Looking for an Italian island getaway where you can enjoy sun and sand with some great food and culture? Sardinia has it all! Explore the most essential things to do in Sardinia.
Our family was lucky enough to spend a few months on this gorgeous island during our Italian backpacking adventure. We loved every minute of it! We actually ended up visiting Sardinia because a waiter at a restaurant in Florence recommended it.
Looking for an Italian island getaway where you can enjoy sun and sand with some great food and culture? Sardinia has it all! Explore the most essential things to do in Sardinia.
Long story short: I had been slogging my kids through some incredible Italian cities and on and off trains for months and I was ready for a little break from city life. He must have noticed how haggard I looked and recommended an Italian island holiday! He was not wrong. We fell in love with Sardinia and its beautiful beaches and lovely people.
Some highlights according to my kids, were swimming, climbing rocks, and seeing wild boars (yes, you read that right)! There are so many incredible things to do in Sardinia, it could take you a lifetime, but I’ll share the highlights with you.
Sardinia as a Blue Zone
Most people don’t know that Sardinia is one of five major Blue Zones in the world. A Blue Zone is a geographic area where people live longer and healthier lives than the global average. These regions share common characteristics such as a plant-based diet, regular physical activity, strong social connections, low levels of stress, and a sense of purpose in life. These factors contribute to a longer and healthier lifespan for the people living in these areas.
Sardinia is known for its high concentration of centenarians (people who have reached the age of 100 years or more) and relatively low rates of chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
One of the most remarkable aspects of Sardinia as a Blue Zone is the high number of male centenarians. Men in the mountainous region of Barbagia have one of the highest rates of male centenarians in the world. This is attributed to a combination of factors, including a traditional lifestyle that includes regular physical activity, a plant-based diet, and strong family and community ties.
Sardinians also have a diet that is rich in locally grown fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes. They consume small amounts of meat and dairy products and have a tradition of making their own wine. The traditional Sardinian diet is believed to be a key factor in the island’s high rate of centenarians.
In addition to diet and lifestyle factors, Sardinians also have a strong sense of community and social connectedness. They value spending time with family and friends, and many older people continue to play active roles in their communities.
We did indeed see a lot of older people in Sardinia. The locals were all very friendly to our large family and loved our kids, which is something I love about Italy in general.
And the land and ocean is absolutely gorgeous, who wouldn’t want to live to 100 if you got to live on this incredible island?! There’s really something in the air that makes you want to stay.
There’s just something about the smell of pine and olive trees mixed with salt and warm sand that you’ll never forget. Hands down, the island is best known for the stunning beaches that dot the Sardinian coastline. And the beaches definitely make the top of the list of essential things to do in Sardinia!
But that’s just the beginning of all that this Italian Island in the Tyrrhenian Sea has to offer. If you’re looking for the must-dos while visiting Sardinia, get all the details below. I’ve compiled a list of everything we think you should do when you visit Sardinia.
15 Best Things to Do in Sardinia
So, what’s the number 1 thing to do in Sardinia? There’s no doubt, you have to go to a beach at least once. And you can take your pick when it comes to what kind of beach you want to visit! Relax on a white sand beach at Costa Smeralda or go surfing off Costa Verde. If you do nothing else, go to the beach. But you really don’t want to miss out on the fascinating history and culture that makes up this beautiful island.
Other must-dos in Sardinia include exploring the island’s treasure trove of fascinating and well-preserved prehistoric ruins. There are Roman structures here that you won’t find anywhere else in the world! And the rural, mountainous Sardinia landscape is an adventure sports enthusiast’s dream! From the coast to the interior mountains, there’s mountain biking, rock climbing, hiking, and more.
Throughout the year, but especially in the spring and fall, visitors come to Sardinia just for the cultural and religious festivals that take place in every mountain and seaside village across the island. And when it’s too cold to get in the water, take the opportunity to explore all the beautiful churches. For more details on these amazing things to do in Sardinia and more, read about my top 15 picks below.
Head to the All the Beaches
With over 200 beaches in Sardinia, it can be hard to decide just which ones to visit! There are white sand beaches and beaches covered in smooth pebbles. There are isolated beaches to get away from the crowds and popular beaches decorated with umbrellas with beachfront restaurants close by. You can find public beaches or enjoy the exclusive resort beaches of Costa Smeralda. I’ve got a full list of the best beaches in Sardinia here, but these are just a few of the most amazing options:
- Spiaggia del Poetto – if you’re looking for things to do in Cagliari in South Sardinia, Poetto Beach is essential! This 7km long strip beach has soft golden sand, a family beach with a playground, and access to a variety of watersport tours and rentals.
- Spiaggia della Speranza – near Alghero on the west coast, Speranza Beach is the perfect balance of quiet and popular. Just off a main roadway, you walk over the dunes and down a paved walkway to get to powdery soft sand. This one’s great for sunning or swimming in the calm waters of the cove. Plus, there are 2 restaurants right off the beach.
- Cala dei Gabbiani – This remote pebble beach on the east coast of Sardinia is accessible by boat or a 1-hour hike. It’s worth it, with dramatic cliffs framing the calm waters of the lagoon beach! Cala dei Gabbiani is the perfect place to take a day trip. Just get there early if you want to get some sun before the shadows move over the beach!
- Spiaggia di Cala Coticcio – Skip La Maddalena Island with its popular, crowded beaches and head to the more remote Caprera Island. This is where you’ll find the most amazing cove beaches, like Spiaggia di Cala Coticcio. Wear good shoes so you can explore the surrounding sea caves and bring your snorkel gear to catch a glimpse of tropical fish!
- Spiaggia di Liscia Ruja – Everyone knows that some of the most beautiful beaches in the world are on the Costa Smeralda (Emerald Coast). But it can be tricky to find free public beaches among the private resorts of the east coast. If a beach day on the Costa Smeralda is a must, you’ll love the expansive public beach at Liscia Ruja.
The key to enjoying the beautiful beaches of Sardinia is to prepare. If your beach is in a rural area, pack water and plan to rest during the hottest part of the day. If your beach is a popular tourist attraction, get there early to beat the crowds and expect higher prices for everything. And keep in mind that it’s illegal to take anything from Sardinia beaches, including rocks, shells, and sand!
Jump on a Boat
Second only to the beaches of Sardinia are the amazing opportunities for a boat trip. There are harbors and bays all over the island. You can rent a variety of motorized boats or book charters. A great option is joining a hop-on-hop-off boat tour that will take you to several beaches all in one day.
What makes a boat trip one of the best things to do in Sardinia is just how much of the island you get to see. Instead of going on a long hike, take a refreshing boat ride to the remote beaches of La Maddalena Island or those on Sardinia’s eastern shore. Just sail into a cove, drop anchor, and head to shore for a beach day!
Some of Sardinia’s famous sea caves can only be seen by boat, especially in the popular Gulf of Orosei. And there’s no better way to see the coastal rock formations and sparkling Costa Smeralda than from the sapphire blue waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Do All the Water Sports
Thrill seekers will be happy to hear that there’s no end to exciting things to do on the waters around Sardinia. On all the more tourist-heavy beaches, there are vendors where you can rent paddle boats, kayaks, and canoes. Take the day to enjoy the view and explore the beautiful coast of Sardinia on your own terms!
The Bay city of Porto Pollo is a great place to start for water sports like windsurfing, kite surfing, jet skiing, and more. And while you can find surfing spots across the entire coastline of the island, the southwestern shore is ideal for experienced surfers.
If you’re looking for calm waters for snorkeling or SUP boarding, you’ll also find them across the island! Cove beaches and protected lagoons with shallow waters are perfect for these more inclusive water activities. A great place to go scuba diving is the Marine Protected Area Capo Carbonara near Villasimius.
Try All Sardinia’s Adventure Sports
On land, you can get your fill of adrenaline with a variety of adventure sports. These days, mountain biking is becoming popular in Sardinia. You can find a variety of loop rides and even multi-day tours. Enjoy coastal paths and mountain trails with some of the most amazing views of Sardinia along the way!
Both remote locations, Cala Goloritzé or Pedra Longa are 2 places perfect for epic rock-climbing adventures (though not for the faint of heart). Or head to Sardinia’s own Gorropu Canyon, where you can hike, grapple, or even take a 4×4 through the stunning gorges.
One of my favorite things to do in Sardinia is hiking because there are just so many quality hiking trails everywhere on the island! Coastal trails can be found on every side of Sardinia, but a truly great one is from Cala Fuili.
It’s a 1.7-mile out-and-back trail along the cliffs on the coast, taking you up and along the Grotta del Bue Marino for stunning views. There’s a cool grotto cave at the end you can explore or connect to longer trails to continue to Cala Luna. It’s a shorter trail but should be considered moderate or even difficult because of the tricky terrain and incline!
For an easy stroll, walk the Sinis Peninsula at the southernmost point of Sardinia. You’ll enjoy endless ocean views from Capo San Marco, a nature preserve that goes out to a stunning lighthouse. And Asinara Island has many seaside trails perfect for hikers and cyclists. Plus, many lead to isolated cove beaches, and what a reward for your trek!
Mark a canyon hike off your list by hiking the Gorropu Canyon along SS125. It takes about 4-5 hours to hike, and you’ll always remember the otherworldly rock formations. Or plan a trip to Gennargentu, the only actual mountain in Sardinia and the island’s highest point. There are a variety of trails here that are great for hikes in every season.
Explore Geological Formations
One of the most essential things to do in Sardinia Italy is hunt down all the breathtaking geological formations. The first that comes to mind is the Maddalena Archipelago National Park. That’s right, the entire archipelago along Sardinia’s very north west coast is designated as a national park with granite rock cliffs and lagoon beaches that have to be seen.
Drive, cycle, or drive through Sardinia and you’ll find natural geological oddities, both large and small! Roccia dell’Elefante can be spotted along a curve on SS134 near Castelsardo. This fascinating formation eerily resembles an elephant in a way that is completely unsettling and heartwarming at the same time. Or for another small but memorable archeological site here, check out Rocce Rosse, or Red Rock Beach near Arbatrax.
For larger-than-life geological formations in Sardinia that will leave you speechless, check out the striking limestone Pan di Zucchero off the western shore. You can spot it during the sunset while driving along SP83 for quite the view.
And then there’s Capo Testa. This fascinating northern area is part natural formations, part ancient ruin! The granite coastal cliffs of Capo Testa were once rock quarries used by the Romans. Over time the cut stones were worn by salt and wind and created the strangely smooth and rounded formations that exist today!
See the Caves
Some of the most popular attractions in Sardinia on their own, the underground caves across the island deserve their own spotlight! These beautiful cave formations can be found all along the coast, especially on the eastern shore. And many are deep under the rural hills inland and were even used by the ancient Romans as sacrificial pits!
The Grotta del Miracolo near Baunei is known for its unique stalagmite and stalactite formations caused by constant waterflow over thousands of years. You can visit several different chambers and see massive rocks that remind you to have giant cacti and pipe organs. And Is Zuddas Caves near Santadi has just as intriguing formations. Mineral deposits here developed into what is called “rock flowers” and often appear thorny or needle-like.
At sea level, there are sea caves that feel like something out of a romance novel. Rent a boat and find the Grotta Azzurra, with its sun-dappled turquoise waters and free access! Or take a boat tour to the Gulf of Orosei to see the massive cave system of Grotta del Bue Marino.
Tour the Archaeological Sites
One of the best things to do in Sardinia is to see the unique archaeological sites scattered all over the island. Yes, you can find ruins across Mainland Italy and Sicily, too. But Sardinia has a shocking number of unique, well-preserved prehistoric Roman structures.
If you’re in Cagliari, tour the ancient city of Nora on Capo di Pula. You’ll love seeing the almost perfect mosaics and pillars standing against the backdrop of the sea. It’s like they’re frozen in time!
And experiencing the nuraghe of Su Nuraxi di Barumini is special. Its most well-complete nuraghes, which are tall, mysterious structures from the Bronze Age. These structures on Sardinia aren’t found anywhere else in the world, and Su Nuraxi Nuraghe is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can move through the different chambers, seeing how they were constructed and how intricate the work was.
Another unique attraction is the oddly shaped Tombas dei Gigante, or Giant’s Tombs. Some date back to the Stone Age! You can find them across the island, featuring megalith tombs and oval-shaped tombstones with doors once built as monuments to the dead.
Then there’s the Santa Cristina Holy Well near Paulilatino. It’s believed to be part of a Nuragic water cult. The interesting structure includes a surprisingly geometrically balanced well surrounded by the ruins of a village and a nuraghe. The well was believed to be used in a religious ritual during the equinox. Seeing this unusual place is something you won’t forget!
Visit Another Island
I’ve already mentioned La Maddalena, but there are more outer islands worth visiting in Sardinia. One of the most popular is the northwest island of Asinara. All of Asinara Island has been designated as a national park and is home to the wild albino dwarf donkeys of Asinara!
Visitors take a boat from Stintino to Asinara in about 90 minutes. On the island, cars are prohibited, but you’ll need a way to get around. You can ride bikes or go on 4×4 tours. And mountain biking excursions are popular on Asinara. While you can’t swim from the beaches of this protected island, you can visit a scenic lighthouse or explore a World War 1-era prison.
To the southwest, there are Sant’Antioco and San Pietro Islands. There’s a scenic road and a bridge connecting Sant’Antioco Island to Sardinia. This island is known for its resorts and boutique hotels. You can explore the city of Sant’Antioco or check out more public beaches. There are also a larger number of really cool rock formations all along the southern coast of Sant’Antioco.
San Pietro island is next door, but you’ll have to take a 30-minute ferry here. There’s not much to do outside of Carloforte (which does have great nightlife!) but every side of the island has stunning headland formations. And it’s worth a visit if you are interested in exploring more nuraghes.
Find the Remote Churches
The crown jewels of many Italian cities and villages are the duomos that these communities grew up around, and they’re worth seeing! There’s no better example of artistic beauty and respect for tradition than the churches of Italy. Even if you’re not religious, these churches are an essential stop.
But in Sardinia, the countryside churches are even more striking than usual, seeming to pop up out of nowhere! These are some of my favorites:
- San Gemiliano in Sestu – This 12th-century church is peaceful to walk through and features 1000-year-old artifacts.
- The Church of Santissima Trinità in Saccargia – Made of alternating white limestone and black asphalt, the Tuscan-Romanesque-style church is striking against the green rolling hills around it!
- Church of Sant’Efisio in Nora. – Part of the greater archeological site of Nora, the Roman sandstone church is beautiful, nestled along the coastline.
- Basilica of Sant’Antioco of Bisarcio in Chilivani – This church makes quite the scene, rising from a lush hillside. It’s also beautifully constructed of a mosaic of red and pale green stones.
- Church of Santa Maria di Sibiola in Serdiana – Now a public park, this tiny medieval church is a fun visit for families with a playground and shade trees. It feels more like you’re exploring castle ruins than an ancient church!
While the many churches of Sardinia are open to visitors, it’s important to keep in mind that they are places of worship. While some operate as museums, many host regular mass or are sites of annual festivals.
Visit the Cities
Sardinia has 2 major cities, Sassari on the north coast and the capital city of Cagliari on the southern coast. Both offer great bases to explore the greater Sardinia region. But these 2 cities are also worth checking out on their own.
If you plan to visit Sardinia for only a few days, I suggest sticking close to Cagliari. Most people arrive here by ferry, and there’s a bit of everything for your enjoyment! You can have a beach day, eat at excellent restaurants, or visit the archeological museum. Cagliari is an ancient city with narrow, winding streets, stunning vista views, and lots of central archeological sites. You can even take guided tours of historic underground crypts!
Head to Sassari if you prefer non-touristy places. There aren’t a lot of typical attractions, but that’s the charm of this city! If you like local museums, gorgeous churches, and beautiful squares, come through here.
Explore the Villages and Towns
Some of the best places to visit in Sardinia are the lovely fishing villages and mountain towns. They range from authentic and remote to some of the most popular tourist destinations in Sardinia.
Porto Cervo on the Costa Smeralda is a great example. One of Sardinia’s main tourist attractions, this is where to come on the Emerald Coast for luxury resorts, exclusive beach experiences, and high-end shopping. And one of the loveliest fishing villages in Sardinia is Bosa. It’s known for the vibrant, colorful houses lining the Temu River. And you have to try malvasia, a dessert wine that is produced in Bosa.
Orgosolo is another interesting place to visit. This mountain village is popular with visitors who come to see the infamous political street art! Or head to the sleepy seaside village of Castelsardo if you love huge castles, like Doria Castle. While you’re here, you have to also explore the town center, especially the Palazzo Eleonora d’Arborea.
Attend a Festival
While this island is best known for its beaches, one of the best things to do in Sardinia Italy is to experience a local festival. All throughout the year, you’ll find different religious and cultural events giving everyone a reason to celebrate across Sardinia! Some traditions go back 1000 years, and each town and village has its own unique ways they celebrate.
One of the most famous festivals is Sant’Efisio Festival in Cagliari. May 1 through 4, there are processions, masses, religious reenactments, traditional costumes, music, good food, and more! This is a religious-themed festival, but over time it’s become a cultural event. They decorate the whole city and it’s beautiful.
There are many more religious festivals like this that are exciting to attend for the devoted and non-religious alike. Another one is the Candelieri Festival held in August in Sassari. The big event is a beautiful procession of the Descent of the Candelieri, with people walking through town at night with candles.
If cultural festivals are more your thing, there are all kinds of options throughout the year. In the mountains near Berchidda, you can attend an annual jazz festival! Time in Jazz happens every August and is led by Paolo Fresu, a renowned trumpet player. Or come for the Bosa Beer Fest in the spring to try all of Sardinia’s local craft beers.
In fact, food and wine festivals are the most common type in Sardinia, much like across the rest of Italy. It should be no surprise, with agriculture being a long-standing tradition and the main source of the economy of Sardinia.
Most food and wine festivals happen the fall, but you can something going on every season. For example, there’s a citrus festival in March in the commune of Muravera. And the mountain village of Villagrande hosts a roast sheep festival in the summer.
Eat the Food
Perhaps the best way to understand Sardinia is to enjoy all the local delicacies! The saying goes, “Italy is about food,” and this island region is no exception. Here are just a few of the most interesting and delicious foods that are essential to try while in Sardinia:
- Pizzetta Sfoglia – While in Cagliari, stop into a local bakery and grab this for a savory breakfast. It’s a flaky pastry filled with tomatoes, anchovies, and capers.
- Culurgiones – Sardinia’s version of ravioli, this pasta dish varies in each village. But it’s most commonly filled with potatoes and pecorino cheese.
- Fregola – You can’t come to Sardinia without trying the amazing seafood. Kind of like large couscous, it’s served with clams, tomatoes, and olive oil.
- Spigola alla vernaccia –This is a very simple dish of roasted seabass cooked in wine with black olives. The wine thickens into a complex sauce, and it’s delicious.
- Sebadas – Sardinia has many unique sweets, but this might be the very best! It’s a delicate pastry ball filled with pecorino cheese and lemon peel. After being fried to golden perfection, honey is drizzled on top.
Drink All the Alcohol
While we don’t drink alcohol, we definitely chatted with Sardinian locals about what they suggested. A big one we heard was try the beer! An interesting tidbit about Sardinians is that they love beer! The region is known for its craft beer scene, but especially for Birra Ichnusa, or simply Ichnusa. If you believe yourself to be a beer connoisseur, we’ve heard it’s kind of like a strong lager.
But that’s not the only alcohol you’ll find unique to the island. One of the best things to do in Sardinia is trying all the unique liquors and regional wines! At local restaurants and bars, you’ll find Filu, a super strong grappa native to Sardinia. There’s also Mirto, a dessert liquor made from myrtle berries that’s popular as an aperitivo.
And you’ll find that the volcanic island is home to dozens of unique grape varieties. There are great wine tours that take you to the vineyards in the region of Cagliari. But you can find wineries and vineyards across Sardinia that are welcoming to visitors. Visit Bosa vineyards for a chance to try the popular dessert wine, Malvasia. And in August, there’s a huge wine festival in Jerzu.
FAQ about Sardinia Italy
While you’re planning a trip to Sardinia, some questions may come to mind. Here are the more frequently asked questions about Sardinia that you probably want answered, too!
Sardinia is an island located in the Mediterranean Sea. It lies to the west of the Italian mainland and to the south of the French island of Corsica. While the Tyrrhenian Sea is located to the east of Sardinia, the island is still considered to be part of the Mediterranean region.
Sardinia is known for its amazing beaches, turquoise waters, and fascinating rock formations across the entire length of the island! The undeveloped coastline boasts pebble beaches, sand beaches, sea caves, dramatic cliff faces, and more.
If you want the full experience of a beach holiday, aim for 5 days on the entire island. That way you can explore a major city, maybe visit a medieval village or 2, and just enjoy relaxing on a few different beaches. But if you’ve included a stop in Sardinia on a larger tour of Mainland Italy, you can easily do a day or 2! Then, I recommend sticking to 1 major city. Explore the winding, narrow streets, take guided tours of the splendid churches, and eat good food for every meal.
It’s fairly easy to get around the island without a car! In fact, the best way to travel across Sardinia without a car is the bus. The trains are known to be unreliable and have odd schedules, but they’re cheap. Other great options include renting a motorbike or hiring a car service. The ferry will get you to the smaller islands, where you can easily walk to more isolated beaches. If you can manage it, I recommend renting a car in Sardinia. You’ll have more freedom to explore more of the island and reach more secluded beaches. We always use this site to rent cars in Italy. Be sure you have your International Driving Permit before going to Italy. It’s cheap and easy to get, and it’s the law.
It depends on what kind of experience you want. Both have tons of history and culture, great archeological sites, and the best beaches in Italy. Sicily is best if you’re looking for architecture, ancient ruins, all-inclusive resorts, and busy beaches with great amenities. Sardinia Italy is best if you want quiet beaches and immersive cultural experiences. Read more if you’re trying to decide between Sardinia or Sicily.
Sardinia definitely shines during the warmer months of the year! Though the best things to do in Sardinia are on the water, you might want to skip the scorching months at the height of summer and come during the shoulder seasons of April-May or September-October. It’ll still be warm enough to enjoy water-based activities, as well as the island’s many land-based activities.
Sample All the Amazing Things to Do in Sardinia
You’re probably thinking about a trip to the Mediterranean Island of Sardinia because of the famous beaches! But that’s just the beginning of the amazing and unforgettable things to do in Sardinia.
You can spend your days exploring archaeological sites or challenging yourself with adventure sports. You can learn all about the fascinating cultures that make up the people of this colorful island through its food, culture, and history. So, tell me what’s at the top of your Sardinia bucket list!