Nestled in the sun-kissed heel of Italy’s boot, Lecce is a hidden gem just waiting to be discovered. With its fascinating history, spectacular architecture and warm Mediterranean charm – this beautiful city is a destination that promises to captivate your senses and leave you spellbound. In this travel guide, we take a look at the 12 best things to do in Lecce – a place where ancient and modern coexist in perfect harmony.
Lecce, often referred to as the “Baroque Pearl,” is renowned for its exceptional Baroque architecture. As you stroll through the cobblestone streets of the historic center, you’ll find yourself surrounded by a wonderful display of intricate carvings, ornate balconies and graceful arches. The city’s soft, golden limestone, known as “Lecce stone,” is the canvas upon which skilled artisans have created masterpieces for centuries.
One of the city’s most iconic landmarks is the Basilica di Santa Croce, a jewel of Baroque architecture embellished with an astonishing array of sculptures including mythological figures, impressive creatures and delicate floral motifs. As you stand before this awe-inspiring facade, it’s easy to see why Lecce has earned its reputation as being an architectural powerhouse.
Lecce is also known for its lovely piazzas, and none is more enchanting than Piazza del Duomo. This square is dominated by the Lecce Cathedral, an outstanding example of Italian Baroque. The cathedral’s splendid exterior is a testament to the city’s rich artistic heritage, while the interior boasts a breathtaking altarpiece and a gorgeous rose window that bathes the space in a kaleidoscope of colors when the sun shines through.
But Lecce is not just about Baroque architecture, it’s a city that proudly wears its history on its sleeve. The Roman Amphitheatre, dating back to the 2nd century AD, showcases the true depth of Lecce’s ancient past. As you explore this remarkably well-preserved site, you can almost hear the echoes of gladiator battles and the cheers of the Roman crowds that once filled its seats. It’s a thrilling step back in time.
Beyond these iconic spots, Lecce is a city of hidden treasures – and one such gem is the Palazzo dei Celestini, a former monastery turned cultural center. Its peaceful cloister offers a serene oasis, as it’s adorned with lush greenery and surrounded by intricate Baroque columns. It’s a place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, and reflect on the beauty that surrounds you.
For those seeking a taste of local life, the market at Piazza Sant’Oronzo is a must-visit. Here, you can sample the flavors of Puglia, from fresh olive oils to delectable pastries. Engaging with the friendly locals as you explore the stalls and savor the authentic tastes of the region is a true foodie adventure.
Another way to immerse yourself in the city’s culture is to experience the “pizzica” dance – a lively, musical tradition rooted in local folklore. Attending a live performance or even trying your hand (or feet) at dancing to the infectious rhythms will leave you with indelible memories.
All in all, Lecce is a place where the past and present merge seamlessly, offering a unique and unforgettable travel experience. Whether you’re an art enthusiast, a history buff or simply someone in search of delicious Italian cuisine, Lecce has something extraordinary to offer. Come and discover the magic of this hidden gem with our recommendations of the best things to do in Lecce – the “Florence of the South”.
Standing before the Basilica di Santa Croce feels like you’re entering a fantastical realm carved from Lecce stone. Every inch of this Baroque building makes you appreciate the 17th-century craftsmanship that went into its construction. As you gaze up at the facade, marvelous designs unfold before your eyes – cherubs, saints, mythological creatures and floral motifs carved into the stone. Take your time to appreciate the fine details.
Piazza del Duomo is the heart of Lecce. Surrounded by elegant palaces and cafes, the square offers a front-row seat to Lecce’s grandeur. While sipping your espresso or enjoying a gelato, take in the majestic cathedral. This fantastic example of Southern Italian Baroque architecture, dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, features a facade adorned with intricate sculptures and decorations. At night, the square comes alive with musicians and artists, making it a prime spot for a leisurely evening passeggiata (stroll).
Step into the shoes of ancient Romans at Lecce’s Roman Amphitheatre. As you descend into the well-preserved ruins, imagine the gladiators and wild beasts that once entertained the crowds here. The amphitheater’s elliptical shape is an engineering marvel, and the layers of history beneath your feet resonate with the echoes of centuries past. It’s a place where history truly comes to life, making it a must-visit for history buffs and adventurers alike.
Prepare your taste buds for a journey of sweet indulgence. Pasticciotto is a beloved local pastry that’s as iconic as it is delicious. These golden, flaky delights are filled with velvety custard that oozes with every bite. Whether you enjoy them for breakfast with a strong Italian coffee or as an afternoon treat, pasticciotto is a taste of pure happiness. Be warned: it’s nearly impossible to stop at just one.
Lose yourself (figuratively, of course) in Lecce’s Old Town. Cobblestone streets wind through picturesque alleys, revealing hidden courtyards and charming boutiques. It’s a place where time seems to stand still, and around every corner, you’ll discover a new architectural wonder – an ornate balcony, a whimsical ironwork gate or a centuries-old stone fountain. Lecce’s Old Town is a living museum and every step is a journey back in time.
The Castle of Charles V, a fortress that once protected Lecce from invaders, boasts imposing walls enclosing a courtyard that feels like a tranquil oasis amidst the hustle and bustle of the city. Inside, you’ll find a museum housing historical artifacts and exhibits that shed light on Lecce’s role in various periods of history. Climb to the top of the castle’s ramparts for panoramic views of Lecce and the surrounding countryside – a perspective that will take your breath away.
The Roman Theatre of Lecce, nestled in the heart of the city, is a mesmerizing relic of antiquity. This open-air theater once echoed with the laughter and applause of Roman audiences. As you explore the ancient seats and stage, the spirit of the past comes alive. The theater is still used today for cultural events, and attending a performance here is a unique opportunity to connect with Lecce’s rich history.
Lecce is surrounded by the sun-drenched vineyards of the Puglia wine region, known for producing world-class wines. A visit to a traditional winery is not only a chance to savor exquisite wines but also a chance to learn about the winemaking traditions that have been passed down through generations. From the rich, full-bodied Primitivo to the crisp and refreshing Negroamaro, each sip tells a story of the land and the people who cultivate it.
The Celestine Convent offers a serene escape from the lively streets of Lecce. Step into its cloisters, where lush gardens and ornate columns create a peaceful atmosphere. The courtyard is a haven of tranquility, inviting you to reflect and appreciate the simple beauty of the architecture.
Art lovers will find a haven of modern creativity at the Lecce Contemporary Art Museum. The museum showcases a diverse collection of contemporary artworks including paintings, sculptures and installations. As you explore the museum’s galleries, you’ll gain insight into the innovative spirit that defines Lecce’s artistic community.
Immerse in the rhythmic world of Pizzica, a traditional folk dance that has been performed in the Puglia region for centuries. Attending a Pizzica dance show is a thrilling experience that lets you witness the exuberance and passion of local dancers. As the music fills the air and the dancers twirl and stomp to the beat, you might even find yourself tapping your feet and joining in the joyous celebration of Puglia’s cultural heritage.
While Lecce is a treasure trove of culture and history, a day trip to Otranto promises a delightful escape to the coast. This charming seaside town, known for its pristine beaches and crystal-clear waters, is a mere stone’s throw from Lecce. Explore the labyrinthine streets of the historic center, visit the Otranto Cathedral with its stunning mosaic floor and enjoy a leisurely swim in the inviting waters of the Adriatic Sea. Otranto offers a tranquil respite that beautifully complements the cultural richness of Lecce.