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Things to do in Matera

Things to do in  Matera

Welcome to Matera

The southern Italian city of Matera looks as if it is frozen in time—and parts of it are. The historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most popular attraction in the small region of Basilicata (a roughly 2.5-hour drive from Naples) owing to its hillside series of prehistoric cave dwellings that are believed to date back thousands of years. It is thought that the so-called Sassi di Matera were occupied by some of Italy’s first humans, and many are still in use today, serving as restaurants, bars, hotels, and even art galleries. While travelers can visit many of the sassi (stones) independently, signs and information plaques are sparse so it’s best to go with an expert guide who can shed light on the area’s long history. Just outside Matera, the Murgia Materana Park is home to some 150 ancient churches that were carved right out of the limestone. Take a sightseeing tour that includes entrance fees, the services of a guide, and round-trip transport from Matera for a hassle-free visit to the rupestrian churches. If you’re visiting Matera from elsewhere in Italy, the small city is located about 1.5 hours away from Bari, the capital of Puglia, by train.

Top 3 attractions in Matera

Sassi di Matera

A European Capital of Culture, the UNESCO-listed Sassi di Matera are one of Basilicata’s most fascinating destinations. The cave dwellings and caverns carved into the hillside of Matera date from prehistoric times and were inhabited until the 1950s. Today, they host unique hotels, restaurants, churches, and museums.More

Murgia National Park (Parco della Murgia Materana)

The UNESCO World Heritage–listed Murgia Materana Park is one of the most important attractions in the region of Basilicata. Located near the Sassi di Matera, the park is famous for its prehistoric sites, rupestrian churches, and varied wildlife—and is a fascinating testament to the historic relationship between humans and nature.More

Madonna delle Virtù Church (Chiesa di Madonna delle Virtù)

Madonna delle Virtù in the heart of the UNESCO–listed Sassi di Matera is one of the most important rupestrian churches in this European Capital of Culture, a warren of caverns dug from the cliff in the 12th century and subsequently frescoed. With its Romanesque interiors and cupolas, this architectural treasure is a highlight of the city.More
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All about Matera

When to visit

Though slightly cooler than its southern Italian neighbors, Matera is still hot in the heart of summer, with average July highs hovering around 86°F (31°C). Travelers braving the heat can see the costumed processions and fireworks of the Festa della Bruna—the town’s most important religious festival—in early July. April tends to be rainy. May and June are drier, warmer, and beat the high travel season by a month or two.

Getting around

Matera is served by buses and trains, but it’s in a relatively remote part of the Basilicata region where public transportation is not always reliable. Renting a car makes the most sense, but know that parking in the center of Matera is limited. Guided tours on foot or on Italian tuk-tuks (called Api) are a great way to experience the famed sassi—cave dwellings that were inhabited for nearly 7,000 years.

Traveler tips

Nothing completes the Matera experience like spending the night in the sassi. Once dishonoring Matera with the nickname “the shame of Italy” for their squalor, the cave dwellings are now a local point of pride, with some having been converted into hotels. Accommodation options range from modest to luxurious—the budget-minded Locanda di San Martino and the four-star Hotel Sant’Angelo are good places to start.

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A local’s pocket guide to Matera

Rebecca Winke

The haunting cave city of Matera entranced writer Rebecca on her first trip, long before the UNESCO site hit the travel headlines. She continues to visit regularly as the old town restyles itself as a chic A-list destination.

The first thing you should do in Matera is...

time your visit right. One of the reasons that locals long lived in caves here was to escape the searing midday temperatures, so explore the steep city in the early morning or late afternoon.

A perfect Saturday in Matera...

begins by waking up in one of its stylish cave hotels that have transformed the prehistoric dwellings into luxe accommodations. From there, it’s an easy stroll to explore the Sassi districts’ upscale dining and galleries.

One touristy thing that lives up to the hype is ...

Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario, a museum that offers a poignant look at life here two centuries ago, when entire families inhabited these dwellings along with their farm animals.

To discover the "real" Matera...

explore the clifftop Piano and Civita districts, where locals live, shop, and dine. The Sassi along the cliffsides were abandoned in the 1950s and only recently reclaimed to house hotels, restaurants, and shops.

For the best view of the town...

drive about 15 minutes away from town to the Belvedere Murgia Timone scenic overlook, one of the most postcard-perfect viewpoints over the historic Sassi.

One thing people get wrong...

is that the Sassi underwent gentrification that displaced local residents. Instead, the cave dwellings had been abandoned for decades before enterprising locals realized they could be reclaimed for hospitality and commercial space.

People Also Ask

What is Matera famous for?

Matera, a hill town in Italy’s Basilicata region, is famous for its prehistoric cave dwellings. Its historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where restaurants, hotels, and galleries are carved into hillside caves. You may recognize it as a backdrop to several movies set in Biblical times, including The Passion of the Christ.

How can I visit Matera?

Matera is a popular day trip destination for travelers staying in nearby Puglia, though it’s not the easiest to get to. It’s accessible via train from Bari’s Centrale Station. You might visit on a private tour, too.

How do I spend my day in Matera?

Matera is best explored on foot. This city is home to many winding, narrow, and pedestrianized streets made up of steps. Join a tour to follow a guide through Matera or wander through the city independently to explore art galleries, shops, and restaurants at your own pace.

How much time do you need in Matera?

Plan to stay overnight in Matera. While some travelers visit on a day trip from nearby Puglia, the atmosphere of Matera comes alive at night. The luxury cave hotels are a unique experience worth an overnight stay. Travelers with more time will find that Matera has enough to offer for two or three days.

Where can I watch the sunset in Matera?

Matera’s stones and caves make it a special place to see the glow of a sunset. There are several scenic places to watch the sunset including the Church of Sant’Agostino. Travelers with a car may want to cross the gorge to Murgia Materana Park for a view back at Matera.

Is Matera the oldest city in the world?

No, Matera is not the oldest city in the world. But it is home to prehistoric cave dwellings that are believed to date back thousands of years. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has a striking historic center with landmarks including churches, museums, art galleries, and more.


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