Bari: Planning Your Trip

Bari, Apulia, Italia
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The region of Puglia is still a relatively undiscovered gem for international tourists in Italy. If you journey down to the area better known as the heel of Italy's boot, it's likely you'll at least start your journey in Bari, the capital of Puglia and one of the biggest cities in southern Italy. The large seaside city has the area's biggest airport, and the charming town center, medieval castle, and local cuisine alone are worth making the journey. Bari also makes a great starting point for exploring the rest of the region and traveling down to the famed beaches of the Salento Peninsula.

Planning Your Trip

  • Best Time: This coastal town is often visited in the summer to take advantage of the nearby beaches, but it can get uncomfortably hot and also crowded with Italian tourists. August is the month when most Italians are on vacation from work and rates skyrocket, so wait until fall when there are fewer crowds and milder weather. The Fiera del Levante is a massive annual exposition that takes place in September and also brings huge crowds, so check out the dates if you're planning a September trip.
  • Language: While there is a specific Bari dialect spoken by the locals, standard Italian is also spoken and understood by everyone so it's worth trying to learn a few phrases before your trip.
  • Currency: The currency used is the euro just as in the rest of Italy and most of Europe, although credit cards are widely accepted.
  • Getting Around: There is a train line that connects to the Bari Airport and buses throughout the city, but the heart of Bari is easily walkable on foot. You can also rent a bike for the day to cruise around the city.
  • Travel Tip: While Bari is definitely worth some time on your itinerary, it also makes a great jumping-off point for exploring the rest of the Puglia region.

Things to Do

Bari holds the typical Italian mix of Old World charm with a modern touch. Many of the buildings in the city center date back centuries, including parts of the original medieval walls that once surrounded all of Bari. While the city definitely has an antique feel to it, it's also filled with modern stores for those who want to shop, especially on Corso Cavour or Via Sparano.

  • Basilica di San Nicola: The Church of Saint Nicholas, better known around the world as Santa Claus, is the top tourist attraction in Bari. The church was built in 1087 and supposedly houses the remains of St. Nick in the crypt, surrounded by beautiful mosaics. The church features several different architectural styles and also houses a number of artworks.
  • Castello Svevo: This 12th-century castle was originally constructed in 1131 on the remains of Byzantine dwellings and an 11th-century religious complex and after being badly damaged, was renovated from 1233 to 1240 by Frederick II. Later, it was used as a royal residence, a barracks, and even a prison. Today it's open to visitors and includes an interesting Museum of Gypsum Works.
  • Seaside Promenade: The Lungomare Imperatore-Augusto promenade is just outside the historic center walls and makes for a scenic walk along the Adriatic Sea. In the morning you can see fishermen unloading and selling their fish in the small fishing harbor near the Margherita Theater.

What to Eat and Drink

As a coastal city, you can expect to find lots of fresh seafood in Bari. One of the local specialties is tiella, a rice dish that's made with potatoes and mussels. If seafood isn't your style, don't worry as there is plenty more to enjoy. The tiny ear-shaped orecchiette pasta is most associated with Puglia and you'll likely see it served alla cime di rape e salsiccia, with turnips and sausage. Walk around the residential neighborhoods and you'll likely see local women set up with their pasta-making tables in the street. Another delicious speciality of Bari is one you may already be familiar with: burrata. This creamy ball of mozzarella-like cheese is nothing short of decadent, and there's no better place to try it.

Italian woman in Bari making orecchiette
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When the weather is nice—which it often is—you'll see people sipping on drinks on outdoor terraces. Puglian wines may not have the international recognition as those from Tuscany in the north, but the wine-lovers are picking up on what the region has to offer. One type of local wine that's celebrated by sommeliers is Negroamaro, and very little is exported so it's difficult to find outside of the region.

Where to Stay

The city center is pretty small, so staying anywhere in the Old Town of Bari makes for convenient access to the main sights. While Bari makes a great base to begin your trip in Puglia, many of the best places to stay are outside of Bari proper. Nearby seaside towns such as Monopoli or Polignano a Mare are better for travelers seeking a beach vacation, since the beaches in Bari can feel a bit industrial.

About an hour outside of Bari in the Itria Valley are one of the most iconic attractions in Puglia: the cone-shaped buildings known as trulli. They're away from the coast, but spending the night in one of these rustic homes is a perfect way to disconnect and enjoy the Puglian countryside.

Woman walking near Trulli houses, Alberobello, Apulia, Italy
Matteo Colombo / Getty Images

Getting There

Bari is on the rail line running along the eastern coast from Rimini to Lecce and about four hours by train from Rome on the rail line across Italy. The train station is centrally located in the city, a short walk from the historic center, and next to the bus station. It's one of the busiest stations in Italy outside of the biggest cities and it's the transportation hub for trains serving the rest of southern Italy. Public buses also run throughout the city, many departing from the train station.

The Bari Karol Wojtyła Airport is one of the biggest airports in southern Italy and has service to cities all over Italy and Europe. Low-cost airlines like Ryanair and Wizzair both fly to Bari, so it's often possible to find very affordable flights.

Money Saving Tips

  • July and August are the busiest tourist months in Bari and the entire Puglia region, and hotel rates shoot up during these two months. Travel in the shoulder season of late spring or early fall for ideal weather with fewer crowds.
  • If you're planning to reach Bari by train, don't wait to buy your train tickets. Prices go up as the date gets closer and seats sell out, so you'll save money if you plan ahead.
  • Bari has a reputation for pickpockets, especially around the city center. Make sure to keep your valuables safely guarded so you don't lose anything during your stay.
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