Bari, in Puglia, is known as the ‘gateway to the East, due to its history of trade. It’s a fascinating city that is full of charm. Many people fly in to Bari to go onto other destinations in Puglia but I’d highly recommend spending a few days exploring Bari and all it has to offer.
Where is Bari?
Bari is the capital of Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot. It is a port city and lies on the Adriatic Sea.
How to get from Bari airport to the city
Bari has an international airport, Karol Wojtyla, which is located just 8km from the city centre. There is a train, operated by Ferrotramviaria Spa, that takes you direct to the central train station in less than 20 minutes and costs just over €5 each way. There are also buses to the airport or a taxi will set you back around €25 to the city centre.
How long do you need in Bari?
Bari itself is not a huge city. We spent three nights and felt that it was enough time to see everything that we wanted to see. Of course if you’re planning to visit other towns or cities then you will need at least a week – maybe even two.
7 reasons to visit Bari
If you’re looking for reasons to visit Bari and put it on your travel list, here are 7!
Step back in time in Bari Vecchia
One of my highlights visiting Bari was getting lost in the maze of medieval streets that make up Bari Vecchia. This is very much a residential area so you’ll see washing hanging up, women chatting outside their homes, children running around – and of course lots of tourists too.
We chose to explore ourselves but there are many walking or cycling tours that you can do that will give you the history. There are even street food tours if you fancy eating local delicacies.
The main square, Piazza Mercantile, is full of restaurants and bars and is absolutely buzzing at night. You’ll find many locals sitting in groups, watching all the action taking place whilst children run around playing football.
A top tip is to go to Martinucci Laboratory and have a pasticciotto – a filled pastry (that’s more like a biscuit). They are typical to Puglia (originally from Lecce) and they are delicious! Martinucci Laboratory makes the best ones.
The south of Italy is deeply religious and you’ll find many religious icons outside of homes and in the streets themselves. The one pictured below looks like a church altar!
History really is everywhere in Bari Vecchia. We walked around a corner and stumbled upon these ancient Roman columns, where apparently a church stood in the 10th century. It was also once an orphanage but in 1824 it was abandoned and then torn down in 1939. In the 80’s archaeologists excavated the site and found traces of a hut from the 15th or 16th century BC!!
Immerse yourself in tradition
Bari is a city of traditions. Head to the seafood market at Porto Vecchio, to watch the fishermen perform an ancient tradition of preparing octopus to eat, called arricciare. The process can take up to two hours and starts with slamming the octopus, to soften the tentacles, then cleaning it and hitting it with a wooden tool. The last phase is rubbing it on a rock and then rinsing it in salt water. The tentacles now curl. The fisherman sell it raw for you to eat straight away. We love octopus but I’m afraid we weren’t brave enough to try it raw! It was fascinating watching it. We did eat it cooked though at lunch at the delightful Frisc e Mmange restaurant.
One tradition you definitely don’t want to miss is a stroll down Strada delle Orecchiette (Orecchiette Street) where women sit outside their homes, making fresh orecchiette and then drying it to sell. As well as pasta, they also sell other items such as sundried tomatoes and different types of taralli (a type of sweet or savoury biscuit).
We watched Nunzia making orrechiette by hand, which was mesmerizing! We bought a bag from her, as well as two different types of sweet taralli and a packet of sundried tomatoes – all for €11.50.
Eat delicious food
Puglia is one of the best regions in Italy when it comes to food. ‘Cucina Povera’ is the art of cooking simple, seasonal ingredients and dates back to when the region was one of the poorest in Italy.
When in Bari, I’d recommend eating some local and regional dishes, such as Focaccia Barese, pasticciotto, panzerotti, cozze riso e patate (mussels with rice and potatoes) and orrechiette – perhaps with cime di rapa.
Enjoy Puglian wine
Puglia is famous for being the biggest producer of olive oil and is known as the ‘breadbasket’ because they are one of the main producers of durum wheat. But did you know that they also produce wonderful wine? We always try to drink local wine if we can and Puglian wine did not disappoint!
The two most popular DOC wines produced in the Puglia wine region are Salice Salentino and Primitivo di Manduria. If you’re interested in learning more, this is a great article about Puglia’s wine regions.
It’s tempting to stick to wine you know, and love, but give local Puglian wine a go!
Explore the history of Bari at Castello Svevo (Swabian Castle)
Southern Italy has a lot of castles, thanks mainly to the Normans. Roger II, the Norman King of Sicily, built the castle in Bari in 1132 on the ruins of a former Byzantine structure – the remains of which you can see today when you visit. Years later the city was ransacked several times and the castle was rebuilt in 1232 by Frederick II of Swabia.
The castle has an unusual (and many names) thanks to Fredrick II. It’s called Castello Svevo (Swabian castle) and also Hohenstaufen castle. This is because Frederick’s Father was named Frederick Hohenstaufen and he came from Swabia (Svevo) in Germany.
In the 16th century the castle took on a Renaissance residence with the arrival of Duchess Isabella d’Aragona and her daughter Bona Sforza. It then went through a period of abandonment before becoming a prison and then barracks.
Today it is a museum that you can visit to discover more about its history and also to view plaster reproductions of important Apulian monuments and cathedrals in the Gipsoteca.
The museum is closed on Mondays and is open from 9am to 7pm and costs €8 to visit. Check the website before you visit for opening times and prices.
Walk or cycle along the longest promenade in Italy
Bari has the longest seaside promenade in Italy, called Lungomare e Murat. It stretches for 15 kilometers and is a lovely promenade to go for a stroll or a cycle. There are cycle lanes next to the promenade, however the road is really busy. We didn’t see any ‘no cycle’ signs on the promenade itself and no-one told us off for cycling on it. We were careful of course to avoid people walking or running.
There are some amazing buildings along the promenade, particularly some art deco ones. Be sure to stop by Pane e Pomodoro beach for a swim or a rest.
Visit nearby towns
Bari is perfectly placed to visit nearby towns for day trips. In around 30 minutes by train you can visit the beautiful seaside town of Polignano a Mare and spend a day by the beach. It cost us less than €13 for two of us for a return trip – a bargain!