Cagliari is Sardinia's capital, a city of about 160,000 people with a history that dates back to at least the seventh century B.C. Like many other cities of strategic importance in modern-day Italy, Cagliari was heavily bombed by the Allied Forces during World War II. Thus, today, the city combines a long, rich history of culture with battered and restored remains of the years gone by. There is a lot to see and do here, even if your only intentions are to enjoy a few days on the beach with some fine dining at seafront restaurants.
Four tourism purposes, think of Cagliari as being divided into two primary areas: the old town and the waterfront. The old town is known as Il Castello and includes several noteworthy museums, while the waterfront is known as Marina and boasts lots of places to eat, sleep, and play.
Il Castello means “the castle,” a name derived from this hilltop area's former life as a walled-in fortress of a town. The views from here are fantastic of the Gulf of Cagliari, and there are some sights worth seeing in addition to the handful of museums that offer unique displays.
Cagliari is a large city, but it also happens to have some special beaches — including Poetto Beach, which by day is family-friendly and by night transforms into a waterfront paradise of bars and nightclubs. Boating and surfing are based at the Marina section of the city, so the waters nearest the beach itself are quiet and filled with leisurely swimmers.
Cagliari Cathedral, also known as Cattedrale di Santa Maria, dates to the 1200s but has been rebuilt and modified so many times over the years that few remnants of the original construction remain. At one point, the cathedral had a Baroque fa çade, but even it has been changed so much that it's hard to appreciate what once was there. The bell tower is the only part of the cathedral that is virtually unchanged, and it's worth a quick look as you make your way around the area.
The most interesting museum in this area is the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, which houses finds from the pre-Nuragic period. There also is a series of sculptures on site that dates to the Bronze Age, with each sculpture offering a small clue as to how people lived and worshiped during that time. A visit to this museum teaches you about more than the history of Sardinia; it offers details about the history of human civilization itself.
Cagliari's Marina area is, among other things, one of the best places in all of Sardinia where you can go to eat. Its waterfront location means a bevy of fresh fish and seafood being brought to market, and, then, to your plate. There are a couple of hotels here as well, but the primary sensory experience to be had is dining, not sleeping. You could spend a week just trying out the various eateries at lunch and dinnertime, never having to return to the same table unless you so desire.
The Museo Archeologico Nazionale does not have a website with information available in English, so be sure to ask your travel agent about current operating times, fees, and the like. If your hotel in Cagliari has a concierge, that's probably the best place to get up-to-date information about the museum's offerings.
This is a good place to snack as well, with gelato and various confectionary treats on offer to help you get a little sugar rush as you make your way around the city. Enjoying a double scoop of anything while you walk along the waterfront is a downright decadent experience.