What to do in Bari, Puglia and things to see in a city with a thousand faces, all to be understood, observed, enjoyed… even in a weekend (at the end of this post I also show you an itinerary of things to do in Bari in one day).
Bari is worth to be visited for much longer than a weekend but, if you really have to stay here for a limited time, here are some interesting things to see and do.
In this blog post I will tell you about the best historical and cultural architectural outposts but also about shopping and, ça va sens dir, about street food, traditional food, where (and how) to drink Peroni beer.
As always, I also show you small healthy “attitudes” to make the most of these hotspots, one of the most multi-faceted cities in Italy, which makes you slowly fall in love, day after day, if you are lucky enough to spend a lot of time there. If you have little, I’ll help you look at it with the eyes of ammmmore.
Reasons why Bari is a unique city in Italy
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As mentioned, Bari is one of the largest cities in Italy and despite the size and density of population, it has features incredibly similar to those of a typical Italian village with a shared social life and very local features.
From the scenes of everyday life with a taste of a small ancient world, passing through the “baresità” which, with lights and shadows, is obstinately opposed to the dynamics of a globalized world.
I try, through this itinerary, to take you to the places to see and hear all this, no matter if you have little time available.
A stroll in Bari Vecchia (the old part of the Town)
What to see in Bari;
Maybe you already know something about the concept of Città Vecchia in Italy but, just in case, let me explain it shortly.
La città vecchia is, like the Centro Storico, are the places of Italian cities where the main historical hotspots are gathered. We care a lot about old times and history, since, you can’t deny, there’s much glory in our past, from the Romans to all the following eras when Italian territories were used to set art, language and cultural trends all over the world.
Nowadays, the Italian lifestyle, the archetypical Socialist Utopia, where people meet and drink just one or two glasses of good wine and eat great food before even starting their evening-after-work plans, develops just here, in the Città Vecchie and Centri Storici scattered all around the countries.
Let’s go back to Bari, and the Città Vecchia
Bari Vecchia is a lively labyrinth of alleys where a large city is transformed into a typical southern town.
Walking in Bari Vecchia means discreetly looking out into the alleys that are cleaned daily not only by the administration but also by the people who live there;
the houses overlook the street, so the street is like the front door, the sections of the road thus become a common heritage.
You walk and say “good morning” to the older ladies, who look at you until you say “good morning”, with the look of someone who still able to make you understand that without a greeting you cannot go anywhere, in life.
The houses on the ground floor have their doors open, through the curtains you can glimpse life and you can hear (very clearly) the voices of the people who live there.
Then they are voices mostly in the Bari language and you may not understand anything but, in fact, it is part of those unconsciously non-global characteristics mentioned above.
You can smell the scent of chops, floor soap, fried squid and paranzella.
After greengrocer and a votive niche to some Madonna, you will meet the ladies who knead orecchiette, leave them to dry and sell them in 500 gram or kilo bags.
An ideal place for evening strolls, including dinners in restaurants and aperitifs in small bars overlooking the street.
Here you can either sit in a restaurant or in a bar to drink an iced Peroni and taste local street specialities such as focaccia, fried panzerotto and, step after step, you will casually find yourself facing the sea or cathedrals.
What to see in Bari:
Basilica di San Nicola
In the historic center an unmissable stop is the wonderful basilica of San Nicola.
When you look at it, always keep in mind that it is an architectural outpost of the Apulian Romanesque style (yes, there is also the Apulian Romanesque style) whose characteristics are “Nordic”, Norman, therefore with few baroque doodles but with majestic and haughty facades.
This basilica attracts many Orthodox people from the East Europe and Russia, since this basilica houses the remains of St. Nicholas of Myra.
Given the large number of Orthodox devotees from Russia, Israel, Greece and various Eastern European countries, a beautiful church for Orthodox worship was built in the Carrassi district.
In the city center there are 25 other churches, among which the church of San Sabino is also well worth a visit.
Have a stroll on the fort and aperitif with sea view
The Wall of old Bari is a great place to walk and see on one side the houses with colored doors on very light and smooth stone, the view of the waterfront on the other side.
The highest point is the terrace of Sant’Antonio’s fort and from here you can go down to Piazza del Ferrarese and then head towards the seafront.
Margherita Theater and contemporary art exhibitions
Bari seafront is a place to see both on sunny mornings and during golden and blue hours (photographers and instagrammers, you understand what I’m trying to tell you, right?).
From the fort, proceeding your stroll along the seafront, you’ll bump into my favorite hotspot, the Margherita Theater, a beautiful example of Art Nouveau.
Built on the sea in the early twentieth century to elude the administrative preventing other theaters but the Petruzzelli to be built on the city ground, it was in fact built on stilts off the town.
It successfully hosted café chantant shows, like they used to do in Paris, it was set on fire.
Today reopened after restoration work, it is an architectural masterpiece reflected in the sea.
Today it hosts the BAC – Bari Contemporary Art, with beautiful exhibitions of art, sculpture, photography and film reviews.
From here, start your long walk along the seafront.
But first, stop by the fish market and Ciringuito.
Aperitif at the fish market
A few steps away from the theater, always following the sea, welcome to the fish market, covered by a long canopy that accompanies a stone walkway.
Here every morning the fishermen return (with the boats you see between the theater and the market) with fresh fish including polpo attizzato, which seems the title of a novel by Amelie Nothomb but is instead a a very popular practice in local gastronomy (freshly fished octopus… killed on searocks until it becomes crunchy – as a vegetarian, I never tasted it but people in Puglia adore it).
If you are a lover of good fresh raw fish, this is the right place to come and have an aperitif that you won’t be able to do anywhere else in the world.
Things to do in Bari: Walk on the seafront
Starting from the Teatro Margherita and then from the fresh fish market, walk along the quay that will take you to cafes overlooking the sea.
Among these, “La Biglietteria”, in a beautiful Art Nouveau building once home to the theater ticket office, or the Pesco Bar, for those who want to eat octopus or fresh fried fish with a cold cap or a glass of wine.
Pane e Pomodoro, the beach of Bari
After several kilometers you will arrive at the beach of Bari, Pane e Pomodoro (translatable as bread with tomato, the typical food families used to eat here in old times), where you could have a cold beer or a granita (or whatever you like) and sit on the beach while some people are bathing, others are kite surfing, groups of friends chat.
Doing all this at the first light of the evening will allow you to enjoy a truly beautiful skyline of the waterfront that leads your gaze to the lights of the old city.
Posh walk on via Sparano
(and parallel streets)
Via Sparano and the side and parallel streets are the elegant shopping streets, with high-sounding brands like Prada, Trussardi and other stuff I’m not an expert on.
Another very interesting Art Nouveau architectural element is Palazzo Mincuzzi, built thanks to the investment of Bari merchants in the early twentieth century (you can find it on the corner of via Sparano and via Putignani).
Night in Piazza Mercantile for Street Food
In the evening, go back to Piazza del Ferrarese. Here you can also taste the sgagliozze, mede there in front of your eyes by the old ladies.
These are pieces of fried polenta, in “to take away” bags.
You won’t eat them without an iced Peroni will you? Right nearby there is a small ciringuito or bar that only sells drinks.
Hungry, aren’t you?
What to do in Bari in one day
If you have only one day and one night, I recommend this itinerary
- Piazza Umberto, for a refreshing morning walk,
- Via Sparano, for shopping and a breakfast at the tables of one of the thousands of bars;
- Old town, to admire it, take pictures, talk to the ladies who make and sell orecchiette;
- Basilica of San Nicola; Stop for lunch (perhaps in one of the bars in Piazza del Ferrarese), then leave the old town and go to the
- Teatro Margherita and fish market;
- Walk along the seafront to Pane e Pomodoro with an easy aperitif on the beach.