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First time visitors to Cagliari would probably want to know where to go to do a bit of historical 'reconnaissance', some tours and shopping, so plan everything carefully, as you can do everything in less than two days, maybe even one day if pressed for time:
1. Most of the historical sites are downtown in Castello, so take the lift from near the Piazza Yenne instead of climbing the steepy hill and head to the Torre dell Elefante, then up to hill to the Museo Archeologico Nazionale and Pinacoteca Nazionale, check the views from near the Pallazzo Reggio and Catedrala Santa Maria then come all the way down to Bastione St Remy. You will find lots of churches off Piazza Yenne or on the back streets of Via Manno towards Via Roma. Bear in mind that except Museo Archeologico Nazionale open all day, the churches, shops etc are closed between 12-1pm to 5pm. Lots of deserted streets in this stagnant economy, yet the Sardinian seem to know better. Some restaurants are open in this interval, some great ones with fixed 10 euros menu are just off Piazza Yenne on Corso Vittorio Emanuele, so stay away from the expensive touristic traps of Piazza Yenne. Alternatively do a tour of the city taking you east up to the sea and Trip Advisor recommends some great companies.
2. The best shopping in downtown Cagliari starts in via Manno, passes bastione St Remy and goes down on via Garibaldi. However some shops sell beautiful leather imitations bags as leather, so do your research or smell the leather. After all you do not want to pay some 300 euros for something purely because it has a 'name' or is fashionable. The big shopping centres are some 2-3 km from Castello, however you can find Mango, Zara right on via Manno
3. When choosing a downtown accommodation, bear in mind that everything in Castello is walking distance but the roads are covered in rocks or you have to walk an abrupt hill from Piazza Yenne going north, so have very low heels or flat shoes. In this area most of the hotels, B&Bs have the typical Sardinian noises waking you up in the middle of the night, unless you are the kind of person that sleeps very deep: from small cars, motorcycles, cats in heat in the middle of the night or barking dogs to helicopters, people talking loud and sometime even staying on the second floor of a building might not help. From viale Bonaria going east towards the sea and beach starts a beautiful residential area, which is some 5-10min by taxi from Castello where you might consider staying if you are a light sleeper.
Plan carefully and good luck!
If you're looking for a great fun way to get a feel for Cagliari, try the Segway tour. It provides a good introduction to the sights of the citadel area of the city & takes the effort out of the tour.
Sign up for tours outside the Stazzioni Marittima in the port, from one of the guides on a Segway. In return for a booking deposit of 10 euros, the next available tour time slot will be given. This starts with an induction session on the Segway, teaching you the basics - getting on & off, moving forwards, backwards, turning, straight lines & hills - all of which is very intuitive. Equipped with a Segway, cycle helmet, and audio guide you then follow your guide from the port, up to and around the citadel stopping off to learn about the sights and take photos en route. The information on the audio guide isn't that stimulating but is available in English or Italian, however it is more about getting a feel for the place & having the opportunity to play on a Segway, you won't want to hand them back at the end of your trip.
The group certainly attracts quite a lot of attention as you make your way around the streets and pavements but most of it is jealous passers-by who would also like to have a go.
The cost for a tour in August 2010 was 25 euros each and lasted 90 mins in total.