Puglia is a region impregnated with history and culture, a nature to die for that smells like holidays, the Adriatic sea and the sweetness of Italian living. It’s the land of long siestas, lazy living, shops that open late in the morning or late afternoon (but never in between) and a typical slow and laid-back Mediterranean vibe. It might come as a surprise but having previously visited cities like Rome and Milan, Puglia seemed “too Italian” compared to them and if you keep reading, you’ll find out why. You might think that it’ll be tempting to stay on the beach and not move a muscle during your vacation but with so many amazing things to do in Puglia, this isn’t an option!
Travel to the Middle-Ages at Castel del Monte
Starting off this list of the best things to do in Puglia, we have Castel del Monte. This marvelous 13th-century castle sitting on the top of the hill is, hands-down, one of my favorite sights in Puglia. The castle is, deservingly, part of UNESCO’s World Heritage List and a fascinating sample of Medieval Puglian architecture. Even more interestingly, everything in the castle revolves around the number eight. The castle has eight towers, an octagonal base, and eight pillars.
If you’re wondering why everything revolves around the number eight, don’t worry, you’re not alone; no one really knows just like no one knows what was Franco the 2nd trying to protect when building this castle at the top of a hill in the middle of nowhere.
Witness the pristine beauty of the Salento Coast
Located in the far south of Puglia, this pristine coastline stretches all the way to Gallipoli. If your idea of a perfect vacation includes golden beaches, azure waters, and a peaceful atmosphere, the Salento Coast is one of Italy’s best hidden gems. If you want to lay back and relax after a few days of exploring the region, this is one of the best things to do in Puglia, at least for you.
Stay in a Trullo at Alberobello
Visiting Alberobello is one of the things you have to do while in Puglia. It’s a charming small town filled with whitewashed tiny houses with conic roofs known as trullo. Houses like these can be found only here and visiting Alberobello is a great chance to stay in one of them. Some of these unique houses are also important museums and one of the main reasons why the whole town is a part of UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
Discover amazing natural beauty at Gargano National Park
Stretching across 120,000 acres, Gargano National Park is Puglia’s ultimate green paradise. The park is a protected area because it’s home to a variety of unique flora and fauna. If you like hiking, there are numerous trails off-the-beaten-track that you can explore, including the historic Umbria Forest. The road leading to the park is also one of the most picturesque ones in Italy. This road is called the “Spur of Italy” because of its shape and its position above the heel of Italy’s boot.
See the magical Castellana Caves
Photo by Ainars Brūvelis CC by SA 3.0
The Castellana Caves is a large, three-kilometers-long underground cave system that looks like it came out of a fairy tale. All caves that are a part of this system are equally fascinating and all have evocative names; ex. Owl Cave, Wolf Cave, etc. They are located near the city of Bari and no one even knew about them until the 1930s. This is rather strange, considering that the entrance of the cave is 60 meters long vertical tunnel.
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Discover the beautiful hill town of Bovino
Bovina is one of the stops you must take if you plan to explore Puglia’s hills. You probably didn’t even hear about this small village before but it’s on the I Borghi più Belli d’Italia; a list of the most beautiful villages in the country. Bovino is a relatively quiet and unfrequented place, considering its proximity to Bari; one of the biggest cities in the region. This village has been inhabited for more than 2,000 years, and hence, has a lot to offer; from charming small alleys to beautiful farmers market streets and fascinating samples of medieval architecture.
Lecce, the most underrated city in Italy
Personally, Lecce is my favorite city in Italy and I believe it doesn’t get nearly enough attention as it should. It’s home to some of the most beautiful cathedrals in Italy that can easily match the most fascinating cathedrals in Florence and an amphitheater that looks very similar to the iconic Colosseum and is also well-preserved. So, no list of the best things to do in Puglia could be complete without the beautiful city of Lecce.
In addition, Lecce also has one of the most beautiful old towns in Italy in Gallipoli, several peaceful, monasteries located in unfrequented parts of the city surrounded by lush gardens, and some other very interesting attractions. Most notably, the Poetry Cave pool, one of the best secret swimming spots in Puglia, and the amazing Castro Caves; arguably the most beautiful sea caves in Europe that are only reachable via boat. And if amazing restaurants and street food are your things, Lecce is a great starting point for learning about (and tasting) Apulian cuisine.
Find your way through the labyrinth of whitewashed buildings
One place that doesn’t get mentioned enough when it comes to the best things to do in Puglia is Locorotondo. Now, the town has two parts – the old town and the new, modern part of the city. I’ll admit, the latter one isn’t anything special but if you take a walk up the hill and make your way through the Old Town, you will be amazed by this fascinating maze of whitewashed buildings decorated with flowers hanging from the windows. It’s the kind of place that you see on Instagram and think ‘these colors can’t be real, that has to be photoshop”. However, Locorotondo is 100% real and waiting to be discovered.
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Visit one of the most picturesque beaches ever
Photo by Petrescu at Italian Wikipedia CC by SA 3.0
Even though not as unfrequented as some other places on this list, Torre Sant’ Andrea is definitely worth visiting. Expect it to be crowded, especially if you’re visiting during high-season but don’t let this discourage you- this won’t take away from the beauty of this beach. If you like cliff jumping, there’s no better place to do this anywhere in Puglia.
Trek the canyons of Terra delle Gravine
Photo by GiovanniCzz CC by SA 4.0
If you want to take some amazing pictures from your trip to Puglia, getting off the beaten track and heading to Terra delle Gravine is totally worth it. The terrain is rugged, the landscapes are jaw-dropping and canyons are as deep as 100 meters. If you want to experience some of Puglia’s most breathtaking sceneries, visiting this canyon is something you shouldn’t miss.
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Check out Polignano for the most captivating beaches in Puglia
Since my first visit to this lovely town, I always say that Polignano is the balcony of Puglia. It’s a sublime city with rocky cliffs and white-washed houses looking over the beautiful cyan waters of the Adriatic Sea. Polignano has some of the most beautiful beaches in Puglia but there are also an array of historic sights that are worth visiting. If you can, also visit around Christmas. There are beautiful traditional festivities taking place around the village.
Go diving at Violet Cave
Speaking of the best things to do in Puglia, north of Gargano’s Coast, you’ll find a beautiful tiny archipelago with many sea caves and fascinating rock formations. One of them is Violet Cave, named by the violets growing on the banks and the local seaweed that gives the water surrounding the cave a beautiful violet color. This area is a protected marine reserve and one of Puglia’s most amazing diving locations.
Get an amazing view at Sant’Agata di Puglia
When talking about things to do in Puglia, we mustn’t forget about the spectacular mountain town of Sant’Agata di Puglia. Visiting this small town tucked away beneath Monti della Daunia will make you feel like you’ve been transported not only to another country but a different time as well. Not only does Sant’Agata di Puglia have some of the most beautiful views in the region but it’s also a city with a rich history that’s been around since Medieval times.
Get fascinated by the rock-carved churches of Massafra
Massafra is a beautiful historic town located on the heel of Italy that hides many beautiful, authentic ancient streets, old buildings, beautiful countryside, and some fascinating rock-carved churches with even more fascinating frescoes. The city is set among the settlements of the first Neolithic rock civilization, earning Massafra the nickname ” Thebaid of Italy”.
Some of the other notable attractions include the Caste of Massafra (dating back to the 10th century), the beautiful Mother Church (dating back to the 16th century), and the Natural reserves of Monte Sant’Elia and Stornara
See an opera festival at Martina Franca
Many people know about Martina Franca as the place where Puglia’s largest opera festival takes place every summer. If you never attended an opera festival before, I strongly suggest you visit the one in Martina Franca. The old town is surrounded by old, stone walls and there’s a beautiful Baroque gate leading to the piazza and the maze of cobblestone, winding alleys.
There are a lot of interesting things to do around and when I was in Martina Franca for the last time, I was left wondering where all the tourists are. With so much to offer, it’s a real surprise that this beautiful old town doesn’t get a lot more visitors.
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Relax at the Turkish Bay Beach
Finally, we round up this list of things to do in Puglia with Otranto; a town that witnessed one of the bloodiest battles during the Turkish invasion of the 15th century. Around 800 locals fought until the last man against the Turkish invaders and after refusing to convert to Islam, they were all decapitated at the City Square.
The Turkish didn’t stay long in the region but the name Turkish Bay remained. Today, Otranto is one of the most beautiful coastal towns in Puglia. If you’re looking for a laid-back Mediterranean vibe and a place surrounded by beautiful vegetation, don’t miss the chance to soak in the sun at some of Otranto’s stunning beaches.
When is the Best Time to Visit Puglia?
The best time to visit Puglia is the Spring, Summer, and Fall. Well, basically all year round! You can actually even visit in the winter. Sure, you can’t go sunbathing at the beach, swimming in the sea or even go on a sailing adventure. However, you still can enjoy spectacular views and of course, the many picturesque Christmas markets and events.
What to do if you have less than a week in Puglia?
If you only have a few days in Puglia, you shouldn’t try to do too much. I recommend sticking to Valle d’Itria. Here, you can see some best of Puglia’s countryside and make day trips to some of the most touristy towns around. However, if you would rather relax at the beach, I recommend heading to Salento.
What to do if you’re in Puglia for 7-10 days
If you have some more time in Puglia, divide your time between Valle d’Itria, Foggia, and Salento. Additionally, you’ll probably have enough time to visit Bari and Lecce. Alternatively, if you want to go somewhere less crowded, you can always head to the Gargano Peninsula instead of Salento. Finally, if you need help planning your itinerary but only have 10 days in Italy, check out these amazing 10-day itineraries for Italy.
What to do in Puglia for more than 2 weeks
In my opinion, this is the ideal scenario for exploring Puglia and leaving enough time to get to know the region, learn about its culture, see some of its most important sites, and spend some time on the beautiful beaches. However, unfortunately, this isn’t possible for most of us.
Helpful resources for visiting Puglia
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Did you like this list of things to do in Puglia? Do you have some other suggestions you think we didn’t mention? Let us know in the comments!
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