Known in Sardinia as Casteddu, the island's capital of nearly 160,000 inhabitants has steep streets and impressive Italianate architecture in styles ranging from modern to medieval. Cagliari is characterized by a busy commercial center and waterfront with broad avenues and arched arcades, as well as by the typically narrow streets of the old hilltop citadel (called, simply, Castello). A visit to the city is not complete without seeing the imposing Bastion of Saint Remy and strolling through Mercato di San Benedetto, considered to be one of the best fish markets in Italy.
Cagliari's university stages concerts with local and well-known European artists throughout the academic year.
The gilded Antico Caffè once served as an intellectual haunt for famous writers like D. H. Lawrence and Grazia Deledda, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1926. With its street-front terrace and polished-wood-and-brass interior, it has anchored the base of the Saint Remy Bastion since 1855, serving as a social center from breakfast until well after midnight. A daily set menu (€35) features local fish and meat specialties. The pastas and salads are reliable à la carte choices. Desserts are the real attraction here: try the tiramisu or one of the elaborate artisanal gelato coupe concoctions. A sublime granita di caffe con panna is refreshing on a hot summer afternoon.
Cagliari's two best shopping streets, full of boutiques and specialty shops for clothes, shoes, bags, and jewelry are Via Manno and Via Garibaldi, just up from the port.
The Istituto Sardo Organizzazione Lavoro Artigiano is a government-sponsored cooperative of artisans. Look for handmade ceramics, woven and wooden goods, baskets, metalwork, and beautiful gold filigree or precious stone jewelry. Its website describes fabrication techniques and typical products.
Torre di San Pancrazio
Marking the edge of the Castello district, the 1305 tower of the imposing medieval Pisan defenses is just outside Cagliari's archaeological museum. You can climb up the limestone tower for a fabulous panorama of the city and its surroundings. As with other defensive structures of this period, the tower's back wall is missing, which allows you to see the series of wooden stairs and landings inside the cross-section without climbing a step.
Terrazza Umberto I
Excellent views of Cagliari, plus a selection of cafes and late-night bars make this a good place for a break after visiting the narrow passageways of the Castello quarter. The spacious terrazza lies atop the monumental, neoclassical Bastion of St Remy, dating from 1901.
The Cattedrale di Santa Maria, also known as the Duomo, was begun in the 12th century, but major renovation in the 17th century and reconstruction during the mid-1930s have left little of the original medieval church. The tiers of columns on the facade resemble those of medieval Romanesque Pisan churches, but only sections of the central portal, the bell tower, and the two side entrances are from the 13th century. Look for one of the most memorable features inside—the oversized marble pulpit sculpted in the 1300's and divided in half to fit into the church nave.
Considered a paese museo, a "museum village," this small town 20 km (12 miles) northwest of Cagliari has houses whose walls have been brightened with murals by local artists and some well-known Italian painters. The murals were begun in the 1960s and continue to be expanded, transforming the entire town into an open-air art gallery with a series of colorful trompe l'oeils and artistic renderings of daily life. Look for suggestive stone and bronze sculptures by the world-renowned Pinuccio Sciola that also pay tribute to the region's ancient history.
Perched over the vast expanse of Cagliari and its port, the narrow streets of this hillside quarter hold ancient monuments and piazzas amid sidewalk cafés and apartments with wash hung out to dry on elaborate wrought-iron balconies. The most impressive entrance is through the commanding late-19th-century archway of the Bastione San Remy on Piazza Costituzione, though this means climbing numerous steps. At the top is an impressive panorama of the cityscape and Gulf of Cagliari. From Piazza Palazzo, holding Cagliari's Cathedral, you can walk to Piazza Indipendenza and the 14th-century limestone Saint Pancras Tower, a twin of the nearby Elephant Tower.
The intriguing artifacts here are all within the walls of a castle erected by Pisans in the early 1300s to ward off the Aragonese and Catalans (attacking from what is now Spain). On display are bronze statuettes from the tombs and dwellings of some of Sardinia's earliest inhabitants, who remain a prehistoric enigma. Ancient writers called them the "nuraghic people," from the name of their curious stone dwellings, the nuraghi, which are unique to Sardinia. Archaeologists date most of the nuraghi to about 1300–1200 BC, the same time the ancient Israelites were establishing themselves in Canaan. The museum is the world's foremost authority on this particular ancient civilization. Of special interest are a pearl-laden Phoenician faience necklace, medieval gold coins, finds from the Tuvixeddu necropolis, and remnants from the archaeological site of Nora.
This medieval fortified tower was built in 1307 by Giovanni Capula, who also designed San Pancrazio. It stands 100 feet high at the seaward end of Cagliari's bastions. It was used as a prison in the 1800s and is one of the main entrances to the Castello.
Only 3 miles southeast of the city center and easily accessible by a quick bus ride, Poetto Beach is one of the hottest spots to relax in summer for both locals and tourists. Its shallow and clean turquoise waters stretch for some 5 miles, and the beach is lined with cafés, restaurants, shops, snackstands, and parks. Beach lounging chairs and umbrellas are available for rent from a variety of vendors for about €10–12. From the large sandy shores, you can admire the red flamingos that nest in the marshy reeds of the nearby Molentargius lagoon. If you're in Cagliari, then this postcard setting is a must.
Amenities: food and drink; toilets. Best for: walking.
As of this writing the theater is undergoing restoration until 2015 at least; the site can still be viewed from outside surrounding gates until tours resume. This theater dates from the 2nd century AD. The well-preserved amphitheater arena—complete with underground passages and a beasts' pit—is evidence of the importance of this Roman outpost.