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4 days in Sardinia: Northern Sardinia itinerary by car (Olbia, Alghero & more)

4 days in Sardinia: Northern Sardinia itinerary by car (Olbia, Alghero & more)
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In this article, I will share our itinerary for 4 days in Sardinia! We explored Northern Sardinia by car and visited some of the main highlights in Sardinia: Costa Smeralda, Alghero and La Pelosa. We also stayed in Olbia and Palau and saw some of the most beautiful beaches in Sardinia. If that sounds right up your street, keep reading!

Before we start with the itinerary, here are some useful things to know about Sardinia:

Do you need a car in Sardinia?

Unfortunately, public transport is not operating very frequently in Sardinia and some places on this itinerary are not accessible by public transport. If you can, I recommend renting a car. We rented our car through Rentalcars.com and chose the operator Sicily by Car. We got the car we booked and didn’t have any issues with Sicily By Car; therefore, I would definitely recommend it. 

Sardinia by car

If renting a car is out of the question, I recommend either staying in a town with nice beaches like Santa Theresa Gallura or Alghero and see if there is a public bus that can take you to other beaches and towns. Alternatively, you can also book tours that would bring you to other destinations in Sardinia like these ones:

La Maddalena Archipelago Boat Tour 

Costa Smeralda Day Trip – the best villages and beaches

How many days do you need in Sardinia?

If you’re wondering, how many days do you need in Sardinia, ideally as many as you have! There are plenty of things to do in Sardinia and you won’t be bored or tired. Moreover, the island is so big that in this itinerary, we are only focusing on North Sardinia. However, if you have 10 days or 2 weeks in Sardinia, you can visit both the North and the South of the island – they are pretty different! The Southern part of the island has a lot more sightseeing you can do and has a lot more landmarks!

What is there to do in Sardinia?

North Sardinia isn’t the best place for sightseeing (unlike Sicily – read my post about the itinerary for a week in Sicily), but it’s a wonderful destination for a beach holiday as it has some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe. There are some lovely beautiful cities in Sardinia as well (Alghero, Cagliari), but the majority of cities in Sardinia are not very impressive. Food in Sardinia is excellent as well! The best thing to do in Sardinia, in my opinion, is to drive around and explore the most beautiful beaches and eat in lovely authentic restaurants! If you come to the South of Sardinia, you can do a bit more sightseeing, but the best beaches are definitely in the North!

What’s the best time to go to Sardinia?

If you’re wondering, what’s the best time to go to Sardinia, I would recommend going during the months when it’s possible to swim – from June to late September! 

Alright, without further ado, let’s start with the itinerary for 4 days in North Sardinia:

The overview of our itinerary for a long weekend in North Sardinia:

Day 0: Land in Olbia at 9pm, collect a rental car, stay overnight near Olbia at Hotel Il Timone

Day 1: Principe beach, Porto Cervo, lunch in Cannigione, Mannena beach, evening & dinner in Palau, a night at Hotel Piccada

Day 2: Rena Blanca beach in Santa Theresa Gallura, lunch in Castelsardo, then beach in Alghero, an evening exploring Alghero and staying there overnight at Hotel Angedras

Day 3: La Pelosa beach (needs advance booking), so we stayed at La Pelosetta, lunch there, then driving back to Olbia & Porto Istana Beach, a night at Mercure Olbia

Day 4: Exploring Olbia, Pittolungu beach and return flights 

Now, let’s talk about the itinerary in more detail

4 days in Sardinia: Northern Sardinia itinerary by car (from Olbia to Alghero)

Day 0: Arrival in Olbia

Our flight to Olbia departed from London Heathrow around 5pm, which meant that we had to take 1/2 days off to get to the airport on time. It takes around 2 hours to get to Olbia from London. After the passport control, we were queuing to collect our pre-booked rental car. That took over an hour, as the queue is huge. We were pretty lucky that our hotel was closing reception pretty late, around 11pm as we got there just on time, around 22:30pm, despite landing just before 9pm! 

Overnight, we stayed at hotel Il Timone – we picked it because of its good reviews, affordable price proximity to the airport and to our next destination. However, the reception there closes at 11pm. If you feel like you might be delayed, consider staying at Mercure Olbia which has a 24-hour front desk!

Il Timone, Sardinia

Day 1: Costa Smeralda and Palau

Principe Beach

On our first full day in Sardinia, we decided to see the highlights of Costa Smeralda, including the best beaches in the area. We started with the Spiaggia Principe (Principe Beach), which is also called Spiaggia Poltu Di Li Cogghj. Even though it’s a small beach, there are sunbeds for hire there if you decide to stay for longer. However, keep in mind that it takes around 5-8 minutes to reach it from the parking and you need comfortable sandals to get there, as the road is narrow and involves a bit of hiking. Also, they only take cash at the parking! As for the cost, we paid 5 EUR for the parking for 2 hours.

Porto Cervo

Our next stop was the iconic town Porto Cervo – it’s known for its designer shops, expensive restaurants and exclusive beach clubs, visited by millionaires and billionaires. We expected a bit more from Porto Cervo – unfortunately, it just looked like a fancy open-air shopping village with no personality and no architectural highlights. The restaurants are indeed really expensive – while there is a cheap cafe there, if you want something nice, you will end up paying 30 EUR+ just for a starter. 

If you’re not interested in buying a Chanel bag or Hermes shoes, then there is not much to do in Porto Cervo – it’s a port, so there is no beach nearby, just shops and restaurants. And a lot of yachts!

Lunch in Cannigione & Mannena Beach

Initially, we were planning to have lunch in Porto Cervo, but we didn’t expect most places to be closed and the only open restaurants charge 37 euros just for small starters, so we decided that it’s probably not the best value for money and we can have something else in another place. That’s how we found the little town called Cannigione! Cannigione is also a port – you can take a lot of boat tours to La Maddalena and other places from there. It also has a few restaurants. We had a quick lunch with amazing fresh seafood in a place called Gennarino store – I can definitely recommend this spot!

Afterwards, we drove to Mannena beach and rented two sunbeds and an umbrella there for 20 EUR! Mannena beach wasn’t as impressive as the beach we visited before, Principe, but it wasn’t as full as Principe beach and it was just a short walk away from the parking!

Alternatively, if you’re not excited about the prospects of visiting another beach, you can book one of the boat tours like this one, for example.

Night in Palau

Our next and final stop for our first day out of 4 days in Sardinia was Palau. Palau is a slightly larger town located almost at the edge of Costa Smeralda. It’s not very impressive from the architectural point of view (I wouldn’t call it a very pretty town), but it had a lovely port, a nice promenade, a very good beach and a lot of nice restaurants! Our hotel for the night was Hotel Piccada, but if you’re interested in something slightly nicer, LH Porto Rafael Altura Resort might be a better option! 

For dinner, we picked Restaurant Pasta e Vino and it was lovely! Alternatively, if it’s too busy or not to your liking, we saw a cosy restaurant called Il Kalamaro! 

Day 2 out of 4 days in Sardinia: Santa Theresa Gallura, Castelsardo and Alghero – driving to the West Coast of North Sardinia

Santa Theresa Gallura

Our first stop was Santa Theresa Gallura, another town located right at the edge of Costa Smeralda. Santa Theresa Gallura is a nice town – it looked significantly older than Palau! However, the main reason to visit Santa Theresa Gallura is its wonderful beach. It’s located very close to the city centre – and it’s absolutely stunning! After visiting over 8 beaches in North Sardinia, this one is probably my favourite one! I liked it even more than the famous La Pelosa! You can rent sunbeds there as well, however, they sell out pretty quickly, so make sure to arrive there early if you need one. 

Overall, I regretted that we didn’t stay in Santa Theresa Gallura to work remotely (instead of Olbia, where we stayed for another 3 nights after the sightseeing part of the trip), because it was one of the nicest combinations of a lovely town and amazing beach!

Lunch in Castelsardo

Our next stop was Castelsardo, almost 1 hour driving away from Santa Theresa Gallura. Some sources claimed Castelsardo to be one of the most beautiful towns in Sardinia, and it’s indeed nice – it looked quite different compared to Olbia or Palau. It’s also a tiny town, so during lunchtime, it looked completely dead – there were a few people, but all of them were on a very compact beach right in the heart of Castelsardo.

We managed to find an open restaurant for lunch – Sale e Peppe and the meal there was one of the best we had in Sardinia! 

If you want to explore the nicest part of the town next to the entrance to the Castle/Museum, it’s quick a steep walk up, however, you can drive a lot of this route (which we didn’t as we mistakenly parked at the bottom, near the beach and already paid for the parking when we realised it’s pretty far from the actual town centre). 

Alghero

Our final stop for the second day in Sardinia was Alghero. It took us another hour to get there from Castelsardo. Once we arrived, we quickly checked in at our hotel Angedras (keep in mind that it’s pretty far from the nice beach in Alghero as it turned out), so potentially I would recommend Hotel Domomea for exploring the city centre and Don Giovanni to stay close to both the beach & the city centre.

Since we were far from the beach, we had to drive. We drove to Maria Pia beach and left our car at the parking. The beach in Alghero was nice, although not as impressive as the beaches near Olbia. Also, surprisingly, the water temperature was a lot colder in Alghero compared to Santa Theresa Gallura and Olbia! I even felt like it was too cold to swim despite it being over 30C outside!

In the evening, we explored the city centre of Alghero – in my opinion, it was the prettiest city in Sardinia that we managed to see on this trip. Alghero reminded me of beautiful cities in Sicily like Syracuse and Catania and it’s definitely many times nicer than Olbia. If you want a perfect combination of beautiful city – nice beach, then Alghero is the best option! 

Alghero, Sardinia

However, we were not very successful with finding a nice place to eat for dinner. Alghero was very busy and the best places required a reservation, so we ended up in the restaurant called Marco Polo, which I would recommend to stay away from. It was probably the worst meal we ever had in Italy (and we visited Italy more than 10 times). After that bad meal, we visited a wine bar L’Altra Vineria that was great (5 out of 5)!

Day 3 in Sardinia: La Pelosa, Olbia and Porto Istana

La Pelosa

A lot of sources claimed that La Pelosa is the most beautiful beach in Sardinia and after visiting it, I think we had to agree. La Pelosa is definitely one of the most beautiful beaches in Italy, if not in Europe! It’s a very shallow beach, which means that the water there looks turquoise, just like in the Caribbean. It’s also very clean, with a lot of fishes swimming around and very warm! The only downside is that you can’t visit in without an advance booking in Summer and in September. You need to book at least 2 weeks in advance if you want to visit the beach on the weekend. You can book it online here.

Unfortunately, we didn’t do proper research and had no idea about advance bookings, so we were actually turned down and couldn’t enter La Pelosa beach. However, there is another beach just around the corner (3-5 minutes walking) called La Pelosetta, where you don’t need a reservation and since it’s so close to La Pelosa, you can actually swim /walk there (keep in mind that you can’t stay on the beach at La Pelosa, as there are a lot of staff members checking the wristband all the time, you can just walk/swim if you don’t have a wristband). 

However, in La Pelosetta, we rented two sunbeds and an umbrella for just 20 EUR (it’s typically 30 EUR, but since we were only staying for 3 hours, they gave us a discount). 

Olbia and Porto Istana

After visiting La Pelosa, we drove all the way to Olbia for just under 2 hours. We checked in at our apartment NG Gallura, where we were staying for longer to work remotely, but if you’re just staying for one night, I recommend staying at Mercure Olbia! We left our things and headed to another beach, Porto Istana.

Porto Istana is considered one of the best beaches in very close proximity to Olbia and is even reachable by bus. It also has a few nice restaurants nearby if you decide to stay for dinner! We stayed there for a couple of hours and found the water temperature really warm! 

If you decide to go back to Olbia for dinner, make sure to go to the restaurant called Mere – it’s definitely the best one in the whole Olbia (we have tried quite a few restaurants there while working remotely). Olbia gets pretty packed at night, and it’s nice to walk around the city centre (it’s pretty small, so you can walk all around it in less than 40 minutes)

Day 4: Olbia, San Pantaleo and Pittulongu Beach 

Olbia and San Pantaleo

In the morning, you can walk around the centre of Olbia again and see it in the daylight. After that, you can drive to San Pantaleo – it was recommended to us multiple times by many locals. San Pantaleo is a lovely village located very close to Olbia and it’s definitely one of the prettiest spots in North Sardinia. If you’re lucky to be there on a Thursday – it’s a market day in San Pantaleo. The market starts at 8am and you can buy all kinds of things there! San Pantaleo also has stunning views of the mountains! 

I’ve read that Sardinia is a great hiking destination, however, probably not in July, because the temperatures were reaching 38 degrees and it was definitely not the best weather for hiking unless you grew up in a desert! If you’re visiting Sardinia between late September and late October, you will definitely be able to hike there, so instead of seeing so many beaches, you can allocate some time to hiking!

Pittulongu Beach 

Finally, if you still have some time before taking a return flight, I recommend heading to another beach, located very close to Olbia and San Pantaleo – Pittulongu Beach. Pittulongu Beach is actually not just one beach but a long line of multiple beaches. All the beaches are lovely and the water was the warmest we have experienced in Sardinia – perfect for a last swim before flying back home!

Some other posts you might enjoy reading:

7-day road trip around Sicily

The best beaches near Pisa & Cinque Terre

2 days in Mallorca, Spain – road trip around Mallorca in winter

From Milan to Rome – 7-day road trip in Italy

Romantic honeymoon in Italy – the best itinerary for 10 days

4 days in Ischia – the island with the best food in Italy

What to expect from Lignano Sabbiadoro, Italy

The most Instagrammable spots in Milan and Bergamo

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