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Lecce, Italy has become known as the “Florence of the South” because of its long history with connections to ancient Greece and the Roman Empire and the city’s ornate Baroque architectural style.
If you’re planning a trip to Puglia, you may be wondering how to fit Lecce into your itinerary or even whether it’s worth pulling yourself away from Puglia’s beautiful beaches.
But Lecce is a must while in Puglia and too much of a cultural and historical gem to miss!
So, in this guide, you’ll learn about the many things to do in Lecce in order to plan your visit, how to get to Lecce, as well as where to stay and eat during your visit.
Discover the Best 16 Things To Do In Lecce, Italy
Lecce’s historic center has revealed hidden archaeological gems, and together with the city’s many churches and monuments, make for plenty of Lecce things to do.
However, if you’ve made it to this southernmost part of Italy, you’re undoubtedly hoping to experience a more authentic slice of Italian life. Lecce has held onto this despite its growing popularity so take the time to not only see the piazzas but also to stop and absorb the culture and scenes of daily life all around you.
Before building your list of what to do in Lecce, let’s get oriented in the region.
Where is Lecce?
Lecce is in the south of Italy’s Puglia region, less than 20 minutes from the Adriatic coast. Puglia is in Italy’s “heel of the boot” and Lecce is located near the bottom of that “heel.” This is formally known as the Salentine Peninsula.
The city of Brindisi is 30 minutes north by car. Because of its central location, Lecce is an ideal home base to explore Southern Puglia. Lecce positions you close to the beaches of the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. The beach towns of Otranto and Gallipoli are south of Lecce but an easy 30-40 minute car ride.
Bari is the main city in the Puglia region. Lecce to Bari is about 2 hours by car to the north depending on the traffic.
How to Get to Lecce
The nearest airport to Lecce is in Brindisi, a half-hour away by car and roughly an hour by train. Bari also has an airport to access Puglia. From Bari to Lecce, it would be about a 2-hour drive or train ride. The Lecce train station is just a 15-minute walk to the Centro Storico.
If you’re coming from Rome to Lecce, the quickest option will be to fly to Brindisi or even Bari and then to take the train or car to reach the city center.
Keep in mind, the best way to get around Puglia is by car. In some cases, it’s the only way to see smaller towns, while maximizing your time in the region. If Lecce is your starting point, though, you could fly into Brindisi or Bari. Then, take the train to Lecce. You won’t need a car to drive in Lecce but you could rent one to explore the area once your time in Lecce is finished.
Things To Do In Lecce, Italy
Lecce is easily one of the best places to visit in southern Italy. A big part of that is because of the many fascinating things to see in Lecce!
1. Focus on the Lecce Centro Storico.
The heart of Lecce’s attractions and charms are centered around the city’s Centro Storico or old town. Truth be told, Lecce’s old town was one of my favorites in all of Puglia.
The old town is just a few square kilometers and can easily be walked in a day. However, don’t rush your time here! Instead, do as the locals do. Be in the moment and stroll without any sense of urgency.
You’ll adore the narrow streets lined with buildings and homes made from the region’s honey-colored limestone. As you explore, you’ll inevitably stumble upon Lecce’s history and opulent architecture. But Lecce’s old town also has many places where you can tuck yourself away to savor your surroundings.
Lecce’s old town becomes even more vibrant as the afternoon turns to evening. Cafes, bars, and restaurants string up their lights. And residents return from their afternoon rest to take part in an evening passeggiata (stroll) in and around the Piazza Sant’Oronzo before having dinner.
Day-trippers miss Lecce by night so plan to stay at least 1 overnight so you can take part in the evening old town festivities.
2. Start in Piazza Sant’Oronzo.
It’s best to orient yourself in the Piazza Sant’Oronzo, considered to be the center of Lecce’s old town. The piazza is Lecce’s busiest, with cafes, restaurants, gelaterias, and shops that make for great people-watching. It’s a perfect spot to practice your Italian coffee ordering skills.
But it’s also unforgettable because the piazza overlooks a 2nd-century Roman Amphitheater! Where else can you get an iced espresso with almond milk, Lecce’s specialty coffee drink, while looking out at ancient Roman history??
Il Sedile is a Gothic-designed structure just next to the Roman Amphitheater that dates back to the 1590s. Today, it’s where you can find Lecce tourist information at the tourism office, including a map of what to see in Lecce.
3. Marvel at the Ancient Roman Amphitheater.
As mentioned above, once you’re in the Piazza Sant’Oronzo, the remains of the Roman Amphitheater are unmissable. Incredibly, the 2nd-century amphitheater wasn’t discovered until 1901 when workers began digging the foundation for a bank!
It’s estimated the Lecce amphitheater once held anywhere from 15,000-25,000 people. Seeing it today, you’ll have to use your imagination. Only 1/3 of the amphitheater has been uncovered! Remarkably, the city of Lecce still holds live performances at the site.
4. See Baroque’s finest at the Basilica di Santa Croce.
The Basilica di Santa Croce took nearly 2 centuries to build, but it was worth the wait! It’s a beautiful cathedral with an unmistakable baroque exterior.
Rich in detail, the outside of the church is finished with many sculptures from animals, real and imagined, to vegetables and Saints. Take a moment to really look at the church’s exterior. The rose window, in particular, is spectacular with its carvings all around.
Stepping inside, you’ll immediately be struck by the grand white columns, each with a candelabra in between, and the gold-dotted wooden ceiling with a painting at the center. The church has 17 altars and quite simply is a masterpiece when you stop to think about the artistry that went into the Basilica.
It’s open every day from 9:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
5. Hear an Amazing Story of Discovery at the Museo Faggiano.
The story behind the Museo Faggiano is fascinating and true, making it a one-of-a-kind place to visit. Imagine you purchase a property with the intention of opening a trattoria and while doing some renovations you unearth a few thousand years of history.
There wasn’t anything remarkable about the building when Lucciano Faggiano purchased it in 2001 and began renovating. That is until he needed to find a sewage pipe. Little did he know when he and his sons began digging, he’d go from aspiring trattoria owner to the Indiana Jones of Lecce.
In search of the sewer line, they stumbled upon medieval stones, instead, that ultimately led to underground rooms, escape tunnels, tombs, a knights templar fresco, & much more. After seven years of excavation, the Museo Faggiano opened to the public in 2008, and they continue to find ancient relics today.
If you’re fortunate on the day of your visit, you’ll be greeted by a member of the Faggiano family. I met the very kind Andrea, one of Lucciano’s sons who graciously gave a historical overview before I made my way through the museum.
The Museo Faggiano is open every day from 9:30 a.m.- 8 p.m. and it costs €5 to enter.
6. Survey Lecce’s Architecture in the Piazza del Duomo.
The Piazza del Duomo is unique because there’s one way in and one way out. If you’ve been to enough squares and piazzas in Europe, you know there are usually several ways to access the area. Piazza del Duomo is actually closed off on three sides.
The big open space of the piazza offers a different perspective from the narrow streets that wind through the old town. From this wide vantage point, you can appreciate Lecce’s detailed architecture in the Baroque structures surrounding you, the Lecce Cathedral, the Bell Tower, the Bishop’s Residence, and the Palace of the Seminary.
Even if you’ve visited the piazza during the day, return for the romantic ambiance of the lights sparkling at night.
7. Visit the Lecce Cathedral.
After the Basilica di Santa Croce, seeing the Duomo di Lecce is a must.
Named after Santa Maria Assunta, the Cathedral is on your left when you enter the Piazza del Duomo. Originally completed in the Romanesque style in 1144, the Cathedral was rebuilt in Lecce’s Baroque style in the late 1600s.
Note, there are two facades to the Duomo. Since there is only one way into the Piazza you first encounter the northern facade, which is where you enter the Duomo. If you walk past the north entrance you will make your way to the western facade, which is also worth a look for the full scope of the Cathedral.
Inside, the cream-colored columns trimmed with gold embody the opulent Baroque style. Don’t rush your visit. The main and side altars, the ceiling, and the crypt are works of art to be admired.
ProTip: Follow the Lecce Church Path.
There are many churches you can visit in Lecce. Many more than you can see in a day before they all start to look alike and you’re feeling fatigued.
To help, the Lecce tourism board sells a bundled ticket to help you know which churches you should prioritize along with a map that outlines a possible path through town in order to see the best of Lecce’s baroque architecture.
You can also sign up for a guided tour at the tourist office. But Lecce is so easily walkable, you don’t need to spend the extra money on the guided tour.
I purchased the €9 Full Ticket and wandered at my own pace. The ticket includes entry to the Basilica di Santa Croce, the Lecce Cathedral, Chiesa di Santa Chiara, Chiesa di San Matteo, and the Seminary Museum in the Piazza del Duomo.
Even if you plan to visit just the Duomo and Santa Croce, you’ll pay more with individual tickets than you would if you purchased the full ticket, so it’s a no-brainer for a day of Lecce sightseeing.
And, as you make your way to each of the places included in your Full Ticket, you’ll inevitably pass through the Piazza Sant’Oronzo and by its Roman Amphitheater, as well as along the Via Vittorio Emanuele II.
Purchase your Full Ticket at the Tourist Office in Piazza Sant’Oronzo or at any of the included churches.
8. Take in the Views at the Seminary Museum.
Located in the back corner of the Piazza del Duomo, the Seminary Museum is included with the full Church Trail ticket so I decided to check it out.
There’s an exhibition of religious art and a peaceful cloister area. But if you go a few floors up, you’re rewarded with a birds-eye view of the Piazza del Duomo and the Cathedral.
9. Don’t Miss Lecce’s Chiesa di Santa Chiara.
Small, but still very impressive, Santa Chiara is considered one of the most admired and important churches in Lecce. The intimate setting is refreshing after the majestic interiors of Santa Croce & the Duomo.
Santa Chiara has beautifully crafted columns on its main altar and in the six side chapels. But, what struck me was how bright the church is on the inside. The windows on the upper parts of the design flood the church with an eye-catching amount of natural light.
10. Find Lecce’s Hidden Roman Theatre.
Just near the Chiesa di Santa Chiara, a Roman Theatre sits on a bit of a hidden street. It actually wasn’t discovered until 1929, but it dates back to the Augustan Age, which began around 43 B.C.
It can be a bit tricky to find, but if you’re at Santa Chiara, look for Via Arte delle Cartapesta. Follow this street as it winds into a quiet corner of Lecce before turning onto Via del Teatro Romano. Even after seeing the Roman Amphitheater in Piazza Sant’Oronzo, there’s just something so special about stumbling upon this ancient Roman Theatre because it feels like you’ve made a discovery.
There’s also a museum just next to the theatre with artifacts that were discovered on the site.
11. Go with the Locals to Chiesa di San Matteo.
Similar to Santa Chiara, this church is included with your full church ticket. It’s smaller compared to Santa Croce and the Duomo, but because it sits on a small street, it feels like a giant towering over the area.
Make no mistake, though. This church is one of the prettiest in Lecce. It’s also designed in the Baroque style and stands out for its statues of the Saints.
After having visited the other churches on this list, San Matteo felt much more local than touristy. Depending on the day of your visit, you’re likely to see locals coming and going as they attend church and celebrate milestones.
12. Uncover History at the Jewish Museum of Lecce.
Just next to the Basilica di Santa Croce, a small underground museum tells the story of Jewish life in Lecce back during the medieval period up until they were forced from the region in the 16th century.
The museum is actually on the site of a former synagogue. The entrance fee of €5 comes with a guided tour which takes about 45 minutes. My guide was friendly, knowledgable and explained the history in a way that added a layer of understanding to the city’s history.
13. Set off in Search of the Lecce Portas.
When you arrive at one of the Lecce Portas or gates, you’re on the boundary of the old town and where the city expanded outward. I always love to walk through city gates like this because it’s a reminder of a city’s history and how it needed to fortify itself.
Lecce has three gates that are still visible today and are in good condition. You don’t need much time at all to visit them and they make for nice photos and navigational points.
The main city gate is an imposing structure, built in 1548 in honor of Charles V. The large Baroque style arch was one of the first architectural structures built in Lecce reflecting that style, a precursor of what was to come. The gate gets its name because it faces the ancient road that took people back and forth to Naples.
ProTip: Visit Chiesa di Santa Maria della Porta.
While at the gate you can also pay a visit to Chiesa di Santa Maria della Porta, a small lesser-visited church in Lecce. If the front door happens to be open, it’s worth a quick visit and a peek at the dome inside which is its distinctive trait.
This is the oldest of the 3 gates and another striking entry point into the Centro Storico. The original gate collapsed and this current structure was built on the old ruins in 1703. The patron saint of Lecce, Sant’Oronzo, sits atop of the gate, keeping a watchful eye over the town.
Porta San Biagio
The third gate, which was built in 1774, sits in the southernmost part of the town. It welcomes you into Lecce with a statue of St. Blaise on top of the gate at 55 feet high.
Day Trips from Lecce
Lecce makes an ideal base for day-tripping on the southern end of Italy’s Salento area. You can explore the area’s history and enjoy the beaches and return at night to enjoy the restaurants and cafes in vibrant Lecce.
14. Day-Trip from Lecce to Otranto.
Otranto is a seaside town along the Adriatic Sea roughly 30 minutes from Lecce by car. The white old town has an Aragonese Castle and a Cathedral with a spectacular mosaic that dates back to the 12th-century.
Of course, its location along the sea comes with some of Puglia’s best beaches. If you’re willing to take a more scenic route (+25 minutes) by driving along the coast, you can stop at stunningly beautiful spots like San Foca and Torre dell’Orso where the rocky coastline meets the turquoise waters, before making it to Otranto.
15. Day-Trip from Lecce to Gallipoli.
From Lecce to Gallipoli, it’s just 30 minutes by car (90 minutes by train). The ancient walled city sits along the Ionian Sea coastline and dates back to the Greeks. It’s only accessible by a 16th-century bridge that connects the old town to the mainland.
A 13th-century castle served as part of the city’s fortifications, but today offers rooftop views overlooking the water. There’s a small sliver of beach along the city walls similar to Monopoli further north. But the most popular beaches are the many that line the coastline just north and south of the city like the Spiaggia di Baia Verde.
16. Enjoy the Best Beaches in Puglia.
From Lecce, you’re also never more than an hour or so from some of Puglia’s best beaches, including Spiaggia di Pescoluse, otherwise known as the Maldives of Salento. If you’re looking for white sand with turquoise water, you’ve found one of the prettiest Puglia beaches!
Plan to stay at least 1 night in Lecce so you can enjoy the city by day and night. But, stay longer for its central location to explore the Salento region of Puglia.
Patria Palace Hotel
Of course, you’d want to stay in a Baroque style hotel when you’re in Lecce! Housed in a former nobleman’s palace that dates back to the 1700s, the Patria Palace Hotel combines the history of the building with modern amenities for a classic, luxurious stay.
The hotel is just steps from the Basilica di Santa Croce, with some rooms and a rooftop garden offering views of the famous facade and its rose window.
Situated in the heart of Lecce’s old town near Santa Croce and above the Jewish Museum, the 15th-century former synagogue offers 6 spacious rooms. The design reveals historic architectural elements while creating spaces that are bright and modern.
All rooms at the Bed & Breakfast have air conditioning and wifi, as well as large beds and potential space for a family of 3. The family who runs Palazzo Persone go above and beyond with their hospitality, not only helping with restaurant recommendations and advice about the area, but also offering guests a chance to experience Puglia’s local charm.
Torre del Parco Dimora Storica 1419
Just a 10-15 minute walk from Piazza Sant’Oronzo in Lecce’s historic center, this unique hotel offers 9 rooms in a medieval fortress and convent from the 15th-century. Each room is furnished with antiques to honor the building’s historic past in a peaceful respite from the busier streets near Lecce’s main sights.
The hotel also has event spaces and beautifully-kept grounds that are popular with locals for weddings and other get-togethers. Some rooms have balconies that overlook the courtyards and the deluxe suite comes with a hot tub in the room.
Lecce, Italy is a still somewhat undiscovered gem in southern Italy’s Salento region. Whether you’re planning a Puglia road trip or just want to visit a few of the region’s highlights, make sure this historic, Baroque city is part of your travel plans.
Which things to do in Lecce are on your list?
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