Puglia is a region that occupies the ‘heel’ of southern Italy and is home to historic towns (many of which have histories that go back thousands of years), diverse landscapes, excellent food and some of the best beaches in southern Italy. The main entry points for most international visitors are Bari and Brindisi (both have airports and ports with international connections). From here, many adventures await for those who want to explore this diverse region. I’ve visited Puglia several times and explored the length and breadth of the region. Based on these trips, I’ve compiled this guide featuring the best places to visit in Puglia. These places can be visited on a comfortable 15-day self-drive Puglia itinerary or you can choose to focus on just 1-2 areas in a shorter space of time.

Puglia is famous for its ‘trulli’ (cone-shaped houses). The UNESCO World Heritage town Alberobello is full of them!

Update May 2021

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, please pay special attention to local restrictions and guidelines such as social distancing, wearing of masks and (possibly) quarantine. Visit the government website for more info.

The Ultimate Guide to the Best of Puglia

This Puglia guide contains links to three services I often use myself and can recommend: Booking.com (for hotel bookings), Rentalcars.com (for car hire) and GetYourGuide (for easy-to-book tours). If you make a booking via one of these services, I will receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). These commissions help me to maintain my blog and share more travel experiences with you.


Bari, the capital of Puglia, can trace its roots back more than 2,000 years when it was founded by the Peucetii tribe. These days, Bari is one of the most important economic centres in southern Italy and, due to its international airport and port, an important gateway to the region. Most visitors arrive in Bari but tend to skip the city, choosing instead to move on to another part of Puglia. I recommend spending 1-2 nights in Bari to wander around its Old Town and soak up the authentic atmosphere. Find flights to Italy with KLM.

Entering the maze of streets in the Old Town of Bari.
Strolling around the Old Town feels like taking a step back in time!

Read more about things to see in Bari. While in Bari, I stayed at the lovely Gatto Bianco Ducchesa, situated at the edge of the Old Town. Search for hotels in Bari (Booking.com).

Central Puglia

Central Puglia consists of hilly landscapes, verdant valleys, mile after mile of olive groves, vineyards and fruit orchards, quaint whitewashed towns, dramatic coastal cliffs and beautiful beaches on both the Adriatic and Ionian coasts.

Valle d’Itria

Central Puglia is also home to Valle d’Itria or Itria Valley, an area famous for its ‘trulli’ (whitewashed, cone-roofed houses), charming towns and agricultural products.

Trulli, with their characteristic cone roofs, can be found throughout the Itria valley.

I recommend spending at least 4-5 days in the Itria Valley, in my view one of the best places to visit in Puglia. Of all the towns in this area, Alberobello (a UNESCO World Heritage town) is the biggest draw. You can opt to make Alberobello your base to explore the rest of the valley or you can choose one of the other towns such as Martina Franca, Locorotondo or Cisternino. I chose Martina Franca because of its strategic location on an intersection of major regional roads and discovered a lovely town that makes for a terrific base.


Alberobello is perhaps the most famous town in the Itria Valley due to its famous trulli houses. The conical rooftops coupled with charming cobblestone alleys and whitewashed houses are a simply magical sight. The old town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, consists of a maze of streets and steps lined by trulli; drystone dwellings that were built using prehistoric techniques.

The famous trulli of Alberobello.

Two B&B’s I can recommend in Alberobello are Il Segnalibro and C’era Una Volta. If you’d like to experience staying in a trullo, check out Tipico. Search for hotels in Alberobello (Booking.com).


Martina Franca

Martina Franca is the largest town in the Itria Valley and can trace its roots back to the 10th century AD.

Martina Franca

Being in the heart of the valley, Martina Franca is a great base from which to explore the area but spend some time exploring its old centre which boasts beautiful Baroque architecture (like the Palazzo Ducale and the impressive Basilica di San Martino) and quaint streets. When you’re here, drop by for dinner at Osteria del Coco Pazzo, a charming restaurant in a vaulted space that serves excellent Puglian food and wines. Ask for the local specialty ‘capocollo’, a cured pork salami. One accommodation I loved, just outside the town, is Villa Ada. In the town centre, check out the B&B San Martino. Search for hotels in Martina Franca (Booking.com).


Locorotondo means ’round place’ and that’s what it is: a town in a circular form atop a hill. Its hilltop position means that you can see the town from miles around and once you’re up there, you’ll be treated to stunning views of the Itria Valley. The town centre is a labyrinth of white alleys punctuated by churches or piazzas. The houses have pitched roofs called ‘cummerse’, a feature typical of Locorotondo. Walking around the historic centre is like a step back in time. Don’t forget to stop at a café and sip on a famous Locorotondo DOC white wine! Search for hotels in Locorotondo (Booking.com).



Cisternino is often listed as one of the most beautiful towns in Italy. I beg to differ but this town, which dates back from medieval times, sure has a lot of charm to offer. The Piazza Dell’orologio lies in the centre of the town. From here, little lanes and streets fan out in different directions. It’s a delight to simply stroll around the picturesque lanes lined with whitewashed houses and their external staircases. In the beautiful area around Cisternino, you’ll find a variety of beautiful accommodations such as Trullo Suite and Borgo Canonica. Search for hotels in Cisternino (Booking.com).

Cisternino (image courtesy of Kars Alfrink)


As you drive along the SS379 motorway that skirts the coast near Fasano, your attention will be drawn to the gleaming white appearance of Ostuni, also known as the ‘white city’. It’s an impressive sight that acts as a magnet for travellers. With its ancient cobblestone streets, grand churches and quaint white houses, Ostuni truly is stunning. The town boasts a remarkable history that goes back to the Stone Ages! The Cathedral and the Bishop’s Palace are especially striking but there are many other architectural gems to be found, including the old homes of the nobles.

Puglia is full of stunning historic towns like Ostuni, also called the ‘White City’.

For a meal in Ostuni, check out Risto Caffe Cavour (Corso Camillo Benso Cavour) and Osteria Del Tempo Perso (Via Gaetano Tanzarella Vitale, 47), excellent restaurants with an atmospheric cave setting. I can also highly recommend Restaurant Cielo in the Relais La Sommita.

A charming lane in Ostuni.

There are many accommodation types in and around Ostuni, from five star hotels to rustic B&B’s and holiday homes. For a rustic cave-like accommodation in the historic centre, check out Pantarei, White Dream or La Dama Bianca. In the historic centre, indulge yourself at the fabulous Relais La Sommita (it also has its own Michelin-starred restaurant, Cielo). Just outside Ostuni, you’ll find some excellent hotels such as the Masseria Cervarolo (with its trulli) and the gorgeous white-washed Masseria Dagilupi. Search for hotels in Ostuni (Booking.com).

Ceglie Messapica

An alluring historic town near Ostuni, Ceglie Messapica is one of the oldest towns in Puglia, dating back to at least the 8th century BC (!). The town also has one of the largest historic centres, which is amazingly well preserved. Stroll around its atmospheric lanes and piazzas, visit the Castello Ducale (Ducal Palace), admire the artwork in ancient churches (such as Chiesa di Sant’Anna), sit at the Piazza Plebiscito (with its beautiful clock tower) and have a meal at one of the many excellent restaurants (the town is well-known for its gastronomy). For a terrific meal, check out L’Acquolina (Via Orto del Capitolo, 37), and if you’re a meat-lover, don’t miss Enococus – Acini & Carbone (Via Pendinello, 2). For accommodations, consider a stay at Palazzo Camarda, a B&B located just outside the historic town centre. Search for hotels in Ceglie Messapica (Booking.com).

Piazza Plebiscito in Ceglie Messapica (image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Mfran22).


This medieval town is packed with ancient lanes, atmospheric squares (such as the Piazza Orsini) and historic monuments. The top attractions in Mesagne include the ornate Chiesa di Sant’Anna and the Ugo Granafei Archeological Museum (with Roman mosaics, housed in an 11th century castle). Search for hotels in Mesagne (Booking.com).

Mesagne (image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The Adriatic Coast

The Adriatic coast is characterised by ancient clifftop towns, rocky coves and sandy beaches. Coastal towns I can definitely recommend for a visit or a short stay include Polignano a Mare and Monopoli.

Polignano a Mare can trace its origins back to the 4th century BC when Greek settlers founded the settlement of Neapolis. These days, the town is popular amongst tourists who come to visit its historic centre, perched precariously on the cliffs overlooking the Adriatic Sea, and enjoy its beaches. Make sure to make a reservation if you plan to eat at the town’s world-famous Grotta Palazzese, a spectacular cave restaurant. Search for hotels in Polignano a Mare (Booking.com).

The spectacular Polignano a Mare.

Monopoli has a charming historic centre (don’t miss the Baroque-style Monopoli Cathedral) with a beautiful seafront promenade. In addition to its 16th century castle and defensive walls, the seafront also features a lovely sandy beach, perfect for a dip after a wander around the town. If you plan to stay in this area, consider Masseria Torrepietra, with its beautiful rooms and outdoor pool. Search for hotels in Monopoli.

The coastline towards Bari is quite rocky, with a sprinkling of sandy beaches and little villages such as Cozze and Mola di Bari.

The Ionian coast

The largest town on the Ionian coast of Central Puglia is Taranto. The city’s history goes back to 700 BC (!) and these days, it’s one of the biggest commercial centres in southern Italy as well as an important base for the Italian Navy. There are several attractions along its long waterfront such as the 15th century Aragon Castle.

Aragonese Castle in Taranto. Image By Livioandronico2013.

You can spend a few hours wandering around the ancient Old Town (Citta Vecchia), which basically has the same layout as in the time it was built in the 1st century by the Byzantines, to enjoy the atmosphere of its maze of streets and lanes. There are also some Greek ruins to be seen such as the Doric columns on Piazza Castello.

Head inland from Taranto to the town of Massafra. This historic town straddles both sides of the San Marco ravine and is worth a stop for lunch and a wander. The town is most famous for its cliff dwellings comprised of homes and cave churches in the ravine. You can also visit the imposing Massafra Castle. For a delicious meal, I recommend Ristorante Vecchie Storie in Via Giuseppe Pisanelli.

Massafra sits on both sides of the San Marco ravine.

Southern Puglia

The area to the southeast of the Taranto-Brindisi axis is dominated by the province of Lecce with its capital of the same name. Its long coastline stretches from the Adriatic Sea around the ‘heel’ of Italy to the Ionian Sea, and boasts historic towns, sandy beaches and crystal-clear water. Most visitors choose to stay in this region for their beach holidays, and rightfully so. However, look further and you’ll discover charming towns with many historic and artistic treasures, and an addictive laid-back lifestyle.


The capital of the province of Lecce, the city of Lecce is often called the ‘Florence of the South’ due to the abundance of Baroque architecture in its historic centre.

The Duomo (Cathedral) of Lecce.

The city can trace its history back to Roman times – remnants from this age include the Roman amphitheatre. The other attractions in Lecce include the Cathedral (Duomo), Basilica di Santa Croce, Porta Napoli and Church of San Giovanni Battista.

Top left: Church of Santa Croce, Top right: Lecce Roman amphitheatre, Bottom left: Lecce Porta Napoli in Universita Street, Bottom middle: Saint Giovanni Cathedral in Perroni area, Bottom right: Lecce Cathedral in Duomo Square. Image By DaniDF1995.
One of Lecce’s ornate buildings at sunset.

You can choose to stay along the coast to enjoy the province’s stunning beaches and visit Lecce on a day trip, or you can stay in Lecce for 1-2 nights to truly appreciate its historic gems. There are several gorgeous accommodations in the city I can recommend such as Palazzo de Noha, Dimora Charleston and Palazzo Lecce. Search for hotels in Lecce (Booking.com).


Less than 50km from Lecce lies the town of Casarano. Founded in the 1st century BC, Casarano comprises a maze of atmospheric streets and lanes lined by baroque palaces, with their hidden courtyards, and ancient churches that house beautiful religious artwork. The Church of Santa Maria della Croce, one of Puglia’s oldest, houses amazing mosaics and frescoes.


Gallipoli is believed to have been founded by the Greeks and through the centuries, the town was conquered by a succession of powers including the Byzantines and the Normans. In the 18th century, Gallipoli was home to the largest olive oil market in the Mediterranean. From its ports, ships laden with olive oil sailed to major European cities where the oil was used for lighting. It is said that olive oil from Gallipoli lit the streets of London before the advent of the electric bulb.

The enormous baroque Sant Agata Cathedral towers over the old town!

The old town is situated on a little island and is connected to the mainland by a 16th century bridge. This part of town features an impressive castle (built by the Byzantines in the 13th century) and equally impressive fortification walls and towers. Behind the castle lies a maze of picturesque streets filled with quaint shops, cafés and restaurants, as well as historic churches, convents and palaces. Despite its small size, Gallipoli is packed with historic and cultural treasures, and it has a dazzling sandy beach right at its doorstep. Important sights include the Sant Agata Cathedral and the Santa Maria della Purità church. You can easily spend a few days here while you explore the town and enjoy the nearby beaches. One hotel I absolutely love in Gallipoli is I Bastioni San Domenico! Search for hotels in Gallipoli (Booking.com).

The old town of Gallipoli on the island, viewed from across the harbour.
Gallipoli also has a gorgeous beach and a shallow cove right at its doorstep!


This spectacular clifftop town overlooks the stunning turquoise waters of the Adriatic Sea. Explore the historic promenade and discover the town’s rich history that was shaped by the Romans, Greeks and Byzantines. Be sure to visit the Cathedral and the Aragonese Castle. An accommodation in the town centre I can recommend is Palazzo Papaleo. In the outskirts of Otranto, check out Masseria Bandino and Masseria dei Monaci. Search for hotels in Otranto (Booking.com).


The beaches

Southern Puglia has some of the best beaches in southern Italy. Here, you’ll find long stretches of fine, white or golden sand, lapped by crystal-clear turquoise water. Some of the best beaches can be found at or near Torre dell’Orso/Sant’Andrea, Otranto, Maldive del Salento and Porto Cesareo. Search for hotels in Porto Cesareo (Booking.com).

There are many gorgeous beaches in the Lecce province, such as this one in Maldive del Salento.

The rocky cliffs along the east coast also feature some beautiful natural rock formations such as Le Due Sorelle (the ‘Two Sisters’), the sea stacks of Torre Sant’Andrea and the sea caves near Castrignano del Capo/Leuca. At Marina Serra, you’ll find a natural swimming pool, with crystalline water, surrounded by rocky cliffs and watched over by the ruins of the Torre Palane.

Castrignano del Capo Puglia photo
The sea caves near Castrignano del Capo.

Northern Puglia

The Gargano peninsula in northern Puglia sticks out into the Adriatic Sea and consists of a mountainous massif, sandy beaches, limestone cliffs and ancient forests. A large part of the peninsula is occupied by the Gargano National Park (the most extensive national park in Italy), where visitors can enjoy hikes through the beautiful forests. The 140km coastline, lapped by crystalline waters, has dramatic cliffs interspersed with white, sandy beaches and charming fishing towns.

The Gargano peninsula features a mountainous core and a coastline with cliffs, beaches and charming towns.

The first town visitors encounter as they approach Gargano is Manfredonia. From here, it’s a short drive to the expansive beaches of Mattinata, a great place to base yourself. I stayed at Hotel Residence Il Porto, which I absolutely loved! The rooms were comfortable and offered stunning views of the coast and sea below. Search for hotels in Mattinata (Booking.com).

Views from Hotel Residence Il Porto in Mattinata.

I recommend spending a few days on the peninsula to explore the flora and fauna of the national park, as well as to enjoy the beaches, charming towns and two UNESCO World Heritage sites: Vico del Gargano and the Sanctuary of San Michele in Monte Sant’Angelo. Beaches I visited include Spiaggia di Vignanotica (map), a pebble beach with crystal-clear water set against a spectacular backdrop of white cliffs; the nearby Mattinatella beach; and Spiaggia di San Nicola (map), an arc of fine sand set in a bay with trabucco eateries and beach facilities.

Driving through the Gargano National Park.

As you drive along the northern coast, look out for the trabucchi, wooden structures used by fishermen which are now protected historical monuments. Some of them have been converted into restaurants, making it an unforgettable seaside lunch experience.

A trabucco (historic fishing installations) is a great spot for a seafood lunch. This is the Trabucco di Monte Pucci on the northern coast near Peschici.
The view towards Peschici from Trabucco di Monte Pucci.

Towns which shouldn’t be missed include Vieste (built on a rocky promontory and flanked by two sandy beaches), Vico del Gargano (a UNESCO World Heritage listed medieval town bursting with charm), Monte Sant’ Angelo (listed together with the Sanctuary of Monte Sant’ Angelo as UNESCO World Heritage sites) and Peschici (a little town perched on rocky cliffs above the blue sea). Search for hotels in Vieste (Booking.com).

Monte Sant’ Angelo (image courtesy of LPLT/Wikimedia Commons).
An ancient street in Vico del Gargano.

Places to visit on the way to Gargano

If you’re heading to Gargano from southern/central Puglia, consider a stop at the historic Castel del Monte, an imposing 13th century citadel, and a lunch stop at Trani, a quaint fishing village with a lively promenade.

Castel del Monte

Another town I can recommend for a (lunch) stop is Altamura. Located near Matera, Altamura is a bustling walled town with an impressive Cathedral. If you’re looking for a lunch spot, check out Ristorante Tre Archi! And ask for Pane di Altamura (a bread that the town is famous for).

The Cathedral in Altamura.

Matera, Basilicata

Matera is situated in the adjacent region of Basilicata and if you’re visiting central Puglia, I highly recommend spending a few days in this extraordinary city. Wedged between the ‘heel’ and the ‘foot’ of southern Italy, Matera is one of the oldest continuously-inhabited human settlements in the world, with a history that goes back (perhaps) 7,000 years! The cityscape is somewhat ‘Biblical’ and strolling around its cobblestone streets is like taking a step back in time. Despite its age, or maybe because of it, there are many things to do and see in Matera, making any visit a wondrous experience. Read more about things to do in Matera (including places to stay, restaurants and cafés).

I suggest a stay of at least two nights to truly appreciate this enchanting city. Search for hotels in Matera (Booking.com).

Matera as seen from Sasso Caveoso.
This ancient city in the south of Italy just blew my mind!

15-day ‘Best of Puglia’ itinerary (including Matera)

This 14 night/15 day self-drive itinerary takes you past the best places to visit in Puglia as described above. You can start the trip in Bari or Brindisi and follow the entire itinerary or concentrate on 1-2 areas, depending on your interests or the length of your stay. I’ve included a suggested length of stay per place/area. The itinerary is as follows:

1 night: Bari

4 nights: Central Puglia which includes the Itria Valley and the Adriatic coast. Suggested base: Martina Franca or Alberobello.

4 nights: Southern Puglia which includes the city of Lecce and the towns/beaches of Otranto, Gallipoli and Porto Cesareo. Suggested base: Lecce, Otranto and/or Gallipoli.

2 nights: Matera

3 nights: Gargano peninsula. Suggested base: Mattinata and/or Vieste.

Day 15: back to Bari Airport

Route map

See my photo essay on reasons I love Italy

Car hire


Find your accommodations in Puglia


More information on Puglia

Visit the website of Puglia Tourism for more information.

Check out the Velvet Escape Travel Planning Resources page.

40 Responses

  • Hi Alex,
    Thanks so much for your feedback! I’m so happy to hear that you had a great time in Puglia while following my itinerary. Your comment has definitely made my day! 🙂


  • Hi, I following your Puglia itinary last september and saw almost evthing you described within 3 weeks time, was truely great and fantastic. Absolutely loved it. Thanks again for all the useful tips.

  • Matera view is just mesmerizing.. Thank you for the wonderful post

  • Hi Scott,
    Thank you for your wonderful comment. Puglia is indeed magnetic! I’m so glad that my Puglia guide has been helpful. Have a great trip in September and I hope you find a gorgeous property!


  • Keith: Your insight and detail of the Puglia region is intoxicating. I have visited nearly 40 countries in the world, but there is something about Puglia that is magnetic. I visited Lecce, and the Val d’Atria in 2015 and was so taken by Puglia that I took Italian language lessons in the hope that I would return to Puglia, speak with the locals, and enjoy the region even more. My wife and I are traveling to Puglia in late-September ’21 and are beginning the process of identifying modest properties somewhere in the region so that we may become more frequent visitors. Thank you for your recommendations as they will come in handy when we visit in a few months.

  • That was an amazing guide, Keith. I cannot wait for the international borders to open soon.

  • Hi Keith,
    I found this blog very interesting about Puglia Guide as you have explained in detail, but especially I liked about coastline with cliffs, beaches, and charming towns. Thank you!

  • Hi Jackie,
    Thanks for your lovely comment! I totally agree – how can anyone get enough of Italy? I’m so glad you enjoyed my Puglia guide and I hope you get to see those beautiful trulli houses one day soon!


  • Your post has me longing for Italy! I can’t wait until we are able to travel from the US… I have so much on my Italy bucket list to finish, including getting to Alberobello to see its famous trulli houses! On my last visit, I covered quite a lot of ground, but not nearly enough. (How does one ever get enough of Italy?) Thanks for the virtual tour of Puglia. It’s such a beautiful region.

  • Thank you for your awesome thoughts from your travel diary.
    After reading this article I have decided that my next tour Destination will be Italy.

  • Wow… Hope we can travel after the Corona days are over…

  • What a beautiful place I discovered after reading your blog. I hope to get there soon as we get over with the pandemic crisis

  • These are stunning photos and this place is really wow!!

  • Puglia is really nice. just waiting for the moment to visit it. By the way, the story is superbly presented over here.

  • I remember last year when I was on my business tour in San Severo (Italy) unfortunately I missed these beautiful place but next time I will definitely explore. Thanks for sharing your Blog. Your blogs Inspired me a lot.

  • Hi Keith, this list is awesome. I really want this all in my bucket list…Cheers from far away Taipei!

  • he leido tarde este maravilloso relato de unas de las regiones mas bonitas que he conocido de italia,estuvimos 7 dias y me falto conocer bari y brindisi fasano y cisticernino,opte por otros pueblos,pero siempre se vuelve.

  • Hi,
    I have a plan for my next vacation, recently I got married and I want to enjoy my honeymoon in another country after reading your blog I decided to go Puglia. Thanks for sharing this information.

  • I heard this name Puglia for the first time. I didn’t know that such place exists in Italy. Thanks for sharing.

  • Puglia is such a wonderful destination! I still remember strolling around Bari and Lecce. Especially Bari is a very vibrant city, full of friendly people and fantastic food. I hope I can return soon. Thanks for bringing back so many nice memories 🙂

  • Hi Renuka,
    Puglia is fabulous isn’t it? Shame you didn’t like Bari. I absolutely loved the winding streets and alleys of the old town. Hope you get a chance to go back and see more of Puglia (and add Matera too!).


  • I visited Puglia on my honeymoon, and both my husband and I love it, especially the food! I didn’t like Bari. I found quite non-European. I loved Ostuni, Monopoli and Lecce. I hope to visit it again and explore it more deeply.

  • I was lucky enough to visit Brindisi and Bari, hope to go there again! Thanks for sharing!

  • I heard this name Puglia for the first time.I didn’t even know that such place exists in Italy.This guide proved to a piece of gem for me as it help me to choose my next travel destination.

  • You’ve truly jotted down the best of Puglia…loved reading it throughout. Thanks for sharing.

  • Amazing blog. Very well explained. The pictures look scintillating, especially that of the white city. Thanks for sharing.

  • Also don’t forget to taste Pane di Matera, with crunchy crust with creamy center ? Matera’s traditional local food.

  • […] If you’re planning to hire a car and explore more of Puglia before/after a visit to Bari, I recommend picking up/returning your car at the airport. At the airport, you can easily take the train or a taxi to/from the city and this saves you from having to navigate the city’s busy streets and finding a parking space. Check out my guide of the best places to visit in Puglia. […]

  • […] And if you choose to hire a car, spend some time exploring the regions of Basilicata and Puglia. One beautiful place to visit in Basilicata is the town of Castelmezzano. Should you be travelling from Bari to Matera, plan some time in the nearby Itria Valley in Puglia. This area, with its famous ‘trulli’ houses and whitewashed towns, is simply gorgeous! Check out my guide to the best places in Puglia. […]

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