Dreaming of Travel: Puglia, Italy
If you’re dreaming of Italy with kids, you may want to consider traveling to Puglia (also called Apulia). The “heel of the boot” of Italy, this southern region is well-known for its olive oil production, cozy beaches, and charming towns.
While many families choose to head to famous destinations like Rome, Positano, and Florence, there are a few reasons you may want to choose Puglia instead.
Firstly, Puglia offers a less trendy location for family travel, which means fewer crowds. Then, the beaches on the Adriatic coast of Puglia offer wonderful places to splash and swim, with typically calmer waters free from jellyfish (compared to those on the Mediterranean side). Finally, due to its location along the sea, the weather is more pleasant than the increasingly hot summers in Rome and other northern cities.
Have I convinced you yet? Keep reading to learn more about visiting Puglia with kids!
How to Get to Puglia
The one downside of traveling to Puglia with kids is that it can be tricky to get around compared to other Italian destinations. Families who want to fly directly to Puglia can fly to Bari International Airport-Karol Wojtyla (BRI) or Brindisi Airport, Papola Casale Airport Guide (BDS). If your final destination is in a different city, take a regional train or rent a car to get there. By train, you can look for regional routes with Trenitalia (kids receive discounted or free tickets depending on the route/train). Finally, if you are traveling to another city first, like Rome, taking a first-class train is the best way to reach Puglia.
If you are planning to visit multiple cities within Puglia during your trip, it may be helpful to rent a vehicle, at least for a few days. While not absolutely necessary, it is really helpful and allows for more direct travel. Be prepared for a manual car. If you need an automatic car, make reservations in advance to ensure availability. Typically, car seats and booster seats are also available to rent, but you will want to bring your own if you’re nervous about quality or availability. Finally, public buses and regional trains are widely available too.
Where to Stay in Puglia with Kids
There are many family-friendly accommodation options across Puglia, including major and boutique hotels, bed and breakfasts, home rentals, and more. Specific to Puglia, you can even stay in a Masseria (an operating farm)! Certainly, depending on your budget and style of travel, you’ll have a lot of options. However, which lodging style you chose will likely depend on which city or cities you select to visit, as well as your length of stay. During our recent trip, we made a Vrbo in Monopoli our home base. Because we spent three weeks in the area, this was the best fit for our travel plans. Then, for overnight trips, we relied on local hotels.
Based on our time in Puglia, I would recommend considering the following cities for your stay. Firstly, Monopoli, which is where we stayed. We found Monopoli to be the most kid-friendly city in the region, offering pedestrian-friendly streets, many accessible beaches, and friendly locals. As such, if you have a toddler or young kids, I would highly recommend staying in Monopoli. Those with tweens or teens may prefer historic Lecce or charming Ostuni. These more “Instagram-able” cities may appeal more to older children, while still offering great restaurants and fun things to do for families.
Things to Do in Puglia with Kids
Regardless of where you stay in Puglia, there are four things I highly recommend adding to your itinerary. Please note, you will need a car to visit a masseria. While Zoosafari Fasanolandia is accessible by bus from some cities, a car is necessary to go through the safari park. Beaches and lidi are easily accessible by foot or local bus in cities along the coast like Bari, Monopoli, or Polignano a Mare, for example.
Visit a Traditional Masseria
Visiting a masseria (plural “masserie”) is one of the most quintessential things to do in Puglia with kids. Most of these fortified farmhouses were constructed in the 16th century and survive to this day. Similar to American plantations, these large estates housed the landowning family, as well as the families who worked the land, livestock, etc. Historically, they also served as trading centers. Now, many masserie have been converted to B&B's and boutique hotels, ranging from simple accommodations to luxurious stays. Plus, many of them also offer tours of their farms and guided experiences on how to make their local products, like mozzarella. Flanked by drystone walls and olive groves, the whole experience is enchanting.
There are several masserie throughout Puglia. During our recent trip, we chose to visit Masseria Lamapecora, located between Monopoli and Ostuni. Here, we wandered the charming farm area, visiting the sheep, cows, and chickens. Plus, we were able to get a lesson in cheesemaking, watching the full process for local cheeses like mozzarella and burrata. Afterward, we were able to sample more than a dozen cheeses. It was a true farm-to-fork moment!
Spend the Day at Zoosafari Fasanolandia
If your kids adore animals, you can’t miss a day spent at Zoosafari Fasanolandia. Located about 20 minutes from Monopoli, Zoosafari Fasanolandia offers a variety of exciting things to do for families. Firstly, arrive by car so that you can experience the Zoosafari. Dedicated to conservation and education, families can see more than 200 species of animals. From your car, navigate the completely open terrain of the animals. You are not allowed to open your windows or feed the animals, but kids will delight in creatures like zebras, lions, and giraffes wandering around the vehicles. Afterward, explore the rest of the park, including an aquarium, Fasanolandia theme park with exciting rides, and more!
Go to a Free Beach
Perhaps one of the best things to do in Puglia with kids is to head to a free beach (“spiaggia libera”). There are several great options across the region. Each free beach ranges in size and amenities. For example, some of the smaller ones do not have any amenities (just sand and water!), while others may offer lifeguards, showers, and picnic tables. Knowing what each beach will offer may be difficult to find online. If you need something specific, ask a local or head to a lido (more on those in a bit).
Some popular free beach options in Puglia for families include Torre Guaceto Beach and Torre dell'Orso Beach. Then, the stretch between Polignano a Mare and Monopoli, for example, offers dozens of free beaches. Some include sandy shores, while others are simply rocky coves. Sandy shores are perfect for toddlers and young kids, while teens may appreciate the challenge and adventure of the rocky coves. Based on our trip, some of our favorite free beaches in Monopoli included Spiaggia Cala Porta Vecchia (lifeguard on duty), Porto Rosso, Cala Susca, and Cala Monaci (lifeguard on duty, plus it is wheelchair accessible with beach wheelchairs available). There are so many to choose from, so do your research in advance based on where you stay.
Hang Out at a Lido
If you’re hoping for more amenities on your beach day, including an umbrella or beachside lounger, you’ll want to head to a lido instead (plural “lidi”). This is where you will find the iconic tightly packed beachside loungers with vibrant umbrellas. Basically, a lido is an Italian beach club and they can be a bit complicated to understand at first.
Each lido charges guests differently. At some you pay for your entry, at some you pay just for the chair/umbrella, and at some you pay for both (although that’s rare). It may not be clear what you need to do until you get there. Be patient and bring cash. Prices vary by day and time of the season (July and August being more expensive than June). During our trip, we paid between €10 and €35 for two loungers and one umbrella. Expect to pay between €30 and €50. Don’t be offended if you see a beach of empty chairs and they say it is full for the day, as many take reservations, and often families will reserve their spot for the full summer. If you want to ensure a spot, go within an hour of opening.
Amenities vary, but you can expect each lido to have things like a lifeguard, bathrooms and showers, changing areas, and a cafe serving food and drinks (think pizza, salads, sodas, and alcohol). Some will also have public restaurants, small swimming pools, game areas, kids’ beach equipment, and more. Do not expect life jackets or beach towels, however. If you need these, I advise that you pack them and bring them with you from home.
Near Monopoli, we recommend Porto Nero for older kids and teens, Cala Paradiso for kids of all ages, and Lido Santo Stefano for cool castle views.
Fun Cities to Visit in Puglia with Kids + What to Do When You Get There
Puglia is a fantastic place to take day trips and city hop. Based on our travels, here are five cities that I would recommend adding to your itinerary. In addition to this list, Matera, Gallipoli, Polignano a Mare, and Otranto are also great towns for families (we just didn’t get to them this time!).
As previously mentioned, Monopoli was our home base and we spent most of our time here. We absolutely adored this lovely city due to its walkability, large piazza, nearby beaches, and fresh seafood! I’ve already mentioned a few beaches to go to, but there are a number of other things to do in Monopoli with kids too! We even found three great playgrounds throughout the city.
When you’re ready to explore, take a walk along Lungomare Porto for views of the sea. Then meander through the old town and grab a gelato from Mokka che Mukka or Gasperini. Kids will adore playing in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II and riding on the two on-site rides. There is even a train departing from this piazza that will take you on a 30-minute ride through the old city (morning trains are more likely to have English tours). Older kids and teens will appreciate visiting Cattedrale Maria Santissima della Madia and Chiesa Rettoria Santa Maria del Suffragio - del Purgatorio to learn about traditional architecture and local history. For dinner, grab a bite to eat at Lo Squalo, Il Guazzetto, or Trattoria Il Brigante. If you have a hankering for pizza, try Crudo alla Barese.
Alberobello is one of the dreamiest cities in Italy. Not to mention, one of the most iconic cities in Puglia. Alberobello’s world-renowned trulli (singular “trullo”) have put the city on the map and made it a UNESCO World Heritage City. Historically, these enchanting homes were made from drywall stone and had pyramidal or conical rooftops.
One of the best ways to explore this charming city is with no plan at all, but if you are looking for some ideas, I recommend starting by touring the small museum in Trullo Sovrano. If you want to see some historic churches, Sant’Antonio Church and Basilica dei Santi Cosma e Damiano are both lovely options. Then, from Belvedere Santa Lucia (a city terrace), you can take in one of the best views of the city. While wandering the historic city center be sure to look for the unique trulli like Trullo Sovrano, the smallest trullo of Alberobello, and Trullo Siamese. When you’re ready to eat, head to Terra Madre Alberobello, where you can have a divine farm-to-fork meal.
Known for its baroque architecture, Lecce is a wonderful city in Puglia for those looking to experience and learn about local history. Not to mention visit some of the best churches in the region.
Upon arrival, walk through the impressive Porta Napoli. This stunning arch truly sets the tone for Lecce Centro Storico. In the morning, head to Caffè Alvino for a Caffè Leccese, a typical drink in this city, and a bite to eat. From here, you can marvel at the nearby Roman Amphitheater. Afterward, you can even take a guided tour to learn about this beautifully preserved amphitheater. Then, be sure to check out Piazza del Duomo and one of the many churches in Lecce. The city tourism office even offers bundled tickets for those hoping to tour each of the churches, including Basilica di Santa Croce, Chiesa di Santa Chiara, and Lecce Cathedral. When you get hungry, head to La Vecchia Osteria da Totu (try the traditional orecchiette and polpette fritte).
Nicknamed “la città bianca” (the white city), Ostuni sits atop a hill surrounded by lush green olive trees. This balance of green and white is truly stunning! Families will adore meandering through streets of white-washed buildings and taking in the gorgeous views of the surrounding area. You can even see the sea from the walls of the city’s Centro Storico (old town).
When you’re ready to explore, start with a walking tour or a tuk tuk tour. Young kids will love zooming around by tuk tuk and learning about local history and culture. Be sure to grab a gelato from Caffé Ayroldi before you embark on your walk around the city. Afterward, make your way to Cattedrale Santa Maria Assunta, where you can admire its beautiful architecture, as well as the adjacent Arco di Scoppa. Families with older kids and teens can also find a cooking class to take while in Ostuni to learn how to make a local dish! When you’re ready to eat, enjoy a lovely meal with views of Chiesa di San Francesco d’Assisi at Caffè Garibaldi.
Unlike the other cities mentioned on this list, Bari is a sprawling metropolitan city and has much more traffic than the smaller cities previously mentioned (be careful when crossing the road!). While much more modern than its neighbors, Bari also offers a charming old town, Bari Vecchia.
Start your visit with a stroll through the Old Fish Market. Kids will delight in seeing fish sellers announce their catch and try to sell to them as you walk by. Afterward, head to Strada delle Orecchiette, where you can watch women get together and make orecchiette outside their homes. Be sure to buy some pasta to bring home too! Then, explore Castello Normanno Svevo or Castel Del Monte to learn local history together. If your kids are up for it, you can even take a tour of the Underground City. If you’re staying in the area, excite your kids with a visit to the nearby amusement park, Miragica - Terra di Giganti. Have lunch at La Tana del Polpo (be sure to make a reservation). Finally, grab your daily gelato from Gelateria Gentile.
Eating in Puglia with Kids
Food is one of the major reasons people of all ages love traveling to Italy. Think pizza, pasta, and gelato! What you may not know, however, is that the food in Italy is very regional. This means you will not be able to get a specific dish in every city across the country. Instead, each region has its own particular dishes, flavors, and styles of cooking.
In Puglia, typical foods include fresh fish and seafood, orecchiette pasta, local cheeses (like caciocavallo, mozzarella, and burrata), olive oil, bread, and taralli (small ring crackers). Parents will adore dining on local favorites like orecchiette con le cime di rapa (a vegetarian pasta) or linguine alla scoglio (pasta with mixed seafood). Little picky eaters can always order pasta in bianco, though you probably won’t find this listed on the menu. This simply means plain pasta, sometimes with a bit of olive oil or Parmesan cheese. French fries, fresh fruit, and pizza are also widely available (but not at every restaurant).
A few other things to note when eating out in Italy. Dining in Italy is an experience. As such, don’t expect fast American-style service or servers frequently stopping by to ask how you’re doing. If you need something, you can always flag down your server. Additionally, don’t be offended if you see an empty restaurant and are turned away, each table only has one reservation per night to allow for slow dining. For sit-down meals, expect a coperto, a per-person table service charge (not a tip) and is listed in the menu. Tipping in Italy is different than it is in the U.S. Typically, a Euro or two in cash is sufficient (more for really expensive meals or exceptional service). You will not see a tip line when using your credit card. Tips are not expected or warranted for counter service orders.
Has your family been to Puglia, Italy? What did you think!? If you have any great photos of your family enjoying a day out here (or anywhere for that matter!), be sure to tag us on Instagram @gethappyly for a chance to be featured!
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