The best place you can base yourself in Puglia is Bari. There are many things to do in Bari that I found myself craving the city once I was exploring the region around it.
This is a guide on what to do in Bari, Italy – Puglia’s capital of cool. Update: I have now been here twice (once in February 2019 and once in July 2021).
Top-rated tours and activities in Bari for your trip:
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Best Things to Do in Bari, Italy
Italy’s Puglia region has long called my name, in fact, several times I have had tickets booked there but decided to always cancel at the last minute as I couldn’t be bothered traveling.
However, in February, I finally made it to Puglia for an extended escape.
If I’m going to be completely honest, my draw to Bari and Puglia was food. I had heard it was Italy’s food capital (sorry, Bologna). And after going there… BOY, WAS IT EVER.
The food was some of the best I’ve had in the world and I’m putting Pugliese food up there with some of my favorite regions in Italy and Thailand and that is a huge compliment.
In addition, I found that I could easily live in Puglia… especially in Bari. I will forego another post begging Italy to give me a passport… but if they want to, I wouldn’t refuse it.
Quick History of Bari, Italy
Bari has had a fascinating history as it grew into a major port city after becoming part of the Roman Empire during around 300 BC.
During this period, Bari grew in wealth and prominence and the harbor was most likely one of the most important in the region. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Bari was passed between rulers regularly with the port making it a valuable asset.
During the Middle Ages, the town was a key player in the Slavic Slave trade selling Slavic slaves to many of the Islamic kingdoms that had popped up around southern Italy.
After a brief period of being the Emirate of Bari, the city once again fell to European rules with the Normans taking over the city.
After further years of turmoil and a devastating outbreak of malaria, Bari eventually joined the Kingdom of Italy.
Sadly, Bari was to suffer once more throughout history as it became one of the only places to suffer from chemical warfare during WW2 after ships and storage facilities storing mustard gas were bombed and it leaked out over the city.
It was made worse by the fact that no one knew it was being stored there by the allies.
Today, Bari is the second most important city in southern Italy after Naples and it makes for the perfect gateway to exploring Puglia.
The city exudes Italian charm and is the ideal place to spend days getting lost in the culture and beauty of the region.
There are plenty of things to do in Bari and you can easily spend days on end walking the city and surrounding areas visiting sights and eating your body weight in some of the most delicious food in the world.
This guide will take you through some of the best things to do when you visit Bari.
Do You Need Travel Insurance for Italy?
We recommend getting some travel insurance before you visit Italy or travel to Bari.
Our suggested insurance provider is SafetyWing, a company from Norway that takes pride in affordable policies and widespread coverage.
What to Bring to Bari
If there is one thing I can highly suggest bringing with you to Bari, it is an Italy power adapter. Yea, Italy decided at some point to use a different plug.
While some things will fit their plugs, most things won’t. Including laptops and hairdryers. It is a three-prong plug and I give a link to it below along with a few other recommendations:
Here are some items we suggest toting along for your Bari trip:
- Italy power adapter
- Power strip so that you only need one power adapter for Italy
- Italian phrasebook so you can speak what I deem to be the sexiest language on the planet
- Fodor’s Essential Italy guidebook
Best Bari Tours
If you’re looking for something more organized when in Bari and the surrounding area, here are some awesome Bari tours you should check out.
We listed a variety so that you can pick which one is most suitable for you (and many include multiple places!):
- Bari Walking Street Food Tour
- 2-Hour Private Walking Tour of Bari with a Local
- Day Trip to Matera from Bari
- Apulia: Bike Tour through the Treasures of Bari
- Bari: Private Pasta-Making Class at a Local’s Home
- Bari Market Tour, Home Cooking Demo, and Dinner
- Bari Walking Tour at Sunset and Focaccia Tasting
- Affordable Bari Walking Tour
What to do in Bari, Italy
Visit Santa Claus at Basilica San Nicola
One of the biggest draws to Bari is the Basilica San Nicola, a large and imposing church that sits in the center of the old town. Completed in the 12th-century to house the relics of Saint Nicholas, the church took over 100 years to build.
The relics of Saint Nicholas, the saint who inspired Santa Claus, were brought to Bari from what is now modern-day Turkey in 1087, in order to ensure they would be kept safe due to their religious significance.
The interior of the church is stunning and home to an 11th-century bishop’s throne. Each year, thousands of people pilgrimage to the church to visit the relics and pay their respects to the saint.
On the 6th of December, there is a huge feast to celebrate Saint Nicholas, where they take myrrh out of his tomb and send it all around the world.
Enjoy Bari Old Town
There are many impressive old towns throughout Italy, each with its own characteristics and charm. The Bari Old Town is a maze of winding streets and historic buildings that reflect the city’s multicultural past.
It’s easy to spend hours getting lost wandering the narrow alleyways and streets. As you walk through the streets and pass through darling piazzas, stop and grab a coffee in one of the many cafes to take a break and watch people pass by as they live their daily lives in this vibrant city.
During the night, the old town comes to life with workers coming in to enjoy some wine and charcuterie to relax after a hard day’s work.
To make the most of the old town and to learn all about its fantastic history, you can take a guided walking tour of the historic city center. Click here to book an affordable walking tour of Bari.
Check Out Piazza Mercantile
Piazza Mercantile has been an important commercial hub of Bari since the early 14th century. The ornate square is surrounded by beautiful palaces, like Palazzo Sedile, and it really feels like one of the city’s historic treasures.
Located towards the edge of the old town, the square is one of the most common places that local people arrange to meet their friends before spending time in the city together.
Along the edges of the square, you will cute cafes and gelato shops where you can get an espresso or enjoy a cooling gelato on a hot summer’s day.
The square remains pretty busy from morning until night, meaning you can experience the full range of the Italian way of life. Checking out Piazza Mercantile is one of the essential things to do in Bari when you’re there.
See Castello Normanno-Svevo
In the center of Bari, you will find Castello Normanno-Svevo, a large Norman-era castle that was built at the end of the 12th-century and towards the end of Norman rule in the region.
About 20 years after the castle was built, it was destroyed by the then king of Sicily.
The castle was then rebuilt in the 13th-century and continued to grow and change over the years as new rulers came in and took over the city. After spending time as a barracks and prison, the castle is now used as an exhibition center.
For a small fee, you can enter Castello Normanno-Svevo and explore the grounds and the buildings themselves, with various exhibitions throughout the building.
Castello Normanno-Svevo is in a brilliant state and as you walk around you really can gather the sense of occasion behind it, with the vast rooms really sparking your imagination about what daily life in the castle would have been like.
Stop by the Bari Cathedral
Bari Cathedral is rather overshadowed by the Basilica San Nicola, but then I guess it’s hard to compete with the relics of the real-life Santa Claus.
The Bari Cathedral was completed in the last part of the 13th-century after the previous cathedral had been destroyed by William the Wicked when he ransacked the city.
The exterior of the Cathedral is an incredible example of the region’s take on Romanesque architecture, with simplistic designs on the facade, including a beautiful rose with some small intrinsic details.
Over the years, the interior of the church was altered and adorned with many different artworks and statues to fit with the more Baroque-style churches.
However, it was decided to strip the church back and remove the added features and return to how the Cathedral was intended to look.
Underneath the church, you will find the Museo del Succorpo della Cathedrale, an incredible museum where you can see the remains of ancient Christian churches and some other relics from the Roman Empire.
Go to One of the Beaches in Bari
Take a break from exploring and spend some time relaxing on the beach. In the city, you will find a couple of Bari beaches where you can lie in the sand and enjoy the tranquil waters of the Adriatic sea.
In the center of the city, you will find the large public beach Pane e Pomodoro, a spacious and sandy beach where you can find a spot to relax without having to travel out of the city itself.
On the weekends, this beach does get incredibly crowded so it may not be as enjoyable or relaxing as a weekday visit.
Alternatively, you can head out of the city and enjoy one of the many beaches that liter Puglia’s rugged coastline. It is important to note that some of the beaches along the coastline have a fee to enter- these are generally referred to as Lidos.
Take a Day Trip to Matera
There are few countries in this world that have a richer history than Italy and despite the turbulence, the country has done a fantastic job of preserving this history.
One of the best examples of preserved history is in the city of Matera just outside of Bari.
It is believed that Matera has been continuously populated for 12,000 years which would make it one of the oldest settlements in the world.
The city is renowned for its cave dwellings, referred to as The Sassi.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site is the perfect little getaway from Bari where you can spend time wandering amongst the cave dwellings and religious buildings that have been carved into the rock.
One of the best ways to visit Matera from Bari is on a guided tour from Bari, where a minivan will pick you up and take you around the caves.
Taste Focaccia Barese
Bread is delicious and Italians happen to make some of the best breads in the world – it literally is one of the top things Italy is known for! With plenty of different kinds of bread, it is often hard to choose a favorite.
However, in Bari, there is only one choice you should make- Focaccia Barese.
The delightful snack is easily found at pretty much any bakery and street food vendor throughout the city. The dough of the bread is much like a pizza base, although often mashed potatoes are blended into the dough mixture.
It’s then topped with tomatoes, olives, oregano, and olive oil before being baked.
Normally eaten as a snack on the go, it can be used for a more filling meal with locals stuffing the finished product with mozzarella and mortadella ham to make a more wholesome meal.
For the real experience, eat a slice as you walk through the Bari old town. The best place in the Old Town for Focaccia Barese is Panificio Fiore.
Visit Castel del Monte
Castel del Monte is another fascinating day trip from Bari. The small castle is located on top of a hill and for years it mystified historians who could not work out its purpose.
Built-in the 13th-century by Frederick II, it has long been debated whether the building was an elaborate hunting lodge or a defensive building. Recent excavations have discovered a further defensive wall meaning it was likely that it was intended as a citadel.
The mysterious building was probably never used for its intended purpose and over the years was used as a prison and a sanctuary from the plague.
At some point, it fell into disrepair and was eventually looted of pretty much anything valuable, including all the marble used within. Around the castle, you will find a prestigious winemaking region, which produces a range of regionally protected wines.
From Bari, you can take a guided tour to the castle where you will be picked up and driven to it. Once at Castel del Monte, a local guide will talk you through the history of this fascinating building.
Check Out the Old Harbor
Along the waterfront and next to the majestic theater, you will find the picturesque old harbor of Bari. Little blue fishing boats bob gently in the calm waters of the Adriatic.
The boats are still in use today by local fishermen and if you wait by the harbor in the mornings, you can see them returning to port with nets full of the freshest fish.
The Bari harbor provides a great backdrop to the city as the water and boats contrast perfectly with the city behind it.
For early risers, take the opportunity to head down there and watch the sunrise over the Adriatic and douses the boats and water in the first light of the day. It is one of the best things to do in Bari.
Take a Bari Street Food Tour
I LOVE Italian food and I also love street food… so what could be better than a tour of Italian street food in Bari. Take a tour through Bari trying some of the best street food in the city.
As you walk around, your guide will take you to many of the most important sights in the city along with some of the best little eateries. I am obsessed with learning more about the regional food of Italy, so if you’re like me, this is a great way to learn from an expert.
You will learn how to make the Bari classic of Focaccia Barese in a charming little bakery. After visiting a delicatessen to try cheese, salami, and local wine, you will then head to taste Bari’s most classic street food, Sgaglioza.
The dish is a simple fried polenta dish in the shape of sticks and is seemingly out of place as polenta tends to be found in the north of Italy, not the south.
You will also try another great friend snack, the Panzerotti, like an empanada or a miniature calzone, is stuff stuffed with mozzarella and tomato sauce.
The tour will finish with the Italian classic, gelato, while exploring the modern French district.
Stroll the Lungomare Nazario Sauro
One of the best things to do in Bari is to take a long walk along the seafront on the Lungomare Nazario Sauro. The lengthy promenade stretches the entire length of the city and makes for a great walk no matter the time of the day.
During the day, enjoy a gelato as you take a gentle stroll while taking a look at the interesting architecture that lines the seafront.
You will see everything from ancient buildings to those that were built during the Mussolini era.
In the evening, bars and restaurants fill up and the atmosphere becomes lively and fun as people relax and enjoy the warm, southern European nights.
Eat Fresh Seafood at a Restaurant in Bari
One of the culinary highlights of Bari is the incredible seafood that is on offer. Every morning the fishermen bring in their daily catch, which they sell at the large fish market next to the old harbor.
The catch is so fresh that locals eat the seafood raw and at the market, you can purchase a range of seafood such as octopus, sea urchin, and oysters to eat there and then with a squeeze of lemon juice.
If you are not wanting to try Italian-style sushi and happen to have a kitchen, I recommend grabbing some of the fresh seafood and taking it back to put together a stunning dish at home.
Alternatively, you can head to one of Bari’s spectacular seafood restaurants and try the fresh fish cooked by the professionals.
Three of my favorite places to eat in Bari were:
- Ristorante Black And White
- La Tana del Polpo (THE BEST… but it is a bit pricier than others)
- Biancofiore Restaurant (went there because I couldn’t get into La Tana del Polpo)
- La Cantina dello Zio (a cheaper option that is open all day long)
If you go to La Tana del Polpo, you best make a reservation. That place gets PACKED. And rightfully so. It was incredible.
Ride the Bari Ferris Wheel
Like many cities around the world, Bari has an observation wheel that sits along the waterfront. Standing 55 meters tall, the wheel provides amazing views out over the city and the Adriatic as it slowly turns.
During the daylight hours, you can see pretty much the whole of the city from a unique angle as the wheel takes you way above the rooftops of the city.
In the evenings, you can enjoy the beauty of the sun setting over the city, turning the rooftops a beautiful hue as golden hour hits.
The carriages are partially enclosed, although where you enter is exposed to the elements so in the evening you may want to take an extra layer with you as it can get cold.
Go Shopping in Bari
Italy is a powerhouse when it comes to fashion and is home to some of the world’s most prestigious brands. Although most people associate Milan with the Italian fashion scene, pretty much every city is a great place to go shopping.
Bari is the second-largest city in Southern Italy and you can find many of the big Italian brands as you walk around the quaint little streets.
Along with the big brands, you can find plenty of little locally-owned boutiques where you can track down original items designed by local designers.
Eat Orecchiette, the Local Pasta
Every region or city of Italy tends to have its own types of pasta and thankfully, Bari is no exception.
In Bari, you will find Orecchiette pasta, translating roughly as the little ear due to the fact that it kind of looks like a little ear (I guess).
In the mornings as you walk around the old town, particularly in the streets close to the castle, you will find that local women have set up shop in the doorways and are making and selling fresh Orecchiette.
If you have a kitchen at your hotel in Bari, I highly recommend buying some fresh pasta from the ladies and cooking your own dish with it.
Alternatively, you can head to a restaurant and try Orecchiette alla Barese, which is a pasta dish with broccoli rabe or turnip greens.
If you are wanting to gain more information about Bari’s pasta scene, you can take a fun and interesting walking tour all about Bari and its famous pasta.
Visit the Museo Archeologico di Santa Scolastica
If you are a fan of history, the Museo Archeologico di Santa Scolastica is one of the most interesting museums in the city.
The museum is located in a 16th-century bastion and displays artifacts from throughout Bari’s history, with objects from ancient Greek rulers through to the Roman Empire and onwards to subsequent rulers.
On the grounds of the museum are the ruins of a 15-century church that has been partially excavated.
The museum is located on the edge of the old town and it is advisable to check the opening times online for the day you plan to visit.
Because the building is old, at some point some of the displays may not be on show as they do renovations. If you’re looking for what to do in Bari and it is open, I highly suggest going there!
Go to the Pinacoteca Metropolitana
Pinacoteca Metropolitana is the best art gallery in the city, displaying a range of art from across the ages. Located in an impressive building on Bari’s seafront, the art gallery is an old Italian-style palace.
The gallery has a host of permanent displays that feature works of art from all around Italy and the many prominent styles of art from throughout history.
Pinacoteca Metropolitana is also often referred to as Pinacoteca Corrado Giaquinto, named after Corrado Giaquinto.. a famous Rococo style painter who was born close to Bari in Puglia.
Marvel at the Russian Church
Throughout Italy and Bari, you will find many extravagant churches and cathedrals, built-in classical Italian styles. However, in Bari, you will also interestingly find a Russian Orthodox Church in the center of town.
Built in honor of Saint Nicholas, the church was constructed to house the number of Russian pilgrims coming to visit the relics of Saint Nicholas.
The interior of the church is fantastic and ornate with a huge, golden altar.
The saint is an important figure in the Russian Orthodox church and many Russians have undertaken pilgrimages to Bari over the years to visit the relics, which even spent a short time on loan to Russia.
Because of this, the city has enjoyed a close relationship with Russia as a whole. It is important to note if you wish to go into the church, you will need to be dressed conservatively and women will need to have their heads covered.
Learn To Cook The Barese Way
One of the best things you can take away from a trip to Italy is the knowledge of how to cook regional dishes. When I travel, there are few things I enjoy more than taking a home cooking course.
I recommend taking the Market Tour and Private Italian Home Cooking Class where you will head to the local food market to purchase seasonal fresh produce.
After your trip to the market with your guide, you will to their home and learn to cook three local dishes in the relaxing comfort of a real Italian home.
After preparing the meals, you will eat them while pairing them with local Puglia wines.
Where to Stay in Bari
There are many options for where to stay in Bari but I am only going to list the two places I stayed at while there. They are both apartment rooms and for a mid-range budget.
B&B Cavour 124
This was the first place I stayed in Bari and I really loved it and the location even though it was better for access to the train station and not the old town.
However, Bari is a pretty walkable city and the Bari Old Town was a stone’s throw away too.
B&B Cavour 124 had a shared bathroom with a private room. It was cozy and a great place to crash when there. The host was friendly and on time to check me in despite my late arrival.
I highly recommend staying here if you’re based in Bari but taking train trips around Puglia.
–> For current rates and availability click here
De Rossi Holiday loc. tur.
The second place I stayed in Bari for a few nights was De Rossi Holiday loc. tur, an apartment close to the Bari Old Town.
I really enjoyed staying here because the rooms had a colorful vibe and mine was decorated in a tropical style, giving the place a bit of personality. The location was also great.
The room, like the first one, was private but had a shared bathroom. Everything was clean and superb and I highly recommend staying here if you’re looking for good Bari accommodation.
–> For current rates and availability click here
Casa De Rosas
I went back to Bari in July 2021 and stayed at an apartment called Casa De Rosas near the train station. The apartment was located in a quiet neighborhood a 10-minute walk to the train station (and about a 25-minute walk into the old town.
It has a brand new bathroom, a queen-size bed, terrace, small fridge, couch, and a desk. I loved my stay there and it was affordable and extremely clean! Highly recommended for one or two people!
–> For current rates and availability click here
This guide of things to do in Bari was based on what I did and some of the popular sights, so if you have suggestions of places to see in Bari, please drop them in the comments!
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