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In this Bari travel guide, you’ll learn:
- what to do in Bari,
- how to get to the city, and
- where to stay in Bari should you plan to use it as a base for your Puglia itinerary.
17 Unexpected Things to Do in Bari, Italy
Bari and the Puglia region have been largely overlooked by many Italy visitors. However, the area has grown as both a cultural and historic spot to visit in Italy, as well as a place for beach lovers and those hoping to have a more authentic Italian experience.
Where is Bari?
Bari is the capital city of Puglia Italy and a bustling port town that sits on the Adriatic Sea. Puglia is the southwestern region of Italy, or what you may know it as the “heel of the boot.”
The city is a major ferry port in the southern Adriatic. The port is used for connecting Italy with numerous destinations including Croatia, Greece, Montenegro, and Albania. There are up to 15 ferry crossings daily from Bari, including the popular Bari to Dubrovnik ferry which sails overnight for a morning arrival.
Bari is also home to Puglia’s largest and busiest airport, a gateway into an unspoiled region home to white-washed towns, beautiful beaches, and endless groves of olive trees lining the countryside.
How to Get to Bari
Bari is well-connected to other parts of Italy with an airport, trains, buses, not to mention an active port.
Flights to Bari are operated by Alitalia from Milan and Rome. Budget carriers like easyJet and Ryanair also operate flights to Bari from Milan, Venice, and Rome. Do a cheap flight search or perhaps even use airline miles to book an Alitalia flight to Italy and Bari. Once you arrive, the Bari airport is a 20-minute car ride to the Old Town.
The Bari to Rome train and vice versa takes just under 4 hours.
What to Do in Bari
You can see the best of Bari in a day. Focus your visit on the Bari Old Town or Bari Vecchia. It’s best to explore on foot and get lost in the maze of streets and piazzas.
As you stroll the Old Town Bari, you’ll find a tight-knit community with doors and windows wide open, random bursts of loud Italian conversation, and buzzing Vespas whirling the smell of garlicky tomatoes and freshly baked bread through the narrow streets.
1. Focus on the Old Town (Bari Vecchia) & the Murat (Centro Storico).
The Old Town (Bari Vecchia) and the Murat both essentially connect and blend into each other. This is where you’ll find the most historic and authentic sightseeing locations. If you’re planning a Puglia itinerary, plan to stay 1 day in Bari. You can easily spend the night or drive to nearby Polignano a Mare or Monopoli to position yourself for the next day.
In Bari Vecchia and the historic Murat, you’ll discover narrow streets lined with buildings adorned with stone and wrought-iron balconies and colorful shutters. You’ll find yourself reaching for your camera around every other turn!
Bari has a certain character to it that differs from other cities in Italy, especially those to the north. It has a grittiness and authenticity to it but I think that’s part of the charm and what has since escaped more popular cities like Venice, Florence & Rome.
2. Learn about the City’s Patron Saint at Basilica di San Nicola.
The first thing to grab you when you come upon Basilica San Nicola is it looks like an imposing fort. The facade is truly impressive without anything overly ornate adorning the exterior. Once you enter, you’re not overwhelmed with dozens of frescoes but the gold ceiling is just spectacular in combination with the sculptures and mosaics throughout the sanctuary and crypt.
The Romanesque-style church took over 100 years to build and was completed in 1197. Aside from the architecture, the Basilica is unique because it’s shared among the Catholic and Orthodox faiths. The bones of St. Nicholas (yes, where the legend of Santa Claus comes from) are in the crypt. They were rescued from their original resting place after Saint Nicholas Church in modern-day Turkey was thought not safe for the Saint after Muslim Turks came to power over the Orthodox Christians.
To this day, Basilica San Nicola is visited by Catholics and Orthodox Christians alike. And it’s a must on your Bari sightseeing itinerary.
3. Visit Bari Cathedral a.k.a. the Cathedral of San Sabino.
Considered the Bari Cathedral, San Sabino is another Romanesque-style church dating back to the late 12th century. While it’s widely considered the main Cathedral of Bari, it’s taken second place to the Basilica San Nicola and its compelling story of Saint Nick.
The beauty of strolling through Bari Vecchia is that nothing is too far away so San Sabino is a just short walk from San Nicola. As you approach San Sabino, you’ll undoubtedly recognize the simple shining white exterior. However, it’s this simplicity that gives it a noble and attractive look. Inside the church, the well-preserved mosaics and frescoes are worth a look.
4. Uncover History in the Bari Cathedral Crypt.
The real gem of San Sabino is the archeological museum in the crypt featuring the ancient relics of Saint Sabinus and the foundations of an older church originally built on this site. When you’re standing there, stop and consider what you’re looking at! This Bari gem holds 2000 years of preserved history. The roman road & stunning mosaics, likely dating back to the original church, are fascinating!
The museum is open from 9:30 am -12:30 pm and costs just 3€ to enter. This Bari hidden treasure is absolutely worth the price of entry and should not be missed. It may be small but it’s also one of the best things to do in Puglia, too!
5. Admire the Bari Castle a.k.a Castelo Normanno-Svevo.
From Bari’s Lungomare or the seafront promenade, the commanding Castelo Normanno-Svevo comes into view. One of the first things you’ll notice is how well the castle exterior has weathered the years given that it’s nearly 900 years old. It was built in 1132 by the Norman King Roger and refortified 100 years later after coming under attack.
Today, you won’t find the interior of the Castelo furnished as it once was. Instead, it’s used for permanent and temporary art and archaeological exhibitions, some of which contain artifacts unearthed from the Castelo itself.
Exploring around the outside ramparts, towers, and moat is free, but the museum requires a ticket to enter. Also notable, unlike many things to do in Bari, the castle does not close for the afternoon. It’s open all day. Whether you’re spending one day in Bari or even just a couple of hours in the Old Town, add the Castelo to your list of Bari sights.
6. Glimpse Daily Fisherman Life at the Porto Vecchia.
The Porto Vecchia or old port is where the local fishermen head out in the blue boats you’ll see throughout the Puglia region to catch fresh local fish. Perhaps it’s because my grandparents and great-grandparents came from Bari and worked at the port, but just a simple walkthrough to hear the chatter of the local fishermen is entertaining in itself.
Porto Vecchia is also a great spot to grab a coffee, take a stroll, & enjoy the view.
ProTip: Porto Vecchia is not the port where the giant cruise ships are parked or where the ferries depart and return from destinations like Greece, Montenegro, and Albania. If you make that mistake (like I did at first!), you’ll find yourself wondering where all the adorable little blue boats are!
7. Taste Oysters, Sea Urchin, Octopus & Any Other Catch of the Day.
While you’re at the port, you might as well try the fish that the fishermen have literally just caught! You can see the fishermen do their work right in front of you as they bring their catch ashore. From the boat to your hand, you can eat it right at the port sushi-style. You won’t find fish any fresher!
Go earlier in the day to guarantee the fish will still be available.
8. Watch the Women of the Old Town on Strada delle Orecchiette.
No trip to Bari Vecchia is complete without a visit to Strada Arco Basso, better known as Strada delle Orecchiette. I’ve tried to make potato gnocchi. It was fun and delicious but having done so I had an even greater appreciation for the talent and artistry on display in Bari!
With cameras clicking just inches away, the local women of Strada delle Orecchiette sit unconcerned making homemade orecchiette, barely noticing that you’re there.
If you have Italian ancestors like me, it’s easy to watch these women work and realize they’re continuing a cultural tradition that a grandmother or aunt in your family tree would have also done generations ago.
One woman I came across was singing as she made her orecchiette, although I think she was saying if you’re going to take 20 pictures of me at least buy something! So I did. 😉
9. Join the Locals at Piazza Mercantile.
Considered the most important square in Bari, Piazza Mercantile sits at the center of the Old Town. It’s been the city’s commercial center since the 14th century, and today is a place to eat, drink, people-watch, and attend events.
You’ll notice the facade of the Palazzo del Sedile (Palace of the Seat) one of Bari attractions today, but a place where nobles would meet in the old town hall. A 16th-century clock tower stands on the left side of the building and a water fountain sits at the center perfect for refilling your travel water bottle as you explore the Old Town.
Similar to Piazza del Ferrarese, Piazza Mercantile is a bustling area with restaurants, bars, and cafes all located in the heart of Bari Vecchia. Be sure to have a gelato in hand and stroll aimlessly with the couples and families through this historic piazza.
10. Indulge at a Bari Restaurant.
Of course, this is on a to-do list for any place in Italy. But, indulging in traditional Pugliese regional specialties is a must.
Puglia is known all over Europe for its deep agricultural roots. If you’re planning a Puglia itinerary to drive through the area, you’ll be surrounded by sprawling plains, rolling hills, and endless olive groves. In fact, there are an estimated 50 to 60 million olive trees in Puglia and the region accounts for 40% of Italy’s olive oil production.
Plus, given Puglia’s location on the Adriatic coast, you can add incredible fresh fish to the region’s specialties. The Puglia seacoast is the longest in Italy and nearly every morning fishing boats return to the port ready to sell their fish.
What kind of deliciousness can you expect in Puglia? Here’s just a sampling!
- Fresh fruits & vegetables
- Fresh fish, especially squid, shellfish, cod, and branzino
- Olives & olive oil
- Orecchiette with vegetables like rapini, aged cheeses, pureed white or fava beans, and mussels
- Panzerotti, which looks like a small calzone stuffed with mozzarella and tomato and then fried.
- Focaccia and bread, especially Pane di Altamura, a naturally leavened bread native to the region.
And of course, every good meal has to include a glass of Italian wine! Puglia’s most famous grape is the Primitivo, whose wines include the Primitivo di Manduria. It’s a full-body wine, generally high in alcohol content.
ProTip: If you prefer to combine walking and tasting as you explore the Old Town, consider a food walking tour with a local guide.
11. Tour Teatro Petruzzelli.
The Teatro Petruzzelli is an eye-catching building from the outside even though the exterior is not overly ornate. The original theater, which was finished in 1903, was burned completely in 1991. The building today is the rebuilt structure finished in 2008.
The theater has opera and ballet performances today but has had many world-famous artists perform on its stage including Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Liza Minnelli, and Luciano Pavarotti.
If you don’t have enough time to see a show, you can still do a 30-minute tour for just 5€. You’ll see the interior decorated in gold and the red seats and giant curtain combine for a compelling visual, as well as learn about the art in and history of the theater. Check the website for tour times.
12. People watch at Piazza del Ferrarese.
Piazza del Ferrarese is a good center point in Bari and sits right on the edge of the Old Town. The piazza is close to the Porto Vecchia & Lungomare, which means it also connects to most of the streets that lead to the sights of Old Bari.
During the day, the piazza is quieter and perfect as a place to sit, relax and do some people watching. It’s lined with restaurants, bars, and cafes, which are much busier at night and make for a lively evening hangout.
Piazza del Ferrarese is also where Bari holds its celebration for the city’s patron saint, Saint Nicholas. Celebrations happen in May and December every year. So, if you happen to be there during that time, you’re in for a party!
13. Eat Focaccia Barese-Style.
This is a must! Focaccia is a flat oven-baked Italian bread similar in style and texture to pizza. Growing up with a mother from Bari, the crispy outside and doughy inside combined with the delicate taste of tomato holds a special place in my heart.
But you don’t need to be Italian to melt over your first bite of Focaccia, especially when it’s done as well as they do it in Bari! Stop by Panificio Fiore on Str. Palazzo di Città for some of the best Focaccia in Bari Vecchia.
14. Walk the Bari Lungomare.
Bari is a seaside Pugliese city with long, deep roots to the Adriatic. To understand the city and its connection to the water, take an evening stroll before or after dinner along this seafront promenade. Or perhaps stroll in the morning after stopping by the Old Port to buy some fresh fish. You’ll hear the call of the seagulls, breathe in the salty air, and relax with the azure views of the Adriatic.
15. Photograph the Views of Teatro Margherita and the Sea.
Teatro Margherita is one of the other historic theaters in Bari and at the very least is worth a photo opp given its position along the sea in Bari’s old harbor. Built between 1912 and 1914, the building has an interesting history that includes a rivalry with the Teatro Petruzzelli. As you can imagine, the Petruzzelli family wasn’t thrilled to have a competing theater.
Teatro Margherita was used as a theatre and cinema until 1979. Afterwhich, it was closed to the public for years. It’s since undergone renovations and has been converted into an art gallery space where temporary rotating exhibitions from Van Gogh to works of photography are occasionally on display.
16. Go to Bari Beach.
Puglia has many, many beautiful beaches not too far from Bari which will be much better than the beaches in Bari. But if you’re just in Bari for the day and want to take a break from sightseeing, eating Focaccia, & dodging Vespas then head to the local beach called Pane e Pomodoro.
Pane e Pomodoro is a 10-minute car ride from Bari Vecchia or a 30-minute walk along the Lungomare depending on where you are in the Old Town. It’s a public beach so it can get a little crowded on the weekend but if you’re there during the week, you’ll likely have your own sandy real estate with views of the Adriatic.
There’s a cafe for refreshments and food, showers, and changing rooms. They don’t supply towels or umbrellas so you may want to come prepared if you plan to stay for a while on a hot, sunny day.
17. Take a Bari Day Trip
Bari is just a gateway into the culturally and historically rich Puglia region! If you were thinking to use the city as a base to explore the immediate area for a few days, you have no shortage of possible day trips from Bari. Keep in mind, the best way to explore Puglia is by car. There are some trains and buses but it can be hard, if not impossible, to access small countryside villages.
Archaeological sites like Egnazia and Parco Rupestre Lama D’Antico are all under an hour’s drive from Bari, as is UNESCO World Heritage Site Castel del Monte.
And just over the Puglia line to the southwest, the famous ancient city of Matera is also about an hour’s drive and perhaps one of the most popular Bari day trips. Even if you haven’t rented a car, Bari to Matera by bus is just an hour and 15 minutes away! (Unfortunately, there’s no Bari to Matera train.)
Hotels in Bari Italy
Deciding where to stay in Bari is an easy choice! The Old Town is the most convenient area to explore the city’s historic center and not far from the train station. The list below has a few of the best hotels in Bari.
iH Hotels Bari Oriente – This accommodation in Bari is located in the Murat area of the Old Town, just a 10-minute walk from Bari’s train station. The hotel and its guest rooms have been restored and breakfast is included with the rate. Check current prices. | Book now.
iH Hotels Bari Grande Albergo delle Nazioni – This 5-star hotel sits along the Lungomare and has views overlooking the sea. The rooms are decorated in a modern style and guests can access the rooftop pool. The hotel is within a 15-minute walk of both the Bari Cathedral and the train station.
Check current prices. | Book now.
Palace Hotel – Located in the heart of Bari Vecchia, this hotel is just a 5-minute walk to Basilica San Nicola and Bari Cathedral. The hotel has a rooftop terrace and breakfast is included.
Check current prices. | Book now.
Is Bari Worth Visiting?
Yes! I admit I’m biased given it’s where my family is from. But, Bari and the Puglia region are rich in cultural and historical treasures not fully discovered by travelers looking to plan a typical trip to Italy.
Not to mention how easy it is to visit more of southern Italy after Bari and the Puglia region. For example, Bari to Naples is less than 3 hours by car!
Given its beaches, food, authenticity, and ancient past, the Puglia region has something for everyone to discover. And, this list of what to see in Bari is just the start!
What things to see in Bari are on your list?
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