Last updated on September 16th, 2020 at 07:59 am
Port cities in general are fiercely underrated and Puglia’s capital is no exception but this guide is here to show you what to do in Bari and why this charming city is absolutely worth visiting.
The second largest city in Italy’s South after Naples, vibrant Bari is not only the perfect base from where to explore the stunning region of Puglia but also Italy’s all-time gateway to the East. Frequent ferries that arrive to and depart from Bari Port connect Italy to some of its closest neighbours such as Greece, Albania, Croatia and Montenegro.
Sadly, the fact that Bari has always been one of Italy’s major ports is a curse for the city. Visitors tend to overlook Puglia’s capital while nearby towns and cities flourish. But with so many amazing things to see in Bari, it turns out that planning a trip there is one of the best things to do in Italy.
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How Many Days & What To Do in Bari
Home to one of the busiest passenger ports in Europe and an international airport alike, Bari is the entry point to Italy for a lot of travellers. That said, not many of them choose to spend time in the city itself. That is a great shame if you ask us.
If you’re wondering what to do in Bari, you should know that not only is the city itself worth spending as much time at as possible but Bari is also the ideal base from where to explore one of Italy’s most authentic regions: Puglia. Therefore, make sure your trip to Bari lasts anything between 2 full days (for the city’s charms alone) to a week or two if you’re planning to see the best of Puglia as well.
As far as the city itself is concerned, you only need to explore two districts if you want to check out the best things to do in Bari. First and foremost, you have the medieval Old Town which is built on a peninsula overlooking the Adriatic Sea.
Then, there is the Murat Quarter. Built in the 19th century, this is the heart of modern Bari and the city’s main shopping district. Murat is located south of the Old Town. It extends from the promenade to Bari Centrale, the city’s main railway station.
Top 15 Things To Do in Bari Italy
1. Get Lost in The Old Town’s Quaint Alleys
Walking aimlessly around the enchanting narrow streets of the Old Town definitely and indisputably tops the list of best things to do in Bari. Although we travel extensively across Italy and we have fallen in love with many a quaint Italian Old Town, there is something about Bari that makes it stand out from the rest.
Built between the city’s two ports (the modern and the old one), Bari Vecchia, as locals call the historic centre, is a maze of narrow alleys lined with gorgeous buildings. The latter have remained the same since the medieval times when the city was constructed.
While strolling around Bari Old Town, we were impressed by the countless small yet ornate shrines on the city’s walls. Far from being neglected, these shrines are decorated with fresh flowers and they give the city a very special touch.
What we love about Bari Vecchia the most, though, is its authentic ambience. All across the city, there are children playing football in picturesque piazzas while people of all ages engage in lively conversations from makeshift living rooms right outside their front doors. To be honest, nothing feels more nostalgic than this.
2. Step Inside The Basilica di San Nicola
One of the best places to visit in any city is usually its Cathedral. Yet, in Bari’s case, the Basilica di San Nicola is the church that steals the Cathedral’s thunder. For good reason.
Built between 1087 and 1197 so as to provide shelter to some of the relics of Saint Nicholas of Bari, the Basilica is an important religious site for both Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of Bari and legend has it that he was a fan of secret gift-giving. Does this ring a bell? Exactly! We’re talking about THE Saint Nick himself aka Santa Claus!
3. Visit The San Sabino Cathedral
Although overshadowed by the Basilica of Saint Nicholas and the legends that go with it, Bari Cathedral is worth a visit all the same. Situated at the quaint Odegitria Square, Bari’s Cathedral is dedicated to Saint Sabinus. The Cathedral is a fine example of Apulian Romanesque Architecture.
4. Say Hi To The Sweetest Ladies at Orecchiette Street
The word orecchiette means small ears in Italian. Yet, when in Puglia, orecchiette always refers to a kind of handmade pasta which is typical of the region. This pasta is shaped like, you guessed it right, small ears.
Orecchiette Street or Strada delle Orrechiette isn’t the picturesque alley’s official name. However, the latter is hard to miss as it is located directly across from the entrance to Bari Castle. Now why would a street be named after pasta, you may wonder.
If you walk along Orecchiette Street from about 10:00 am to 17:00 pm (in spring and summer, probably earlier in autumn and winter) every day, you will stumble upon the sweetest local ladies who set up tables outside their front doors and make fresh pasta while chatting with neighbours and passers-by.
Yes, this is how magnificently stuck in the past Bari is. And, yes, you MUST buy fresh pasta from these ladies. Apart from orecchiette, the ladies also make cavaletti (yet another of Puglia’s signature pasta type) and tarallini, Puglia’s go-to snack that can become seriously addictive.
By the way, the street’s actual name is Arco Basso. It takes its name after the low arch that marks the entrance to the alley. Arco Basso is only one of fifty medieval passageways of this kind that are scattered across Bari Old Town.
5. Stroll Along Bari’s Splendid Promenade
Bari is a coastal city. As such, it’s home to a gorgeous promenade with jaw-dropping views to the Adriatic Sea. Most guides will tell you to walk along Lungomare Nazario Sauro which has a total length of about 1km.
However, keep in mind that, although Lungomare Nazario Sauro is indeed the best part of the entire promenade, it is still just one part of Bari’s long promenade. The latter, according to Google Maps, takes up a different name every 1000m or so.
We would recommend walking all the way from Piazza del Ferrarese to Pane e Pomodoro Beach, covering a total of about 3km, so that you can admire some of Bari’s landmarks along the way.
The first building you will come across if you follow this route is the superb Teatro Margherita, a former theatre which now operates as a museum. Right next to this gorgeous building, you can walk along the Old Port of Bari with its iconic blue fishing boats.
Walking past the San Nicola Pier, you will soon reach Bari’s Ferris Wheel. Keep walking but try to take your eyes off of the sea every now and then. This way you’ll get to admire the magnificent architecture that lines the other side of the promenade.
End your stroll at Pane e Pomodoro Beach so that you get a glimpse of how the city’s beaches look like. Admittedly, it’s not the most amazing beach you’ve ever seen. Nearby Torre Quetta Beach is a lot more pleasant but you’ll have to walk an extra 1,5km to get there.
6. Ride The Bari Ferris Wheel
Riding the Ferris wheel is one of the top Bari activities you can try while in the city. For 9€ per adult (6€ for kids up to 10 years old), you’ll get to marvel at Bari from above. The Bari Ferris Wheel reaches a maximun height of 55m. It’s open every day, from 10:00 am to late at night. Yet sunset is hands down the best time to enjoy a ride.
7. Eat Focaccia Barese
No trip to Bari is complete without eating your body weight in focaccia barese. You’ve probably tried focaccia elsewhere in Italy or even in other countries as well. Yet nothing’s quite like the real thing. And by real thing we mean the absolutely scrumptious version made in Bari and the rest of Puglia.
You can taste focaccia barese at any bakery in the city. During our short trip to Bari, our personal favourite focaccia place was Diana at Piazza del Ferrarese.
8. Mingle With Locals At Piazza Mercantile & Piazza del Ferrarese
To be honest, it took us a while to realise that Piazza Mercantile and Piazza del Ferrarese were actually two different squares. It’s hardly a 200m walk between the two and, well, it feels as though it’s just one and the same square. One way or another, this is the absolute place to go if you want to be among locals. Especially in the evening and at night.
Early in the evening, grab some freshly made gelato from Sandrino and follow in the locals’ footsteps as they enjoy their quintessentially Italian passeggiata. At night, head back to the two squares where locals flock, drinks in hand, to catch up with their friends and loved ones.
9. Spend an Evening At Largo Albicocca
We can safely say that this tiny square hidden in the maze of streets that comprise Bari Old Town took our breaths away and helped Bari find its way to our hearts and stay there for good. This formerly neglected open space in the historic centre is now turned into an urban garden of sorts that comes alive with laughter and animated conversation every evening.
Apart from its inescapable charm, Largo Albicocca is an essential stop in Bari for yet another reason. This is the place to taste the city’s most mouthwatering street food. By the way, if you thought that street food in Puglia is all about the focaccia and nothing but, you couldn’t be more wrong.
At Largo Albicocca, you can taste two of Puglia’s most popular street food dishes: the iconic panzerotto and the sgagliozze. The panzerotto is the Pugliese take on calzone. Think of delicious pizza dough filled with tomato and mozzarella and then deep fried to perfection. This is the panzerotto and Pizzeria di Cosimo in Largo Albicocca is the best place to try it in Bari.
On the other hand, sgagliozze are slices of polenta which are deep fried and seasoned with salt. Simple though it may sound, this is a very popular snack in Bari. Not to mention ridiculously cheap.
10. Check Out Castello Normanno – Svevo
Built around 1132, Bari Castle is an impressive construction encircled by moat on almost all of its sides. One of the best attractions in Bari, the castle now serves as an exhibition centre and events venue. A visit to the castle’s grounds costs 9€/adult.
11. Walk Along Via Sparano da Bari
Do you like to shop till you drop during your travels? If so, you will absolutely love shiny Via Sparano, the main shopping street in Bari. If you don’t care about shopping, you should take a stroll along Via Sparano anyway. The street’s unique vibes and wonderful architecture are definitely unmissable.
Sparano Street is lined with gorgeous buildings such as the ornate Palazzo Mincuzzi. The latter was built as a luxury department store in the beginning of the 19th century when commercial architecture flourished. Another construction not to miss while walking along Via Sparano is the imposing San Ferdinando Church, which is a superb example of Italian Rationalist architecture.
12. Admire Teatro Petruzzelli
It was in 1903 that Teatro Petruzzelli, the largest theatre in Bari and the fourth largest one in Italy, opened its gates to the public for the first time. The theatre hosted countless performances throughout the decades that followed before a fire destroyed it completely in 1991.
Nowadays, Teatro Petruzzelli is restored to its former glory. It hosts concerts as well as opera and ballet performances. If you don’t have time to attend one of those, you should at least join a 30-minute tour of the gorgeous theatre with the sad yet fascinating history.
13. Get in The Depths of Castellana Caves
If you’re wondering what to do in Bari in case you’re spending more than a couple of days there, you should know that there are countless amazing things to see in Puglia and Bari is the optimal base from where to explore the region.
Among the best places to visit on a half day trip from Bari are the impressive Castellana Caves. This massive complex of underground chambers was first explored in 1938. However, it’s estimated that it has been around for more than 90 million years.
You can visit Castellana Caves on a guided tour only. There are two itineraries available. The complete itinerary covers a distance of 3km and lasts for about two hours. Alternatively, the partial itinerary covers a distance of 1km and lasts for 50 minutes. It goes without saying that we highly recommend the 3km tour. During that, you’ll get the chance to marvel at the best chambers, including the impressive White Cave.
The complete itinerary starts from the so-called Grave. This is a huge chamber which features an opening on its roof through which bright sunlight enters the cave and illuminates its walls in the most fantastic way.
Then a magical journey through chambers and corridors begins. Throughout the tour, you’ll get to marvel at beyond words beautiful natural masterpieces while your knowledgeable guide narrates stories related to the stalactites, stalagmites and other formations you come across along the way.
Our personal favourite part of the tour was walking along the Desert Corridor. The latter is a dark 500m long passageway that feels as though you’re inside a canyon somewhere in the desert.
The complete itinerary ends at the White Cave. The latter is regarded as the most impressive chamber of the Castellana complex and the brightest cave in the world. Words can’t really describe the impossibly white stalagmites and columns that adorn this chamber. As if that wasn’t enough, the contrast between the shining White Cave and all the other chambers which are dark and dimly lit is utterly fascinating.
Castellana Caves are open all year long. Keep in mind that, inside, there’s a constant temperature of 14°C to 18°C so dress accordingly. Also, be aware that the floor is quite slippery so wear trainers or hiking boots. Check out ticket prices and opening hours and get ready for a unique experience!
14. Take a Day Trip To Polignano a Mare Or Monopoli
When it comes to amazing day trips that you can easily take from Bari, the sky’s the limit. Yet the most obvious choice is to head to either Polignano a Mare or Monopoli. Or both.
Polignano a Mare and Monopoli are probably the most enchanting seaside towns you have ever laid eyes on. They are both less than 40 minutes away from Bari either by car or by public transport.
If you google Puglia and press the Images tab, Polignano a Mare will most probably be the first result to pop up. Actually, it’s no wonder that Polignano a Mare is among the most photographed places in Southern Italy. The coastal town is utterly beatiful. This is why it attracts hordes of visitors, especially at weekends and public holidays.
With a stunning Old Town perched on a dramatic limestone cliff and a fantastic beach below, Polignano a Mare and its charms will definitely make you regret you didn’t spend more time there than just a day. That’s how we felt for sure.
Equally charming but with less crowds, Monopoli boasts a compact historic centre and a glorious promenade. Yet the ultimate highlight in this small town on the Adriatic Coast is the Old Port with its iconic blue fishing boats.
Although Monopoli is very compact, don’t underestimate the amount of time you’ll need to enjoy it. Make sure you spend a full day soaking up its unique ambience and unparalleled beauty.
15. Explore Valle d’Itria
Itria Valley is probably the most quintessentially Apulian part of the entire region. This is the very land which is dotted with countless trulli. The latter are the iconic and utterly charming buildings with the conical roofs that are unique to Puglia. Moreover, Valle d’Itria boasts spectacular countryside where century-old olive groves and vineyards are abundant.
There is yet another thing that renders Itria Valley absolutely irresistible. This is no other than the picturesque towns that are scattered across the area. If you’ve ever dreamt of visiting Alberobello, Cisternino, Locorotondo or Martina Franca, you should know that they are all within short distance from one another and, at the same time, conveniently located about an hour’s drive from Bari.
How To Get To Bari
You can get to Bari by plane from many European cities. Bari International Airport is situated a mere 8km from the city centre. Alternatively, you can get to Bari by ferry from Greece, Albania, Croatia and Montenegro. The ferry is the optimal way if you’re planning a road trip across Puglia, just like we did. Last but not least, Bari connects to countless destinations within Italy by frequent train service.
Parking in Bari
If you’re driving around Puglia, like we did, keep in mind that you won’t be needing your car within Bari. While you’re spending time in the city itself, it’s best to leave your car at a safe parking space and only drive when you want to travel outside Bari. The area of interest for all Bari visitors is quite compact and best enjoyed on foot.
For the entire duration of our trip to Bari, we parked the car at Saba Parking and we can’t recommend it enough. This parking lot is very close to the port as well as within easy walking distance from Bari Old Town. It’s open 24/7 and it cost us less than 5€ per day.
Where To Stay in Bari
Hands down the best place to stay in Bari is the city’s charming historic centre. Not only is this area the most beautiful part of the entire city but it’s also the one that feels the safest of all. As a port city, Bari does have a few sketchy neighbourhoods which might make you feel uncomfortable, especially at night. To avoid that, make sure you choose one of the hotels within Bari Old Town.
Are You Now Convinced That Bari Is Worth a Trip in Its Own Right?
Now that you’ve made it to the end of our guide on what to do in Bari, Puglia’s charming capital, we hope that you are convinced that it’s worth spending at least a couple of days in the city itself. If you choose to add this fascinating medieval gem to your itineraries, you certainly won’t regret it. Bari has loads of well-kept secrets and it’s waiting patiently to share them all with you!
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Disclosure: Castellana Caves kindly offered us the 3km tour on a complimentary basis. However, as always, we express nothing but our very own and honest opinion about the experience we had.