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Puglia was always on my mind whenever I thought of visiting Italy. There were more reasons than one to be fascinated by this quiet region in Southern Italy.
I was intrigued by the fact that it’s popular as “the heel of Italy” for the way it appears in a boot shape on the map. And Puglia’s still lesser-known and offbeat vibe makes it even more appealing.
But Puglia, as it turns out, has plenty to offer as a holiday destination. It’s known for its olive oil production, which equates to 40% of the country’s total bounty.
It’s also packed with historical sites, charming beach towns, and delicious food – anyone visiting Puglia will be blown away by all it has to offer.
But what are the top things to do in Puglia and why should you visit? In this guide, we’ll share all the reasons to visit Puglia, as well as highlight its top attractions and unique culture.
Where is Puglia?
Puglia, is a region of Italy, located in the southern peninsular section of the country. This long, narrow peninsula, is bordered by the Ionian and Adriatic with the Strait of Otranto and Gulf of Taranto to the south. It’s the heel of the Italian boot.
Puglia is also known as Apulia in English.
Best Time to Visit Puglia
The best time to visit Puglia is in the summer or into early autumn. From September to October, you will see warm weather but you’ll also start to see the holiday crowds dispersing, which makes it a great time to visit.
Spring is also a good time to visit, as you see warm weather and fewer crowds. The Adriatic sea is warm enough to swim from May to October, but during winter months, it can get quite cold so you might only be able to dip your feet in.
Reasons to Visit Puglia
Are you ready to explore some of the best that Puglia has to offer? Here are the top reasons to visit Puglia.
1. For The Beguiling Historic Centre
If you are a history geek, you would devour the archaeological sites in Puglia.
Lecce, a city renowned as the ‘Florence of the South’, will enchant you with its elaborate baroque architecture and some intriguing excavated sites – Basilica di Santa Croce and Piazza del Duomo, Museo Faggiano and Roman Amphitheatre to name a few.
Besides Lecce, there are ancient churches and museums hidden in every nook of Puglia.
2. Delectable culinary
You simply can’t ignore food while you are exploring Puglia. Since Puglia is an agricultural land, you can savour fresh and delicious local produce on your platter.
It’s an excellent excuse to indulge in wines and olives. Also, it’s a good idea to try a seafood dish or two – octopus and squid, maybe!
Also, food in Puglia is not expensive. You can have a wholesome sandwich for just €1 or €2, Cappuccino (regular) for less than €2, wine for €3, pasta, or any full meal for €8-10.
Be sure to try local favourites like punta prosciutto or Frisella.
3. Azure waters of the Sea
Puglia is surrounded by the sea from three sides, which makes it alluring for beach lovers. The gorgeous azure sea looks amazing. You just want to sit still and gaze at the shades of blue in the sea.
Puglia is one of the best places to visit in Italy if you enjoy beaches since it’s located as far south as you can go.
Here you’ll find crystal clear water, sea caves, and dramatic cliffs dawning its coastline.
To witness the stunning waterfronts in Puglia, you must visit Bari (the capital of Puglia), which is also a great city for shopping; and Monopoli, which has a fascinating dockyard with a backdrop of old buildings.
Another great place with beautiful turquoise waters is Porto Selvaggio, in the Gallipoli region.
4. The whitewashed old towns
Ostuni is well known for its whitewashed buildings – it looks like a Greek town! It feels surreal ambling through the streets.
It is known to have been rebuilt by the Greeks after being ruined by Hannibal during the Punic Wars.
I particularly loved sauntering through the quaint alleyways and admiring the pretty staircases, windows, and balconies.
Some other beautiful and startling white cities to visit in Puglia are Otranto, Martina Franca, which is one of the most beautiful small towns in the Puglia region.
Brindisi is another coastal town that’s worth visiting because of its architectural beauty, though it’s not as whitewashed as the others. Be sure to check out Cisternino, a small commune village near Brindisi that’s still rich in traditions.
5. The cute Trulli of Alberobello
Alberobello is a lovely little old town of Puglia, which is a UNESCO world heritage site for its cone-shaped huts known as Trulli.
These hut houses look unique and cute, and people actually live in them! However, some of them have been converted into souvenir shops. So, you can stop by and pick up something memorable.
Besides, it’s charming to amble through these huts, as they transport you into a fairy-tale world.
6. The vintage alleyways, back streets, and the cobbled paths
Most of the towns in Puglia have mesmeric alleyways, back streets and cobbled paths that make you feel like you have slipped into another era. So, if you are a spontaneous traveller like me, you’d find yourself taking photos most of the time, wandering, sneaking into a café on impulse and just being.
7. The idyllic countryside
Puglia has an exceedingly beautiful bucolic side to it – the olive groves, the vineyards and the rolling hills.
The ideal way to soak up the countryside charm is by hiring a bicycle and riding through the unknown paths.
8. The serene Masseria stay
A Masseria is an old, fortified farmhouse found on the estates in the Puglia region and typically built in the 16th century. To experience the genuine Puglian style of living, you must stay at a Masseria.
There are many cute and pretty Masserie that have been converted into guesthouses and hotels for tourists. The best part about staying at a Masseria is that you stay close to rural Puglia, get to relish fresh food, and get to interact with the locals.
9. The ‘slow and quiet life’
Puglia is a quiet region of Italy. Thus, you must immerse in its ‘do-nothing’ atmosphere, which is so evident on the streets, in the markets, in the cafes, and restaurants.
People in Puglia observe siesta in the afternoons. All the shops and cafes are shut for a few hours and there’s barely a murmur. Either lay down and sleep with them or soak up the quiet streets in solitude.
10. Friendly locals
The locals in Puglia are friendly people. Though they barely speak English, they are always eager to help and extend a smile.
It’s easy to pick up a bit of Italian, too – Grazie, ciao and bello.
11. For the Gargano National Park
Sitting on the Gargano peninsula is one of the most beautiful places in northern Puglia. The Gargano National Park is one of the few protected areas in Puglia and is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Be sure to head over to the Tremiti islands located within the park if you’re an animal lover. These islands are full of thriving marine life and have epic dive spots.
The most famous island is San Nicola Island which has an 11th-century Santa Maria a Mare Abbey that’s simply stunning. This cathedral has a mosaic floor and delicate detailing throughout.
The pine-covered San Domino Island is a great place to go for beaches.
12. For the cave dwellings in Matera
Matera is a city in the Basilicata region of Puglia and is known for its cave houses that have been carved into the mountainside.
It was evacuated in 1952 due to poor living conditions, but it has since been refurbished and offers a unique destination to explore in the region.
Its top attractions include the Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario museum and the rock churches of St. Lucia alle Malve.
Where to Stay in Puglia
I recommend you stay in Ostuni, Brindisi, or Polignano a Mare and take day trips.
These cities are the perfect base to explore the region and have adequate public transport connecting to the other areas. You can get a direct train from Rome to Brindisi and Ostuni.
Ostuni is a 5-hour drive from Rome International Airport and Polignano a Mare is 4.5 hours drive. Alternatively, you can take a train from Rome to Foggia, and then Foggia to Polignano A Mare.
Once you have found your accommodation, it’s a good idea to rent a car so you don’t have to rely on trains and buses. This is especially convenient for those who have a short amount of time in Puglia.
FAQs about Visiting Puglia
Here’s what people usually ask us about visiting Puglia…
Do you need a car for visiting Puglia?
Yes, you do. You will find yourself waiting forever for public transport to arrive and this will be the easiest way to get from A to B.
How do you get to Puglia?
There are two airports you can fly into; Bari in the north, and Brindisi in the south. You can also get direct trains from Rome to Brindisi.
How many days do you need in Puglia?
The minimum number of days you should spend in Puglia is 4-5 days, but if you have a week at your disposal you can certainly fill this time.
Before You Visit Puglia…
So there you have it, those are all the reasons to visit Puglia and to add it to your bucket list.
Before you go, remember that life in Puglia runs a little slower than you might be useful. Pack your patience and plan ahead, as you will likely spend longer waiting for food than you’re used to.
You should also know that English is not widely spoken, so if you can brush up on your spanish or pack a phrase book, it might help!
We hope this guide helped you plan your Puglia itinerary and helped you decide which attractions to visit. It’s truly a hidden gem in Europe and a must-see destination in Italy.
Other Travel Tips for Italy:
- ITALIAN LAKES: To help you with your trip to Italy’s largest lake, read our suggestions for things to do in Lake Garda and for Italy’s most famous lake, a guide to things to do in Lake Como.
- TUSCANY: Don’t miss these stunning places to visit in Tuscany and a guide to Chianti towns and how to spend a day in Siena.
- VENICE: Is it a trip to Italy without exploring these best things to do in Venice?
- FLORENCE: For one of Italy’s most beautiful cities, here are 16 amazing things to do in Florence and enjoy this food and wine tour of Florence.
- CINQUE TERRE: Here’s our top things to do in Cinque Terre including our favorite Cinque Terre boat tour, and here’s a little insight into the personalities of the Five Towns of Cinque Terre.
- ROME Here is our list of memorable things to do in Rome, a food walking tour in Rome, and what to do with kids in Rome in 72 hours, and our guides to the Vatican, and the Colosseum and Roman Forum and 36 Essential Things to know before Visiting Rome