I was walking around Bari with a friend on our last day there, still discovering new corners to photograph, watching the fishermen go out to the sea in their boats, smelling the fresh grass and pine trees. While we stopped to take a photo, a man passing by stopped and smiled at us. “Bari is magic,” – he said, and walked on. And yes, I fully agree, Bari is indeed magic.
I have started writing this post about best things to do in Bari still on the plane to Vilnius, which officially makes it the freshest post on my blog. And it probably is so because Bari is an inspiring town, where you will find pretty much anything you want. So let me tell you now, what I myself have found there.
1. Have some fresh oysters by the sea
During the lunchtime the fishermen come back from the sea and bring fresh seafood. They set up tables to sell it right at the shore (Lungomare) not far from the Ferris wheel. You will see tables covered with simple plastic plates filled with all possible fresh-out-of-the-sea luxury: oysters, calamari, sea urchins, prawns and other creatures, which I do not yet know by name. Raw, of course.
You can get a plate with either just one type of seafood, or mix them up according to your wishes. Each plate costs 5 euro, and you usually get some lemon and bread to go with it. Next to the tables you will also find a little bar selling beer and other drinks to wash down this lunch.
We took a mix of everything and liked some of the things more, and some of the things less. They all tasted of the sea though, and together with the sea right next to me and the sun on my face, it was one of those lunches to remember.
2. Explore Bari Old Town
The old town of Bari is full of white and narrow streets, stairs, Vespas and smell of freshly washed laundry. The main sights, such as the Basilica of Saint Nicholas and the Cathedral of San Sabino (also called Bari Cathedral) date all the way back to 11th century.
In general, the whole old town looks and feels as if you have been transported to some time in the past (well, except for the Vespas). Passing through the narrow streets, you will see women rolling pasta, families having dinners, neighbours talking to each other.
Right outside the old town you will also see Castello Normanno Svevo – a Norman castle in a perfect condition. If you are after historical artifacts, visit the exhibition inside. Or just go all the way up the tower for the view over the town and the sea.
And if you get hungry while you walk, grab a focaccia at the Panificio Santa Rita or sit down for a proper lunch at the Piazza del Ferrarese.
3. Go shopping
Have you heard that Italians are the most stylish people? Well, maybe you have heard that about some other nation, but don’t jump to conclusion before you actually see Italians – they certainly have a sense for fashion. Which makes Bari a perfect place for shopping.
Cross Corso Vittorio Emanuelle and walk around the central Bari to check the shop windows. Instead of looking for big brands, as it is the case in many other countries, go rather for small shops with the looks you find most appealing. It is very popular in Italy to have small boutiques, where you can shop everything from shoes to coat to sunglasses.
And while you are shopping, pop into the local store of Apulian designers to buy a Pumo: a typical Apulian ceramic decorative element in various sizes, which symbolizes fertility and abundance.
4. Have a stroll on the Lungomare Promenade
Bari is a coastal town, so do use all the sea-related benefits it has to offer. I miss the sea so much that I could not get enough of just walking the promenade, enjoying the sunshine or the dusk and the smell of the sea. From the Lungomare you can see fishing boats and stop for a second to watch the fishermen go out to the sea.
While we were walking along the shore with a friend, a middle-aged Italian couple stopped us and pointed at the water: “Can you see the reflection of the sun on the sea? Sparkling like stars. Beautiful!” And it was indeed beautiful.
So, slow down, take a stroll and prepare to absorb the beauty.
5. Enjoy a proper Apulian meal
For a snack, get a bag of friselle – a crunchy oven-baked pieces of bread with olive oil and sometimes extra additions, like fennel. In addition, grab some fresh fruits or vegetables. For example, winter is the season for citrus, and the oranges and clementines taste amazing.
One of the typical dishes of Bari is called “orecchiette” – a type of pasta shaped like shells or ears, which is the translation of their name from Italian. You can probably find them in many different variations, but they are most frequently served with broccoli rabe. This rabe you will see growing all around Bari, if you go outside the city on a day trip.
Pair your meal with some local wine. Here I might not be the best adviser, so go with anything you already like or try some new ones. Typical grapes to try would be Primitivo, Salice Salentino and Negroamaro. After your trip, please let me know, which one you preferred!
And of course, Bari is a coastal town, so try some fish, octopus, prawns and other frutti di mare. If you do not want to have a proper high-end dinner, go for the casual (and low cost) option, which is panini: sandwiches with all possible filling of fish, meat, fresh mozzarella and vegetables. This way you get the best of both: the seafood, but also the bread, which Puglia is rather famous for. I really liked Mastro Ciccio, and judging by the size of the crowd, many Italians agree with me.
6. Take a ride on the Ferris wheel
This one is a tricky one. The observation wheel of Bari is very well-placed between the sea and the town, so you get quite a view. The problem for me was that I only remembered that I am afraid of heights after I have talked my friends into getting on the wheel and it stopped somewhere at the very top.
So I (probably) got pale in the face and tried to take some pictures with my hands trembling, while my friends took turns laughing at me and saying something supportive to calm me down. Yeah, I guess this is what the true friendship is about.
But anyway, from the wheel you will see amazing view over Bari. I would especially recommend going there during the sunset, as the light then is the most beautiful.
7. Go to the beach
If it is summer, this sounds like an obvious choice, really. But do go to the beach even during the winter. If you just continue from the Ferris wheel on Lungomare, you will arrive to the first beach called Spiaggia Pane e Pomodoro – a beautiful sandy one, and empty during the winter too.
In January I sat on this beach and watched people canoeing and paddle-boarding. One of my friends even went into the sea to check the water (and surprisingly found it cold), but later we saw a man swimming. And again after my snowy and frosty Lithuania I could not believe that January can be like this. Although it may not be one of the best beaches in Puglia, it certainly felt like one at that time.
At the beach itself you will find a little cafeteria. With all the strict eating times in Italy and half of the restaurants closed for the winter, I was surprised to find it open. And then even more surprised that it offered almost everything a simple tourist like me wanted to have on her last day in Italy: focaccia, espresso and aperol-spritz.
No mater what day this is in Bari for you and which season it is, just imagine this: sitting at the beach, watching the sea, sunshine on your face, sipping an aperol or an espresso. Sounds like a proper dolce vita, right?
Practical information about Bari, Italy
I am sure all you want is to book your tickets to Bari now. So, let me share some final tips with you.
First of all, stop by the Bari Tourist Information office at Piazza del Ferrarese 29 to get a map and some more general tips about travelling around.
Getting to and from Bari airport to Bari Centrale (Bari Train Station):
Bari Airport is also called Palese Airport or Karol Wojtyla Airport, just that you know and not get confused on arrival. Yes, it is Italy, not Poland. The airport is just 15 km away from the centre of the town. You can chose between these transport options:
1. Train from Bari Airport to Bari Centrale costs 5 euro and departs ca. every 20 minutes. The journey takes around 20 minutes as well, making it the fastest way to travel from Bari Airport to Bari Train Station.
2. Bari Airport Bus #16 is a much cheaper and slower option. The ticket costs 1 euro (or 1.5 euro, if you buy it on the bus), and the journey takes 40 minutes to 1 hour.
3. Private transfer from Bari Centre to Bari airport. Check with your hotel, as many hotels offer this option for about 10 euro per person.
Where to stay in Bari:
If you are planning to travel around Puglia, not only staying in Bari, it is worth checking the hotels close to Bari Train Station. Although the town is not very big, and it is easy to walk from the train station to Bari old town, you might still chose something closer.
Budget: B&b Bari Old Town – a place where I actually stayed this time. A very good value for money, little place situated right on the edge of Bari old town.
High-end: Palazzo Calo – Very stylish, but still traditional, it also has a terrace with a view.
Where to eat in Bari:
Pazzeria Dregher – A simple pizzeria with a twist: an owner, who on a good evening will sing you songs like an opera star.
Mastro Ciccio – Best sandwiches with fresh local ingredients. Once you try, you will have a different idea of what a “sandwich” is.