10 Free Things to Do in Cagliari, Sardinia (That Won't Suck)

From incredible beaches to flamingo-filled parks, Cagliari, the capital of Italy's feisty little island of Sardinia, is all about its history and shares its love for food, culture and music for free.
04/23/2013 05:55pm ET | Updated December 6, 2017
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Leave those euros stashed under the hostel mattress! Take in the best of Sardinia for free; just don't forget to tip your OTP.

Design/Photo Editing: Nick Ross

Get yourself into something free in Cagliari, the capital of Italy's feisty little island of Sardinia. From incredible beaches to flamingo-filled parks, the city is all about its history and shares its love for food, culture and music for free. Get the best of Sardinia by hopping around the city for nothing.

Photo from keith_and_kasia

The city's main beach, Poetto is only a five to 10 minute bus-ride from the city center and has a long coastline set against a mountain backdrop. While it may not be the best beach in Sardinia, it is the busiest and you'll be bumpin' speedos with hoards of beach-goers from July to August. Kiosks along the beach serve cheap booze, panini and snacks, and are open day and night throughout the summer.

OTP Tip: If you're looking for something more gay and naked, hike over to the small and secluded Cala Figera beach.

Sella del Diavolo
Photo from cristianocani

Get some devil in your crotch by hiking up to "The Devil's Saddle," a uniquely-shaped cliff that hangs over Marina Piccola at Poetto. The unofficial symbol for Cagliari, the name comes from a biblical legend.

The hellish backstory: Lucifer and his demon buddies were hanging around Sardinia when they came across the Gulf of Cagliari and decided they wanted it for themselves. As they staked their claim, God sent the archangel Michael and his militia to protect the gulf. A mid-air battle tossed Lucifer off his horse, causing the saddle to plummet into the gulf. The saddle then turned to stone, creating the mountain' shape.

Bullshit or not, it's a fun sight to see. Start your hike at Calamosca (another sweet beach right around the corner from Poetto) where you'll take a short hike up to the saddle. As you roam, you'll hit ruins and crazy vegetation, and be surrounded by amazing views of the entire coast of the Gulf of Cagliari.

OTP TIP: Wind down after the hike at La Paillote, a small bar with stairs that lead down to a small beach. You don't have to order anything to get your toes in the sand.

Mercato Di San Benedetto
Photo from bru76

Open Monday to Saturday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Mercato Civico di San Benedetto is the largest indoor civil market in Italy. Each of the two levels of the market are 4,000 square meters of pure gourmet bliss. The bottom floor, where fishermen bring their daily catches, is overflowing with fresh octopus, lobster, shrimp, sea urchin (ricci di mare in Italian) and surprisingly cheap salmon. For less fishy finds, the top floor has booths with the freshest local meats, cheeses, fruit and vegetables. The workers in the market will hassle you to stop at their booth, enticing you with free samples. Haggle back at them and walk away with some top notch ingredients to impress the locals.

Bastione Di San Remy
Photo from cristianocani

Bastione di San Remy is the most important fortification in Cagliari. Its name derives from Baron de Saint Remy who was a first viceroy of Piedmont. Built in the late 19th century, Bastione has a classical style made of white and yellow limestone columns and Corinthian capitals. During WWII, the massive staircase and arch were damaged by the Allies' bombings but were later restored. Pop into this big chunk of history and you'll be rewarded with an open rooftop terrace with a view of the city, mountains and sea. During the summer, you'll find people lazing about enjoying BYO booze and concerts.

Mondo Ichnusa
Photo from captain_bls

A two-night, free summer music festival featuring Italian pop/rock stars right on the beach just outside of Cagliari, Mondo Ichnusa draws over 100,000 party people to the island every year. Sponsored by Ichnusa, the most famous Sardinian beer (comparable to Heineken), you'll only find this brand of booze at the festival kiosks. It'll be overpriced so outsmart the crowd by bringing your own. Security is very loose and a free bus runs from Piazza Yenne in downtown Cagliari directly to the festival. Don't you dare leave when the show is over; linger until sunrise with the rest of the party crowd.

Cagliari Language Network
Photo from Bev Trayner

Gather for drinks and work out your Italian language kinks with locals, expats and Erasmus students. Chat-lovers gather every night to shoot the shit in different languages all around the city. Hook up with the language network to learn how to sweet talk your way around town.

Photo from vasile23

Castello (Casteddu de susu in Sardo) is the oldest and highest-positioned of the four main districts in Cagliari and features a medieval wall surrounding the entire district. Get lost around these narrow, cobble-stoned streets dating back to the 13th century, and you'll see ancient ruins, the towers of San Pancrazio and dell'Elefante, the Lion's Gate and the Jewish Ghetto. Peek into some of the storefronts to find old artisans and artists hard at work. Here, you'll also find the Viceroy Palace, seven churches (including the Cathedral of Santa Maria), the National Archaeological Museum, The National Gallery, The Citadel of Museums and The Centre of Art and Culture all in Castello.

Sagra di Sant'Efisio
Photo from cristianocani

Sant'Efisio is the most important celebration in Cagliari. Every 1st of May, a four-day long religious procession begins by carrying the statue of executed Sant'Efisio from the church where it is stored in the Stampace district of Cagliari to the church in Nora, the oldest city in Sardinia, which dates back to the Phoenician era. Thousands of people dressed in traditional Sardinian clothing, some of whom are barefoot, storm the streets of Cagliari in decorated carts pulled by oxen (called is traccas) and floats. A tradition that's been going strong since 1657, when Saint Efisio saved the city of Cagliari from a plague, you'll hear the sweet sounds of launeddas, ancient wind instruments native to the region, fill the streets.

Monumenti Aperti
Photo from cristianocani

Dive into the richness of Cagliari's history for free. Every year in May, the city opens up both old and new monuments for two days in an effort to reconnect people with the city's history and culture. On top of the usual churches, museums, and historical sites, you can visit WWII air-raid shelters, a Phoenician necropolis, creepy crypts inside of churches, a botanical garden and an old slaughterhouse.

Parco Naturale Regionale Molentargius Saline
Photo from szeke

Molentargius Saline Park is for the birds. With over 180 different species of birds roaming about, here, you'll get a face full of pink flamingos. The lagoon, which is made up of both fresh and seawater areas, creates a natural border to this spectacular park that's free to enter every day from 7:00 am to 8:00 p.m.

OTP Tip: Nature not your thing? At Parco Monte Claro, you can see the newly-restored Villa Clara, the old mental hospital, which is now the provincial library containing 84,000 volumes. It is the home to many cultural events throughout the year, including the (not free) European Jazz Expo.

OTP Tip: The city's bus system will easily get you to the places on our list. If you're a cheap bastard, risk a 30 euro fine and do it all for free. The buses in Cagliari cost 1.20 euro per ticket and while there are controllers that make sure you validated your ticket, they come around rarely enough that you can ride under the radar.

Written By: Bianca Rappaport