Puglia Italy, a region in the southeast corner, is a place it seems many have not yet discovered. Earlier this year a friend of mine from Positano suggested that I visit, and after a quick google search I immediately added it to my annual July Europe trip itinerary.
Before arriving in Puglia, I came up with a list of towns I wanted to visit based on a combination of my Positano friend’s suggestions, places I saw in photos on Instagram, and recommendations from Puglia local Manuela who I follow on Instagram. From there I narrowed the list down to a final itinerary of 10 towns, 8 of which we actually made it to, based on the amount of time we were planning to spend in the region.
We spent a total of about three days in Puglia, but if you have more time you could easily extend it further. Manuela, in fact, recommends at least ten days.
To get to Puglia, we flew into Bari, the capital of Puglia. From there we rented a car from Avis at the airport which was surprisingly just as easy as it is in the US. I always rent from Avis because I have status with them but the people at this location were great so I would honestly recommend doing the same.
Do you have to rent a car? Yes. There are some trains and buses but they are not nearly as efficient and will be way more time consuming.
If the idea of driving in Italy is scary to you, you are not alone. I was in the same boat but after reading countless blogposts about it being really the only way to do it, we gave in and agreed to rent a car. To my surprise it was no big deal for the most part, the only real trouble being driving on extremely narrow roads once actually in the towns and parallel parking in very small spots.
My $.02: get the smallest car you can.
The Best Tools for Traveling Italy
Before we get into the itinerary, let’s talk about planning tools! As a full time traveler with a LOT of experience planning trips, I have a handful of sites and tools that I cannot live without. They save me money, time, and frustration - all of which are very important for me and should be to you, too.
For flights, I use Skyscanner. Skyscanner is great because they find you the cheapest flights by comparing millions of options from airlines and travel agents. Click here to find the best flight deal!
For hotels I always use HotelsCombined, as you will notice in my specific recommendations below. I love them because they compare all of the top travel sites in one spot - with no booking fee and no markup. Best price guarenteed! Click here to search HotelsCombined.
When I'm not staying at a hotel, I love Airbnb. When chosen right, it provides a more local experience and you can often get a lot more space for less money. Click here to get $40 off your first stay.
To get from city to city while in Europe, I usually either fly or take a train. For train travel I recommend using Rail Europe, the #1 distributor for European train tickets and rail passes. I like that you can create an account with them which helps keep all of your tickets and info in one central location. Click here to search Rail Europe.
To get around while in city, I recommend walking, using public transit, or Uber if it's available. In many places, like Lisbon for example, Uber is dirt cheap. If you are new to Uber, use code "kbae3" to get your first ride for free. You can also use it on Uber Eats!
For tours, museum tickets, and other activities, I recommend GetYourGuide. They are a trusted site and have lots of unique things to do along with all of the standard touristy activites. Booking everything individually can be a bit of nightmare to keep track of. With GetYourGuide you can create an account to book and manage all of your tickets in one central location. Click here to search GetYourGuide.
Want to stay connected while abroad? I recommend renting a pocket-sized personal WiFi hotspot from Tep! Click here to see the latest prices.
What to Pack for Puglia
COMFORTABLE SHOES. You will likely (hopefully) be doing a lot of walking so this is very important! My very favorite are M. Gemi’s white leather sneakers. I literally never travel anywhere without them. Click here to see latest prices!
SUNGLASSES. Of course! Three timeless styles I’ve been wearing non-stop: click here for my favorite Quay aviators (I have numerous pairs), click here for my round Ray-Bans, and click here for my all time favorite black on black Ray-Bans that are often hard to track down because they sell out consistently.
BRIGHT LIPSTICK. Because you won’t want to spend time on makeup, and you’ll probably have a bit tan depending on when you go, so a bright lip is the perfect way to spice up your nighttime look! Click here for the one I've been loving from Sephora (especially because it’s called “First Class” and it seems like good upgrade karma, haha).
CONVERTER ADAPTER. This one is universal and works no matter where you’re going so it’s a must. When going to the EU I also bring along this very inexpensive 6 pack so that I have extras. So much to charge these days! Need other recommendations? Click here to see my list of 20 must have travel products from Amazon Prime.
STYLISH CAMERA BAG… if you are bringing a camera! You can’t go to Italy with anything that isn’t chic ;) I usually bring GATTA’s Christie camera backpack (named after me) because it’s hands free, has a zipper AND a buttoned flap, and fully protects my camera yet is so cute no one will ever know it’s a camera bag. Click here to see the latest prices. Want to see more options? Click here for the most stylish camera bags for women!
BLACK PASHMINA. A total lifesaver! It folds up small so you are able to easily throw it in any bag and it weighs basically nothing. However, because of the material it is capable of keeping you surprisingly warm in situations where you have mistakenly underestimated the weather. You can wear it as a scarf, wrap it around your body like a shawl, use it as a blanket on cold planes or trains, etc. - it serves so many purposes. I recommend a black one because black goes with everything and if it gets dirty along the way it will be way less noticeable. Pro tip: if you’re only bringing a small cross body bag with room for your wallet, tie it to the strap! Click here for J. Crew’s best selling version.
LEATHER TOTE. I never, ever, ever travel without my Cuyana Leather Zipper Tote. It holds so much yet never feels as heavy as other bags! Click here to check it out. Wanna know my organizational tricks? Click here for how to organize your carry-on.
REUSABLE WATER BOTTLE. I always pack this but it's especially handy in Italy because there are so many fountains you can fill up in. Hydro Flask is the best because it keeps your drink cold (or warm). So worth the investment. Click here to see the latest prices.
For a full packing list, click here for what to pack for Italy!
Where to Stay in Puglia
There are so many lovely places to stay that I dedicated an entire post to it! Click here for where to stay in Puglia.
Puglia holidays: the perfect road trip itinerary:
Polignano a Mare: HOME BASE
Drive Bari → Polignano A Mare, duration ~45 minutes
Polignano a Mare is a beautiful town south of Bari by about 45 minutes. I decided to make it our home base after finding a great Airbnb right in town and seeing how many different things there were to see and do in town. I would absolutely recommend you do the same. There are many great restaurants you can go to for breakfast before heading out and/or for dinner once you return from your day trips and it is a bit more lively than a lot of the other smaller towns.
WHERE TO EAT IN POLIGNANO a MARE:
Ristorante Hotel Grotta Palazzese - you have no doubt seen this all over Pinterest and likely had no idea it was in Puglia. Well, it is, and it lives up to the hype (exceeds it, even). It is truly magical beyond words and views aside, the food is to die for. I cannot recommend it enough. They have two seatings per day, one at 7:30 and one at 10:30. Book the 7:30 so you can catch the sunset. Make reservations and do it as early as possible - they do sell out. You can book them here
Mint Cucina Fresca - a healthy, meatless restaurant rated #2 on TripAdvisor in Polignano and for good reason! It was delicious and the decor is absolutely adorable. You may want to make reservations as it does fill up and keep in mind they are closed on Mondays
Il Pescato - we did not actually make it here since it was closed the day we tried to go (Monday) but the owner of our Airbnb recommended it and said it’s wonderful
Luna Cafe - for a quick breakfast. We walked here every morning for a croissant, coffee, and fresh orange juice
ManVi Ortofrutta - for fresh fruit and juices! It’s a small market, great for grabbing healthy snacks pre-road trip
WHERE TO STAY IN POLIGNANO a MARE:
We stayed in this Airbnb and loved it. It’s in a great location, the apartment is beautiful and spacious, the price is very reasonable, and Nico and Giuseppe were wonderful hosts. There’s even a hot tub on the roof! Plus you can get $40 off your first Airbnb booking here.
Lecce: DAY 1, STOP 1
Drive Polignano a Mare → Lecce, duration ~1 hour 15 minutes
Start your first day in the city of Lecce, a little over an hour south of Polignano. Lecce is a historic city and one of the most popular destinations in southern Italy. It’s known for it’s baroque buildings and even has it’s own Roman amphitheater, the dating of which is still unknown. It is often called "the Florence of the South" as well.
THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN LECCE:
Visit the Roman amphitheater, Anfiteatro Romano
Visit Basilica di Santa Croce, an outstanding baroque church
Gallipoli: DAY 1, STOP 2
Drive Lecce → Gallipoli, duration ~35 minutes
Gallipoli, which translates to “beautiful city”, is just over half an hour south of Lecce. If you look at it on a map you will notice it splits into two parts: a mainland on the right and a small island accessible by bridge on the left. Skip the mainland and head straight to the island - that’s the old town where you’ll find the beautiful beaches you see in all of the photos and narrow, colorful streets perfect for getting lost in.
Drive home, Gallipoli → Polignano a Mare, duration ~1 hour 40 minutes
Alberobello: DAY 2, STOP 1
Drive Polignano a Mare → Alberobello, duration ~35 minutes
Start day two of your Puglia adventure with a quick 35 minute drive from your Polignano home base to the town of Alberobello. Alberobello was easily the highlight of Puglia for me, so much so that we actually went twice! It’s famous for it’s unique trullo buildings (whitened dry-stone huts with pointed stone roofs) and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Unfortunately it seems that the Alberobello secret is out, so try to get here as early as possible to avoid the huge crowds and full parking lots. The second time we went we arrived around 8am and found it to be pleasantly deserted at that time :) We did not eat here but there are a ton of ton of cute cafes and restaurants on the main street so it might be a good idea to plan for lunch here!
Note: we went in July during prime tourist season so it might have been unusually busy during our trip.
Monopoli: DAY 2, STOP 2
Drive Alberobello → Monopoli, duration ~30 minutes
Once you are done at Alberobello, head to Monopoli, a colorful town located right on the Adriatic Sea. It's name, stemming from "monos polis", means unique city. While we spent all of our time roaming the colorful streets near the city center, a quick google search suggests that the most beautiful Monopoli is the one you see from the water so do not miss that like we did!
Drive home, Monopoli → Polignano a Mare, duration ~15 minutes
Locorotondo: DAY 3, STOP 1
Drive Polignano a Mare → Locorotondo, duration ~35 minutes
Locorotondo, a beautiful whitewashed town covered in cobblestone streets, is again just a quick 35 minute drive from your Polignano home base. We spent our time here with no agenda, simply strolling through the streets snapping photos at anything we found to be aesthetically pleasing. Even in the middle of peak tourist season we found it to be extremely empty which is of course a big plus if you plan to visit for photography purposes.
If you find yourself in Locorotondo around lunch time, stop by Ristorante La Scalinata. The people there were some of the sweetest we met our entire trip!
Cisternino: DAY 3, STOP 2
Drive Locorotondo → Cisternino, duration ~15 minutes
Cisternino is another beautiful whitewashed town (that's the theme of day 3!) and one I had not seen on any Puglia posts or even heard of until Manuela mentioned it. We did basically no research on it prior to arriving and lucked out in stumbling upon the most beautiful area full of all-white buildings - perfect for Instagram! Of the eight towns we visited this was without a doubt one of my favorites due to how photogenic it is and one that I would not pass up if I were you.
Ostuni: DAY 3, STOP 3
Drive Cisternino → Ostuni, duration ~30 minutes
The famous white town, Ostuni, sits high on a hill (three hills, apparently) and is one of the most sought after Puglia destinations. It is a popular summer destination and despite it's reputation as the white city, I actually found it to be less white than Cisternino! You should definitely give yourself some time to simply roam the beautiful alleyways and streets here and do not miss the beautiful castle or the cathedral in the center.
Drive home, Ostuni → Polignano a Mare, duration ~45 minutes
Other Puglia towns you may want to check out if you have the time:
Melendugno (Grotta della Poesia!)
SOME HIGHLY RECOMMENDED THINGS TO DO IN PUGLIA:
Other unique and highly rated Puglia experiences:
To see Polignano by boat, click here
To learn to make pasta in Lecce, click here
To learn to make pasta in Polignano a Mare, click here
For a walking tour and food tasting in Alberobello, click here
For a photo walk through Matera, click here
For a historical stroll through Lecce, click here
To learn to make Apulian cheese in Ostuni, click here
To buy, cook, and eat like a “Barese” in Bari, click here