One of the most exciting places to visit in Italy is Puglia’s gorgeous seaside gem, Polignano a Mare. There are many things to do in Polignano a Mare and a lot of tasty places to eat at… this guide will tell you what to do in Polignano a Mare.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- 13 Things to Do in Polignano a Mare, Italy
13 Things to Do in Polignano a Mare, Italy
Polignano a Mare is probably one of the most picturesque coastal towns in Italy, if not the whole of Europe. Sitting approximately 25 miles southeast of Bari, the small town sits perched on top of large limestone cliffs that drop off into the Adriatic sea. Below are some details about the city.
History of Polignano a Mare
Legend has it that the land Polignano a Mare sits on was once part of Greece, but broke away and floated across the Adriatic and became part of modern-day Italy. Although this legend is obviously not true, the area has been settled since prehistoric times and is believed to have been the site of an ancient Greek city called Neapolis of Apulia.
The majority of Polignano a Mare’s history is very evident in the town, with different ruling’s cultures implanted on the architecture and aesthetics of buildings throughout the historic center. You can easily see the influence of the Roman Empire in the Via Triana (one of ancient Rome’s most important roads) running straight through the town.
The watchtowers in Polignano a Mare have also been built throughout the town by various rulers such as the Spanish in the 16th-century. However, today we can only see the history of the last few thousand years but archaeological excavations have found evidence that humans have probably lived in the area for around 8,000 years.
Polignano a Mare Today
Modern-day Polignano a Mare is quickly becoming a tourist hotspot with people passing through the town as they travel through the Puglia region. Despite the small stature of the town, which is only home to about 24,000 people, there are plenty of things to do to keep you entertained for a couple of days.
From the charming and historic old town to the shockingly beautiful Lama Monachile Beach, there is something that will suit everyone looking for things to do in Polignano a Mare. To help you make the most out of your time in Polignano a Mare, I have put together a guide of the best things to do and see in the Italian gem. If you want to view our Polignano a Mare itinerary, click here.
Do You Need Travel Insurance for Italy?
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Getting to Polignano a Mare
Located just 18 miles southeast of Bari, reaching Polignano a Mare couldn’t be easier. There are two main ways to reach the town- car or train.
Drive to Polignano a Mare by Car
From Bari, make your way onto the SS16 and head in the direction of Brindisi/Lecce. From there, you will drive about 30 minutes southeast along the scenic road that hugs the cliff tops. Exit the SS16 at Polignano a Mare Sud where you can navigate yourself to your hotel.
I advise getting an Italian SIM card or car with sat nav to help reach your destination. In total, the 25-mile journey should take about 36 minutes, depending on the traffic levels.
Take the Train to Polignano a Mare
The train system in Italy is, in my opinion, one of the best in Europe. The trains run regularly and are very affordable. Most people would argue this, but hey, I’m American. If a train works and is clean, I’m a happy camper.
There are regular trains departing from Bari Centrale that stop off at Polignano a Mare. The journey takes between 30-45 minutes and costs €2.50 no matter which train you take.
For more information check out my complete guide on how to get Polignano a Mare from Bari by train.
What to Bring to Polignano a Mare
For the most part, I would recommend bringing your usual stuff to Polignano a Mare. However, these three things may be great add-ons if you’re looking for some essentials that could be helpful.
Italy power adapter: One of the things I always fail to bring to Italy even though I have a special one specifically for the country is a power adapter. Italy doesn’t use the traditional European adapter and uses a three-prong one instead. If you’re trying to plug in your Macbook or laptop, good luck. I recommend traveling with a power adapter for Italy to avoid these issues. Click here to purchase an Italy power adapter.
Power strip: If you only want to purchase one adapter for Italy, I can suggest bringing your own power strip so that you can plug in all other electronics and whatnot with their usual plugs. I carry a power strip everywhere I travel to and it’s seriously a lifesaver! Click here to purchase a power strip for your Italy trip.
Fodor’s Essential Italy guidebook: If you’re looking for an Italy guidebook to tote along for your trip, I can definitely recommend Fodor’s Essential Italy as it is super informative and well-written. Bringing along a guidebook is useful because no one wants to be glued to their phone the entire time. Click here to shop for Fodor’s Essential Italy.
Additional Puglia Reading
This region of southern Italy is absolutely spectacular and has a lot to offer. It has a rich history, culture, and culinary traditions and these few books will help you learn even more:
Polignano a Mare Tours
There are a few wonderful Polignano a Mare tours that you may be interested in taking part in for easy travel and additional insight into the seaside beauty. Here are our top recommendations:
- Polignano a Mare: A Guided Walking Tour
- Polignano a Mare Walking Tour with Special Coffee Tasting
- Visit of the Polignano a Mare Caves – Boat ride – skipper hire
- Polignano a Mare: where nature dominates man
- Private Tour: Polignano a Mare City and Boat Tour
What to Do in Polignano a Mare
Explore Polignano a Mare Old Town
The Italian towns that are situated along the Adriatic coastline in Puglia tend to have some of the most amazing old towns in the country. Polignano a Mare’s old town dates back thousands of years and oozes history and culture as it perches high above the sea.
The charming and winding streets lined with whitewashed buildings give way to beautiful piazzas and historical buildings. Spend some time wandering through the quaint streets taking breaks to enjoy an espresso and people-watch in one of the grand piazzas such as Piazza Dell’Orologio.
As evening approaches, enjoy the vibrant nightlife of Polignano a Mare with a few glasses of delicious Italian wine.
Alternatively, you can book a guided walking tour of the city and learn all about the rich culture and history of this amazing town.
Visit the Beach
In the center of the town, you will find a cove with a gorgeous white pebble beach surrounded by high cliffs and crystal clear water. Lama Monachile Beach, also called Cala Porto, is the main public beach in Polignano a Mare.
Easily accessible from the old town, the beach is relaxing and feels relatively spacious for its small size and you will find a little spot where you can take in the views of the houses teetering above and the sea caves high up in the rocks.
At the beach, you will find a little bar where you can enjoy some drinks as you drink in the views and watch people play around in the sea, with ledges next to the sea for people to jump from.
To the north of Polignano a Mare, you will find some more beaches, however, the best beaches are located a short drive away around the city of Monopoli. While there are many things to do in Monopoli, hanging out at the beaches are one of the best!
Go Cliff Diving
Polignano a Mare’s high cliffs that plunge down into the Adriatic sea have made the Apulian town famous for a slightly more unusual sport, cliff diving.
People have been enjoying cliff diving here for years with perfect cliff structures and depth of water making it ideal for diving into the sea. If you are not feeling daring enough to take the plunge, you can enjoy watching seasoned pros practice.
Cliff diving in the town has become so renowned that since 2014, the Italian leg of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Championships have been held in Polignano a Mare.
Discover the Poetry of the City
One of the most interesting things about Polignano a Mare’s old town is that throughout the city, adorned on the walls and doors, are lines from poems. As you walk around, keep your eyes peeled for these artistic nuisances that pop out from the whitewashed walls. One of the most famous sites in the city is the poetry stairs where a beautiful poem has been written line by line on a staircase.
All the poetry has been written on the streets by an artist who calls himself “Guido Il Flâneur”, although I am not 100% sure if this is his own work or not given the fact that I have very little clue about poetry (whoops).
If you are in a bit of a rush, I advise asking a local where you can find the poetry stairs and they will happily point you in the correct direction.
Eat Dinner in a Cave
The cliffs below Polignano a Mare are littered with impressive sea caves that have been carved into the rock over time, some of which are now high above the actual sea level. One of these caves has now been transformed into a stunning restaurant.
Grotta Palazzese is an amazing 5-star hotel and restaurant that has been partially built into a cave complex and visiting it is one of the essential things to do in Polignano a Mare. Amazingly, the cave has been used as a restaurant since the 1700s, serving delicious fresh seafood, with people attracted to its unique setting.
Today, the restaurant is still serving fresh fish dishes albeit, in a more formal and sophisticated style. As you sit and enjoy your meal, you will be greeted with some of the most mesmerizing views out over the Adriatic, while still being sheltered by the roof of the cave.
The hotel attached to the restaurant is beautiful and very luxurious if you are looking for a more upscale place to stay while in Polignano a Mare. It has delightful sea views and is seriously an epic place to call home for a night (or thirty).
Hunt Down the Spectacular View Points
Throughout the old town, you will find impressive viewpoints where you can look out over the sea and towards the cliffs that are supporting the precariously perched old town. Photographs taken at these viewpoints eventually helped bring Polignano a Mare to the forefront of Puglia’s tourism scene.
Terrazza Santo Stefano is a beautiful viewpoint where you can look out over the beach and view the houses on top of the cliffs and it is probably the most famous viewpoint in the town. As you walk through the old town and head towards the sea, you will find other delightful places to take a break and just admire the raw beauty of a town often referred to as the “Jewel of Puglia”.
Check Out the Contemporary Art Museum
On the southeast edge of the town near the coast, you will find the spectacular Museum of Contemporary Art Pino Pascali. The first thing you will notice about this museum is the striking building in a scenic location. The building itself started off life as a slaughterhouse before being transformed into a contemporary art gallery in 1998.
The museum is dedicated to the artist Pino Pascali who was born in Polignano a Mare but sadly died at the age of 32 in 1968. Pascali was famed for his minimalistic style of contemporary art and created many famous statues and other forms of art, many of which are now on show at the museum.
Along with Pascali’s works of art, the museum exhibits temporary displays from various other artists that change sporadically. The museum is open every day apart from Mondays.
You can find the Contemporary Art Museum in Polignano a Mare at Via Parco del Lauro 119.
Take Solace at the Church of Saint Mary of the Assumption
In the center of the old town is the unassuming Church of Saint Mary, a beautiful, but rustic church that has a relatively plain facade but stunning interior. Built-in the 13th-century and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, it lies on top of an ancient Pagan temple.
As you approach the church through a pair of iron gates, you will notice that unlike many other Italian churches, it shies away from an elaborate entrance and remains somewhat understated. Upon entering the church, it transforms into a beautiful building with ornate art and sculptures that were created hundreds of years ago.
The church is only open on Saturdays and Sundays and you can check out the beautiful interior free of charge. You can find it at Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, Numero 21 in Polignano a Mare.
Pay Tribute to the Statue of Domenico Madugno
Polignano a Mare is a small town that managed to pack a punch in the world of Italian music. In 1928, the famous Italian singer Domenico Madugno was born in the town and spent his first seven years living there.
The singer is famed for his song Volare (Nel blu, dipinto di blu) which gained international recognition in 1958, as a Grammy award-winning song. The citizens of Polignano a Mare are very proud of the fact he was born there and have had a statue built to honor his work and life.
The statue is situated on the waterfront just before the Scalinata “Volare” viewpoint and faces the town, with its arms wide open to embrace the town like in the song Volare. Although visiting the statue only takes a couple of minutes, it is well worth seeing and checking out the viewpoint behind the statue.
Marvel at the Ponte Lama Monachile
One of the most important roads in the Roman Empire went straight through the town of Polignano a Mare as it connected Brindisi and Rome. The Via Triana generated wealth in all the towns it passed through as it became a huge trading route.
Today, the road has mostly disappeared, but in Polignano a Mare you can find a small section still in use. The Ponte Lama Monachile is a Roman bridge that the Via Triana used to cross the inlet where the Cala Porto/Lama Moncachile beach is located.
The bridge was named after the monk seals that used to inhabit the cove (sadly these seals are now some of the rarest in the world and no longer inhabit the area) and provides amazing views of the over the beach and cove. As you walk across the bridge, you can really get a sense of the history and the feat it must have been to build such a magnificent bridge 2,000 years ago.
Eat Gelato in Polignano a Mare Old Town
Italy is famous for its gelato- the tasty and renowned ice cream is ubiquitous wherever you go and should be eaten whenever you get the chance. The gelato in Polignano a Mare is some of the best you can eat in the world. I’m not sure if it is just the taste or the fact it is coupled with such amazing scenery that makes it taste so good.
The region is famous for growing seasonal fruits, especially the Apulian fig. Artisanal ice cream makers have utilized these fruits to make refreshing ice cream flavors. I recommend heading to Caruso Note d’Eccellenza, a fantastic ice cream shop with one of the largest ranges of gelato in the town.
Try the Apulian fig ice cream and enjoy your cone as you walk through the meandering streets of the old town.
Try Polignano a Mare’s Special Coffee
The Italians take pride in their coffee culture and have spent years perfecting it and few places deviate from traditional methods of making or serving it. However, in Polignano a Mare, the locals came up with their own special take on how to serve coffee, which is served at “Il Super Mago del Gelo Mario Campanella”, and called Special Coffee.
The Special Coffee is made from coffee, cream, sugar, lemon zest, and amaretto and is served up in small warm glasses. Originally this drink was kept a secret and only drank by locals, however as tourism grew, those visiting soon cottoned onto the delights of the drink and it started to gain popularity amongst tourists and locals alike.
If you are interested in learning more about Special Coffee and how its made, then I advise taking a walking tour of the city that includes a coffee tasting. I highly recommend this private tour which is perfect for those visiting the region in a group.
Enter the Old Town Via Porta Grande
At the entrance to the old town, you will find the Porta Grande, the old gateway to the town. Built-in 1530, it was the only way you could enter Polignano a Mare and was used as a line of defense. Today, the gate has little use but to remind you of how important this small town used to be.
At the front of the arch, you will see the remnants of the drawbridge system as well as some of the slits where those defending the city would have fired arrows from and poured hot fat over those trying to attack the town.
Even though there isn’t really much more to the gates, I still think it’s an interesting part of the town’s history that is worth seeing and it makes entering the town feel a little more special.
Where to Stay in Polignano a Mare
There are quite a few options of places to stay in Polignano a Mare but there are not a copious amount of budget options, to be honest. However, here are our top recommendations for Polignano a Mare hotels:
Hotel Grotta Palazzese (Luxury): This was the hotel discussed above that is actually built into a cave. What?! Yes, really. It is top-quality and a bit pricy compared to other places so if you don’t have the chance to stay there, at least stop by and visit the restaurant. You won’t regret it!
POSEA – Polignano Sea Suites (Mid-range): If you’re seeking mid-range accommodation but with luxurious feels for the price, look no further than POSEA – Polignano Sea Suites, a beachside hotel in the town. This Polignano a Mare accommodation has so much to offer for a great value and there are terraces, comfortable rooms, and much, much more.
Casa della Nonna (Budget): This is questionably a budget place to stay in Polignano a Mare. It is definitely on the higher end of budget and has all the best amenities available to travelers. There is free wifi, luggage storage, and clean and comfortable accommodation.
If you’re looking for things to do in Polignano a Mare, we hope that this guide helps sort you plan your trip to Polignano. If you have any suggestions for what to do in Polignano a Mare, please leave them in the comments for us!
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