Located on the Adriatic coast, Bari is far from being just another port town. It’s the regions capital, the second largest city in southern Italy and it’s rich in history.
In its early days it was controlled by the Greeks, then in the 3rd century AD it was a Roman fishing port, after which it was run by the Saracens, then again by the Greeks, the Normans and then taken by the King of Naples.
These days you can head to Bari vecchia, the old town, and discover piazzas, cathedrals and old city gates.
You can shop up big on Via Sparano in the new town, find traditional trattorias in Bari vecchia’s tangle of medieval streets, watch ladies make pasta in doorways draped in lace or sample piping hot sgagliozze fresh from the fryer.
That’s just for starters.
Cathedral of St. Sabinus
Head to St. Sabinus, Bari’s 13th century cathedral, and admire its simple-yet-beautiful Apulian Romanesque architecture. Check out the limestone façade and you’ll notice fascinating monsters and mythical creatures peering down at you.
Hand over €1 and you can head down to the basement, an archeological site featuring the ruins of a 5th century Christian basilica, stunning Roman mosaics and a Byzantine church.
Basilica of Saint Nicholas
Not too far from St. Sabinus is the city’s most famous church, the Basilica of St. Nicholas, built within the Citadel of St. Nicholas in the early 11th century.
What makes this basilica stand out from the rest is who’s laid to rest here. Saint Nicholas.
He may have been born in Patara (present day Turkey) in 300 AD, but after becoming bishop of Myra and later dying around 350 AD, his body was stolen by sailors and relocated to Bari. This legendary gift-giving bishop led to the folklore figure of Santa Claus, spruced up in red and white by Coca-Cola in the 1930s.
It’s difficult to miss the 12th century Norman-Svevian Castle by the main entrance of the old town. The castle was first built by the Normans in 1132, but after being destroyed in 1156 it was up and running as a fortress again some 80 years later.
Today you can visit the castello and its inner courtyard, and view its limited collection of reproductions of sculptures from between the 11th and 17th centuries. Entry is €3.
Cafeteria Cervezeriade La Plaza
Bari and the region of Apulia are known for excellent burrata, but it isn’t all about divine mozzarella filled with stretched curd and cream. Seafood plays a big part in the cuisine, as you’d expect, as does orecchiette and cavatelli pasta, stuffed peppers and breads like altamura and the stuffed tiella di Gaeta.
Bari vecchia has many places to get a taste of the local cuisine, or to simply sit with an espresso, a cold beer or aperol spritz.
Right by the imposing walls of St. Sabinus cathedral is Cafeteria Cervezeriade La Plaza, a tiny café popular with old local dudes and visitors.
Head over to Murattiano, the newer part of town, and enjoy the modern air-con and wifi with an excellent espresso (our favourite in Bari) at Avamposto. They’ve got smoothies, frappés and plenty of cakes and pastries too.
For something sweet, grab a cannolo on Piazza Mercantile at Sandrino, or choose one of 20 gelato flavours they offer.
Avamposto – Via Raffaele de Cesare, 8
Sandrino – Piazza Mercantile 3
Handmade orecchiette and cavatelli on Strada Barone
When you walk down the streets and passages of Bari vecchia it’s easy to notice that many families have been living here for generations. Everyone’s friends with their neighbours and they all just carry on their everyday lives, despite camera-wielding tourists constantly wandering past their homes.
It was only by accident that we stumbled upon Strada Barone, a narrow street where fresh orecchiette and cavatelli is made; all rolled by hand by ladies that live along the street.
The pasta is laid out on mesh trays to dry and it’s sold to restaurants and residents alike, straight from the tray. The price is determined by the flour used and the size, but expect to pay €5-€8 for a bag.
Da Maria Sgagliozze – Strada delle Crociate, 13
If you spot a line of people waiting at a small doorway in the old town, then you’ve probably found Da Maria Sgagliozze. Although, this isn’t the only place in Bari to find this glorious snack.
Sgagliozze may well be the ultimate Barese street food – deep-fried polenta seasoned with nothing more than salt. It’s incredible, and at €1 for a bag of six, you may be going back for seconds.
Reverso – Strada Vallisa, 79
Grabbing an afternoon drink somewhere in Bari vecchia doesn’t require too much searching. Turn a corner and you quite literally stumble upon something.
There’s always the cute Reverso just off Piazza Mercantile where you can sit with a local vino and graze from a platter of local nibbles.
Or there’s Pizzeria Di Cosimo on Largo Albicocca. These guys are quite happy if you just sit on the square and sip their cheap and very cold Peroni. Their mighty selection of wood-fried pizza is not to be ignored, either. The crudaiola (tomato, rocket, ricotta & mozzarella; 5.5) and the gorgonzola e salame (5.5) pizzas are spot on.
For a taste of regional food, head to Restaurant Sopravento and try their polpo con patate al forno (baked octopus with potatoes; 9.5) or a delicious bowl of pasta alla Sergione (guanciale, stacciatella; 9.5). Don’t forget their fab house vino.
Pizzeria Di Cosimo – Largo Albicocca, 19
Restaurant Sopravento – Strada Vallisa, 56
Considering the small town of Alberobello is relatively close to Bari, we thought it’d be a nice little day trip to get a taste of this UNESCO listed locale.
The main draw here are the trulli, those small conical stone houses constructed from local limestone; many of which are painted white. The ancient building technique is still used today in many of its newer builds.
Alberobello’s western side features two small hills densely covered with about 1500 of these trulli houses. A lot of them are still resident’s houses, some have been set up as guest accommodation and many shops and cafés geared for the thousands of visitors that fill the narrow streets.
Visiting during August peak time meant we were sharing the village with those thousands of humans, making the experience not as enchanting as we’d hoped. It’s a nightmare, actually, and after walking through the town for about half an hour, we got the first train back to Bari.
Sadly, this is one place that’s completely consumed by tourism and commercialism, and the feeling of being in a theme park is one I personally couldn’t shake off.
To get to Alberobello by local train, head to the south side of Bari Centro train station, on Via Giuseppe Capruzzi, and grab tickets from the FJE train company. Cost per person, one way, is €4.90 and the trip takes 1½ hrs. The train leaves from Platform 11.