READ: Our complete guide on where to stay in Puglia
Olive trees as far as the eye can see, deep red earth, whitewashed seaside towns, and the sparkling blue waters of the sea are just some of the things you can expect when visiting Puglia.
This is the Southernmost region of Italy and a place full of unique culture, food, and unforgettable landscapes. The locals are friendly and generous with their time, perhaps due to the incredible climate they’re blessed with – the sun shines 300 days a year here!
A trip to the region might include sojourning through coastal towns, trulli hunting through the Valle d’Itria, sightseeing in Lecce, sometimes described as the ‘Florence of the South, hiking in the Gargano, or indulging in the freshest burrata cheese of your life. Most famous for the towns of Alberobello and Polignano al Mare, there is so much more waiting to be uncovered. Keep reading for our ultimate Puglia travel guide.
Where is Puglia
Puglia is located in the heel of the Italian boot in the very deep South. The Adriatic and Ionian Sea hugs the region from left to right, and the region shares borders with Molise in the north, and Campania and Basilicata in the north west.
South of Rome, the capital, Bari, is easily reached with the high-speed train in just under four hours. Naples lies to the West and a fast train will similarly get you there in less than four hours.
Map of Puglia
Main cities and towns in Puglia
As one of the larger regions of Italy (in fact the 7th out of 20) there are a great number of cities and towns worth exploring when you travel to Puglia. Consider visiting the following:
- Bari: The capital (pictured above) is a great place to start or end your trip to Puglia thanks to the well-connected railway station and International Airport. Don’t miss wandering through the labyrinth-like streets of Bari Vecchia, watching the locals roll orecchiette in the streets, exploring the elegant Murat neighborhood, and strolling along the promenade with a detour to the little fish market on the port.
- Lecce: Also known as the ‘Florence of the South’, Lecce is beautiful and unique in its own right. An extremely elegant Baroque city, it is also a University town and it shows in its friendly, welcoming atmosphere. Don’t miss seeing the remains of the Roman amphitheatre, the Theatre Romain, the Porta Napoli gate, and of course make sure to take a sip of a caffe’ leccese.
- Polignano a Mare: Perhaps the most famous place in Puglia thanks to Instagram (or one of the many weddings in US soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful) is Polignano a Mare. Perched high up on the cliffs, there is an iconic sea view that looks out onto the little beach known as Lama Monachile. Wander the pretty streets of the old town and have your camera handy – you’re going to want to take lots of photos!
- Monopoli: A small fishing village, Monopoli is as pretty as a picture. A stroll through this whitewashed town that rests along the Adriatic Sea will unveil the beautiful Cathedral, a seaside fortress, fabulous restaurants and bars, and of course the beach! If you’re looking for picturesque fishing boats, you’re in the perfect town for a photo opportunity.
- Otranto: Looking for a popular beachside town? Otranto could be your ideal destination. A trip there should also include visiting its UNESCO listed old town ‘centro storico’ and beautiful Medieval castle.
- Alberobello: The other VIP town of Puglia is surely Alberobello, famous for its spectacular streets full of trulli, the traditional dry stone huts with conical roofs. Whilst Puglia is still relatively undiscovered by the crowds, the same cannot be said for this town so aim to arrive here very early for unimpeded walking. It also pays to do a guided tour here to understand the town on a deeper level.
- Martina Franca: A jewel of Baroque beauty, Martina Franca is a little off the beaten track when it comes to Puglia towns worth visiting. Not overrun by tourists, you can easily lose yourself for a few moments in the little streets. Be sure to try capocollo here, a delicious local cured salami and try to time your visit to coincide with the popular Sunday Flea Market.
- Locorotondo: Whitewashed buildings and civic pride are a feature of this pretty town close to Alberobello, and Martina Franca. Locorotondo gets its name from its round like shape, so enjoy a wander through the streets and look out across the valley dotted with trulli. This town is also famous for its white wine so be sure to try some while you’re there.
- Grottaglie: In the center of the region, Grottaglie is the undisputed capital of ceramics in Puglia. Visit the ancient ceramics quarter and while away the hours as you visit workshop, after workshop in search of the perfect piece.
- Ostuni: Famous for its stunning whitewashed buildings, Ostuni is another breathtakingly beautiful hilltop town to visit in Puglia. Catch glimpses of the Adriatic Sea as you wander through the narrow streets of the old town towards its Gothic style Cathedral. While not directly on the beach, you’ll find several only a short drive away from the center of town.
- Gallipoli: One of the most famous Pugliese towns, Gallipoli is on the Ionian Sea. The old town, connected to the new town by a bridge, is full of lovely Baroque architecture and pretty palazzi. Go for a swim at the sandy beach and relax at one of the many bars along the promenade with a spritz.
- Vieste: Located in the Northern Gargano area of Puglia, Vieste is a stunning seaside town. Visit the Swabian Castle, relax at the beach here and use it as a base to access the Gargano National Park.
- Taranto: Taranto has a very long and fascinating history reflected in its culture and architecture. Relatively free from tourists, the archeological museum is worth a trip as is the 15th century Aragonese Castle. Look out for Greek remains and don’t skip a visit to the fish market.
Top things to do in Puglia
No matter your interests, this travel guide to Puglia aims to show you how many great activities and experiences to have when traveling in Puglia! Whether you’re a foodie, beach lover, or history buff, you’ll find plenty of choice in this sunkissed region. Some of our favorite activities include:
Taste olive oil
Puglia is the most important region in Italy for olive oil, producing 40% of the country’s total supply! Gain a deeper understanding as to how extra virgin olive oil is made and the difference between store bought and locally produced with a guided tasting. Try Acropoli di Puglia in Martina Franca!
Visit spectacular beaches
Puglia has some of the best beaches in the country, so you can’t miss a visit to at least one or two! The Grotta della Poesia in Roca is one of the most spectacular with a now Instagram famous sheltered natural pool to dive into. Others include the Beach of Purity in Gallipoli, Santa Maria al Bagno, and Mora Mora Beach near Lecce.
Stay in a trullo
One of the most unique experiences you can have in Puglia is staying in a trullo, the characteristic hut from the Valle d’Itria. There are many options for staying in a trullo from B&B style to luxury trulli resorts.
Eat pesce crudo (Pugliese sashimi)
Pugliese love their raw fish! In particular, Barese (the people from Bari) are famous for it thanks to the absolute freshness of their seafood. Wander along the old port early in the morning and buy some raw squid, calamari, and sea urchins for a fresh, healthy snack.
Learn to make orecchiette pasta
One of the best souvenirs you can bring home from your travels is the ability to cook something from the region you visited. Pasta from Puglia is very easy to make at home and requires just durum wheat flour, water, and a knife – no machine required. Learn how to make pasta with this class in Lecce.
Explore the Baroque churches in Lecce
Marvel at the sheer beauty and richness of the Baroque churches in Lecce. There’s an old Pugliese joke that the town has more churches than residents and it might seem just the way as you wander through the streets. In particular, take time to visit the Duomo and Basilica di Santa Croce.
What to eat and drink in Puglia
The cuisine of Puglia is rustic and full of wholegrains, vegetables, fresh fish, and creamy cheeses. Whilst the region is the biggest producer of wine in Italy, it was historically used for cheap, table wine. That’s all changing now and the region is full of up and coming wineries that celebrate the local grapes of Primitivo, Aglianico, Negroamaro, Fiano, and Greco.
Besides indulging in as much raw seafood as possible (don’t miss the gamberro rosso or red prawns), look out for these tasty dishes on your trip:
- Orecchiette with cime di rapa: The typical pasta of the region takes its name from its little earlike shape. It’s made from durum wheat of which the region is full of and water – no eggs here. The most typical pairing is with vibrant cime di rapa (broccoli rabe).
- Bombette: If you’re not a seafood lover, or simply prefer meat then this dish is for you. Bombette are fried pork meat skewers filled with cheese, and seasoned with salt and pepper. The best place to try them is in the Valle d’Itria.
- Taralli: The typical savoury biscuits of Southern Italy, you’ll spot these frequently at aperitivo hour served alongside your spritz. You can find them spiked with fennel seeds, chilli, nuts, raisins or even sweet versions.
- Focaccia Barese: This focaccia is seriously life-changing! The dough is light and fluffy and thicker than its Northern relative in Genoa thanks to being made with mashed potatoes. The most classic version is topped with ripe tomatoes, oregano, olive oil, and sometimes olives. The best place to try this is at Panificio Fiore in Bari.
- Mozzarella, burrata and stracciatella: Puglia is the land of creamy cow’s milk cheeses! Look out for mere hours’ old mozzarella, burrata and stracciatella or go and visit a local caseificio, dairy farm, to get it seconds after its made.
- Pasticciotti: The perfect breakfast treat to have at the bar in Puglia is undoubtedly a pasticciotto. This little tart is filled with ricotta, custard, pistacchio paste, or jams.
- Caffe Leccese: Upgrade your coffee order to a caffe’ leccese when in Puglia! It’s a shot of espresso on ice and topped with almond syrup. Locals will tell you not to mix it, but it’s very refreshing either way. The best place to order this is unsurprisingly in Lecce.
- Rustico Leccese: Another Lecce special, look out for this savoury pastry filled with mozzarella, bechamel, and tomato sugo. Be sure to enjoy this piping hot at one of the city’s wonderful bakeries like Il Fornaio di Greco Francesco.
Where to stay in Puglia
Whilst tourism is still relatively new in Puglia, there are fantastic and unique accommodation options throughout the region. There are many traditional hotels, B and Bs and apartments in the major towns available at budget to luxury prices.
More interesting however are the masseria and trulli options you can stay in – provided you are traveling with access to a car. Masseria are traditional Pugliese farmhouses that were once used as fortresses in medieval times. Today, there are hundreds of these properties that dot the countryside including many luxurious options that come with swimming pools, spa services and on-site restaurants.
Trulli or traditional stone houses are another option which are also found in the Itria Valley countryside.
When planning your trip to Puglia, Vieste is an excellent base if you’re planning on visiting the Gargano. Along the Adriatic Sea, Monopoli (pictured above) is a wonderful option with lots of facilities and a useful position on the train line.
For those wanting to stay in the Itria Valley, a car is absolutely necessary as there is limited public transport. Consider basing yourself in the countryside in a relaxing Masseria or Trulli house between Martina Franca and Locorotondo like Masseria San Michele. Further south in the Salento, Lecce makes for the best base as the major city (with a train line) so there are lots of accommodation and dining choices and easy access to the beaches.
When to go to Puglia
Spring is a beautiful time to visit Puglia and enjoy warm weather and beach time with fewer crowds.We visit the region in late May / early June on our Early Summer Puglia tour to take advantage of these ideal conditions.
Those who love the heat and swimming will enjoy the summertime in Puglia, although August is best avoided due to crowds, inflated prices, and the hottest temperatures.
There are incredible cultural festivals during the summer which are worth seeking out including the Night of San Giovanni in Ostuni, San Pietro e Paolo in Otranto, the Puglia Jazz Festival in Bari, the Alberobello Light Festival, La Notte della Taranta in the towns south of Lecce, and many more.
Early Autumn can be a lovely time for late season swimming and sightseeing with less tourists. You can join our Puglia tour in mid September to enjoy the longer sunny days and mild nights perfect for exploring the region and discovering its delicious cuisine.
Whilst Puglia enjoys a Mediterranean climate and plenty of sunshine throughout the year, it’s important to note that things get very quiet during the Winter. Many beachside towns essentially shut down in the colder months with beach clubs closing from early October and reopening in April.
With that said, Christmastime is one of the most magical times of the year in Puglia as the towns are lit up and decorated to the max and bands walk through the streets on Christmas Eve singing Christmas carols.
How to get to Puglia
There are two main international airports in the region at Bari in the North and Brindisi in the South. If you’re arriving in Puglia from abroad, it’s possible to get a connecting flight from most Italian cities here.
Alternatively, the fast train from Rome or Naples is a reliable option to get you to Bari the capital in less than four hours. Traveling by train in Italy is easy and comfortable with the added bonus of no security checks or luggage restrictions making this our preferred way to travel to Puglia.
If you’re arriving with your own wheels or with a rental car from Rome, it’s a four to five hour drive on the A1 and A16. From Naples, it’s a shorter three hour drive along the via A16/E842 and Autostrada A14/Autostrada.
How to get around Puglia
Travel in Puglia with public transport is not widely recommended as it is slow, there are few main train stations, and regional buses might pass through just once a day (leaving you without a way back).
For travelers who are determined to visit without a car, it is possible to get the train from Bari to Polignano a Mare, Monopoli, and Lecce easily. There is a train to Ostuni, but the station is a short distance away from the town so a taxi would be required to reach the old town. Whilst there are train stations at some of the other towns, there are not normally direct routes from Bari.
With that in mind, it is most convenient to rent a car to travel around Puglia. From Bari or Brindisi airport, you can pick up a rental car to travel around the region with ease, on your own schedule. We recommend using Auto Europe or Rentalcars.com to browse the best car rental options. You’ll find the best deals at Bari and Brindisi airports.
Let’s go to Puglia!
We hope our Puglia travel guide has Inspired you to visit Puglia. If you’re keen to learn more about this beautiful region of Italy have a listen to our podcast episode about Puglia’s Pilgrim Trails, or discover more Picturesque Towns of Puglia.
Want to discover Puglia with us? For a deeper local connection, why not join one of our Puglia small group tours. You can see what our guests think about our Untold Italy tours in Puglia by watching the video below.