Monopoli, Puglia is a sun-kissed, historic town along Italy’s southern Adriatic coast. If you’re planning a trip to Italy and want to discover a little-known gem with authentic Italian charm, look no further than Monopoli.
In this guide, discover the best things to do in Monopoli, how to get to this beautiful town, and where to stay in Monopoli should you decide to use it as a base.
How to Spend a Beautiful Day in Monopoli, Puglia
Whether you’re staying in one location or you’re planning a Puglia road trip, Monpoli should find it’s way onto your Puglia itinerary.
Monopoli is a port city that dates back to the Greeks and thus its name meaning “only city.” This unspoiled seaside town makes for either a great day trip from Bari or even a home base on your visit to this fabulous region of southern Italy.
For example, the drive from Monopoli to Polignano a Mare will take about 10 minutes. Monopoli to Lecce is slightly over an hour. And, Monopoli to Matera is just about the same.
Where is Monopoli?
To further orient yourself in the region, Bari and Brindisi are home to Puglia’s main airports. Both cities are just along the Adriatic coast. Monopoli is about a 40-minute drive south from Bari or roughly 50 minutes north of Brindisi, making it centrally located no matter where your Puglia journey begins.
Monopoli sits on the Adriatic Sea, close to other towns like Polignano a Mare, Fasano, Martina Franca, and Locorotundo. Monopoli to Alberobello with its white Trulli houses is less than half an hour by car.
If you’re trying to plan your day to include more than a stop in Monopoli, it’s easily done. For example, you could spend the first part of the day in Monopoli and then time a visit to Alberobello for the afternoon to miss most of the early tour buses.
How to Get to Monopoli
You’ll need a car in Puglia if you want to see this region of Italy the way it needs to be seen. While some towns have train routes from bigger cities like Bari, it can be nearly impossible to reach smaller towns or see other sights in the countryside.
With that said, though, there is a train from Bari to Monopoli which takes about 30 minutes. The walk from the train station to Monopoli’s Centro Storico takes about 15 minutes.
Even still, I highly encourage you to rent a car for your Puglia trip so you can experience all its charm and culture as you fully explore the region. That and a map or a GPS app will be your best friends for making the most of your time in Puglia.
I came from Bari by car and was parked and on my way to the Centro Storico within 45 minutes.
5 Best Things to do in Monopoli, Puglia
If you’ve spent time in Bari, Matera, Lecce, or even Rome absorbing thousands of year’s worth of history and culture, Monopoli is a great place to reset the pace.
The town is less touristy than nearby Polignano or Alberobello. Because of this, it’s slow, more peaceful vibe reveals a genuine look at daily life along Italy’s Adriatic.
Days are best spent casually walking along the lungomare, taking some sun on the small strip of sandy beach or along the rocky coastline, savoring a classic Pugliese dish of orecchiette, and leaning into the Italian art of simply enjoying the moment.
Along the way, take time to ramble along the sea and past the white-washed buildings that line the narrow streets of the old town. Much of Monopoli’s charm comes from stumbling upon a piazza or watching the fishermen work at the port, but there are a few things you’ll want to see on your day in Monopoli.
1. Stroll through the Monopoli Centro Storico.
As you walk through Monopoli’s Centro Storico, you can’t help but feel as if you’ve discovered a well-kept secret in Italy’s “heel of the boot.” Certainly, many small Italian towns have historic centers with beautiful adjoining white stone homes adorned with colorful doors, shutters, and flower-filled terraces.
But Monopoli has held onto the character and authenticity that makes it special, while still quietly growing in appeal to visitors.
Drift through the narrow streets, following your nose, in my case that’s wherever there’s the wafting scent of pizza. Or simply sit for a while enjoying an espresso or glass of wine. Monopoli’s old town has no shortage of restaurants & cafes!
Either way, put away the map and just explore. The old town is compact and easy to reorient yourself when you “get lost.”
2. Visit the Basilica of the Madonna della Madia.
This Baroque Cathedral was completed in the 1770s but stands on the site of a previous cathedral that dates back to the 1100s. Legend has it this original cathedral ran out of wood while being built, and miraculously, a raft made of wood drifted into port with the image of the Virgin Mary which was used to finish the cathedral.
The Cathedral sits in a quiet square with an impressive, although not very ornate, facade. But, don’t be fooled!
The inside of the Cathedral is flush with natural light and is richly decorated with marble, carvings, and 18th-century paintings. It’s easily one of the most opulent churches you’ll see, not just in Monopoli, but in all of Puglia.
Be sure to time your visit accordingly. The Basilica is open early at 7:15 a.m. but closes at noon, before reopening again from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
3. Stop to appreciate the Castello di Carlo V.
Centuries-old coastal towns in Italy like Monopoli needed a castle and fort in a strategic position along the seaside to protect their valuable port and town from invaders. Since the 16th-century, the Castello di Carlo V has sat on a jetty along the city’s defensive walls.
While there’s limited access to the Castello, it’s worth it to admire the structure itself and its position as a barrier against attack. T0day, the Castello is mostly used as an art gallery and exhibition space for other events. Depending on when you visit, you may or may not gain access to the inside of the Castello.
4. Watch the fishermen work at the Porto Antico di Monopoli.
The heart of Monopoli stems from its port and the fisherman who have worked the boats hauling in fresh fish for centuries.
The white stone of the old town leads into the turquoise waters of the Adriatic. The traditional blue and red boats you see throughout Puglia bob with the rhythm of the sea. The entire scene is incredibly picturesque and the perfect spot for a photo-op!
If your timing is right, you may see the local fishermen unloading the day’s catch and fixing their nets as they go about the day’s work. You’ll even see locals buying fresh fish just as it comes off the boats!
5. Catch some rays at Monopoli Beach.
Throughout your visit to Monopoli, you’re bound to feel the pull of the Adriatic calling you. Luckily, there’s a sliver of sandy beach and rocky outposts where you can enjoy the warm water.
To be clear, this isn’t a large beachfront, but rather a small area along Monopoli’s defensive walls with the backdrop of the old town’s stone buildings. The scene is dramatic and quintessentially Puglia. And, if you’re feeling inspired to sit in the sand or take a quick dip, the clear waters of the Adriatic await.
When your beach visit is over, sit for a seaside lunch and then take a walk…with a gelato in hand, of course!
Hotels in Monopoli
Just 2 minutes from the Monopoli Centro Storico, this residence-style hotel is perched along the old city walls overlooking the blue waters of the Adriatic. Rooms and suites come with a variety of amenities from King-sized pillowtop beds to balconies with ocean views.
In addition to the charm of this boutique hotel, you’ll l-o-v-e the rooftop terrace and restaurant, as well as the plunge pool on the lower-level roof.
This comfortable old town Monopoli hotel is situated in the bustling Garibaldi Square just a couple of minutes from the seaside. Rooms have high ceilings and range in size from standard to large enough to accommodate a family, not something that’s always easy to find in boutique hotels.
In addition, the hotel offers free breakfast and is not far from a free public parking area.
Located in the heart of the old town in a historic residence, your stay in Monopoli will feel local, yet convenient to everything that makes this traditional port town special. The 6 rooms are designed with a vintage-style to respect the history of the townhouse while offering modern amenities to ensure guests are comfortable.
Some rooms even include Juliet-style balconies overlooking the narrow streets of the old town. And, all guests are offered free breakfast during their stay.
Whether you stay in Monopoli for a night or more or even visit on a day trip, it’s an absolute must for your Puglia trip. The old-world charm of this beautiful city set against the backdrop of the Adriatic combines for a memorable experience.
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