A Tale or Two About…Public Transport in Sardinia

Let me start by saying, if you can afford and are able to get a car whilst you are in Sardinia, do it! I cannot put into words how difficult and at times insanely frustrating it is to try and travel around Sardinia by public transport.

I was visiting during low season which made it even more difficult, as some services are cut or almost completely stop. But from what I gather, even during the busiest months, public transport is still not a great option. I had decided not to get a car for the first two weeks of my trip, mainly to try and keep my budget down. When I did look into car rental later on, the companies near where I was based weren’t keen on renting to someone who had their license for less than a year. I figured I could make it work, and simply plan out my use of public transport in advance…which was particularly stupid of me.

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Buses in Sardinia- slow, unreliable and always very hot!

The public transport in Sardinia, mainly the ARST bus service, is minimal, unpredictable and completely unreliable. Google Map directions and online schedules are useless…seriously, don’t even bother. You can plan your travel using the buses but chances are you’ll end up completely stuck somewhere, as has happened to me on a few different occasions.For example, Porto Cervo, which I had heard was quiet after September but still worth visiting, is virtually unreachable by bus out of season…you simply need a car to get there (or plenty of cash for taxis.) I had planned to travel there on a Sunday for one night and the entire thing was a disaster. When I was booking the hotel, I’d checked the bus schedules and it all seemed like it was all going to work. There was a bus from San Teodoro, with a change at Olbia and another bus to Porto Cervo. But Google Directions and the ARST timetables hadn’t updated for an out of season Sunday – on which, it turned out, there are NO buses!

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Don’t ever trust Google Directions…ever!

I managed to get a bus from San Teodoro to Olbia and then another to Arzechena, where I had to shell out for a taxi. Leaving Porto Cervo wasn’t any better. I’d planned on getting the bus from Porto Cervo back to Arzechena and then changing to get to Palau to hop on the ferry to La Maddelena…which would have been all fine and well apart from that the 2:30pm bus to Arzechena didn’t show up until 3:15 – meaning I missed the connecting bus to Palau (and so the ferry I was planning on getting) leaving me stuck in Arzechena for an hour waiting for the next Palau connection. All of this would have taken a simple 40 minutes in a car (and would have meant I’d have caught the sunset over La Maddalena on the ferry, like I’d wanted to). Instead, it took me from almost five hours to get to La Maddalena, where I was already short on time for exploring.

The view of Europe's 'Grand Canyon' - Gola su Gorrupu - from the bus...being driven my a mad man

The view of Europe’s ‘Grand Canyon’ – Gola su Gorrupu – from the bus…being driven by a mad man

Aside from the time problems, getting on a Sardinian bus feels a little bit like you’re putting your life into the hands of a mad man (or woman, occasionally). Bus drivers here drive ridiculously fast and frequently talk on their mobile phones. The roads, whilst consistently providing beautiful backdrops, are pretty dangerous, and there have been a couple of really close calls with the buses I’ve been on and hairpin bends with other cars or motorbikes.

Two, five, ten...the price of bus tickets in Sardinia changed every time I used one!

Two, five, ten…the price of bus tickets in Sardinia changed every time I used one!

Bus fares here are also a bit like playing the lottery – everyone seems to make it up as they go along. An hour’s journey from one place might cost you a couple of euros, an hour and half to somewhere else might cost you ten – I’m pretty sure it depends what mood people are in. Finding tickets is another fun little Sardinian quirk. You’re not really supposed to buy them on the bus – a couple of times the bus drivers have let me away with it, but it’s generally frowned upon. You’re meant to buy them from specific newsagents, tobacconists and bars beforehand…but locating which one actually sells them isn’t always easy.

I'm not happy because I'm on a bus...I'm happy because the bus finally turned up an hour late!

I’m not happy because I’m on a bus, I’m happy because the bus actually turned up this time!

Unless you are coming in high season and plan on staying in one place for your entire visit, I can’t recommend getting a car highly enough…but if nothing else, the Sardinian public transport system will teach you the value of two things – patience and…the public transport system in your home country.

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Have you travelled to a country with a crazy or unreliable public transport system? Or maybe you’ve been somewhere with an incredible one?! I’d love to hear your transport tales – please leave a comment below!

6 thoughts on “A Tale or Two About…Public Transport in Sardinia

  1. Gianluca Fadda says:

    Ticket costs change based on the distance and the typology of ticket you buy. Sardinia is one of the least densely populated region in Europe, you can not expect the same public transport frequencies as in a metropolis.

    • Fiona McNicol says:

      Again Gianluca, it’s very much a personal story about my travels around Sardinia in the low season two years ago. I would never expect the public transport to be the same as in a metropolis, as you say, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
      Thanks again,
      Fiona

  2. Fiona McNicol says:

    Hi Gianluca, if you look at the post you’ll see that I visited the island in low season and now several years ago – it sounds like the public transport has very much improved.
    The article is based on my personal experience and I do believe that having a car is a much better way of seeing the beautiful island of Sardinia.
    I’m sorry if you somehow felt personally offended by a blog post but, as the name of my blog says, these are my travelling stories, from my experiences.
    I love Sardinia and very much hope to visit the island again in the future.
    Thanks,
    Fiona

  3. Gianluca Fadda says:

    If you have difficult to understand timetables and how a public transport runs abroad is your own fault. Google? Google is not managed by Sardinia’s transport systems, there are the websites managed by the official transport agencies operating in Sardinia for finding the right timetables.
    Buses and trains in Sardinia are more on time than in Germany (91% are on time) according to the European Commission Directorate General for Mobility and Transport FInal report 2016.
    All buses have air conditioner and lot of them even the WiFi, it’s also possible buy tickets with smarphone on the regional buses and trains.

Any thoughts?