Wondering what there is to see in Bari? Let’s go on a discovery of the city, with one of the most comprehensive guides to the most important sites of the capital city of Apulia.
Pearl of the Adriatic Sea and the capital of Apulia, Bari has been a meeting point of civilizations for centuries, as well as an important crossroads between Catholic and Orthodox culture. It’s a city that deserves to be discovered and for you to fall in love with, step after step. So, let's head to Bari to discover it through an itinerary that touches the most important places of interest in the city.
What to see in Bari: a visit to the city
The origins of Bari are very ancient: the first settlements date back to the Bronze Age, around the 10th century BC. It was first ruled by the Romans, then by the Byzantines, when it was consecrated to the role of the true gateway to the East as the seat of the imperial fleet of the Empire of Constantinople. Along its length of about 40 km unravel buildings from different eras, the result of centuries of foreign domination, with a monumental legacy, which is simply to grand to leave you indifferent. Even the most demanding visitor will have a wide variety of options to choose from when it comes to what to see in Bari. The city, in fact, is also interesting from the point of view of its religious culture, since Bari is also one of the most important centers of the Orthodox Church in the West. But a visit to the city of Bari takes very little time: the most important monumental and architectural monuments are in fact easily accessible and very close to each other.
Visiting old Bari, the city’s beautiful historic center
With its large commercial seaport, Bari was once a fundamental trade junction between East and West. Its historic center, the Bari Vecchia (or “Old Bari”), is located on the peninsula that overlooks the two city ports (the old and the new). The historic center of Bari is a tunnel of very small streets that are always crowded with people: you can sense the folklore typical of this city around every corner, between the white clothes lying in the sun and the lush vases of flowers. Colored doors and windows seem to welcome you in a warm and welcoming embrace. And while from a corner you could perhaps see a group of men challenging each other to a game of cards, if you look even more attentively down the street, you’ll see two women intent on preparing homemade auricles (or "strascinet" in the local dialect). A must-see stop on our tour of Bari is via Arco Basso, known as “via delle orecchiette” (note: orecchiette are a traditional type of round-shaped, homemade pasta).
An original and authentic atmosphere that coexists with the present and the future of Bari.
The Basilica of San Nicola
Walking through the narrow streets of the historic center of Bari you cannot help but be charmed by the symbol of the city, the Basilica of San Nicola, and the white reflection cast by its limestone. Built between the 11th and 12th centuries by two merchants from Bari to preserve the relics of the saint, which went stolen in 1087 in Myra, Turkey, the Papal Basilica of San Nicola is a masterpiece of the Romanesque architectural style.
Rich in interesting artistic testimonies, such as some Muslim monograms dating back to the Saracen period or the famous Porta dei Leoni, the Basilica of San Nicola also houses a silver altar, an ancient ciborium (note: a vessel, usually made of metal, that is used to hold the Eucharist bread), and the Romanesque sculpture known as the Chair of Elijah, named after the abbot who at the time was the bishop of Bari and who preserved the remains of the saint. Near the Basilica you can also visit the Museum, where the treasure of San Nicola is kept. The entire building stands on the area where the residence in the city of the catepan, the Greek-Byzantine governor, was once located. Over the centuries, every culture desired to add a decorative element, but the original Norman architectural structure has remained unchanged. Even today, the Basilica of San Nicola remains an important landmark and meeting place between Catholic and Greek Orthodox Christians, so much so that inside some chapels, mass is still celebrated according to the rite of Constantinople.
San Nicola or Saint Klaus, patron saint of Bari
Tradition has it that Santa Claus has something in common with Bari. In fact, San Nicola, the patron saint of the city of Bari, would also be known as Santa Klaus, more famous perhaps as Santa Claus. An emblematic figure of the Christian world, the cult of San Nicola (or Nicholas in English) is in fact widespread in both Russia and Greece. He was soon attributed as having performed several miracles on children, hence becoming known as their patron saint, with numerous proselytes throughout the Protestant world, even in our present day. San Nicola is in fact considered the protector of both children and sailors.
Cathedral of San Sabino, one of the most beautiful in southern Italy
The Cathedral of San Sabino is undoubtedly one of the most interesting places to visit in Bari and one of the most beautiful churches in southern Italy. The Cathedral stands on an architectural structure dating back about 1,000 years: the beautiful mosaic-tiled floor attests to its construction in the middle of the Romanesque period. Partially destroyed by William I of Sicily to punish the insubordination of the citizens, it was rebuilt and consecrated in 1292.
Norman-Swabian Castle of Bari and the underground city
The Norman-Swabian castle is another important symbol of the city to visit when you are in Bari. Built by Roger the Norman in 1131 and later destroyed and rebuilt by Frederick II of Swabia in 1223, "u Castidde" (meaning “Castle” in the local dialect) stands on the old town with its Mastio, the two original towers and the bridge over the moat. The fortress has also been affected by foreign influences over the centuries up to the time of the Bourbons, who made it a place of imprisonment. Today the site of important artistic events, from the castle you can venture on a discovery of underground Bari, a night-time pathway that, from the basement of the Norman-Swabian Castle, will lead you to discover the entire city, even its most unknown parts.
Petruzzelli Theater of Bari
Inaugurated in 1903, the Petruzzelli Theater of Bari is the fourth largest theatre in Italy. An arson in 1991 destroyed a large part of the structure, but it was rebuilt and came to light again in 2009. Its red facade stands out elegantly over the city of Bari, almost as if to voice out the needs of the city’s inhabitants, who long protested for the construction of a theater worthy of a city as important as Bari. Every year, the Petruzzelli Theater hosts important artistic and cultural events.
The Nazario Sauro seafront and the city beach of Bari
We end our visit to Bari with a walk in a timeless place, the promenade Nazario Sauro: on the one hand, the undaunted history that unfolds over the centuries, while on the other, the infinity of the sea, for a breath-taking walk along the promenade of the capital of Apulia. A fairytale setting that makes the atmosphere even more evocative thanks to its elegant streetlamps and benches overlooking the sea, with touches of light that stand out, reflected on the large buildings and on the nets of fishermen.
And, step by step, we arrive at the Molo di San Nicola, the fish market, called "n'derre la lanze" from Bari (which in English loosely translates into "all spears on the ground"), where there is also the famous El Chiringuito, a must-see in Bari. In the morning a place to buy and sell mussels, cuttlefish and other local specialties, at sunset a meeting point, perhaps to sip a nice beer while enjoying the last glimpses of the sun.
For lovers of sunbathing, then, from the promenade, you can reach the famous beach "Bread and Tomato", the beach of Bari. A few miles away from Bari are two other seaside wonders that we definitely recommend visiting: Polignano a Mare and Monopoli, among the most beautiful places in Apulia, especially in the summer.
What to eat in Bari: a gourmet trip to Apulia
In addition to the famous orecchiette, typically served with turnip tops, the cuisine of Bari is very rich and varied: ranging from raw fish to broad bean puree, from the fried panzerotto to "sgagliozze", which are fried polenta fritters cut into slices and also sold in the street at the typical kiosks.
In one of the many taverns of the historic center of the Apulian city you’ll have the opportunity to taste highly typical products such as the cavatelli and "Tiella alla barese", a dish with potatoes, rice and mussels, or the famous focaccia of Bari, made with a mixture of flour and boiled potatoes and seasoned with tomatoes, oregano and olives.
Among the most famous types of fresh handmade pasta are also the lagane, cavatelli, troccoli, fusilli and tripoline. Another quite popular dish is the so-called “baked trousers” filled with anchovies, onions, olives and capers, or the "pettole" served Bari-style. All these delicacies go well served with one of the many fine wines produced in the area, such as Moscato di Trani, Primitivo di Gioia or even a white wine from Alberobello.
To fly to Bari you must have a valid Passport or Identity Card with you.
Bari has a typically Mediterranean climate. So, when should you visit Bari? Definitely in spring or autumn. The temperature ranges are limited by the mitigating action of the sea, while the rains are mostly concentrated in the winter months. The perfect month to enjoy seaside tourism is September, far from the summer heat, and which offers the perfect opportunity to visit the Fiera del Levante, one of the most important trade fairs in Italy and Europe.
Another unique event to attend, if you visit Bari in May, is the Feast of San Nicola, the patron saint of the city. A destination for Christian and Orthodox pilgrims, with its solemn procession not to be missed, during which the statue of the saint is first transported by the faithful to the pier of San Nicola and then carried into the sea by a procession of boats until dusk, when they return to the pier to greet the saint, who proceeds to return to the Basilica. A new procession follows, which ends with the "artefìzzie", a spectacular game of fireworks.