Matera is one of the hottest places to visit in Europe these days and for very good reason!
These are the best things to do in Matera, Italy – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a mind-blowing gem of a place!
There are so many incredible attractions in Matera that this guide could be insanely long, but we kept it short with a few of our favorites in an effort to allow you to discover your own along the way. Getting lost in the Sassi is definitely the best way to see the Italian destination!
In this guide, I have curated an amazing list of must-see places and things to do in Matera. We also start the Matera travel guide off with a bit of history, practical information, and more to help you plan your trip to Matera.
Did we miss anything that you loved? Let us know in the comments! Thank!
In this post...
Brief History Of Matera
There is no such thing as a ‘brief history of Matera’ as it is somewhat of an oxymoron since the city is believed to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited places on earth.
For millennia, people dug dwellings out of the soft rock that lined the two ravines that make up the city of Matera. Throughout its long and arduous history, the city was ruled and governed by the various invading forces that have occupied southern Italy.
During this time, the Sassi of Matera grew out of the rocky ravine, with churches and businesses also being carved into the rock. However, by the 1950s, the city was in abject poverty and disease was rife throughout the city as people lived in close quarters with their animals.
The Italian government decided that this was an unacceptable living standard for the modern era and built up a newer city beside the Sassi and forced the occupants of the caves out. However, this was met with some resistance as in some cases families had lived in the caves generationally for over 10,000 years.
Since their evacuation, the Sassi have seen a change in fortune and has become a tourist hotspot. Today, you can walk the streets and visit former cave dwellings or stay in one of the cave hotels, although some of the dwellings remain uninhabitable to this day.
Given the city’s ancient aesthetic and unique beauty, it has risen in prominence as a filming location for major blockbuster films including the ‘No Time To Die’ James Bond Film.
The transformation of Matera has been so great that the city was named the European Capital of Culture for 2019, a remarkable turnaround in a relatively short period of time.
Best Time to Visit Matera
Matera can be visited all year round, however, there are a few times of the year that I personally suggest avoiding.
I went during the middle of summer and while the skies were blue, the heat was almost unbearable. I found that exploring during the day was almost impossible.
With temperatures soaring into the high 30s there is no escaping the heat other than chilling out in your accommodation until it subsides a little in the early evening.
Once the evening set in and the temperatures started to dip a little bit the city came alive as people emerged from air-conditioned houses and apartments to enjoy Matera’s lively bar scene.
If you can avoid going in summer I suggest being prepared to adventure out around sunrise to enjoy the city before the day gets too hot and then returning to exploring in the early evening. Thankfully Matera might be, in my humble opinion, more beautiful at night.
Winter is generally the period when Matera receives the most rain and experiences occasional snowfall. While the temperatures are far cooler during this period the unpredictable weather can make exploring a little more challenging, as the walkways are incredibly slippery even when they are dry.
Shoulder season is the best time to travel to Matera when the temperatures are more tolerable and the crowds are thinned out.
The more favorable temperatures are perfect for exploring and open up the options of hiking throughout the ravines to some of Matera’s more complicated-to-reach sights.
How to Get to Matera
Train to Matera
There is an almost direct train that runs regularly from Bari. The train is operated by the Ferrovie Appulo Lucane (FAL) train line. The FAL trains depart from their own separate station to the right of the Bari Centrale Trenitalia building and the Ferrotramviaria – Ferrovie del Nord Barese station.
The train journey takes around an hour and a half and involves one change. Departing from Bari, the first train will take you to the ancient city of Altamura (although the train will continue on for a few more stops).
At Altamura, a further train will be waiting for you to take you onwards to Matera. The train will stop off at several stations throughout Matera, you will want to get off at Matera Centrale. The train costs €5.10 for a single ticket.
An important thing to note is that if you look on the Trenitalia app will tell you to get off at Matera Villa Longo, however is a long walk from the city itself and the train does continue on to Matera Centrale.
Bus to Matera
There are several bus connections that link to Matera, most of which depart from Bari. Flixbus offers connections between Matera and various cities throughout Italy.
While the bus is a little quicker than the train, they are not as frequent and in some cases, it can end up being a little pricier.
Drive to Matera
Driving to Matera is probably the easiest way to get there and will also offer you greater freedom to explore some of the other sights surrounding the city, especially in the height of summer when hiking is inadvisable.
Once you have arrived in Matera, you will need to find parking. If you are staying in the Sassi, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to park anywhere near your residence and will need to ask your hotel for parking recommendations beforehand.
Best Things to Do in Matera
Despite its relatively small size, there are plenty of things to do and see in Matera. The below list consists of some of my favorites from my time there!
If you feel I have left something off of the list, please feel free to leave a comment below!
Find the Best Viewpoints in the Sassi
Throughout the Sassi, there is an unknown number of little viewpoints where you can look out over the rest of the Sassi and bask in the beauty of stone buildings that seemingly grow out of the rocky valley.
As you walk through the little streets, I recommend checking down all the little alleyways as I often found that you will be confronted with some of the most outstanding views and fewer tourists than the more well-frequented viewpoints.
If you walk along Via Delle Beccherie, there are a number of these little hidden views, some complete with potted flowers, making for the perfect framing as you look out over the interior of the Sassi.
Climb Up to Chiesa Rupestre di Santa Maria di Idris
Chiesa Rupestre di Santa Maria di Idris is a tiny church carved into the rock in a raised rocky outcrop towards the edge of Matera.
The small church consists of a one-room church, adorned by beautiful frescos. Within the complex, there is also one of the oldest crypts in the city, where time has preserved many of the frescos.
The crypt was abandoned for much of its history and perfectly preserved within the rock. In the 19th-century, the crypt was incorporated with the Chiesa Rupestre di Santa Maria di Idris and a passage was built between the two.
From outside of the church you can enjoy some of the best views of the Sassi, with panoramic views of the stone buildings crawling along the ridge. Behind the church, you can also view out over the Gravina di Matera, a dramatic ravine.
On the other side of the ravine, you can see the caves that were once home to early inhabitants of Matera over 7000 years ago. I enjoyed these views twice, first in the late afternoon when it was a little cooler 93°F (34°C) instead of 100°F (36°C) and then in the morning after waking up.
The afternoon is not great for photography as the sun shines behind the Sassi, making photography a little more complex, but the opposite side of the ravine is perfectly lit. In the morning, the sun lights the Sassi with a beautiful soft light perfect for photography.
Try Matera’s Foccacia at Panificio Paoluccio
Italy is known for its historic dishes and ingredients, with regional pasta and bread style gaining worldwide notoriety. Located in Italy’s grain heartland, Matera produces some of the most outstanding breads in Italy, if not the world.
The most ancient and important bread is the Pane di Matera which has been produced in Matera for hundreds of years if not millennia. Similar to a sourdough style bread, but on steroids, the bread utilizes ancient grains, yeasts, and local water that have been grown in the region.
The behemoth of a loaf is birthed out of a slow and cool ferment that was only possible due to the consistently cool temperatures of cave living, this method is still used today although in more controlled ways.
This bread is only available in Matera due to strict rules and the recipe and fermentation methods are all protected by law.
To try this ancient bread, I highly suggest purchasing a loaf from Panificio Paoluccio. The small bakery is unassuming with a small shop front nestled between two other buildings.
However, once inside you will be confronted with a number of bread and focaccias. Along with Pane di Matera, the bakery is famous for its Focaccia Matera.
The focaccia of Matera doesn’t rise as high as others and is covered in a delectable tomato sauce, which gives it more of a pizza-esque look.
Sold by the quarter, Focaccia Matera makes the perfect takeaway snack or lunch (depending on how hungry you are). I quickly gained a slight addiction to the bread and leaped at pretty much any opportunity to eat some and even purchased more for the train ride back to Bari.
Address: Via del Corso, 22, 75100 Matera MT
Explore Matera by Night
Matera is stunning during the day exuding a raw beauty that will leave you awe-struck, however, as the sun starts to set a different side of Matera comes out to play.
During the day, the sun beats down onto the grey stone buildings, driving all but the hardiest of people inside to wait for the cooler hours once dusk falls. The first changes start with golden hours as the buildings are bathed in a beautiful golden light, perfect for a spot of photography before dinner.
As the sun sets the pinkish hues in the sky contrast beautifully until finally darkness sets in and the city’s lights turn on. Orange street lights glow warmly throughout the alleyways and on the buildings that crawl up the hills of the Sassi.
I found the best views of the city at night were from lower down in the Sassi to appreciate the full beauty and scale of the Sassi. At night, you will find the city comes alive, no longer too hot.
The winding streets filled with people with bars spilling out into the sidewalks and gelato being served until the small hours of the morning.
Visit a Cave Dwelling in Matera
The best way to learn about Matera’s darker history is to visit one of the former cave dwellings dotted throughout the city. While many of them were condemned and closed off due to the squalor, a number have been preserved or renovated.
I visited the Casa Grotta nei Sassi, located on the edge of the Sassi by Chiesa Rupestre di Santa Maria di Idris. A tour of the dwelling costs a couple of Euros and you will be guided around by numbers on the floor and an audio guide that plays in the room.
Taking less than 30 minutes, it’s a great way to break up the day and really provides a perfect insight into how the citizens of Matera lived prior to the 1950s.
The caves maintain a cool temperature so are a good way to escape the heat during the warmer months for a few minutes.
Hike to the Belvedere Murgia Timone
On the edge of Matera is a large ravine, with various cave structures dotted throughout the side of the ravine. Many of these caves were inhabited when humans first settled the area.
At the top of the ravine, you will be greeted with the most outstanding view of Matera and the Sassi. The hike to the viewpoint is relatively simple for those who are in ok physical shape.
Starting off in the Sassi, you will work your way down to the bottom of the ravine where there is a bridge to cross the river below. As you venture to the bottom of the ravine keep an eye out for animals that call the area home including some rare birds of prey.
As you climb up the hill toward Belvedere Murgia Timone, you will encounter a number of caves, some of which include the remnants of prehistoric Neolithic villages and burial grounds, as well as churches from more comparably modern times.
These little caves provide a great rest opportunity and the first glimpses of the incredible views waiting for you higher up. Once you reach Belvedere Murgia Timone, the views of Matera are unbelievable, no matter the time of year you visit, although slight seasonal changes make doing this hike over and over again worthwhile.
The site is also the filming location for the crucifixion in Passion of Christ. To return to Matera, you will need to hike back the same way you came.
During the middle of summer, the hike is inadvisable due to the extreme heat and lack of shade along the way.
It is possible to drive to the top of the ravine, at which point it is best to go later in the day to enjoy the sun setting and experience the magical lights of Matera as the night sets in.
Dinner with a View at Osteria MateraMi
There are a number of restaurants dotted throughout Matera that sell amazing local food, however, I highly recommend dining on the terrace of Osteria MateraMi.
The restaurant offers up beautiful dishes paired with views of the Sassi. They have a range of local dishes and I highly recommend trying the local specialties such as Fave e Cicoria, a dish made with pureed fava beans and chicory.
The food at the restaurant was reasonably priced and along with the Fave e Cicoria, the pasta dishes were also to die for. I tried both a prawn pasta dish and an Italian sausage dish.
If possible aim to eat at the restaurant during golden hour or as the sun sets as the terrace is perfectly set to enjoy the grey of the buildings bathed in golden light to a pinkish hue as they reflect the setting sun behind you.
Address: Via D’Addozio, 4, 75100 Matera
Have a Cocktail at Monkey Drink House
As night sets in and the city’s streets start to fill with people, take advantage of Matera’s surprisingly good nightlife.
As I worked my way back to the hotel from dinner, I was pleasantly shocked to find a number of great bars throughout the city, from classic Italian wine bars, unique craft beer bars selling locally produced brews to lively cocktail bars.
My favorite bar though was the Monkey Drink House, a vibrant cocktail bar that spills out into the street. Along the narrow sidewalks, the bar has laid-down cushions to create ground-level seating with small tables to rest your drink on.
The atmosphere around the bar is fun and jovial and it’s the perfect place to sit and people-watch while enjoying the slightly cooler night temperatures. The bar has a number of great cocktails, along with some alcohol-free options too.
I liked this bar so much that after leaving to visit another bar I decided to stop off for a second-round before heading closer to my hotel.
Watch out for your feet as you sit on the sidewalk though as cars still use the street sporadically throughout the night. The bar is open throughout the day and late into the night.
Monkey Drink House can be found at Via Duomo, 11, 75100 Matera.
Where to Stay in Matera
You will find many places to stay in Matera, particularly in the Sassi. We stayed at Casa del Sole and loved it! The location, the views, the space… it was all perfect!
At Casa del Sole, we had our own private terrace (two of them… one was connected to the inside and the other was a small table and chairs on a terrace where the stairs were located).
There was a small kitchen, dining room table, couch, and a large loft upstairs with a bed. The bathroom was on the lower level. During the hot summer days, it stayed cool enough thanks to the thick stones and it was far enough from bars and nightlife that we never heard another soul.
The breakfast included, but Italian breakfasts always leave something to be desired (packaged croissants… no thank you). Fresh coffee was served.
There are many amazing things to do in Matera that we did not include here, such as grabbing a glass of rose in the Sassi and more, but we hope that this guide is a great starting point for your Matera trip!
If you have any questions or comments, please let us know below!
More Puglia and Matera Travel Guides
- How to Get to Matera from Bari
- Things to do in Bari
- Things to do in Ostuni
- Things to do in Trani
- Things to do in Polignano a Mare
- Things to do in Monopoli
- Best Tours to Alberobello
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