17 Fun Things to do in Bari, Italy
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There are so many cool things to do in Bari, Italy! Bari is the largest city in Puglia, Italy’s heel of the boot, though it doesn’t get as much attention as other popular Puglian cities like Monopoli, Lecce, Alberobello, and nearby Matera.
While Bari is home to the biggest port and busiest airport in the region, so many Puglia visitors hop in and hop out without taking time to explore the city. And honestly, I think that’s a mistake. Bari may not be the prettiest place in Puglia, but it’s absolutely worth a quick exploration.
How much time do you need to explore Bari? A morning or an afternoon should be sufficient. There are lots of things to do in Bari to fill a few hours.
Bari reminds me a lot of Naples — a city that appears a bit gritty on the outside and doesn’t bend over backwards catering to tourists. That’s why Naples is one of my favorite places in Italy, and Bari has so many of the same vibes!
Instead, you’ll find a true Puglian old town with a rich history and vibrant food scene, where life here goes on as it has for decades.
Let me show you how to spend your time in the capital of Puglia — Bari!
This post was published in December 2023 and was co-written by Adventurous Kate and Riana Ang-Canning.
The Best Things to Do in Bari, Italy
Explore the historic center of Bari
Bari Vecchia, also known as Bari’s Old Town, is the most charming and historic part of the city. While most of Bari consists of not-that-special gridded streets, the Old Town is full of squiggly streets and narrow passageways.
My favorite way to explore Bari Vecchia is to just get lost in its maze of narrow streets, 13th century monuments, piazzas, churches, and shops. You can explore the Old Town on your own or with a guide on a Bari walking tour from 30 EUR ($32 USD) per person.
Along the way you’ll stop at Bari Cathedral, or Basilica Cattedrale Metropolitana Primaziale San Sabino, which was rebuilt in 1292 after the original was destroyed by William the Wicked in 1156 (and yes, tantalizing tidbits like the fact that there was a dude named William the Wicked are why it’s worth paying for a city tour).
Don’t miss the museum underneath the Romanesque cathedral, where excavated parts of the original church remain.
You’ll also pass Piazza del Ferrarese, a 17th-century square filled with bars and restaurants, which leads to Piazza Mercantile, a 14th-century square that many locals consider to be the beating heart of Bari.
And you can’t leave the Old Town without visiting the ladies who make orecchiette on the street! This is my favorite part of exploring Bari!
Stroll through Arco Alto where local women set up tables to make homemade orecchiette every day, rolling the ear-shaped pasta and cutting it using practiced motions that took decades to perfect. You’ll be amazed by how quickly these ladies work — and you can take some of their fresh pasta home.
Explore Castello Normanno-Svevo
One of the most significant landmarks in Bari is Castello Normanno-Svevo. This 12th-century fortress, also known as The Norman-Swabian Castle or simple Bari Castle, changed hands many times in Bari’s history, being besieged, destroyed, and rebuilt by different rulers.
The castle’s name comes from its originator, Roger the Norman in 1131, and its 13th Century ruler, Frederick II of Swabia. Duchess Isabella of Aragon also lived in the castle with her daughter in the 16th Century, bringing a period of revival to Bari with her support of education, music, and literature. Thank Isabella for the culture that runs through Puglia today!
These days, the castle has been restored and is open to the public. You can wander through the excavation areas and see the impressive art collection, including the plaster cast gallery.
The castle is open Tuesday to Sunday from 9:00 AM-7:00 PM and closed on Mondays. Admission is 8 EUR ($9 USD) for full entrance, 3 EUR ($3 USD) for reduced fare, and free for visitors under 18, as well as many European Union students and teachers.
The castle is free for everyone on the first Sunday of every month (though I recommend avoiding this day if you want to avoid crowds).
Visit the picturesque Old Port and stroll along Lungomare Nazario Sauro
As a port city, Bari’s Old Port (Porto Vecchio) is one of the most traditional places to visit. Since the city’s founding, this is where fishermen would moor their boats and bring in their daily catch, which they still do to this day.
Porto Vecchio is a beautiful place to witness Bari’s culture come to life and get a taste of its famous seafood. Visit the fish market, sample some raw sea urchins or mussels, and walk off your lunch with a scenic stroll down Bari’s seafront promenade, Lungomare Nazario Sauro.
See Santa Claus at Basilica di San Nicola
Basilica di San Nicola is a church located in Bari’s Old Town whose patron saint is St. Nicholas. Not only is the church dedicated to him, but it also houses the remains of St. Nicholas, who you may know better as Santa Claus!
St. Nick’s remains are enshrined in the basilica’s crypt in the Tomb of Saint Nicholas which Orthodox Christians (and those eager to show Santa how good they’ve been this year) can visit.
You may get a weird look if you bring cookies and milk to the altar. I cannot confirm or deny this.
Visit the Archeological Museum
The Archaeological Museum of the Metropolitan City of Bari or Museo Archeologico di Santa Scolastica is housed in a 10th-century monastery and 16th-century bastion, perfect venues to show off Bari’s history.
Here you can learn about the ancient peoples who occupied Bari in Roman times, explore the Polese art collection, discover what life was like in a monastery, and witness Bari’s ancient archaeology through the museum’s current restorations and San Pietro area excavations.
The museum is open Tuesday to Saturday from 9:00 AM-7:00 PM and Sundays from 9:00 AM-1:00 PM. It’s closed on Mondays. Admission is free to all, making this one of my top recommended free things to do in Bari!
Go on a food tour of Bari, Italy
My favorite thing to do in any part of Italy is to go on a food tour — and Bari is no exception! From fine dining and handmade pasta to fresh seafood and local street eats, food is serious business in this city.
In Puglia, you can expect lots of ear-shaped orecchiette pasta, plenty of fresh seafood, not a ton of meat beyond a bit of salume, and lots of beans and vegetables.
On the Pasta Experience Walking Tour, you’ll dive deep into Bari’s traditional pasta making. After a walk through the Old Town, you’ll stop at Signora Maria’s house where you’ll learn to make orecchiette. Finish off your experience with red wine and some gelato!
Or try the three-hour Bari Walking Street Food Tour where you’ll explore the Old Town while making stops to taste focaccia, salami, cheese, Bari street food, and gelato. The tour ends in the new part of Bari, exploring the theaters and shops.
Another option is the Full Meal Five Stops in Bari old town food tour where you’ll enjoy focaccia, fried polenta, octopus sandwiches, street food snacks, and the best ice cream in town. This tour guarantees great food and great company.
Explore the City by Bike or Segway
Bari is a mostly flat city where the sun shines most of the year — the perfect place to explore on wheels. Several tours are available that allow you to explore by bicycle or Segway.
You can join this two-hour bike tour to get to know both the Old Town landmarks and get a taste of local life. Speaking of taste, this tour also includes local product tastings, including local cheeses and meats.
If laughing your way through a Segway ride is more your style, jump on the Bari Segway Tour for a one-hour exploration of Bari Vecchia. You can also upgrade your segway experience to include a pasta-making class or food tour.
Sail Along the Coast of Bari
Since Bari is a port city, I recommend getting out on a boatand seeing it from the water. Nothing beats sailing along the Adriatic Sea with a glass of wine in hand!
On this half-day sailboat tour, you’ll cruise along the coast of the Old Town, seeing the major sights from the water. Local snacks will be served and if the weather is nice, you’ll have a few opportunities to swim. Prices start at 60 EUR ($65 USD) per person.
Just 30 minutes from Bari is the town of Polignano a Mare, known for its beaches and coastal cliffs. You can head out on a boat tour from Polignano a Mare to enjoy a nice view of the town and explore the nearby grottoes, caves and cliffs. Prices start at 35 EUR ($38 USD) per person.
Try Focaccia Barese
You can’t visit Bari without trying its most famous snack. While focaccia may have originated in Liguria, the Pugliese have put their own spin on it in Bari.
Focaccia Barese is a bread made of wheat, semolina, and potatoes, then topped with olives and tomatoes. It’s baked in a round tin and generously doused in olive oil while baking. The result is a delicious, salty snack that is commonly eaten on the streets of Bari.
And if you’re doing a Puglia road trip, I always recommend people stop in the town of Altamura for focaccia from Antico Forno Santa Caterina. They make some FABULOUS focaccia. It’s a good stop on the way back from Matera, if you’re doing a day trip there.
Visit Museo Civico
Another great rainy day option in Bari is journeying through the city’s history at Museo Civico. The Civic Museum of Bari was originally opened in 1913, used as a recreation center for soldiers during World War II, transferred to its new home in 1977, and reopened to the public in 2015.
Today the museum tells the history of the city through some of its most famous residents, such as Menotti Bianchi, a satirical caricaturist, and Liborio Antonelli Matteucci, a photographer. The museum also hosts a number of events and visiting exhibits, which are open to visitors.
Museo Civico is open Tuesday to Saturday from 9:30 AM-1:30 PM and again from 4:30-7:30 PM. On Sundays, it is open from 9:30 AM-1:30 PM and it is closed on Mondays. The full ticket price is 5 EUR ($5 USD) and the reduced ticket price is 3 EUR ($3 USD).
See a show at Teatro Petruzzelli
Teatro Petruzzelli is the heart of artistic culture in Bari and a beautiful place to catch a show while you’re in town.
Back in the 1800s, Bari citizens were dissatisfied with the theater they had and called for a new theater with lower ticket prices and more seats. After many delays, Teatro Petruzzelli was finally built in 1903 and quickly became one of the highlights of the Italian opera scene, hosting Italy’s finest singers, including Luciano Pavarotti.
Sadly, the building was burned down in 1991 but reopened in 2009 in the original style. Today you can watch ballet, opera, concerts, and more at the stunning theater. Check the calendar to see what’s playing and to see ticket prices.
View art at Teatro Margherita
Teatro Margherita, set on the sea in Bari, is one of the city’s most well-known and beautiful buildings. After a fire in 1910 destroyed the wooden structure, Teatro Margherita was rebuilt on reinforced concrete pillars in the sea, making it one of Europe’s only buildings on stilts.
After many years as a theater and cinema, Teatro Margherita was converted into a contemporary art museum that opened in 2018. It hosts visiting exhibits from photographers around the world.
Take a cooking class in Bari
If the women making orecchiette on the street inspired you, there’s no better way to get to know Bari’s food culture than with a hands-on cooking class.
In this market tour and cooking class experience, your host will lead you on a tour of a local food market, then back to their home for a cooking class featuring local ingredients and three family recipes.
This small group cooking class will teach you how to prepare pasta and tiramisu, two Italian favorites, in the kitchen of a local home. You’ll begin with a glass of Prosecco and end by tasting your creations.
Or in this Puglian cooking experience you can put together a full menu complete with appetizers, first course, second course, and dessert in a Bari home kitchen or out in the countryside.
Take a day trip to Matera
From Bari you can easily explore lots of other areas in Puglia — and even hop over the border to neighboring Basilicata. One trip that I strongly recommend is Matera, a unique stone city that has been a filming location for movies including The Passion of the Christ and No Time to Die (which was filming when I was there!).
Matera is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and nowhere else looks like Matera. Known as the stone city, people lived in Matera’s cliffside caves called sassi, without electricity or water, as late as the mid-20th century. It was referred to as “Italy’s shame.”
Today, nobody is living in the caves anymore — and Matera has been reinvented as a tourism hotspot, even serving as Italy’s Capital of Culture in 2019. (You might not be surprised to learn that many of the sassi have been converted into luxury hotels.)
Whether you stay overnight or just visit for the day, Matera is well worth exploring and photographing from every angle. It’s one of my personal favorite Puglia day trips.
Matera is about an hour’s drive from Bari. If you’re prefer to explore by tour, you can join a Matera day tour from Bari.
Take a day trip to Monopoli
Another great day trip from Bari is to one of my favorite places in Puglia: Monopoli! Monopoli is a wonderful little seaside town that I think has the perfect level of tourism development. It’s gorgeous and inviting, yet not quite as overwhelmed with tourism as Cinque Terre or the Amalfi Coast.
Monopoli’s old town oozes with charm and is the perfect place to enjoy a relaxing day wandering along the whitewashed buildings with forest green doors and shutters. Be sure to explore the churches, eat lots of gelato and panzerotti with a view of the old port, and take a dip in the sea at the town’s beach.
Monopoli is about a 40-minute drive or bus ride from Bari; the train should get you there in about 30 minutes, and it’s a 10-minute walk to the Old Town from the train station. (And if you’d like to hit up two towns in one day, Polignano a Mare is right next door and also has a train stop.)
Take a day trip to Alberobello
Throughout the Puglian countryside, you’ll see white conical limestone houses called trulli (singular: trullo). While you’ll come across a few trulli here and there, there’s a town that is jam-packed with tons of trulli, all in one spot: Alberobello.
The trulli of Alberobello earned UNESCO World Heritage status. They’re not just here to look pretty and keep you cool in the summer — the trulli are also an engineering marvel, built in the 1500s without mortar and still standing to this day.
Wander the town and get lost amongst the trulli, taking note of the only trulli church and only two-story trulli. Today, most of Alberobello’s 1500+ trulli operate as shops, restaurants, museums, or accommodations for visitors, rather than as homes for local residents.
Alberobello is in the heart of the Val d’Itria region in Puglia, where you’ll find more trulli, charming towns, beaches, and local produce. If you have your own car, I highly recommend stopping at Locorotondo, a quiet but very pretty little town near Alberobello with countryside views full of trulli.
Want to visit both Alberobello and Matera from Bari in a single day? Check out this tour that will take you to both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This is a great option if you don’t have a car and want to make good use of your limited time in Italy.
Read More: The Trulli of Alberobello, Italy
Take a day trip to Ostuni
Known as the White City, Ostuni is one of the most popular places to visit in Puglia and an easy day trip from Bari. Ostuni is one of my favorite places to photograph from afar — it’s a perfect white hill town, just sitting in the countryside.
But once you’re in town, it’s a lovely place to just wander and explore. Strolling around the old town or up on the city walls will give you a beautiful view of Ostuni’s architecture and the city below.
Ostuni is about an hour’s drive from Bari and makes a good spot if you’re visiting spots further south in the Salento region, like Lecce. This is a VERY popular spot for day trippers in Puglia, and visiting early or late can have a much quieter atmosphere.
While there is a train station in Ostuni with hourlong trains from Bari, the station is actually a long distance from the old town, and you’ll probably need to get a taxi if you don’t have a car of your own. You can also visit Ostuni from Bari on a day tour, such as this one that visits Ostuni, Cisternino, and Polignano a Mare.
How Much Time to Spend in Bari, Italy
Bari is a great place to visit, but you don’t have to devote a lot of your limited vacation time here. Half a day is enough time to see the main attractions and explore the historic center of Bari; a full day will allow you to dive into more museums and historic sights.
You could use Bari as your base to travel around Puglia, though I honestly recommend nearby Monopoli instead. It’s just as convenient as Bari, if you have a car, and I find it more charming. If you do choose to stay in Bari, make sure you have a plan for your car, as it’s not easy to park here.
While I strongly recommend renting a car to explore Puglia, if you don’t have one, Bari makes a good place to base yourself. You’ll find the most extensive bus, train, and tour connections in Puglia from Bari.
Where to Stay in Bari, Italy
If you’re going to stay overnight in Bari, I recommend staying in the city center so you’ll be within walking distance of most of the city’s attractions.
Bari Vecchia, the Old Town, is a great area to immerse yourself in Bari’s history and atmosphere. Nearby Murat is a region known for shopping and nightlife, while Quartiere Umbertino is a more local, hipster neighborhood known for its great restaurants.
All of the recommendations below are centrally located and an easy walk to the Old Town.
- Top-Rated Luxury Hotel in Bari, Italy: Dilman Luxury Stay offers large modern rooms and a delicious buffet breakfast just a stone’s throw from Bari’s top sights. Upgrade to a spa room or suite with a terrace for even more luxury.
- Top-Rated Mid-range Hotel in Bari, Italy: B&Z LUXURY boasts sea and city views from their sleek rooms, Italian breakfast in the morning, and a great central location.
- Top-Rated Budget Hotel in Bari, Italy: Bed and Breakfast Oz is just outside the city center (20-minute walk to Bari Vecchia) and offers simple double or twin rooms with breakfast.
Best Time to Visit Bari
Unlike more touristy parts of southern Italy, Bari never gets overwhelmingly crowded with tourists. The Amalfi Coast this is not!
That said, there is a high season during the summer months when the city is busier. Sometimes cruise ships dock here, bringing lots of shore excursions, but it’s nowhere on the level of, say, what Dubrovnik used to be a few years ago.
My favorite time to visit Puglia is during the shoulder season — spring and fall — when the crowds are smaller and the weather is still nice. I recommend visiting in early June or late September if you want to experience summer weather and swimming in the sea without the big crowds of July and August.
Is Bari worth it?
I’ve always felt like the travelers who land in Bari and promptly depart for smaller villages are missing out. Bari might not be the prettiest place to spend time in Puglia, but it’s an interesting city with a lot to offer.
At the very least, I recommend spending a half day in Bari because it will give you a glimpse of the Puglian life style that is often hidden from the more touristy towns.
I hope you have the best time in Bari! Have some orecchiette for me.
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Have you been to Bari Italy? Any tips? Share away!