip to Sardinia may not be complete with a glass of red wine. But be aware of how much you are spending as it will soon add up. Buying wine from supermarkets is a great way to save money. If you are at a restaurant, then look at a wine menu and do some quick mathematics to grasp the price of the wine. Some housewives are very cheap. Some are excellent quality, whereas some taste a little watered down. Local bars won’t mark up wines quite like the restaurants, in the interior, a small glass of wine can be €1. The local village wines are some of the best you’ll ever try.
Buying food from markets in Sardinia
One way to save money on vacation is to buy food for local supermarkets. Sardinia has a vast range of discount supermarkets chains. The prices in supermarkets won’t be as low as you would expect, but considerably cheaper than supermarkets in northern Europe. This is because of the cost of transporting food to the island, especially fresh food that has been imported.
You can find fruit at local markets that will be much cheaper than the supermarkets, and possibly sell more local produce. The cheapest supermarket is EuroSpin, but the quality is low, and there is not much choice. Other, more expensive supermarkets include Crai, Conad, Superpan, and Auchan.