Maddalena Archipelago in Sardinia Italy - Must See and Do!

What to See and Do in Sardinia

Are you visiting Italy and wonder what’s there to see and do in Sardinia? To be sure, Sardinia is the second-largest island to see in the Mediterranean. It is about 250km (155 miles) long and 120 km (74 miles) wide. Sardinia is located in the western Mediterranean between Italy and Spain.

How To Get To Sardinia

There are two ways to get to Sardinia. You can take the ferry and board on foot, or by car. Or, you can take a plane from a larger city.

Reaching Sardinia By Plane

You can reach Sardinia by plane in one of its three main airports.

Cagliari Elmas Airport (CAG) is the biggest one and it is located near the city of Cagliari the capital of Sardinia. It is the preferred hub to reach the southern resorts town of the island. The airport connects well with most Italian and European cities.

Olbia Costa Smeralda (OLB) is the second biggest airport, located in the Northeast of the island. This is the perfect hub for the resort towns on the northeast side of the island and for the famous Costa Smeralda (Emerald Coast). The airport connects well with most Italian and European cities.

Alghero Riviera del Corallo (AHO). This is the smallest of the 3 airports. It is located on the Northwest side of the island and it connects mostly with Italian cities.

a map of sardinia along with the main airports to fly in to

Getting to Sardinia on Foot or By Car

If you prefer to drive you can reach Sardinia by ferry boat, and either walk or drive on. Indeed, there are many ferry routes between mainland Italy and Sardinia.

Six major ferry ports on the island of Sardinia

Cagliari: in the south that connects with Genova, Napoli and Civitavecchia on the mainland.

Olbia: on the northeast that connects with Livorno and Civitavecchia on the mainland.

Golfo Aranci: also on the northeast that connects with Livorno and Civitavecchia on the mainland.

Porto Torres: on the north coast of the island that connects with Genova on the mainland.

Arbatax: on the east coast that connects mostly with Civitavecchia on the mainland.

Santa Teresa di Gallura: If you’re in Sardinia and want to see and do things in Corsica for a day, this is your port!

a map of sardinia with the six major ferry ports and schedules

Beaches to see in Sardinia, Italy

Sardinia is world famous, and people from all over come to see its beautiful blue water and sandy beaches.

We can divide the coast of Sardinia in 6 main areas as follows:

a map of sardinia outlining the various beach areas to see

North-East Coast

The North-East coast of Sardinia is probably the most famous to see on a trip to Italy. And, there are lots of things to do! Indeed, there, you can find the Costa Smeralda also known as the Billionaires playground. Also, the resort town of Porto Cervo is its center and here you can see some of the most luxurious yachts in Italy, and perhaps even the world. Additionally, Porto Cervo is also famous for its luxury shopping, hotels, and restaurants.

porto cervo sardinia, Italy seen at night
Porto Cervo

Costa Smeralda is also famous for its emerald green waters (that’s the reason for the name Emerald Coast). The waters are so transparent that you can see the bottom even in waters as much as 20 meters deep.

one of the best beaches to see in sardinia is principe
Spiaggia del Principe – Costa Smeralda

The other famous resort town in Costa Smeralda is Porto Rotondo. There, you can also stroll and look at the many clothing stores, ocean front restaurants and cafes.

Porto Rotondo is the "other" Porto Cervo and is a nice town to see the shops and boats.
Porto Rotondo

Equally famous is Sardinia’s Maddalena Archipelago which is a group of small islands that are you must-see on a trip to Italy. For example, the water has incredible shades of blue and green, and its transparency is unreal. Indeed, the most famous spots to see in the archipelago in Sardinia, Italy are the islands of Budelli and Spargi. First, Budelli features with the turquoise water of the “Manto della Madonna”. And, the island of Spargi famous for its light blue “Spiaggia dell’Amore” and the island of Caprera with the deep blue water of Tahiti Beach.

Another very important destination of the North-East coast is the area around Santa Teresa di Gallura. There, around the charming little coastal town, you can see some beautiful rugged coastline with deep blue water and spectacular red granite rocks.

Santa Teresa Di Gallura Sardinia
Santa Teresa Di Gallura

Lastly, south of Olbia you’ll find the town of San Teodoro that has some long white sandy beaches with the massive rocky island of Tavolara in the back ground. Here the water is calm and the beaches are perfect for families with children.

The best way to reach the tourist areas of the North-East coast is via Olbia either by plane or Ferry Boat.

East Coast Beaches

The most famous area of the east coast is the Golfo di Orosei (Orosei Gulf) and the resort town of Cala Gonone. Indeed, one of the best things to do in Cala Gonone, Sardinia is to rent a boat and tour around. Excitingly, you’ll find some of the best beaches in the area. For example, the most famous beaches are Cala Goloritzè and Cala Luna. And, yes, both beaches have incredibly white sand and turquoise water. The best way to reach these beaches is by boat.

One of the best beaches to see in Cala Gonone Sardinia is Cala Luna
Cala Luna

Most boat tours also stop at the “Grotta del Bue Marino” a coastal cave with beautiful rock formation.

To reach Cala Gonone you can fly into Olbia and then drive for about one hour south. By ferry boat you can either arrive in Olbia or Arbatax.

South-East Coast

The main center of the South-East coast is the town of Villasimius and the area know as Costa Rei. This area is famous for the long sandy beaches and calm waters. It is another perfect spot for a family with young children. The area has many hotels and vacation homes for rent. And, you can get there from the city of Cagliari in about half-hour.

South-West Coast

The main tourist destinations in this area are: Pula, Chia, Porto Pino and the Island of San Pietro.

Pula is a charming little coastal town with some great archeological Phoenicians sites nearby. Interestingly, while many might think Rome is the archeological center of Italy, there are many Archeological sites outside of Italy. Then, a few kilometers west of Pula you can find the amazing beaches of Chia. To be sure, this area has some of the best beaches on the island. Also, the beach of Su Giudeu with its clear waters and white sand is incredibly beautiful. Interestingly, in the nearby lagoon, it is possible to see many pink flamingos.

Another famous beach near Chia is Su Turredda. Su Turredda beach has beautiful calm waters and white sand. Also, the ruins of an old tower are overlooking the beach from the top of the hill.

Sa Turredda Beach is one of the nicest beaches to see in Sardinia
Sa Turredda Beach

West of Chia you can find the beautiful beach of Porto Pino and the white sand dunes. Indeed, Porto Pino is another amazing beach with crystal clear water and white powdery sand.

Another famous area on the southwest coast is the island of San Pietro. To be sure, you can reach this island from the little port town of Portoscuso in about half-hour ferry ride. The main town of San Pietro is Carloforte, with its colorful houses and narrow cobblestones street. The island is famous for the tuna fish industry and it has some of the best tuna in the world.

A photo of a back road to walk through in Carloforte, Sardinia
Carloforte

West Coast

San Giovanni di Sinis is one of the most famous beach destinations on the west coast. Interestingly, this little town is not very popular with tourists yet. In this town, you can see the archeological site of Tarros the Phoenician town. And, wow, the view of the crystal blue water from the archeological site is quite remarkable.

Tarros is an Archeological site to see in Sardinia
The Archeological site of Tarros

North of San Giovani you can reach Is Arenas beach. This very long beach has some crystal clear water but it can be really windy at times. Interestingly, it’s famous for its course sand that resembles rice grains.

Is Arenas Beach in Sardinia
The beach of Is Arenas

Continuing north from Is Arenas, you can reach the great old town of Bosa, Sardinia. The charming Bosa has a medieval castle overlooking the colorful houses of the old village.

The old town of Bosa, Sardinia
Bosa The Old Town

To reach the west coast you can fly into Cagliari than drive north for about two hours or fly into Alghero and then drive south for about one and half hour. Due to the fact, that is not very easy to reach the west coast of Sardinia is probably the least touristy part of the island. Here you can still find untouched beaches.

North West Coast

The main center of the North West Coast is Alghero. Indeed, the old Catalan city walls and bastions still surround Alghero. Downtown Alghero has some charming streets with many picture-perfect views. Also, near Alghero, there are many sandy beaches with incredibly crystal clear water. The area is very popular between scuba divers due to the great number of wonderful dives.

The old city walls of Alghero Sardinia
The old Catalan Bastions of the Old City of Alghero

Alghero maintained his Catalan roots in its local dialect and local cuisine.

Approximately 40 km (24 miles) north of Alghero you can find one of the most famous and picturesque beaches of Sardinia. Stintino la Pelosa beach. This beach has incredible white sand and shallow crystal clear waters. The colors is unique and the view is breathtaking. Unfortunately due to its popularity is also one of the busiest beaches in Sardinia. In peak season it is almost impossible to find a spot on this beach.

La Pelosa beach in Stintino, Sardinia is an amazing beach to see.
Stintino – La Pelosa Beach

In the background of La Pelosa beach, you can see the big island of Asinara. Asinara was home to a maximum-security jail until the ’90s. Since then, Asinara has become a natural park and it can be visited with specialised tour guides.

Driving about an hour on the north coast from Stintino you can reach the Medieval town of Castelsardo. Indeed, this old fortress has charming little street and a picture-perfect photo opportunity from the top of the castle towers.

A walkway in Castelsardo, Sardinia
Castelsardo

To reach the North-West Coast of Sardinia you can fly into Alghero or take the Ferry Boat to Porto Torress.

Other things see and do in Sardinia

Sardinia has much more to see and do than its beautiful sandy beaches. For example, the interior of the island is not touristy, or expensive at all. Indeed, you can travel all over the island without breaking the bank. For instance, you can explore the tall mountains of the Gennargentu with its lush cork tree forests. Also, many farms on the island nowadays have a beautiful farm stay (Agriturismo in Italian) with swimming pools and amazing farm to table restaurants.

The Nuraghe Civilization

The island of Sardinia is the only place in the world where you can find the remains of the ancient civilization of Nuraghe. Interestingly, about 4000 years ago, these are stone towers got built by a mysterious civilization. Unfortunately, we still know very little about it.

You can find Nuraghe all over the island, some are massive with villages around them others are a single tower in the middle of nowhere. Indeed, most of them have been restored and now are open to visitors.

The same civilization also built the so-called Tombs of Giants. Interestingly, these megalithic structures are massive and their size gives them the name of tombs of giants.

Typical Sardinian Food

Despite the fact that Sardinia is an island the most typical food is not seafood. In fact, for centuries most of the inhabitants of Sardinia used to live in the interior. This was due to the fact that the coast was often attacked by pirates and along the coast, many areas were infested by malaria.

Cheeses of Sardinia

For these reasons, the main food of Sardinia are based on sheep and pig. For example, one of the most important dairy products of the island is a sheep milk cheese called Pecorino. To be sure, there are many varieties of this delicious cheese depending on the production area, and the age of the cheese. The mildest are the young pecorino (Pecorino giovane) while the more pungent and flavourful ones are 1 to 5 years old (Pecorino stagionato)

A photo of cheeses in Sardinia
Different wheels of Pecorino

Sardinian cured meats

Sardinia has a great tradition of cured meats that are usually made of pork meat or wild boar. Sardinian cured meat is usually served as an appetizer in a traditional Sardinian dinner.

a cured meat selection of local sardinian food
Cured meat selection on top of Pane Carasau

Popular dishes to try in Sardinia

Other traditional food of Sardinia is suckling ping roasted on a spit for many hours and served on cork trays.

suckling pig
Suckling pigs

Traditional Sardinian kinds of pasta are the ricotta-filled ravioli, the Sardinian gnocchi with sausage and tomatoes sauce, and in the North East area of the island a bread and cheese baked dish called Zuppa Gallurese.

ravioli stuffed with ricotta is a typical sardinian dish to try
Ricotta filled ravioli

Seadas is a typical Sardinian dessert made of dough filed with a very mild cheese, deep fried and served hot drizzled in honey.

Seadas is a typical sardinian desert. to try

Pane Carasau is a type of flat bread typical of Sardinia. It is very very thin and crispy. It is best served warm drizzled with olive oil salt and rosemary.

In the Alghero area, due to its Catalan influence, the local cuisine is seafood-centric. The most popular dish is a lobster salad served warm with a lot of tomatoes and red onions called “Aragosta alla Catalana”. On the island of San Pietro, the most popular ingredient is tuna fish served raw or grilled or baked.

Sardinian Wines and Spirits

Sardinia has some very good wines as well. The most famous red is called Cannonau and it is a very robust and full body wine that is better suited for meat dishes. The most popular white wine of Sardinia is Vermentino, a crisp and fresh wine that is perfect for summer.

In Sardinia, one of the most popular bushes that grow wild is called Mirto. This wild bush produces tiny black berry in the fall out of which Sardinians make a liquor called Mirto. This is a very popular sweet and floral digestive served icy cold in the summer and room temperature. in the winter.

Our Favorite Things to See and Do in Sardinia

Tall ship tour to Maddalena

The tall ship tour is probably one of the best things to see and do in Sardinia. The tour starts from the resort town of Baja Sardinia, few kilometers north of Porto Cervo. The tall ship takes you around the main spot of the Maddalena Archipelago. Also, the crew on board prepares a nice lunch while guests are swimming in the crystal clear water of Spargi or Budelli. The ships are restored historic sail ships and they still have their old charm. In the late afternoon the ship sails back to Baja Sardinia.

Exploring the local Markets

Local markets are the best places to buy local specialties. Our all-time favorite is the market in the charming little town of San Pantaleo. This is located about 25km north of Olbia and on Thursday morning hosts a wonderful market. Here you can find the best selection of local cheeses, fruits, vegetables, cured meats and arts and crafts. We always go to this great market every time we visit Sardinia.

San Pantaleo offers a typical market to see and buy things in Sardinia
San Pantaleo Market

Eating a local feast in an Agriturismo

I mentioned before that many farms in the interior of the island have now restaurants that cook farm to table meals with local specialties. Eating in one of these Agriturismos is probably the best way to enjoy local food. For example, they usually offer a fixed menu dinner that includes wine and desserts. It is usually a 3-4 course meal and always includes the suckling pig.

These agriturismos are always located in very scenic areas and offer al fresco dinner in a rustic but charming setting.

dinner table at an Agriturismo
Agriturismo dinner table

We hope that this article inspired you to visit this amazing island and experience all it has to offer. If you need more information on what to or what to see leave a comment below.

-Andrea

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