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Located in Southern Italy in the heart of Puglia is the enchanting port city of Bari. As the capital of one of the larger regions of Italy, the charming Bari offers many unique attractions, including the winding streets of Bari Vecchia, delicious street food featuring the spoils of the Adriatic Sea, and stunning landmarks.
With much to see, from the 12th-century Basilica di San Nicola to the central Piazza Mercantile, and the lively Porto Vecchio Fish Market, where friendly local fishermen sell excellent fresh fish. Visiting Bari is not only a must-do, but it’s also very accessible. After hopping on a high-speed train from Rome or Naples, it takes around four hours to reach Bari Central Station.
As you can tell, this beautiful coastal city is full of delights, and this guide has the top things to do in Bari, Italy.
Explore Bari Vecchia
Bari Old Town, or Bari Vecchia, is the historic city center and a sight worth seeing, with its landmark buildings, maze-like cobbled streets, and hidden gems. So, if you’re asking what to see in Bari first, old Bari is a great place to start.
Stroll around Narrow Streets
A terrific way to acclimate yourself to the capital city of Puglia is to wander around the narrow streets of Bari Old Town. While here, snap some shots of picturesque stone-adorned buildings, wrought-iron balconies, and laundry lines stretching above alleyways.
To get a rest from all the walking, stop at a neighborhood café to try delicious food or local wine. For another exceptional glimpse into local life, join a Bari Old Town street food tour.
Strada Arco Basso
One part of Bari worth visiting is the delightful Strada Arco Basso in Old Town Bari, where Orecchiette pasta is made and sold by local women. This is a highlight of being in the Puglia region, famous for various fresh pasta varieties.
Buy some to take home and make Orecchiette con Cima di Rapa – with broccoli rabe, anchovies, garlic, and, of course, olive oil.
Another spot that you can’t miss in the Old Town of Bari is Piazza Mercantile – a meeting place for many locals to enjoy their morning espresso or an evening meal. It’s also a pivotal point in Bari’s history, dating back to the 14th century.
Piazza Mercantile is surrounded by ornate palaces and numerous Bari attractions, such as the Palazzo dei Sedile and the Muraglia di Bari. It’s similar to many Italian piazzas, with its traditional clock tower, a water fountain, and a bustling atmosphere at night.
Basilica of Saint Nicholas
The Basilica of Saint Nicholas, or Basilica di San Nicola, is another beautiful landmark in Bari Vecchia. With its grand facade, gold ceiling, and delightful mosaics, it’s one of the city’s most famous sights.
This Romanesque church holds the bones of Saint Nicholas (aka Santa Claus) in its crypt. They were moved from Turkey by Christians after Muslim Turks took power from the Orthodox Christians. This guided tour of the Basilica includes a visit to the crypt.
Castello Svevo is a Norman castle, almost 900 years old. Built in the 1100s by King Roger II, it stands out in Bari Vecchia with its impressive towers and fortified ramparts. Interestingly, it was rebuilt by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II in 1233 after it experienced some significant damage.
If you want to explore these remnants of the Roman Empire, you’ll need a ticket to enter. Additionally, you could go on this guided tour of the castle for a fantastic time.
Take a Walking Tour
A terrific way to experience all of the above in the Old Town of Bari is by embarking on a walking tour. In doing so, you’ll see the city center through the eyes of a local guide (plus some hidden gems).
This Bari walking tour involves the city’s top attractions, such as the Norman Castle, Basilica di San Nicola, and the Bari Cathedral, or Cathedral of San Sabino, plus focaccia and gelato. It’s one of the best Bari tours.
Try the Local Food
One of the top things to do on a Bari, Puglia trip is to savor some of the most delectable food in the city.
Visit the Porto Vecchio Fish Market
Southern Italy’s Puglia region is famously known for featuring fresh fish, olive oil, fresh pasta, and wine on its tables. One way to experience this is by buying or sampling seafood at the Porto Vecchio Fish Market.
You’ll find many local fishermen selling oysters, octopus, sea urchins, and fresh catches of the day.
Take a Food Tour
As previously mentioned, the Pugliese cuisine is packed full of flavor, texture, and aroma, so a brilliant way to see this in action is by taking a street food tour around Bari. There are various options, whether you want to try a pasta experience walking tour or see the hidden spots on a walking street food tour.
Some Delicacies to Taste
Bari has some of the best street food on offer in southern Italy, so here is what you must try:
Orecchiette is a pasta type that resembles a small ear, and that is what it directly translates to in English. If you want a hands-on experience of how to make orecchiette, join this traditional pasta-making class and learn from a nonna.
Another delightful snack in Bari is sgagliozze, a square of polenta fried in olive oil and topped with salt.
Popizze are fried dough balls often eaten for aperitivo. These are sometimes mixed with anchovies, olives, tomatoes, and herbs.
This leavened baked bread is a staple in the region, and one of the best places to try this delicacy is Bari. This Bari rendition varies quite a bit from other geographical styles, as it has a thicker base and is often served with herbs, olives, garlic, onions, and tomatoes. Some great spots to visit for Focaccia Barese are Panificio Fiore and Panificio Santa Rita.
Another regional specialty Puglia is known for is Crudo – fresh raw seafood that you can try while walking along the seafront promenade, Bari Lungomare, or the Bari Harbor. Crudo varies from raw octopus, squids, mussels, prawns, and fish.
Enjoy the Coast
There are a few places in Bari that have brilliant Adriatic Sea views.
Walk Along the Lungomare Nazario Sauro
Enjoying the incredible Lungomare Nazario Sauro, the city’s wonderful seafront promenade should be on your Bari to-do list. No matter what time of day you take a walk here, you can soak in the city’s atmosphere, from the smell of the salty air to the sound of seagull’s calls.
That said, the best time to visit the Lungomare is either for an evening leg stretch before dinner or a morning stroll to start your day right.
Go to the Beach
Excellent news for beach lovers – Bari is a lovely gem in southern Italy, perfect for sunbathing. It has two terrific spots: Pane e Pomodoro Beach and Lido San Francesco alla Rena. Pane e Pomodoro is the primary spot for beach lovers, as it’s your typical Mediterranean sandy beach. In comparison, Lido San Francesco is a private beach with an entrance fee of around €10 per person. Included in this fee is access to a pristine beach, ample changing rooms, snack stands, and a bar.
Take a Boat Trip
What to do in Bari, Italy, for an unforgettable experience? Why not take a boat across the Pugliese coast?
Head up the coast to Polignano a Mare for this coast and cave boat tour. It includes a dip in the Adriatic Sea, exploring local caves and grottos and a sip of Prosecco as you admire the stunning coastline.
Historical Sites and Museums
You can’t visit Bari without checking out its incredible historical sites and museums, from age-old Roman ruins to Bari Cathedral.
Cathedral of San Sabino
Bari Cathedral, locally known as Cattedrale di San Sabino, is one of the major attractions in Old Town Bari. With its minimalistic yet elegant Romanesque exterior and well-preserved frescoes and mosaics inside, this sight in Bari is worth visiting.
Often overlooked by tourists for Basilica San Nicola, it would be a mistake not to visit this incredible church, as it has a hidden delight inside it – a crypt. Here, you’ll find the Museo del Succorpo della Cattedrale, which has the remnants of Roman ruins and an ancient Christian basilica.
In terms of culturally delightful things to do, Bari has plenty. One brilliant spot to visit in Bari is the Teatro Petruzzelli – a theater open since 1903. This historic theater has hosted world-famous musicians, such as Frank Sinatra and Liza Minnelli.
Nowadays, you can catch opera performances and musical concerts, but if you’re short on time, a quick guided tour is ideal. The theater offers a 30-minute tour, which costs €5 per person, or this walking tour with Opera tickets includes aperitivo and balcony seats to enjoy the opera at this magical theatre.
Archeological Museum of Bari
In terms of Bari museums to visit, the Museum of Santa Scolastica should be high on your Bari what-to-do list. Browse incredible archeological finds and dive deep into the city’s history. You can even spot a medieval church’s remains.
If you’re looking to get some souvenirs or chic clothing on your Bari holiday, here are two fantastic areas to visit:
For fabulous designer stores and local fashion, head to the Murat District. This quarter has ornate Baroque buildings, charming cafés, and superb boutiques. The two main shopping streets are Corso Cavour and Via Manzoni. Corso Cavour has several well-known European designer stores, while Via Manzoni offers more budget-friendly options.
If you’re more interested in finding locally-made gifts to take home, then Bari Vecchia is the place for you. Here, you can get souvenirs and crafts in Piazza Mercantile, which has various local gift shops. Pop into Made in Puglia or Puglia Ceramiche.
Take a Day Trip
Another brilliant thing to do near Bari, Italy, is to plan a day trip to one of the nearby towns.
Valle d’Itria and Alberobello
About an hour’s drive from Bari, you’ll find the charming town of Alberobello in the Valle d’Itria, known for its iconic trulli huts and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This town is home to spectacular landmarks, like the Church of Saint Anthony of Padua, and some of the best agriturismo in Puglia. Take this day tour to Alberello, which includes a stop at the beautiful, unique city of Monopoli as well as the stunning white cliffs of Polignano a mare.
Another of the exceptional day trips from Bari is Matera, one of the world’s oldest settlements. It takes around an hour to drive here, so a more leisurely option is to take a Matera day trip tour. On this tour, you’ll see caves inhabited in the 900s and a church from 1230.
As a central transport hub, Bari has access to some incredible Pugliese towns, including the fishing village of Monopoli. By train, it takes about 30 minutes to get to Monopoli, and it’s a great day trip option. With its whitewashed buildings, a gorgeous cathedral, and colorful fishing boats, it’s a picturesque scene.
Polignano a Mare
Polignano a Mare is another coastal delight, from its white-pebbled cove Cala Monachile to its hidden grottoes. You can experience this all on this speedboat cruise. It takes around 40 minutes to get to Polignano a Mare by train.
Located an hour’s drive from the capital city, the Castellana caves are a natural highlight of Puglia. They go down over 400 feet and are around two miles long. With some incredible stalactites and stalagmites, it’s a beautiful sight to behold and one of the best things to do in Puglia.
Bari Things to Do – All Wrapped Up
Now that this guide has surmised all the best things to do in Bari, Italy, what are you waiting for? Start packing your bags for Bari International Airport for an unforgettable trip to the Puglia region. Delicious street food and stunning historic buildings await you!
If you want more info on this region, check out our Puglia travel guide.