Sardinia is a stunning island in the Mediterranean Sea, off the west coast of Italy. Known for its gorgeous beaches, crystal clear waters, dramatic mountains, and traditional old villages, there are many different sides to Sardinia.
Last month I took the ferry from Naples to Sardinia and spent a couple of weeks exploring the island by car, visiting both the popular tourist sights and also some amazing off-the-beaten-track places. I was really blown away, I had no idea there were so many incredible things to see and do in Sardinia.
Ever since I got back, I’ve been itching to write about it. I’m excited to share with you my pick of the best places to visit in Sardinia. I hope this inspires you to take a trip to this wonderful, unique place.
My top 5 best places to visit in Sardinia
Some of the best places to visit in Sardinia are popular with tourists. In others, you might just be the only non-local in town. Each has its own unique charm, and here are five of my favorites.
1. The Costa Smeralda
The Emerald Coast is perhaps the best-known part of Sardinia. This stretch of coastline, with its turquoise waters and white sandy beaches, is truly breathtaking.
The best way to explore it is definitely by boat. You can either take a day trip from towns like Olbia or Porto Cervo or rent a boat for a few days and explore the many untouched bays and other best places to visit in Sardinia at your own pace.
If you have time, it’s worth exploring the Maddalena Islands, a tiny archipelago off the far northeast coast. The sea around these islands is some of the clearest, bright turquoise water I have ever seen, and it’s teeming with colorful fish. It’s a really amazing place for snorkeling.
The major downside to the Costa Smeralda is that this is the most expensive part of Sardinia. It’s really stunning though so I’d still definitely recommend a visit, even if only for the day.
Oristano is a medium-sized town located on the west coast of Sardinia. This side of the island is much quieter than the east. You’ll see far fewer other tourists there, and it’s much cheaper overall both for accommodation and eating out. Everything feels more chilled and authentic here too.
The center of Oristano is small and easily walkable. It has some beautiful medieval architecture, an interesting 12th-century cathedral, and a stunning 13th-century fortified tower that was used to help defend the city from attack.
Today, this tower is surrounded by arty fountains, and the whole area is illuminated at night. Fanning off this plaza is a maze of attractive backstreets that are quietly buzzing and full of little cafes and bars. It’s a great place to sit and people-watch with a coffee or a spritz.
If you do make it to Oristano, check out Pizzeria Santa Marghe. It’s run by a guy from Naples who previously spent time running a restaurant in Australia, and everything is really superb, from the vibe and the decor to the food and the drinks. I’ve eaten a lot of pizza in Italy, and this place does some of the best I’ve ever tasted.
The Sinis Peninsula is beautiful, wild, and unspoiled. It’s also an easy 30-minute drive west of Oristano, so it’s easy to visit with other best places to visit in Sardinia.
On the way, you’ll pass Cabras Lagoon. As well as being scenic and peaceful in its own right, the lagoon is also home to a large number of flamingos. It’s definitely worth making a detour to see these amazing birds on your way out to Sinis.
Once you get onto the main Sinis peninsula, keep going south until you reach the little hamlet of San Giovanni di Sinis, at the end of the road. There’s an incredible beach just past the car park on the right-hand side as you walk towards the end of the peninsula.
Here you’ll also find the ruins of Tharros, an ancient city and one of the most important archaeological sites in Sardinia. Tharros was founded over 2,700 years ago by the Phoenician civilization and was later conquered by the ancient Romans.
Past the ruins, there’s a walking trail that takes you all the way to the very tip of the Sinis Peninsula, a rocky outcrop known as Capo San Marco. This is one of the best places to visit in Sardinia to catch the sunset. The sun sets over the sea, turning the sky and the mountains deep shades of orange, purple and pink – and you have a 360-degree view of everything – it’s magical.
4. Su Nuraxi di Barumini
Su Nuraxi di Barumini is an ancient archaeological site located in central Sardinia.
Built almost 4,000 years ago by the Bronze Age Nuragic civilization, the central highlight of the site is an impressive stone fortress made up of several interconnected circular towers and a central courtyard.
These nuraghi structures are only found in Sardinia, nowhere else in the world, and they’re really amazing. I knew nothing about them before visiting, but the Barumini site offers guided tours led by local archeologists and other experts. I’d really recommend taking one of these tours.
Over the centuries, the settlement was extended and a village grew organically around the central towers, with over 100 stone huts and houses built in circular patterns. The remains of this are also still visible today, and the whole site is incredibly atmospheric.
Su Nuraxi di Barumini is the best-known and most complete example of this unique form of prehistorical architecture in the world and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s definitely one of the best places to visit in Sardinia, and well worth the drive (or bus journey) to get there.
5. SS125 – Orientale Sarda
The SS125 Orientale Sarda is one of the most beautiful roads in Europe, and one of the best driving roads in the world.
It runs between the villages of Dorgali and Arbatax, about halfway down the east coast of Sardinia, and takes in some of the island’s most dramatic scenery.
The road is full of twists and turns, going up, over, and through a series of mountains, and the views are amazing. In some sections, you can see all the way down to the sparkling, electric blue waters of the Mediterranean. In others, the view unfolds across rugged peaks and breathtaking valleys.
You’ll also pass through some incredible tunnels that have been carved into the rock face. The road is (mostly) in very good condition and paved all the way. Just be careful if you do the drive on a windy day, in some sections the road is quite exposed and strong sudden gusts can take you off-guard!
If you have a car in Sardinia, this drive is a must-do. I loved every second of it.
A few more thoughts on the best places to visit in Sardinia
These are my top picks for the best places to visit in Sardinia. Of course, this is just a tiny fraction of what the island has to offer, but I hope it will give you a good starting point for planning your own trip.
Sardinia really is an amazing place and I’m definitely planning to return. The scenery is stunning, the beaches are beautiful, and there are loads of interesting and unique things to do. I’d highly recommend a visit!
Alex Tiffany is a former corporate lawyer and lifelong travel enthusiast on a mission to make adventurous travel accessible to all. When there’s reliable WiFi, he works as a personal trip planner, freelance travel writer, and travel consultant. Alex is also the founder of Just Go Exploring, a travel blog for off-the-beaten-track destinations.
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