Gritty and hip, the busy seaport of Bari sits at the top of the heel of Italy’s boot. In the maze-like old town, practically every cobblestone street leads to a church. After you've had your fill of the architecture, wander into one of the many trattorias for the local cuisine paired with glasses of the area's full-bodied Primitivos. Bari is also the gateway to excursions in the olive grove- and vineyard-studded Puglia region.
What We Love
Cuisine: Tomato-topped foccacia, deep-fried polenta, orecchiette with turnip tops, spaghetti with mussels — Bari’s mouthwatering specialties incorporate fresh bounty from the neighboring land and seas.
Alberobello: About an hour southeast of Bari is this UNESCO-designated heritage town famous for its unique trulli, round houses with conical roofs made from mortar-free limestone boulders. Clear storage from your camera — they are striking.
Best Known For
Basilica Di San Nicola: Built in the 11th century in the Romanesque style, this squat stone structure — a pilgrimage site — houses the relics of the revered St. Nicholas, displayed in a well-lit, columned crypt.
Castello Svevo: This moated castle was constructed by the Normans then reconfigured in the 13th century by Frederick II, the Holy Roman Emperor. Once a residence, a prison, and a signal station, it now houses rotating exhibitions and a collection of Pugliese art.
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Who It's Best For
Church Lovers: Bari has no shortage of devotees, and the numerous houses of worship with their marble-arched crypts, elaborate tabernacles, and gild-framed frescoes embody the ethereal — and are sure to win over a convert or two.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Old Town Can Be Confusing: Maps will do you no good in the tangle of streets in the città vecchia. Though compact, the quarter’s winding alleyways and piazzas can lead to wrong turns and disorientation.
It’s Not Florence or Venice: Bari has its own set of charms but it has less cultural flourish when stacked up against some of the more grandiose cities of Italy.
Lisa Cheng is a New York-based writer for ShermansCruise who also writes for Travel + Leisure.