Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Puglia
The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Castel del Monte was built in the latter half of the 12th century by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. At this time his realm stretched across much of southern Italy, and he was also responsible for the Castello Normanno-Svevo in Bari, the region’s biggest city, as well as a series of hunting lodges across his domain.
Sitting on a remote hillock among endless undulating plains, Castel del Monte is regarded as a masterpiece of medieval architecture, taking its influences from both Classical and Islamic building styles. Perfectly octagonal in shape, it is constructed around a courtyard and boasts a series of octagonal towers. Internally, it comprises two stories containing eight rooms in each, and although the rich furnishings and much of the decoration are long gone, the marble moldings around the great entrance doorway and the lack of fortifications suggest that the castle may have been a private residence rather than for military purposes. With the demise of the Sicilian empire, the castle was abandoned, and by the 16th century had fallen into disrepair; over the centuries it has been used variously as a prison, a refuge from plague and a hang out for bandits. Today it stands empty and proud, a monument to the political and cultural flowering that saw southern Italy come to prominence in the Middle Ages.
Feel like you’ve been dropped into a gnome village with a visit to Alberobello, one of the most unique towns in Italy and home to over 1,000 roundtrulli, fairy-tale-like whitewashed cottages topped with conical roofs. The trulli of Alberobello, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are a top destination in Puglia’s Itria Valley and a must for photographers.
One of the top pilgrimage destinations in Italy, the town of San Giovanni Rotondo was home to the priest Padre Pio, canonized in 2002. Faithful from around the world flock to the town to honor its most famous resident, paying homage in the Sanctuary of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina and Santa Maria delle Grazie, where the saint is buried.
Part of a lush promontory along Puglia’s coastline, the Gargano National Park (Parco Nazionale del Gargano) is just the place for travelers needing a respite from urban chaos. Known for dramatic coastal cliffs, Adriatic views, and vast expanses of countryside, the park is also home to the San Giovanni Rotondo pilgrimage site.
Lecce is known for its 17th-century Baroque beauty, but the city’s history stretches back to the Roman empire. Nowhere is this legacy more evident than in Lecce’s Piazza Sant’Oronzo, where theLecce Roman Amphitheatre (Anfiteatro Romano di Lecce) from the second century BC is still used today for performances.
The Basilica di San Nicola is a centerpiece of Bari Vecchia, the old town at the heart of the modern city of Bari. The largest city in the region of Puglia and a major port on the Adriatic, Bari has a rich and varied history, and a visit to its imposing 12th-century Romanesque basilica is a must for architecture enthusiasts.
In a city famous for its gorgeous baroque architecture, the Lecce Basilica of Santa Croce (Basilica Di Santa Croce) is a standout. With a glorious stone facade decorated with ornately carved animals, gargoyles, flora, and a large rose window, this 17th-century masterpiece is a feast for the eyes and a highlight of Lecce.
Lecce is famous for its sumptuous baroque architecture, and the Lecce cathedral (Duomo di Lecce) is one of the most ornate examples. Its magnificently carved and adorned Leccese-stone facade is a 17th-century masterpiece and one of the highlights of this city on Puglia’s Salento peninsula.
The Porta Napoli in Lecce is a triumphal arch that once served as one of three entrances into the historic city center. These gates were built into the city walls, and though the walls no longer exist the Porta Napoli still stands.
The gate was built in 1548 after a commission by the Habsburg Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V, to fortify the city. Because of this funding, Lecce thanked the Emperor by decorating the Porta Napoli with the Habsburg family emblem.
Porta Napoli is a stop on many tours through Lecce. Because it doesn’t have open hours or an entry fee, it’s easy to admire at any time of day. For more explanation of the symbolism on the arch or the history behind it, however, a tour guide is useful.
The 12th-century Swabian Castle (Castello Svevo), with its fortified ramparts and vaulted halls, is one of top sights in Bari and a refreshing break from the port city’s Romanesque churches and art collections. Climb the Hohenstaufen tower and Aragon walls for sweeping views of the city and sea.
More Things to Do in Puglia
Puglia’s modern inland city of Foggia is a popular day trip from Bari and convenient base for exploring nearby Lucera, Troia, and the Gargano peninsula on the Adriatic Sea. Top attractions include the 12th-century Cattedrale della Santa Maria Icona Vetere, the archaeological collection in the Civic Museum, and Villa Comunale park.
Piazza del Ferrarese is a public square in the historic part of Bari, not far from the city's waterfront. There are two large squares in Bari's Old Town, known as Barivecchia: Piazza del Ferrarese and Piazza Mercantile, which connect to one another. The former was named for a 17th-century merchant from Ferrara who once lived there.
This part of Bari is newly redeveloped, making it more enticing for visitors, and the businesses lining both squares are part of that effort. Piazza del Ferrarese is surrounded by bars, restaurants, and shops, not to mention that there is part of an ancient Roman road in the middle of the square.
The only trullo built on two levels in the UNESCO-listed village of Alberobello, the Trullo Sovrano is one of the most striking examples of the unique stone dwellings with conical roofs. Learn what it might have been like to live in one as you explore the re-created period living area, kitchen, and bedroom inside.
Lecce’s Church of Saint Irene (Chiesa di Sant'Irene) was built between 1591 and 1639 for the Theatines and dedicated to the city’s patron saint. The church is not far from the Duomo and the Basilica di Santa Croce in Lecce’s city center.
The facade of the church features a statue of Saint Irene, sculpted in the early 18th century. Above that statue is Lecce’s emblem - a shelf-wolf and an oak tree. Artwork worth noting inside the church includes a number of beautiful altarpieces. A particularly large altar dedicated to Saint Cajetan dates from the late 17th century, and two other altarpieces date from the mid-17th century - including one to Saint Irene.
Some walking tours of Lecce include a stop in the Church of St. Irene, though many will make passing reference to the church from the outside.
Bari Cruise Port, a major cruise ship destination and ferry hub for routes to Greece, Turkey, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, and Albania, is the gateway to one of the largest cities on Italy’s Adriatic coast. Before exploring the surrounding region of Puglia or heading farther afield by ferry, tour Bari’s charming historical center and seafront promenade.
Zoosafari Fasanolandia is a zoo and safari theme park in Fasano in the Puglia region of southern Italy. There are three different sections of the park: safari, amusement park, and dolphinarium. The safari section is where visitors can view a wide variety of animals. There are foot paths and self driving paths where you use your own vehicle. The paths lead you through the different animal exhibits including lions, zebras, elephants, monkeys, tigers, giraffes, bears, deer, seals, hippos, rhinos, and much more. In another section, there is a train that shows visitors groups of primates, leopards, black panthers, African hunting dogs, and several other species.
The zoo also has special sections for birds including tropical and other exotic birds and birds of prey. In there are reptiles, amphibians, butterflies, fish, and other animals in aquariums. Another interesting area is the penguin house. The amusement park section has exciting rides for all ages and a 4D cinema. The
dophinarium focuses on dolphins and sometimes has dolphin shows.
The town of Trani is a port city located on the Adriatic Sea on the coast of Puglia, the heel of Italy's boot. A settlement where modern-day Trani is dates back to at least the 9th century, but may have existed during the ancient Roman era. The city reached its height during the 11th century, and by the 12th century there was a substantial Jewish community there. The town's 13th-century synagogue still stands, and was rededicated as a synagogue in 2006.
Among the main sights in Trani are a 13th-century fortress that was once a prison and now holds a museum; the gardens of Villa Comunale; and the 12th-century Cathedral of San Nicola Pellegrino, which is dedicated to St Nicholas the Pilgrim, a Greek saint, whose remains are in the crypt. Next to the cathedral is a museum of sculptures and items excavated from inside the churches of Trani.
Gravina di Puglia is a town in inland Puglia, known mainly for some pretty historic buildings and one of Europe's oldest fairs. The town was originally founded by the Greeks, though it later became part of the Roman Empire in the 4th century BCE. The famous Via Appia runs through Gravina.
Gravina Di Puglia’s cathedral dates from the 11th century, though it was heavily damaged by fires and earthquakes in the 1400s. The ruins of a 13th-century castle can be seen on a hill near Gravina, and there are churches that date from the 11th century that are carved right out of the soft tuff rocks. Gravina's annual Saint George's Fair began in 1294, making it one of Europe's oldest fairs. The town is also known for producing white wines.
The history of the postcard-pretty town of Lecce stretches right back to the Greek empire, when it was known as Messapi. Later, it was an important trading post in Roman times before becoming a center of learning in the Middle Ages. Today, it is famed for its peerless Baroque architecture, and there’s no better place to experience Lecce’s past than at the Faggiano Museum (Museo Faggiano), an eccentric little museum hidden away in a backwater townhouse.
Once behind the unassuming façade, a whole new world opens up; the museum reveals layer upon layer of the town’s past over several levels unearthed during excavations. Presented against a backdrop of bare plaster walls marked with inscriptions from the Knights Templar, discoveries include a Roman altar, a well that reaches down to the underground river Idume, medieval walls, the remnants of a convent and a subterranean passageway thought to run all the way to the center of the town. Scattered among the pottery shards, cisterns and crumbling statues on display are some grisly horrors, including the tomb of a newly born baby and bones from corpses buried by the nuns.
Uncover the tradition behind one of Italy’s most celebrated candies: the sugared almonds (confetti) exchanged at weddings, baptisms, and other important celebrations. The Mucci family has been producing this symbolic sweet for more than a century, and their dedicated museum offers a behind-the-scenes look at the confection’s history.
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