I first decided to spend one day in Matera after plotting out my next Italy destinations the way I often do—by choosing which cities on the map have the bigger font. I’ve chosen lots of destinations this way (Tivoli, Aosta, Turin, for example) and it’s helped me find so many cool places.
When I followed up with a search of things to do in Matera, I found nothing but interesting history surrounded by awesome scenery, in a city that was so unlike all the others! So, it was settled—I would squeeze a day in Matera into my greater southern Italy itinerary.
This post contains everything you need to know about spending one day in Matera. I’ll give you my super chill 1-day Matera itinerary, let you know the best place to stay, the best places to eat, all the things to do in Matera in just one awesome day, and everything else you need to know to visit Matera.
Also check out my post on the best day trips from Salerno on the Amalfi Coast (of which Matera is one).
Where is Matera?
The city of Matera, Italy is located in Italy’s Basilicata region, down near the heel of Italy’s boot. It’s a:
- 1-hour drive from Bari
- 1 hour and 15 minutes from Polignano a Mare
- 2.5-hour drive from Salerno
- 3-hour drive from Naples
- 3.5-hour drive from Sorrento
- And almost a 5-hour drive from Rome
This was my first time in the Basilicata region and it totally blew my mind. The whole area feels remote and empty but is so green and lush! The landscape is filled with rolling green hills dotted with enormous wind turbines, all under an impossibly blue sky.
Is Matera worth visiting?
Visiting Matera is definitely worth it if you’re after something completely different from the Italy you’re used to. If you’d like to visit a cool historic town that’s full of beautiful architectural scenes and a relaxing vibe, visit Matera.
But if you’re seeking out Italy’s top destinations for museums or food or a long list of bucket list experiences. Matera is the perfect destination if you want to add a chill day trip to a neat town to your itinerary, but it’s not exactly the most exciting and noteworthy place to visit. Just trying to curb your expectations here.
If you have a day to fill in your Italy itinerary and want to visit a cool town that’s different from the rest, Matera is definitely worth a visit. (Especially if you’re a James Bond fan—the 2021 film No Time to Die takes place in Matera. You can view a clip of it here.)
How many days to spend in Matera?
That being said, you really only need one day in Matera to get the idea. Sure, you could technically spend a few days here to squeeze in all the things to do in Matera, but you don’t really need to.
Many of the ‘top things to do in Matera’ are just different versions of the same thing. For instance, you don’t need to visit all the belvedere lookout points. Eventually, it all starts to look the same. Choose two and you’ve got the gist.
However, I do recommend more than just a day trip to Matera. I definitely think you get the whole awesome experience if you stay here overnight so you can experience the city from sunrise to sunset and beyond. More on that in a minute.
How to spend one day in Matera
During your one day in Matera you’ll visit some of the top lookout points (belvederes), visit the most popular churches, eat some amazing local foods, and stay in one of the coolest B&Bs you’ve ever stayed in.
With just one day in Matera you’ll be able to cover all the Matera basics and get a good sense of what this unique town is all about.
The Matera Sassi
Regarding the history of Matera, you’ll hear and read a lot about the “Sassi di Matera” during your visit. “Sassi” refers to the two areas of Matera that are characterized by their ancient cave dwellings. You’ll immediately be able to tell the “Sassi” from the newer parts of town.
Matera’s Sassi began as a prehistoric settlement where residents lived in caves that were carved out of the area’s rocky mountains. There’s almost no organization to the whole thing and you’ll see many buildings on top of others, some dwellings under the roads, and much more of the same.
The term “Sassi” comes from the Latin word for hill or rock. The Sassi of Matera was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993 and was recently dubbed the “2019 European Capital of Culture” which is a superlative I didn’t even know existed until now.
Things to do in Matera
Below this I’m going to give you my morning-to-night one day in Matera itinerary that covers all the best stuff. But if you’re still deciding on whether or not you even want to spend a day in Matera, here’s what you can expect:
- Checking out the best views of Matera from many different lookout points
- Visiting historic churches carved into the rock
- Eating hyper-local foods with historic meanings
- Spending a lot of time underground and/or in caves
- Strolling around at a leisurely pace
- But also, climbing up and down tons of stairs
Now, here’s the order you can do all that in…
Map for your one day in Matera
How to use this map
Click on the tab in the top left to see or hide different layers, then check or uncheck the boxes to the left of each section title. To get more information, photos, etc. on each site, click on any of the location markers on the map.
Click on the star ⭑ next to the map’s title to save this map in your Google Maps. To use on your phone when you get to Matera: open Google Maps, click “Saved” at the bottom, then click “Maps.”
One day in Matera itinerary
When you start and end your one day in Matera might look different from this, but I’m going to start at the beginning.
But first, coffee
As you always should in Italy, start your day at a café with a quick espresso (or cappuccino if you’re like me). If you stay in a B&B, they will either provide breakfast for you or will have a place they recommend that might be included.
Our stay at Al Vico B&B included breakfast at a pastry shop nearby, but some other popular cafés in Matera include:
- Caffé Schiuma
- Caffe Tripoli
Otherwise, stopping at the nearest café to wherever you are when the mood strikes should work just fine. Drink your coffee standing up at the counter to save a few euros.
Start your one day in Matera off at Palombaro Lungo, the city’s historic underground cistern. Underneath central Matera is a super huge, manmade cistern where they used to store all the water for the city.
The space was excavated back in the 16th century for the purpose of collecting rainwater for use by Matera’s residents through a collection of fountains and wells. While there were cisterns like this all over town, this is Matera’s largest.
This subterranean cistern holds 5 million liters of water but is no longer used for its original purpose. Now, it’s open for tourists who can descend into Matera’s dark underworld to check out the historic structure but also to get some much-needed relief from the summer heat. (Perhaps the height of summer isn’t the best time to visit Matera, but luckily it’s super cool and refreshing down here.)
As large as the place is, it will only take you about 10 minutes to visit the whole thing.
Palombaro Lungo translates to “the Long Diver” and references the length of this particular well.
Belvedere Luigi Guerricchio detto dei “Tre Archi”
After you emerge from Matera’s underground, cross the street and head over to the Belvedere of Luigi Guerricchio (Three Arches). From this viewpoint just off Piazza Vittorio Veneto you’ll get an amazing panoramic view of the sassi of Matera.
In fact, of all the amazing views of the city I saw in Matera, the view from here is my favorite. When I visited in May 2023 there was also an unbelievably talented guitar player entertaining us all under the portico. It was the perfect start to my one day in Matera.
Church of Santa Maria de Idris
From the Luigi Guerricchio viewpoint, head towards the Church of Santa Maria de Idris, but pay attention to the walk along the way. You’ll really only be hitting a few notable spots during your one day in Matera, but the key is to take in everything in between them as well. Exploring the nooks and crannies of this unique little town is really the main thing to do here.
Matera’s Church of Santa Maria de Idris dates back to the 14th century and was actually carved right into the rock face. It’s quite small inside but is filled with pretty well-preserved and colorful frescoes. Unfortunately, photos aren’t allowed inside so I can’t show you any of them, but this page has some good interior photos.
It’s pretty small and “simple” as far as Italian churches go, but it is such a cool experience to visit a church inside a rock to see how people used to worship here so many centuries ago.
While here, you can buy a discounted admission ticket that gets you into Matera’s top 3 churches (the ones we’re going to visit today). Otherwise, you can pay the separate admission price at each site.
Church of San Pietro Caveoso
Located right below the Church of Santa Maria de Idris, San Pietro Caveoso is another beautiful Matera church. Unlike the others, this one wasn’t carved out of the rock but built in a more customary way.
It dates back to the 1200s and has a really cozy feel inside thanks to the wooden interior. San Pietro Caveoso is free to visit and is worth a look inside since you’re already right there. (Again, no photos allowed.)
Church of Santa Lucia alle Malve
From the church of San Pietro Caveoso, make your way down to the next major site on the list—the Church of Santa Lucia alle Malve. (And again, take your time and enjoy all the scenes in between.)
This is another of Matera’s cool “rock churches” and it too is filled with beautiful frescoes. This church dates back to the 8th century and is the most important church in Matera’s history. (And it’s still used for worship today!)
Though still pretty compact, this one is larger than the first one we visited, and used to be even bigger still before parts of it were turned into residences and other things. This page has an excellent rundown of all the frescoes.
Lunch at 5 Lire Pizza
Before you hit up the third of the three major churches here, it’s time for lunch. And for that we’re going to 5 Lire Pizza, on the edge of the Sassi.
5 Lire Pizza has amazing pizzas that are fast, delicious, and pretty cheap. They have outdoor seating on their front patio, indoor seating in two areas, and outdoor seating on their terrace overlooking the picturesque Sassi.
Since we only have one day in Matera, I didn’t want to spend more time than necessary at lunch when I knew there was more I wanted to see. Stopping at 5 Lire Pizza was perfect.
Gelato at Gelida Voglia
And because this is Italy, you must follow up lunch with some gelato. From 5 Lire, walk just a little ways down the main road and you’ll hit Gelida Voglia (Via del Corso 114), which I highly recommend.
Church of Saint Peter Barisano
Take your gelato and walk towards the third church on our list—the Church of Saint Peter Barisano. This was my personal favorite, but for only the grossest, most macabre reasons.
This is another of Matera’s cave churches and actually the largest one in the city. It dates back to the 12th century and is filled with underground rooms once used for draining corpses. Super gross, but hear me out.
Underneath the church floor where you enter is a vast maze-like complex of rooms where they would drain the bodies of priests. The whole process is ghastly but the rooms themselves are pretty cool. It’s definitely got some weird vibes here and maybe don’t go down there by yourself? But it does add a little something extra (creepy) to your one day in Matera.
Again, there are no photos allowed inside but you can see some on this page.
Belvedere Emilio Colombo Statista
Now that you visited the last of Matera’s three major churches, spend some more time just walking around the city. Perhaps make your way towards the Convent of Saint Agostino (Convento di Sant’Agostino) where you’ll find the Belvedere Emilio Colombo.
From here you’ll get a great view of the huge Convent and of the Matera Sassi as well as the green hills on the Sassi’s perimeter.
Aperitivo with a view or Passeggiata
Now that you’ve walked around almost the entire Sassi of Matera (or maybe you got turned around somewhere and actually did walk around the entire thing), it’s now time to chill out Matera style.
If you’ve had enough walking, park yourself at one of the many places where you can enjoy watching the sunset with an incredible view of the Sassi to end your one day in Matera.
The most popular spots for an aperitivo with a view are:
- Crialoss and its panoramic cave terrace
- Annunziata 1735 with its view over Piazza Vittorio Veneto
- Terrazza Cavaliere, the perfect place for a cocktail at sundown
If you’ve just fallen in love with Matera and want to walk around a little bit more, then it sounds like you’re already starting to turn Italian. ‘Tis time for the passeggiata—one of my favorite things about dusk in Italy.
The passeggiata is that wonderful time of day when everyone leaves their homes and work and just strolls through the town. It’s a leisurely social activity and one I wish we’d hurry up and adopt here in the U.S. But alas.
You’ll notice the streets filling up with people just literally out for a stroll, for no other reason than strolling. Join in and see what local life in Matera is like after all the day-trippers have left.
Dinner at MoMang
After you’ve aperitivo’ed and passeggiata’ed, it’s time for dinner. And for that I recommend MoMang. I actually found this place because it’s owned by the same people who own the B&B I stayed at and they include a welcome drink and snacks there with your stay. We had such a fun time during our welcome drinks that we decided to stay for dinner and were so happy with our decision!
MoMang is everything I wanted out of dinner during my one day in Matera. The menu at MoMang is centered around traditional Lucano street food. (Lucano meaning the traditional cuisine of Basilicata.) As Wikipedia puts it, “The local gastronomy is typically peasant, based on simple recipes and on the culture of reuse, in particular of meat and bread.” And that’s exactly what we got.
I absolutely love when I can learn about a destination and its culture through its food, and sadly so many places have evolved from this style. But not MoMang.
My husband and I had a variety of dishes at MoMang, including:
- Fave e cicorie – Fava beans and chicory (a dish you’ll see everywhere in Basilicata and Puglia)
- Polpette alla Materana di pane/di carne – Matera meatballs of either meat or bread. I had both but actually preferred the bread meatballs. (I even ordered a second round.)
- Salsiccia del Pezzente – “Beggar’s sausage,” a typical Lucano cured meat made from the “less desirable” parts of the pig. (But this was my favorite dish of them all!)
- Morbido Lucano for dessert – A kind of whipped cream cheese covered in caramelized tomatoes! Sounds weird, and kinda tastes weird, but it’s actually really good.
Where to stay in Matera (cave hotels)
After your one day in Matera, the perfect place to stay is at a cave hotel. Matera is filled with amazing cave hotels and staying in one (or a cave house) is essential to getting the whole “Matera” experience.
I stayed at Al Vico B&B and it was SO COOL! This was the first time I’ve ever stayed in a cave hotel and it was such a treat. For starters, it was so dark. So quiet. I slept So. Well. Even just for that reason, I highly recommend this place. (Check out my quick Instagram walkthrough of my cave hotel here.)
Its location was perfect and the place had everything we needed, including a small kitchenette. The place was well prepared for our visit and the whole thing was such a fun and unique experience. You’ve got to stay in a cave hotel for your 1 day in Matera.
Book your stay at the Al Vico B&B here.
Cave hotels in Matera
If Al Vico B&B isn’t available during your one day in Matera, there are plenty more cave hotels to choose from. Start here with these top-rated accommodation options:
- Sextantio Le Grotte Della Civita (splurge) – Gorgeous cave rooms, panoramic terrace, exceptional reviews, totally one-of-a-kind property.
- Aquatio Cave Luxury Hotel & Spa (higher-end) – On-site restaurant with breakfast, wonderful reviews, free use of the spa, bike rental available, perfect location.
- Il Belvedere (mid-range) – Panoramic terrace, excellent location, exceptional reviews (9.5/10!)
- Palazzo Degli Abati (mid-range) – Family-run property, on-site breakfast, exceptional reviews, great location and actually the location of one of the best places to have a drink with a view!
- Il Palazzotto Residence & Winery (mid-range) – Great location, rooms with balconies, wonderful reviews, welcome drink included.
- B&B Al Convento (mid-range) – Exceptional reviews, great location, and lots of compliments on the hosts.
- La Dimora Delle 3 Zie (budget-friendly) – Exceptional reviews, inner courtyard, recently renovated, bike rental available!
One day in Matera – other options
If one viewpoint and one church are all you need to get an idea of the Matera Sassi and you want to add some other activities to your 1-day Matera itinerary, check out these optional additions:
Go for a hike in Murgia Materana Park
As you can see in my pictures, there are plenty of pretty easy hiking trails all around Matera. The green hills dotted with caves you see are part of Murgia Materana Park (Parco della Murgina Materana) and you can get there easily from the Sassi.
First, you’ll hike down into the ravine, cross the suspension bridge, and then hike up on the other side. From wherever you are in the Sassi, look for Ponte Tibetano della Gravina on your map. The starting point downward is just up above that on the main road (Via Madonna delle Virtù).
Important note: On my visit in May 2023, the path to the bridge was closed. It still says “Temporarily Closed” on the map, so just be aware of this ahead of your trip. And if it is closed when you get there, please don’t climb over the two locked metal gates. Don’t be the entitled asshole tourist who thinks the rules don’t apply to them.
Take an ape tour of Matera
If the idea of walking up and down all of Matera’s hills and stairways doesn’t excite you, perhaps book an ape tour of the city. This is the best way to see the absolute most during your one day in Matera, plus you’ll get expert insight from your guide and access to all the best places to see. Book your Matera ape tour here.
Take a night tour of Matera
Matera is just as beautiful (if not more so) when lit up at night. This Matera night tour takes you to all the best places for great night views of the Sassi and even to a couple of rock churches and other buildings. All 5-star reviews! Book your Matera night tour here.
Hot Air Balloon Flight over Matera
You can even take a hot air balloon flight over Matera while you’re here. Hot air balloon rides are so much fun and this would be such a cool place to do one! Another activity with all 5-star reviews (and amazing pictures). Book your Matera hot air balloon ride here.
Matera day trip
Even though I recommend staying overnight in Matera (so you can get the full experience + sleep in cave hotel), this city is also a popular destination for a day trip from Bari. If you’re short on time, you can always visit Matera for just a few hours and still see a lot that the city has to offer.
Something to note however is that this is a popular activity. And I mean popular. During the core hours of the day, the entire city fills up with large (and loud) tour groups. So if this is the route you’ll take, prepare for crowds and some long waits to get into the churches.
How to get to Matera
Though Matera is gaining in popularity, it’s still important to remember that it’s pretty small and outside the realm of more popular tourist regions. It’s not exactly the most straightforward to get to, but it’s not impossible either.
By far the easiest and fastest way to get to Matera is to drive. This is what I did and it couldn’t have been easier (or more beautiful). Even parking was super simple.
If you still need to rent a car, check out the best local deals here.
Naples to Matera
Though Matera is a few hours away in Basilicata, many people still come from the bustling metropolis of Naples on the western coast. Here’s how to get to Matera from Naples.
By car – The drive from Naples to Matera is 3 hours.
By train – The train to Matera from Naples takes about 4 hours and costs between €30 and €40. It only leaves once per day, in the afternoon, and includes 1 change. See the train schedule here.
By bus – You can also take the Flixbus from Naples to Matera in under 4 hours and for around $20. This is pretty fast and a great deal that involves no bus changes, but note that it leaves at 2:15am to get you to Matera at 6:00am. See the bus schedule here.
Rome to Matera
Rome is a good deal farther away from Matera than Naples, but if spending one day in Matera is a bucket list item for you, then who cares! Here’s how to get from Rome to Matera:
By car – The drive from Rome to Matera is about 5 hours.
By train – The train from Rome to Matera takes about 5.5 hours and costs between €60 and €65. It leaves once per day (at noon), getting you to Matera just before 5:30pm, and includes 1 change. See the train schedule here.
By bus – The Flixbus from Rome to Matera takes about 6.5 hours and costs around $55. It leaves at 11:30pm to get you to Matera at 6:00am so you can start your one day in Matera bright and early as hell. Check the bus schedule here.
Bari to Matera
Bari is the closest “major” city to Matera and the starting point of many Matera day trips. If you find yourself starting off in Bari, here’s how to get to Matera:
By car – The drive from Bari to Matera is just 1 hour.
By train – Despite its super close location, taking the train from Bari to Matera is not really an option. I mean, it is, if you want to spend the 8.5 hours and tons of euros to make the very short trip. Unfortunately, there just isn’t an efficient train connection between these two destinations. You can see the train schedule here to see what I mean.
By bus – Taking the bus from Bari to Matera is the most popular option (other than driving to Matera). These trips take just about 1 hour and 15 minutes and cost less than your morning cappuccino and croissant. You can check the Bari to Matera bus schedules here.
All the prices and schedules I mention above are good as of May 2023.
Driving in Matera
If you plan to arrive to Matera by car, know that driving in Matera is pretty easy, as long as you remember to avoid the ZTL. The ZTL is the Limited Traffic Zone (Zona Traffico Limitato) where unauthorized cars can’t go. That’s you.
Driving in Matera will mean sticking to the newer part of the city as the historic Sassi are not accessible by car. You’ll park on the outskirts of the Sassi and then walk to your hotel or B&B from there.
There are many parking areas around the Matera Sassi, but if you’re staying in town for the night, you’re in luck. Some monitored parking garages, like the one I parked in overnight, are available only for guests of the local B&Bs.
If you stay at Al Vico B&B like I did, you’ll park at the Parcheggio Nicoletti (Via Vincenzo Cappelluti 1). It’s nearby the Sassi, monitored, and apparently run by friendly labrador retriever, which I fully support. You can get more info here.
How to get around Matera & the Sassi
Since driving is pretty much out of the question here, the best way to get around Matera is always on foot. The majority of Matera’s Sassi is within the ZTL and walking is really the fastest and easiest way to get where you’re going. The good thing is that it usually doesn’t take as long to get around Matera as it looks.
The other great way to get around Matera is via an ape. An ape is a small 3-wheeled vehicle popular in Italy for being able to navigate the country’s narrow alleyways. It’s even been called the VespaCar. And since you probably don’t have your own (but how fun would that be?!) there are plenty of ape tours available around Matera!
What to pack for Matera
In addition to your standard Italy packing list, there are a few things you’ll want to remember to bring for your one day in Matera:
European plug adapter – so you can charge all your devices here.
Trekking poles – I didn’t bring these myself, but I saw so many people with them in Matera. I definitely thought, “Wow, those would actually be great to have right about now.” If you’ll be checking a bag to Italy and need a little help with climbing up and down tons of steps, pick up a cheap pair of walking poles for Matera.
Anti-theft purse – I felt perfectly safe the entire time I was in Matera, but it’s still always smart to travel with anti-theft bags when traveling in Italy. For this particular trip I brought my Travelon slim backpack purse. (See my full list of travel safety items here.)
Refillable water bottle – so you can always fill up (for free) at Matera’s nasoni (water fountains).
Italy guidebook for all your Italy sightseeing in one place
Pro tips for spending one day in Matera
For your one day in Matera, here are a few essential things you need to know:
1. Get the combination ticket
If you plan to visit more than one of the rock churches and/or other sites, you can buy a combination ticket that includes multiple sites for one discounted price (rather than buying them all separately).
They don’t cost much to begin with, but this is still an easy way to save money (for wine) and time (for drinking wine later). You can buy these passes at all of the sites.
2. Make dining reservations
Though you likely won’t need dining reservations in general, if you want one of the coveted spots on the panoramic terraces, definitely make a reservation. Even the panoramic patio at 5 Lire Pizza requires reservations for lunch. (And it’s basically a fast food restaurant.)
3. Refill your water around the city
There are a good number of nasoni around Matera where you can fill up your water bottle. Nasoni are the free, fresh, cold water fountains around the city for anyone to use. This is how you save money and stay hydrated in that hot Matera summer sun.
4. Consider walking poles for your one day in Matera
I’ve just said it above but I’ll say it again. There are lots of stairs up and down all over Matera. Most of them are super old and uneven and even slippery. If you think you’ll have an issue with this, don’t be a hero—bring a pair of walking poles to make your one day in Matera that much more safe and enjoyable.
5. Please follow the rules
Many of the historic sites in Matera do not allow photography, and this will be posted when you enter. If that’s the case, do not take photos inside the site. There’s a reason these rules exist. You can almost always find photos on the website if you really want to show someone what it looks like.
Likewise, if an area is closed—like if it’s blocked off with two locked metal gates—don’t try your best to get around (or over) them. Again, there’s a reason these rules exist.
Please please please, don’t be the entitled tourist who thinks they are more important than the rules. This is why tourists get a bad rap. This is how places like these get ruined. And this is how you go viral, the bad way.
Visit Matera like a pro
I hope I’ve provided some organization for your one day in Matera! Enjoy exploring this unique town and, as always, if you have any Matera questions, don’t hesitate to ask them below in the comments!
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