Cagliari vs Olbia – Which One is Your Ideal Destination?

Angela Corrias in Tharros Sardinia

Angela Corrias

Where should you head to when visiting Sardinia, Olbia or Cagliari? The Cagliari vs Olbia dilemma is an age-old one and still torments many first-time Sardinia travelers.

Both cities have nice beaches and offer a pleasant walk across their historic center, there are a few differences you might want to consider when deciding where to land and where to stay in Sardinia.

If you are into culture, Cagliari should be your pick, while if you are looking for a VIP-style vacation and a dramatic landscape, Olbia is a better pick because closer to Costa Smeralda and the coastline looks more rugged.

If you are still in doubt, read on and I will guide you through the main differences and similarities between Cagliari and Olbia, two of the most famous cities in Sardinia.

Image: Cagliari vs Olbia by Sardinia Revealed.

What’s in Cagliari

Cagliari is a wonderful city, sunny, vibrant, and just plain beautiful. The largest city in Sardinia, Cagliari has it all. Whether you are looking for culture, history, museums, palaces, and archaeological sites, the area offers so much.

You will find many restaurants, bars, cafes, shops, malls, lovely piazzas, and a nice farmers’ market, Mercato San Benedetto.

The city itself also has a long sandy beach to relax if you want to take a break from sightseeing and there are plenty of interesting day trips you can take to see local towns, ancient ruins, and more wonderful beaches.

Image: Viceregio palace in Cagliari.

Cagliari is divided into many neighborhoods, each of them offering a different glimpse into the city’s history. Starting from Castello at the top of the hill to the lovely Marina, Stampace, Villanova, and more, each has its own past and personality.

Check out the best hotels to stay in Cagliari

What’s in Olbia

If you ask me, I love Olbia. I find it a very beautiful city, clean and organized, and I really enjoy walking through its historic center and seafront. The port is downtown right across the street from the entrance to the limited traffic zone and mostly pedestrian alleys.

Image: Golfo Aranci in Olbia.

Apart from the city itself, Olbia is famous for its beaches. In fact, it’s a very popular airport because it’s the gateway to the VIP-packed Costa Smeralda and also the closest hub to reach the islands of La Maddalena archipelago.

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Cagliari or Olbia? Differences and similarities

Image: Cagliari architecture in the Marina district.

Differences between Cagliari and Olbia

  • Location. Cagliari is deep south, Olbia is on the northeastern coast of Sardinia.
  • Sightseeing. Cagliari offers way more sightseeing opportunities, museums, historical landmarks, and local events than Olbia.
  • Prices. While you can find high-end resorts in the south, too, the area of Olbia and Costa Smeralda is certainly more expensive. Check out the best areas to stay in Sardinia.
  • Entertainment. Cagliari does offer a wide range of fun activities, but if you are into exclusive clubbing and parties, Costa Smeralda is hard to beat.
  • Infrastructures. The very city of Cagliari has all the necessary infrastructures but if you want to travel around the main metropolitan area, I found the area of Olbia being served with better roads and signs.
  • Public transport. I find Cagliari better connected with trains and public transport to other provinces and to the local airport. Elmas Airport of Cagliari is very conveniently connected by shuttle bus and train to the city center.
Image: Porto Cervo in Costa Smeralda near Olbia.

Similarities between Cagliari and Olbia

  • Beaches. Both cities boast beautiful beaches lapped by clear turquoise waters. I prefer Cagliari’s city beach, Poetto, but a short drive opens new beach views and opportunities from both Cagliari and Olbia.
  • Day trips. From both Olbia and Cagliari, you will have the chance to plan fantastic day trips to visit archaeological sites, local towns, hiking routes, and stunning beaches.
  • Port. Both cities have a port from where you can take the ferry to reach Italy’s mainland and both ports are right in the city center and easy to reach on foot. As a plus, Cagliari’s port is next to Cagliari’s train station!
Image: Porto Cervo near Olbia.

Cagliari vs Olbia – Which one to choose?

Pick Cagliari if

  • You are into culture. Don’t get me wrong, Olbia too showcases old churches and ancient ruins, but the number of monuments and attractions is nowhere comparable to Cagliari’s.
  • You want to visit southern and central Sardinia. I originate from central Sardinia and Cagliari is always my go-to day out because it’s very easy to reach both by car and by train. From Cagliari, there are also frequent trains to Oristano, another town I suggest visiting.
  • You prefer flat areas and soft rolling hills. Even though you will find the occasional mounts and the famous Giara plateau, southern and central Sardinia are less mountainous than the northern part.
  • You’d rather not rent a car. Whether you are arriving by ferry or plane, it’s very easy to reach Cagliari because the port is in the city center and the airport is well connected by train and shuttle bus. Cagliari itself has an efficient public transportation system that gets you everywhere in the city and taxis are not expensive. From Cagliari, you can also easily reach other towns by train and by bus.
Image: Sa Testa sacred well ancient site near Olbia.

Pick Olbia if

  • You are into a VIP-style vacation. Celebrities, multi-million yachts, exclusive clubs. If this is your idea of a holiday, then Costa Smeralda is your best destination.
  • You don’t mind forking out good cash. Due to the presence of Costa Smeralda, prices are also higher here than in the south of Sardinia. This involves the surrounding areas and beaches more than Olbia itself because Olbia offers a wider selection of accommodation options so you will also find a wider price range.
  • You want to explore the La Maddalena archipelago and northern Sardinia. If you want to explore northern Sardinia, including areas like Santa Teresa di Gallura, Alghero, Sassari, Stintino, and San Teodoro, as well as discover the stunning beaches of the archipelago of La Maddalena, Olbia is definitely the airport you should land at.
  • You like mountainous areas and dramatic landscapes. From Nuoro upward, you will find more mountains and dramatic landscapes than in central and southern Sardinia.

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