Sardinia's largest port city is less of a jet-set beach escape and more of a history lesson, with three districts that date back to medieval times. With Roman ruins and museums, inexpensive shops, and open-air piazzas, this destination is heavy on authentic culture and light on pretensions.
What We Love
Pre-Roman Ruins: Ancient footprints are still distinct in the old city. The necropolis dates back to Carthaginian rule, when the waterfront watchtowers protected the Aragonese from ancient pirate invasions.
Cathedral: Most visitors put the Roman Amphitheater at the top of their list of things to see, but it has sporadic hours and is logistically tough. Alternatively, the Cagliari Cathedral is consistently accessible and centrally located; relics date back to the 12th century, and the crypt is worthy of a Tom Hanks thriller.
Best Known For
Beaches: Long, sandy beaches are just a five-minute drive from the Castello district, and the Poetto five minutes out of town becomes a European summertime holiday hub. Inexpensive shuttles run regularly from the port.
Museums: Most of the museums are all located in the same campus at the top of the medieval Castello district — a former arsenal turned cultural treasure trove. Visit the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, National Gallery, and Museo d’Arte Siamese.
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Who It's Best For
History Buffs: Relish stories of Tunisian pirate raids and Carthaginian battles in this port, where the roots go back further than modern chroniclers can trace. Archaeologists are still unearthing the Giants of Monte Prama — a collection of ancient stone statues first discovered by farmers 40 years ago.
Bargain Hunters: The shopping in the Marina district by the cruise port is not fancy, but it’s inexpensive and easy — you can get passably chic Italian fashions at Gap prices.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
It’s Not Airbrushed: There are moments where a sunset or a street scene will surprise you with sheer beauty, but in general, this city has a gray tone and old earth palette — sometimes brooding, sometimes graffiti-scarred, and never perfectly styled.
Lena Katz is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Brides.