Last updated on March 30, 2023 by Wandering our World
Very few countries can beat Italy when it comes to the perfect holiday destination, but choosing whether to visit Sicily or Sardinia can be a nightmare!
Both islands can boast glistening Mediterranean waters and golden beaches, and have unbeatable culture and cuisine too. But they’re also very different islands too…
For example, Sardinia tends to be the better destination for beaches. It also feels a little more laid-back and romantic compared to Sicily.
On the other hand, Sicily has a more diverse landscape – from gorgeous beaches to active volcanoes! There’s more to do on Sicily than on Sardinia, and it’s definitely the better destination for hiking.
However that’s just the very beginning when it comes to how different these two islands can be….
Luckily as we have visited both, we can help you decide!
Spanning natural and historical sights, cuisine, culture, nightlife, activities and more, we’ve put together this honest guide to choosing between Sardinia or Sicily. All so you can pick the right holiday destination for you!
- A Quick Overview
- Which Has The Better Beaches?
- Which Is Best For Activities?
- Which Is Better For Nightlife?
- Which Is Better For Hiking?
- Which Is Better For Food?
- Which Is Better For A Family Holiday?
- Which Is Better For Couples & Honeymoons?
- Which Is Better For Backpackers?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- Which Is Easier To Get Around?
- Which Is The Better Choice?
Sardinia vs Sicily: A Quick Overview
Sardinia: A Quick Overview
Sardinia is a large Italian island and the second biggest island in the Mediterranean Sea after Sicily!
Around 1.6 million people call this island home and while the main language is of course Italian, there are some other minor languages spoken by certain locals, like Sardinian.
Sardinia has a long and storied past, with traces of human life dating all the way back to the Paleolithic era.
The island was conquered and controlled by various groups throughout history, like the Romans and Byzantines. It was known as the Kingdom of Sardinia for several centuries, before later becoming part of Italy.
Sardinia is less mountainous than Sicily, with large parts of the island dominated by hills and plains. But while that may disappoint a hiker, Sardinia arguably has the better beaches of the two.
This island also has its own culture, festivals, and recipes for visitors to discover. It’s famed for being a foodie’s paradise, and travelers here have a very broad selection of activities to enjoy, and it’s seen as an idyllic island for rest, relaxation, and indulgence.
Sicily: A Quick Overview
Sicily, or Sicilia, is situated just off the southern tip of the boot of Italy. It’s separated from mainland Italy by the Strait of Messina, and at the narrowest point, the island is only two miles from the mainland – you can take a ferry across this narrow section and arrive at Sicily in just 20 minutes.
Covering close to 10,000 square miles, Sicily is larger than Sardinia, has many more things to do, and it also has a much bigger population with around 5 million people calling the island home.
It’s also quite different in geographic terms, with large parts of the island dominated by hills and mountains, including several volcanoes, like the world-famous Mt. Etna, which is still active to this day.
Like Sardinia, Sicily has a long and interesting past, with various people coming and going over the years.
Consequently, the island has many captivating historic landmarks and archaeological sites, from the famous Valley of the Temples in Agrigento to the Necropolis of Pantalica in Syracuse with its more than 5,000 tombs.
Sicily also has its own island culture, with festivals and traditions that are a little different to the mainland, as well as unique architecture, its own language – Italian is the primary language, but most people speak Sicilian, too – and various local culinary specialties, like arancini rice balls and sfincione, otherwise known as Sicilian pizza.
Which Has The Better Beaches?
There are some truly special beaches in both of these gorgeous Italian regions.
Sardinia can boast of some of the top-rated beaches in all of the Mediterranean, and since it has so many miles of coastline, it can offer a ton of variety in its beaches, with everything from long stretches Caribbean-like white sands to secluded, romantic coves.
However Sicily can also both boast a diverse range of sandy, rocky, and pebbled spots with glorious views, sugary sands, and super swimming conditions.
Yet while in our opinion the beaches in Sardinia are better, it’s also worth noting that since Sicily is a little further south than Sardinia, the average temperatures are just slightly warmer there.
It’s not a big difference, but if you like to spend lots of time on the beach and especially in the water, you might appreciate that extra little bit of warmth in Sicily.
Below we take a closer look at some of the best and most beautiful beaches in each location and show you what makes them unique. All so you can see which destination will suit your holiday preferences the most!
Sardinia: The Beaches
Sardinia has miles and miles of largely untouched coastal environments, with many beaches feeling very quiet, calm, and secluded, despite having touristic facilities not too far away.
And, since the coast is so long in Sardinia – even longer than Sicily’s coastline despite it being a smaller island! – the number of beaches is simply staggering. You could spend weeks here and still have dozens of beaches to discover on your next visit.
The Costa Sud is one of the best places to head for beautiful beaches in Sardinia. There on the south coast you’ll find crystal waters and fine sands, with places like Spiaggia Sa Colonia and Porto Campana providing truly breathtaking views and idyllic conditions for all of your favorite beach activities, from sunbathing to sunset strolls.
The beaches of the Sinis Peninsula on the west coast of Sardinia are also quite stunning. Is Aruttas is one of the best of all, made of sugar-like sand and bright blue turquoise waters.
Or, you could head south to Spiaggia Su Portu, with its family-friendly waters – you might even spot some of the island’s pink flamingoes wading in the waters of the nearby lagoon.
The Spiaggia di Piscinas is an amazing place for those who want to escape the crowds, while the Spiaggia Rena Bianca is super for swimming – you can even see the coast of Corsica from this beach on a clear day.
There are many other options, too, like the jet-set haven of Spiaggia del Principe or the Tahiti-like vibes of Cala Brandinchi.
And of course the famous Neptune’s Grotto, while not a beach, is well worth a visit too. This is one of the best cave systems in Sardinia and it’s home to incredible stalactites. It’s one of the largest marine cave systems in Europe as well!
Sicily: The Beaches
Like Sardinia, Sicily stands out for the amazing diversity of its beaches. There are all sorts of coastal environments here, from Caribbean-like white sands that seemingly stretch on for miles and miles to cozy, secluded coves and rough, rugged, rocky outcrops for backpackers and adventurers to uncover.
If you’re looking for a beach that can rival any on Sardinia, head to San Vito lo Capo.
The sands there are simply perfect, while the views are sublime and the water is just right for wading and swimming – you can even dive down and explore nearby grottoes.
Isola Bella is another jaw-dropping spot, with cozy sun loungers to while away the hours.
For something a little more off-the-beaten-path, travelers can visit Calamosche in the Oasi Faunistica di Vendicari nature reserve.
Locals like to visit this beach to get away from the crowds, and it’s a really pleasant place to simply sit and relax, surrounded by nature.
Sampieri has similar vibes, boasting a tranquil atmosphere and big golden dunes to climb.
Many of Sicily’s beaches feel like they have a story to tell too.
The Scala dei Turchi, for example, is home to stunning white cliffs, worn away by weathering and erosion over the years, while the huge, old anchors of Scopello Beach pay homage to the area’s tuna fishing past – there’s even an historic tuna factory here that has since been converted into a museum and B&B.
Our top tip: If you end up staying in Palermo then don’t head to Mondello – the beach most tourists go to when staying in the city. Instead take the train to Lascari – the beach there is beautiful, usually empty of tourists, and there’s some great places to grab a bite to eat.
Overall, it’s clear to see that both of these islands have lots of fabulous beaches, many of which are relatively pristine and pure.
Sicily has some gems, but Sardinia is probably the better spot for beach-lovers, thanks to its greater number and wider range of options; there truly is a beach for everyone on this Italian island.
Which Is Best For Activities?
Both of these islands have lots of fun things to see and do away from the beach too, with multiple towns and villages to explore, interesting wildlife to watch out for, adventurous activities to get your adrenaline flowing, scenic trails to hike, and historic sights to discover.
But which one is best?
Well, that will all depend on what kinds of activities you tend to enjoy the most, as Sicily is arguably better-suited for hiking and exploring, while Sardinia has more traditional tourist tours and attractions.
Below we look at the unique activities you can do in each, so you can see which destination suits your holiday preferences the most!
Sardinia: The Activities
If you’re heading to Sardinia, the island’s capital city of Cagliari is a great place to begin your vacation.
Famed for its impressive Castello and 13th century cathedral, this city has a lot of historic structures and beautiful architecture to admire. There are also some vibrant markets, pleasant green spaces, and intriguing museums, like the Museo Archeologico Nazionale.
History buffs might also like to check out the wonderfully well-preserved Phoenician towns on this island – there are two to choose from, with Tharros in the north and Nora down south.
The Su Nuraxi di Barumini archaeological site is another must-see spot, with history dating back to the 17th century BC and the Bronze Age!
There are plenty of other towns and villages to explore around Sardinia, each with their own charms and attractions.
San Pantaleo has some beautiful stone homes and a fun weekly market, for example, while Alghero has a great culinary scene. Tempio Pausania is an amazing hiking destination, Siliqua has a super 13th century castle, and Mamoiada has a Mask Museum.
Sicily: The Activities
The Mediterranean’s largest island has a wealth of natural sights to visit and explore, and many more places away from the coast to visit and explore compared to Sardinia.
In particular you must visit Mount Etna – Europe’s highest volcano, and an active volcano too! Etna dominates the nearby city of Catania – one of Italy’s cultural hubs – and the volcano is a classed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
It’s actually possible to climb all the way up Mt Etna, as well as other volcanoes. The Sciara Del Fuoco trail to the crater of Stromboli is definitely worth a try – and there are many other outdoor activities to enjoy, from canyoneering to kayaking and mountain climbing, too. So for outdoor activities, Sicily is probably the better choice.
On an island made up of volcanoes, it won’t be any surprise to hear Sicily has hot springs too!
Many of these springs have been turned into thermal baths, such as the ones at Santa Venera in the town of Acireale. The baths here were used by the ancient Greeks, and are now housed in a beautiful classical 19th century building.
For those looking for a more ‘wild’ experience, there are hot springs at Terme Segestane, which remain unused by hotels or companies and so are free to access. This hot spring is barely visited by tourists, but you can find detailed directions here.
History is one of the big draws of Sicily – there are several archaeological sites and UNESCO World Heritage Sites on this island, with places like Agrigento and Syracuse simply filled with ruins and remnants of days gone by.
Many museums are dotted around places like Palermo and Catania, while awe-inspiring architecture can be admired in the Late Baroque Val di Noto towns.
Which Is Better For Nightlife?
When the sun sets on Sardinia and Sicily, you could simply retire to your hotel room and enjoy a peaceful sleep, ready for a new day of adventure to begin.
Or, if you like to stay out late, you might prefer to enjoy these islands’ bars, clubs, and nightlife hotspots. But which one is best for people who like to party?
Well, while neither Sardinia nor Sicily can rival the big party islands of Europe, they both have some good bars and eateries that stay open late, especially in the major cities like Palermo and Catania on Sicily or Cagliari and Alghero on Sardinia.
There are also some really friendly locals in both places who you could potentially share a drink and a chat with.
Ultimately it’s hard to seperate these two islands on nightlife, and in both you can easily find lively neighborhoods with popular student bars and dance clubs, along with more mature lounges and wine bars.
While there may not be many dusk til dawn beach parties, there’s certainly many places to enjoy a drink on both islands. With Costa Smeralda in Sardinia possibly being the best nightlife spot for tourists.
Which Is Better For Hiking?
If you enjoy hiking and outdoor adventures, Sicily is a dream destination for you. Many travelers dream of hiking up Mount Etna, for example, and there are various other volcanoes and mountains to trek your way up.
Sicily also has plenty of beginner-friendly trails to balance out some of the more strenuous hikes; there are some super spots to walk around the Aeolian Islands, for instance, along with forest walks in places like the Parco Regionale dei Nebrodi.
Sardinia is also a fine destination for those who like to stay active on vacation.
In terms of hiking, Sardinia also has a lot of great routes. It doesn’t have the same climbing and trekking opportunities as Sicily, but there are some spectacular hikes to enjoy in places like Sella del Diavolo, Monte Arcuentu, Piscina Irga, and Su Cordolinu, with jaw-dropping landscapes to admire as you go.
Overall, Sicily is still probably the better choice for hiking, and it’s got some amazing opportunities for other outdoor activities, like mountain climbing, too. However, Sardinia also has more than enough trails to keep seasoned hikers happy.
Which Is Better For Food?
You can go almost anywhere in Italy and find incredible food. And visitors won’t be disappointed with the excellent restaurants, terrific bakeries, and delicious, locally-made produce of either Sicily or Sardinia, as both of these regions have rich culinary traditions.
Sardinia’s culinary scene is very in line with Italy as a whole, with lots of tasty pasta dishes, like filindeu. Seafood is pretty popular here, too, and you can get some great mussels down by the coast.
There are some wonderful local wines made on Sardinia, and lots of pork dishes. And for dessert, you might like to try some seadas – sweet cheese and honey pastries.
Sicily has its own authentic cuisine, making great use of locally-grown ingredients and island-reared meats.
In fact Sicily has even been nicknamed ‘God’s Kitchen’ because of its fantastic food, with its own style of pizza, lots of delicious desserts, and a great mixture of influences from Italy, France, Greece, and other areas.
So once again, it’s very hard to choose one over the other.
Fans of traditional Italian meals like pasta dishes with flavorful cheeses and rich sauces may enjoy the restaurants of Sardinia, while those looking for more eclectic menus and variety may prefer Sicilian cuisine.
Which Is Better For A Family Holiday?
Sardinia is arguably a little more family-friendly than Sicily. It’s the less populous island, tends to be a bit more laid-back, and it has a wider range of hotels and family-oriented resorts.
There’s also great beaches to choose from on the island, as well as a couple of attractions that are tailor-made for younger visitors, like the Laguna di Nora Aquarium and Aquadream water park.
However Sicily has plenty to do as well – more so than Sardinia – including water and adventure parks to keep kids of all ages entertained, along with countless hiking trails, historic sites, horse rides, and more.
Older kids will definitely enjoy the historic side of Sicily too, and should be able to tackle the tough hiking trails of this island.
All in all Sardinia and Sicily are hard to separate. For beaches, water parks and adventure both destinations will suit. But if your kids are adventurous, volcanoes like Mt Etna in Sicily may add another level of excitement. While if they’re younger, quieter Sardinia may suit better.
Which Is Better For Couples & Honeymoons?
If you’re planning a couples’ holiday or honeymoon to Italy, Sicily is a lovely place to spend your time.
There’s lots to see and do, with many charming and romantic towns, secret coves and bays, and all of those long hiking trails for the more active and energetic couples out there.
However Sardinia feels a little more romantic, in our opinion, making it perfect for romantic evenings with someone special.
The island’s beaches are very dreamy too, although they can get quite crowded in summer.
Overall, there’s no bad choice or wrong option. Couples who love adventure and exploration will probably prefer Sicily, while those who want to spend a lot of time at the beach should opt for Sardinia.
Which Is Better For Backpackers?
For backpackers and budget-conscious travelers, Sicily is one of the most-recommended places to visit in all of Italy.
This island is very backpacker-friendly, with numerous hostels offering cheap and convenient accommodation.
It’s very common to see other explorers out on the trails or climbing their way up Mt Etna, and you shouldn’t have a hard time making your way around.
Sardinia can also be a great place to backpack, and the island’s decent public transportation network makes it fairly easy to get around.
However a lot of things can be slightly more expensive on Sardinian than Sicily, so for budget-conscious travelers that’s worth keeping in mind.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
Budget: Hotel La Bitta sits right beside one of the best white sand beaches in Sardinia, has breathtaking ocean views, a fantastic pool, spa services and even a Turkish bath! It’s perfect for a relaxing stay, and at a very good price point considering the location and what they offer. See photos and rates!
Luxury: Looking for luxury and celebrity treatment? Then La Villa Del Re, a five-star, adults only resort which has its own private beach is well worth looking into. Alongside the stunning ocean views you can enjoy while relaxing in the outdoor pool, this resort also offers plenty of watersports. See photos and rates!
Budget: Located in the historic centre of the beautiful town of Castellammare del Golfo, B&B Nencioli offers lovely rooms in a wonderful location. The views from the terrace are fantastic – especially considering the budget-friendly cost of staying here – and the host, Anna, is fantastic to deal with. No wonder this is one of the highest rated accommodations throughout Italy. See photos and rates!
Luxury: The Grand Hotel Timeo in Taormina sits opposite the Greek Theatre and has incredible panoramic views of both Mount Etna and the Sicilian Coast. With the outside pool, exceptional rooms and unique setting, a stay at this five-star hotel will be unforgettable. See photos and rates!
Which Is Easier To Get Around?
When it comes to getting around, it’s typically best to rent a car in both Sicily and Sardinia.
Both places have good road networks, along with various rental car companies to choose from.
However, some of the narrower rural roads of Sicily can be a little tricky to navigate, and you’ll also need to watch out for Italy’s Zona Traffico Limitato, or ZTLs – these areas can be found in many Italian towns and cities, and rental cars aren’t usually allowed within them.
Aside from cars, you can also rely on public transport.
In terms of public transport, Sardinia has a terrific bus network, with lots of routes that connect the various towns and cities. There’s also a network of trains you can rely on to get between places like Cagliari, Sassari, and Olbia.
Sicily has plenty of buses, too, and both locations have various trains you can take to get from place to place in a comfortable and convenient way.
Sardinia vs Sicily: Which Is The Better Choice?
If there’s one thing we can learn from comparing Sardinia and Sicily, it’s that both of these locations have a lot in common, and they’re both worthy of ranking among Italy’s best vacation destinations.
From historic castles to gorgeous hiking trails and world-class beaches, they’ve got it all.
However Sicily has more diverse scenery, a wider range of things to do and fantastic hiking truly offering something for everyone, from the budget-minded backpacker to the jet-set traveler.
But Sardinia wins in the beach department. The coastal regions of this island are idyllic, while the rest of the island has enough going on to keep both beach lovers happy and those who want a more varied holiday.