The Best Things to do in Puglia, Italy

The 15 Best Things to do in Puglia, Italy

The heel of Italy’s boot, Puglia is nestled in between two dramatic coastlines – there’s the Adriatic Sea, which stretches northward, and the Ionian Sea, which stretches southeastward in the direction of Greece. Despite its wonderful location and climate – Puglia enjoys average temperatures of around a balmy 77°F (25°C) in summer – it’s one of the least explored parts of Italy, inviting you to experience all the pleasures of the region without the crushing crowds that descend on other parts of the country.  

From charming hilltop towns that time seems to have forgotten and imposing Baroque churches that look like something out of a fairytale to remarkably gorgeous vineyards that stretch on for miles and beaches so stunning you won’t believe your eyes, Puglia is filled with things to see and do – especially for foodies!

With so many fantastic things to see and do (and eat!), you may not know where to begin. To help you out, we’ve put together a list of the absolute best things to do in Puglia. Add these fun activities and attractions to your Puglia bucket list, and you’re guaranteed to have an incredible time exploring this Italian foodie paradise!

The 15 Best Things to do in Puglia, Italy

1. Explore the Parco Nazionale del Gargano

Cool Things to do in Puglia: Parco Nazionale del Gargano

You’ll find some of the best things to do in Puglia within the Parco Nazionale del Gargano. This magnificent national park curves along the coastline of northwest Bari and stretches out to sea. A wonderful place to get back to nature, the giant park encompasses a whopping 300,000 acres of forest-covered hills and craggy cliffs.

The Parco Nazionale del Gargano is teeming with incredible hiking trails – you’ll find some of the best within the Foresta Umbra. Known as the Forest of Shadows in English, this section of the park is home to all kinds of pine, yew, oak, and beech trees. Not only do these trees provide natural shade to keep you cool while hiking, but they also act as a refuge for all kinds of fascinating local wildlife.

As you explore, keep an eye out for foxes, roe deer, badgers, wild cats, hares, peregrines, woodpeckers, kestrels, buzzards, and owls. Stunning wild orchids also flourish throughout the national park in summer. 

2. See the Quirky Trulli Houses

Must do things in Puglia: Trulli Houses

For some of the best sights in Puglia, head to Alberobello. This one-of-a-kind medieval village is tucked away inside a peaceful part of Bari and is best known for its iconic trulli houses. Instantly recognizable, these homes are completely mortarless and made from limestone. They feature domed roofs, which are commonly found throughout Valle d’Itria. 

Alberobello isn’t home to just a handful of these unique homes. Wander around the village and you’ll find rows upon rows of them! They all look identical at first. But when you take the time to really look at them, you’ll notice that they’re all different shapes and sizes with quirky little extras. On one street, there’s a row of houses with giant symbols painted in white on the roofs.

These eye-catching houses date back to the 16th century and have an interesting story behind them. They were built in such a way that they could easily be destroyed in case there was a royal inspection that required the owners to pay taxes to the king. 

3. Sightsee in Vieste’s Old Town

Puglia Things to do: Vieste Old Town

When you’re in the mood for some relaxed Puglia sightseeing, head to Vieste and explore the city’s Old Town. Perched on the Gargano Peninsula’s eastern tip, this ancient coastal town boasts a rich heritage that spans centuries.

The Old Town’s labyrinthine streets wind past charming whitewashed buildings adorned with intricate wrought-iron balconies and colorful flowers. The picturesque architecture, characterized by Moorish and Mediterranean influences, creates a fairytale-like vibe you’ll never want to leave behind.

We suggest you start walking and simply see where your feet take you. Strolling through the narrow alleys, you’ll discover hidden courtyards, cute shops, and local cafes serving up delicious Puglian cuisine. The scent of freshly caught seafood mingles with the sea breeze throughout the charming streets.

If you’d rather follow a plan, head for the Castello Svevo. The castle offers panoramic views of the shimmering Adriatic Sea and the surrounding coastline, making it a great place to visit to brush up on your history knowledge as well as soak up the views. 

4. Admire the Architecture in Lecce

Unique Things to do in Puglia: Lecce

Puglia is brimming with gorgeous hilltop towns and Lecca is without a doubt one of them. The town’s mesmerizing palaces, graceful chapels, and magnificent squares were masterfully crafted by some of Italy’s most esteemed 17th-century architects. The baroque architecture here is so distinctive that it’s known as “barocco leccese.” 

The centerpiece of this architectural marvel is the grand Basilica di Santa Croce. One of the best things to see in Puglia, this remarkable basilica is renowned for its intricately detailed façade. Take your time and see if you can spot mythical griffins, peculiar dodos, biblical figures, playful cherubs, and even a number of sheep skillfully carved into the stonework.

We definitely recommend you pay a visit to the Museo Faggiano. This incredible building was once a Lecce townhouse but has since been transformed into a living history exhibit, where archaeological excavations unveil the structure’s fascinating past, stretching all the way back to Roman times. Adding to the city’s historical richness is a well-preserved Roman amphitheater just waiting to be explored.

5. Sample Focaccia Barese

Fun Things to do in Puglia: Focaccia Barese

If you love trying the local food wherever you go, one of the top things to do in Puglia is to nibble on focaccia Barese while you wait for your entrée to arrive. This delicious dish originates in Bari and is served throughout Puglia as an appetizer, usually with some top-quality local olive oil.

Focaccia Barese is crafted from simple bread dough. What makes it so superb is the seasonings and decoration. It’s generously flavored with aromatic rosemary and flavor-enhancing salt before it’s beautifully decorated with tomatoes, onions, and olives. 

Puglia Bucket List: Focaccia Barese

This unique type of bread relies on the perfect balance of ingredients to make it so delicious. It has the perfect combination of richness and lightness, of crisp edges and fluffy insides. But be warned – when it arrives at your table, don’t be surprised if it looks too good to eat!

Magda in Bari serves up some of the most incredible freshly-baked focaccia in all of Puglia. This modern bakery invites you to try all kinds of amazing focaccia by the slice, along with a great selection of Italian cocktails and prosecco. 

6. Take an Italian Cooking Class

What to do in Puglia: Italian Cooking Lesson

It doesn’t matter whether you’re an expert in the kitchen or you’ve only ever used a microwave to cook food, taking part in an Italian cooking class is one of the most fun things to do in Puglia! The art of preparing food and enjoying it together are both incredibly important throughout the region, and being in the kitchen with a local foodie is a great way to discover why people throughout Puglia cherish cooking and eating together so much. 

This cooking class is an excellent choice for people of all levels. You’ll head inside a genuine cave and learn from an expert chef as they teach you how to cook strascinate al tegamino, an amazing pasta dish. You’ll be treated to a couple of glasses of wine to help you loosen up before you make your own pasta and sauce entirely from scratch. 

At the end, you’ll get to settle down with the other students and enjoy your creations together with even more wine. 

7. Warm up with Focara of Novoli

Planning a winter escape? If you time your trip just right, you should be able to join in with one of the top Puglia activities – the Focara di Novoli. This amazing event begins on January 7th and carries on all the way until January 18th. It was first celebrated in 1664 in honor of Sant’Antonio and has continued to grow ever since, becoming the extravagant and fun-filled event it is today. 

On January 7th, local volunteers work together to pile 100,000 bundles of vineyard cuttings and trimmings in the shape of an inverted cone. The giant structure typically reaches around 82 feet into the sky and is around 65 feet in diameter! 

On January 16th, the colossal cone is set on fire and provides the centerpiece for stalls selling all kinds of traditional Puglian products, stages set up for musical and theatrical performances, and areas dedicated to animal blessings. A great place to spend an evening as a family, the Focara of Novoli offers something for everyone. The lively festival comes to an end with a spectacular fireworks display.

8. Take a Tour of the Grotta Zinzulusa

Puglia Things to do: Grotta Zinzulusa

Spending a couple of hours inside the Grotta Zinzulusa is one of the coolest things to do in Puglia. This humongous cave network extends from rocky cliffs lapped by gentle waves hundreds of feet inland, below the coastal town of Castro. Sign up for a guided tour, and you’ll have the opportunity to explore some of its fascinating stalactite-filled galleries. 

All sorts of weird and wonderful things have been found within these caves, including the remains of elephants, rhinos, horses, and hippos. Ancient axes estimated to be more than 5,000 years old have also been found here. 

The largest gallery of the Grotta Zinzulusa is Il Duomo, known as the Cathedral in English. The gallery got its quirky name because it is remarkably spacious with lofty ceilings – just like a cathedral. 

Most tours also include a trip to the Corridoio delle Meraviglie (Corridor of Marvels), which is teeming with remarkable rock formations. Here you’ll also discover the small Trabocchetto lake, which is home to a rare species of shrimp which doesn’t have any eyes! 

9. Visit the Castel del Monte

Unique Things to do in Puglia: Castel del Monte

Poised gracefully atop a hill in Andria, Castel del Monte is one of the most eye-catching Puglia attractions. Its structural design veers from the norm of Italian castles, featuring a perfect octagonal form, far away from the typical design of a castle from the 13th century. 

Experts aren’t yet sure how it got its uncommon shape, as there’s no obvious strategic or defensive reason to design such a building. The most popular belief is that Frederick II (who commissioned the castle) wanted to use it as a hunting retreat. 

Other people argue that the design of the castle is a reflection of Frederick II’s profound religious devotion since the octagon carried sacred significance back in medieval times. Whatever the reason for its unusual shape, the Castel del Monte is absolutely mesmerizing and something you should definitely check out during your trip.

While the castle looks amazing from the outside, we definitely suggest you head inside and climb up one of the towers. From this lofty lookout point, you can see across the Puglian countryside for miles. 

10. Taste Homemade Orecchiette

What to do in Puglia: Orecchiette

Eating is certainly one of the best things to do in Puglia, and whenever you see it on the menu, you’ve got to order orecchiette. This special kind of pasta is arguably the most famous dish to come out of Puglia. 

It’s a simple type of pasta made with durum wheat flour and water, which is shaped by hand into a distinctive ear shape. This is where the pasta gets its name – “orecchio” is the word for “ear” in Italian.

Orecchiette is most commonly served with a simple sauce and a selection of vegetables. But contemporary, progressive restaurants often put their own spin on it and transform it into something spectacular. 

If you take a walk down the winding streets of Bari’s Old Town, you’ll have the chance to watch women making orecchiette by hand on small wooden tables. It’s a fascinating thing to see!

This part of Puglia is also where you’ll find one of the best places to savor the classic dish. Assaporando le Delizie Pugliesi serves up a number of quintessential Puglian dishes, including orecchiette, for shockingly affordable prices. 

11. Explore the Grotte di Castellana

The Grotte di Castellana is a mesmerizing network of underground caves and caverns that invite you on an awe-inspiring journey into the depths of the Earth. These limestone formations, with their stunning stalactites, stalagmites, and intricate rock arrangements, have been captivating curious visitors for generations.

They were first discovered in the late 18th century and have since become one of Puglia’s most popular natural attractions. The cave system extends for almost 2 miles, although only a section of that is open to the public.

Spending a day here is definitely one of the most unique things to do in Puglia. On a guided tour, you’ll follow an expert as you work your way through the chambers and passages. The “Grotta Bianca” (White Cave) is a must-see.

This part of the cave network is characterized by stunning white stalactites and stalagmites. The “Grotta Nera” (Black Cave) offers a contrasting experience, with darker formations that create an eerie, mysterious ambiance. 

If you keep an eye out, you may spot all sorts of fascinating subterranean wildlife, including insects and small creatures that have adapted to the unique environment.

12. Gaze Upon the Remains of St. Nicholas in Bari

Cool Things to do in Puglia: St. Nicholas

Bari is home to many of the must-do things in Puglia, including the Basilica di San Nicola. A prominent gem with a simple yet captivating façade, this church is one of Puglia’s earliest Norman constructions and serves as a testament to the region’s rich historical heritage. 

The remarkable sanctuary holds within its walls not just the grandeur of standout architecture but the very essence of a beloved and enduring legend. It was built to enshrine the earthly remains of St. Nicholas, more famously known as Father Christmas. 

They were stolen from Turkey by local fishermen way back in 1087. You can still see these remains today – they’re kept inside a beautiful shrine hidden away within a dazzling vaulted crypt.

Within the church’s hallowed halls, you’ll find yourself walking in the footsteps of countless pilgrims who have sought solace and inspiration for centuries. It’s an opportunity to connect with history on a personal level and surround yourself with the presence of something that has touched the lives of individuals throughout centuries.

13. Indulge at the Feast of San Giuseppe

Fun Things to do in Puglia: Zeppole di San Giuseppe

The Feast of San Giuseppe, also known as the Feast of St. Joseph, originally started out as a solemn, religious festival when it was first celebrated in the 10th century. Over time, the festival has transformed into a much more light-hearted and fun-filled festival that everyone is encouraged to join in with today.

Celebrated each year on March 19th, the Feast of San Giuseppe highlights traditional foods, particularly bread and pastries. One sweet treat you’ve absolutely got to try is the Zeppole di San Giuseppe. This is a type of cream-filled pastry adorned with candied fruits or powdered sugar. They’re usually shaped like donuts or fritters and are enjoyed by people of all ages throughout the festival.

Puglia Bucket List: Zeppole di San Giuseppe

The celebration isn’t just about indulging in delicious treats. It’s also an opportunity for families and communities to come together. Many towns and villages throughout Puglia host processions, parades, and religious ceremonies in honor of Saint Joseph on this day.

14. Discover the Wonders of the Isole Tremiti

Must do things in Puglia: Isole Tremiti

Located 22 miles off the northern coast of Puglia, the Isole Tremiti islands form an idyllic oasis in the Adriatic Sea. The largest of the islands is San Domino, which serves as the main arrival point for ferries from the mainland.

One of the best ways to get around here is to rent a bike and cycle along the coastline, looking out for secret coves and other hidden spots. A prized gem is Cala delle Arene, a clandestine sandy beach that’s almost always deserted. It’s a great place to spend a couple of hours in peace and tranquility.

What to do in Puglia: Isole Tremiti

The tiny isle of San Nicola is another that’s definitely worth visiting. Here you’ll find the 11th-century Abbazia e Chiesa di Santa Maria. Most of the structure is in ruins now, but it’s still an interesting place to explore. When you need to cool off, head down to the ocean. San Nicola is an incredible place for snorkeling and diving. 

15. Dine on Burrata

Cool Things to do in Puglia: Burrata

When you’re feeling quite hungry but not hungry enough for a full meal, one of the best things to do in Puglia is to stop by a cafe or restaurant and order some burrata. This fabulous cheese originated in Murgia in Puglia and is the softest, creamiest, and richest thing you’ll ever taste in your life!

The unique cheese is made from cow’s milk, rennet, and cream, which gives it the fabulous texture it’s known for. Unlike mozzarella, which needs to be pulled apart or sliced, burrata is so soft that you can spread it. It tastes amazing when paired with tomatoes and basil (like an enhanced caprese salad) or slathered on freshly-baked focaccia. 

Burrata is available from practically every cafe and restaurant throughout Puglia, as well as in most grocery stores. If you find yourself in Monopoli, we recommend popping into Cime Di Tapas to try it. This restaurant serves Italian-inspired tapas, including some of the most delicious burrata you’ll find in all of Italy.

There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Puglia. What’s your favorite thing to do in Puglia? 

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  • Nicola Quinn

    Nicola is a freelance writer with an insatiable hunger for travel. She swapped her home in the UK for the sunny Canary Islands when she was just 11 and she has been based there ever since.

    From crawling on her hands and knees inside pyramids in Egypt to swimming with baby sharks in Bali and searching (fruitlessly!) for the Northern Lights in Iceland, Nicola takes every chance she gets to explore new places.

    The incredible experiences she has around the world fuels her writing and inspires her to plan even more adventures for the future.

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