Lecce is a historic city in Puglia, the heel of Italy. It’s referred to as the ‘Florence of the South’ and is famous for its beautiful Baroque buildings, which are found all around the city. If you’re a lover of history, architecture and culture, you will adore Lecce – in fact, exploring the historic buildings is one the best things to do in Lecce. And if you’re a beach lover, you’re just a ten minute drive to the sea.
How to get to Lecce
The nearest airport to Lecce is Brindisi. There are buses from the airport to Lecce, however they only run every three hours. We booked the AIR Shuttle, which was €35 each way for the two of us. It does mean that you share it with others but it was just us when we landed and then there were only two other people on our way back. It took around half an hour to get to and from the airport.
Where to stay in Lecce
If you want to be in the buzz of the city then I’d recommend staying in the centro storico – the historic centre. We stayed in an AirBnB that was right by the Duomo – just look at this view!
It was the perfect location for both exploring as well as dining. We were in walking distance of every restaurant we had booked. There are plenty of hotel and B&B options in Lecce to suit every taste and budget. Note though that if you are hiring a car and you want to stay in the historic centre, you won’t be able to park in the street – and you might not be able to drive in the centre either. Your hotel or AirBnB will be able to advise where you can park.
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The best things to do in Lecce
Whether you’re in Lecce for just a weekend or a week, there are plenty of things to do and see in and around Lecce. Here’s the best things to do in Lecce!
Wander around the centro storico
Honestly, Lecce is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve been to. You can spend a good few hours just walking around the centro storico, taking in the beautiful architecture, visiting the shops and the historical sites. Even just wandering down a little street can delight the senses!
Visit Piazza Sant’Oronzo
Piazza Sant’Oronza is a bustling piazza with shops, bars and restaurants all around it but what really stands out is the Roman amphitheater right in the centre! It was discovered in the 900s but it dates back apparently to the Augustan age. It was discovered whilst they were building the Banca d’Italia building. What’s so interesting about Piazza Sant’Oronza is the different architectural styles you’ll find amongst the buildings and churches – from Gothic to Renaissance.
Have a drink in the Piazza del Duomo
Not only is the Piazza del Duomo so beautiful, it’s a great place to people watch. Have a coffee and watch the world go by. In the evening, the piazza really comes to life! There’s a man who plays the piano right by the piazza and it’s lovely to just sit and listen to the beautiful music in such a stunning setting.
Visit the Duomo
The Duomo (Cathedral in English) is called Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption and Saint Orontius or the Cathedral of Lecce for short. It was built in 1144 and then again in 1230. At the request of bishop Luigi Pappacoda it was rebuilt in 1659 by architect Giuseppe Zimbalo. Within the Cathedral you’ll find the sarcophagus of Bishop Alfonso Sozy Carafa as well as a crypt which is dedicated to Santa Maria della Scala. You can visit the Duomo and the crypt for just €6 or you can purchase a ticket that allows you to see other sites, which is €9.
Go up the bell tower
The bell tower is almost 71m tall and is one of the tallest in Europe. It was built between 1661 and 1682 by the same architect, Giuseppe Zimbalo, who rebuilt the Cathedral. It was renovated a few years ago and it now has a lift so that you can get to the highest point. Apparently you can see the Adriatic sea, which is 10km away.
I’ll caveat that we didn’t go up the bell tower, mainly because we did so many a few months earlier in Lucca! The cost is separate to the Cathedral and the bell tower is only open from May to September. If I remember correctly the cost was about €12 per person.
Explore the churches
Apparently there are 22 churches in Lecce’s historic centre alone, which is a lot considering it’s not a huge city. There’s even a church trail! Some of the churches you need to pay to visit and some, like the Church of Saint Irene, are free.
Italian churches are just amazing! Just look at all the detail in the sculptures that adorn the arches inside the Church of Saint Irene. Honestly, you could spend hours just admiring them as they are works of art.
Visit the nearby beaches
The nearest beach to Lecce is around 10km away and there are lots of lovely swimming spots that you can visit that are less than an hour from the city.
La Poesia is a natural rock pool that you can visit for €3 per person, although you’re not allowed to swim here. When we visited there was an archaeological team doing excavations and they were dusting human bones! La Poesia translates as Cave of Poetry, although I’m not sure why it’s called this.
One of my favourite spots that we swam at was Baia dei Turchi (Bay of Turks), which is near Otranto. It’s so named because apparently the Turks landed in this bay in the 15th century. To get to the beach, you need to walk about 1.4km down a road and then through a little forest. There is a little shuttle train that you can get that will take you from the parking lot to the start of the forest.
Another beach we really loved was torre dell’orso, which has two rocks that are affectionately called the ‘two sisters’. It’s quite a big beach that has a number of beach clubs as well as public areas that are free.
Day trip to Otranto
Otranto is a very pretty coastal town about 40 or so kilometers from Lecce. It is definitely worth a day trip! Not only does it have some lovely swimming spots, it has lots of historical sites to see.
Our day in Otranto started with a swim in a gorgeous swimming spot right by the old town. We visited in September, which is a great month to visit Puglia as the temperature is very pleasant and it’s not as crowded. We had no problem finding a spot to lay down our towels!
After our swim we had a wander around the town and bought some local olive oil and some taralli. In the UK the variety of taralli are quite limited and they’re always savory. In Puglia you can find so many different flavours, including sweet ones. We bought some with chocolate and pistachio and they were amazing.
We then had a delicious lunch at LaltroBaffo, which is right near the castle. I’d highly recommend eating here if you visit Otranto. They don’t have a view but they do have tables outside and the decor is really nice.
Since we were right by the castle, we decided to go and visit it. At €12 per person it’s quite pricey but it obviously goes towards maintaining this historic site. It was built in the 15th century, and as far as castles go – from the outside it’s not the prettiest!
Inside the castle you’ll find some artwork as well as historical artifacts that explain the history of the castle. At the time we visited there was an amazing photographic exhibition.
If you walk along the walls of the castle to the end, you’ll get a lovely view of the marina below.
Take a look at the ‘hidden’ Roman theatre
If you didn’t know that it was here… you’d probably walk straight past the ‘hidden’ Roman Theater in Lecce. It’s tucked away amongst buildings and isn’t really visible from the street. It was discovered in 1929 when they started building some new houses and they discovered the steps. There’s a small museum that you can visit too.
Enjoy local delicacies like puccia
When in Italy you have to try the local or regional delicacies. In Lecce, a local food is puccia – which is essentially a slightly toasted sandwich filled with delicious things. You’ll find them everywhere in Lecce! We had puccia at Al Fanfulla, which is in Via Degli Ammirati – about a 5 minute walk from the Duomo (and the same street you’ll find the hidden Roman Theater). I opted for the puccia with Mortadella, pistachio and burrata and it was really good.
Another, more regional, delicacy you should try in Lecce is frisella (or frisa) – especially when having aperitivo before dinner. They are bread rolls that have been baked until they are quite hard, then topped with different toppings. Our favourite topping is pretty simple – just tomatoes (bursting with flavour!). Apparently frisella date back to 1300! How amazing is that?
In terms of pasta, Puglia is known for orecchiette, which translates in English as ‘little ears’, due to their shape. So when in Puglia, you simply must order orecchiette. I had a fabulous one with prawns and an almond cream in Otranto at a fabulous restaurant near the castle, called LaltroBaffo.
I hope I’ve tempted you to put beautiful Lecce on your travel list! If you’ve been, share your tips in the comments.