On the heel of Italy's boot lies the region of Puglia or 'Apulia'. This Southern Italian region is well known for being one of the most beautiful places in Italy but also one of the less touristy locations. You may have never heard of many of the places listed in this post today, and we think that's pretty amazing.
Puglia is a charming region with laid back vibes. The breathtaking seaside villages and historic towns have a vibrant atmosphere and rich history with many Greek and Roman influences. The stunning beaches, where dramatic cliffs drop into the sea, offer some of the best spots to spend a European summer.
Puglia is the perfect destination to visit this summer if you are ready to embrace a slower pace of life, indulge in rustic local cuisine, get lost in endless old town alleyways, discover interesting historic architecture and cool off in the crystal clear blue Adriatic sea. Sounds pretty perfect to us!
The region of Puglia is full of so many unbelievably beautiful towns and places, many of them well off the beaten track! For this post, we've rounded up 11 of our favourite towns in Puglia that cannot be missed!
Discover the beauty of Puglia before everyone else does!
Brief History of Puglia
It is super interesting to know a bit about the history of a place before you travel there and for Puglia, it is quite an interesting one!
From 800BC to 272CE The Greeks were the rulers of the region and they established many settlements that are still inhabited today. Many still have Greek names!
From 272CE to 476CE the Romans spread to Puglia and colonised the region. They build many importing trading routes and produced wheat, oil and wine and the region thrives as a centre for agriculture.
When the Roman empire fell Puglia was controlled by the Normans, Arabia and Spain in a short amount of time. Each ruler left their mark on the region. This makes Puglia a really interesting and unique place to visit.
Today the region is a vibrant and bustling place, oozing European charm.
1. POLIGNANO A MARE
Polignano a Mare is one of the most famous destinations in Puglia, and for good reason! This coastal town is best known for its dramatic cliffs, beautiful seas and white pebble beaches.
It is also home to spectacular ancient sun-bleached architecture that has been influenced by Arab, Spanish and Norman cultures. Enjoy exploring the architecture as you navigate the winding narrow streets.Cala Porto is a popular white pebble beach surrounded by dramatic cliffs that look amazing but are oh so crowded, on Instagram. We think the crowds add to the bustle and vibe!
Polignano A Mare may be best known, however, for the Grotta Palazzese restaurant. The Grotta Palazzese is a fine dining restaurant tucked into a cave on the side of a cliff overlooking the sea. Sounds pretty dramatic right? And it is! This bucket list restaurant is doing the rounds on Pinterest and Instagram making it a highly sought after spot.
Be sure to reserve a table well in advance and set aside some money as this kind of restaurant isn't cheap!
Alberobello is another town in Puglia that you cannot miss! This town is in the Valle d’Itria area of Puglia and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is the best place in Puglia to see the famous Trulli houses. A Trulli is a small house made out of limestone with a grey conical roof and white walls that look very unique and are utterly striking (refer to the image below!).
These houses are iconic in the region of Puglia. If you came to Puglia without seeing the Trulli houses it would be like going to Rome and not seeing the Vatican!The town of Alberobello is filled with about 1,500 of these, making the town a spectacular and unique place to visit. If you love fairytale vibes, you will adore Alberobello!
Many of these houses in the centre of town are shops, cafes and restaurants, but go a bit further out and many of these houses are still used as regular homes by residents. You can even stay in one!
This town is very touristy, so expect higher prices and crowds in the peak summer season. But this is one of those places that is worth making the effort to see, regardless of how touristy it is!
Trani is a stunning seaside town in Puglia that is a must see. This town is best known for being a fishing port and is definitely one of the most beautiful towns in the region.
Trani is an incredible place to explore and watch fishermen going about their daily duties in the most spectacular setting. They also sell fresh catches from their colourful boats (alongside stunning white yachts of course!). You will wonder why anyone would live and work anywhere else! Of course, this means that Trani is one of the best places to enjoy seafood.
The port of Trani is alive and is one of the best places to just be! There are many buzzing bars, restaurants and Italian boutiques to indulge in. Many of the port venues are jammed packed until the early hours with locals just enjoying life!
Apart from the seafood and restaurants, the other main feature of Trani is its towering pink-hued cathedral which is perfectly perched on the castle. The cathedral has beautiful carvings on the facade! The white castle (pictured) is also a stunning sight to behold on the edge of the beautiful blue Adriatic sea.
Leece is known as the 'Florence of the South'. Leece is a city located in-land away from the coast and is most famous for its Baroque architecture.
Leece has a beautiful historic centre filled with ancient churches and squares. The best known are the St. Mary of Providence and the Addolorata Square.
At the heart of Lecce, there is a half buried Roman amphitheatre which is also a big drawcard to this beautiful town.
Lecce is one of the largest cities in Puglia yet it is still walkable and offers a relaxed yet vibrant and festive atmosphere.Leece is also a must-visit for lovers of Italian cuisine. It is where several unique Italian dishes were born! The most well-known dish is the rustico leccese which is a savoury street food pastry snack with mozzarella and tomato.
Ostini is a stunning city, known as the White City, and is perched on a hilltop 8km from the Adriatic Sea.
Ostini is most famous for its maze-like white limestone streets. It is one of the best places to get lost wandering the endless alleyways, staircases and archways. They also have an amazing Saturday market that is worth a visit.
Another must-do activity in Ostuni is to watch the sunset over the old town and watch the white, golden and pink hues as they change colour. Sunsets here give the greek islands a run for their money.
Ostini is a touristy place but you can avoid the crowds by dipping deeper into the alleyways away from the souvenir shops!
Otranto is another gorgeous seaside town. A must-visit for lovers of the beach and long European summers! Here you can combine visits to ancient churches and soak in the historic architecture with afternoons dipping in and out of the beautiful blue Adriatic sea.
Otranto has an interesting and quite dark history. It is at the point of Italy's heel that is the closest to Albania on the other side of the Adriatic sea. This resulted in Otranto being the site of many invasions from the East, with the worst being the Turkish siege in 1480 which destroyed most of the city and killed many of its people.
One of Otranto's biggest attractions is the Cathedral with its beautiful Tree of Life mosaic floor which survived the invasions. It's one of the largest mosaics in Europe! This is an absolute historic masterpiece dating back to around 1100CE that can't be missed.
The cathedral is full of other dark remnants of the invasion (including human skulls). The castle built in the 15th century is also worth visiting. Just don't forget to recharge in the stunning sea between historic sightseeing!
Gallipoli is another beautiful seaside town on the coast of Salento in Puglia that is worth visiting. Its old town is on a limestone island that is connected to the mainland by a causeway!
The vibe in Gallipoli is relaxed and regal with stunning churches and a curved bay of golden sand in the centre of town. Perfect for tanning, swimming and relaxation in the heat of summer.
Gallipoli was ruled by the Greeks for 5 centuries but all remanents of the Greeks were destroyed by the Romans. Most of the architecture there now is from the Middle Ages and not ancient Greece.
Things to do in Gallipoli include walking along the city's seafront walls, visiting Frantoio Ipogeo in Granafei Palace (an ancient underground olive press), and seeing the Fontana Greca Renaissance monument, the Baroque Cathedral of Sant'Agata, the Church of Santa Maria Della Purità and finally the Castle of Gallipoli.
Vieste is a dramatic town that juts out into the Adriatic sea in Northern Puglia. It is known as the spur in the heel of Italy's boot.
The vibe in Vieste, which is in the Gargano region, is greener and mountainous than the rest of Puglia with pine forests, limestone cliffs, sea caves and gorgeous beaches.
The old town is again a maze of white narrow streets, begging to be explored. On each side of the town, there are long sandy beaches that are accessed by foot. Boat trips are an amazing way to see the stunning coastline with limestone caves and grottos.
Vieste is the perfect base to stay in if you want to explore more of the Garango region.
Our 9th must-visit beautiful town in Puglia is Taranto. This city is a fascinating place to visit with a deep and long history.
It was once one of the largest cities in the world! It's believed that in around 500BC the population was around 300,000. The city became one of the most important ports in Italy and the Italian Navy was based there.
Exploring the city is the best way to soak in and discover its interesting history. You will find beautiful palaces and castles used to defend against attacks from invading countries. Taranto is also home to Greek ruins from 600BC which are visible in the city centre.
If you love shellfish, then you will love Taranto! The surrounding sea is rich in minerals which produce some of the best mussels in Italy!
Speccia is a beautiful town in the Leece region that is a bit of a hidden gem in Puglia. Speccia is a small settlement with only around 4500 residents!The vibe of this town is what makes it so special.
The town is centred around the main piazza where you will find beautiful Baroque churches, historic architecture and amazing restaurants to soak up all the authentic vibes.
11. CASTEL DEL MONTE, ANDRIA
The last place on our list technically isn't a town but we thought it was so unique we needed to include it! In the town of Andri lies Castel del Monte which is one of the most mysterious places in Italy and is a must visit!
This castle was built in around 1240 on the peak of the isolated hill overlooking the Murgia Valley on one side and the Adriatic Sea on the other.
What makes this castle so beautiful and unique is its architecture. It was built in an unusual octagon shape with octagonal towers on each corner. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 for its architectural beauty and the mystery surrounding it!