Puglia, an area in Italy that is relatively unknown to international tourists, is still a treasure trove. You will likely start your journey in Bari (the capital of Puglia, and one of the largest cities in southern Italy) if you travel down to the region better known as “the heel of Italy’s boot”. This large city on the seaside has the region’s largest airport. The charming town center, medieval castle, and delicious local cuisine are all worth the trip. Bari is a great place to start exploring the region and travel down to the famous beaches of the Salento Peninsula.
Plan Your Trip
The best time to visit this coastal town is in summer. However, it can be unbearably hot and crowded with Italian tourists. August is when most Italians go on vacation and the rates are high. Wait until fall, when it’s cooler and there are less people. If you are planning a September trip, the Fiera del Levante, an annual massive exposition, is best to check out the dates.
Language: Although there is a Bari dialect spoken by locals, everyone can understand standard Italian. It’s worth learning a few phrases before you go.
Currency: The euro is used in Italy, as well as most of Europe. Credit cards are accepted, however.
Moving around: The Bari Airport has a train station and buses run throughout the city. However, the heart of Bari can be reached by foot. Rent a bike to cruise the streets of the city.
Travel tip: Bari is a place that should be on your list. However, it can also serve as a starting point to explore the Puglia region.
Things to Do
Bari has the traditional Italian blend of Old World charm and modern touches. Many buildings located in the city’s center date back centuries. These include parts of the original medieval walls that once surrounded the entire city. Although the city has an antique feel, there are many modern shops for those who wish to shop, particularly on Corso Cavour and Via Sparano.
Basilica di San Nicola in Bari’s most popular tourist attraction. It is also known as Santa Claus in the world. Built-in 1087, the church is said to house the remains of Saint Nick in the crypt. It is surrounded by beautiful mosaics. It houses many artworks and features several architectural styles.
Castello Svevo: The 12th-century castle was built on the remains Of Byzantine dwellings, an 11-century religious complex, and was rebuilt by Frederick II from 1233 to 1240. It was later used as a royal residence and a barracks. It is now open to the public and houses an interesting Museum of Gypsum Works.
Seaside Promenade – The Lungomare Imperatore Augusto promenade can be found just outside of the historical center walls. It offers a scenic walk along the Adriatic Sea. You can see fishermen loading and selling their fish at the Margherita Theater in the morning.
What to Eat and Drink
Bari is a city on the coast, so you will find plenty of fresh seafood here. Tiella is a local specialty that includes rice with potatoes and mussels. You don’t have to eat seafood, there are plenty of other options. Puglia is home to tiny, ear-shaped orecchiette noodles. It’s often served with cime di salsiccia and turnips. You’ll see many local women setting up their pasta-making stations in the streets as you walk through the residential areas. Burrata is another delicious specialty from Bari. This creamy, mozzarella-like cheese ball is decadent and you can’t find a better place to enjoy it.
Bari, Italy: An Italian woman making orecchiette
Donato Fasano / Getty Images
People will often be seen sipping drinks on outdoor terraces when the weather is good, which it often is. Although Puglian wines don’t have as much international recognition as those from Tuscany, wine-lovers are discovering the best of the region. Negroamaro is a local wine that is highly prized by sommeliers. Very little of it is exported, so it is difficult to find it outside the region.
Where to Stay
Because the city’s center is small, it’s easy to get around the main attractions by staying in the Old Town. Bari is a great place to start your Puglia trip, but many of the best places are not in Bari. Tourists looking for a relaxing vacation on the beach will find it easier to choose from nearby seaside towns like Monopoli and Polignano a Mare.
One hour from Bari, in the Itria Valley, is the iconic attraction of Puglia: the Trulli (cone-shaped buildings). Although they are not close to the coast, spending the night in one of these homes is a great way to relax and enjoy the Puglian countryside.
Walking near Trulli houses in Alberobello (Apulia), Italy
Matteo Colombo/Getty Images
How to Get There
Bari is located on the rail route that runs along the eastern coast of Italy from Rimini to Lecce. It takes approximately four hours to travel from Rome by train on the rail tracks across Italy. The central location of the train station is within walking distance of the historic center and the bus stop. It is the main transportation hub for trains that serve southern Italy and is one of Italy’s busiest stations. Many public buses run through the city, with many leaving from the train station.
Bari Karol Wojtyla Airport, one of the largest airports in southern Italy, offers service to many cities across Europe and Italy. Ryanair and Wizzair are both low-cost airlines that fly to Bari. This makes it easy to find affordable flights.
July and August are busy months for tourists in Bari and throughout Puglia. Hotel rates rise during these months. For ideal weather and fewer people, travel in the shoulder season from late spring to early fall.
Don’t delay in purchasing your train tickets if you plan to travel by train to Bari. You’ll save money by planning ahead. Prices rise as seats sell and the dates get closer.
Pickpocketing is a common problem in Bari, particularly in the city’s center. Keep your valuables safe so that you don’t get anything stolen during your stay.