We spent a great holiday week in June 2019 on Sardinia where we explored the northern parts of the island, as well as the neighbor island of Corsica, from our base in Alghero. Here is our itinerary along with sightseeing and restaurant recommendations.
This first part below is about Alghero and the nearby area. For excursions on northern Sardinia and to Corsica >> see here.
Where is Sardinia? Where should I stay?
Sardinia is part of Italy and the second largest island in the Mediterranean. The capital of Cagliari is in the south. We stayed in the smaller town of Alghero which is located in the northwestern part of the island. Alghero has a pretty old town surrounded by walls, a marina, a long city beach and lots of accommodation choices. Close by are even more beaches and nature reserves. The airport is only about 20 minutes away.
Alghero is popular with tourists and we enjoyed our stay here. The old town is cute and everything you need for a holiday like a beach walk, weekly market, grocery stores, car and bike rentals are here as well.
When should I go?
We went to Sardinia in the end of June. For most of our week, the temperatures were about 30 C. The ocean had a comfortable, refreshing temperature of about 22-24 C. Even though the high season for Sardinia is July and August, there were plenty of people on the beaches and in restaurants, but it didn’t feel crowded. Later on in summer, you get warmer sea temperatures of course but you also get the crowds and the heat. A heatwave passed through Europe in our final days there and the temperature rose to about 37-38 C which made it hard to walk around the sights.
What is there to do in and around Alghero?
First of all, the beaches with their clear blue or turquoise water are beautiful on Sardinia and there are several choices around Alghero. The city beach was OK and mostly clean from seaweeds. However, a short walk away (15 min) is the beach of Maria Pia. It is backed by a pine forest and very nice. There are small bars for refreshments and a light lunch at both beaches. If you don’t want to pay the standard 12 euros for two chairs and an umbrella, there are free sections of the beaches as well where you can lay your towel. The beaches are well-maintained and seemed safe enough with lots of families around. They are mostly shallow and without high waves, at least in summer.
We learned that the name Alghero came from the latin word “algae” (seaweed) which is apparently very common in large amounts especially in winter due to the winds. That explains why the beaches were cleaned frequently and most of the seaweed raked away.
Alghero old town is a must to stroll through. Walk along the promenade alongside the beach and the marina. The old town is entered through gates in the old stone walls. It is mostly pedestrian and there are lots of cute lanes and piazzas. Don’t forget to walk on top of the walls in sunset, it’s beautiful to see the sun set over the ocean and the cliffs beyond. There are also catapults and cannons on display. If you look closely, you can see the small brass signs with Italian and English explanations for the various part of the old fort.
If you like heights, visit the cathedral Santa Maria where you can climb the steep stairs up the bell tower. For a few euros, you get the entrance and a hard hat so that you won’t hit your head on the way up or down. Don’t worry though, the climb up the narrow stairway was totally fine as long as you make way for other people coming up or down. From the bell tower, the view of Alghero and the surrounding area is beautiful!
Of course, there are also plenty of restaurants as well as ice cream parlors and coral shops inside the old town. For restaurant recommendations in Alghero old town, see below.
The Neptun grotto (cave) is a very interesting sight not far from Alghero. You can take a bus there and then walk down a lot of steps but we went by boat. The boats leave from the harbor right next to the city wall regularly and go straight to the cave entrance in about 30-40 minutes for 15 euros. You then join the line to enter the cave, pay the fee of 14 euros and then go on a sort of guided tour. The tour has you following a long line of people into different areas of the massive and very impressing cave while the guide uses the audio system to tell facts about the cave in Italian and English. There is no wandering around on your own, but you get to see the most interesting parts of this natural phenomena. There is a salt lake, a very large stalagmite and also stone formations that look like organ pipes. The cave was discovered by fisherman in the 18th century and is a very impressing and great excursion! And also, if it’s very hot outside, the temperature inside the cave is much more comfortable! After the tour which takes about 45 min, the boat awaits you for the return trip to Alghero harbor.
Every Wednesday morning, the market comes to Alghero! Compared to some other towns we visited, the market in Alghero had many stands with everything from clothes to local cheese. Walk around, sample the food and bargain. Fun morning!
If you’re lucky, there is also a market along the waterfront on some evenings. We were there for the midsummer celebration and enjoyed a market for two or three nights.
If you need to stretch your legs after all that ice cream and great food, I recommend renting a bike for the day. We biked along the ocean towards the Bombarde beach which is located about 9 km from Alghero. Most of the time, it was a pretty easy ride on a dedicated bike lane. On the way from Alghero, we passed through the town of Fertilia which borders a nature reserve and has an old roman bridge and a view point. Once at the turnoff to the beach, be prepared to go downhill – and a steep hill at that. Check your brakes beforehand and go slow. And don’t think about having to go back up that hill… The Bombarde beach is totally worth the effort! We had a nice lunch at one of the beach bars and relaxed for a while. On the way back (after conquering that enormous hillside back to the main road), we stopped at Maria Pia beach to cool off.
Where to eat in Alghero?
We chose different restaurants for lunch and dinner everyday and most of them were good. From what I could see, most of the restaurants in the old town and around had basically the same dishes. We had a bit more fancy dinner one night on the city walls overlooking the ocean and they had a different menu. The drinks were usually the same price everywhere (around 3 euros for the local beer Ichnusa, about the same or 4 euros for a glass of local wine). For dessert, we usually had ice cream at one particular place that was very close to our hotel and with supernice staff.
- Go to the foccacerias! You get a filling lunch for good value! If you’re lucky, you get a sandwich made of the typical Sardinian thin bread! There were plenty of sandwich places both in the old town and around. The sandwiches were usually about 5 euros.
- Like I said above, most of the restaurants/pizzerias in the old town had the same kind of menu. I had lots of shellfish and mussels for dinner and thought it was great most nights. I actually can’t remember the names of the different restaurants as they were sort of the same… The pricing was usually the same as well as long as you’re not right by the water.
- Restaurant Lido – beachside restaurant with meter long pizza. All was good and tasty, then a massive Italian family reunion started and it was impossible to hear each other across the table, so maybe check before you go inside (or outside I guess) . But the food was good!
- Mirador – restaurante fortezza del sole – this was among the pricier dinners we had but the location was excellent on the city walls. We were happy with our food, especially the desserts which were creative as well as tasty. The wine list was extensive.
- Gelateria Mont Blanc – They sure love their gelato in Italy! We found our favorite place near the beach and tried most of the flavors. The staff was great and there were tables right by the water. They are combined with a pizzeria/restaurant which had tasty food as well! Remember to try the traditional Sardinian flavors such as almond, nougat, figs and honey. The gelateria is located about a 20 min walk from the old town.