Our guide to the best places to visit in Southern Italy will help you create the ultimate Southern Italy itinerary or roadtrip!
The southern Adriatic coast of Italy offers lots of attractions – enough for a week’s stay, or longer, but also easily divisible into weekend-sized slices. This is principally due to the region’s railway network, which makes getting around both quick and easy.
If you’re looking at South Italy holiday destinations then there’s a choice of places to stay: you’re really looking at basing yourself in either Bari or Brindisi. Both towns have their pluses and minuses; Brindisi has more to do but Bari is more central if you want to get about. In the end it might come down to the price of flights but neither’s a disappointment.
The town of Bari boasts a castle, built at the behest of Roger the Norman around 1131, and some winding back streets, which all lead back to the main old square. The seafront is pleasant for a walk, too, but don’t expect to get more than a day’s entertainment from Bari. What it has, however, are great railway connections.
Brindisi, Lecce and Matera are all easily accessed but be warned, what looks like two sets of platforms is actually three – the line to Matera is run by a different company to the others and has its own station and tickets.
The Apian Way – the Roman road from Rome itself to the coast – ended in Brindisi. This was marked by two grand columns, which still stand as a reminder of how organised the ancient road builders were. Unsurprisingly, the local archaeological museum contains some excellent items and because this is Italy there’s also a cathedral, which sits behind the Apian columns and opens onto a charming square next to several other historical structures.
The harbour front is full of promenading locals come early evening and there are some quite fancy restaurants lining the waterside. Cheaper eats can be found in some of the back streets but even the more upmarket places won’t break the bank. Basically, just follow your nose.
If you’re staying in Brindisi and want to visit Matera you’ll need to get a train to Bari and change. However, if Lecce is your destination then it’s a quick train ride away; around 40 minutes.
Lecce, one of Southern Italy’s many small towns, is simply stunning. It’s also very confusing to get around – it’s a proverbial rabbit warren of winding street and squares. Be prepared to stop and read your map… a lot. Notable buildings include the Church of San Giovanni Battista, the Church of Santi Niccolo e Cataldo and the Roman amphitheatre. However, there’s not a bad view to be found anywhere in the old town. Just don’t be put off by the walk from the station, which is pretty uninspiring.
Museo Faggiano is a must see – a private house, opened to the public in 2008, it contains 2,000 years of history in its brickwork. This only came to light when the owner needed to repair his toilet!
This old hill town is nothing short of beautiful – it’s little wonder that it’s being used as a location for the next James Bond film. Matera really is one of the best places in southern Italy – a feast for the eyes and a test for the legs; expect to do a lot of walking up and down narrow streets and steep, stepped pedestrian areas. Fortunately, ever stride is worth it – there isn’t a bad view in the place. And don’t forget to clamber over to the Sassi area, a complex of cave dwellings that were finally evacuated in 1952 due to poor living conditions. They now house museums and is part of Matera’s Unesco World Heritage site.
The newer part of the town is also pretty interesting. It’s dotted with Dali sculptures and some interesting museums but it’s the food here that’ll stay with you more than anything else. Matera has a rich culinary tradition and restaurants showcase these Basilicatan specialities. This was a very poor part of the country so the local cuisine is strong on beans and other veg.
The harbour town of Taranto, which won’t be easily accessible if you’re based in Bari, really isn’t much to look at. Frankly, it’s rundown, dirty and not the sort of place you’d normally visit. However, it does boast a truly remarkable archaeological museum – a world class display of ancient artefacts. You’ll walk past the Aragonese Castle to get there – the town’s major landmark – and through some pretty grubby side streets. However, for history buffs it’s a real treat and worth a visit.
However, the country really has so much more to offer, which will be proved several times over during your visit to the southern Adriatic coast of Italy. I hope you’ve enjoyed my guide to the best places to visit in Southern Italy and I’ve inspired you to visit some of my favourite places in Europe!
The Best Places to Visit in Southern Italy – pin for later!
This is a guest post by Anthony Clark, journalist, copywriter and longtime friend of the Ladies What Travel team. He loves beer, cheese and travel and is a genius when it comes to making the most of his annual leave.