Bari is one of the most enchanting historic cities in Italy, offering a wealth of attractions even if you have limited time. This guide will help you explore the city and make the most of your one-day visit.
We are in Bari, one of the most important cities in Puglia, and a must-see destination due to its wealth of art, architecture, historic buildings, churches, cathedrals and city markets.
The city has a long history, it is very ancient, dating back to the 10th century B.C. when it was founded by the Peucezi (or Peuceti) people, one of the three main tribal groups that formed the Iapigi people in the region of Puglia. According to legend, the founder of Bari was Iapige, son of Daedalus, the builder of the famous labyrinth. This is why Apulia is originally named “Iapigia.”
In those days, the name of Bari was “Bayrìa” which means “house building,” “township.” Later, the names changed to “Barion” and “Barium” (Latin name), from which Bari then originated.
Bari is also known as the “Gateway to the East”, a nickname that reflects its historical importance as a meeting point between East and West during periods of intense trade. This is because Bari, already a major port in the time of the Peucezians, became one of the most important ports of the Byzantine Empire.
Over the centuries, many other peoples have left their mark on the city’s history. Bari owes its charm also to its long tradition of being dominated by various civilizations, including the Romans, the Byzantines, the Lombards, the Normans and Swabians, the Saracens, the Spanish, the Austrians, the Bourbons…
That’s why today the city has a multicultural character and is characterized by diverse architectural styles, rich historical heritage, and a renowned culinary tradition. Apulian cuisine, with its typical dishes, is famous worldwide.
Let’s move on to some interesting facts that will help you to know this city better. If you visit Bari, you will immediately notice its characteristic wooden rowing boats—the gozzi (“lanze” in the Bari dialect)—which can be seen in vibrant colors floating in the small ports of Puglia.
And then, you have to make your way into its most characteristic neighborhoods, such as San Nicola, or Bari Vecchia, the old town of Bari that dates back to the Middle Ages. This is where the most important monuments are located, such as the Basilica of St. Nicholas, a landmark for Christians and Orthodox; the Cathedral of St. Sabinus; the Fort of St. Anthony Abbot; the Norman-Swabian Castle. And then there is also the New Town, the more modern Bari, between the railway and the coast.
You should know that from Bari you can reach other places to visit in a day trip: UNESCO sites, such as Castel del Monte and the trulli of Alberobello, just over 50 km away; Polignano a Mare, about 35-40 km away; the villages of the Valle d’Itria; the caves of Castellana – just to name a few. But these out-of-town trips are feasible if you can stay for at least a long weekend.
It’s time to hit the road and find out what to see in Bari in a day, so you can enjoy everything better from the city, even if you only have a few hours!
What to see in Bari in one day
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In Apulia, the meeting point of East and West, there are many enchanting places to discover, including the sea, countryside, and villages. The mild Mediterranean climate, all year-round, contributes to the welcoming atmosphere and the sociable, inviting people, reflecting the vibrant and sunny nature of the southern culture.
Our itinerary focuses on Bari, specifically on the historic center, to visit its most important monuments. Ideally, the visit would take at least a full day, preferably two. However, if you only have one day or half a day, you can choose to visit a few hours’ worth of main attractions in Bari, depending on your preferences. The entire historic center can be explored on foot.
If you arrive by car and need to park, it is advisable to leave your car in one of the guarded parking lots. There are several options available, such as the SABA Porto di Bari parking lot, the QUICK San Francesco parking lot near the Old Town, and the SABA Bari Guadagni parking lot near the Central Station.
Once you have parked, we can begin our itinerary in Bari and embark on a tour of the historic center.
1. Basilica of St. Nicholas and the Nicolaean Museum with the treasure of St. Nicholas
The first monument to visit can only be the famous Basilica of St. Nicholas (built between 1089-1100), which houses the relics of Bari’s patron saint, Russians and Greeks (in the crypt under the central altar).
The church, in Apulian Romanesque style and one of the most important pilgrimage destinations, was established under Norman rule when the relics of St. Nicholas arrived in Bari from the Shrine of Myra. In fact, the saint is also known as St. Nicholas of Myra, a bishop venerated by both the Catholic and Orthodox churches.
A short walk from the Basilica is the Nicolaean Museum, featuring the renowned “Treasure of St. Nicholas”: precious gifts, sacred vestments, codices, and liturgical objects dedicated to the saint.
The veneration of St. Nicholas deserves a mention: since 1087, his remains, retrieved on May 8th in Myra (the Turkish city where he served as a bishop), were transported by 62 sailors to Bari and enshrined in the crypt of the Basilica bearing his name. The cult of St. Nicholas is considered a bridge between East and West as it originated in Turkey and reached the city of Bari through the translation of his relics, thus encompassing both the Christian and Orthodox faiths.
2. Cathedral of San Sabino
Also worth a visit is the majestic Cathedral of St. Sabinus (bishop of Canosa in the 6th century whose relics were transferred to Bari), in Apulian Romanesque style, built between the 12th and 13th centuries in limestone on the ruins of the Byzantine cathedral, recognizable by its beautiful rose window with its historiated lintel.
3. Norman Swabian Castle
One must-visit attraction in Bari, especially when starting an essential itinerary in the old part, is the Swabian Norman Castle. Located a short walk from the Cathedral and easily accessible from the port, this imposing structure was originally built by the Normans in the 12th century, destroyed in 1156, and later reconstructed under the orders of Frederick II between 1233 and 1240.
The castle not only hosts exhibitions and other cultural events but also an opportunity to explore faithful replicas of artworks and historical monuments. The Gipsoteca houses casts of ornamental sculptures, while inside the castle, various rooms showcase archaeological exhibits dedicated to the history of Bari and Puglia. Visitors can enjoy multimedia presentations and immersive tours as part of the experience.
4. Mincuzzi Palace
Also worth seeing in downtown Bari is Palazzo Mincuzzi, between Via Sparano and Via Putignani, built in the 1900s (between 1926 and 1928), it represents the commercial heart of Bari. Its neo Art Nouveau architecture also fully reflects this typical spirit of the time.
5. “La Strada delle Orecchiette”
The official name is Strada Arco Basso, but it is now widely known as “La Strada delle Orecchiette”, one of the most renowned and bustling streets in the heart of Bari Vecchia, located on Strada Arco Basso between numbers 1 and 25.
What makes this street so special? Well, here you can immerse yourself in the authentic Bari folk culture… And it is truly enchanting to witness local women hand-kneading orecchiette, sitting right in front of their house entrances.
6. “Nderr a la lanz”
This dialect expression is used to refer to a place overlooking the small old port, namely the San Nicola pier where local fishermen tinker with their typical fishing boats. It is here that the people of Bari, and well-informed visitors, come to buy fresh fish and taste the famous freshly caught urchins.
7. Nazario Sauro Promenade
Assuming that Bari’s waterfront is one of the longest in Italy and Europe, this specific stretch of waterfront is a famous street that starts from the traffic circle in Armando Diaz Square. Walking along it, you can enjoy a beautiful scenic walk to admire the coast and some important buildings, such as the Pinacoteca provinciale “Corrado Giaquinto” buildings that date back to the 1930s.
8. Petruzzelli Theater
On Corso Cavour is Bari’s most important theater: this is the fourth largest and most beautiful theater in Italy, housed inside an imposing building. It is also worth visiting from the outside. Inside, you can take a guided tour.
In 1954, the theater was declared a “Monument of Historical and Artistic Interest”. The Petruzzelli has been the location for blockbuster films and over time has seen performances by the greatest artists of all time, such as Wanda Osiris, Totò, Eduardo De Filippo, Riccardo Muti, Carla Fracci, Luciano Pavarotti, Rudolf Nureyev, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, and Liza Minnelli, to name a few. It still hosts major classical music works, ballets, performances and events.
9. Margherita Theater
This is also a very beautiful Art Nouveau building in a special location. The theater is located on the sea, at the entrance to the old town. And today it is a contemporary art museum floating on the water.
It was built on stilts above the sea (the only one in Europe) because of a ban imposed by the municipality about the construction of other theaters in the city besides the “Petruzzelli”. After being destroyed by fire, it was rebuilt in the current Art Nouveau style.
10. Fortino Sant’Antonio
The small medieval fortress is one of the four fortifications of Bari’s city wall, the “muraglia”, on the Lungomare Imperatore Augusto. This location, being one of the highest points in the old city, offers a panoramic view of the small harbor.
Near the old harbor, there is the impressive St. Anthony pier with a terrace that offers a sea view. Just below the pier, you will find the lively fish market where local fishermen sell their fresh catch.
11. Piazza del Ferrarese and Piazza Mercantile with the “infamous column”
Opposite the Porto Vecchio, on the Imperatore Augusto waterfront, you can reach Piazza Ferrarese, an ancient square whose pavement bears witness to this fact, as well as being the main access point to the oldest part of Bari and a link to the so-called “new town”. The square is also known for its places to have an aperitif.
From here, you can reach another ancient square, Piazza Mercantile, where the city’s commercial and judicial activities were once concentrated, and where the city market was held. Symbolic of this is still the Colonna Infame (Column of Justice), a white marble column with 4 steps and the inscription “Custos Iusticiae” (custodian of justice), erected in the 16th century as a city pillory at the behest of Spanish viceroy Pietro di Toledo.
Essentially, debtors, insolvents, or bankrupts were chained and exposed to public ridicule here.
Also in Mercantile Square are the Palace of the Seat of the Nobles, the Palace of the Customs House, and the baroque Pine Cone Fountain.
12. Picture Gallery “Corrado Giaquinto”
The Pinacoteca, named after the 18th-century painter Corrado Giaquinto, was established on July 12, 1928, and is currently located at the Palazzo della Provincia on Bari’s seafront promenade.
A visit to the Pinacoteca is a journey into Apulian artistic culture, showcasing a diverse collection of medieval and contemporary works of art. The museum exhibits 15th and 16th century Venetian paintings, late medieval Apulian painting, early medieval Neapolitan school, paintings by Corrado Giaquinto, a collection of 19th century Neapolitan and southern paintings, paintings by Tuscan Macchiaioli artists, medieval Apulian majolica, Neapolitan nativities, and antique clothing.
13. Underground Bari
An intriguing tour for those interested in exploring the depths of the city is one that takes you on a journey through “Underground Bari”, a hidden city that lies beneath the old Bari. This underground area holds archaeological treasures from the Roman era to the Middle Ages, which can be visited and explored.
The tour includes several stops in the underground:
- The Swabian Castle
- The Cathedral of San Sabino
- Simi Palace
- The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Buon Consiglio
14. Street Art in Bari
In Bari, it is possible to observe various city street art works that have been created through the initiative of its citizens. Notably, there are large murals dedicated to St. Nicholas and the Basilica of St. Nicholas.
Another prominent mural can be found on Via Quintino Sella, which pays homage to Ennio Morricone and his film “Nuovo cinema paradiso”. Additionally, near the covered market in the San Girolamo neighborhood, you can find the street art piece called “La ciclatera”. Furthermore, in the popular San Paolo neighborhood, there is a colossal mural dedicated to the patron saint.
Top things to do in Bari Italy
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What to do in Bari during your stay? We have already discussed what to see in Bari in a day, so now let’s explore the activities you can engage in between visits or as alternative options.
Capture picturesque moments at scenic spots
Like the one at the fort with a view of the old harbor and the waterfront or the one at the traffic circle in Piazza Diaz. For the romantically inclined there is also Largo Albicocca, the “lovers’ square”, so called because couples used to exchange apricots picked from the tree that stood in the square, still a popular place for souvenir photos.
Shopping in the downtown streets
Shopping never tires, and in Bari, you can indulge in it on Via Sparano, Corso Cavour, Via Argiro, and Corso Vittorio Emanuele. The most characteristic experience leads you to the local craft stores, where you can discover objects made of reed, straw, wicker, ceramic, terracotta, and clay artifacts, as well as embroidery and bobbin lace.
You can explore the paths of Alta Murgia Park and the trails of Mercadante Forest in Cassano, where you can find Castel del Monte and the town of Altamura. Another area for trekking around Bari is Murgia dei Trulli and Valle d’Itria, which spans across the provinces of Bari, Brindisi, and Taranto.
Cooking classes to bring home the flavors of Puglia
If you have a few hours to dedicate to your passion or, if you work in the gastronomy field, to your profession, you can participate in courses with local chefs for a few hours of pure leisure, fun, and a wonderful training experience to learn traditional Bari and Apulian recipes.
A day to explore the most beautiful beaches in and around Bari
Among the best things to do in Bari, you certainly cannot miss the sea. Here are what are the most beautiful beaches:
- In the Torre a Mare district, the “Bunker” beach and the “Carabiniere” Lido.
- Between Cozze and San Vito, the beach of “Costa Ripagnola,” declared a Regional Natural Park.
- Near Polignano a Mare, Cala Pietra Egea.
- North of Polignano a Mare, Cala San Giovanni.
- Near Polignano, the beach of San Vito and Cala Paura; Lama Monachile; Cala Incina. Near Monopoli, there are the beaches of Cala Porto Rosso; Cala Paradiso; Cala Copacabana.
Food and wine tastings
Among Bari’s most famous typical products:
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Wines: 3 DOCG Castel del Monte Bombino Nero, Castel del Monte Nero di Troia Riserva, Castel del Monte Rosso Riserva, with the related spillover DOC Castel del Monte
- Cold cuts such as soppressata, capocollo, sausages; cheeses, such as Gioia del Colle DOP mozzarella; Pallone di Gravina; Burrata; Caciocavallo; Canestrato…
If you want to discover street food go on the hunt for focaccia, calzoni, panzerotti, “bombette,” “crudo di mare,” “popizze” (fritters), and “sgagliozze” (slices of fried polenta), “nghiemeridde” (innards roulade).
Desserts to taste include “sporcamuss” (cream-filled puffs), “castagnelle” (toasted almond and cocoa cookies).
- Potatoes, rice and mussels
- Orecchiette or “strascinate” pasta with turnip tops
- Pasta and cabbage
- Broad beans and chicories
- Braciole al sugo barese
- Stuffed mussels
- Octopuses cooked with their own water
Main Events in Bari
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Among the events you might enjoy during your stay:
- Fried Fish Festival, during the first week of August
- Crafts from the Sea, during the first weeks of July
- Festa del Mare, during the first weeks of July.
- Feast of St. Nicholas (“festa grande”), May 8
- Feast of St. Nicholas, December 6 (anniversary of the saint’s death).
How to get to Bari
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In addition to driving, you can get to Bari by plane, train, bus, or sea.
If you travel by air, you can reach Karol Wojtyła Airport from the airports of Milan Linate, Bergamo, Rome Fiumicino, Catania, Venice-Tessera, Pisa, Turin-Caselle, Bologna, Verona, and Treviso.
By direct train, you can reach Bari station from major cities, including Naples, Caserta, Rome, Milan, Catania… While on the Adriatic side trains depart from Rimini, Ancona and Pescara. You can travel by Trenitalia, Frecciarossa, Frecciargento.
By bus, you can reach Bari with several companies, including Flixbus; Marozzi; Marino; Pugliairbus; Sais Autolinee; Freccialink. The most common stops are at Via Giuseppe Capruzzi and Largo Sorrentino.
By sea, Bari can be reached from Naples and Ancona by ferry service, even at night.
To move within Bari, as an alternative to the car, you can take the bus. The urban network is operated by the AMTAB company and has 33 lines covering the entire city with service generally running from 5:00 am to 11:00 pm.
Now that you know what to see in Bari in a day, all we can do is wish you a happy trip to Puglia! 😉
Cover photo: paolo-andriani-unsplash
Featured photo: kyrylo-balakleiets-unsplash