Italy for some people might conjure up images of pasta, gelato and gondolas in cities packed with tourists like Venice, Rome, Naples or Florence. Yet there’s a less visited but just as beautiful city on the country’s southeast coast that should be on any serious traveler’s must visit list: Bari.
Even though it’s not as well-known as other major Italian cities, Bari has a population of more than 300,000 and plenty to offer visitors. Whether you’re looking for popping nightlife, rest and relaxation, historic tours, a shopping destination, or a little bit of everything, this city won’t disappoint.
It’s easy to get to Bari by boat, car, train or airplane. If you’re coming by car then getting there from other cities is simple. As a coastal city, its ports are always busy. The main train station connects to other major Italian destinations to the north, east and south. And flyers can arrive at the modern Bari Karol Wojtyła Airport, which is named after Pope John Paul II’s birth name.
Bari is divided roughly into several sections, with the old town in the northern part of the city hosting some of the most notable centuries-old landmarks including Instagram-worthy locations like centuries-old religious buildings. In the south of the city you’ll find a shoppers’ paradise with a massive commercial district and an eye-catching promenade by the sea. The wide mix of things to do means you’ll find something fun regardless of which season you visit.
No matter how much time you set aside for visiting this captivating city, it’ll never be enough. To make the most of your Italian journey, consider these 10 sites as essential to visit:
1. Bari’s beaches
Bari has some of the most beautiful beaches in Italy, and a great day out can be had simply decamping to one of these lush sites to relax, splash in the crystal clear blue sea, and soak up the sun. It’s a short car ride from the center of the city to get to one of many beaches, with various options depending on what you’re looking for. Many people head to Pane e Pomodoro beach, but tourists should know that there are some big industrial facilities nearby and some waste. Alternative beaches to try include those dotted around the nearby town of Polignano a Mare. There you can find a range of beaches, from those designed for families with children (such as Porto Cavallo) to those enjoyed mostly by the locals (such as the cove hideaway Cala Paura). Be respectful when visiting, don’t litter, and you’ll be rewarded with one of the simplest ways to spend a day in Italy.
2. Alta Murgia National Park
Nature lovers have plenty of options in Bari; not only can they visit beaches but they can also spend time at Alta Murgia National Park. Opened in July 2004, the park covers almost 69,000 hectares of gorgeous landscape dotted with sites of archaeological importance. Visitors can tour leftover stone structures from what used to be town centers, or tour cathedrals and museums located in the park to learn more about it and the area. The park is a manageable distance from Bari, and anyone who makes the journey will be rewarded with a lush countryside landscape. Expect colorful flowers and lush views during your time at the park, while learning a piece of Italy’s history. The park has an official website (https://www.parcoaltamurgia.gov.it/) with extensive details about what visitors can expect, and it also offers great advice on several options for traveling to and from the park.
3. Shopping at Via Sparano
If retail therapy is your way of enjoying a vacation then consider a trip to Via Sparano. This street, located just a few blocks from the waterfront and the Porto Vecchio di Bari, is home to many well-known brands from the affordable to aspirational. Take your time window shopping the high-priced stores for Gucci and other major designers, or swing by a collection of high street names like H&M and Zara. And it’s not just clothes shops, there are plenty of art, leisure and other stores to keep your interest. Via Sparano and the surrounding area is also home to several great bars and restaurants, which can provide a pleasant reprieve from visiting so many stores. If shopping is a top priority for your trip to Italy, there are also a handful of bed and breakfasts and hotels with decent ratings in the immediate area in and around Via Sparano.
4. Lungomare Nazario Sauro promenade
For a cheaper way to wander the streets of Bari but still see one of the must-visit destinations, spend some time strolling up and down the promenade Lungomare Nazario Sauro. This lengthy path straddles the coastline of the southern part of the city, with views looking over small beaches and gorgeous buildings dating back decades and centuries. And you can even glimpse the industrial image of Bari’s bustling ports with commercial ships coming and going. Taking a walk along the promenade is a great way to spend some time in Bari during the warm summer months, because the fresh air blowing across from the water will help you to stay cool under the sun. This might not be a top destination in the colder winter months unless you dress appropriately for the weather. But in that chilly season you could always enjoy some perfect pasta at one of the nearby restaurants and see the promenade from indoors.
5. Wander through Bari Vecchia
Continue your on-foot exploration of Bari by wandering through Bari Vecchia, the old town that can mentally transport you to a bygone world. Admire the weather-worn buildings from years past as you explore a maze of winding roads, passageways, squares and more. The white and light yellow-colored buildings are largely populated by locals, allowing tourists to get a taste of daily life in Bari. Snapshot-happy visitors will find a postcard perfect picture on every corner, and they can have a reprieve from exploring the old town by enjoying one of the locally run cafes. It’s the perfect spot for some al fresco dining when the weather’s nice, sitting back and enjoying the scenery. Sip a coffee and watch the world pass by and restore your energy for walking through more of this charming area.
6. The Basilica of Saint Nicholas
Bari Vecchia is also home to one of the city’s most notable landmarks, the Basilica Of Saint Nicholas. Built between 1087 and 1197, this basilica — the name given to certain churches awarded special privileges by the pope — is perhaps the main attraction in the city’s old town. Throughout the many years it’s developed into a prime destination for religious followers across Europe and elsewhere. As the home of centuries of religious history, it has many invaluable artefacts on display that are a testament to the church’s central role in the development of Bari. Visitors can explore the main church as well as several other interesting buildings. History buffs will be able to spend several hours exploring the library and archives that house important historical documents, or they can tour the St. Nicholas Museum. This relatively new building (opened in 2010) displays some of the most valuable pieces from the history of the Basilica, which still functions as a church for residents.
7. Bari Cathedral
History and religion buffs can also enjoy a visit to Bari Cathedral, which offers an alternative to the bigger and busier Basilica of Saint Nicholas. Constructed during the 12th and 13th centuries, this building took the place of another cathedral that was destroyed in 1156. Tours of the cathedral are available for a price through third party companies, but skip those and enjoy the site at your own pace and for free. Explore the pews and marvel at the intricate designs inside the main part of the cathedral before descending into the crypt to learn more about the past of this local landmark. It is dedicated to Saint Sabinus of the Roman Catholic Church who was bishop of Italy’s Puglia region, which includes Bari, from 514 until his death in 566. Some of his relics are preserved in the cathedral’s crypt and can be viewed by the public, in addition to some remarkable marble art features and other highly artistic architectural features. Because it’s not as well-known as the Basilica of Saint Nicholas, the Bari Cathedral often has smaller crowds, creating a relaxing place for art lovers to enjoy regardless of their religious backgrounds.
8. Pinacoteca Metropolitana Di Bari
Another great option for Bari visitors looking to enjoy some art is the Pinacoteca Metropolitana Di Bari. (www.pinacotecabari.it/) This art gallery located in the city is home to a host of paintings and other artworks, and was launched at another location in 1928 at the Palace of Government. It was then moved in 1936 to the Palace of Province along the seafront, in a gorgeous white-and-red colored building with a tall white clock tower that makes it easy to locate. The artwork on display runs the gamut from medieval paintings to modern installations, providing something for every taste and hours worth of beautiful pieces to enjoy. Even though it’s a museum, the Pinacoteca Metropolitana Di Bari is a great location for children because it has a number of exhibits designed to help them learn about some of the many collections it houses including oil paintings, stone and terracotta sculptures, and woodcuttings. The whole family will enjoy a trip to this museum which is open Tuesdays through Sundays, busiest during the peak tourist season in the summer but quieter in the winter months.
9. The Norman-Swabian Castle
Bari is a city rife with historical landmarks, and the Norman-Swabian Castle e is yet another of the seemingly endless examples. It’s located on the outer edges of Bari Vecchia, which is the old town section of the city. Construction on the castle started in 1131 A.D. and it served as a fortified structure for Norman King Roger II. Throughout the centuries it has undergone many reconstructions, and visitors today will now find an imposing castle with large stone walls surrounded by a moat, which has since been filled and is now covered by lush vegetation. Entry to the sprawling structure is done across a bridge leading to its main entrance, leading to a courtyard with passageways splintering off in many directions. It’s a site that allows for hours of exploration, uncovering the secrets of the castle while appreciating the impressive stonework that has survived centuries of war and every possible weather element. And peek over the castle walls at certain points for gorgeous views of Bari and its seaside.
10. Teatro Petruzzelli
Theater lovers have to make a stop at Teatro Petruzzelli, (https://www.fondazionepetruzzelli.it/) which has the notable claim of being the biggest theater in Bari, and the fourth largest theater by size in Italy. The theater was the brainchild of shipping traders Onofrio and Antonio Petruzzelli, and construction was completed in 1903. An arson destroyed the theater in 1991 but it has been restored to its prior grand state. The ornate furnishings and elaborate interior decorations catch the eye, with the building’s rooftop dome providing a central focal point. It’s a gorgeous venue where a long roster of celebrities have performed, including Frank Sinatra, Liza Minelli, Ray Charles, and Luciano Pavarotti. Guided tours are available, usually on Saturdays and Sundays for 5 Euros, although some discounts are available. It’s worth paying for the guided tours, operated by the theater, to get the inside scoop on this historic building and learn some of the stories from its rich history.
Whatever you choose, you’ll have a great time
If you’re traveling to Bari, consider an extended trip so you can visit all 10 of the above highlights. Each tells a story about the city and its long history in a unique way, and together they give a great impression of this southern Italian destination. But if you can only make one or two of the sites on the list, you’re still bound to have a great time because it’s hard to be disappointed when visiting beautiful Bari.
ONE WAY TRANSFER PRICE LIST
(average charge – all included by a Private Transfer) From Naxos Airport.
|Parikia Town (Capital)||48€|