Top 10 Must-Sees for a first time trip to Apulia

Polignano a mare, town on the rocks. Puglia, Italy
hile Italy is a top travel destination, many of its places remain undiscovered. Puglia, often overlooked, is one of Italy’s most beautiful regions. It boasts a rich cultural and natural heritage, with marvelous cities, traditional villages, and idyllic beaches along an endless coastline. Located in southern Italy, Puglia occupies the heel of the Italian boot and sits at the crossroads of ancient Mediterranean civilizations, reflected in its cultural influences. Major destinations include Bari, a vibrant city and port often used as a base for exploring the region, and Lecce, known for its exquisite Baroque architecture. Notable too are the unique conical houses in the Itria Valley, epitomized by Alberobello. Discover our Top 10 Must-Sees for a first time trip to Apulia!

Vieste in Gargano in the North of Apulia.
Vieste in Gargano in the North of Apulia.

1.   Bari

The capital of the Puglia region and its largest city is Bari, a bustling port used as a gateway to the Adriatic and the Mediterranean. While not as elegant or welcoming in the past, modern Bari has come a long way and is on the road to becoming a fascinating destination. Most of the sights are in Old Bari, a settlement dating back to pre-Roman times. This area features medieval and Baroque buildings that have preserved their authentic architecture for centuries. Key attractions in Bari include the Saint Nicholas Basilica, boasting stunning architecture and the saint’s tomb, the imposing Bari Castle and the elegant Saint Sabino Church. Visitors can also enjoy the charming “Lungomare Nazario Sauro” seaside promenade and explore hidden treasures along the narrow streets of the old town.

2.   Lecce

Considered as the “Florence of the South”, the fabulous city of Lecce is among the most beautiful in the whole of Italy and should not be missed for a first-time visitor of Puglia. Perfectly combining and ancient roman heritage with the boastful Baroque architecture that can be admired everywhere in the old city, Lecce feels like an open-air museum. There are countless amazing palaces and churches spread throughout the city that exhibit a unique style and look of the Baroque. The most famous and fascinating sights of Lecce include the magnificent Piazza del Duomo with the cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, the superb Vescovile and del Seminario palaces, the charming Piazza Sant’Oronzo, the majestic Castle of Charles V, Basilica Santa Croce and many other churches, the Roman Amphitheatre and several interesting museums. 
Ancient Roman Theater in Lecce
Ancient Roman Theater in Lecce

3.  Alberobello and Itria Valley 

The charming valley of Itria feels like a fairytale, with its iconic stone houses, olive groves and vineyards, making it one of the must-see destinations in Puglia. Located in the heart of the region, it is not actually a valley, but more of a karst depression. It includes several breathtaking towns and many traditional villages where the authentic lifestyle is still preserved. The symbols of the region are the unique houses built entirely of stone and with conical roofs called trulli. While most people do not live in them anymore, there are still many still in use today and can be admired throughout the Itria Valley. The best place to discover the trulli is the stunning town of Alberobello, one of the most fascinating destinations in the whole of Italy. The whole old town area preserves the traditional trulli buildings and some have been repurposed as shops, guesthouses or restaurants. Other interesting towns of this valley include Martina Franca, Locorotondo and Cisternino, while there are also some cool caves to explore.

4.   Beaches of Salento

The southernmost tip of Italy’s heel is known as Salento Peninsula and is one of the most beautiful regions of the country, with some amazing cities, but also many exceptional beaches. With superb weather for most of the year, Salento is the perfect seaside escape, featuring pristine beaches and dramatic rocky outcrops. Between the Adriatic and the Ionian Seas, Salento is both a cultural and a leisure destination, some of the best beaches being included in nature reserves, like the one in Porto Cesareo with its thermal springs or the Porto Selvaggio stunning bay. Other beaches that should not be missed in Salento include Santa Maria di Leuca, Marina di Pescoluse, Baia Verde, Baia dei Turchi and more. 

5.   Polignano a Mare

Polignano a Mare, located on the Puglia coast, is famous as the birthplace of Italian singer Domenico Modugno and for its unique restaurant, Grotta Palazzese, set in a seaside cave. Just a short train ride south of Bari, this town offers memorable experiences with its  cliff-perched houses and quaint beaches. Visitors can explore charming churches, whitewashed alleys, sea-view terraces, Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, and the Palazzo dell’Orologio. Polignano a Mare, Bari, Puglia, Italy.
Polignano a Mare, Bari, Puglia, Italy.

6.   Gargano National Park 

A must-visit destination in Puglia is the Gargano National Park, nestled in the “spur of the Italian boot” and spanning a vast area. Formerly an island blanketed in forests, the region still boasts its untamed essence with diverse wildlife and breathtaking scenery. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park encompasses a range of attractions, from the rugged coastal landscapes sculpted by karst rocks to the pristine waters of the Tremiti Islands Marine Reserve. It also harbors ancient treasures like the Umbra Forest and the wetlands of Lago Salso. Offering abundant hiking opportunities and thrilling activities, the park is dotted with charming towns like Vieste, Monte St. Angelo, Vico Del Gargano, and Mattinata.

7.   Ostuni

<yoastmark class= In Puglia’s charming towns, Ostuni stands out with its stunning white houses climbing the hilltop, crowned by the majestic old cathedral. Encircled by medieval walls, the citadel holds a rich history. Dubbed the “White City,” Ostuni offers a delightful day excursion in Puglia, boasting attractions like the Ostuni Cathedral, the Bishop’s Palace, the quaint Piazza della Liberta, and more. The surrounding countryside adds to the allure with its olive oil and wine farmhouses.

8.   Castel del Monte

Castel del Monte, Apulia: An octagonal 13th-century castle built by Emperor Frederick II.
Castel del Monte, Apulia: An octagonal 13th-century castle built by Emperor Frederick II.
The Castel del Monte is a unique medieval treasure and listed a UNESCO World Heritage site. Commissioned by Frederick II around 1240, this castle is notable for lacking both a moat and drawbridge. Perched atop a hill, it commands views over the surrounding area. The castle’s distinctive octagonal shape and matching towers at each corner create an imposing and massive structure. Beautifully preserved, it is now one of Puglia’s most intriguing attractions. Travelers are drawn to its remarkable architecture and the 16 interior halls, spread across two levels, which were once adorned with precious paintings and tapestries.

9.   Taranto

Italy boasts a diverse landscape ranging from vast green fields to rugged mountains. The country’s natural beauty and the abundance of sights will captivate you. With stunning rivers, islands, and other natural wonders, there’s always something to see. We highly recommend visiting Lago De Garda and the Dolomites, where some of Italy’s most breathtaking scenery awaits.

10.  Brindisi 

Aerial panorama of Brindisi in the afternoon, Puglia, Italy
Panorama of Brindisi, Puglia, Italy.
Brindisi, situated on the Adriatic coast, boasts a rich ancient Greek and Roman heritage and is one of Italy’s key ports. The iconic harbor forms the city’s heart. Notable is the Alfonsino Castle, guarding the port’s entrance from a small islet. The old town area offers several attractions including the house of poet Vergil, the Archaeological Museum, the cathedral and many churches, and piazzas.

We, the founders of Italiaplus, love the small enchanting places of Italy and have been combining passion and extraordinary experiences with our events for more than ten years . Coming from the travel and event industry, we both independently found our way to Italy and made many contacts, which are not accessible to a non-local travel agency.

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