You won’t have any shortage of things to do in Bari, Italy. Lesser known compared to many other destinations in Southern Italy, the capital of Puglia well deserves to be explored. This colorful, lively city right on the shores of the Adriatic Sea is packed with beautiful churches, good museums, and it has one of the most interesting food scenes in the country.
The third largest city is southern Italy after Naples and Palermo, Bari is full of history and character. Research shows that the first people settled in what is now Bari 2000 years BC – that’s more than 4000 years ago. Thanks to its position on the shores of the Adriatic Sea, the city quickly caught the attention of the Roman Empire. Once this fell, Bari was contended among many, and saw many dominations, including that of the Normans.
Finally part of Italy as of October 1860, Bari will baffle you with its mix of antiquity and modern sights. What’s best about it, this is a city that has some grand churches, some fabulous sights and none of the tourist crowds that you may find in other places in southern Italy.
In case it is not clear yet, you really should add Bari to your list of places to visit in Italy. And this post will help you plan your trip, and share plenty of ideas on activities to keep you entertained.
Guided Tours Of Bari, Italy
Bari is a great city to get lost and wander around endlessly – especially in Bari Vecchia. However, if you have a short time in the city, you may want to take a guided tour to maximize your time there and enjoy all of the things to do in Bari. The following are all valid options:
- Bike tour though the treasures of Bari – one of the best reviewed tours for a great introduction to the city.
- Bike rickshaw city tour – the perfect tour for couples, it’s a fun way of getting around and discovering the city with a local guide.
- Bari walking tour – a very classic tour, it takes you to the most important sites in town and gives you a good overview of the city.
- Private walking tour with a local – a good tour if you’d rather be in a small group.
- Bari segway tour – a fun way of exploring the city.
Finally, continue reading to discover what to do in Bari.
13 Great Things To Do In Bari
Explore Bari Vecchia
The Old Town – aka Bari Vecchia – is the best starting point to explore the city. If you have limited time in the city, skip everything else and just go there.
A maze of narrow alleys in white cobblestone and bright white buildings alternating with the most colorful ones, Bari Vecchia is the epitome of picturesque and – I am not exaggerating – each and every corner will call for a photo. And the best part of it is that even in light of the recent surge of tourism, Bari Vecchia has retained all of its local character.
Scattered around you will find shrines devoted to the adoration of the Virgin Mary, and some of the most beautiful churches in town (including San Nicola Basilica). This is also where you’ll be able to spot local ladies making orecchiette pasta (more on that below), some lovely bars, restaurants and cafés (not to mention nightlife!).
Visit the Basilica di San Nicola
Visiting San Nicola Basilica is one of the unmissable things to do in Bari. This is the most important church in town, so you can’t miss out on it. Built to house the relics of St. Nicholas (fought over between Myra, in nowadays Turkey, Venice, which wanted them, and Bari, whose main argument was that the saint had wanted to be buried there), it took more than 100 years to complete – from 1097 to 1197 – and it’s a fine example of Romanesque architecture.
Once inside, make sure to observe the 1476 painting of Madonna with Saints by Vivarini – it’s right of the altar. The church also houses the tomb of Bona Sforza, wife of King Sigismund II of Poland and last duchess of Bari (it dates back to the 16th century).
Make sure not to miss the crypt, where you can see an altar from 1684 and the vault with the remains of the saint.
GOOD TO KNOW: Another church dedicated to Saint Nicholas that you may want to visit is the Russian Orthodox Church. It’s beautifully decorated and testifies of the Russian veneration for this saint.
TIP: Remember that you must be dressed modestly to enter churches in Italy!
Peak inside Bari Cathedral (Church of San Sabino)
Another church you must check out is San Sabino – which is Bari’s Cathedral. The construction of the church – which has some fine examples of Norman-style decorations – started after the Byzantine cathedral (which dated back to the 11th century) had been destroyed by William I of Sicily in 1156.
San Sabino church was built right on the old cathedral’s remains (you can still find traces of it if you look carefully) and was completed at the end of the 12th century. It’s another fine example of Romanesque Architecture.
Inside the church you can find the remains of Saint Columba, among others, and the relics of Saint Sabinus, which were brought to Bari in 844, once they were taken back from the Saracens in Canosa.
GOOD TO KNOW: Make sure not to miss the Succorpo della Cattedrale – archeological excavations which will help you get a better understanding of the many layers of history Bari has been built on. You can even see relics dating back to the Roman Empire, including a section of an original Roman road!
Pass by Piazza Mercantile
If you want to catch a bit of local life and admire more of the beautiful architecture of Bari Vecchia, one of the best things to do in Bari is checking out Piazza Mercantile. The commercial center of Bari since the 14th century, it’s where Palazzo Sedile (Palace of the Seat) is located, as well as a 16h century clock tower and a water fountain right at its center. The Colonna della Giustizia, a column at the corner of the square, was once used to tie criminals.
A popular meeting place for locals, here you will find plenty of bars, cafés and small restaurants where you can sit and get a bite while admiring the view.
GOOD TO KNOW: Next to Piazza Mercantile on the way to the Old Harbor you will find Piazza del Ferrarese, another must-see. It’s the location of the Romanesque Vallisa church, one of the city’s most notable ones, and where celebrations for the saint patron of the city (Saint Nicholas) take place.
Learn how to make orecchiette in Via di Arco Basso
Ok, this is a bit ambitious – making orecchiette is an art and I doubt you can learn to do it gracefully in a day – even less so in an hour. Having said so, when in Bari Vecchia you certainly can’t miss Via di Arco Basso. This is also known as the Via delle Orecchiette, because along it you can spot many local women sitting right outside their home, making fresh orecchiette.
Make sure to observe how they do it – it’s absolutely graceful, and it looks so effortless! It certainly is one of the things to do in Bari.
TIP: You can definitely buy some fresh orecchiette in Via di Arco Basso, but try to get some that have dried fully. If you can’t lay the orecchiette to dry in your room, chances are the water in them will make them moldy within a day or two.
Go to Castello Normanno-Svevo
One of the unmissable things to do in Bari is visiting the Castello Normanno-Svevo. It’s so bit, so visible that you really can’t miss it.
The castle was first built in Byzantine-Romanesque style; but it was then reconstructed by Frederick II in 1233 in Norman-Swabian style after it had been destroyed by the king of Sicily.
Bona Sforza (Duchess of Bari and wife of King Sigismund II of Poland) demanded that it was turned into a palace in the 16th century. That’s when the bastions and the towers (which are still visible) were added. The castle was once used as a prison and signal station, but it is now home to a museum with copies of Apulian-Norman sculptures, and hosts temporary exhibits (when I visited, there was one on historic fashion).
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The Castello Normanno-Svevo is open every day but Tuesday from 8:30 am to 6:30 pm. Admission is €6 for the castle; €9 if you also want to visit the exhibit.
Take a walk along Lungomare Nazario Sauro
One of the unmissable things to do in Bari is going on a walk along its Lungomare – the Promenade. Any time of day is good to do that, but if you ask me, early morning is the best time! Running along the Old Harbor (Porto Vecchio), the Promenade is a great vantage point to spot the colorful fishermen boats unload the catch of the day.
TOP TIP: If you are an early morning person, definitely head to Lungomare Nazario Sauro and the Old Harbor before sunrise. Catching the sun rise over the Adriatic Sea is one of the best things to do in Bari!
Tour Teatro Petruzzelli
Teatro Petruzzelli is one of the must-see in Bari. One of the largest theaters in Italy, it was completed in 1903 and saw performances of artists such as Luciano Pavarotti, Frank Sinatra, Liza Minelli and even ballet dancers such as Nureyev. The theater was devastated by a fire in October 1991 and entirely rebuilt to look like it used to be. Reconstruction took a long time, and the theater finally opened again in 2009.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Guided tours of Teatro Petruzzelli are available on Saturdays and Sundays at 1:00 pm, and cost €5. Tickets are sold directly on site and tours last around 30 minutes.
TIP: Make sure to also visit Teatro Margherita. Built between 1912 and 1914 in direct competition with the Petruzzelli, it’s located right by Bari Old Harbor. A theater and a cinema until 1979, it then went some major renovation and it’s now open to the public again, hosting regular art exhibits.
Enjoy a day at the beach
One of the best things to do in Bari in the summer is spending a day at the beach. Honestly, there are much better beaches in Puglia than the ones in Bari, but if you just want a quick escape and don’t have a car, you can still have a good time and right in town!
One of the most popular beaches in Bari is called Pane and Pomodoro. It’s a quick car ride from Bari Vecchia – and a 30 minutes walk along the Lungomare. The beach is free to access, the kiosk is the perfect place to grab a bite and a drink. There even are changing rooms and showers.
Visit one of Bari Museums
Visiting the Museo Archeologico di Santa Scolastica is a must for history and archeology geeks. The museum is located in a beautiful 16th century building just outside of Bari Vecchia. The exhibit shows artifacts dating back to the time Bari was under Greek and Roman rule. The grounds has the ruins of a 15th century church that hasn’t however been fully excavated.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The museum is open Monday to Saturday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, and on Sunday from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm. It’s closed on Tuesdays. Admission is €5.
If art is your thing and you are looking for what to do in Bari, definitely consider visiting the Pinacoteca Metropolitana. This is located in the Palazzo della Provincia, in Lungomare Nazario Sauro, and it has a great collection of paintings of artists from southern Italy, as well as some from Tuscany and Veneto. Some of the most remarkable works are those of Veronese, Tintoretto, and Bellini’s Martyrdom of St. Peter.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The Pinacoteca Metropolitana is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm; and on Sunday from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. Admission is €3.
Explore Borgo Murattiano
The layout of Borgo Murattiano is in such striking contrast to that of the Old City that I think you’d miss out if you didn’t go! Here, the streets are straight and the plant looks more like a grid.
Thought to be the business and commercial center of town, it’s split in two by Corso Vittorio Emanuele II and each street is lined with beautiful buildings, many from the early 19th century and some in Art Nouveau style.
Among the spots you should not miss there are Piazza della Libertà, the Prefecture Palace, Fizzarotti Palace and Mincuzzi Palace, a 20th century building in Liberty style.
Make sure to also walk along Corso Cavour to spot more Liberty style buildings, and Via Sparano – known to be the best shopping street in Bari.
There is no other way to put it: eating is one of the unmissable things to do in Bari and you will find no shortage of local specialties to try throughout your stay.
Focaccia is quite simply a must-have. It’s completely different from other kinds of focaccia you may have in Italy. The classic version has a very crispy, oily bottom and is moist on the inside, and it has tomatoes and oregano on the top. It’s the perfect snack, a delicious street food. I tried it at Magda, in Borgo Murattiano, and found it to be delicious.
Being right on the shore of the Adriatic Sea, Bari is also a great place to try all sorts of seafood! Octopus, sea urchins (never tried? You are missing out!), mussels, oysters and all sorts of daily catch is commonly found in the best restaurants in town – it’s just a matter of building an appetite (which I bet won’t be hard, after a day of exploring!).
Other things you should try in Bari are the famous orecchiette – you can have them served with cime di rapa (which are similar to tiny broccoli) or with braciole, in a red sauce with meat; burrata (similar to mozzarella and totally mouthwatering) and olive oil, which in Puglia is truly top quality.
Finally, to make the most of all the local food, one of the best things to do in Bari may well be joining a guided street food tour. The following are some good options:
- Bari street food tour by bike – a great tour that lasts 3 full hours so you are guaranteed lots of tastings.
- Bari walking street food tour – another good option with lots of insightful information and delicious food.
- Rickshaw street food tour – it’s similar to the one above, but as you move by rickshaw it doesn’t last as long.
- Bari street food tour on segway – another fun way to explore the city through its many flavors.
Take a day trip out of the city
With all the things to do in Bari, I doubt you will get bored in the city. But if you feel the need to escape the city and explore elsewhere, you will be relieved to know that you can visit many places within an hour or so of driving distance. To be completely honest, some of them deserve more than a day trip – but alas, if you are tight on time you can still make it a point to go.
Matera is definitely a popular day trip from Bari, because it’s very easy to reach – it takes just about one hour by train. The city of the Sassi (cave dwellings) is one of oldest cities that has been continuously inhabited. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Matera is absolutely breathtaking, and has many sights, churches, museums and places you will want to visit.
Make sure to check out my post 13 Cool Things To Do In Matera, Italy for more ideas on the things to see and do there.
Since it’s on the way to Matera, you may also want to visit Altamura, a small charming town with a beautiful cathedral and famous for the delicious bread.
Egnazia, at about one hour south of Bari, is a great archeological site that dates back to the 15th AC century and which became a Roman city. Start your visit at the well curated museum of archeology and then visit the site. Keep in mind that the acropolis, located right by the sea, is only open to guided tours which run only once a day.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Egnazia is open daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Admission is €4. Check out the official website here for more information.
Castel del Monte
Castel del Monte, ad about 50 minutes drive west of Bari, is a good place for a day trip from Bari. Located on top of a hill, the castle was built in the 13th century by Frederick II for defensive purposes (although for a long time researchers thought it was just a hunting lodge), although it was mostly used as a prison.
If you decide to visit, don’t miss on the opportunity to explore the nearby wine region too! Make sure to check out this guided tour for availability.
Other day trips from Bari
Other places that you can visit on day trips from Bari (between 30 minutes and one hour drive) are Polignano a Mare and Monopoli; Alberobello, the town of the Trulli; Locorotondo and Martina Franca, in the beautiful Valle d’Itria. Ostuni is just over an hour drive.
GOOD TO KNOW: Personally, I believe that Alberobello, Locorotondo and the rest of Valle d’Itria deserve a trip of their own!
You may want to check out the following guided tours:
- Guided Alberobello day trip from Bari;
- Castellana Cave and Polignano private day trip;
- Ostuni, Alberobello and Locorotondo full day tour.
Useful Tips To Plan Your Trip To Bari
How to get to Bari
Bari is well connected to the rest of Italy and Europe via plane – with both regular and budget flights; by bus and train from various cities in Italy (it’s around 4 hours by rain from Rome), and don’t forget there’s a port!
Bari Airport is at about 20 to 30 minutes from the city center, depending on traffic. There are regular buses taking you to town for around €4.
Where to stay in Bari
There is no shortage of good places to stay in Bari. The following is just a quick selection:
- B&B MUREX – At easy walking distance from Bari Vecchia, this bed and breakfast has very small but perfectly curated rooms. Breakfast is included in the price. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- CASA DI FLORA GUESTHOUSE – Located in Bari Vecchia, this small guest house features beautiful spotless rooms in a perfect location. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- CASA RANIERI – A beautiful Airbnb in the center of Bari, with everything you need for a wonderful stay. Click here for rates and reviews.
Are you planning a trip to Italy? Make sure to check out my posts to better plan your trip!
- 17 Reasons To Visit Italy As Soon As Possible
- 21 Best Movies About Italy You Need To Watch
- A Guide To The Best Places To Visit In Italy
- A Perfect Italy Itinerary: What To See And Do With 10 Days Or More
- What To Do And What To Avoid When Planning A Trip To Italy
- What To See And Do In Alberobello, Puglia
- A Quick Guide To Locorotondo, Puglia
- The Best Things To Do In Lecce
- The Best Itinerary For A Road Trip To Puglia