10 things to see in Bari and Apulia
Regional Capital of Apulia, Bari is a pearl overlooking the Adriatic Sea full of history, culture, and culinary tradition.
In Bari, you can relax, stroll leisurely through historic sites, and enjoy regional delicacies. Thanks to its exceptionally mild Mediterranean weather, Bari is a great destination all year round, attracting visitors in both summer and winter.
Here are 10 of the most beautiful attractions and popular activities you can do in Bari.
1) Basilica of St. Nicholas
The patron saint of Bari, St. Nicholas is the bishop whose legend gave rise to Santa Claus, and this is why nowadays he is still the most beloved figure among the people of Bari.
Built in 1089 to preserve the remains of the saint, today it is a pilgrimage destination every year by both Catholic and Orthodox believers, and it is one of the few churches where masses are celebrated with both rites.
Fun fact: inside its crypt you can find the "miracle column". Tradition has it that if at dawn on December 6 (St. Nicholas Day) a girl makes 3 laps around the column brushing against it, she will find her husband in the following year.
2) Norman-Swabian Castle
Built in the 13th century at the behest of the Norman King Roger II of Sicily, visiting the Swabian Castle you can see how centuries of changes in ownership and function have modified its appearance, but preserved its charm untouched.
The castle is divided into the old keep, commissioned by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, including two of the original towers that defended the city; and the walls built by Isabella of Aragon all around the fortress, characterized by the moat and ramparts.
Over the centuries, the Norman-Swabian Castle has changed its purpose several times: from war stronghold to prison, from barracks to the current headquarters of the Superintendence for Monuments and Galleries of Apulia and Basilicata, where you can visit the collection of plaster casts it still houses.
3) Margherita Theater
One of Bari's most distinctive and symbolic monuments is undoubtedly the Margherita Theater, which rests its stilt foundations directly in the Adriatic Sea.
Visible from both the whole seaside promenade and the city center, Margherita Theater was built only in 1910, but over the years has undergone numerous restorations and reconstructions, turning from a wooden structure to reinforced concrete following a fire, up until the recent renovation in the 2000s that now gives it its exquisitely Art Nouveau look.
No longer strictly a theater, it has now become a contemporary cultural center hosting national and international exhibitions such as the multimedia Van Gogh or Banksy expositions.
4) Bari Street Food
All of Apulia, and Bari in particular, are famous for their gastronomic delights that have conquered palates all over the world.
The best way to appreciate Bari's specialties is to take a stroll down the streets of the city center, and let yourselves be attracted by the trails of fragrances coming out of the boutiques and little stores that look out on the heart of Bari Vecchia or on the beautiful seafront.
There are also popular tours for visitors in which experienced guides recommend the best places to try Bari focaccia, panzerotti, sgagliozze, burrata and many other Apulian specialties.
5) Bari Underground
Not many people know that beneath Bari Vecchia (“Old Bari”, the historical center) lie the remains of another city from more than a thousand years ago, with areas dating back to Roman times and the Middle Ages.
Guided tours are organized to discover Byzantine-era mosaics, wells, and urban perspectives, following a route through the city's hidden underground stratifications.
The fascinating Bari Underground itinerary brings to light the local archaeological heritage thanks to expert guides. The same archeologists who have engaged in the research will show you an interweaving of eras and styles that changed the look of Bari over the centuries.
6) Street of orecchiette
In the heart of the city runs a street officially called Strada Arco Basso (literally “Low Arch Street”), but known by everyone as "Orecchiette Street", named after the renowned typical pasta of Apulia.
Here every day the housewives gather together in the street to prepare the famous orecchiette on the pastry board, kneading simply with water and durum wheat semolina.
In addition to being a nice glimpse into the daily life of Bari culture and tradition, it is also possible to buy orecchiette directly from the ladies themselves, and take home the typical taste of a fresh and genuine homemade pasta.
7) Pane e Pomodoro Beach
Located just a few minutes walk from the city center, this beach is an oasis of peace and quiet where visitors can enjoy the sun, the sea, and most of the year even a nice swim, thanks to Apulia's mild temperatures.
The Pane e Pomodoro ("Bread and Tomato") beach is located at the end of its seaside promenade, and from here you can admire from a distance the city's important buildings, such as the Basilica of St. Nicholas, the Margherita Theater, and the walls of Bari Vecchia.
Tradition has it that its name comes from the habit of the people of Bari to bring themselves bread and tomato as a snack, when the beach was not yet equipped with stores and bars as it is today.
8) Murat District
The Murat District is the modern part of the city that, together with the Old Town, forms the beating heart of the city. In fact, this is where you can take part in the vibrant nightlife, cultural and shopping life.
In the Murat district you can walk around and admire late 18th- and early 19th-century buildings such as the Palazzo Ateneo, home of the University of Bari, or the Petruzzelli Theater, one of the largest in all of Apulia, as well as the Civic and Archaeological Museums.
One of the main attractions of the neighborhood is the famous Via Sparano, the shopping street and "the Salon of Bari", where you can find a wide range of boutiques, clothing, and jewelry stores and more. Renovated in 2018, Via Sparano has been modernized with the creation of 7 salons, each with its own "personality," such as the Art Nouveau salon, the music salon, and the fashion salon.
9) San Nicola Stadium
One of the most heated passions of the citizens of Bari is definitely soccer. Whether you too are a fan of “the beautiful game" or not, you cannot help but be contaminated by the affection its fans have for the city's team.
The place of worship where cheering comes alive and unites a city under the red and white colors is the distinctive San Nicola Stadium, which seats more than 58,000 and comes alive every Sunday.
Dubbed Renzo Piano's "spaceship," the San Nicola boasts the signature of Italy's most famous contemporary archistar. If you are in Bari during the course of the championship, taking a ticket could be a really good idea to get involved in this collective passion that blends together the city's inhabitants and gives life to unique choreographies.
10) Water Palace
In the heart of Bari in the Murat district lies the Palazzo dell'Acqua (Water Palace), a heritage building of Apulia and home to the present-day Apulian Aqueduct.
While the exterior facade displays elegant Trani stone decorations, the interior is adorned with frescoes, sculptures and pictorial decorations that emphasize a commodity as precious as it is fundamental to humans and the environment.
The Palazzo dell'Acqua is a must-see for art and history lovers who can admire this special way of celebrating the Apulian Aqueduct, the largest in Europe thanks to its 26,000 km of water pipes.
Not just Bari
"If Paris had a sea, it would be a small Bari" goes a funny saying among the people of Bari. Indeed, Bari is a lively city, full of attractions and historical sites, but it also has many nearby locations within transfer reach. If you are planning to visit Apulia's Regional Capital, also consider some tourist nearby treasures such as:
- Polignano a Mare: an expression of Apulia’s natural beauty, Polignano a Mare is known for its crystal-clear waters and rocky coastline from which you can enjoy breathtaking views.
- Alberobello: perhaps the most characteristic village in all of southern Italy, which thanks to its trulli is included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list.
- Castellana Caves: explore the natural caves through a series of underground paths, and admire the impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations.
- Monopoli: famous for its sandy beaches and medieval old town.
- Ostuni: known as the "White City" because of the color of its buildings and the panoramic view it offers.
- Mercadante Forest: the green lung of Bari, about 30 km from the Regional Capital you can immerse yourself in an area of about 1,300 hectares full of holly oaks, Aleppo pines, eucalyptus trees and many relaxing areas in the midst of nature.
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