Where to Go in Sardinia – Self-Drive Itinerary

Where to go in sardinia

Want to know where to go in Sardinia? Read on…

I’d always thought Sardinia would be a beach-based trip for me – after all, isn’t that why most people fly into what is Italy’s largest island? However, there’s not much you can do to talk me into sitting on a beach in November (even in Italy), so I ended up driving through the island instead.

From Cagliari in the south to Olbia in the north, I cut a path through the vey interior of Sardinia and what I found there surprised me: a craggy topography dotted with hilltop settlements, ancient megaliths and all the suckling pig I could eat (which turns out to be a lot).

Sardinia isn’t just about the beaches (though I have promised myself a return visit – ideally in the height of summer – which will be all about the beaches). Sardinia has more variety than most visitors can imagine. And in this self-drive itinerary, I’ll guide you through where to go in Sardinia and what to explore along the way.

Planning your trip: I spent 4 nights, 5 days in Sardinia and my route is based on that length of time. Feel free to extend it or trim it to suit your trip length.

All distances and drive times are taken from Google Maps.

I’ve included a map at the end with all the places I went, restaurants I ate at and where I stayed in Sardinia.

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Where to Go In Sardinia

Cagliari

Bastione di Saint Remy Cagliari Sardinia

What to See and Do

I only had one evening in Cagliari, my entry point into Sardinia, so I didn’t get to explore as much of this city as I would have liked (I missed Medieval il Castello and the 13th century Cattedrale di Santa Maria). However, if the Bastione di Sant Remy (picture above) is anything to go by, they’re going to be magnificent sights.

Confession: I probably could have made it to the castle and cathedral but I was kind of distracted by a cheese and wine tasting place. When in Sardinia, try the pecorino, so the famous saying goes. So, I did as well as trying the fiore sardo…and some cured meats…and some wine. If you also prioritise consumable items over, well, everything else, check out Sapori di Sardegna Cagliari.

sardinian food meat and cheese

Where to Stay

I stayed at Hotel Italia, a three-star hotel with a modern interior that was perfectly located in the old Marine Quarter. The hotel is within walking distance of shops, restaurants, bars and the sights. Note to self for future visits: Cagliari is hilly so take a map. If you get lost getting back to your hotel, you’re going to have to walk back up that mammoth hill you just strolled down.

Where to Eat

I ate at Ristorante Flora, which was a short stroll from my hotel. If you want to step back in time, while you sample Sardinia’s cuisine, this is the place to do it. It’s also a hotel if you’re looking for an alternative to Hotel Italia.

You can read about (and look at pictures of) what I ate in Sardinia here. You’ll find a list of traditional Sardinia food as well as details of all the restaurants I tried on the island.

Getting around

Depending on how long you stay in Cagliari and whether your hotel has parking, you might be better collecting your hire car from the airport when you’re leaving the town. Cagliari is is 9.6 km / around 12 minutes’ drive from the airport and can be reached by train as well as taxi. The station is walking distance from Hotel Italia.

Sardara

Where to go in sardinia sardara church

What to See and Do

My first stop after Cagliari was Sardara. You’d be hard pushed to find this tiny hilltop town in any guidebooks (as is the case with a bunch of stops on this list of where to go in Sardinia). To me, this made Sardara all the more appealing. The sights aren’t many and you could easily whizz through them in a morning.

Often, it was the glimpses of everyday life in this Sardinian hilltop town that was most appealing.

where to go in sardinia sardara roosters

Villa Abbas, the archaeological museum will fling you all the way back to 1900 to 750 B.C. (yep, 1900 B.C.) with its artefacts from the ancient Nuraghic civilisation (a nuraghe house that I saw on this trip is pictured below). The museum is a great introduction to the history of Sardinia.

where to go in sardinia

There are also a few churches to explore in Sardara, as you would expect: Italy. However, one of the major attractions is the nearby thermal baths (Santa Maria Acquas), which are reputed to have therapeutic properties.

where to go in Sardinia Sardara thermal baths

Sadly, I was disappointed on two fronts – firstly, the baths, despite the grand exterior (above), have fallen into dilapidation and is no longer open. So, unless you stay at the nearby Hotel Therme di Sardara and make use of their spa (I didn’t), the closest you’ll get to the magical healing water is an open air tap.

where to go in sardinia sardara baths
Not what I was expecting from thermal ‘baths’. Out of interest, would it be indecent to get down to your bikini and step under the flowing water? I wasn’t sure…

Cue: my second disappointment. I supped some of the water from said tap (after being assured it’s safe to do so) and it didn’t do a damn thing to speed along the healing of my knee. I’d have demanded my money back…if I’d paid for this free sight.

Getting there

Sardara is 56.5 km / a 43 minutes’ drive from Cagliari. Although Sardara was pretty, I’d recommend heading on to Laconi for lunch.

Laconi

where to go in Sardinia Laconi

What to See and Do

Most of what I did in Laconi was eat (there’s a theme here) so it was dusk by the time I got to do any real exploring. And then the skies opened and poured what seemed like all of Sardinia’s surrounding waters onto my head, cutting my sightseeing short.

I did, however, get up close with some Menhir (megaliths) in the Civico Museo Archeologico – Laconi has the highest number of Menhir in Sardinia. If you’re not sure what a megalith is, think: Stonehenge.

where to go in sardinia menhir

Casa Sant’Ignazio is also worth a visit if for no other reason than to meet the beautiful Sardinian who is the keeper of the keys at this tiny, local church. I won’t guess her age but she was good evidence of the health benefits of living in one of the world’s ‘blue zones’,

Parco Aymerich is also, apparently worth a visit. However, it was at the gates to the park that the skies opened and I made a dash for shelter.

Where to Eat

I ate at Hotel Ristorante Sardegna. This family run restaurant has been passed down for generations and there’s every chance you’ll meet Rita, the current owner who will welcome you in as if you are one of her own. Try the culurgiones and if you eat too many to move on, this restaurant is also a hotel.

Getting there:

Laconi is 50 km / around 49 minutes by car. If you have time, stay over in Laconi. I pressed on to Nuoro so I was well located for Oliena the next day.

Looking for car hire? My favourite booking site is Holiday Autoswhich searches several sites for you including Hertz, Budget, Enterprise, Avis. Otherwise, you can see a list of car hire companies in my article Top Travel Sites – Over 100 Links for trip Planning

Nuoro

where to go in Sardinia Nuoro

What to Do

I arrived in Nuoro late at night with a storm beating around me, so I was delighted to wake up to this view (even if the rain clouds were still lingering in the distance).

Nuoro was a jumping off point for my trip so I didn’t do much beyond have dinner here.

Where to Eat

Ristorante Monti Blu – by far the most adventurous meal during my time in Sardinia with brains, tongue and other animal parts on the menu. You can get pizza, too, if you’re not up for challenging your tastebuds (or gag reflex).

Where to Stay

I stayed at the 3-star Hotel Sandalia where the staff was excellent, the view from my window was just as astounding (picture above) and there was a terrace where I wish I’d had time to have an apperitivo.

Getting there

Nuoro is 110 km / around 1h 36 minutes by car from Laconi. Longer if there’s a storm. MUCH longer.

Oliena

Where to go in sardinia Oliena

What to See and Do

And then the sun came out and what a difference it made. Another hilltop town, Oliena offered up some fantastic vistas.

Walking the streets, crumbling is perhaps the best description for parts of the town but that made it all the more beautiful and photogenic. I understand there is a push for regeneration in the town. More specifically, regeneration of the courtyards with the hope that the local people will come out of their disparate homes and start to socialise like they once did not too many generations ago.

where to go in Sardinia Oliena

Handicrafts are a big attraction in the city with silk shawls, filigree jewellery and leather shoes and belts being popular purchases.

Where to go in Sardinia

And there was this striking piece of street art; except it’s more than that. It’s common in Oliena (and perhaps more widely in Italy?) to paint a mural of former residents. In this case, this feisty lady was best known for taking out her shotgun and, no, not killing people, but standing on her balcony and firing into the air on the day of the Easter procession. Go grandma!

Where to go in Sardinia - Oliena

Where to Eat

I ate at Ristorantino Masiloghi where I dined on some of the most tender lamb in a beautifully rustic setting. Sometimes it’s the simple things in life that please you the most and that was the case with Masiloghi.

Getting there

Oliena is 10 km / a 14 minute drive from Nuoro by car.

Galtellì

Where to go in Sardinia - galtelli

What to See and Do

I arrived in Galtellí just before golden hour, that magical time when the light is softer and warmer and gives off an ethereal glow so the sights were impressive. Like many of the hilltop towns I visited in Sardinia, there isn’t a dramatic amount of things to do beyond walk through the streets, visit the church and suck in the view, but what more do you want (apart from good food and wine) in Italy?

Where to go in Sardinia - galtelli

Cattedrale romanica di San Pietro IX secolo was most spectacular for its location and the views over the valley below while the Museo Etnografico did a great job of casting you back in time.

Where to go in Sardinia - galtelli

And then I got snagged up in rush hour traffic…

 Just before watching the sun set.

where to go in sardinia

Getting there

Galtellì is 27,2 km / a 31 minute drive from Oliena.

Taking a longer trip in Italy? You might be interested in some of my other posts…

Sardinian Food – Where and What to Eat in Sardinia

How to Order Coffee in Italy

One Day in Pisa: What to See and Do

Alternative Venice: 10 Things NOT To Do and 10 To Do Instead

You can read all of my Italy articles here.

Olbia

Where to go in Sardinia - Olbia

What to Do

Olbia was another short stop for me.

The upshot: beside wandering through the main shopping street and sipping a coffee by the port, I didn’t get to see much of Olbia itself.

What you should check out (en route from Olbia to Castelsardo) is this elephant rock.

Where to go in Sardinia - Olbia

Where to Eat

I ate at L’Essenza Bistrot, a modern bistro offering creative twists on local Sardinian cuisine. I would return to Olbia for this restaurant alone.

Where to Stay

where to go in sardinia

I stayed at Hotel Panorama. The clue is in the name – a rooftop terrace with one of the best panoramas you’re going to find in Olbia.

Getting there

Olbia is 97,3 km / a 1h 12 minute drive from Galtellí.

Castelsardo

Where to go in Sardinia - castelsardo

What to See and Do

If I were asked by friends and family where to go in Sardinia, the word Castelsardo would be first out of my mouth. With it’s enchanting castle hoisted on top of a giant rock, meandering streets that make up the historic centre, there’s something very Game of Thrones about Castelsardo.

There’s a sweet basket weaving museum (Museo dell’Intreccio Mediterraneo), which is worth a quick look, and, of course, it’s possible to visit the castle, which has sweeping views from the ramparts over the bay below (and, on a clear day, you can see all the way to Corsica).

The cathedral is also notable for its Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art.

However, the best thing of all is the views of Castelsardo itself, which are best seen at sunset.

Where to go in Sardinia - castelsardo

Where to Eat

I ate at Ristorante Da Ugo, a hangout for the A-Listers and glitterati, serving fantastically fresh seafood and fish. To be honest, if you didn’t know better, you’d skip past the unbecoming exterior but don’t let it put you off. I also at at Ristorante Rocca Ja, which had a lively atmosphere and was perfect for pizza and beer.

Where to Stay

Where to go in Sardinia - castelsardo

I spent the night at Hotel Riviera. All I’m going to say is: this view (picture above) from my balcony.

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Getting there

Castelsardo is 101 km / 1 h43 from Olbia by car.

After Castelsardo, I flew out from Alghero airport, which is 63.9 km / a 1hr 1 minute drive.

Next Time

That’s my sum-up of where to go in Sardinia. Of course, there are plenty more places to see. Next time I’ll try to fit in Aggius and Alghero (beyond visiting just the airport) as a starting point. What else did I miss? Let me know in the comments below.

Map of Where to Go In Sardinia

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Where to go in Sardinia

My trip was courtesy of the Sardinian Tourist Board and was arrange in conjunction with Borghi Italia Tour Network.

Article written by

Jo Fitzsimons is a freelance travel writer who has visited over 60 countries. www.indianajo.com is the place where she shares destination details, travel itineraries, planning and booking tips and trip tales. Her aim: to help you plan your travel adventure on your terms and to your budget.

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