Known as the White City of Salento, this is one of the most beautiful destinations in Southern Italy. Let’s discover the best things to do in Ostuni Italy among nature, history and culture.
Perched on three hills on the southern slopes of the Murgia, Ostuni is one of the best known and most popular towns in the Salento Peninsula, and one of the most loved by tourists.
Its distinctive feature are the famous white houses, painted entirely with lime, which, with the contrast of the sea and the blue sky, makes for a breathtaking scene. But why are these houses white? You should know that the origin of this “flagship” lies in mainly strategic reasons. The light reflected by the sun on the houses had the function of blinding enemies from the sea.
But not only that, it was also for hygienic reasons. In 1656, following a period of epidemics and famine, it became compulsory for citizens to use lime for their homes, as the material was resistant to bacteria and micro-organisms.
However, Ostuni is so much more. Vineyards and ancient farms colour the landscape, together with the blue Adriatic Sea. A fusion that is expressed in its spectacular beaches, which at night turn into the heart of Salento’s movida. Not to mention Apulian cuisine!
Visiting Ostuni is an unmissable experience. That’s why today I’m going to take you on this fantastic journey. Together we will organise a perfect itinerary to discover the best things to do in Ostuni!
Top Things to do in Ostuni
The White City has a world to discover. From its amazing palaces to the renowned crystal-clear beaches. Not to mention the landscape, a burst of colour!
Here are the best 10 things to do in Ostuni:
- Aragonese Walls
- Ostuni Cathedral
- Piazza della Libertà
- Church of St. Francis of Assisi
- St. Oronzo’s Obelisk
- Civic Museum
- Archaeological Park of Santa Maria di Agnano
- Marina di Ostuni
- Regional Nature Park Dune Costiere
- Torre Guaceto Protected Area
Are you ready? Come with me to discover the best things to do in Ostuni and its surroundings!
From the Aragonese Walls to the Ostuni Cathedral
There are many places of historical and cultural interest in the white city. But if there is one place you should absolutely visit, it is the Aragonese Walls. These imposing and well-preserved walls have protected Ostuni since the Middle Ages. They were built to repel Saracen invasions and were later extended when the Otranto massacre occurred in 1480. The aim was to implement a defence against the invasions of the Turks, who were eager for the Adriatic ports.
As a result, you can well understand that Ostuni’s walls, made up of bastions and towers, constitute a great historical testimony, and completely surround the historic centre.
In addition to the famous white houses, the historic centre is characterised by numerous small streets that intersect within the town, like a labyrinth. The only real street worthy of the name is Via Cattedrale, which divides the old town into two. The latter will take you to one of the city’s major tourist attractions, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta.
Located in the highest part of the city, the cathedral was built in the 15th century by Ferdinand of Aragon and Alfonso II, rulers of the Kingdom of Naples. The Gothic style is expressed in all its power by the central rose window on the façade, finely decorated with 24 rays. It has been declared the second largest rose window in Europe.
Piazza della Libertà and its treasures
Another important place in the historic centre is Piazza della Libertà, one of Ostuni’s main cultural centres. The square is surrounded by many attractions, such as the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, the Palazzo San Francesco, the Church of the Holy Spirit and, of course, the famous St. Oronzo’s Obelisk. It is a meeting point for locals, but especially for tourists. It comes alive at night, thanks to the many bars and restaurants adorning its perimeter.
The Church of St. Francis, together with the adjoining convent, is one of the best things to see in Ostuni. Considered one of the most important churches in the white city, it was built in 1304, although it has undergone extensive alterations over time. Today, the original façade is no longer visible, as the church was attached to the convent, which now houses the town hall.
A further treasure to be found in the square is the famous Obelisk of St Oronzo, a symbol of Ostuni’s devotion to its holy bishop, who saved the people of Ostuni from the plague in 1740. Also known as “the spire”, it stands almost 21 metres high and is characterised by its Baroque style, made of local stone. Dating from 1771, it is surmounted at the top by St. Oronzo’s statue, making it a true sanctuary for the people of Ostuni.
Visiting Ostuni between culture and nature
Continuing our tour of Ostuni, we must stop at the Civic Museum. It is one of the most important museums in the city and is housed in the former monastery of Santa Maria Maddalena dei Pazzi. Opened in 1989, it contains exhibits from the Messapic, medieval and modern periods. It is a real journey through time, which deserves to be visited and appreciated.
But beware, it doesn’t end there. Just 2 km away from the historic centre, you can discover the beauty of the Santa Maria di Agnano Natural Archaeological Park, linked to the Civic Museum. We are in the surroundings of Ostuni and here you will find several testimonies of the Neolithic and medieval ages. The park contains the Grotta di Agnano (Agnano Cave), a site of cults and rituals 3,000 years old. Two burials have been found, including “Ostuni 1”, also known as “Donna di Ostuni”, which has been identified as the body of a pregnant woman.
Things to do in Ostuni also include enjoying its wonderful nature. And, if you are a nature lover, this place is for you! The Regional Nature Park Dune Costiere is a protected natural area in the territory of Ostuni and Fasano. Covering no less than 1,100 hectares, it is home to an immense natural heritage made up of numerous animal and plant species. Strolling along the paths that cross it, you can admire the beauty of this area, decorated with centuries-old olive trees and ancient farms.
What to see in Ostuni? Explore the beaches
Visiting Ostuni and discovering the history that has characterised the white city is interesting and fascinating, but what about its beautiful beaches? Especially for sea lovers, Ostuni means sea and beaches. It is one of the most popular summer resorts, ideal for couples, families, or friends looking for fun and relaxation!
Amidst breathtaking beaches and coves, coloured by the Mediterranean vegetation, Marina di Ostuni stretches for around 17 km, with types of beaches to suit everyone’s needs. For example, Costa Merlata is a beach characterised by its inlets and jagged coastline.
Or the beach of Creta Rossa, named after the particular colour of its sand. Characterised by an alternation of rocky inlets and sandy expanses, the beach is also called “Spiaggia degli Scalini” (Staircase Beach) because of the natural rocky steps that facilitate the descent into the water.
Last but not least, I would recommend Rosa Marina beach, which has always been considered one of the most sought-after tourist destinations. With its sand enriched by the spicy scent of vegetation, it offers many activities, both sporting and non-sporting, thanks to the proximity of a well-known tourist village. In fact, Rosa Marina is one of the most famous private beaches.
A must-see in Ostuni is Torre Guaceto, a protected marine area and WWF nature reserve. Although it is about half an hour from Ostuni, between the towns of Carovigno and Brindisi, trust me it will be worth it! The Reserve covers about 1,200 hectares, where flora and fauna are the protagonists. The beach is characterised by a treacherous rocky part but, at the same time, there is also a small sandy beach, perfect for those who want to relax.
What to see in and around Ostuni?
Carovigno and Cisternino, two towns just a few kilometres from Ostuni, are ideal day trips. We are located in the vicinity of Ostuni and this will make you understand how its beauty is not only concentrated in the white city itself but also in the surrounding areas.
Carovigno is an interesting historic centre with very ancient origins and numerous churches. But one of its unmissable attractions is certainly the Dentice di Frasso Castle, located at the top of the town. Many other architectures embellish the town, which is full of testimonies of the medieval past. While, as far as Cisternino is concerned, the historical buildings and towers, the churches and the Capuchin convent are worth seeing.
Not to be forgotten is Locorotondo, considered one of the most beautiful towns in Puglia. With its evocative views of the historic centre, it too boasts a remarkable historical and artistic heritage.
If you are visiting Puglia on a longer holiday, I recommend including Polignano a mare in your itinerary. Although not in the Itria Valley, this beautiful location is only 40 minutes away and definitely worth the trip!
What to eat in Ostuni
But apart from admiring the beauty of this Apulian town, what are the best things to do in Ostuni? Of course, you can’t help but enjoy the traditional Apulian cuisine, a cuisine that combines land and sea dishes. Apulian cuisine is one of the best, and its succulent specialities will make your palate live a real dream!
The famous orecchiette, a type of fresh pasta typical of Puglia, is certainly a must on the table. The most traditional recipe is “orecchiette alla cima di rapa” (orecchiette pasta with turnip tops), although there are many other tasty variations, such as orecchiette with broccoli and sausage.
Not to mention the renowned panzerotto pugliese, a real gem of Italian gastronomy. It is a typical Apulian speciality, a half-moon of leavened dough filled and then fried. The most classic version consists of mozzarella and tomato, but here too there are many variations, with meat, vegetables and so on.
On the other hand, if you want to enjoy a good aperitif at sunset, what you need is some taralli. Perfect as a snack, they are a speciality included in the list of traditional Italian food products (PAT). However, there are many other delicacies in Apulian cuisine: friselle with tomato sauce, cavatelli with chickpeas and much more!
What to do in Ostuni: activities and events
Apart from good food, Ostuni is also full of activities. From hiking and cycling to water sports, a must in a seaside resort. For the lazy ones, however, the ideal thing to do is to relax on the famous beaches, where you can enjoy the warmth of the sun and take in the view.
I would also recommend a visit to the olive groves to explore one of the most important Apulian foods, extra virgin olive oil. After all, the Apulian landscape is invaded by these precious trees, alternating with ancient farms, perfect for tasting the traditional local foods.
Furthermore, if you visit Ostuni in summer, you can take part in St. Oronzo’s Festival, a very old tradition that is renewed every year. It consists of a series of celebrations for the town’s patron saint. It includes the famous Saint Oronzo’s ride: the silver statue of the saint is escorted in procession by horsemen in red costumes to symbolise the blood of martyrdom.
How to get to Ostuni Italy
To get to Ostuni you have several options. By train, you can reach the town centre by bus from Ostuni station, located just two kilometres away. Or, if you arrive by plane, you can land at Brindisi airport, just 35 km away, and then take a bus into town. Otherwise, you can reach your destination by car. A bit uncomfortable because of the many hours of travel, depending on your starting point, but there is an advantage. You will be able to visit Ostuni and its surroundings in total freedom!
Ostuni is truly a fantastic place to visit and now that we have concluded our itinerary on what to see in Ostuni, you have all the makings of a great trip in the white city.
Did you know that Italia Delight has many activities in Puglia, the famous “heel of Italy’s boot”? Such as, for example, the food and wine trip “Food Tour in Puglia and Matera”, which you can customise with the local Expert, and many others!
What are you waiting for? Choose the experience that suits you best! Discovering the best things to do in Ostuni, the white city of Italy 😉