Last updated on April 17, 2023 by Wandering our World
With its beautiful beaches, ancient archaeological sites, charming villages, and unique culture, Sardinia truly is a beautiful Mediterranean island to explore. But, with a total area in excess of 9,000 square miles, it’s also a pretty big place, and you won’t be able to see it all in only one visit.
That’s why, when planning trips to Sardinia, many travelers have to decide whether they want to stay in the northern part of the island, in a city like Alghero, or down to the south, in the island’s capital city of Cagliari.
However, making the choice between Alghero and Cagliari isn’t easy, as both of these cities have so much going for them, with plenty of historic sites to visit, pleasant shopping, impressive nightlife, and lovely beaches nearby.
Fortunately, there are a few key differences which might help you make up your mind; Alghero, for example, is often regarded as a more touristy and resort-style destination, while Cagliari is seen as a little more traditional, as well as being the busiest and liveliest part of the island.
However Alghero and Cagliari have several other key differences in areas like accessibility, beaches, food, and things to do.
But that’s where we can help!
Right here in this guide we’ll highlight some of the many similarities and differences between the two cities to help you decide which one is right for you. Let’s get started!
- A Quick Overview
- Which Is Easier To Get To?
- Which Is Easier To Get Around?
- Which Is Best For Beaches?
- Which Is Best For Activities?
- Which Is Better For Nightlife?
- Which Has The Best Shopping?
- Which Is Better For Hiking?
- Which Is Better For Food?
- Which Is Better For Families?
- Which Is Best For Couples & Honeymoons?
- Which Is Best For Backpackers?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- Which Is Cheaper?
- Which Is The Better Choice?
A Quick Overview: Alghero vs Cagliari
Alghero: A Quick Overview
Alghero is a city on the northwest coast of Sardinia. Around 45,000 people live in this city, although the population tends to swell during the summer months, as Alghero is one of the most-visited locations on the island.
Protected by ancient walls, Alghero is one of Sardinia’s most scenic and historic cities. It was conquered by the Crown of Aragon in the 14th century, and many locals here still speak a unique form of the Catalan language passed down over the centuries called Alguerese.
But luckily, since the area is so touristy, it’s not too hard to find people who understand English.
Echoes of the city’s Catalan conquerors can not only be heard in the local language, but also seen among its landmarks and architecture.
The iconic Alghero Cathedral, for example, is built in the distinctive Catalan-Gothic style, and there are various other historic sights to see, like the Palazzo D’Albis and nearby Anghelu Ruju necropolis.
In terms of vibe and atmosphere, Alghero feels like a very tourist-orientated town, while also having a romantic, charming side.
It’s the main resort area for the northwest part of the island, with its honey-hued sea walls and Gothic architecture attracting folks from all over the globe.
Cagliari: A Quick Overview
Cagliari is the capital city of Sardinia. It’s located on the island’s southern coast, and it’s the largest Sardinian city, with a population of around 155,000 people (although the full metropolitan area of Cagliari is home to over 400,000 in total).
It’s therefore quite a big bigger than Alghero and has more of a bustling, urban vibe.
Famed for its medieval hilltop Castello, Cagliari is an ancient city with many stories to tell.
Various civilizations have laid claim to this city over the years, from the Phoenicians to the Romans, Spanish, and Piedmontese. Fittingly, Cagliari has a long list of historic landmarks for tourists to enjoy, including an ancient Roman amphitheater and a 5th century church.
The city’s historic sector is spread out across four distinct neighborhoods – Castello, Marina, Stampace and Villanova – and there’s also a more modern side to Cagliari.
It’s also one of the greenest cities in all of Italy, with plenty of parks and green spaces, along with a 5-mile beach, known as Poetto.
Thanks to its many attractions and landmarks, Cagliari is a popular tourist center for the island of Sardinia.
Lots of cruise ships stop off here, and the island’s biggest airport is situated just a few miles from the center of the city. Cagliari is also a major transport hub, with the main roads and rail routes all starting here, so it’s a great place to base oneself for exploration of the island.
Which Is Easier To Get To?
One of the first things to think about when planning a vacation is how you’re going to get to your destination.
Fortunately, both Alghero and Cagliari have their own international airports, so it’s not too tricky to get to either one of these Sardinian cities.
Of the two, Cagliari Airport is the larger, busier, and better-served, with direct connections all across Europe and to Dubai. In contrast, Alghero Airport has fewer direct flights and may be a little trickier to get to.
Which Is Easier To Get Around?
In terms of getting around, Alghero is quite compact, with many of the main attractions and landmarks within walking distance of one another.
The local bus company, ARST, offers simple and affordable routes around the city, with intercity bus and rail connections to other parts of the island. You shouldn’t need a rental car unless you plan to do lots of exploration.
Cagliari is a little larger than Alghero, although many of its main buildings and sites of interest are also quite close together, so it’s pretty easy to walk around, and many parts of Cagliari are pedestrianized.
The city also has a highly efficient public transport system, including great bus and train links to help you get from place to place.
Overall, it’s pretty easy to get around both of these cities, and even though Cagliari is larger, its public transport is more efficient and reliable than that of Alghero, so you’ll probably find it simpler to traverse the capital city.
Which Is Better For Beaches?
Sardinia boasts more than 1,100 miles of coastline, with dozens of sandy and rocky beaches to enjoy all around this beautiful island. Several sublime beaches can be found near to both Alghero and Cagliari, but which city is best for sand and sea?
Well, visitors to Alghero have a whole host of local beaches to choose from. San Giovanni Beach is one of the most popular local spots, running for close to two miles and offering safe, shallow waters for families to splash around, along with fine, white sands.
Other local beaches include the romantic Lazzaretto, locals’ favorite Mugoni, and the famous Le Bombarde, which gets pretty popular in summer, but understandably so, due to its unique beauty, with a pine forest backdrop and incredibly clear waters.
Punta Nega is another cozy beach beside a pine forest, while Cala Dragunara is a prime snorkeling spot and Maria Pia is a great place to go for sunbathing or sand dune climbing.
And those are just some of the many beaches that Alghero has to offer, making it by far one of the best spots on the island for sunbathing, swimming, and other seaside activities.
Over in Cagliari, Poetto is the main beach to visit.
This huge stretch of sand runs for several miles, with inviting turquoise waters and enough space to cope with the big summer crowds. At the far end of this beach, you can find the mountain known as Sella del Diavolo, or Devil’s Saddle, with some super local hiking trails and viewpoints to climb to.
Calamosca Beach is another great sandy spot to spend some time at near Cagliari, boasting flour-like, powdery sand and nice views of an old, rustic lighthouse. It’s a really calm spot, too, protected against the strong winds and offering really calm and gentle waters for swimming or wading.
For something totally different, you could head to the small, rocky cove of Cala Fighera, which is a nice spot for snorkeling, or make the trip to the quaint, secluded Sant’Elia Beach – there are some great walks near this beach and a couple of interesting local landmarks, like the 18th century Fortino di Sant’Ignazio military fort.
Overall, it’s tough to call a winner in this category, as both Alghero and Cagliari have easy access to gorgeous beaches.
But we think Cagliari is best for long stretches of sand, while Alghero has more diversity with rocky spots, secret coves, and soft sands galore.
Which Is Best For Activities?
As well as the local beaches, Alghero and Cagliari have plenty of other attractions and activities for visitors to enjoy.
From ancient Roman archaeological sites to museums and natural parks, there’s plenty to see in and around both of these cities. Let’s take a closer look at how their main activities compare so you can see which one will suit you the best!
Alghero: The Activities
The rich and diverse history of Alghero makes this city a history-lover’s paradise, with a multitude of fascinating landmarks and monuments to discover.
The most famous and arguably most impressive example is the Alghero ramparts, which date back to the 13th century – seven towers and three forts can be found along these long medieval walls.
Outside the city, archeological sites like the Anghelu Ruju necropolis and Villa Romana of Santa Imbenia can be explored, offering an intriguing glimpse into the past.
And the city is home to several super museums – the Museo Diocesano D’arte Sacra hosts a collection of religious art and artifacts, while the unique Museo Del Corallo showcases an array of colorful coral samples.
Alghero Cathedral is absolutely worth checking out, too – it was built back in the 16th century and is well-known for its multicolored dome.
Other pretty religious buildings can be found around the city, like the Church of St. Francis, and the city’s historical center is a joy to simply walk around, with narrow streets, artisanal shops, and architectural gems around every corner
For those who want to experience the beauty of nature, Alghero is also nicely situated near a couple of natural treasures.
There’s Neptune’s Grotto, a local stalactite cave named after the Roman god of the sea, as well as the regional park of Porto Conte, which is great for hikes and bike rides. Capo Caccia is also an amazing place to explore, with hiking trails and hidden caves.
Cagliari: The Activities
Just like Alghero, Cagliari has a ton of history, with plenty of centuries-old buildings and ancient archaeological sites, like the Roman amphitheater and Tuvixeddu necropolis.
Many visitors will spend plenty of time exploring the hilltop Castello, with its medieval walls and towers – there are also lots of striking religious buildings here, like the Cagliari Cathedral.
Cagliari’s other historic districts, like Marina and Stampace, are worth exploring, with lots of character, while the more modern areas boast fancy Art Deco architecture.
And there’s simply so much to see all across Cagliari, from museums like the National Archeological Museum to galleries like the National Picture Gallery.
The Sardinian capital is also famed for its many libraries and theaters, as well as its green spaces.
Monte Urpinu Park is the biggest park in the city, with a dense forest to explore, with flamingos and other birds can be spotted in Terramaini Park. Or, you can take a short ride out of the city to local mountain parks for hiking, trekking, and wildlife watching.
In addition, since Cagliari is the capital of Sardinia, it’s a great place for experiencing some authentic Sardinian cultural events and festivals.
The famous Feast of Saint’Efis, for example, is held here each May, with thousands of islanders dressed up in traditional outfits parading through the streets. Cagliari also has a great Carnival and Easter celebrations.
Overall, the activities and attractions in both of these cities are reasonably similar, and there’s a big focus on historical sites and landmarks.
However, as the larger of the two cities, Cagliari has a longer list of places to see and things to do, and it’s the better option for those who really want to embrace traditional Sardinian culture.
Which Is Better For Nightlife?
Next, let’s talk about nightlife and ways to spend your evenings in either Alghero or Cagliari.
These cities are seen as the two main places to party and have night-time fun on the island of Sardinia, and both of them boast of various clubs and bars for visitors of various ages to enjoy.
In Alghero, you can head down to the waterfront to find the main nightlife hotspots. The port tends to get pretty crowded in the evenings, especially during summer, with lots of tourists congregating in and around the local taverns.
However, the nightlife here tends to calm down in Alghero at around 1am or 2am, so it may not be the perfect place to party all-night long.
In Cagliari, the nightlife scene is even deeper and more diverse. There are lots of clubs and bars dotted all over the city, in places like the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II in the Marina district or around the Castello area.
Poetto also has some fabulous beach clubs, and there are several spots that stay open deep into the early hours, giving you plenty of time to dance and have fun.
Overall, with more options and a livelier scene all-around, Cagliari is the better destination for the average nightlife enthusiast or party person.
Which Is Best For Shopping?
If you want to pick up some unique souvenirs from your time in Sardinia or grab some gifts for loved ones back home, you might like to spend some time shopping in Alghero or Cagliari.
As the larger city, Cagliari is able to offer a bigger and more diverse shopping scene, with everything from big European chain stores to department stores like La Rinascente and small, artisanal shops, too.
There’s a great mall in Villanova, some fancy boutiques along the Via Sulis, and you can find some great bargains in Via Manno or Via Garibaldi.
As a smaller and more touristy location, Alghero has fewer shops and more of a focus on souvenir stores.
There’s a great central market where you can buy locally-grown produce, while the Via Carlo Alberto and Via Roma are some of the main shopping streets, with everything from vintage vinyl records to the latest Italian fashions.
Overall, Cagliari is the better place for shopping fans, with more diverse stores and better value for money.
Which Is Best For Hiking?
Want to leave the city behind and lose yourself in the wonderful natural landscapes of Sardinia? If so, you’ll be happy to hear that both Alghero and Cagliari can offer idyllic hiking, with some famous trails nearby and lots of green spaces to explore.
Over in Alghero, the Porto Conte Regional Park is one of the best spots for hiking. This 50,000 hectare park covers sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, and wild hinterland.
There, you’ll also find Le Prigionette Forest, also known as Noah’s Ark Forest, thanks to the many deer, horses, and other animals that can spotted as you make your way along the trails.
Capo Caccia is another top spot for hiking near Alghero, with some dramatic coastal scenery to admire, while Punta Giglio is an interest hiking hotspot, home to a few old military barracks from the Second World War.
Or, you could head to Baratz Lake, which happens to be the only natural lake on the island and has a pleasant circular trail running around its edge.
In Cagliari, you don’t even need to leave the city to enjoy some pleasant walks, as there are so many large parks to explore.
Monte Urpinu Park affords panoramic views of the city and a dense forest of pine and oak trees, while Monte Claro Provincial Park and Terramaini Park are also perfect for long walks, without being too far from local eateries and amenities.
If you want to leave the city behind, Cagliari is nicely located near the Molentargius – Saline Regional Park, which has some super trails and is home to many species of birds.
The capital is also the starting point of the Path of 100 Towers – at almost 800 miles, this is the longest trekking route in Italy and goes around the entire coast, passing more than 100 coastal towers.
Overall, both cities work well for hikers. Some of Alghero’s local trails are breathtaking, but Cagliari has the benefit of having several massive parks and green spaces within its city limits, as well as access to local hill walks and coastal treks.
Which Has The Best Food?
Sardinia is famed for its delicious food, with a culinary scene that has been shaped and influenced by various cultures and ideas over the years.
There are some excellent Italian-style pasta dishes and breads to enjoy on Sardinia, along with delicious deserts and great local wines, with both Alghero and Cagliari being home to some excellent restaurants.
But which city is best for food, and is there any real difference between them?
Well, despite being part of the same island, Cagliari and Alghero do have one or two key culinary differences. The main difference is that Alghero serves a lot of the same traditional dishes you can find all over the island, like roast boar, hearty stews, and cheesy pasta dishes.
In contrast, Cagliari has much more of a focus on seafood, with many restaurants here specializing in the likes of clams, squid, mussels, and a variety of fish dishes with lemon juice or white wine sauces to accompany them.
This city is also the best place on the island to sample fine, locally-grown wines, like Giro and Monica di Cagliari.
So, if seafood is your sort of thing, you can have some fantastic evening meals in Cagliari. However, if you’re more interested in Italian-style fare and traditional Mediterranean pastas and stews, Alghero might be the better option.
Which Is Better For A Family Trip?
If you’re planning a Sardinian escape with the whole family, it’s important to think about how you’ll keep the kids entertained upon arrival.
And you may find that one of Alghero or Cagliari is a little better-suited to your family’s needs than the other.
With its resort-style vibes, Alghero is a very family-friendly place.
There are some super beaches where kids can safely swim and play, as well as fun local landmarks, like Neptune’s Grotto.
The city also has its own aquarium and a water park, and kids should have fun walking along the ramparts and exploring the historic center.
The many parks and green spaces of Cagliari are always fun for families, with play areas to enjoy and flamingos to find.
There are also a couple of water parks in the surrounding area, and children of various ages can have a good time exploring the ancient ruins and visiting the Castello of Cagliari.
Overall, it’s a tricky choice to make for families, but those with younger children will probably have an easier time in the touristic area of Alghero, while those with older kids should find more to enjoy in the many museums and other attractions of Cagliari.
Which Is Better For Couples & Honeymoons?
For couples, the choice between Alghero and Cagliari can also be a difficult one to make, as both cities have charming and romantic vibes.
Alghero is a lovely place to spend time with a special someone, with lots of romantic restaurants and some luxurious accommodation options.
As the smaller and more touristic of the two locations, it’s an ideal place for rest and relaxation, and works well for a short city break of just a few days.
As the bigger, busier, and livelier location, Cagliari might not feel quite as romantic or relaxing, but it’s a terrific place for couples of all ages, thanks to its many museums, galleries, parks, historic buildings, and other attractions.
And if you’re planning a longer trip or want to experience the best nightlife and cultural activities in Sardinia, Cagliari is the place to be.
Which Is Better For Backpackers?
For backpackers, the choice is a pretty easy one to make: Cagliari is the best city for you to visit, for several reasons.
Firstly, it’s cheaper, so you can make even a small budget work for you in this city.
Secondly, it has multiple hostels to stay at, and finally, it’s the main transportation hub for the whole island, providing great links to all other cities and locations.
In short, Cagliari is the perfect place for backpackers to base themselves; it’s ideal for anyone who wants to explore large parts of the island with ease, and it’s also got those great parks and trekking trails nearby, offering lots of appeal for adventurers, young and old.
In contrast, Alghero’s more resort-style vibes and higher prices make it less appealing for the average backpacker.
Budget-conscious travelers and solo explorers can still have a great time there, but it can’t quite compete with Cagliari.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
Luxury: For a real taste of luxury, and unbeatable panoramic sea views, you can’t beat the five-star Villa Las Tronas Hotel & SPA. It has all the facilities you’d expect, on top of world class service too. See photos and rates!
Luxury: The five-star Palazzo Tirso Cagliari MGallery is one of those hotels we all want to stay in at somepoint in our lifetime. Alongside celebrity treatment you’ll also enjoy their fantastic outdoor pool. See photos and rates!
Which Is Cheaper?
Of course, we also need to take costs into consideration, as many people like to be mindful of how much they’re spending while on vacation.
The cost of any trip to Sardinia will depend on multiple factors, like the time of your visit, the type of hotel you choose, and how you fill your days.
However, in terms of average prices, we can say that Cagliari is generally a little cheaper than Alghero.
In fact, most of southern Sardinia tends to be cheaper than the northern part of the island, particularly during the peak summer months, when costs of food and accommodation tend to rise quite a lot compared to the rest of the year.
So, if you want to get the best value for money, you’ll have an easier time doing so in Cagliari. The island’s capital has more places to eat and a wider range of places to stay, allowing travelers to find something that suits their budget.
Alghero vs Cagliari: Which Is The Better Choice?
Overall, when comparing Alghero and Cagliari, it’s clear to see that both of these cities are worth a visit, and with only a three-hour drive between them, it’s perfectly possible to visit both on your next trip to Sardinia.
However, if you have to choose one of these cities to stay in, Cagliari is the best choice for most travelers, from families to backpackers.
It’s the more traditional and authentic location, perfect for experiencing real Sardinian life and culture, with great shopping, tasty food, fun festivals, gigantic green parks, and various diverse districts to explore and experience.
With that said, Alghero is still one of the best places to visit in Sardinia and deserves a spot on any Sardinian travel itinerary. It’s in easy reach of some of the island’s prettiest beaches, with friendly, welcoming vibes and some extraordinary historic sites.