Bari was my first meeting with Italy after a 2-year absence – it was clear from the beginning that I wouldn’t have an objective opinion about it. People told me that there are not many things to do in Bari, but I expected to like it no matter what I would find there (I liked even Naples!) And I was right!
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Five minutes after we found our apartment and checked in, we were back in the car we rented and headed to the centre to find out what to see in Bari.
Parking in Bari was not a hard thing to do. There are no free parking lots in the centre, but you can pay for it and some are cheaper, some are more expensive.
Initially we left the car in area A (very close to the city centre) and paid 2 euro/hour (in 2018) at the automatic machine. In the next few days, we realized that there is a large parking lot in the B area, which means 1 euro per hour, right in the Bari port.
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Restaurants in Bari
After we solved the parking thing we started to look for a restaurant, being the lunchtime. Three doors closed in my nose and 30 minutes later we found a trattoria (Fabula taverna), with reasonable prices and only people with cameras sited at the table (probably tourists).
The problem was that in Puglia everybody has siesta in the afternoon, so it is hard (if not impossible) to find any open shops (including restaurants). We did not have high expectations from the only open restaurant we found (the place was a tourist cliché) and we just wanted to eat something fast. But I had a delicious carbonara and a tiramisu like I have never tasted before! It was pure luck! And it was not the only culinary luck we had in Bari.
Two evenings later, surprised by the rain, we entered the first restaurant we found, Pizzeria Arco Della Neve. It was a room with only three tables and no place to pass among them. But here we ate a tasteful and extremely cheap parmesan eggplant. I ate the famous orecheti (the traditional pasta in this region) several times during our Puglia road trip, but not in Bari. What I did not try was the most common food sold in the street – fried polenta.
With our stomachs full we were ready to explore the city, so we headed for the centre.
Things to do in Bari
Of course, I prepared a list of tourist attractions in Bari and I was planning to see them all. So, one by one we tried to check them. Now, after our trip there, I would recommend the following things to do in Bari:
Admire the castle in Bari
The Normanno-Svevo castle in Bari was built in the 14th century and it is used today for exhibitions. You can admire its massive towers or even go inside. We passed near it and decided not to visit it at that time because it was already late. We planned to come another day for it, but we discovered so many things to see in Puglia that we used our time for other attractions.
Explore the old town in Bari
The old town in Bari will be a shock for your senses, but it deserves to be explored! After leaving behind the castle we got closer to the old town in Bari, into the pedestrian area. And then I had a click. I looked up and saw two Italian nonnas talking to each other from two balconies and ample gesticulating. I heard a group of kids shouting loud and I quickly took a step back because a scooter was passing fast beside me. And then I realized and felt this up to the bones: I was in Italy, an Italy in the pure state, that I only saw in the old mobsters’ movies, an Italy that aggresses all your senses at once and that I haven’t met anywhere else so present as here (maybe only short in Naples). And that was the moment when I decided to throw away the dump list and enjoy what I live. We lost ourselves into the narrow and deserted streets, theoretically pedestrian, but risking at any step being accented by a scooter or a car that was not allowed there. I turned my nose up a few times at the smell of basil and fried tomatoes coming from the locals’ kitchens, mixed with the stink of pee and mould coming from the pavement. I avoided several times the clothes dryers from the streets, and I tried to peek inside the houses with open doors. And we enjoyed every time we walked out of the maze of streets directly to the sea!
If you want to stay in the old town, check here the prices for hotels in Bari City Centre*.
Visit the Cattedrale di Bari
Inside the maze of streets, we discovered gigantic buildings that could not be anything else but churches. We visited the Bari Cathedral when we were near it, but unfortunately, we couldn’t see the Roman ruins under the cathedral due to their visit schedule. And we didn’t come back for them. The Cathedral is dedicated to Saint Sabinus, whose relics were brought here in the 9th century. If you plan to see the Roman ruins check here the opening hours of the Museo del Succorpo Della Cattedrale di Bari.
Descend into the crypt of San Nicola Church in Bari
Another imposing church we visited here was Basilica di San Nicola. We even descended into the crypt to see Saint Nicholas’s relics. A ceremony was taking place in the crypt, so we waited for it to end before getting closer to the saint’s tomb. The legend says that the saint chose Bari as his burial place and his relics were brought here in 1087. After that, the church was built to offer them shelter.
Take a walk on Lungomare
Every evening we took a long walk on Lungomare promenade in the harbour, inspiring the smell of salty fish and algae and enjoying the wind in our hair. It was our moment of relaxation. We also saw the Petruzzelli Theater, but just from outside. But every time we ended in the old town sifting the balconies and the real Italians, stripped from the movies. If you want to admire the harbour in Bari, Lungomare will take you there.
Are you searching for a hotel right on Lungomare? Check here the hotels in the area*.
Discover the beaches in Bari
Unfortunately, you won’t find in Bari the emerald, crystal clear waters and the white beaches for which Puglia is famous. But if you want to go to the beach in Bari, you can try Pane e Pomodoro, a public beach at the beginning of Lungomare or Lido San Francesco that has an entry fee for umbrellas and sunbeds.
I had booked half a day for Bari. I knew it was an interesting city, but the rest of the places in Puglia were more interesting, and we tried to cover all of them in our Puglia holiday. Now I realize that Bari is not a beautiful city and you can have a whole vacation in Puglia without going through Bari, but the sensations we have lived here were unique. It is not a tourist place or at least it does not feel that way; it seems as authentic Italian as possible. So, if you get here, do not care about what to see in Bari but go just to feel how Bari, the little Italian city, is.
And once you have explored the city, you can book some day trips from Bari to discover the whole region.