Puglia, also known as Apulia in Italian, is one of Italy’s lesser-known regions that nevertheless is making its name as a prime holiday destination. Found at the ‘heel’ of Italy’s boot, it’s a beautiful and historic part of the country that is full of both coastal and countryside destinations, offering a wide range of experiences that will satisfy every kind of traveller.
This is a region that is rich in history, and you’ll discover far more than just ancient Greek and Roman ruins when you explore the variety of towns and cities scattered around Puglia. As well as being a prime destination for sightseeing, it is also a part of the country where you can rediscover a slower and more relaxed approach to life in quiet little towns surrounded by nothing but the unspoiled landscape.
If you’re planning a trip to Puglia and aren’t quite sure where to start when it comes to where to visit, here are 15 of the best places in the region.
When you see photos of Puglia, Alberobello is the town that most frequently makes an appearance. This little UNESCO World Heritage town is characterised by the ‘trulli’ huts that are native to the Puglia region and give the whole place a very magical atmosphere.
Alberobello is one of the most popular places in Puglia to visit, and therefore we recommend that you plan your visit in the early morning or evening when there are likely to be fewer tourists around. It’s a brilliant place for taking photos, and many of the trulli huts have been converted into shops and cafes which means you can take a look inside.
Polignano a Mare
Also widely referred to as ‘The Jewel of Puglia’, Polignano a Mare is one of the most popular places to visit in the region. This small seaside town is perched right on the coast and built into the cliffs overlooking the ocean, giving it some of the very best views in all of southern Italy.
The houses and other buildings in Polignano are all made of white or golden stone, making it an incredibly pretty place to stay. The town itself is ideal for exploring at a leisurely pace, and it’s a great part of Puglia to base yourself if you’re planning on spending your holiday visiting different parts of the Valle d’Itria.
Lecce is best known by its nickname ‘the Florence of the South’, given to the city because of the amount of baroque architecture that can be found in its streets. This is the top destination in Puglia for fans of history and architecture, as there are hundreds of beautiful buildings to explore, each with its own fascinating story.
Cafe culture is another thing that Lecce is known for, and a highly recommended activity in the city is finding a cafe with outdoor seating, ordering a coffee and watching the world go by. This is a particularly good pastime in the evenings as the streets fill with golden light and the locals emerge to socialise around you.
Ostuni is certainly one of the most beautiful cities in Puglia, best known for its whitewashed buildings that give it the nickname of ‘The White City’. Found on top of a hill close to Italy’s coast, Ostuni has been around since the Stone Age and has a spectacular cultural heritage as well as plenty of fascinating historical stories attached to various parts of the city.
The best way to explore Ostuni is on foot, wandering through the maze-like streets and letting the sights and sounds of your surroundings come to you as you walk. There are plenty of cafes, restaurants, bars and shops in Ostuni that make it an ideal place to visit for the day, although be prepared to find hundreds of other tourists roaming the streets every day in the high-season.
In the shadows of Florence, Lucca offers a cityscape draped in the beauty of the Renaissance. Including the walls that protect this city’s swirls of warm colours and vibrant accents. You can follow the history built into these walls all around Lucca via the various cycling and running paths that course along with this city’s heartbeat. And there’s something to be said in the quiet murmurs of this city that allow you to explore it’s elegance and tradition with ease. Since it doesn’t receive the kind of foot traffic as the neighbouring Tuscan cities, you can experience the plethora of palaces and churches as if Lucca’s Italian hospitality was for you, and you alone.
Including the panoramic view from the Torre del Ore, a looming tower overlooking Lucca. From here you can capture Torre del Guinigi, another gem hidden in the heart of this city’s captivating aura. Torre del Guinigi is home to an aged oak tree that crowns the tower, the city and your perfect view.
The capital of the Puglia region is Bari, a city that has been around since 300 BC. Found right on the coast of Italy, it’s a large and lively place that is also an important religious destination because of the relics of Saint Nicholas that are found in the Basilica San Nicola and visited by pilgrims all year round.
Bari’s Old Town is its best attraction, built on a peninsula that juts into the sea and surrounded by high stone walls. Here you can enjoy a truly authentic Italian atmosphere as you wander the narrow streets and meet plenty of locals sat socialising on their doorsteps. The food in Bari’s Old Town is known for being exceptional as well, and you’ll find plenty of little eateries as you explore.
Gallipoli can be described as a town of two halves; the new developments of the town are on mainland Italy but the original settlement is located on a small island that can only be reached by boat or across the 16th-century causeway that connects the two halves.
This is another destination that is ideal for those who enjoy historical sightseeing, as there are numerous churches, a palace and a castle.
Otranto is the easternmost town in all of Italy, found on the Salento peninsula on Puglia’s coast. It’s one of the region’s most beautiful coastal towns because of the quality of the water, which makes it a very popular place for swimming and snorkelling.
The main attraction in Otranto is the town’s Romanesque cathedral which has a spectacular mosaic floor that is one of the largest of its kind in Europe. There is also a 15th-century castle to be visited, built to protect the city from the many sieges and attacks that it has faced over the past few centuries.
If you’re looking for beaches in Puglia then the town of Monopoli is a brilliant place to spend long and sunny days gazing out at the Adriatic Sea. Long, sandy beaches stretch out from the south of the town, and many aren’t frequently populated by tourists which makes them an ideal place to relax and enjoy the beauty of the coast.
Monopoli itself is a charming and historic location full of little hidden gems that you’ll likely stumble across completely by accident. There are plenty of traces of Ancient Roman civilization to be found in the area, and it’s a great spot for travellers who enjoy exploring old Italian churches.
Matera is actually found on the border of Puglia next to Basilicata, but is still worth a mention because of its importance. It’s known as one of the oldest examples of a human settlement in all of Italy, with historic cave dwellings found just outside the city demonstrating an ancient way of life that has now been immortalised with a museum.
The whole city has a very ancient atmosphere and is surrounded by dramatic landscapes that will make you feel as though you have entered a different time altogether. Matera is quite a large city and so many people spend a couple of days in the area to fully appreciate all that it has to offer, from the historic caves to churches, monasteries and museums.
Santa Maria di Leuca
Santa Maria di Leuca is a seaside town that is located right at the tip of the ‘boot’ of Italy’s heel and has been around since the very first century B.C. It’s a popular spot for tourists because of its natural and rugged beauty, and also because of a few notable spots that are some of the most famous in all of Puglia.
The first of these is the town’s huge lighthouse which stands at 47m tall and marks the location of the Basilica of Santa Maria de Finibus Terrae. The end of the Apulian Aqueduct is also found in Santa Maria di Leuca where a man-made waterfall cascades into the sea and is commemorated by a large stone column.
The Promontorio del Gargano is a sub-region of Puglia that has some of the most diverse landscapes of the whole area, making it a popular place to spend an entire holiday. Whilst most of the promontory is covered by the Foresta Umbra National Park, there are plenty of beautiful coastal towns around the edge that offer a different kind of scenery to other seaside locations in Puglia.
Known as the ‘spur’ on the heel of Italy’s boot, Gargano is a part of Puglia that has not been altered by rising levels of tourism and maintains a truly authentic air wherever you go. This does mean that you’ll have to practice your Italian before you travel if you want to be understood by anyone you speak to, but the quiet that you’ll enjoy across the area well makes up for its lack of tourism.
Historically, Brindisi has been one of the most important cities in Puglia because it is directly connected to Rome via a series of ancient roads. It is still an influential and important location because of its large port and because the United Nations Logistics Base is found in the city.
Visitors to Brindisi will find the best attractions down by the waterfront, where there are plenty of local restaurants and the atmosphere is very laid back. There are many historic sites in the centre of the city that are well worth a visit, and you won’t find many other tourists around which is a highlight for some travellers.
The coastal town of Vieste is the most-visited holiday destination in east Puglia, famed for its incredible natural beauty. The town is found on the Gargano Peninsula and has received a Blue Flag rating for the cleanliness of its water, making it an ideal seaside destination for those who enjoy swimming and other watersports.
The town itself is built into the cliffs and so you’ll need to be prepared for lots of steep sets of steps when you’re making your way around. There are plenty of old and beautiful buildings that make it a lovely place to spend a couple of days switching off from the rest of the world and tuning back into a slower and more ancient pace of life.
Many people think of Locorotondo as the prettiest town in Puglia thanks to the whitewashed buildings, quiet little streets and residents who are dedicated to keeping their home clean. Found in the Valle d’Itria, Locorotondo is not a sightseeing destination but rather a beautiful little part of the world in which to lose yourself for a couple of hours and simply enjoy your surroundings.
If you’re not too fussed about having lots of things to do on your holiday then Locorotondo is the ideal destination for you. This is not a very touristy town, but it does provide plenty of opportunities for gentle strolls, leisurely dining and true relaxation.
Martina Franca is the largest town in the Valle d’Itria, but has managed to remain relatively untouched by tourism. It’s another classic Puglian town with white buildings and a range of historic architectural styles that form a kind of maze perfect for exploring on a lazy afternoon.
Despite its reputation as less of a tourist destination, there are plenty of things to see and do in Martina Franca. There’s the 18th-century Rococo style Basilica di San Martino, the picturesque Piazza Maria Immacolata and numerous little shops and cafes that will keep you busy and well-fed for days.
Puglia is a region of Italy that many travellers find themselves coming back to time and time again, drawn to the incredible scenery, peaceful atmosphere and unique architecture. For other information on holidays in this beautiful part of the country, explore the rest of the Italian Breaks website and find out more.