Bari is the second largest city in southern Italy, making it a fantastic base to discover the gems of the Puglia region. This stunning coastal destination is situated on the Adriatic Sea, boasting crystal-clear waters and a rich cultural heritage. Its history dates back to the 4th century BC when it was founded by the ancient Peucetii tribe. Throughout the centuries, it has been inhabited by different civilizations including the Greeks, Romans and Normans – each of which left a lasting legacy on the city’s architecture, cuisine and culture.
The old town here is known in Italian as Bari Vecchia, a well-preserved area that transports you deep into the past. Wandering through the narrow alleys and whitewashed buildings, admiring the baroque churches and palaces that line the streets, is a wonderful experience. Perhaps the most famous spot in the old town is Basilica San Nicola – a magnificent church built in honor of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of Bari. The church is home to his relics and every year thousands of pilgrims from all over Italy flock to Bari to pay their respects.
Aside from the historic landmarks, Bari is also a foodie paradise. You must try the local favorite orecchiette con cime di rapa – pasta made with olive oil, garlic, chiles, anchovies, bitter greens and toasted breadcrumbs. Another hit in Bari is seafood as it’s caught fresh daily straight from the Adriatic. For those coming in summer, you will be pleased to know that Bari is blessed with a beautiful coastline. Beginning at the Lungomare seafront promenade and continuing south, there are dozens of picturesque coves and bays to relax at.
In less than an hour, you can find yourself in gorgeous seaside towns such as Polignano a Mare and Monopoli, or in architectural wonderlands like Ostuni and Matera. The Itria Valley, regarded as trulli and wine heaven, is also just a short journey away. The options are endless for Bari day trips – whether you decide to use public transport, hire a car or book a guided tour with us at Apulia Private Tours. So, once the city of Bari has been explored inside and out – why not visit a couple of these amazing destinations mentioned below?
Just a 35-minute drive from Bari lands you in Polignano a Mare. Spending the day in Polignano a Mare gives you the chance to chill at the world renowned Lama Monachile beach, enjoy an Aperol Spritz or glass of white wine on the romantic balconies and terraces overlooking the sea, and of course sample the delicious local Apulian cuisine. One activity not to miss is watching either the sunrise or sunset at this magical town. If you have your own car, arriving at the crack of dawn means you can avoid the crowds of locals and tourists.
Otherwise, dusk is just as special but know that you will be contending with lots of people for space on the cliffs – especially during peak season. It goes without saying that visiting Polignano a Mare outside of summer is still worthwhile. Spring, autumn and winter each have their own charm. The only experience you might skip is swimming in the sea, as the water temperature drops significantly. No matter the time of year you go, consider booking a boat excursion to explore the hidden gems located on the spectacular coast.
Monopoli is another picturesque coastal town in Puglia, situated a stone’s throw away from Polignano a Mare, about a 45-minute trip from Bari. This town of about 50,000 inhabitants boasts a series of pristine beaches, historic sites and seafood restaurants. Every visit to Monopoli should start in the old town, where you can get lost in a maze of winding streets and cute plazas. The impressive cathedral, called Cattedrale Maria Santissima della Madia, is also a must-see with its striking baroque facade and ornate interior decor.
But it’s the beaches of Monopoli that are the biggest drawcard. Simply head south and see which ones tickle your fancy. There are many to choose from. To get to Monopoli from Bari, you can take a public transport option (train) or cruise there in your own vehicle. The trains are direct, depart regularly and cost as little as €3/4. A nice alternative is to join a Monopoli tour with us at Apulia Private Tours. We can help you discover the dreamy old town, majestic churches, bustling fishing port, authentic cuisine and more, like a true local.
Ostuni, also known as the “White City”, is a hilltop town featuring countless whitewashed buildings that sparkle in the sunlight. Around every new corner in the old district you can stumble upon quaint stairways, brightly painted doors and narrow alleys leading you to another secret jewel. Photographers in particular will have a thrilling outing here. Located at the end point of the Itria Valley and not too far from the coast, Ostuni also combines the best of the countryside with its lush olive groves and the sea with its dazzling beaches.
For a unique experience, take a long stroll through the surrounding olive groves or head to a nearby beach to enjoy an afternoon in the sun. If you are feeling super active, a Puglia bike tour around the countryside and scenic coast is a great bet as well. Regardless of how you choose to spend your day trip in Ostuni, getting there from Bari is a breeze: settle on either the public transport option which takes approximately an hour and a half, or organize your own vehicle hire or private transfer for a journey of just over an hour.
Locorotondo is the perfect place to venture on a day trip from Bari, as it’s only an hour away and is nestled by some of the other main towns in the Itria Valley – meaning you can effortlessly visit two or three of them in one go. Perched on a hill overlooking the valley, the whitewashed buildings that characterize the Centro Storico mix beautifully with the olive groves and wineries in the distance. This seductive setting is best experienced from one of the town’s lookout points, where you can sip wine and soak up the scene.
Although Locorotondo doesn’t have many major attractions, apart from a few notable churches, it makes up for it by offering an authentic and relaxed atmosphere. You won’t have to rub shoulders with hordes of tourists, get sold tacky souvenirs or pay exorbitant prices – rather, visitors can meander slowly through delightful streets side by side with locals, sit down at wine bars to savor the white wine specialties of the Itria Valley and catch glorious sunsets. This day trip option from Bari is for those who want to see the Italy of old.
Martina Franca is another hilltop town in the Itria Valley, right by Locorotondo and Alberobello. You could include it on your day trip from Bari along with a selection of other towns nearby, because two or three hours here is probably enough. The baroque architecture of Martina Franca makes it one of the prettiest towns in Puglia. Again, this is the type of destination where you can enjoy a typical Italian vibe: good food and wine, cats roaming the streets and laundry hanging from balconies, and splendid churches and town squares.
The La Lama neighborhood is, for many, the highlight of Martina France. A maze of whitewashed streets to get lost down allows you to uncover the real southern Italy. If you do decide to visit Martina Franca, getting there from Bari is only viable in a car of some sort – be it your own rental or as part of a private tour. Apulia Private Tours specializes in the untouched towns of the Itria Valley and can put together an itinerary from Bari that includes three or four of the very best ones. The fairytale vibe in this part of Europe will blow you away.
Saving the best for last in regards to the Itria Valley, Alberobello has become the postcard for Puglia in recent years and it’s easy to see why. The dry stone whitewashed huts that feature cone-shaped roofs, i.e. trulli, are a massive tourist attraction – and Alberobello has thousands of them to marvel at in the Rione Monti and Rione Aia Piccola districts. The character and construction methods of trulli have even garnered them UNESCO World Heritage status. These days, no trip to Italy is complete without seeing the unique buildings.
That being said, there is more to Alberobello than just the trulli hotspots such as the Trullo Sovrano and Church of Saint Anthony of Padua. From spoiling your taste buds with traditional Apulian cuisine to going on lovely long hikes through the countryside, Alberobello needs at least one full day to experience all of its diverse dimensions. With a distance of 55 kilometers from Bari, less than an hour’s drive, it’s the ideal short trip to take for those who want to tick off a bucket-list destination as well as immerse themselves in authentic Italy.
Despite being the farthest town on this list from Bari, Matera is worth every extra effort to get to. It takes just over an hour to reach (so it’s nothing too strenuous) and is full of well preserved alleyways, caves and ruins. Indeed, Matera is the third longest continuously inhabited settlement on the face of the earth. If you just need one reason to visit, then that surely is sufficient. The Sassi area, where all the cave dwellings are located, comes to life at night. Lights make the dwellings glow in the most romantic fashion possible.
A day trip here can keep you busy for hours. Be sure to tour the underground part of the city where the Palombaro Lungo cistern is to be found, check out the impressive Tramontano Castle perched on a hill near the town center, take photos of the Matera Cathedral, and of course explore the ancient streets and little caves of the UNESCO-listed site called Sassi di Matera. If you have more time, another cool experience in the region is heading to Alta Murgia National Park to hike around archaeological sites and get amongst nature.