A Puglia Road Trip: One Week in Puglia, Italy

I set off in March with my father and two teen boys for a visit to a lesser-traveled area of Italy, Puglia. I was delighted by the seaside limestone towns with castles, churches, and the remnants of walls along white cliffs and intriguing inland villages carved into mountains or perched atop seemingly unending olive groves. As expected from Italy, the food was uncomplicatedly delicious and fresh, and the views were amazing.
what to see in Puglia
The gorgeous limestone coastline and white-washed houses of Polignano a Mare.
Puglia sits in the heel of Italy’s boot and is surrounded by the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. This peninsula is about 250 miles long and has around 500 miles of coastline. In my experience, the other tourists that we met were from other parts of Europe, not the US.
In the center of the peninsula are fertile hills and many masseria, or farms. This area of Italy makes 40% of the country’s olive oil, with the trees and production mainly concentrated around Ostuni.
We spent seven days in Puglia, so I will share with you my Puglia seven-day itinerary. However, I will also recommend places I would have loved more time and places we would have only visited if we had more time. We visited in March, so there were no beach days for us, which affected how long we would have wanted to stay in each place.

Renting a Car in Puglia, Italy

What to see in Puglia
Having a car allows you to get where you want to go, when you want to, quickly. It also allows you to drive along the backroads, finding hidden gems like this wildflower-covered beach outside Monopoli, which has its own St. Mary shrine.

To do what we wanted to do in the week we had, we rented a car to explore Puglia. I had heard horror stories about driving in Italy, but Puglia was honestly not a bad place to drive. The next week, we headed over to Sicily, and that was a different story. Sicilians spend leisurely hours at dinner but drive like their house is on fire. I would never drive again in Sicily, but I would happily drive again in Puglia. I believe without driving, we would have missed out on a lot of beautiful scenery and places to stay. There is no way we could have been so efficient without a car. If you aren’t used to them, there are many rotaries, so practice using them before you leave home.

To drive in Italy, if you are from out of the EU, you need an International Driver’s Permit. We easily acquired one at our local AAA.

Throughout Puglia, there are areas in towns (generally the old section) that don’t allow cars or only allow cars during certain hours or with a special permit. They are well-marked. But because of them, a few things are true. In spite of having a car, you will walk a lot. We walked 54 miles in seven days. Also, there is limited parking, even off-season.

For parking, blue curbs are signs that are pay parking, which is done using an app; yellow signs are only handicap or no-parking, and white is free. I don’t know if we ever found free parking, even in March.

We rented our car through Hertz Rental Car, right at the airport.

Here is a map of our drive:

Our Puglia Road Trip Itinerary

Bari, Italy

Puglia Itinerary
It is easy to access the city walls of Bari from Piazza San Nicholas.
We flew into the Bari airport, as it is the north of Puglia, so it is a good place to start and end. We spent one day exploring Bari. Read on for what to do in Bari.
The drive from Bari to Polignano a Mare is a little less than an hour.

Polignano a Mare

Next, we spent one night in Polignano de Mare, which, along with Matera, was everyone’s favorite stop. In the winter, there isn’t a lot to do here. Even the church is less spectacular than in other towns, but this town of pedestrian-only alleyways set on limestone cliffs over clear turquoise water is special. The seafood is also truly excellent, and we had some of our best meals here. If we had more time, we would have liked two days to chill here.
What to see in Puglia Italy
The cove and beach of Lama Monachile in Polignano a Mare at nighttime.

What to Do in Polignano a Mare

  • Walk over the Ponte Borbonico su Lama Monachile, a Roman Bridge from 109 AD that provides amazing views of the town’s prettiest cove and beach, Lama Monachile.
  •  Behind the bridge, trails lead to Lama Monachile’s pebbled beach. Here, you can explore its sea caves and relax.
  • Eat a fabulous seafood dinner. We ate at Antiche Mura, which lacked a view of the water but was in an old guard house from the Roman Era. It was charming, and the food and wine were truly superb.
  • Spend time walking around the small, pedestrian-only old town center. I spent the morning wandering and found ocean views around every corner.
  • I continued walking and found beautiful views and a nice walking trail to see Hermit’s Rock or Lo Scoglio dell’Eremita.
  • We didn’t try it but considered eating in a natural waterfront cave at Grotta Palazzese. The views look incredible, but at $300 per plate when it was not warm out, we didn’t want to chance the dinner not being perfect.
  • I also would have loved to take a boat tour to see the sea caves.
  • Enjoy a drink with a view at Terrazza Santo Stefano.

Where to Stay in Polignano a Mare

best towns in Puglia Italy
The Roman Bridge in Polignano a Mare and the path leading to the pebbled beach.
We stayed at a delightful apartment called Dei Serafina in a quiet part of the old town. Its balconies overlooked the ocean and a cute piazza. And the restaurant next door has the best almond croissants and a lovely water view.
If you want a complete splurge, the restaurant with that crazy-expensive cave dinner, Grotto Palazzese, also has rooms with sea views.


A local had recommended that we wouldn’t need much time in Monopoli, and I think that was good advice. Even if you have extra time to see Monopoli, you only need about half a day. However, you can stay longer in any town in Puglia to enjoy the food and views.

I have to share that our day in Monopoli was accompanied by awful weather, but other than the stunning cathedral, not much in Monopoli stood out to us. There is a nice waterfront area, which must be a nice place on a hot summer day.

one day in Monopoli Italy
Cattedrale Maria Santissima della Madia in Monopoli, where we attended a mass.

Things to See in Monopoli

  • Castelo de Carlo V—This 16th-century castle overlooks the old port, but there wasn’t a way to see them from inside it.
  • Cattedrale Maria Santissima della Madia- The interior of this baroque Basilica is incredibly intricate and worth a visit.
  • Museo e Sito Archeologico Cripta Romanica- Behind and under the Cattdrale is an archeological museum showing what has been in the area over time. It was worth a quick visit, but stay away from the spooky basement.
  • Enjoy gelato on the piazza.
Lighthouses in Puglia
Faro Rosso, Monopoli’s lighthouse

Grotte di Castellana Caves

If you love caves like I do but have more time than I did, check out Grotte di Castellana Caves, one of Italy’s most beautiful cave systems, on your way to Alberobello.


what to see in Puglia
Shops in Zona dei Trulli in Alberobello’s western hills

I highly recommend stopping in Alberobello to see a whole town full of Trullis, stone houses with conical roofs. Alberobello is a UNESCO World Heritage area.

One day in Alberobello
You can see what life was like living inside a trulli by visiting inside Trullo Sovrano.

This area has a lot of limestone. Beginning in the 14th century, people started using limestone to build structures with conical roofs to house their animals. At some point, the structures evolved to be plastered and house people.

There is a museum in the town you can visit that explains the structure and society in the area, but you can also read this article. Trulli can be seen throughout the green pastureland in this area and around Ostuni, but they are most concentrated in Alberobello.

The bell towers of the town’s basilica, Saints Cosma and Damian’s church, as seen over trulli roofs. The white-washed stones on the tops of the trulli indicate the inhabitants’ occupation.

What to See in Alberobello

  • Shop along the alleys of the Zona dei Trulli.
  • Drive through the surrounding countryside, seeing trulli nestled among the rolling green olive tree-covered hills.
  • Eat dinner at Il Poeta Contadino and enjoy fine dining inside a trullo.
  • Take in the view over the Zona dei Trulli from the Piazza del Popolo.
  • To learn about the area and the construction of the trulli, visit Il Museo del Territorio “Casa Pezzolla.” They offer an audioguide that you can listen to on your phone, and the visit should only take about an hour.
  • Tour the only two-story trullo in town, Trullo Sovrano. The inside houses a recreation of the life of the priest and his family who lived in the house in the 1700s. The original building was begun in the 1600s.
  • Spend the night in a trulli. You can check out these trullis for rent in Alberobello. We enjoyed a trulli hotel set among the olive groves outside of Ostuni; for this experience, check out Masseria Cappucini.
  • Check out this local wine tasting in a trulli. 


Ostuni is a gorgeous white-washed town set high on a hill overlooking acre after acre of green olive trees, culminating in the blues of the Adriatic Sea. I would recommend spending a whole day here.

7 day Puglia Itinerary
The view of Ostuni, as part of our tuk-tuk tour.

The two main things to do in Ostuni are see the city from a distance and explore the skinny winding alleyways. The best way to do this is by tuk-tuk. Book a private tuk-tuk tour here.

Things to do in Ostuni

What to see in Ostuni
The Arco Scoppa in Ostuni’s Centro Storico
best places to visit in Ostuni
Commune Di Ostuni
On our way out of town, we stopped to admire the olive tree groves and tried olive oil at Molituro BIO.


The best cities to visit in Puglia, Italy- How to make the best one week Puglia itinerary.
The alleyways of Lecce

We spent half a day in Lecce, the biggest city we visited. It has a beautiful limited-auto old center with many walls, a castle, many gorgeous churches, and palazzo houses with unique doors (and door knockers).

Things to Do in Lecce

    • Walk through the old city, paying attention to the grand doors that would allow horses and carriages into homes. The smaller doors are what people would enter through. The door knockers are also quite beautiful.
    • Visit some of its gorgeous Baroque churches, including the Cathedral, Basilica of Santa Croce, Church of Santa Chiara, Church of San Matteo, Ancient Seminary, and Museum of Sacred Art. You can buy tickets at the office across from the Duomo or online.
    • At the same site, you can buy tickets for the Duomo Bell Tower elevator, which offers panoramic views of the city.
    • Eat street food, such as rústico, which is like a calzone filled with tomatoes and bechamel sauce, and Pasticciotto, a custard-filled pastry. We had an especially delicious Pasticciotto at Caffetteria Tentazioni.
    • Try an upscale typical dinner at Osteria degli Spiriti. Entrees include horse stew and ciceri e tria, a fried and boiled pasta dish.
    • There is incredible paper mache in Lecce, which can be seen on display during the Christmas holidays. Any time of the year you can learn about the art (which looks nothing like what is done in school) with a class. 
    • Stay in a refurbished palazzo in the old city, such as the Pollicastro Boutique Hotel.
  • things to see in Puglia
    The details are important in Lecce, including the door handles.

Driving along the coast to Otranto, you can stop to dive into the sea caves at Grotto Della Poesía at Roca Vecchia.


From the Otranto waterfront, you can see Albania in the distance. The town has a large plaza on the sea.

I would recommend spending at least half a day in this delightful city with a nice waterfront and absolutely stunning water.

Things to Do in Otranto

Road Trip to Puglia
Bones of martyrs are on display in Otranto Cathedral.
  • Otranto Cathedral—The Cathedral takes a siesta, so be sure to plan your day so you can visit it. It contains the bones of martyrs. The gorgeous floor mosaics are among the largest in Europe and have remained mainly untouched for centuries. The cathedral was originally ordained in 1088 and was the most unique church we saw on our exploration of Puglia. The crypts are also stunning.
  • Visit the Byzantine Church of St Peter.
  • Walk from the marina to town by water, going up to the castle level, as the views are absolutely outstanding.
  • Otranto is a perfect town for a walking tour.
  • Visit the easternmost spot in Italy at the Punta Palascia lighthouse.
  • Walk along the beach to see the Faro Blanco (White Lighthouse) di Punta Craulo. At this point, there are also wartime rock fortifications.
The turquoise waters of the Ionian Sea alongside the Faro Blanco (White Lighthouse) di Punta Craulo.

We then headed another hour south to Santa Maria di Lueca, the southernmost point of Puglia, where the Adriatic and Ionian Seas converge.

Santa Maria di Lueca

Things to see in southern Puglia- Santa Maria di Leuca- Puglia road Trip stops
Piazza Giovanni, which contains the Santa Maria di Leuca Lighthouse and Basilica, as well as a Corinthian column commemorating the Apuglian Aquaduct.

The main sights in this town are the seas and the large lighthouse, Santa Maria di Leuca Lighthouse, which looms 102 meters above the sea. It sits in a plaza with a large church, Basilica Santa Maria de finibus terrae, which means church at the end of the land devoted to St. Mary. It is more simply decorated in airy yellows than the Baroque churches we had visited so far.

southern Puglia sights
The view of the Santa Maria di Leuca Harbor from the Piazza Giovanni.

The harbor has a very interesting breakwater, which looks like large jacks toys.

It was interesting to visit this geographically interesting area, but our time would have been better spent elsewhere.

We wanted to see the water on the western side of Puglia, so we drove for 40 minutes to Gallipoli.


A puglia road trip
The waterfront of Gallipoli

The town sits on a small island across a 17th-century bridge. It is surrounded by long, white beaches and is a perfect place to catch a sunset. Gallipoli has a lot of history to see, but unfortunately, we only had one evening here. In our evening, we enjoyed dinner, gelato, a sunset, and a waterfront walk around the whole island, which only took about an hour.

The good news is that our next stop is one of the best: the cave town of Matera! The drive from Gallipoli to Matera took 2 1/2 hours.

road trip stops puglia
Sunset over Faro di Isola Sant’Andrea (Isola Sant’Andrea Lighthouse) right off the coast of Gallipoli.

Matera isn’t technically in Puglia, but skipping this city, which is only an hour from Bari, would be a travesty. It is magical, and I would recommend spending two days there. I will publish my trip report about it next week, so stay tuned by subscribing.


In conclusion, if I had another week to spend in Puglia, or if I was planning a Puglia Itinerary for a friend, I would spend more time in Polignano a Mare, Alberobello, Ostuni, Otranto, and Matera. With a few more days, I would add half days in Santa Maria di Leuca, Bari, and Gallipoli. I would definitely rent a car again.

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