Puglia has become one of the hottest regions to visit in Italy in recent years, with good reason. Both novice and seasoned travelers are heading to the country’s southeast to explore the coastal towns that cling to its craggy cliffs. Like much of Italy, a visit to Puglia is like waking up in a dream; rich in history, wrapped in the captivating Adriatic blue water, serving up mouthwatering local cuisine and offering visitors a slower pace than the traditional tourist stomping grounds over on the busy west coast. I discovered some of the many unique things to do in Monopoli Puglia – where postcard moments are set against spectacular backdrops, in a place like no other in Italy.
Pat Russo | Updated 2023
15 of the Best Things to Do in Monopoli
Here is our complete list of the best things to do in Monopoli including local tips and unique Monopoli activities.
1. Explore the Monopoli Port
One of the best places to start, we began with a guided tour of the old fishing village that is in the center of Puglia.
Rich with history I learned about the legendary Madonna della Madia, the Virgin painted on a Byzantine icon which according to the legend was tied to a raft that washed up on the shore of Monopoli on the night of December 16, 1117.
It just so happened to have the exact amount of wood needed to finish the repair of Monopoli’s Cathedral roof.
The town of Monopoli Puglia is a charming port town built almost entirely out of white stone.
It’s dotted with other white-washed buildings of a similar façade which contrasts beautifully with the spotless Italian blue skies.
2. See the Monopoli Cathedral
There were a few highlights on my tour which you must see when you visit Monopoli, the Cathedral (nestled in the middle of many other churches which seem to be around every corner and on every street in Monopoli).
Construction of the Basilica of the Madonna della Madia began in 1107. The roof was finished after the legendary raft was discovered in 1117. The Baroque cathedral now sits in the exact same spot as the original cathedral that was built in 1772.
You can also still find a piece of wood from the original raft in the front of the church along with the story of the legend and a beautiful altar of the Madonna that this town worships.
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3. Take in the View at the Porta Vecchia
The second spot high on my list is the Porta Vecchia, this scenic old harbor is full of traditional and iconic blue and red boats known as Gozzo and is the ideal place to take some photographs.
It is a famed Puglia viewpoint, serving up an iconic scene of Monopoli.
It is from these Gozzo that you can see local fishermen fishing daily, and from where the most delicious locally caught octopus and other local fish come from and are served in town daily.
I watched the catch of one day arriving in awe while I visited, the sea is abundant and the locals reap the benefits – be sure to taste the local fish when you visit.
Another must-visit spot for taking the best photographs in Monopoli is the Porto Antico di Monopoli (the old port).
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4. Visit Polignano a Mare by Boat
It was also from this port that I jumped on a boat for the boat trip between Monopoli and Polignano a Mare to see the coast and surroundings from the water.
It was a spectacular afternoon and sunset was the best time to see Monopoli from the water. I highly recommend it.
The boat is chartered especially for the tour and slips along the coast for a different perspective of the coastline.
We enjoyed an aperitif by sunset on our way back to Monopoli and my camera was full of postcard-worthy photos.
Make sure you ask to stop in at the stunning caves of Polignano along the way.
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5. Take a Monopoli Bike Tour
There are plenty of things to do in Monopoli for active travelers.
We chose from four different Monopoli bike tours, catering to all fitness levels.
Each tour includes a fitted mountain bike, helmet, water, and guide for the day along with stops that include feasting and absorbing an authentic experience.
The perfect place for a leisurely bike ride, I found myself winding my way through grotto churches, fortified large farms, and thousand-old olive trees – it was an absolute dream.
The tour lasted just shy of five hours and was an easy 18-kilometer (11 mile) ride.
The stops included Porto Ghiacciolo, the picturesque Monopoli beach near Saint Stephen castle (an iconic part of the coastline), churches, old olive mills which have been thoughtfully excavated and refurbished, XIII-century authentic farms, and my very favorite: a ride straight through an orchard of more than two thousand olive trees, some dating more than one thousand years old.
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6. See the Chiesa di San Salvatore
Visiting the Church of San Salvatore, one of the oldest churches in Monopoli.
Said to have been built in the 3rd or 4th Century (rumored by a pirate), the humble building sits inside the old city walls on the seafront.
7.Visit the Castle of Monopoli
Another fascinating ancient monument is the Castle of Monopoli, Castello Carlo V.
As the name suggests, the castle was built by Carlos V from Spain, in the 16th Century.
The unique Spanish-style pentagonal structure was originally built as a castle and fortress, then later it became a prison and is now used for conferences and holding cultural events.
8. See the Iconic Aberobello Trullo Houses
Just a short distance from Monopoli we found ourselves exploring the “Grotta del Trullo” in Putignano and the iconic Trullo houses of Aberobello.
The bell-shaped cave, discovered in 1931, is a fascinating adventure to explore. Our guide took us below the earth deep into the cave and shared how it was created.
Afterward, we wandered the historic area of Aberobello, which included a visit to Trullo Sovrano, the only two-floor trullo house built and definitely one of the top places to visit in Puglia.
These unique houses, built by dry stones with typical conical roofs are on the UNESCO list of heritages.
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9. Go Olive Oil Tasting
You shouldn’t leave any area of Puglia without tasting the olive oil, and if you can find yourself at an old olive mill tasting it from a maker, even better.
Our private tour of both old and new mills was a delicious way to gain an appreciation for this area, the olives, and the oil that comes from it.
Every mill was privately owned and has been lovingly restored from generation to generation. We finished our visit with a private olive oil tasting, in the mill by candlelight.
10. Learn How to Cook Puglian Food
On the last day of my trip, one of my Italian dreams came true. I visited a local farm and was invited into Mrs. Lucrezia’s kitchen to learn how to make a few of the local dishes and Puglia specialties.
I learned how to make panzerotti, a beautifully light dough-stuffed pastry that is deep-fried.
Of course, I was thrilled to learn how to make orecchiette from scratch and from one of the best pasta makers in the area. After the class, the students are invited to join Mrs. Lucrezia for a feast enjoying the goodness that we made together.
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11. Do Some Monopoli Wine Tasting
One of the best things to do in Monopoli for wine lovers, we squeezed in a wine tasting at a local winery.
I Pastini was established in 1996 and it is located in the valley of the Trulli.
This winery stretches over 12 hectares of native grape varietals such as Verdeca, Bianco d’Alessano, and Minutolo white grapes, as well as Susumaniello and Primitivo red grapes.
The tasting room is beautifully modern, and the guided tour through the facility was an interesting step-by-step farm-to-bottle education which made the sipping taste even better.
You can easily purchase wines you like here or have them shipped back home to meet you when you return.
12. Visit the Palmieri Palace
Located in the maze-like backstreets of the centro storico (historic center) of Monopoli you’ll find the 18th Century Baroque Palazzo Palmieri.
The beautiful building was built by the Pamieri family who controlled it until 1921 when it became the State Art Institute until 1990.
The area around the palace is a really quiet place among the narrow streets of the old town.
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13. Go Swimming at One of the Beaches in Monopoli
You won’t find long sandy beaches in Monopoi. But, if you are visiting in Summer, you may want a quick swim during your stay.
Located a short walk from the historic city center is Cala Porta Vecchia. Depending on the time of day, this tiny Monopoli beach gets very crowded in peak season but is fitting for a pre-lunch dip.
A much prettier sandy cove, Cala Porto Rosso is within easy walking distance of the center and the perfect spot for a swim and a little relaxation after walking around town.
A better place to spend a whole morning or a day is at Cala Paradiso, one of the beaches in Monopoli with amenities, there are sunbeds and a bar at Lido Cala Paradiso.
14. Spend the Day at Acquapark Egnazia
One of the best things to do in Monopoli with kids has to be a day trip to Aquapark Egnazia.
This huge water park is only a 20-minute drive south of Monopoli and unsurprisingly is a very popular destination in Summer. There is free parking onsite.
The main attraction is the slide area but there is plenty for both children and adults at this fun park. Pre-book sunbeds and gazebos ahead at an extra cost.
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15. Go on a Monopoli Day Trips
A Puglia road trip is the best way to see the countryside and wander the small towns close to Monopoli.
A Monopoli day trip is so simple if you have a rental car and will allow you to see some stunning towns not far from Monopoli with their own unique history, architecture and attractions.
Monopoli to Matera
Leaving the coast inland about an hour and a half drive will take you to Matera, a UNESCO World Heritage Site worth visiting while you are close enough.
I first visited Matera a few years ago. From medieval churches to museums, moving frescos and the ancient cave homes of this beautiful city make it one of the most unique destinations in Italy.
I stayed at a one-of-a-kind Matera cave hotel. It was an amazing place and the experience was (and still is) a highlight of my entire trip of Italy, that year.
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Monopoli to Bari
Bari is a 40-minute drive from Monopoli along the coast. This capital city is a mazelike old port city with 19th-century architecture and narrow streets.
Bari is another charming place worth exploring that has plenty of diversity and local, authentic adventure.
You’ll find a castle, piazzas, churches, and cathedrals along with ample beaches.
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Monopoli to Polignano a Mare
The “Pearl of the Adriatic” coast, Polignano a Mare has become particularly busy over the last few years.
Now, it’s a bucket list town thanks to an increasing number of photos of its Cala Porto Beach seemingly all over social media each European summer, and considered one of the best beaches in Italy.
The easiest way to get from Polignano a Mare to Monopoli is to catch the bus or train.
In high summer, it is very difficult to find parking, particularly in the middle of the day. Get up and go early in the morning to beat the crowds.
Why not book a guided walking tour or street food tour while you are there?
Monopoli to Gravina in Puglia
This quiet town is about 1.5 hours from Monopol that is definitely worth visiting, even for a day trip.
Gravina In Puglia is a quaint walled town sitting atop the hill similar to nearby Matera.
Its Romanesque Ponte dell’Acquedotto has recently risen to fame for starring in the James Bond movie, A Time to Die.
But, there are so many other things to see in Gravina in Pulia with ancient caves, a cave church, cute BnBs, and incredible food, it still has a very local feel when walking around the town too.
How to Get to Monopoli Puglia
Monopoli, Puglia is located in Southern Italy and is surrounded by water; bordering the Adriatic Sea in the east, the Ionian Sea to the southeast, and the Strait of Otranto and Gulf of Taranto in the south.
It is located in the heel of the boot and the main city of the region is Bari.
When it comes to how to get to Puglia, there are multiple ways of arriving with ease.
Flights to Monopoli Italy
There are actually four airports in Apulia. The two major airports are Bari Airport in the city of Bari and Brindisi Casale Airport in Brindisi which serves the entire area of Salento.
I flew directly from Paris into Brindisi and then made my way by airport transfer to Monopoli which was just shy of an easy hour drive.
Trains to Puglia
If you are arriving domestically you can find a Rome to Bari train station (Bari Centrale), or other major tourist spots easily.
Then change to a regional train from Bari to Monopoli, which takes about 40 minutes.
Drive to Puglia
Monopoli is a short 25-mile drive south of Bari, just south of Polignano a Mare, and close to Alberobello – which makes it super easy to combine these trips for a Puglia road trip.
Parking in Monopoli
While parking in Monopoli can be difficult (highly restricted in the heart of the old town), there is some free parking near the Old Harbour. heart of the old town
Explore Monopoli with a Local Tour Guide
My home for the week was Monopoli, a great place to base yourself to explore the surrounding Puglia cities.
Best known for the Baroque Monopoli Cathedral with its tall bell tower, it is a small town with a beautiful legend of faith.
My hosts, Apulia – La Finestra Sul Mare are based here.
They offer full-service accommodation, local, authentic activities and adventures, and hands-on expertise, while you visit and I had a great time learning about this beautiful coastal town from these locals.
I stayed like a local in Monopoli thanks to my hosts who offer several local apartment stays.
Choose between the Apartment Via Barbacana, which can accommodate up to six guests, the Dimora Porto Canale perfect for four guests, or the Porto Canale a sweet spot for a couple to stay.
Each central Monopoli apartment is fully furnished and can be rented by the day you visit. The biggest benefit, of course, is the no-hassle location.
I felt very at home in the Apartment Via Barbacana with its cozy stone walls, narrow staircase, windows with stunning views of the charming white city, and a rooftop terrace with the best view of the bell tower.
The entire apartment is thoughtfully decorated with local treasures giving it a lived-in ambiance, and the location could not be better for exploring Monopoli and beyond.
There are hotels and BnBs located around the town center and Monopoli’s old town too.
Click here to search for the best hotels in Monopoli to suit your needs.
A full tummy, a happy heart, and my camera full of incredible photographs are the marks of a holiday well spent and a truly unique Southern Italian experience. My visit to Monopoli Puglia was just that.
Gaining access to ancient treasures through a robust itinerary of things to do in Monopoli, created by a locally owned and run tour company made this trip even better.
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The Fit Traveller was a guest of Apulia – La Finestra Sul Mare for our visit to Monopoli Puglia. As always, the words, images, and opinions are independently our own.
Pat Russo is a Mystic, Muse, and Spiritual Teacher guiding women into their hearts with a journey of softening. She is a published poet, a lover of hearts, and a forever student.
Feeling the impossibility of choosing between her two favorite cities, she considers San Francisco and Paris home.