Located along the Adriatic Sea on the sunny Salento Peninsula, the charming and historic town of Otranto is a maze of cobbled streets, stunning vistas, and ancient fortifications. The Puglian city also happens to be the easternmost town in Italy. Here’s your ultimate guide to the best things to do in Otranto, as well as travel tips and things to know before visiting.
We parked up in the charming town of Otranto just as the setting sun was hitting it in just the right position to make the ancient stones glow. Most of the tourist attractions are focused around the centro storico (historic centre) and so this is where you’ll want to base yourself for your Otranto visit.
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What is Oranto known for?
Otranto is most famous for its proximity to the strait of Otranto, the stretch of water which connects the Adriatic Sea with the Ionian Sea and separates Italy from Albania. Those looking to visit Otranto itself should note that the city is best-known for its UNESCO listed old town ‘centro storico’ and medieval castle.
Today, the main industry of the town is tourism and there are plenty of boutiques, bars, and restaurants all across the historic city centre, as well as close to the old port. Nearby, there are plenty of stunning coastal walks and sea coves. As well as hiking along coastal paths, one of the best ways to explore the coastline is by taking a boat day trip from Otranto.
Best things to do in Otranto
Fishing boats sway in the wind as the setting sun kisses the horizon and contented couples walk hand in hand through the ancient settlement. The historic port of Otranto has been used since Ancient times, when Otranto was originally founded as an Ancient Greek settlement.
The port became especially important during the Roman era thanks to its strategic point on the eastern edge of the Salento peninsula coastline. There was a point in time where Otranto was even more important to the Roman empire than the city of Brindisi. Centuries later, Otranto was ruled by the Byzantines and then the Normans. Today, the port of Otranto is best seen at sunset and is home to a multitude of fun bars and cafés.
Walk along the city walls and ramparts
To get an idea of how Otranto must have looked in days gone by, you only need to trace the historic city walls that circle their way around the old town portion of the city. The walls were constructed after a particularly tragic siege in the 15th-century.
Visit the Cathedral
A beautiful example of Romanesque architecture, the Cathedral of Otranto is considered to be one of the largest churches in Italy. The ecclesiastical building can be found at the highest point in Otranto and was originally founded as early as the 11th-century (1088 to be exact), though was heavily restored during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Known as Basilica Cattedrale di Santa Maria Annunziata in Italian, the Roman Catholic place of worship is dedicated to dedicated to the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary. Well worth having an extra look at are the 12th-century floor mosaics which depict the ‘tree of life’.
Visit the church of Saint Peter
Yet another ecclesiastical building worth checking out while in Otranto is the church of Saint Peter, which is known as La Chiesa di San Pietro in Italian. Widely regarded to be one of the most beautiful examples of Byzantine architecture in Salento, it’s well worth visiting while you’re visiting the town in Puglia.
Take a walking tour of Otranto
One of the best ways to explore Otranto, and particularly its historic old town is on foot and so its vital that you should wear your most comfortable walking shoes. Indeed, like many centro storicos in Italy, you can’t drive your car into the town without a special permit and so you’ll have to park your car in one of the nearby car parks. If you want to delve deeper into the history of Otranto, then you may consider booking a walking tour like this one.
Head into the castle
The former castle of Otranto remains pretty fortified to this day. Presiding high above the rest of the city, half of the fortified complex faces the cliff edge and the sea, while the other half has its very own moat and grand keep. Once the preserve of military and nobles, today the castle of Otranto has since been transformed into a museum with ever changing exhibitions.
Cafés and nightlife
As one of the biggest cities in this area of Puglia, people flock from all over the region, dolled up in fancy clothing, to dine and drink in Otranto’s city centre. From sushi joints to rooftop bars with breathtaking views over the Adriatic sea and beyond, there’s no shortage of incredible nightlife experiences to have in Otranto.
For one of the very best views of the historic port, visitors will want to head to Spinnaker (Via Bastione Pelasgi). Though the drinks are slightly pricey, it’s the view that you pay for and the view is unbeatable. For traditional cuisine and eats in Otranto, some of the best-reviewed traditional eateries include Retro Gusto and Ristorante Classe 80.
Shopping in Otranto
If you’re wondering what to do in Otranto when it’s raining (though sunny skies are pretty prevalent throughout the touristic season), then shopping is always a possibility.
The little maze of streets that form Otranto’s old town are UNESCO world heritage listed and the many shops and boutiques that can be found in this area gave me a Mykonos town vibe.
Some souvenirs which you can pick up which are specific to Puglia include olive oil (after all, Puglia accounts for up to 40% of Italy’ olive oil production) and splatter ware pottery, which is produced in the region.
Visit the Grotta Sfondata
One of the more charming stretches of coastline in Eastern Puglia can be found just a ten minute drive away from Otranto. Grotta Sfondata is a sea cave that can only be admired from its roof if you’re on the land.
Nearby, there is some especially beautiful stretches of coastline, including the rock of Scoglio di Sapunerò rock and some of the most crystal clear water I’ve ever seen in my life!
Visit Grotta della Poesia
Though a little further away from Otranto than other things to do in this Otranto guide, and of course, further away than the Grotta Sfondata, Grotta della Poesia is well worth a visit through any trip to the region, if only to say that you’ve been.
Grotta della Poesia is translated into English as ‘the cave of poetry’ and is around a half an hour drive away from Otranto. Though you’ll have to pay a few euros to enter the national landmark, it’s worth noting that the cave has been listed by National Geographic as one of the most beautiful natural sea caves in the world!
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