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The Puglia region, found on Italy’s heel (or boot), sits alongside the Adriatic Sea in southern Italy. Also known as Apulia, it features enchanting architecture, rich history and culture, and breathtaking sights. There is no shortage of things to do in Puglia.
Puglia is well known for its wonderful sandy beaches that sit along the region, from Marina di Pescoluse to Cala Porto. It’s also revered for each of its beautiful towns, including the capital city, Bari, and smaller ones like Locorotondo. These towns have plenty of activities and great restaurants serving delicious cuisine.
So, whether you’re exploring the main cities, indulging in the local food scene, or partaking in festivals, you can’t go wrong with this destination. Now, read on to discover more about what to do in Puglia.
Explore the Adriatic Coastline and Beaches
One of the best things to do when you visit Puglia is exploring the wonders of the Adriatic coastline, taking in the charms of each coastal town and sandy beach.
Polignano a Mare and Cala Porto
Polignano a Mare, translating to “Polignano at Sea,” sits atop rocky cliffs along the coastline on the edge of Valle d’Itria.
The town’s historic center is a must-see, boasting ancient buildings and narrow alleys to walk along while admiring exquisite building techniques and architecture. The white-washed streets will take you to Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II. This square has some fantastic restaurants for you to enjoy during your day trip, like Bella ‘Mbriana, not to mention cocktail bars.
Once you’ve explored the town, you can head to the beach. Cala Porto (also called Lama Monachile) is one of the best beaches in Puglia. It has buildings and rock formations on either side and offers a one-of-a-kind retreat. Even thrillseekers can find their sense of adventure here for some cliff diving.
Sitting close to Polignano a Mare, Monopoli is one of those hidden gems in Italy that you need to add to your itinerary. Monopoli has it all, from beaches to castle ruins and more.
Start off your visit by sightseeing around Monopoli Old Town, packed with gorgeous churches, coffee shops, and restaurants that showcase that Italian charm. And that’s not even mentioning the aesthetic scenery and incredible photo opportunities.
Then visit the Baroque-style cathedral, the Basilica of the Madonna della Madia, or other architectural marvels like Castello di Carlo. Monopoli also has no shortage of historical buildings and ruins, including Chiesa di San Salvatore and the Bastione del Molino ruins.
The Salento Peninsula sits south of Puglia and is described as the heel of Italy’s boot. Being surrounded in parts by the Adriatic and Ionian Sea, its crystal blue waters and beaches are a hallmark for tourists. These three beaches are some of the best places to visit in Puglia If your time is limited:
Marina di Pescoluse – This beach sits between Torre Pali and Torre Valo along the west coast of Salento and is about an hour away from the city of Lecce. The white sand dunes and blue waters offer a great place to relax and catch a tan, but you can also enjoy some water sports and snorkeling if you enjoy exploring under water.
Baia dei Turchi – Baia dei Turchi (Turkish Bay) is just north of Otranto and is another popular beach in Salento. The unique geography leaves miles of warm sand and rock formations that sit beside Mediterranean pine trees. Whether you want to lounge around or visit one of the many beach clubs and resorts, this beach has you covered.
Grotta della Poesia – While technically not a beach, Grotta della Poesia is a must-visit in Salento. In English, its name means “the cave of poetry,” which is apt given the sheer beauty and magic of the location. It’s a natural swimming pool with ocean water beneath tunnels of limestone rock and cliffs.
Gargano and Baia delle Zagare
Gargano is a region in the Foggia province of Puglia filled with lush forests, olive groves, and scenic coastlines. Gargano National Park comprises a large part of the region and houses mountain ranges, the Umbra Forest, great lakes like Lake Varano, and the Tremiti Islands.
Gargano also has a plethora of small towns to visit, like Vieste, Monte Sant’Angelo, or Peschici. Wherever you decide to visit, there will be that charming, aesthetic scenery and architecture that you’ll find across Puglia.
Once you’re done exploring those quaint locales, take a trip to Baia delle Zagare (Zagare Bay) to relish one of Gargano’s most picture-worthy beaches. The nearby greenery and large rock formations in the water just off the shore make for a natural escape like no other.
Visiting the Tremiti islands is next up and is one of the most wondrous things to do in Apulia. As mentioned, the Tremiti Islands form part of Gargano National Park and comprise five small islands – St. Nicholas, St. Domino, Capraia, Pianosa, and Cretaccio.
The Islands’ origins come from the story of Diomedes, who was said to have thrown large rocks into the sea, which created the islands. Regardless of the legends, the Tremiti Islands are well worth the visit on any vacation.
There is plenty to get up to on the Tremiti Islands, from visiting beaches and snorkeling in the crystal-clear water to admiring the lovely architecture of Castello dei Badiali. In terms of travel, you can take a roundtrip ferry to view the scenery of the islands up close or take a helicopter instead to see them from above.
Gallipoli and Spiaggia della Purità
Last up on the list of things to do on the Adriatic coastline has to be visiting the town of Gallipoli. Some call it “the Pearl of Salento,” with its ancient town buildings, historical center, fish markets, and beaches.
Start by visiting Gallipoli Old Town, which is surrounded by fortified walls and gives the town a real medieval castle feel. Gallipoli Castle offers impressive views from Rivellino Tower, which looks over the harbor. Gallipoli Castle also has a museum to visit.
Saint Agatha Cathedral is also an excellent site, combining stunning baroque architecture and impressive scale. The real treat lies inside the cathedral. You’ll find stunning intricate facades and paintings across the ceilings and walls, by artists like Giovanni Andrea Coppola and Nicola Malinconico.
Spiaggia della Purita (Beach of Purity) sits alongside the walls of Gallipoli’s historic center. The beach is free to access, so make your way there for lunch, a refreshing swim, or to watch the sunrise or sunset across the horizon.
Discover the Towns and Beauty of the Valle d’Itria
Next, it’s time to explore the stunning Valle d’Itria (Itria Valley), with Trulli houses dotted across Alberobello, groves of olive trees in the surrounding countryside, and other lovely towns.
Alberobello and Trulli Houses
Alberobello is adorned with tiny white homes and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. These little homes, called Trulli houses, are a hallmark feature of the town and worth visiting.
Trulli houses are small circular buildings built from limestone that are painted white and covered with a cone-shaped roof. These dwellings date back to the 14th century and showcase ancient building techniques, particularly dry stone building.
While visiting Alberobello, you can walk through the narrow streets and find some lovely places, like the Church of Saint Anthony Padua or Alberobello in Miniature, a quaint museum with a mini-version of the town. Plus, there are tons of small gift shops along the way to get yourself a souvenir.
Tour suggestion: Try this 2-hour guided Trulli tour, which travels through this UNESCO World Heritage Site and gives insight into the area’s history.
Monumental Olive Trees
A big part of Puglia’s natural beauty comes from the olive tree groves spread across the region between Monopoli and Caravigno. Monumental olive trees are unique because they are large (hence the name) and exist in the hundreds of thousands across Puglia.
Olives and oil making are a massive part of Puglia’s cultural heritage, given that the region is responsible for most of Italy’s olive oil production. They are, unfortunately, prone to xylella bacteria, but residents endeavor to prevent the spread of disease and preserve the lives of the trees.
Locorotondo is a hidden gem in the Valle d’Itria. Tourists often overlook the small town, but there is so much to see and do that will leave you impressed.
The picturesque Locorotondo is a great location for some incredible photos of the narrow streets, the white-washed buildings, the gorgeous churches, and the countryside. You can find an ideal scenic lookout spot at the Lungomare (seafront).
After traversing the streets and visiting churches like Chiesa Madre di San Giorgio, you should consider visiting some of the town’s quaint restaurants and cafés. Locorotondo is also an excellent spot for wine tasting, so try places like Pavì Wine Restaurant or Cardone Vini Classici Srl.
For a charming and captivating experience, visit Martina Franca. Like other towns in Puglia, it sports the classic narrow cobblestone streets, beautiful architecture, and buildings in its historic center.
While there, visit the different Piazzas spread across the town, including Piazza XX Settembre and Piazza Roma. Then, just outside Pizza Roma is the Palazzo Ducale, a palace built in 1668 that is currently the civic government building in Martina Franca. Inside, you’ll find some artworks and exhibitions.
Porta di Santo Stefano is also worth a visit, as this iconic and grand archway is ideal for amazing photographs. You also can’t go wrong with seeing the Basilica Cattedrale di San Martino, an impressive church built in 1747 in Piazza Plebiscito.
Ostuni, also known as the white city, is one of Valle d’Itria’s most beautiful towns. From on top of the hill it sits on, you’ll find views of groves of olive trees in the surrounding countryside and the glimmering ocean just 5 miles away.
The white-colored buildings are spread uniformly across the hill and provide a unique and inspiring appearance, not to mention the fortified walls surrounding it. While there, you should explore the old town to view the historic buildings and medieval-style architecture.
Visiting Cattedrale Santa Maria Assunta, built in the 11th century, is also an impressive sight and a must-visit. There are also museums to explore, like Museo Diocesano di Ostuni or Orizzonti Arte Contemporanea.
Once you’ve taken in the sights in Valle d’Itria, consider taking a road trip to another magnificent city in Puglia, Italy – Lecce, which sits in the Salento region.
Baroque architecture is an awe-inspiring building and art style that dates back to 17th-century Italy. It’s an integral part of Italian architecture, and that is especially true for Lecce. So, while you’re in the city, it’s worth exploring and getting a closer look at the buildings in the area.
Tour suggestion: Try this Baroque architecture and underground tour.
Catedral de la Asunción de Santa María sits on the southeast side of the Piazza del Duomo. It was initially a Romanesque cathedral built as far back as 1230 but was rebuilt in 1659 in the classic baroque style that Italy is known for. Visiting the cathedral is recommended for those who want a look at the architecture and intricate designs, not to mention the unmatched views from the bell tower.
The Roman Amphitheater is a marvel of Lecce, found in Piazza Sant’Oronzo. It was buried beneath for centuries and was only discovered recently in around 1901, though still partially buried. Visiting the amphitheater in Lecce gives an informative glimpse into its history. It’s also undoubtedly an impressive sight.
Teatro Romano di Lecce, or Roman Theater of Lecce (not to be confused with the Amphitheater), was an accidental discovery in 1929. It’s a bit more hidden than its counterpart, but it’s worth the extra effort to find. While it might not be as large as the amphitheater, it is still a grand, historical experience.
Tour suggestion: A walking tour is a good way to find concealed places like the Teatro Romano, so try this Lecce sightseeing tour.
Bari Old Town
Bari is situated on the eastern coast and is the capital city of Puglia, Italy. The city has much to do, but visiting Bari Old Town should be a top priority if you have limited time.
Fishermen at Dock
Being a port city, Bari has a traditional love for seafood, so much so that it’s become a defining feature. When you’re there, visit the old port between San Nicola and San Antonio piers. You’ll find fishermen ready to sell incredibly fresh seafood you won’t get anywhere else like sea urchins straight from the waters of the Adriatic.
You can’t visit Bari without visiting local markets and bakeries to try Focaccia. This light and crispy bread is popular in the Puglia food scene and comes in different varieties, though Focaccia Barese is a staple (but more on that later).
Narrow Streets and Laneways
Bari Old Town has mazes of narrow streets and laneways for you to explore. These hold unique spots and phenomenal views of the town’s architecture. If you want, you can go on guided walking tours of the old town or walk along the alleyways and streets on your own.
Basilica of St. Nicholas
Basilica San Nicola (Basilica of St. Nicholas) is one of the first Norman churches built in Southern Italy in the 12th century. It sports a unique Romanesque-style architecture and sits a short distance from the coastline. You will find it in the historic center of Bari near Piazza del Ferrarese. It’s worth admiring the intricacy of the Basilica’s grand design.
Tour suggestion: Book a ticket for a guided tour of the Basilica and crypts.
Pasta Making in the Street
Lastly, end your journey through Bari Old Town with a classic street food tour or pasta-making class. Many locals across the town streets will teach you the traditional way of making homemade pasta, particularly orecchiette pasta. It’s one of the most unique experiences that Bari has to offer.
Tour suggestion: Here is a Bari pasta experience tour where you’ll learn to make homemade pasta.
Pugliese Food and Wine
Apulia destinations are known for some mouthwatering gastronomy, which varies across different areas. Here are some of the most delectable things you have to try in the Puglia region.
What to Try:
Focaccia Barese – This light and crisp bread is a specialty of Bari in Puglia, combining simple ingredients to create bursting flavors. Traditionally made in a wood fire oven, this bread has cherry tomatoes, black olives, and herbs on top of a crispy crust that is to die for.
Orecchiette Pasta – Orecchiette is a small ear-shaped pasta made popular in Puglia, Italy. Any type of sauce works, whether you want your orecchiette smothered in a rich and creamy alfredo sauce or a classic tangy marinara.
Crudo – You can’t indulge in the Puglia food scene without trying the local seafood. Crudo is a dish of fresh raw seafood or fish covered with delectable dressings, toppings, and seasonings. The dressing is usually something acidic, like vinegar or citrus, but olive oil is also common.
Olive Oil – Puglia is Italy’s largest producer of olive oil due to the olive groves spread across the region that provide great-quality, tasty olive oil. Whether on crispy bruschetta or in a simple salad dressing, you’ll find olive oil used in most recipes.
Burrata and Stracciatella Cheese – When it comes to cheesy goodness, the Pugliese are the masters. Burrata is a layer of classic mozzarella surrounding a gooey center of creamy cheese curds once you break it open; perfect for salads or pasta. Stracciatella is pretty much the same but lacks that layer of mozzarella outside, leaving simple, creamy goodness.
Taralli – This crispy snack is made from a simple dough combining white wine, olive oil, flour, and salt. The dough is formed in small shapes, boiled, and baked until golden brown. Flavored with salt, fennel, or chili flakes (or whatever you like), Taraili will have you reaching for more.
Panzerotti and Rustico Leccese – Panzerotti sports a yeast dough with a mozzarella and tomato filling, shaped into a semi-circle, and deep fried. Rustico Leccese is slightly different. Puff pastry is cut into rounds and filled with bechamel, tomato sauce, and mozzarella cheese. These round pockets of deliciousness are baked until golden.
Pasticciotti Sweet Pastry – This Lecce-born decadent dessert is perfect for those with a sweet tooth. Pasticciotti is a sort of small, oval-shaped pie made from a buttery shortcrust pastry filled with a lovely and smooth Italian sweet cream.
Primitivo Wine – Last but not least, you can’t end your Puglia food journey without a cool glass of wine. Primitivo wine is a bold-flavored red wine that is prominent in southern Italy. With dark and earthy notes, this wine is surprisingly versatile and pairs well with anything from pizza to eggplant parmesan.
Stay in a Traditional Dwelling
For a memorable experience, consider staying in places that offer traditional housing in Puglia. It’s an ideal way to immerse yourself in the cultural heritage of Puglia, not to mention staying in the classic Pugliese style.
Remember those little white houses in Alberello? Well, you can book a night or two in one of those during your stay. Trulli houses are quaint limestone homes with cone-shaped roofs painted white and scattered across the region.
A masseria is a fortified farmhouse found across the Puglia countryside. They were built around the 16th century and initially used as storage for farm and household items. Over time, they were upgraded and expanded and now serve as some of the nicest accommodations and even host wine tastings and cooking classes.
If all of that wasn’t enough, Puglia is a wonderful place to enjoy a variety of festivals that celebrate everything from food and wine to music. So, once you’re done exploring Puglia and its towns and cities, join in on these fun-filled festivities.
Putignano Carnival – This festival is celebrated in Putignano between December and February and blends Pagan and traditional culture. It is one of the oldest and largest celebrated carnivals in Italy. Putignano Carnival is perhaps best known for the incredible display of parade floats, but it’s important to note the parades don’t take place every day of the observance period.
Palio dei Rioni Taranto – This traditional regatta, or sporting event, takes place on two separate days: one to celebrate patron saint San Cataldo and one during the Sea Festival. The event is an exciting competition of boat rowing between neighborhoods in the city of Taranto.
Festival of St. Nicholas Bari – To start Christmas celebrations in Bari, citizens enjoy the Festival of St. Nicholas. Festivities begin on the 6th of December each year and consist of a Holy Mass at the Basilica of St. Nicholas, a visit to the underground crypts, and a torchlight procession.
Festa di Santa Domenica Scorrano – Honoring the patron Saint Domenica and her memory, this colorful light and music festival takes place in Scorrano. It’s observed each year on the 5th, 6th, and 7th of July and showcases an impressive light display each night. Combine this with the music, food, and excited participants, and you’ve got an unforgettable experience.
Things to Do in Puglia, Italy – Wrapped Up
In Puglia, things to do are in no shortage. There are so many incredible and captivating experiences to try. From the unmatched views of the Adriatic Sea and coastline to the charming cities, like Polignano a Mare, and other towns inland, there is something here to suit everyone.
Whether planning a short vacation or a week-long trip, Puglia is a must-add to your Italy bucket list. Don’t miss out on one of the finest regions in Italy.