Sardinia North Or South: the 9 biggest differences
Sardinia North or South is a well-known dilemma for first-time visitors to the island. After all, this is the second biggest and largest island in the Mediterranean Sea with wide distances between destinations.
You would need at least 5 hours (and possibly more) to drive from the southernmost to the northernmost point of Sardinia. It’s a day trip if you decide to take public transportation.
The main difference between Sardinia’s North and South is lifestyle. The north is more of a glamour destination meanwhile the south is more of a hide-out place. You can always find secret spots in the north and luxurious hang-out in the south, but they are more of a rarity.
However, the comparison does not finish here. There is so much more to say about beaches, landscape, activities, transportation and cost differences that I have written down below. You will also find two tables that compare the best destinations in the North and in the South.
Sardinia North or South – Key points
Here is a quick table for the comparison of Sardinia’s North and South.
|Breathtaking and diverse, including sandy and rocky beaches, with Stintino and Costa Smeralda as highlights.
|Wide, sandy beaches are ideal for sunbathing, especially in Chia and Villasimius.
|Luxurious resorts with family-friendly amenities; La Maddalena and Stintino are perfect for kids.
|Wide, sandy beaches safe for kids, budget-friendly accommodation options.
|Nightlife and Dining
|Glamorous nightlife in Costa Smeralda, local seafood specialities, and rich wines.
|More relaxed nightlife, local farm produce, and traditional dishes like fregola.
|Accessibility and Transportation
|Olbia and Alghero airports, ferry ports, and public transportation are available.
|Cagliari’s airport and ferry connections, a better public transportation network.
|Higher-end, with luxury resorts and upscale restaurants.
|More budget-friendly, with affordable accommodation and dining options.
|Rich with nuraghe sites, particularly in Arzachena.
|Numerous Phoenician and Roman archaeological sites, especially around Cagliari.
|Great for hiking, sailing, and exploring diverse natural landscapes.
|Ideal for beach activities, birdwatching, and exploring serene landscapes.
Once you decide whether Sardinia North or South works best for you, I suggest checking out my Ultimate Guide to Where to Stay in Sardinia, with plenty of information on the different areas, towns and cities to book your hotel, including a few beach destinations.
But let’s jump to the first comparison subject, beaches.
Sardinia North or South for beaches
The north coast of Sardinia is well famous for its unique coastline. Costa Smeralda, as its name suggests, boasts emerald-green waters that are nothing short of stunning. The beaches here, such as Romazzino and Capriccioli, are small, and intimate, and radiate an air of exclusivity.
They’re frequently visited by luxury yachts, and on the shoreline, you will find high-end boutiques and world-class restaurants.
Adding to the northern charm is the beach of Stintino. It’s located at the extreme north of the island and is celebrated for its fine white sand contrasting with the deep turquoise sea. It has a raw, natural beauty that’s hard to match.
It must be said that most of the northern beaches are literally packed in August, and somewhat also in July.
In contrast, the southern coastline exudes a different kind of charm. The beaches here are expansive, with long stretches of golden sand. They’re generally less crowded, contributing to a more laid-back atmosphere that’s perfect for a relaxing beach day.
Chia is one of the most loved southern beaches, celebrated for its sand dunes and clear waters. Then there’s Porto Pino, equally stunning, with its border of pine forests adding a unique touch to the beach experience.
Additionally, the South also offers more in terms of untouched nature. The beaches here are wilder, and the surrounding landscape is more rustic. The lack of constant tourist buzz means these beaches have been able to retain their natural beauty.
The North is best for those who enjoy a more refined beach experience, complete with luxury amenities. It’s ideal for young adults or couples who enjoy a glamorous lifestyle and love to see and be seen.
The South is a great destination for travellers looking for a relaxing time, in a more natural environment without the glamour of the North. It appeals to laid-back visitors, beach bums, and nature enthusiasts who want a more tranquil beach experience away from the madding crowds.
Family Holidays: Sardinia North vs South
Delving into the family-friendly aspects of both regions, the North and South offer equally compelling but distinct experiences.
In the North, Costa Smeralda and its surroundings, with their numerous high-end resorts, often offer a wealth of kid-friendly amenities such as children’s clubs, dedicated pools, and a variety of family activities.
Visiting the famous Neptune’s Grotto in Alghero, a fascinating network of caves, can be an intriguing educational experience for kids. A water park and a sea aquarium can be also found in Olbia, another hit for the kids.
On the other hand, the South‘s expansive, quieter beaches offer an abundance of space for kids to play and enjoy.
Southern towns like Villasimius and Pula also offer a range of family-centric activities. The unique flamingos at the Molentargius-Saline Regional Park near Cagliari, the southern capital, is a unique spectacle that’s sure to engage the kids.
Moreover, the more relaxed vibe in the South lends itself well to a stress-free family holiday, with less concern about disturbing other holiday-goers.
The North is best for families seeking an all-in-one resort experience with plenty of structured, kid-friendly activities and facilities. It is more suited to families who don’t mind a lively and bustling holiday environment.
The South, with its calmer atmosphere, is perfect for families who enjoy the freedom of a laid-back beach holiday, with nature-oriented activities and the option to explore at their own pace.
North and South Sardinia Nightlife and Dining
The differences between the North and South of Sardinia are certainly massive when it comes to nightlife and dining
The North, especially Costa Smeralda and Porto Cervo, is renowned for its glamorous nightlife. Here, night owls can enjoy sophisticated clubs like Billionaire and Phi Beach, high-end beach clubs, and exclusive parties.
Dining in the North can also be a luxe experience, with many fine-dining options offering exquisite seafood and Italian classics.
Moving to urban centres like Alghero, you’ll encounter a different vibe, with charming bars in its old town, live music venues, and authentic, rustic eateries serving traditional Sardinian dishes.
In contrast, the South of Sardinia offers a more laid-back nightlife scene. In Cagliari, the southern capital, you’ll find lively pubs and casual bars, especially in the Marina and Castello districts, where locals and tourists mingle in a friendly, relaxed environment.
Dining in the South is less about grandeur and more about hearty, authentic cuisine. You can savour delicious local dishes in charming trattorias or try freshly caught seafood in the beachfront restaurants.
The North is best for those seeking a glitzy, high-energy nightlife and fine dining experience. This suits individuals or couples in their mid-20s to late 30s who are happy to splurge on upscale establishments.
The South, on the other hand, is ideal for those who enjoy a relaxed nightlife with casual bars and authentic dining experiences. It caters to a broader age group and it is more about having a local experience with possibly some local culture too.
Sardinia North or South: accessibility and transportation
When it comes to accessibility and transportation, both the North and South of Sardinia have their own advantages.
Starting with the North, it’s served by Olbia Costa Smeralda Airport, which offers flights from major Italian cities and other European destinations.
The region’s hotspots, like Costa Smeralda and Alghero, are easily reachable from here. Car rental services are readily available for easy exploration of the region.
There’s also a decent public transport network, with buses and trains serving major towns and some beach destinations.
The South of Sardinia, meanwhile, is served by Cagliari Elmas Airport, again with flights from major cities.
From Cagliari, you can reach popular southern locations such as Villasimius and Pula fairly easily. Public transport in the South is also manageable with ARST buses, but services can be less frequent than in the North, making a rental car a handy choice for those wanting to venture further afield.
The North is best for those seeking easy access to major tourist destinations and a more comprehensive public transport system. It may work better if you do not plan to rent a car.
The South, on the other hand, is perfect for travellers who prefer a slower pace, don’t mind planning around bus timetables, or are happy to hire a car to explore the beautiful, less crowded southern coast.
Sardinia North or South: A budget comparison
When it comes to budget considerations, your choice between the North and South of Sardinia could significantly affect your holiday spending.
The North, with its popularity and prestigious reputation, can sometimes be the pricier option. Particularly, the glamorous Costa Smeralda is renowned for its high-end resorts, boutique shopping and luxury dining experiences.
Of course, there are still budget-friendly options, but they might require a bit more research and compromise on location or amenities. Alghero is a great example of value for money.
The South, on the other hand, offers a generally more affordable experience. The region boasts a variety of budget-friendly accommodations, from family-run B&Bs to self-catering apartments and cheaper hotels.
Dining out is also typically less expensive in the South, with plenty of options for cheap, delicious local cuisine.
The North is best for travellers willing to splurge for a luxurious experience or those who don’t mind hunting for budget-friendly options in a more expensive area.
The South is ideal for those seeking a more budget-friendly holiday, offering excellent value for money without compromising on the Sardinian experience.
Historical Sites in the North and South
When it comes to historical sites, both North and South Sardinia have plenty to offer. From mysterious ancient ruins to stunning archaeological sites, each region provides a fascinating journey back in time.
In Northern Sardinia, the most notable historical site is the Nuraghe Santu Antine, one of the best-preserved Bronze Age structures known as nuraghi.
Moreover, you can explore the archaeological site of Monte d’Accoddi, home to a prehistoric altar, and the ancient Roman city of Turris Libisonis in Porto Torres.
Southern Sardinia is equally abundant in historical riches. Nora, near Pula, is a significant archaeological site with its well-preserved Roman and pre-Roman ruins.
The giant tombs of Montessu and the archaeological site of Su Nuraxi in Barumini, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, showcase the island’s ancient Nuragic civilisation.
Both the North and the South have an extensive list of historical sites, including a few UNESCO World Heritage Sites, that will keep you busy besides the fabulous beaches.
Outdoor Activities in the North and South of Sardinia
Moving on to outdoor activities, both the North and South of Sardinia cater to a variety of interests, from adrenaline-filled sports to relaxed wildlife spotting.
Northern Sardinia is a playground for watersport enthusiasts. Here, you can partake in sailing, scuba diving, and windsurfing, particularly around Porto Pollo, renowned for its windsurfing conditions.
Hiking is another popular pastime in the Centre-North, with the rugged terrain of Gennargentu National Park and the coastal path of the Selvaggio Blu.
The South is the perfect destination for nature lovers. Explore the extensive network of trails at Sette Fratelli Mountains, ideal for hiking and mountain biking.
Birdwatchers will be in heaven at the Molentargius-Saline Regional Park, famous for its flamingo colonies.
The North is best for adrenaline junkies looking for prime windsurfing spots and hikers who prefer challenging coastal paths and mountain treks.
The South suits nature lovers interested in bird watching and tranquil mountain biking or hiking routes.
Where to stay in North Sardinia
Here below is an extensive list of the best places to stay in North Sardinia or at least visit.
|Couples (off-season only)
|Beautiful beaches, romantic atmosphere
|Crowded in peak season
|Moderate to High
|Ferry from Palau
|Archipelago National Park, Spalmatore Beach
|Beautiful beaches, vibrant nightlife
|Can be busy
|Bus from Olbia
|Luxury shopping, beautiful beaches
|B&B Villa Piera
|Beautiful sheltered beaches
|Can be crowded
|Bus from Sassari
|La Pelosa beach
|Secluded beach experience
|Arbatax Park Resort
|Beautiful secluded beaches, value for money
|Difficult to access some areas
|Low to Moderate
|Car suggested (reachable from Olbia or Cagliari)
|Amazing coastline, imposing cliffs
|Luxury vacation, nightlife
|L’Ea Bianca Luxury Resort
|Glamorous, beautiful beaches
|Bus from Olbia
|Luxury shopping, beautiful beaches
|Santa Teresa Gallura
|Families with grown-up kids
|Beautiful beaches, close to Olbia
|Can be busy
|Bus from Olbia
|Torre di Longonsardo, Capo Testa Lighthouse
|Nightlife for young crowd
|Hotel Villa Piras
|Vibrant nightlife, beautiful beaches
|Can be busy
|Bus from Sassari
|Lazzaretto Beach, Maria Pia Beach
|Without a car
|Gateway to Costa Smeralda
|Can be very busy
|Train and bus
|Church of San Paolo, Basilica of San Simplicio
Between these towns, on the coast, you will always be able to discover small coves, amazing beaches and interesting villages, especially in the countryside.
However, if you fly to either Olbia or Alghero it makes also sense to rent a car and explore the North of Sardinia. It’s such an amazing region that it would be somehow a pity to see only one resort or town.
My recommended website to rent a car is DiscoverCars. This is a website that compares prices from local and global rental companies. I use it wherever I travel, also because of the special deals they have.
Here below is one possible itinerary. You do not need to move every day. You can also split your stay between two towns, one in the North-East and one in the North-West and organise day trips from there.
Olbia and Stintino are, for example, two great places to be based.
Where to stay in South Sardinia
The South of Sardinia is more for an unpretentious stay, far from the more popular north, wilder, probably with less infrastructure, especially for the beach, but with cheaper accommodations and restaurants.
Cagliari has the main International Airport in the South of Sardinia. You can decide to be based in Cagliari and explore with local transportation or rent a car (check out DiscoverCars.com) and explore the coast and islands around.
Here below is a short list of 3 areas that I suggest in the south of the island
|Couples time by the beach
|Hotel Su Giudeu
|Beautiful beaches, less crowded
|Bus from Cagliari
|Chia Beach, Faro Capo Spartivento
|Families with small kids
|Beautiful beaches, close to Cagliari
|Bus from Cagliari
|Punta Molentis Cove, Castle of San Michele
|Without a car & city lovers
|Rich history, vibrant nightlife
|Train and bus
|National Archaeological Museum, beaches
If you prefer more of a local experience, you should have also a look to these three locations
- Sant’Antioco: an island connected by an artificial isthmus built during the Roman Empire. Famous for its coloured houses and the great trekking options.
- San Pietro Island: second biggest island in Sardinia, famous for snorkelling and diving with a unique landscape made of huge cliffs falling in the sea.
- Iglesias: a historical city in the countryside to explore on a day trip.
If you have only one week then focus either on the South-East or the South-West coast. Doing both in one week is probably asking too much.