The ‘heel’ of the boot is the delightful region of Puglia, which is known in English as ‘Apulia’ and in French as ‘Pouilles’. Home to stretches of azure-blue coastline and larger cacti than you’ve ever seen in your life, the towns, cities, and regions that Puglia has to offer are simply charming. Here’s your guide to the best and most beautiful towns in Puglia!
Before you commence your Apulia travels, it’s worth noting that many of the Puglian towns and cities share similar characteristics; a pedestrianised ‘centro storico’ (which you’ll likely get a large fine for if you drive through), a maze of local eateries serving traditional Apulia cuisine, a central square known as a ‘Piazza’ and countless ecclesiastical buildings.
There are, of course, some notable exceptions to the rule and there are some towns in Puglia which are entirely different from anything else out there. These towns also tend to be the most popular tourism destinations, but you should still add them to your Puglia itinerary.
Town of note include the Baroque architecture of Lecce, the trulli of Alberobello, and the whitewashed houses of old town Ostuni. In short, there is no shortage of amazing things to do in Puglia.
If you’re looking for even more inspiration about the boot-shaped country, then be sure to check out our best travel quotes about Italy. And if you need to know more information before heading to the South of Europe, check out our top Italy travel tips.
Best-known for its breathtaking Baroque architecture, the city of Lecce is one of the largest cities in the South of Puglia. As it’s one of the only Puglian settlements for miles around, people flock from far and wide on a nightly basis in order to dine in the maze that is the ‘centro storico’ (historic centre).
Some of the best things to see and do in Lecce include the Duomo, the Basilica di Santa Croce, and dining in one of the restaurants and cafés in town. When it comes to eateries, of particular note are Pizza and Co (pizza slices as large as your head for around €3) and Osteria Degli Spiriti for well-cooked traditional dishes (just be sure to reserve several days ahead of time).
A sunny city on Salento’s sunny coastline, the town of Otranto boasts a population of around 6000 residents. Located along the Southern coastline of Apulia, on the Eastern coast of the Solento peninsula, Otranto borders the Adriatic sea.
Some of the most famed attractions that Otranto has to offer include the 15th-century Aragonese Castle (now a cultural centre and museum), visiting the Baroque cathedral, and walking along the city walls. Nearby, there are plenty of breathtaking coastal walks to be taken.
Known as the ‘white city’ (città bianca in Italian) on account of its whitewashed old town which sits perched high above the rest of the city, Ostuni is a must-visit on any trip to Puglia. Constructed on a high hill so as to protect the city from invaders in centuries gone by, today the magnificent Duomo (cathedral) can be found at the highest point in Ostuni.
One of the very best things to do in Ostuni is to simply allow yourself to get lost in the maze of streets which meander their way in higgeldy piggeldy patterns across the centro storico. Other highlights of Ostuni include enjoying an ice cream at Cremeria La Scala and admiring Ostuni’s cathedral, which boasts elements of Gothic, Romanesque, and Byzantine architecture.
One of the most famous of all Puglian settlements is that of Alberobello, which is iconic thanks to its old town which is formed of traditional trulli (trullo in the singular). Each year, countless visitors head to the town from all over Europe and beyond to catch a glimpse of the traditional houses.
By far this was the busiest place we visited during our road trip in Puglia, and I highly recommend arriving in the town as early as possible so as to get there before the tour buses. I would go so far as to say that I found Alberobello to be even busier than Santorini and so to visit as early in the day as possible to avoid disappointment.
Somewhat of a hidden gem of a town, the town of Specchia is a speck of a town in the province of Lecce. Before heading out on our Puglia trip, we hadn’t seen this town recommended in many travel guides, but after visiting it was clear that it should be.
A small settlement boasting a population of just around four and a half thousand residents, much of the more interesting things to do in town are centred around the main piazza, Piazza del Popolo. This is where you’ll find tourist information, a historic palace, and a beautiful Baroque church.
During our few hours in Specchia, we enjoyed a drink at Bar Al Castello, which serves up some of the freshest glasses of white wine I’ve ever enjoyed in my life. As there is little by way of tourist attractions in Specchia, you’ll need little more than a few hours to enjoy this tiny town in Puglia.
Less than a half hour drive away from Specchia, the equally charming Puglian town of Presicce is centred around a Piazza that boasts one of the most beautiful Baroque churches I’ve been lucky enough to see.
The city is actually famous for its many underground mills, though visitors to Presicce today should head there in order to see its traditional Puglia architecture and to enjoy Pressice’s laid back vibe. Yet again, this is another town in Puglia that you’ll only need a couple of hours to wander through.
San Vito dei Normanni
Yet another tiny town that is worthy of a short stop off but has too few attractions to fill an entire day’s worth of exploring is that of San Vito dei Normanni. Located in sunny Solento, the town is home to a handful of beautiful churches, including the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria and the Church of San Giovanni Evangelista.
Polignano a Mare
The sun-soaked town of Polignano a Mare clings to the cliff face above the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic sea. The town dates back well over two thousand years and is characterised by its sheer cliff faces, sandy beaches, and dramatic coastline views.
Some other highlights of Polignano a Mare include heading to the contemporary art museum of Fondazione Museo Pino Pascali and enjoying an Aperol Spritz or glass of local wine (the rosés are particularly lovely) on the main square, Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II.
While in Polignano, you must definitely head to Pescaria. This seafood restaurant has both dine in and takeaway options. Consideringt the queue for dining in the Polignano eatery, we instead opted to get takeaway. I personally got the vegetable tempura and fries.
The delightful town of Martina Franca is one of a trifecta of delightful towns in central Puglia; Martina Franca, Locorotondo, and Cisternino are all a stone’s throw away from one another (and are quite literally all within 10 km or one another).
Martina Franca is the largest of the three towns and, as a result, has the largest selection of eateries, as well as the biggest old town. Pick up a tourist map for free from the tourist office (Piazza XX Settembre n. 3, 74015 Martina Franca Italy) and you’ll soon discover that there are several self-guided routes to follow.
When it comes to eating in the Puglia town, there is no shortage of options. We personally loved our meal at the well-reviewed La Tavernatta. The dishes were well-cooked simple and local Italian cuisine such as pasta dishes served with local wine.
One of the more unexpected towns that we chanced upon during our stay in Puglia was the charming settlement of Mesagne. This quaint town was a little less touristic than some of the other places we frequented and is most famous for its grape and olive production.
Highlights of Mesagne include a Norman castle, several medieval churches, and a maze of streets that form the ‘centro storico’. During our time in Mesagne, we reserved a table at Osteria Braceria Tigelleria Antico Forno. There we ate exceptionally well-cooked traditional cuisine under the twinkling lights of a charming terrace.
Home to a population of around eleven and a half thousand residents, Cisternino is a tiny Puglia settlement that offers unparalleled views over the Itria Valley. For some of the best vistas in town, visitors need simply to head to Cremeria History Vignola which serves light snacks and drinks.
If you are looking for a central location in which to base yourself for several nights during any stay in Puglia, then you should consider making Locorotondo, Cisternino, or Martina Franca as your base. After all, all three offer beautiful eateries, a diverse range of accommodation, and easy access to the rest of the region.
Particular highlights of Locorotondo, which is so beautiful that it is considered to be one of Italy’s most beautiful villages, include the old town, Trullo Marziolla (the oldest documented trullo in Italy), and relaxing with a view in the Locorotondo Lungomare.
Though somewhat of a tourist trap (and I highly recommend you don’t eat there), Gallipoli still merits a place on this guide to the best towns in Puglia on account of its charming old town. The little streets are cobbled lanes of delightful shutters, wandering cats, and beautifully planted cacti. Gallipoli is also home to a sandy beach that’s particularly popular in the summer.
Truth be told, one of the more off the beaten path towns in Puglia that certainly doesn’t get as much press as it deserves is the charming settlement of Monopoli. Located on the Adriatic coastline and just a half hour drive or so from Polignano, this is one town you should most certainly add to your itinerary.
Indeed, many visitors make the mistake of passing by Monopoli, but on a Puglia trip this would be your first mistake. As well as the traditional maze of streets and historic port, you can swim in some of the clearest waters Puglia has to offer.
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