There’s a reason Puglia is the region of the moment, or rather several: the excellent food, exuberant architecture dotted in the South, the breathtaking coastline and heaps more. Puglia is much bigger than you might first expect, but you’ll get both a wonderful and varied Italian experience here. Use our travel guide as a nifty sidekick (think of us like the Robin to your Batman) to help you plan the holiday of a lifetime. We’ve covered everything you need to know; indigenous hangouts, family-friendly adventures, the best restaurants, group activities and so much more. So, whether you’re looking for an authentic experience, or just hoping to relax – you can take as much as you want from our endless guide. And don’t forget we’ve got a selection of villas in Puglia that will add that extra special touch to your trip.
As the heel of Italy’s boot, Puglia has hundreds of miles of coastline, so it’s no surprise that beaches are its main draw. But to focus solely on the region’s 400 kilometres of sand, lovely as so much of it is, would do it a disservice. The raw natural beauty of the countryside, the Baroque architecture of the cities, the unfussy trattorias serving feasts of orecchiette pasta, and the rural villages where time seems to have stood still are just a handful of reasons to explore the boot’s stiletto. Italian holidaymakers have been basking in the sunshine here for an age, but only the savviest of UK travellers know it is a must-visit, making it a dream destination for those looking for an authentic taste of Italy away from the crowds.
When to visit
Puglia shines in spring when wildflowers blanket the countryside and the typically mild weather is spot-on for hiking and cycling in the countryside. If you’re heading here for the beaches, time your trip for the height of summer in July and August, when the sea is toasty and the mercury lingers around 30 degrees Celsius.
Festivals and events are around every corner during the summer months, and the whole of southern Italy has more of a party atmosphere during this time. Puglia clings on to mild weather throughout the autumn and the accompanying lack of crowds make the latter part of the year a delightful time to visit the region.
- Lecce – Gorge on a whole town’s worth of Baroque architecture.
- Parco Nazionale del Gargano – Hike through the lush forests of this giant national park.
- Bari – Dine out at the best of the region’s traditional trattorias.
- Castel del Monte – Explore the striking 13th-century grandeur of Puglia’s finest castle.
- Vieste – Fill your Instagram feed with medieval alleyways and white sandy beaches.
Airport: Fly direct from the UK to Bari and Brindisi, where you can then rent a car to continue your journey.
Trains: Little Ferrovie del Sud Est (FSE) trains connect nearly all the major destinations in Puglia, including the likes of Lecce, Alberobello and Otranto, with scenic routes through the countryside that are perfect for day-tripping. Smaller, private train lines head into the remoter areas of Le Murge and Gargano.
Buses: Buses connect Puglia’s coastal towns during the summer and have various routes across the region throughout the year. Services to the more isolated villages, however, are often infrequent or scheduled very early, and the latest timetables can be near impossible to get your hands on. It is worth persevering though, as many of Puglia’s top sights can be reached by public transport and taxis are generally quite rare and pretty expensive.
Hiring a car: The roads linking Puglia’s main towns, Brindisi, Bari and Lecce, are pretty good and renting a car for your trip gives you the freedom to explore the region at your own pace and on a schedule that suits you. Puglia is a much larger area than most folks realise, and your own set of wheels puts all of its remote villages, coastal towns and beaches at your fingertips. Most visitors arrive in Puglia via one of its two international airports, Bari and Brindisi, and car hire from numerous international companies is available at both.
By Bike: Puglia has a wealth of beautiful bike routes, in fact, it’s one of the best ways to discover the region. With unspoilt coastlines, ruined castles and nearby villages, there’s never a dull moment in Puglia.
- There’s not much to shout about for the first 50 kilometres north along the coast road from Bari, but that all changes when you hit the miniature medieval fort of Trani. This gem of a fishing village centres around a centuries-old stone built harbour where, jutting out into the sea, is the town’s centrepiece: a striking 11th-century cathedral made up of three churches built on top of one another, wedding cake style.
- Nestled among the olive groves and vineyards in the town of Alberobello are crowds of trulli – unusual, whitewashed stone buildings that this part of Italy is famous for. The origins of the round, cone-roofed structures are unclear, but today they’re mostly used as shops and even hotels. Alberobello is full of them and is consequently a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Frequently called upon to provide the backdrop for biblical scenes in film and TV, the ancient cave town of Matera is a striking and cinematic old city. Thought to have been around since the Palaeolithic period and inhabited for 9,000 years, Matera has more layers of history than just about any other town in the world. Spend a day admiring its 3,000-plus habitable cave dwellings, rock churches and snaking alleyways.
- Part of Gargano National Park, Puglia’s giant nature reserve, the five tiny Tremiti islands offer superb off-the-beaten-track scuba diving. The waters here are chock-full of underwater caves and coral reefs and there’s even a Roman shipwreck offshore.
- Bari’s grandest basilica, Basilica di San Nicola, dates back to the 1100s and has magnificent features from across the centuries, including Puglia’s oldest ciborium (canopy) over the altar. More importantly, it houses the remains of St. Nicholas, better known as Father Christmas, which are held in a shrine inside a vaulted crypt.
Of all the holiday destinations in Italy, Puglia is probably the most kid-friendly of all. With sands all the way along this ribbon of coastline, the region is jam-packed with stunning beaches for days spent building sandcastles, swimming in the sea and ambling across sand dunes. Coastal towns stuffed with seaside resort-style attractions and shops dishing up gelato in every colour will enchant youngsters of all ages. Away from the beaches, Puglia has giant theme parks packed with roller coasters and zoo animals, wildlife-rich nature reserves for long walks and bike rides, and ancient sites and museums that beat classroom history lessons hands-down. Many historical sites and galleries offer family saver discounts and free or cut-price tickets to young guests, so visits can be fairly good value too. Throw in Puglia’s famously simple but delicious cuisine, a winning combination for most young palates, and the warm welcome children receive in laid-back, family-run trattorias, and Puglia scores top marks for a family-friendly adventure in Italy. Whether you’re travelling with tots or teenagers, or both, there’s plenty to entertain your bambinos in Puglia. To save you having to seek out the best attractions, we’ve compiled a shortlist of our favourites.
Best family activities in Puglia
- Torre Guaceto is no typical beach, in fact, these sands are completely untouched. Grab yourself a cooler with a few sandwiches and spend the day basking in nature walks, snorkelling and cycle trips.
- Water babies will love Carrisisland Acquapark, a popular water park in Cellino San Marco, perfect for those scorching days.
- Saddle up and take in the rustic landscape of Serranova at family-run horse riding school CEAS Centro Equitazione Altosalento.
- Experience farming like a local with Made in Love tour guides. Spend the day working a real farm, harvesting crops and even turn milk into cheese!
If you’re looking for more family friendly ideas, make sure to check out the best kid activities in Puglia.
Kids friendly cycling or walking routes
- Visit the enchanting Porto Selvaggio natural park and embark on a 20-minute walking trail that leads to a little creek surrounded by white rocks. The water glistens and the area doesn’t get too busy so the kids will have their very own playground to explore.
- If you have a day to spare, make a trip to Matera, the unique city built of rock and traverse the stunning area by bike. A voyage through this city will include winding roads, uphill peaks and whirlwind views. Though, a little challenging, your teens will take it in their stride and enjoy every moment.
- The cycle route from Gallipoli down along the coastal road to the southernmost point of Puglia is stunning. You’ll reach the point where the Ionian and the Adriatic Sea meet and it will be a memory for the ages. Make sure you take a moment to let it all sink in.
Puglia may be home to some pretty special stretches of sand, but the region doesn’t trade off its beaches alone. Yes, you could spend an entire holiday basking in the sunshine and slurping gelato in seaside cafés, but there are rich pickings for water sports, boat trips and snorkelling excursions the full length of the coast. But if your group wants more from a holiday than sun, sea and sand, there is plenty to explore inland. Puglia’s untouched landscapes include wild nature reserves and architecture that’s been layered on over the centuries while crumbling cathedrals, dominating palatial structures and ancient forts lend Puglia’s towns and cities a haunting quality. Baroque Lecce and historical yet vibrant Bari are the big players, their architecture and attractions making each one worthy of at least day trip. Most of the bigger towns offer cycling or walking tours to help visitors get under the skin of the area, and the region’s celebrated cuisine and wine production can be uncovered on market tours and cooking classes. If you’re planning activities in Puglia and looking for a place to start, here’s a handful of our top things to do.
Things to do in Puglia
- You’ve heard about windsurfing, but what about kitesurfing? Don’t worry, you’ll be in good hands with the instructors at Locals Slento Kitesurf. Courses for all ages, it’s a new water sport to try your hand too. And with a one-to-one with a tutor, it’s all about having fun.
- Take to the waters on a luxury yacht as you glide across the Ionian Sea. Day trips have an exclusive feel to them with only a limited number of passengers. Perfect for families, friends and lovers, it can be as relaxing or as lively as you like. Selavì has some incredible yachts to charter.
- Rent a bicycle and see the best sights up close and personal. You can go at your own pace and stop off leisurely to take the perfect Instagram pic. It’s well worth taking a look at Velo Service.
- Whilst you’re in the olive oil capital, it would be rude not to have a taste. Azienda Olearia Schrinzi has some brilliant tours to immerse you into the heart of olive oil production.
If you’re looking for more activities to explore with your clan, visit our blog on the best group activities in Puglia.
Visiting a new holiday destination can be challenging – sometimes you wish you knew someone who could give you the genuine lowdown. Luckily, we’ve got the local’s guide to an authentic Puglia that will make your trip just that little bit more special.
Plan your holiday around the best festivals in Puglia
- If you’re lucky enough to be here early August, don’t miss the Sagra della Polpetta in Felline. It’s the Glastonbury of meatballs, so treat those tastebuds to little pieces of meaty heaven.
- La Festa di San Nicola attracts thousands of travellers from all over the world in May to celebrate the arrival of San Nicola’s relics in Bari. The three-day homage includes carrying a large statue of the patron along the coast on a colourful flotilla and finishes with a firework display.
- The Carnevale di Putignano is one of Puglia’s most loved and important festivals. Beginning Boxing Day, the festival continues for an explosive two months, making it not only the longest but one of the oldest festivals in the world. Expect floats, masked merryman and heaps more.
- La Notte di San Giovanni makes for one of the most magical summer nights in Puglia. The celebration of St. John’s Night usually falls on the solstice in June and the event includes street theatre with the themes of superstition and mystery. It’s an evening to remember.
- La Notte della Taranta is Italy’s biggest music festival, dedicated to celebrating traditional culture. Every August, the towns of Grecia Slentina, south of Lecce, including Melpignano come alive with fusion concerts and dancing. If you love rock, mixed with folk music, this is the festival for you.
- Tens of thousands of visitors from Italy and Europe gather around the magical streets of Locorotondo in August for Sagra Pirotecnica della Valle d’Itria a celebration of their patron saint San Rocco. Some of Italy’s renowned firework specialists come together to compete in pyrotechnists – the action begins at midnight but it’s worth staying up for.
Puglia has some remarkable festivals, each so distinct from each other, if you’re seeking more check out the yearly festival lineup.
Can’t get enough of this incredible region? Discover even more things to do in Puglia.
Simple cooking with the finest local ingredients is a foodie trend these days, but Puglia has always been well ahead of the game. Based on age-old peasant traditions, the region’s cuisine is earthy, unfussy and, in short, pretty superb. Simple cooking doesn’t mean limited ingredients though. In fact, the landscape of Puglia is rich in home-grown produce. There are some 60 million olive trees, for example, which produce the bulk of Italy’s olive oil in 1,000 different mills.
Plus, most of the country’s pasta is made from wheat grown in Puglia. The favourite variety locally is orecchiette, known as ‘little ears’ for their shape, which you’ll find paired with all sorts of things, from mussels to courgette flowers. A real foodie must-try in this part of the boot is burrata, a luxurious mozzarella filled with cream and local cheese and best eaten within 24 hours of production. Puglia also produces a lot of wine, with some hearty local reds that you can try while standing in the very vineyards where the grapes grow.
You don’t have to work too hard to find traditional cooking and winemaking in Puglia or local experts who are keen to share their knowledge and skills. But if you want some recommendations to get you started, a few of our favourites are listed here.
Best restaurants in Puglia
- We couldn’t talk about Italian food without mentioning seafood, la crème de la crème of Italian cuisine. Ristorante Al Trabucco da Mimi is one of a kind, mixing old-fashioned fishing practices with modern techniques. Take a bite of the catch of the day or even try your luck a catching your own dinner.
- Had enough of the carbs? MINT Cucina Fresca in Polignano a Mare is the go-to restaurant for healthy dishes. The menu is entirely vegetarian, but don’t let that stop you, the flavours pack a powerful punch.
- Eat like a local at La Cantina di Cianna Cianne in Bari. The menu is packed with Italian classics; antipasti, pasta and risotto to give you an authentic taste of the region.
- With a setting almost as good as its menu, Il Bastione restaurant is a must for those in Gallipoli. Classic flavours served with elegance – combined with sea views, it doesn’t get any better.
Looking for more recommendations, check out our blog with the best foodie experiences in Puglia.
Must try dishes
- Pasta is a staple in Italian cuisine but in Puglia, they eat Orecchiette pasta. The name comes from its shape as it resembles a small ear – when served al dente it’s divine.
- Puglia is known for its exquisite fresh seafood and take it from us, it’s always best served with some vino.
- Dine out on lamb meat and you most definitely won’t regret it – you can thank us later.
Food and wine tours in Puglia
Now you’ve tasted the flavours, it’s time to recreate them at Cucina in Masseria. Learn to cook cakes and hearty pasta dishes, and of course, no cooking class would be complete without eating the fruits of your labour. Buon appetito.
A glass of local wine never goes amiss, and in Brindisi, you can sample the delicate flavours of Tenute Rubino. This brand has charmed wine drinkers across the world and you’ll soon find out why. You can sample the wine alone or pair it with food, regardless you won’t have any complaints.