Puglia, Italy Road Trip: 25 Things to See and Do in Puglia

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Last Updated on November 13, 2022 by Audrey Scott

If you're thinking of visiting Puglia, Italy, but don't know where to start in planning a road trip or what to see and do in Puglia, then you're in the right place. Read on for our top recommendations on things to do, where to eat, where to stay, and places to interest in Puglia from our own road trip.

The goal: help you create your own road trip route and Puglia itinerary of 7-10 days. This little-known province in southern Italy really has so much to offer in terms of history, beautiful old towns, beaches, landscapes, colorful markets and just incredible food.

Choosing Puglia for Our Anniversary

Puglia (or Apulia), the southern Italian province referred to as “the heel of the boot” first entered my consciousness more than ten years ago when a friend from San Francisco up and moved there on the initial leg of his retirement.

In an email now deep in the archives, Will wrote: “Puglia is excellent. And by the way, not too expensive, my friend […] I have a very spacious apartment in a nice section […] excellent weather and the food almost never disappoints.”

I’ve since lost touch with my friend; perhaps Puglia was so good that it drew him in. But before it did, he planted a seed.

As our 15th wedding anniversary approached, Audrey and I considered a handful of regions in Italy in which to celebrate. While we could have returned to Tuscany, the original scene of the crime, we aimed to explore somewhere new to us. Puglia came up often, reigniting the embers of my friend’s correspondence.

Along with the neighboring province of Basilicata, Puglia would serve as the setting of a road trip to celebrate the occasion. Equipped with a rental car reservation for late September to early October and no plans other than a bed and breakfast reservation for our first night in the provincial capital of Bari, we set off with a touch of abandon and two maps – one physical, one digital.

During our Puglia travel research, we were grateful for and overwhelmed by all the recommendations we received. Particularly thanks to our Puglian friends Franca and Gianni, there was plenty to sift through. We allowed the chance twists and turns of the road — “let’s pull over here…maybe we should stop here for the night” — to serve as our sorting mechanism.

If you’ve never thought of visiting Puglia, maybe the following photos, experiences and stories can draw an image in your mind’s eye — and help you plan a trip of your own.


How to use this Puglia travel guide to create your own Puglia, Italy road trip and itinerary: The following experiences are in chronological order from our own travels and road trip in Puglia, Italy. If you have 7-10 days, you can conservatively accomplish something similar (scroll down for a map of our road trip route). Or, cut back a few destinations to make the trip more leisurely and manageable. We include suggestions of notable restaurants and accommodation to help round out your travels in Puglia.

Road Trip in Puglia, Italy: What to See and Do in Puglia

1. Find your way home in Bari, Puglia by walking the medieval old town walls.

We get lost. Often. It’s a fact.

On our first night in Bari, after a long four-course meal accompanied by a carafe of Puglian wine, we got turned around on our way home and stumbled upon a ramp that took us atop the medieval stone walls surrounding the old town.

It may not have been the most direct way home that night, but it proved a beautiful and romantic diversion. The medieval old town glowed on one side of us while the Adriatic Sea lapped on the other.

“Now, why haven’t we heard more about Bari before?” Charming, alive, good food. Spend a night or two in Bari, or as we did bookend your trip with a visit there. To explore Bari even more, consider taking a walking tour through the old town.

Bari Old Town at Night
Walking Bari's old town walls at night.

Where to eat: Vini e Cucina, via Vallisa 23, Bari. What to eat: The standard offering, scribbled on a chalkboard, is a four-course meal focusing on seafood. The grilled pulpo (octopus) was tender and perfectly cooked. For an introduction to Puglian food, this is a good place to start.

Where to stay in Bari: We stayed close to Bari's old town and water so that it was an easy walk to the city's main sites and charming historical streets. A few hotels in Bari's old town to consider:

  • San Domenico: Located in a great location on the edge of Bari's old town, San Domenico B&B has rooms with balconies.
  • La Stanza Hotel: Located in Bari's old town close to the water and port, La Stanza Hotel offers rooms with a kitchenette in an old stone building.
  • Il Puma Apulian Rooms: Modern and recently renovated rooms not far from Bari's old town, but convenient to the train station if you are traveling by train.
  • Find a hotel in Bari that fits your budget, desired location and style on Booking.com.

2. Rise early and jog the coast along the port of Bari.

Run, jog, walk. Whatever method you choose to carry yourself, make an effort to get up early and trace the coast around Porto Vecchio. This will prove essential to your health, particularly if you’ve overdone it as we had with too many courses the night before. Not that we speak from experience…

You’ll also find fishermen stocking the seafood market from their boats, fresh from the morning’s catch. A few others choose to sell direct on the stones next to the promenade.

Bari Waterfront and Fisherman
Early morning along the Bari waterfront.

3. Take a photo of laundry hanging in every old town. Begin with Bari.

Everyone around the world does laundry. (Don’t they?)

In Italy, laundry unfurls like pastel banners in the breeze of medieval alleys and it dries in the warmth of Mediterranean light. Those flags of everyday life are accompanied by voices of local families.

The curtain is pulled back on Italian life and the backdrop feels cinematic. This is culture of the unofficial sort, beauty and poetry embedded in a task many of us consider mundane.

Bari Old Town
Not-so-still life: cycling man and hanging laundry in Bari.

4. Meet the Adriatic Sea at Polignano a Mare, Puglia.

We confess to not going into the water here. (Later we did). However, we enjoyed watching others dodge the chop and waves and take in the fading warmth of the season by sunbathing on the rocky beach of the cove at Polignano. It’s as if they said, “I know winter is coming, but I won’t allow it. Not yet.”

Puglia Beaches, Polignano a Mare
An autumn dip in the Adriatic Sea, Polignano a Mare.

This is one of three distinct views to catch in Polignano a Mare. The two others are from the opposing cliffs above.

If you want views of Polignano a Mare from the water and to get even closer to the caves and cliffs, take a 1.5 hour boat ride that takes you along the coast to visit the main caves and also offers the opportunity to take a dip. For even more time to explore the caves, go snorkeling and enjoy the views, consider this longer 3.5 hour boat ride in and around Polignano a Mare.

Where to eat in Polignano a Mare: Osteria dei Mulini, via Mulini 2, Polignano a Mare. Located just inside the old town walls. What to eat: Orecchiette di grano arso or “burnt” flour orecchiette with tomatoes, bread crumbs, anchovies + purè di fave e cicoria or pureed fava beans topped with sautéed chicory.

Where to stay in Polignano a Mare: We didn't spend the night here, but kind of wish we had as the old town is beautiful and it would have been quite stunning to watch the sun rise and set over the cliffs and water.

  • Amore di Mare Casa: Located on the seafront cliff in the old town, Amore di Mare Casa has a rooftop terrace with an incredible view of the Adriatic Sea and either rooms or apartments with balconies.
  • Casa Cassona: If you want to stay in the old town, but with a little more space and your own kitchen then take a look at the apartment offered by Casa Cassona. A good value especially for families as it can sleep up to five people in its two bedrooms.
  • B&B Casa Dorsi: Located in a traditional building in the old town, Casa Dorsi has rooms and suites with balconies, including several with views of the sea. You'll be right in the middle of old town, and just a few minute walk from the beach if you decide to take a dip.
  • Find a hotel in Polignano a Mare that matches your dates, budget and style.

5. Watch fishermen knot giant fishing nets in the port town of Monopoli, Puglia.

Although I understand that commercial fishing now dominates the world’s waterways, including in the Roman-Venetian living history museum that is Monopoli, it’s still heartening to see independent fishermen still play a role. Amidst the tiny fishing boats along the old port, watch veteran fishermen mind the knots and fix the holes in their fishing nets in preparation for tomorrow’s catch.

Puglia, Monopoli Old Port and Fishing Boats
Fishing boats in for the day at the old port, Monopoli.

6. Enjoy the back streets of Monopoli during la pausa.

La pausa (“the pause”) is the Italian institution version of siesta and nap time. After the “storm before the calm” as people leave work, a stretch of stillness descends on Italian towns from noon until 4:00 PM.

We found ourselves roaming the streets of Monopoli just as the streets emptied for lunch; the remarkable old town and coastal promenades were ours almost entirely.

Magical, no?

Monopoli Old Town Streets
Old town Monopoli during the pause.

Road trip note: Public parking is often free and more easily found during the pause since everyone has gone home for lunch. It’s an excellent time to take advantage and find a place to eat.

Where to stay in Monopoli, Puglia: We didn't spend the night here as we had already reserved a place in Lecce for the night, but as you can see from the photos Monopoli is pretty magical so we wish we had planned to spend at least one night here. We can imagine how beautiful those marbled streets would have been to wander through at night.

  • Mamma Maria B&B: A good budget option right in Monopoli's old town near Porta Vecchia (old port). The beach is very close by, as is free public parking (good if you have a rental car).
  • Dimora Palmiera B&B: Located in Monopoli's old town near Porta Vecchia and the beach, Dimora Palmiera's rooms have balconies and there is a nice rooftop terrace to enjoy breakfast each morning.
  • Palazzo Murat B&B: Housed in a historic building in the old town, Palazzo Murat B&B has rooms that are modern in design and features, but you can still see the traditional domed ceilings and stonework. Large private bathrooms and a rooftop terrace to enjoy breakfast.
  • Find a hotel in Monopoli, Puglia that matches your budget, style and schedule.

7. Stumble upon a 2nd century Roman amphitheater at night in Lecce, Puglia.

Lecce is most known for its Baroque architecture, something opulent and grand and looking as if it has just popped out of a 3-dimensional fairy tale book. This is especially true at night when buildings are lit and details laid bare.

The huge 2nd century Roman amphitheater on the edge of town reminded us of the depth of history and the many layers of civilizations buried just under our feet in this part of the world.

If you want to go deeper into the city's history and learn about its main sites, consider taking a walking tour of Lecce (1.5-2 hours) or a street food tour where you get to taste some of Lecce's food specialties while taking in the Baroque architecture and feel.

Lecce, Roman Amphitheatre
A discovery of something ancient during an evening stroll in Lecce.

Where to stay in Lecce, Puglia: We stayed at UP Room&Suite, Via Cavour 16, 73100 Lecce which was in a good location in the old town and reasonably priced. Other Lecce hotels to consider staying in include:

  • Arryvo Hotel: A modern hotel located in Lecce's old town, Arryvo Hotel is also quite social with a restaurant, bar and lobby area that sometimes includes live music.
  • La Casa di Giovanni B&B: Located just a short walking distance from Lecce's old town and its major sites, La Casa di Giovanni has bright, modern rooms decorated with art.
  • Le Antiche Mura: A good option in the old town if you want an apartment with a kitchen and a bit more space. Located in a historic building with original stone walls, Le Antiche Mura apartment is close to the cathedral and public parking.
  • Find and compare rates at other hotels in Lecce that match your budget, travel style and schedule.

Where to eat in Lecce: Osteria Da Angiulino, Via Principi di Savoia, 24, Lecce. Local specialties, friendly owners (a few words of Italian does wonders), and reasonably priced. Be sure to call ahead and make a reservation as there is a line out the door before this popular place even opens. What to eat: We went for the traditional orecchiette con sugo alla ricotta forte — orecchiette in tomato sauce blended with strong, local ricotta cheese. Homemade, hearty and inexpensive.

8. Steal a kiss on the beach at San Foca, Puglia.

Whether or not it happens to be your 15th wedding anniversary, it’s always a good idea pull the car over along the coast, walk barefoot in the sand together, breathe in the fresh sea air as you explore, and steal a kiss.

Then repeat.

Puglia Beaches
Sunshine and sea breeze along the Puglian coast.

9. Walk the cliffs at Roca Vecchia and Grotta della Poesie, Puglia.

Recent archaeological finds date the ancient site of Roca Vecchia and Grotta della Poesie as far back as to the Bronze Age. Now the area serves as a popular swimming hole. The ancients apparently knew where to party. Modern Italians, too.

Puglia, La Grotta della Poesie
La Grotta della Poesie, popular even in early autumn.

Go to the cliff side and watch, if you can stand it, as your fearless-of-heights wife tests your nerves by going right up to the cliff’s edge for a better view of what’s below. (Spoiler alert: A 200-foot drop and the sea.)

10. Stalk stray cats through Italy’s easternmost city – Otranto, Puglia.

During Roman times, Otranto served as an important port for all trade headed east. Nowadays, it’s known more for wide beaches and a picturesque old town overlooking the Adriatic Sea.

Unfortunately, the 11th century cathedral and its renowned mosaics were closed during our visit because of the pause. We opted instead to follow a group of stray cats who happily served as our impromptu guides.

Puglia, Otranto Old Town Streets
Stray cat strut, Otranto old town.

Where to eat in Otranto: La Pignata, Via Rondachi 12, Otranto. One of the most delightful meals of our trip, including a discovery that Primitivo Rose (yes, that’s like white zinfandel) is an appropriate match for local seafood and pasta dishes. What to eat: The highlights of this meal were a starter of cozze gratinate (gratinated mussels) and Vellutata di Ceci e Fagioli con Pomodori Secchi e Gamberetti (mashed chickpeas and beans with sundried tomatoes and prawns).

Where to stay in Otranto: We just stopped in Otranto for lunch, but it does have a charming old town that would be quite beautiful to wander around in the evening and to maybe enjoy another delicious meal at Pignata.

  • Profumo di Mare Hotel: In a perfect location right on the beachfront and promenade just a few minute walk from Otranto's old town, castle and cathedral. Many of the rooms have a balcony that faces the beach and sea.
  • Alba ad Oriente B&B: Located very close to the old town and Otranto's Castello and Marina Beach, Alba ad Oriente has a modern room with breakfast on the terrace.
  • Find a hotel in Otranto that fits your travel style, budget and schedule.

11. Soak up the coastal route south from Otranto to the tippy tip of Italy’s heel, Santa Maria di Leuca, Puglia.

In all our research prior to our trip, why hadn’t anyone told us the drive south of Otranto was so beautiful? We almost skipped the coastal route for something more direct. What a missed opportunity that would have been.

Puglia Road Trip, Southern Coast
A glimpse of the coastal route to the tip of Puglia.

If you have a car, do this drive in southern Puglia. Take a little time, pull off the road frequently to satisfy your curiosity, breathe the air, take photos. Be sure to check out the 16th century watchtowers and elaborate, colorful 17th century Moorish palaces like Santa Cesarea Terme along the way.

12. Celebrate your 15th wedding anniversary with a sunset Aperol spritz at Torre Vado, Puglia.

There seemed no better way to end a beautiful drive along the Puglian coast than with a sunset Aperol spritz at the tip of Italy’s heel. Our trip was meant to celebrate 15 years of marriage. This moment captured us as we were and are, taking stock at an unassuming port-side cafe, sitting in plastic chairs and soaking up a perfect sunset.

Puglia Sunset Drinks
Aperol spritz at sunset, Torre Vado.

Where to sunset Aperol spritz: Albergo Ristorante Pizzeria Al Porticciolo, Torre Vado. Other than the view to the sunset over the sailboats, there’s nothing spectacular about this place. Maybe that’s what made it so special.

13. Stay in a converted palace in old town Gallipoli.

When we pulled into Gallipoli and made a late reservation via the Booking.com app we weren’t expecting to stay in a palace and given a sprawling room whose balcony windows opened onto the ochre-washed light of the old town. It was a welcome surprise upgrade; the owner hadn’t even been aware it was our anniversary.

Gallipoli Hotel, Palazzo Flora
A palace room for the night, Gallipoli.

Where to stay in Gallipoli: Palazzo Flora, Via D'Ospina, 19, Gallipoli. The garden courtyard of the palazzo is terrific. Breakfast was abundant and fresh, one of the nicest along our trip. Rooms range from €50-€82/night depending upon the size of the room…and the number of frescos inside. If Palazzo Flora is full, consider staying at one of these other hotels in or near Gallipolli's old town:

  • Domus Dejana: Located near the water in Gallipoli's old town, Domus Dejana has a rooftop terrace with views over the old town and sea. Housed in a traditional, historic home, many of the rooms have their own balconies.
  • Antica Rimessa di Gigi Hotel: Located in Gallipoli's old town in a historic building, Antica Rimessa di Gigi has several rooms with high vaulted ceilings with the original stone exposed, but modern features and fixings.
  • Dimora Muzio B&B: A good value option in Gallipoli's old town with big rooms and a rooftop terrace with views over the city and sea. Housed in a 17th century building with frescoed walls, Dimora Muzio also includes a restaurant on the ground floor.
  • Find another hotel in Gallipoli that matches your budget, travel style and schedule.

14. Enjoy a plate of mussels and a carafe of sparkling wine at Lido Conchiglie, Puglia.

Although you go to eat seafood, the experience is more about the atmosphere. Burly fishermen-looking guys serve as waiters and dish out heaping piles of sea urchins, mussels, fish, and other seafood.

While the menu at La Maruzzella is written on paper tablecloths, the best approach is to point and shoot at the piles of fresh catch out front or to someone else’s dish nearby. For lunch, be sure to arrive early so you're sure to get a table.

Puglia Seafood Lunch
Seafood, with a side of sunshine and sea breeze.

Where to eat in Lido Conchiglie: La Maruzzella, Via Cristiforo Colombo, Lido Conchiglie (just outside Gallipoli). What to eat: Best was the huge bowl of mussels and clams. The seafood sampler was acceptable, but perhaps a little over-grilled. Sparkling wine from the tap also a nice touch.

15. Turn back the clock and visit Salice Salentino after the pause.

Our initial intent in visiting Salice Salentino was to source some on-the-ground information about wine tasting. Instead, we found a town stuck in time.

Salice Salentino is the town that time forgot. Everyone else seemed to forget about it, too — except the old men at the local bar and a handful of people on bicycles crossing a desolate main square.

Salice Salento, Puglia
Salice Salento, the town that time forgot.

I appreciate old towns like this because they exist on their own terms — not for the tourist, not always spiffy, yet certainly authentic in an untouched sort of way. Salice Salentino is also of the same name as the Italian DOC wine made from the Negroamaro grape, one of the many wines we’d enjoyed along our trip.

16. Buy wine from a gasoline pump dispenser at Produttori Vini Manduria.

Watch locals line up at the wine pumps with their 5-liter jugs for a few Euros fill-up. If you aren’t in the market for pumped wine, you can also taste wines from a local lineup that includes Manduria Primitivo (the local zinfandel-like grape). If Primitivo is too heavy, hot, or fruitacious for you, try a Primitivo Rosato (rosé) that goes especially well with a mezzo plate or seafood in a light red sauce.

Primitivo Wine in Puglia
Fill ‘er up. Primitivo wine at the pump.

Where to find the wine consortium: Produttori Vini Manduria, via Fabio Massimo 19, Manduria.

17. Admire magical olive groves in red clay soil in Puglia.

Clay-pan olive groves dot much of the landscape of inland Puglia. I’m sure the chunky clay soil is essential to the character of the tasty olive oil that run rivulets through notable Puglian cuisine.

Puglia Olive Trees
Old Puglian olive trees in red clay soil.

As I indicated to my sister in a lengthly dozen-email exchange about Puglian food, “Everything is fresh. But — and I've been thinking about this a lot — the magic, persistent ingredient: olive oil. You get a sauce with a couple of pomodorini [cherry tomatoes] and a bunch of olive oil. And it's incredible. It's as if the olive oil is a flavor activator. And the olive oil here is very good.”

18. Admire the trulli, Puglian stone huts, in the Itria Valley.

If the Hobbits had to suddenly take up residence in southern Italy, they’d likely do so in the trulli dotting the countryside of the Itria Valley. Many of these stone hut structures — often dating to the 14th-15th centuries — were originally built to house agricultural workers or as storage buildings.

Puglia, Trullo Home
A trullo under an Itria Valley sky.

Why this style of home became so popular is still a bit of a mystery, however. One appealing theory posited: people built trulli so they could easily dismantle them before the tax collector arrived.

How’s that for a clever tax dodge?

19. Make a new friend at a Masseria (Tourism Farm) in Puglia.

In Puglia, a working farm that also serves as a bed and breakfast is called a masseria. (Think of it as Puglia’s version of what Tuscans call an agritourismo). The masseria we stayed at, Masseria Ferri, included not only our very own 450-year old trullo, but also a friendly dog named Tommy who remained by our side for the stay.

Puglia, Staying at a Masseria
Can we take him with us?

We recommend a picnic dinner with a glass of Primitivo wine while watching the sky change color. Kicking back at a masseria is an excellent way to rest the mind at the end of a road trip. Masseria Ferri also makes its own cheese, wine and olive oil.

Road trip note: We used Masseria Ferri (closest town: Martina Franca) as a base from which to explore various destinations in the Itria Valley. All notable towns are nearby; it's easy to visit several in one day.

20. Wander streets of trulli in Alberobello, Puglia.

The town of Alberobello, Puglia offers a motherlode of trulli. You’ll find its UNESCO old town made up almost entirely of these traditional Puglian homes. The town's popularity, however, means vast crowds of tourists.

Be sure to begin your visit on the northern side of the old town where things are a little less touristy. There, you’ll find families who still live in their 400-500 year old trullo homes.

Alberobello Trulli
Trulli that serve as family homes in Alberobello.

If you go in early fall, you’ll also find elements of the harvest like walnuts or chestnuts, or as we did, gargantuan garlic heads drying in the open air. When we asked the woman drying it, she told us that it’s sweet garlic and can be sliced and eaten raw in salads.

Alberobello Giant Garlic
Garlic fit for a giant…vampire.

Stay in a trulli in Alberobello: Some of the trulli of Alberobello have been converted into hotels and B&Bs. It's a fun experience to stay in a trullo home (we did so at the masseria mentioned above) so consider staying overnight in one in Alberobello.

  • Trullo de Amicis No 5: Sleep in the quiet of stone trullo right in the center of Alberobello so you can easily explore the town. This place also has a terraced restaurant on site.
  • Trullo dell'angolo: Rent your own complete trullo house complete with your own kitchen and bedrooms. The stone walls and traditional construction make them naturally cool in the hot summer months.
  • Trulli Monte Pasubio: Stay in the middle of Alberobello's historic trulli center in either your own trullo home or a studio apartment in another historic building.
  • Find your own hotel or trullo in Alberobello, Puglia that matches your budget, interests and style.

21. Marvel at small towns with big architecture, like Martina Franca.

Like so many towns in Puglia, Martina Franca was another that made us wonder why we hadn’t heard more of it before.

Architecture in Italy had always been a thing, but the Renaissance re-ordered it and took it up a notch. Martina Franca stands as a fine example of Baroque and Rococo style. Our suggestion: park on the edge of the old town and just get lost in its alleys and plazas. Although we did not eat in Martina Franca, the restaurant menus looked formidable and tempting.

Martina Franca, Old Town Streets
A piazza — one of many — in Martina Franca.

Where to stay in Martina Franca, Puglia: If we weren't already basing ourselves nearby at a masseria in the countryside we would have based ourselves for a few days in Martina Franca to explore this area of Puglia with many cute, historic towns and villages nearby.

  • Casa Dolce: Rent your own apartment in a traditional house right in the center of Martina Franca. Having your own place not only gives you a little more room, but it also allows you to bring back foods from your market visits (see below) to enjoy as snacks or meals.
  • Savito Guest House and Trulli: In case you don't stay in a trullo in Alberobello or elsewhere, here is your opportunity. Located about a 10 minute walk from Martina Franca's old town, Savito has rooms in traditional trulli that are modern in design and comfort, including a swimming pool, terrace and other amenities.
  • Terrazza Sulla Valle: If you want to splurge a little, get a room in a renovated 18th century trullo home and enjoy the terrace with views over the valley. Good location near Martina Franca's old town and offers free parking.
  • Find a hotel in Martina Franca, Puglia that matches your travel style, budget and itinerary.

22. Hang with these dudes at the open-air weekly market in Cisternino, Puglia.

Shop like a local, too. Buy black chick peas, a wheel of cheese (or two), a string of peppers, and some smoked meat. And take a photo of the guys who sell it all to you.

Puglia Weekly Markets, Cisernino
Fun with the vendors at the Cisternino weekly market.

Local outdoor fresh markets are on rotation in the region and appear in a different town each day of the week (e.g., in Cisternino on Mondays, Martina Franca on Wednesdays, etc.), so just ask around at your hotel or nearby tourism office to find out which town is hosting the market for that day. Note: go early in the morning as open-air fresh markets usually wind up around lunchtime.

When you finish shopping, drop your goodies off in the car and explore another beautiful old town.

Puglia Old Town of Cisternino
Cisternino, post market stroll.

23. Watch grandmothers as they watch you from behind their beaded doorways in old town Ostuni, Puglia.

Grandmas in kitchens peering through the beaded door curtains. They peer from upstairs windows, they stand on balconies. Grandmas, Italian grandmas everywhere. Pay attention and you’ll see them as you make your way. They watch, they survey life, and they see you.

Ostuni Old Town
Audrey wanders the back streets of Ostuni.

It’s one of the life features we loved about Puglia. Old towns were well lived in with grandmothers poking their heads out of doors to say hello, scold their errant dogs, and mind the laundry. Children’s giggles echoed off cobbled pathways and the smell of home cooking slowly permeated the air just before lunch.

Why go to a museum when you can see life as it has been lived, and it is lived today?

24. Take a dip in the Adriatic Sea…even in October.

Even in early October, graced with sun and favorable currents, the Adriatic Sea is worth a dip or wade.

Perhaps we were just plain lucky with the weather, but we found late September/early October a perfect time to explore this region. Plenty of sunshine and warmth, and no crowds.

Puglia Beach
Puglian coast. Warm water, even in early October.

Along this stretch of coastline south of Bari you'll find divers – some in wet suits, others without — ranging for octopus (pulpo) along the rocky coast. Vegetarians, turn away. The rest of you pulpo-eaters, this is where lunch and dinner have come from. Divers clean the pulpo and strike them against the rocks, so they’re tender by the time they make it to your plate.

25. Chat with a family drying homemade pasta on the streets of Bari.

A friend on Instagram suggested we seek out “the orecchiette ladies,” local women in Bari whose morning ritual consists of making the signature ear-shaped Puglian pasta. On our final morning, just before heading to the airport, we wandered through the old town in search of the ladies.

Instead, we were lucky enough to meet Grazia and her daughter Maria. Grazia had just finished making three kilos of hand-made orecchiette for her family and neighbors and was drying it outside her home on a wire rack, around which Audrey and I puzzled about.

Puglia Orecchiette
Grazia and her freshly made orechiette.

Through broken Italian, we had a conversation with Grazia and her daughter and understood how they make the orecchiette and prefer to serve it. The favorite: the traditional, orrechiette con cime di rapa (with turnip greens).

Now, before any more time passes, I owe Grazia and Maria a copy of the photos we took. I must put them in the mail, since they don’t have an email address.

A fitting way to close from Puglia.

Note: If you want to learn how to make this local pasta you can do so on this Bari walking tour that includes making your own orechiette.

Map of our Puglia, Italy Road Trip Itinerary

Puglia Road Trip Itinerary
View and interact with the live Google Maps here.

If you travel to Puglia, take some of our advice and then also find a few of your own adventures. Let us know how you get on. And if you come across a guy from San Francisco named Will somewhere on your travels in the province, don’t interrupt him. I suspect he’s still having the time of his life.

About Daniel Noll
Travel and life evangelist. Writer, speaker, storyteller and consultant. Connecting people to experiences that will change their lives. Originally from the U.S. Daniel has lived abroad since 2001 and most recently has been on the road since 2006. When he's not writing for the blog you can keep up with his adventures on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And you can learn more about him on the About Page and on LinkedIn.

63 thoughts on “Puglia, Italy Road Trip: 25 Things to See and Do in Puglia”

  1. Wow! You really covered a lot of places during your road trip which surely gives you a better picture of how Puglia is. I’m glad to see you enjoyed it and discovered some local spots too, I believe your timing was also perfect, during the low season Puglia is nicer in my opinion, less crowded and more enjoyable.

    ‘m looking forward to read the other related posts you’ll write.

  2. Grazie!! I’ve made plans for a week in Puglia next April and you’ve just given me many new adventures to find. I’m really looking forward to discovering this part of Italy.

    • Have a great time in Puglia, Libbie. I don’t know how much time you have, but I might go so far as to say it’s essential to visit Matera (Basilicata) if you can. That’s the piece I’m working on next. Any questions, let us know here and we’ll do our best to answer. Excited for you!

  3. I got to spend a few days in Puglia in 2010, and I absolutely fell in love with the region. My friends’ parents have a trullo just outside Martina Franca, so we spent our days lounging under the fig tree in their yard and our evening exploring the nearby towns. It was mid-August, so everyone was in a jovial summer mood, and we got to experience delicious meals and concerts in the piazza. It was absolutely magical, and I have been wanting to return ever since. Perhaps next time I will make a road trip out of it and follow your route! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Sounds like quite an experience, Veena. Thank *you* for sharing. Puglia is one of those little remarkable corners of the world. Very nice that you had a chance to experience, particularly a few years ago. If you return, let us know how it goes.

  4. What a fabulous trip through Puglia! We spent a month in Lecce and fell in love with the architecture, history and local cuisine. Great pick for a Lecce restaurant ~ the food there is simple, yet phenomenal!

    • Thanks, Sarah. Glad to know we chose well. Always thanks to suggestions of friends with more than a little local knowledge. An extended stay in Lecce sounds terrific. For someone who has a few extra days in Lecce, what is something that most visitors overlook in Lecce that they should not?

  5. Wow, Dan and Audrey, you’ve just added another region to add to my burgeoning list! How incredibly lovely and romantic and beautiful! Thank you for all the exquisite and heartfelt details. One of my favorite photo ops when in Italy is the hanging laundry 😉

    Loved this post so much and truly felt like I was right there. I hope to stay in the palace one day 🙂

    Big HUGS to you both and belated Happy Anniversary!!!! oOOOOooooOoo <some bubbles to celebrate! 🙂

    • Big thanks and hugs, Kristin! We’re glad the stories and sense of place came through. When you head to the land of colorful laundry and palace hotels, let us know!

    • Sure thing, Kyle. Based on our conversations and feedback, Puglia is not nearly as well-traveled or understood as more popular destinations in Italy. Hoping we helped change that a little.

  6. Wow! What a great way to celebrate an anniversary. After reading your well-written post and going through the striking pictures, I can say that Puglia is a wonderful destination to stay and explore and get away from the hustle-bustle of the city life. Thanks Dan and Audrey for introducing such an attractive place to your readers.

  7. This blog is exactly what I have been looking for! My fiancé and I are trying to plan my honeymoom to Puglia in September… and your refreshing blog reconfirmed everything we were hoping for!

    I would love to chat more about your experience there, as we are trying to find the right cities to stay in that are good bases for day travel. If you wouldn’t mind emailing me, I would love to chat!

    Thank you for your fabulous blog!

    • Hi Chelsea,
      Glad you found the post useful for your upcoming honeymoon! You picked a beautiful and delicious region to celebrate.

      At the moment we are walking the Camino de Santiago and are leaving shortly after that for a project in Botswana. So, we’ll be short on connectivity for a while. We tried to make this post comprehensive so our that you have our recommendations for towns and foods in Puglia. In addition, I would suggest spending a few days in Matera (province next door) – it’s a really special and unique place.

      If you still have questions, please leave them here and we’ll try to answer best we can. That way, other readers can benefit from the information, too!

  8. Hi. I am planning a trip to Puglia as my husband has a relative in Bari (he is of Italian descent and I am Asian :). I came across this site and found it very informational. I enjoyed reading this. I love the architecture and historic sites and also the sea/coast. If we only spend 3 days in that region including Bari can you recommend what is the best to see/do to make the most of a short trip (we have to visit relatives in Treviso too and then go to Rome hence the short stay)? I am traveling with hubby and kids ages 7 and 11. Thank you very much!!

    • Given the time constraints, you might consider a Trullo/Trulli experience (see #s 18, 19, and 20), Clarissa. Your kids might have fun with it, too.

    • Definitely, there are few places you can manage to see in few days in the area:
      Alberobello and Castellana Caves and Locorotondo (you can manage all of them in one day)
      Polignano a Mare and Ostuni (again you can manage both in one day)
      Bari itself in the old town is something not to miss too


  9. Hi! I found this post when researching because me and my husband are going to Puglia for three weeks in September. Thank you for all amazing tips but I have a question I hope you can help me answer.. We are going by /a pretty big/ car and can you tell me something about the roads in the region? Are they extremely small/narrow or do you get by without too much fuzz? We have been in Amalfi with a big car (not as big as the one we have now but still) and it was as scary as it was beautiful:) Now I’m a bit worried, maybe we should fl there and rent something smaller. Thanks again and hoping for your thoughts!


    • Hmm, the roads aren’t quite as crazy as what you experienced in Amalfi so you don’t need to worry too much about falling off the cliff trying to avoid a car coming the other way. However, the smaller the car probably the easier it will be to navigate some of small medieval streets and parking.

      • Thank you so much for replying! Also I want to say that I kept reading your articles and I’m hooked! An hour just flew by! I love traveling and really appreciate all your stories and tips. Thanks again!

  10. That is a lovely trip you had in Apulia. Also the north of Apulia, Gargano and the “colli Dauni” is something to see. But you really need half a year to deeply visit it.
    Maybe see you at your 20th anniversary!

    • Thanks, Gerardo. We had such a great time in Puglia, another visit is not out of the question. Of course, we could have spent more time. But we felt as though we made effective use of the time we had in the region.

  11. Great tips and advice here- thanks very much for sharing. Have you taken any flights from Puglia to Albania or Croatia by any chance? Looking to incorporate that into a 2 week vacation to Puglia in August. Thanks very much….


    • We have not personally flown from Puglia to Albania or Croatia, but it’s worth looking into. However, if you have the time and the ferry schedules works with your plan, I would agree with Gerardo. Consider looking into and taking an overnight ferry or boat between Bari, across the Adriatic to the Balkans. Good luck, enjoy and let us know if you have further questions, Sean.

  12. Honest thoughts on staying any of those beach towns for a month? I’m looking at Monopoli or Polignano de Mare. Both small towns, I know, but maybe they’re interesting enough still? See anything else in Puglia that made you think, “I could be a here a while…”?

    • Hello Colin,
      be careful, on the Adriatic coast it’s quite “rocky” although you have the most beautiful town here. If you are looking for a sandy beach, the best ones are south in the Salento on the Ioanian sea (Marina d’Ugento, Porto Cesareo Gallipoli).
      All depends on which period of the year you are going in Puglia, what you are going to do in Puglia and what you expect to see in Puglia.
      Nevertheless, if you really want the most from your holiday, you need to travel and go around.

      Instead, if you are looking for a typical beach, relax style, I would suggest some resort in Marina d’Ugento or in Castellaneta Marina or in Marina di Ginosa.

        • Hi Colin,
          In this case Polignano a Mare or Monopoli would be a great base for your holidays!
          They are quite central and well connected to other places.

  13. Hi, great article! I am a solo female traveller – from your experience would a car hire by myself be ok – I am hopeful that people are friendly as it seems driving might be the best option unless I can find buses. (I head over in 2 weeks with zero planning done!)

    • Briony, renting a car on your is fine in this region. I you want to see quite a few places this will give you flexibility and speed to get around. True, Italian drivers can sometimes be a bit crazy on the roads, but that’s always the case 🙂

    • We loved Matera as well! Didn’t take a hot air balloon ride there, but imagine that would have some incredible views.

  14. Thank you for such a colorful and detailed description of your trip. We are two couples planning a trip to Puglia in early October, 2017. We are arriving from Rome on October 2 and departing Puglia for Palermo on October 8. We haven’t found a good guidebook to help with lodging, transportation, itinerary, etc. Do you have any suggestions how to begin or local guides to help? Thank you so much in advance.

    • Hi Lynne,
      We didn’t use any guidebooks during our trip so I’m afraid I can’t give a personal recommendation on one. What we did is we made a list of places we wanted to visit based on blog research and contacting two friends who were from Puglia – this included most of the places you see in this blog post (e.g., Polignano a Mare, Monopoli, etc.). This gave us the general route that we wanted to follow. But, we didn’t book any accommodation in advance except for the first night in Bari as we wanted flexibility to set our own pace. The rest of the time we would find accommodation on the fly as we never really knew where we’d end up for the night. This is where the booking.com app is very helpful as it will tell you what’s around you in that moment, or what’s available in the town where you think you’ll spend the night.

      As for finding a local guide, you could check with the official Puglian tourism office – http://www.viaggiareinpuglia.it/hp/en – as they might have a list of English-language guides in the different places.

      Good luck with your trip and planning! Sicily is also wonderful, so it sounds like you have a fabulous — and delicious — trip coming up!

    • We spent around seven to eight days in Puglia and 2-3 days in Basilicata region. If you have the time, we highly recommend visiting Matera in Basilicata. We could have always used more time, but we feel like we experienced a lot without it being too rushed with the ten days we had.

      • Just reading your comments . . thank you for your insight. I have found a 3 day private tour of Puglia-Basilicata however it bases you all nights out of Bari. Do you recommend moving around for accomodations. Just seems like backtracking. Not sure of the distances involved.
        The days plan out like this with tour Bari, heading south Salento then to Matera.
        Your comments will be much appreciated.

        • You can get a feel for the distances you’ll need to drive each day by doing a search on Google maps or by asking the tour company directly. I would think it would be quite a bit of driving, but if someone else is doing the driving it’s much less stressful and tiring for you. To stay in different towns is nice as each place does have a different feel and food specialties. But, there’s also something nice about being able to unpack your suitcase for three days in a row rather than having to pack up each morning. Kind of depends on your travel style.

          • Thanks once again and I have more questions. Is the driving really hard? I’ve now read that some car rental agencies don’t cover cars for theft. Which now makes me hesitate on renting one as seems like they have a theft of autos problem. It has been hard to find accomodations that have parking, I don’t think I’ve ever been this confused about booking a trip on my own. 🙁

          • Barbara, the insurance regulations around renting cars in Italy is a bit odd. However, some credit cards do cover theft for rental cars so perhaps you can call your credit card company and find out if they cover this. Dan did all the driving during our trip and it wasn’t super hard, but when you get into some of the smaller towns it’s better to park on the edge and walk in rather than to navigate the narrow streets. As for parking at accommodation, most places we stayed told us of a paid or public lot where we could park our car. We never had any problem with break in or theft. Hope this information helps and you’re close to getting everything booked for your trip!

  15. I’ve spent hours scrolling through different websites looking for advice on Puglia as there is just so much out there but this post is exactly what I was looking for! We are spending 4 nights in Puglia early October and will definitely be visiting as many of your recommended towns as we can. Thank you so much for sharing 🙂

  16. I have booked flights to Bari in mid September to do a 10 day road trip of Puglia with my mum; reading this has helped me hugely in planning what to do! Can I ask how easy it is to get by in a car with parking etc in the towns? I have read a few places are car free zones? Thank you so much for sharing your Puglian adventure with us, I’m even more excited to visit now! Charlee

    • I thought we’d responded to your parking question in Puglia before, Charlee, but apparently not in the comments here. Sorry about that. Hope you had a good trip, anyhow.

      For anyone else looking for advice on parking in Puglia:

      One of the challenges with driving in Puglia and Italy in general are the narrow streets in old towns/ancient city centers — and finding yourself in a corner with limited ability to turn around.

      When we were faced with this (or literally when I was faced with this, since I did the driving), we tended to park somewhere on the edge of the old town center, then walk in. This worked for the most part, in particular because we enjoy walking. Some cities also have limited parking inside the old town walls and centers, forcing the above situation. In either case, it helps to pack light, or at least with one bag that can be rolled and possibly carried, if need be. (One town where parking really only seemed available outside of the old town: Gallipoli, though there were others.)

      Also, it’s important to note the “pause” times at lunch, because that will determine the greatest flow of traffic into and out of cities. It’s like clockwork.

      Upshot: a car lends a great deal of flexibility. But you have to be willing and able to work around the difficulties. And also take a lot of deep breaths to gather patience. Driving in Italy is fun, but it’s not for one with a short fuse.

  17. We’re visiting Puglia for the first time in late September/October this year and with so much to see, I didn’t know where to begin my research or where to base ourselves. So, I was delighted to find your excellent blog with such great descriptions, suggestions and advice. Thank you. We are thinking 10 days in Puglia (I hope we get to meet Tommy, the beautiful dog), and 3 in Matera, before re-visiting the Amalfi coast for a few days,with a trip to Pompeii and Herculaneum. Your post will be invaluable in helping us finalise our itinerary.
    Thanks so much again.
    PS: Sicily is not to be missed. It is truly amazing, like driving through a history book.

    • Glad we could provide practical advice and inspiration for Puglia, Angela. Hoping your trip was an excellent one. We agree re: Sicily (and also Amalfi). We’ve been to both at different times. All worthwhile.

  18. Wow! Thank you for such an insightful post! We loved this region and I’m glad it’s receiving recognition in the travel community. I recently went in October and was extremely pleased and surprised by the amazing food, culture, hospitality and overall quality of the destinations. Such a deep and storied region!

    • You are welcome, Brooks. Glad our Puglia guide resonated with your experience. And yes, the region is one of those places where we figured it was only a matter of time until it began to receive the raft of attention it deserves.

  19. Hi Daniel, I utterly enjoyed reading your article! Being from Puglia myself, I have been lucky enough to visit many of these places several times. I find particularly spectacular the coastal route south from Otranto to Santa Maria di Leuca. It also gives you a chance to see the coastal tower system which once protected Puglia inhabitants from pirates’ attacks. I laughed reading your experience at La Maruzzella in Lido Conchiglie. This is a one of a kind place where fish is so fresh and waiters so rude! Do you know locals used to bring their own bread from home to save on the bill? 😀

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the piece, Chiara. The Otranto-Santa Maria di Leuca drive was definitely a surprise. Prior to our visit, we hadn’t seen it frequently written about or recommended.

      La Maruzzella — eating there is definitely more about the landscape and ambience then the service, or even the food. That locals used to bring their own bread…makes total sense!

  20. Hi Daniel,
    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences in Puglia.
    Reading it and reading “about” you and Audrey, I can tell you, I’m so jealous (in a good way):)
    We are getting ready to go to Italy in September (2 couples. life long friends). Spending 5 days in Positano to explore Amalfi coast and then driving to Puglia with a stop in Matera for 2 nights. We will have 4.5 days in Puglia before flying back to NY from Bari. I don’t think we’ll have enough time to do as much as you did, probably will make Lecce our farthest point. Can you suggest where we should set up a base? Should we stay in Bari all 5 nights and drive places or pick somewhere in between Bari and Lecce? Thank you so much!

    • You are welcome! It depends on where (and in which cities and villages in Puglia you expect to spend most of your time). You might consider basing yourself for part of the time in or near the Itria Valley, which sits about midway between Bari and Lecce. For example, you could stay in a trullo in one of the towns near Martin Franca.

      We’ll look forward to what you decide. Enjoy!

  21. Dear Daniel and Audrey, Loved reading about your trip to Puglia! Great information and beautiful photos! I have a question regarding flights to Puglia. What do you think is the most direct route from the States? And which airline do you think is the most dependable? We were thinking leaving from a US airport direct to London and then British Airways from London to Bari. Is this how you flew there? And then is the rental car right there at the Bari airport? Thanks for any input you can give with the lesser fun “logistics stuff” 🙂 Regards, TJ

    • Hi TJ,
      We flew to Bari from Berlin (our base) so we went through Rome to get there as there were no direct flights available from Berlin. However, if coming from the United States you should be in good shape if you fly through London as it is such a major airport. Alternatively, you could look at flights to Rome and then to Bari.

      There are several rental car places, including all the major international companies like Hertz, Budget, Avis, etc., right in Bari airport so it’s easy to pick up your rental car when you arrive. Some credit card companies that offer rental car insurance do have exemptions when it comes to Italy, so be sure to check the fine print with your credit card if you plan to rely on their insurance. Trying to park in the old town of Bari and other towns is a pain, so we usually would park outside the old town and then walk inside to our accommodation. So, don’t pack too much as you might find yourself walking a bit from parking places to your accommodation.

  22. I was so happy to come across this Blog! We are planning a trip to Puglia in the middle of September, coming from Rome. We will fly into Bari but only have 8 days. We would like to spend at least on night in Matera. ( or should we just do a day trip?) Also wondering where to have 2 base cities outside of Bari?

    • The middle of September should be a fabulous time to explore Puglia! I’d suggest spending the night in Matera vs. a day trip as the city is quite magical at night. As for other cities outside of Bari to base yourself, Lecce or Monopoli are quite beautiful and are on or close to the coast. We also enjoyed staying in a masseria (tourism farm) outside of Martina Franca and could visit Alberobello (we found it a bit too touristy to base ourselves there) and several small towns and villages in that area. The countryside there is filled with trulli (traditional stone huts) and is quite picturesque. No matter where you choose to base yourself, you’ll have lots to explore!

  23. So I tend to never engage with travel writers because I typically think I’m better at planning and executing based on my travels. But wow. This was pretty damn good. I’ll be taking a ton of recommendations. Well done, and thank you for sharing.

    • Thank you! We’re honored that you found the article so useful and hope that it helps with your upcoming trip! Each time we write a post we try to think of all the advice or itinerary ideas we would have wanted to know beforehand…and try to incorporate it into one post so that readers don’t have to search on many different websites to get the inspiration and practical information they need.

  24. Hi guys, love the aritcle. I could really do with your counsel with planning our first visit to this region of Italy. We’re a family of 4 and have spent many years holidaying in Tuscany and even stretching out as far as Sorento in the south and Verona in the north. Always had in the back of mind to visit Puglia and finally going for it this year. I’m keen to spend 10 days in the region and looking to go with 2 base locations and spend 5 days in each. I’m happy to drive (love driving in Italy!!) 1-2 hours per day visiting local towns and beaches. My kids are 8 and 10 and pretty adventous and happy with a combination or walking, visiting towns and beach time during the day and we’re all keen to dine in the evening with a real passion for seafood. Do you have any recommendations for base locations?
    Many thanks.

  25. Not sure if you’ve made your plans already, Munish. As for bases for exploring Puglia, you could do as we did, staying a couple of nights at an agritourismo near to Martina Franca or Alberobello in northern Puglia, and spending a couple of days in a town like Lecce, relatively centrally located in southern Puglia. Will be interested to hear what you decide and about your experience.


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