16 Fab Things To Do in Lecce, Italy — Puglia’s Baroque Gem

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Lecce, Italy is more than just a city in the heel of the boot — this artsy, unique city is often called the “Florence of the South.” If you loved the Tuscan capital but maybe wish it had a few less tourists, Lecce is guaranteed to cast its spell on you!

Lecce is a small city with a huge architectural legacy in the Salento region of Puglia. I first visited Lecce as a base for exploring this deeper, southern part of Puglia, and it made a perfect base. Lecce is an inland city, but you can easily get to the famed beaches of the Ionian and Adriatic coastlines in less than an hour’s drive.

Puglia is usually associated with conical trulli buildings and soft sandy beaches, but Lecce is all about the Baroque. Make that “Lecce Baroque!” Lecce flourished in the 17th and 18th centuries during a flurry of construction.

A local, warm-hued stone called pietra leccese was the go-to and it added a softer twist to the standard architecture of the time. There you see how the Puglian city earned its nickname! 

My favorite thing to do in Lecce was just to soak up the atmosphere, strolling the passeggiata as the sun went down, poking my head into interesting shops and trying lots of different wines and foods. Everything in Lecce is sun-soaked and welcoming.

Aside from all the unique things to do in Lecce, this city is significantly more affordable than classic Italian hotspots like Rome or the Amalfi Coast. I also found Lecce to be cheaper than popular nearby towns like Monopoli and Matera.

Surprisingly well-connected by the fast Frecciarossa trains (seriously, trains from Lecce go all the way to Torino in the far north! Torino!!), Lecce is also a worthwhile day trip from other spots in Puglia.

That said — staying overnight lets you make the most of this southern Italy gem. If you have the time, I highly recommend you stay overnight, or for a few nights, like I did.

This post was published in December 2023 and co-written by Adventurous Kate and Hannah Cooper.

A Baroque church covered with ornate stone details on a piazza in Lecce, Italy.
Lecce is full of historic gems around every corner.

Best Things to Do in Lecce, Italy

Explore the Historic Center of Lecce

Whether you’re there for the day or a couple of nights, the Centro Storico of Lecce will claim most of your attention. You can stroll around at leisure, or join a walking tour to learn the historical and cultural context.

Don’t miss the remaining city gates! Topped by carvings of saints, Porta Rudiae is the oldest of the trio. This and Porta Napoli are the most impressive although the oft-overlooked Porta San Biagio has the benefit of being quieter. 

Definitely wander through the landscaped park of Villa Comunale and go on a scavenger hunt for the main churches. These are the Basilica di Santa Croce, Santa Chiara, San Mateo, and San Giovanni Battista.

Discovering Lecce is your quintessential guided tour packed with Lecce Baroque monuments. It’s further sweetened by sampling the delectable caffè leccese: iced coffee made with almond milk.

Not up for a lot of walking? This two-hour Lecce Historical Attractions Tour is also delivered by bike or by rickshaw! 

If you’re traveling as a group or family, then this exclusive Lecce Guided Walking Tour offers awesome value. You’ll see the key sights and hear about the city’s journey from its foundations to what followed after the fall of the Roman Empire. Because it’s a private tour, you’ll have input on the route.

A big church set on a piazza in Italy, with a crowd of people with kids walking around in front of it.
Piazza del Duomo in Lecce Italy, just before sunset.

See the Lecce Cathedral in Piazza del Duomo

Located in the Piazza del Duomo, the magnificent Lecce Cathedral deserves special mention. The foundations of the Norman church date back to 1144, but what you see today was built in the 17th century. Architect Giuseppe Zimbalo was commissioned for the re-design and addition of the bell tower which set the tone for the Lecce Baroque style. 

Guided tours usually stop at Duomo di Lecce, although it costs extra to enter. I recommend buying the combination package for 11 EUR ($12 USD), as this includes access to four other churches, plus the Seminary Palace.

The Seminary is worth visiting purely to see the cloistered courtyard, but there’s also a small museum outlining local art trends of the 17th and 18th centuries. 

The rounded steps of an ancient Roman amphitheater in Lecce, in front of a fascism-era modern stone building with a clock tower with a modern face on it.
Ancient and modern architecture together — that’s what Lecce Italy does!

Marvel at the Roman Amphitheater

There’s one headliner in town you couldn’t miss if you tried — and that’s the Roman Amphitheater of Lecce. It’s partially underground and occupies a chunk of the Piazza Sant’Oronzo – the very heart of Lecce. 

If you’ve traveled before in Italy before visiting Puglia, you’ll know that it’s unusual to find these gigantic stadiums right in the middle of a city! Work is still ongoing and excavations are limited due to the buildings built over the foundations.

It’s generally thought the amphitheater was built during the 2nd century and hosted gladiatorial games and other gruesome events (no word on whether there were any Russell Crowe or Joaquin Phoenix lookalikes present).

The arena is only accessible when it’s hosting a special event, but you can see plenty of it from the piazza. I particularly love the contrast of building you have in this part of Lecce — you can capture ancient, Baroque, and mid-century architecture in a single photo!

Kate wears a green and white patterned dress and stands in front of a boxy orange building in Lecce.
Me pretending to be cool in Lecce, just before passeggiata.

Join the Evening Passeggiata 

One of the most special things to do in Lecce is partake in a traditional southern Italy ritual. The passeggiata is when town residents head out for a dusk-time stroll through the historic center (or along the seafront in coastal resorts). It basically draws a line between the working day and dinnertime, while weekends have an even more celebratory atmosphere. 

I love the passeggiata — it’s the time to see and be seen. You see parents strolling with their kids, teenagers goofing off, and older folks gossiping with their best friends of 50 years.

In Lecce, the typical passeggiata loops around Piazza Sant’Oronzo and Piazza del Duomo. And this isn’t just for summer (though it’s especially nice then) — passeggiata is a nightly thing in Lecce!

Upgrade your passeggiata experience by stopping off for an aperitivo, the nightlife ritual throughout Italy. Most bars dish out a few snacks on the house when you order a drink. I love a spritz at aperitivo — I usually grab an aperol spritz, but the sweeter Hugo is another Italian classic!

A glass of sparkling white wine next to a tangliere (plate of meat and cheese) in Lecce, Italy: topped with several kinds of ham, burrata mozzarella, and other hams and cheeses.
Wine in Lecce Italy is best enjoyed with a tagliere (plate of local meat and cheese).

Enjoy the Lecce Wine Bars

When in Italy, drink wine – lots of it. Salento experiences a hot and dry climate which, when coupled with a steady breeze from the Adriatic and Ionian seas, contributes to superior wine-making conditions.

Primitivo is a popular red wine made in this part of Italy, and it’s also one of my all-time favorite wines. My husband knows to automatically order me a primitivo when he sees it on the menu! It’s deep, versatile, and I think it goes well with all kinds of food.

One of the best things to do in Lecce at night is hang out at one of the many wine bars. A few popular ones in town are Enoteca Wine & More (which has a few different locations), Miro Wine & Lounge, Le Vigne di Sammarco, and Shui Wine.

If you’re a vino aficionado, wine not sign up for a tasting of Salento wines. Led by a merchant with an encyclopedic knowledge of the Puglia region, you will sample six glasses. This will be a mix of red, white, and rosé alongside complementary nibbles as the sommelier talks through the production techniques.  

People in a cooking class making something in metal bowls.
A cooking class is a fun activity in Puglia. Via Shutterstock.

Take a Cooking Class in Lecce

The best way to get to know any Italian region is through its food, and that’s definitely true for Lecce. But a way to go a step further is to take a local cooking class and learn how to make Pugliese specialties of your own! 

This hands-on orecchiette cooking class shows you how to make fresh pasta from scratch. Orecchiette is ear-shaped pasta typical of Puglia and you’ll learn the art of shaping it, cooking it, and devouring it. You’ll also enjoy a lunchtime tasting of five regional wines at this picturesque osteria. 

If you prefer pasta for dinner, this traditional home cooking experience takes place in the evening. 

Last but not least, this three-hour pasta and tiramisu cooking class is a tad pricier because it’s held in a private home. You’ll make two pasta dishes and my favorite dessert of all time while the Prosecco flows. 

A gnarled olive tree at dusk in Gargano, Italy
Olive trees in the Gargano region of Puglia. Oil in the making!

Sample Local Olive Oil

Salento wine is second only to the peppery olive oil made in this part of southern Italy. It tastes so good you’ll never go back to the budget stuff! 

This olive oil and wine tasting makes things easier for you by bringing a piece of the olive farms to the city center. At a mellow wine bar, you’ll graze on bruschetta and other snacks drizzled with olive oil fresh from the Puglian hills.

Visit the underground Museo Faggiano

The subterranean Museo Faggiano is one of the most unusual attractions in Lecce. There wasn’t anything to write home about this house on Via Ascanio Grandi until the turn of the millennium. During routine repairs, the owner stumbled upon an accidental archaeological site.

Over 2,500 years of history lay in the cellar of this historic building, including a tomb from the days of the Messapian tribe and etchings from the Knights Templar. The museum is entirely family-run and super engaging as it has such a mix of relics. 

The Faggiano Museum is open daily from 9:30 AM-8:00 PM and costs 5 EUR ($5.50 USD) to visit. 

A museum with a banner reading Jewish Museum Lecce.
Jewish Museum of Lecce, via Chris Lawrence Travel on Shutterstock.

Tour the Museo Ebraico di Lecce

Another museum for a rainy day, the Museo Ebraico di Lecce is the Jewish Museum. Housed below ground in an old synagogue, the exhibition traces the local Jewish community from the Middle Ages to the present day. It contains the ritual bathing pools (mikwa’ot) and sacred scriptures (mezuzah). 

Admission comes with a guide which is useful as there is a lot of history to chew through. If you are traveling as a couple or group, book this private tour of the Jewish Museum Lecce. It lasts 45 minutes and lets you ask questions to your heart’s content.  

The museum is open daily from 10:00 AM-4:00 PM (10:30 AM-1:30 PM on Sundays).

Rows of sweet pasticicotto tarts topped with powdered sugar.
Pasticciotto is a must-try pastry in Lecce Italy! Via Shutterstock.

Snack on pasticciotto 

Sightseeing is hungry work and reaching for the carbs is part and parcel of an Italian vacation. One of the best things to do in Lecce is to try pasticciotto — small, stuffed pies a bit similar to Portuguese egg tarts — whenever you spy a bakery.

Pasticciotti are available throughout Italy. Fillings include custard and ricotta but the Lecce ones have a vanilla-cream core.

Puglians tend to eat them for breakfast but they’re there when you need a pick-me-up, too. Pasticciotto are sold all over the place including the pasticcerie dotted around Villa Comunale, including Natale and Mignon di Pranzo Benito.

Hands creating something in papier mache.
Papier-mâché in Southern Italy, via Shutterstock.

Try your hand at paper-mâché art 

One of the most surprising things about Lecce is its reputation for paper-mâché! The Pugliese have fashioned decorations using this ancient technique since the 17th century and you’ll spot paper-mâché souvenirs all over town. In fact, the ceiling of the Church of Santa Chiara is made from paper-mâché that imitates wood. 

This paper-mâché workshop is a fun way to spend an hour in Lecce. A professional guide will instruct you how to craft a mini trinket using paper and glue made of water and flour. 

The activity is designed for all ages and is held in the evening, just as the passeggiata draws to a close. 

An aerial shot of gorgeous Punta Prosciutto in Italy, with people lounging on soft sand in front of the clearest, bright turquoise water.
Punta Prosciutto is a famed beach in Puglia, and it’s obvious why. Via Shutterstock.

Visit the nearby beaches 

Lecce doesn’t have its own beach, but the city is a short drive from the coastline. If you rent a car you can take your pick of beaches on the peninsula. This really is the easiest option as public transport is time-consuming.

San Cataldo, on the Adriatic coast, is the nearest. Bus S16 departs from Villa Comunale and takes 40 minutes. There’s little in the way of sights but the beach is sandy with great swimming conditions and lidos renting umbrellas, in the traditional Italian style. Either take a picnic from Lecce or pick up seafood at one of the casual promenade eateries. 

The Ionian Sea is trickier without a rental, but the 104 bus reaches Porto Cesareo in one hour. Torre Lapillo sits just north of the buzzing port town and is better with a car as it’s 35 minutes from Lecce.

An extra 10 minutes north and you’ll reach Punta Prosciutto, one of the most famous beaches in Puglia. These two towns in the Bay of Taranto are nicer if you fancy a day of swimming and sunning!

A city perched on bright turquoise sea, wooden rowboats and people swimming in the water.
Otranto is a lovely day trip from Lecce Italy. Via Ragemax on Shutterstock.

Take a day trip to Otranto

Otranto is a lovely seaside town on the Adriatic coast of Puglia. It’s perfect for a beach afternoon during summer, but a wander along the lungomare works at any time of year.

Don’t be deceived by the humble exterior of Otranto Cathedral; the nave is marked by the most extraordinary mosaics! The 15th-century Castello Aragonese stands in the historic center and lets you scope out a free spot to lay your towel.

Bus number 106 connects Lecce Bus Station in one hour but driving takes 40 minutes. Once you’re there, either explore at will or book this private Otranto walking tour. It’s a great way to brush up on the town’s history and hear tales you’d otherwise miss.

Another option is to bag a space on a tour of Otranto, Leuca, Gallipoli, and Galatina from Lecce. It’s a full-day outing with views galore as your driver handles the driving between these four distinct towns. If you’re looking to pack a lot into your limited time in the Salento region, this is a great option.

Gallipoli, Italy, a city of pastel buildings perched on a soft sand beach with people sunbathing on it, next to clear turquoise water.

Spend a day in Gallipoli

Situated on the Ionian coast (and very different from the Turkish region of the same name), Gallipoli is another Puglia beach town worth a day trip from Lecce.

Gallipoli’s historic center floats off the mainland on a fortified limestone island. It’s chock-full of churches and lined with sandy beaches. Prioritize the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Purità, which also has an unreal level of ornamentation inside.

Besides the aforementioned tour of Otranto, Leuca, Gallipoli and Galatina, you can drive the 40 minutes in a rental or hop on the 108 bus, which takes one hour. Just note that the bus terminal is a 20-minute walk from the Greek Fountain that marks the entrance to Gallipoli Vecchia.

The town of Alberobello, filled with white conical homes topped with gray shale roofs.
Alberobello is a place I consider a must-visit in Puglia.

Explore other small towns in Puglia

No two Puglian towns are ever the same. Only by renting a car or joining a tour will you see how remarkable this area of southern Italy is. 

Bump Ostuni and Alberobello to the top of your list. Ostuni has a dazzling whitewashed old town that’ll have you itching to put Google Maps aside and get utterly lost.

Meanwhile, Alberobello has a high concentration of trulli: traditional Pugliese dwellings with conical roofs. Alberobello’s collection of trulli is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It takes one hour to reach Ostuni from Lecce, and from there it’s an extra 45 minutes to Alberobello.

Polignano a Mare is another Adriatic coastal resort suspended over the turquoise water, and home to one of Puglia’s most famous cliff-hugged beaches. Next door is the more low-key town of Monopoli, one of my favorite places in all of Italy. Both towns are about a 90-minute drive from Lecce.

If you’d rather not drive, hand over the reins to this Ostuni, Alberobello, and Polignano a Mare full-day tour. You’ll have free time in each town.

The city of Matera, Italy, with ancient stone buildings atop a canyon filled with caves.
Nowhere else in Italy looks like Matera.

Take a road trip to Matera

Matera is a one-of-a-kind city in the Basilicata region of Italy, just over the Puglia border. It sits on a rocky outcrop and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its cave dwellings known as sassi. People actually lived in these caves as late as the 1950s, without electricity or water, and it was referred to as Italy’s Shame.

In the 1980s, Matera began developing its tourism, and many of the sassi were turned into luxury hotels. Today Matera is a major hotspot in southern Italy, and is essential to Puglia itineraries, despite technically not being part of Puglia.

If you’re a Bond fan, you’ll recognize the backdrop from No Time To Die (which happened to be filming when I was there!). The Passion of the Christ was also filmed here.

Matera is pretty far, so it’s only worth visiting as a day trip if you are staying a while in Lecce. If you’re splitting your stays between Lecce and somewhere further north, closer to Bari, like Monopoli or Polignano a Mare, I recommend visiting from there.

As there are heaps of interesting things to do in Matera, you might want to consider spending a night there in a cave hotel. There are many, ranging from affordable to luxurious.

It takes 2 hours and 15 minutes to drive to Matera from Lecce.

A crowded street in Lecce, Italy, with stone buildings topped  with wrought-iron balconies.
A few days will give you a deeper perspective on Lecce Italy.

How much time to spend in Lecce

A day or two is sufficient for seeing the highlights of Lecce without leaving town. One day in Lecce is enough to explore the historic center and see the gates, churches, Baroque monuments, and amphitheater.

Stay at least one night if you want to responsibly enjoy the wine bars or a nice dinner. Otherwise, Italy’s Florence of the South is a great contender for a day trip from nearby Puglian towns. 

I personally loved spending a few days in Lecce, and I think it makes an excellent base for a wider exploration of the Salento region. It certainly helps that Lecce gets you a lot more value for money than most places in Italy.

If you’re driving a car and using Lecce as a base, ask your accommodation where you should park. Like most Italian cities, Lecce has a ZTL (zona traffico limitato), which means that only residents can drive or park in the city center. Our accommodation host gave us directions to a free parking lot just outside the city center.

And don’t forget to read my guide to driving in Italy if you’re planning an Italian road trip!

A narrow alley in Italy, with yellow-painted buildings with green doors and shutters, a lush green plant spilling from a balcony, a motorcycle parked outside.
You COULD get to Lecce on a motorcycle if you wanted to..

How to get to Lecce

Lecce is accessible via air, rail, and road. The closest airport — known interchangeably as Salento and Brindisi Airport (BDS) — is located 30 miles north along the coast. It takes 45 minutes to drive to Lecce by rental car, while buses take 40 minutes and cost 6 EUR ($5.50 USD). If you’re already in Brindisi, you can catch a Trenitalia train, which takes 24 minutes flat.

That said, there aren’t a ton of flights from Brindisi Airport. Bari Airport (BRI) is a larger airport in Puglia with more significantly more flight options, but a longer transfer. (This is where I fly into when visiting Puglia.)

Driving time from Bari Airport to Lecce is 1 hour and 45 minutes, and I recommend breaking up your drive with a stop in Ostuni. Trains from Bari Centrale take 1 hour 45 minutes, with a change at Brindisi.

High-speed Frecciarossa trains connect Lecce with Rome (Roma) in 5.5 hours, Florence (Firenze) in around 8 hours, and even Turin (Torino) in around 11 hours. I adore these fast trains (and their business class is so luxe!), but they can be expensive and get more expensive closer to your travel date. I recommend booking in advance.

Overall, I recommend exploring Puglia by car if possible. You’ll be able to visit the most places, have plenty of flexibility, and not have to worry about strikes or cancellations.

A street in Lecce with a mix of baroque and modern buildings, street cafes below, bicycles parked nearby.

Where to stay in Lecce

The best part of Lecce to stay in is the historic city center. This way, you’ll have all the baroque landmarks at arm’s length and your first choice of where to eat. And because Lecce is a cheap destination by Italian standards, splurging a bit more here will get you a lot more for your money than, say, Florence.

Luxury: Live like a Medici at Palazzo Console! This freshly renovated property has a swimming pool and is a stone’s throw from Piazza del Duomo. All five rooms are individually decorated with premium linens and marble bathrooms — two have the bonus of a private hydromassage spa. 

Midrange: Santacroce Luxury Rooms is a modern hotel around the corner from the amphitheater. It’s minimalism galore: think clean lines and an emphasis on comfort. Perfect for families or traveling friends, the suites have a balcony primed for people-watching over morning coffee.

Budget: Cocoon yourself away at this atmospheric bed and breakfast in a historic building characterized by exposed pietra leccese. B&B Antiche Volte is right in the heart of Lecce. Rooms are cozy, the breakfast is top-notch, and the website swears it’s ghost-free. 

Modern buildings in Lecce, with huge stone ruins in front, obscuring their view.
Lecce can be visited year-round — but I love the shoulder season.

Best Time to Visit Lecce

My golden rule of Italy travel is to avoid peak summer travel whenever possible. If you want a summer trip, you will have a much easier and less crowded time in early June or late September than peak July or August. And because Puglia has a long summer season, you can enjoy swimming as early as late May or as late as mid-October.

Shoulder season is an excellent time to visit Puglia, and I think this is the best if you’re interested in exploring historic sites, ruins, and interesting towns. April and October are particularly lovely.

Winter isn’t a bad time to visit Lecce; in fact, I have a friend who hopped on a cheap flight from Prague to Bari and had a ball visiting Puglia’s Christmas markets in December! Some smaller beach resorts will be closed down, but this is a great time for visiting Lecce as well as Matera, Bari, and Alberobello.

Just don’t expect it to be beach weather, unless you want to join in with that one old dude in a speedo who jumps in the water 365 days a year (there’s one in every town).

Kate smiling, wearing sunglasses and a green dress while sitting at a street cafe, eating a sandwich that contains horse meat.
Lecce is so worth it!

Is Lecce Worth It?

I love Lecce and I think it’s such a special, beautiful place. I love the easiness of the town, I love the unusual mix of architecture, and I love the value for money you get here.

Puglia is an area of Italy that I love dearly, and though Europeans have been visiting Puglia for quite some time, it seems to be catching on a bit more slowly with Americans. Let me tell you that this is an outstanding part of Italy to visit — and very different from the typical Rome-Florence-Venice route.

I hope you consider making Lecce a part of your trip to Italy. I really think you’re going to love it!

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Have you been to Lecce Italy? Any tips? Share away!



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