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Do you love admiring masterful architecture, indulging in top-class cuisine, and touring fascinating museums when on vacation? If so, Lecce is the place to be. Also known as the “Florence of the South,” Lecce’s vivacity is due to the city’s rich culture and history – evident in its Roman archaeological remains.
Where is Lecce in Italy, you wonder? The city is in Puglia (or Apulia), the heel of Italy’s famous boot, one of the most stunning regions of Italy. From wine-tasting to thrilling shopping sprees to the remarkable Lecce attractions, there’s enough on offer to suit every kind of traveler.
One of the most striking aspects of the city is its beautiful historical buildings. Visiting Lecce is your chance to immerse yourself in the elegance and splendor of Italy, in its most glorious Baroque city. What follows is your guide to the best things to do in Lecce, Italy.
Explore the Historic Center
Like many of Italy’s ancient towns, Lecce has an incredible historic city center. Below are the locations that are clear stand-outs in this part of the city.
Roman Amphitheater and Piazza Sant’Oronzo
The Roman Amphitheater, an ancient arena in the main piazza, is steeped in the city’s far-reaching Roman Empire history, influence, and power. The site also has a commemorative arch and other iconic ruins.
The historic center is also home to the Piazza Sant’Oronzo, a busy square where you can savor the sights and sounds of classic Italy. The square is easily spotted thanks to the 29-meter-high column with a statue of Saint Orontius sitting at the top.
Next is the Roman Theater, a hidden gem that’s not to be confused with the Roman Amphitheater. This Augustan-period marvel, once the venue for epic tragedies and comedies, features an orchestra, classical terraces, and pretty ornate gardens.
Narrow streets lead to this attraction, making navigating this area of Lecce its own mystery-infused adventure. If you opt for a Baroque city historic center tour, stops include the Piazza Sant’Oronzo and the Roman Theater.
Basilica Di Santa Croce
Regarding the wonders of “Lecce Baroque,” one impressive historic building is a prominent symbolic expression of the country’s roots. That’s the Basilica di Santa Croce, an unmissable site for things to do in Lecce.
The sophistication and finesse of the Baroque style are on full display at the Basilica di Santa Croce. Consider a Baroque architecture and underground tour to see the superior details that prove why Santa Croce Church took over a century to complete.
Uncover the story of Lecce, Italy, and visit an area that once protected the city’s people against invasion by Turkish armies. The Gates (also dubbed the famous Lecce portas) were erected as ordered by Emperor Charles V.
The City Gates originally stood as four structures, constituting Lecce’s fortification plan and defensive city walls. Today’s three remaining City Gates are Porta Napoli (the main city gate), Porta San Biagio, and Porta Rudiae.
Villa Comunale Park
Villa Comunale Park is a gorgeous city park over 200 years old, spanning about 7.4 acres in the central part of Lecce. Villa Comunale showcases the immaculate natural appeal of this side of Puglia’s Salento region.
The park is adorned by fountains, framed outdoor platforms, and picture-perfect ornamental gardens. This is a great place to enjoy a quiet walk, a relaxing picnic, or a romantic afternoon date if you’re traveling with your significant other.
Local Food and Markets
It’s not just the historical sites and landmarks that are a joy to behold in this city. It’s also the locals’s relationship with food, which serves as a sort of love language. From traditional cuisine to the local wine, there are delicious drinks and dishes you simply have to sample in this charming southern Italy nook.
There are quite a few favorites on the list of Lecce’s local specialties, but these four frontrunners are not to be missed:
- Rustico Leccese – Most bakeries and cafés offer this tasty snack of pastry goodness. The most popular filling is a mixture of tomato and mozzarella. Caffè Alvino in Piazza Sant’Oronzo and Pasticceria La Fornarina are just two outlets where you can find mouth-watering Rustico.
- Pasticciotto Leccese – Lecce cuisine is all about delicious pastries, and another tasty offering is Pasticciotto Leccese. This one is usually filled with egg custard (or vanilla custard, for that burst of sweetness) or ricotta cheese. Pop into Pasticceria Natale or Luca Capilungo’s pastry shop for this treat.
- Orecchiette Al Sugo – The ear-shaped orecchiette pasta takes center stage in this tomato-based sauce, often featuring generous lashings of cheese, garlic, onion, and seasoning. Osteria 203 delivers fantastic orecchiette meals.
- Caffè Leccese – Coffee lovers, listen closely. In Lecce, there’s a heavenly iced coffee beverage known as Caffè Leccese, made with almond syrup and espresso. Take it a step further and ask the barista to add cream, and enjoy it shaken (referred to as the shakerato style) or blown (referred to as the soffiato style).
Other Notable Mentions
If you want a true deep dive into Lecce cuisine, you won’t go wrong trying some of these other cherished plates of the city:
- Ciceri e tria: a chickpea pasta dish
- Taieddha: a potato casserole that locals like to prepare with mussels or artichoke
- Municeddhe: a snail dish that rivals the French escargot
- Quataru: a much-loved Salento region seafood soup
- Torchietti: a spiral or twisted pasta shaped to resemble a torch, which captures various sauces particularly well
- Gnummareddi: the curious and brave foodies will delight in skewered rolls of lung, liver, and kidney wrapped in a lamb casing
A Food and History Tour in Lecce
For a beautifully curated experience, join a Lecce history and street food tour. Enjoy sightseeing while snacking on appetizing, freshly baked pastries. Stops at major Lecce attractions include Basilica di Santa Croce, the Roman Theater, Piazza Sant’Oronzo, and two of the three remaining Lecce portas.
Visit Lecce Cathedral
In a city with more than 20 churches, it’s fair to say that one of the most enriching things to do in Lecce is to view as many stately religious buildings as your time and itinerary allow. Lecce Cathedral, also called Duomo di Lecce, is among the most awe-inspiring.
Cattedrale Maria Santissima Assunta e S.Oronzo
The cathedral was built as a dedication to Maria, hence also referred to as Cattedrale Maria Santissima Assunta e S.Oronzo or Duomo di Maria Santissima Assunta. It exists as the brainchild of Bishop Formoso, dating back to 1144. Baroque-style architectural genius Giuseppe Zimbalo later redesigned it in the late 1650s.
Duomo di Lecce, with its intriguing facades, sits in the enclosed Piazza del Duomo, one of Lecce’s most splendid squares. Inside Lecce Cathedral, expect multiple rococo-style altars with exquisite carvings, 17th-century artworks, marble finishes, and canvases. So sacred is this historic building that picture-taking is prohibited, and silence must be maintained.
The 236-foot bell tower is to the cathedral’s left and was built years after the main structure. From the bell tower, take in spectacular views of the city and the Adriatic Sea.
Piazza Del Duomo
The Piazza del Duomo is the city’s busiest and most beautiful square. This piazza also houses the Seminary Palace and the Bishop’s Palace (the Episcopio) – where the Archbishop of Lecce resides. In the Seminary Palace, you can see the Seminary Museum.
The museum, or the Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art by its official name, is where the Diocesan Archives also make for a worthy attraction. A lovely monastery can be found inside the Seminary Palace as well.
Every inch of the Piazza del Duomo is superb in design and divine to observe. This location provides stellar architecture, art, and history – all in one marvelous setting.
Museums and Historical Sites
Italian museums and historical sites are a separate ball game when compiling your list of things to do in Lecce. This is where unmistakable Renaissance period influences are most apparent. You find diverse museum offerings like the Museo Ebraico di Lecce (the Jewish Museum) and many more. But the following two archaeological museums deserve the spotlight.
The Museo Faggio tells a captivating 2,000-year tale of Lecce through its archaeological collections, which opened to locals and tourists in 2008. Walk through the city’s historical chronicles as you view finds from the Messapi era right through to the Renaissance years.
When visiting Lecce, you want to soak up as much of the city’s past as possible, and museums are a no-brainer when executing that mission. What’s even better is that you can look forward to more than just the archaeological tour of the museum.
The Faggio’s “Lyric Experience” treats you to an intimate sit-down session. Listen to fascinating opera singing performances in a relaxed group setting.
If you’re one never to shy away from the dancefloor, the “Pizzica Experience” is for you. On Tuesday and Friday evenings, visitors at the Faggio can learn the ancient pinches pizzica dance. It’s an excellent interactive way to get involved in a traditional activity of playfulness and merriment.
Standard tickets to visit the Faggio cost €5, and it operates until 20h00 daily. If you’re traveling with younger ones, ask about the family discount.
Museum of Sigismondo Castromediano
Another archaeological haven is the Museo Sigismondo Castromediano, where you can step back in time and get a glimpse of Lecce’s artistic heritage. This was Puglia’s first public museum, making it a must-see for things to do in Lecce.
The collections celebrate five human and cultural landscapes: the Living, the Dead, the Earth, the Sea, and the Sacred. There are peculiar art pieces, craftwork, and even fossils found across Salento.
The Museum of Sigismondo Castromediano pays homage to the region’s Palaeolithic, Neolithic, Greek, and Roman history. View the ornaments, jewels, ancient ceramic kitchenware, and weapons used in the early years.
A major highlight at the museums are the 15th and 18th-century paintings. There are also marble sculptures, canvases, fabrics, and silverware. The cherry on top is that entry to the museum is free, allowing you to experience an absorbing cultural space while saving some cash.
Castello Carlo V
Remember King Charles V, who instructed the city portas to be built? Well, one specific place celebrates him: the Castello Carlo V – a grand castle in Lecce, Italy.
Also known as the Castello di Lecce, it was the 16th-century vision of Emperor Charles V. The king went out of his way to extend and have the castle redesigned by Gian Giacomo dell’Acaya in the late 1530s.
The Castello Carlo V is conveniently located in Lecce’s historic center, near Piazza Sant’Oronzo. It has served numerous purposes over time. It was once a prison, a court, and a military base, but is today the center for Lecce’s cultural administration.
The castle hosts recitals, art exhibitions, cultural events, and city meetings. An in-house paper mache museum is among the castle’s star attractions.
Artisan Crafts and Shopping
The arts, crafts, and boutique shopping scene in Lecce is as gratifying as the historic sites, museums, and churches. The locals are gifted and expressive, with art forms and handiwork techniques passed down through the ages.
When mapping out where to go and things to do in Lecce, three areas shine brightest for unusual yet exceptional shopping experiences. Those areas are paper mache artistry, jewelry-making, and unique homewares.
Papier-Mâché – An Ancient Salento Act of Artistic Expression
Put modern and contemporary art aside and turn your attention to old traditions instead. In Lecce, there’s one way locals have used to convey their creativity and tell their stories through time.
Paper mache (or papier-mâché) has been practiced for hundreds of years. Today, the city has quaint workshops that produce outstanding paper mache showpieces.
The likes of Antonio Malecore have inspired today’s maestros and artisans, such as Claudio Riso. Riso and his brothers operate from a studio in Lecce’s historic center. Visit his workroom to see how paper mache perfection is made from different materials.
Marco Epicochi is another papier-mâché virtuoso based in the historic center specializing in handmade religious statues. His masterful expressions of beloved saints and other sacred figures have made him well-recognized and respected worldwide.
Stop by to watch him at work and consider taking his details if you want to contact him for an exclusive purchase or private order.
The Understated Elegance of Lecce Jewelry
Jewelry-making in Lecce is just as specialized as many of the city’s leading art forms and is ideal when you want an Italian souvenir like no other.
At Tonda Design, the individual pieces aren’t born out of a need for big, flashy embellishments. What you find instead are expertly designed items that exude a subtle beauty and elegance.
Meander around the store, appreciating the latest creations. The space also features an art gallery and rare furnishings. If the temptation bites, spoil yourself with a statement ring, bracelet, pair of earrings, or a new necklace to add to your assortment of incredible souvenirs.
Unique Lecce Homewares and Stone Artisan Crafts
Precious stones take a new shape and innovation at stores like MI – La Pietra Prende Forma, found along the historic center route of Lecce. Here, Tarantata jewels fuse traditions like the pizzica dance, Lecce history, and artisan creativity into dazzling products of sheer magnificence.
You can visit this shop for small gifts and to discover how Lecce stone is used to produce extraordinary jewelry items and homewares. If you can’t buy a fabulous lamp or decor piece to take home with you, that’s alright. Let the eccentric artisan crafts stimulate your own fanciful accessory and interior design ideas for later.
There are plenty of creations made with precious stones, semi-precious stones, and crystals. The objects evoke a sense of harmony, stillness, emotion, and a zen atmosphere.
Take a Day Trip – Explore Southern Italy
Since Lecce and its surroundings make up some of the most stunning places to stay in Puglia, it’s no surprise that day trips from Lecce should be part of your itinerary.
This part of southern Italy is blessed with attractive towns and villages, mesmerizing coastlines, and majestic vistas of the Adriatic and Ionian seas. When you’re ready to take your sightseeing adventures further afield, make day trips part of your Lecce schedule.
The seaside town of Otranto is a prime candidate when considering which Lecce day trips to factor into your time in Italy. This town is for travelers who prefer to combine history tours and architecture appreciation with beachfront activities and culinary explorations.
To get to Otranto, your quickest and most comfortable option is a taxi. This will be a half-hour, 29-mile trip, with a price range of €100-150. A bus from Lecce to Otranto Via Orte costs around €6, while a train (which would stop in Maglie first) costs about €5. These options take upwards of an hour.
Embark on a day retreat to this destination in the Puglia region and prepare for a wild mix of riveting landmarks, white sand beaches, and seafront restaurants.
What not to miss in Otranto:
- Aragonese Castle: a castle with 15th-century tunnels, chambers, and halls
- Otranto Cathedral: an 11th-century church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, also known as the Skull Cathedral
- Torre Matta: a tower located at the harbor, offering breathtaking sea views
For an organized experience that still affords a bit of independent exploring, add a multi-town tour where Otranto is one of the four stops in Italy’s Salento area.
Castro is a seaside town boasting terrific Adriatic coast scenery and lively piazzas. Take a laid-back day trip from Lecce to this location, the so-called “pearl of Salento.”
Bus rides from Lecce to Castro take 1.5 hours and cost €6 on average. Private taxi transfers cut the bus duration by half, but cost around €120 for the extra convenience.
The two main areas are the rocky fishing bay of Castro Marina, where the swimmers and sunbathers like to go, and Castro Old Town, with its 16th-century buildings. Catro was once known as Castrum Minervae, owing to its reverberating Roman history.
What not to miss in Castro:
- Grotta Zinzulusa: a sensational group of caves and rock formations that are popular with marine life enthusiasts and divers
- Cala dell’Acquaviva: a pretty inlet and beach area that’ll provide astounding locations and backdrops for your photographs
- Mura Messapiche: a noteworthy historical landmark featuring Messepian walls and layers upon layers of rock
Lecce beaches, like other shores across the country, are incredible between May and October, considered the best time to visit Italy for warm weather and sunny coastal la dolce vita living.
Look out for these top picks for idyllic beach destinations:
Santa Maria Di Leuca
Santa Maria di Leuca, 51 miles from Lecce, is an appealing Italian comune with bleached buildings, must-try regional dishes, and the calming waters of the Adriatic and Ionian seas. It offers some of the most enticing beaches in Lecce’s greater area.
After a two-hour bus ride from Lecce to Santa Maria Di Leuca (around €8), book a boat trip with a small group tour of Santa Maria di Leuca’s caves. This experience is a beach, swimming, and snorkeling combo.
Roca Vecchia Beach
Roca Vecchia Beach, about 17 miles away when doing a road trip from Lecce, is one of the prettiest Puglia beaches. It’s surrounded by rugged cliffs that form natural pools such as Grotta della Poesia, meaning “Poetry Cave’. This pool has small caves and tunnels that lead to the open sea.
Pack a picnic basket and spend a few hours on the beach with rented sun loungers and umbrellas while here at one of the five Melendugno Marinas.
Torre dell’Orso Beach
A Lecce-Torre dell’Orso road trip is yet another manageable 17-mile journey. The expansive beach is favored for day trips from Lecce by locals and international travelers. It draws summer crowds but is clean and well-kept, offering enough space when visitors opt for months like June and September.
Enjoy clear blue temperate waters, soft sand, and access to a beach bar. There are also beach clubs and resorts in the area, where you can plan extended activities if time permits.
Things to Do in Lecce – The Final Word
Ecco! That’s your neat tally of what to see and do in Lecce, Italy, on your next exciting vacation. You don’t have to look further than this city for imposing historic buildings, significant landmarks, and a carnival of the finest fare.
Visit Lecce to witness magnificent architectural masterpieces like the Santa Croce Basilica and the Lecce Cathedral. You can also squeeze in a day excursion to Otranto or Castro and hit the beaches for a fun retreat in a picturesque seaside location.
When you’re ready for more escapades in the Puglia region, here’s a travel guide with the juicy details you need to prepare for a memorable Italian escape.