Polignano a Mare, Italy encompasses all the elements that make Puglia so authentic and alluring. Whitewashed historic centers, rocky outcroppings that lead into the blue-green sea, centuries-long history, and of course, divine local cooking.
If you’re planning travel in Puglia, Polignano a Mare is a must.
In this guide, you’ll find the top things to do in Polignano a Mare, as well as tips on how to get there and where to stay, so you can plan the best visit to this Puglia gem.
Spending a Spectacular Day in Polignano a Mare
Located on Italy’s southern Adriatic coastline, the town of Polignano a Mare is an ancient seaside town dramatically sitting above rocky cliffs and sea caves and offering sweeping views of the turquoise sea.
Centrally located in Puglia, Polignano is not far from the region’s 2 main airports in Bari and Brindisi that service flights from Rome. For reference, Bari to Polignano a Mare is a 35-40 minute drive. Brindisi is a bit further at about 55 minutes from Polignano.
Trains run frequently from Bari to Polignano and are a convenient option if you’d rather not drive. Keep in mind, though, if you’re planning a Puglia itinerary, your best option will be to rent a car.
Plus, to really see and appreciate the beauty of and the best places in Puglia Italy, you need the freedom to explore at your own pace, as well as in many places where public transportation is lacking. Whether driving along the coasts or through sleepy towns and farmland, you’ll get a more authentic feel for this part of Italy.
Drivers can input Polignano Centro Storico into their GPS or favorite map app and then select the closest parking (parcheggio) area. Then, drive straight to that location, park, and pay the daily or hourly rate. Most parking lots will have machines that take credit cards making the parking experience seamless and much less stressful.
Better yet, you won’t have to worry about reading confusing street parking signs, saving you the risk of getting towed! Not that I know from personal experience… 😉
How Much Time Do You Need in Polignano a Mare?
Depending on what you want to do in Polignano, you’ll need between a half and a full day to explore and experience the town.
You can easily do a half-day and take in the spectacular views over the cliffs onto the sea, enjoy a meal, and stroll through the Centro Storico with the obligatory gelato, before moving on to another town in Puglia. Towns like Alberobello and Locorotundo are nearby, making it easy to maximize the time you have and see more of Puglia’s white-washed towns.
However, if you’d like to enjoy a day at the beach or explore Polignano’s sea caves by boat, you’ll want to plan on staying for the day.
Things to Do in Polignano a Mare
Once you’ve arrived at this gorgeous seaside town also known as ‘The Pearl of the Adriatic”, grab a gelato and your camera and set off on foot to explore.
Polignano a Mare Centro Storico
Arco Marchesale, also known as Porta Grande, is the old Roman gate welcoming you to Polignano’s historic center. Just through the ancient arch and you’ll find yourself in the heart of Poliganano’s Centro Storico.
From here, follow wherever the narrow streets & passageways lead. Every turn is more photo-worthy than the last. And, all of Puglia’s qualities will be on display in this picturesque town, from the white stone architecture, the outdoor cafes and restaurants, the historic buildings, and the scent of fresh Pugliese dishes seasoned with a dash of sea breeze.
If you see a narrow, secluded alley in Polignano, zig and zag without worry. It’s such a compact area that there’s no fear of getting lost. It’s part of exploring Italy!
If you prefer to go with a guide, a Polignano walking tour gives you a chance to discover the history around every corner.
Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II
Walk straight from Arco Marchesale into Polignano’s Centro Storico and towards Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II. The piazza itself is not that large but it’s perfectly quaint and has a few places to take a seat, get a drink, and have something to eat.
While you’re there, look for the Palazzo dell’ Orologio (Medieval Clock Palace). There’s a bar on the ground level, which initially distracts you from noticing this historical landmark. It once housed a sundial that has since been replaced by a 19th-century rope clock. The clock is still adjusted by hand today!
Above the clock stands the Statue of San Vito, the patron saint of Polignano a Mare and above the statue, the palazzo is topped off by the bell tower.
The Church of Santa Maria Assunta is also in the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele and dates back to the year 1295. Next to the church stands a quadrangular bell tower which stands at about 75 feet high. The church is home to limestone statues by Stefano da Putignano, a famous Renaissance sculptor.
Take in the View From Ponte Borbonico.
If you’re facing the Arco Marchesale, the Ponte Borbonico is just to your left.
This is the spot for that famous postcard shot that made Polignano a Mare, and even the region of Puglia, famous.
The foot traffic here will be something to navigate because just about everyone visiting Polignano a Mare wants that iconic shot of the Lama Monachile below. Luckily though, while there’s a good amount of foot traffic at this spot, it tends to keep moving so everyone can take their photos.
As inviting as the waters of the Adriatic look, the views of this famous beach may be better than actually being on the beach itself. Those white stones and rocks look great from afar but walking and lying on them is a different story.
Enjoy Lama Monachile.
The famous beach looks stunning from above and is worth a visit. But if you were looking for a relaxing Puglia beach day on soft sand, there are bigger and more comfortable choices.
Lama Monachile is filled with two things, people and (somewhat uncomfortable) white stones.
You may not want to lie on the stone-filled beach for a lengthy period of time although plenty of people take part to spend some time on the famous spiaggia (beach in Italian).
From the Ponte Borbonico, you can access the beach via the stone staircase.
Getting in and out of the water can be tricky and so I recommend some water shoes to navigate the rocks and avoid scraped shins and toes.
Another great way to access the water and get an up-close look at those spectacular sea caves is to do it by boat. Grotta (cave) boat tours are available and can be scheduled in advance.
Look Back at Polignano from Terrazo Santo Stefano.
For another postcard shot, you must head to Terrazo Santo Stefano. Simply put, if you’re in Polignano a Mare then you can’t leave without seeing this view. This is where the town feels like it loops out into the stunning cove and you get to look back at the Lama Monachile beach, the turquoise Adriatic, and the dramatic cliffs.
The Terrazo Santo Stefano is a short walk from the Ponte Borbonico. The “terrace” doesn’t have a ton of space but it’s worth waiting your turn to see and photograph the view.
This photo is quintessential Polignano a Mare so make sure you don’t leave town without it!
Sing at the Domenico Modugno Statue.
Ever hear the song Nel blu, dipinto di blu or more popularly known as “Volare?” My dad (who was born in a small town in Puglia) used to play this song a ton when I was growing up. He also used to sing it (or at least try to) all the time to the point where I found myself belting out just the one line Volare, oh oh oh!
Well, the gentleman who wrote and sang that famous tune, Domenico Modugno, was born in Polignano a Mare and the locals are extremely proud of that fact. The most famous statue in town is of Mr. Modugno himself and it looks like he’s right in the middle of belting that popular chorus of “Volare!”
People will even gather around Modugno’s statue and sing!
The famous statue is a short walk from the Ponte Borbonico and stands close to the top of a staircase that leads you down to a rocky beach called Spiaggia Libera.
This area is also referred to as the Scogliera del Lungomare Modugno, which means “the seafront cliffs by the statue Modugno.”
Abbazia di San Vito
While you can’t beat the views from the Ponte Borbonico and Terrazo Santo Stefano or the charm of Polignano’s Centro Storico, you should make time to see the Abbazia di San Vito.
The Abbey is unmistakable as it looks over this little fishing village and port, home to those incredibly charming blue boats you’ll see throughout Puglia.
You can make the walk from the center of town in about 40 minutes.
The Abbey dates back to the 10th century and has gone through several architectural changes over the years. Today, the Abbey is not open to the public but the scene it’s a part of is quintessential Puglia.
There’s also a beach here called Spiaggia San Vito, which is a great spot to take a seaside stroll. The beach has actual sand, making it a nice spot to get away from Polignano’s busy Centro Storico.
Visit the Pino Pascali Foundation.
If you have some extra time and are interested in seeing some contemporary art, the Pino Pascali Museum, now known as the Pino Pascali Foundation, is in a great little spot overlooking the ocean. It’s about a 12-minute walk from the Arco Marchesale.
The museum was founded in 1998 after Pasacali’s family made a donation of his work. Pascali is considered Puglias greatest artist and was one of the most famous international artists throughout the 1900s. He was born in Bari in the 1930s and his parents were both from Polignano a Mare.
The Pino Pascali Foundation is the only permanent museum of Contemporary Art in Puglia and hosts temporary exhibitions and a permanent collection.
Sip Local Vintages at Terre di San Vito Winery.
After taking in the charm of Polignano’s Centro Storico, the sweeping views of the cliffs and sea caves, and Lama Monachile, how about some vino at a local winery?
Terre di San Vito is a beautiful family-owned vineyard where you can taste exceptional wines, olive oil, and lots of typical Pugliese homemade food. You’ll get an up-close, authentic, and immersive experience because the hosts of Terre di San Vito are so passionate about what they do. In particular, Giovanni is a hit with visitors!
If you go on a Sunday, you may even get that classic Sunday Italian experience with the whole family!
The winery is about a 10-minute car ride from the center of town.
Hotels in Polignano a Mare
Polignano a Mare’s location by the sea and within an hour’s drive from many popular Puglia towns is appealing to anyone looking to escape the hustle of bigger cities like Bari. That being said, it’s also easy to get to Polignano from places like Monopoli and Bari.
Polignano’s popularity does come with higher price tags compared to towns nearby. Still, with views overlooking the deep blue sea and a town that quiets after the day-trippers have gone, it might be just the right fit for your Puglia itinerary.
San Michele Suite offers 5 suites that overlook Lama Monachile and the Adriatic. Fall asleep to the sound of the waves. Then, begin your day on the terrace for breakfast with unforgettable views!
Polignano Paradise has 4 villas that you won’t want to leave. Situated away from the bustle of the historic center with the beach just behind the villas, each villa has interior space for 4 people and an outdoor patio or veranda. Guests get access to free bikes to cycle into town and parking outside the villas in order to explore Polignano’s nearby towns without worrying about where to park at the end of the day.
Whether you’re planning to stay a few nights or soak up the sun and glamour of this medieval town for the day, your Puglia itinerary isn’t complete without some time in Polignano a Mare.
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