This is a really difficult question. Or rather, the question is easy but the answer is difficult.
I know this answer isn’t very good, but what I can do is try to explain why it depends, and tell the main differences, so that you can decide based on what is closest to your ideal travel or vacation.
Let’s start by dividing Sardinia into 5 macro areas: north, south, east, west and internal territories.
The northern area of Sardinia is very popular among tourists. It is a wonderful area but it tends to get too crowded during the high season.
There are many structures and many buildings, which is good when it comes to services, but it is also bad if you are looking for a wilder and more untouched territory. Let’s say it’s quite difficult to find everything together, right?
You will have a wide choice of clubs, houses at more or less affordable prices (only houses) and a bit of nightlife (pubs, clubs, discos or simple walks in the center of the towns).
On the other hand, the free beaches are smaller and renting an umbrella and a sunbed on the beach costs much more. It is more difficult to park and life tends to be much more expensive.
However some of the most beautiful beaches in Sardinia are located in the north, such as the Pelosa beach or the Asinara island. Evaluate when you want to go and how tolerant you are towards chaos and crowded beaches. If, like me, you are not fond of being close to other people then I would only consider the north coast in the low season.
An important thing to say is that in the north it is quite easy to find houses overlooking the sea or near the beach, which does not happen in the south.
The southern part is my favorite and it’s where I decided to buy my house that I’m renting out (click here if you want to know more). The capital of Sardinia is Cagliari, which is more or less in the middle of the south coast and divides the south-east and south-west areas (both beautiful).
I mentioned Cagliari because being the capital, it means enjoying more services than the small seaside towns that live only during the summer months. You will have hospitals, an airport, rental cars, shops in case you need to buy anything, supermarkets, a clothes shopping street, the port and some history.
With this I am absolutely not saying to spend your holiday in Cagliari, on the contrary. It is a real city that lives all year round. With industries and universities. What I mean is that it can be a point of reference when you need something.
The southern area in general is wilder, less touristy. During the week (even in high season) the beaches are widely accessible and without chaos. There is a little more attendance during the weekends because it is the citizens of Cagliari who spend the weekends at the beach.
This is to make you understand what kind of tourism you will find. It is Sardinia “as it once was” and this also affects the services. There are few houses to rent and sometimes they tend to be a bit expensive (especially the nice ones).
There aren’t many bars and there isn’t much nightlife. I recommend the south of Sardinia to families, to those who love nature or who like to feel at peace. Or even someone like me who is bombarded all year round by technology, calls, meetings, business meetings and wants to disconnect from everything and everyone.
Southern Sardinia has always been an outlet for me and my way of recharging my batteries during the summer.
One very important thing to say. In the area where I bought the house (see here) there is a ban on building on the coast because they want to preserve the landscape as pristine as possible. The beaches are almost all free and you don’t see endless expanses of buildings. It’s like being immersed in nature and it’s something I love. The downside is that you will necessarily need a car, as the hotels and houses are located about 10 minutes away from the sea.
East Sardinia offers a perfect blend of services and accessibility, making it an excellent choice for families. The area tends to be less touristy than the northern coast but offers more amenities than the wilder southern coast. You’ll find beautiful beaches and stunning landscapes that are worth exploring, but be prepared for crowds during peak season.
Olbia is the reference airport, with ports in Olbia and Golfo Aranci. It’s best to book in advance to ensure availability. With accessible costs and more services than the south, East Sardinia is an excellent compromise for a memorable family vacation.
In East Sardinia, you can expect a wide range of accommodations, from affordable rentals to luxury hotels. Some areas tend to be more touristy than others, so it’s essential to plan ahead and research the best places to stay based on your preferences. You’ll find many beautiful beaches in East Sardinia, such as Cala Gonone, San Teodoro, and Costa Rei. These beaches tend to be popular during the high season, so it’s best to book in advance or plan to visit during the shoulder season for a more peaceful experience.
East Sardinia also offers a great culinary scene, with many restaurants serving traditional Sardinian dishes such as culurgiones, malloreddus, and porceddu. In addition to its beautiful beaches and delicious cuisine, East Sardinia has a rich cultural heritage, with many historic sites and museums to explore. The Nuraghe di San Pietro and the Museo Archeologico di Olbia are just a few of the must-see attractions in the area.
When it comes to transportation, Olbia is the reference airport, with ports in Olbia and Golfo Aranci. Renting a car is the best way to explore the area, as public transportation is limited. Keep in mind that some roads can be narrow and winding, so be prepared for a thrilling but challenging driving experience.
Overall, East Sardinia offers a great compromise between accessibility, affordability, and natural beauty. Whether you’re looking for a family vacation, a romantic getaway, or a solo adventure, East Sardinia is sure to offer something for everyone.
The west coast is heaven for motor enthusiasts. Some roads are dreamy and seem like the perfect setting for a James Bond chase. High cliffs overhanging the sea are the masters.
All this turns into a breathtaking landscape but very few beaches to enjoy. It’s the part of Sardinia that I like the most in terms of driving but it’s the one I like the least as a sea.
Or rather, some beaches are phenomenal, like in all of Sardinia. The point is that they are simply few and those that are there are not as enjoyable as the rest of the island. Cala Domestica beach (which is technically southwest) is spectacular, as are Porto Flavia or the ancient ruins of Tharros.
in this area the house rents are perhaps the lowest in Sardinia (with the exception of the internal territories) and the prices are very affordable. If you want to experience Sardinia and you have a limited budget, this could be the right choice for you. As reference airports you can consider Cagliari and Alghero (which, however, is almost only operational in the summer). The closest ports are Porto Torres and Cagliari. You will always need a car, but this is true in almost all of Sardinia.
The internal territories represent the “true” Sardinia. An absurd thing is that historically the Sardinians are not a people of the sea, more a people of shepherds.
The most rooted traditions, rural life, it’s all in the center of Sardinia. Everything costs a lot less, from rents to food, as tourists flock to the coasts.
Personally, I advise against renting a house in the center of Sardinia to use as a base camp and then move to the various areas and see different areas because Sardinia is really very large (on Italian size standards). The risk is that of spending too many hours in the car for nothing and not really enjoying any place.
My advice would rather be to locate some interesting city within Sardinia and go there for a single excursion or activity. Some interesting things to see are Gorropu Gorges (Gole del Gorropu in Italian), wine tastings in wine cellars, etc.
There is no airport in the center of Sardinia, so in fact you can take advantage of Cagliari, Olbia or Alghero, based on what costs you less or where you are more comfortable.
The ports instead remain Cagliari, Olbia, Golfo Aranci and Porto Torres.