When I booked my trip to Puglia in May 2023, I had no idea about any of the things to do in Polignano a Mare. I couldn’t even say the name actually. (Most of the time I still can’t.) I decided to come here after randomly booking a reservation at the world famous Italian cave restaurant which just so happened to be in Polignano a Mare, a city in southern Italy I had never even heard of before.
After all was said and done, I actually ended up basing myself in the town of Polignano a Mare for most of my recent trip. I explored as much of the city as possible and can definitively say that Polignano a Mare is absolutely worth a visit.
The best things to do in Polignano a Mare
Even though it’s a smaller and less popular Italian city, there are still plenty of fun ways to spend your days in this sparkling gem of a town. This precious Puglia town has it all–incredible scenery, water adventures on the Adriatic Sea, incredible dining and shopping opportunities, friendly street cats, history, the chance to just chill out under the sun, and much more.
If you’re looking for something a little more off the beaten path in Italy, here are all the awesome things to do in Polignano a Mare you shouldn’t miss for a perfect time in Puglia. (Puglia, or Apulia, is the region of Italy where you’ll find Polignano a Mare, down by the heel of the boot.)
1. Dine at Grotta Palazzese Restaurant
I’m putting this at No. 1 since it’s the most famous of all the things to do in Polignano a Mare and because it was the reason that brought me to Puglia and this tiny town in the first place.
Grotta Palazzese is the famous Italian cave restaurant that is on countless bucket lists… as it should be! Having dinner here was one of my favorite travel experiences ever. The atmosphere is absolutely epic of course, but so is the food, the service, and everything else about it.
Dinner here is certainly pricey (like, the most expensive meal of my life outside of my own wedding), but when you count the whole amazing experience together it’s actually a pretty great deal!
Check out my full post on what it’s like to dine at Grotta Palazzese. This post includes everything you need to know about dining there, a breakdown of how much everything costs, and my full honest review.
2. Take a boat tour of the caves and cliffs
Another of the best things to do in Polignano a Mare is to take a boat tour of the sea caves. This was such a fun way to see Polignano’s most beautiful parts. Plus, you even get some cool views of the Grotta Palazzese Restaurant from the water.
I took this 1.5-hour boat tour and it was perfect. We explored tons of caves, listened to great music, had so much fun with our captain Vito, and toasted to the experience with some prosecco before returning to the dock.
Book the Polignano a Mare boat tour here!
3. Check out all the viewpoints
Polignano a Mare is such a looker, which you can see from a number of free viewpoints around the city. My favorite Polignano a Mare viewpoint is the Belvedere su Lama Monachile (Via Porto 30). It’s from here that you get that iconic view of Polignano’s famous beach.
Other Polignano viewpoints include:
- Mirador Blue (Via Narciso 50) where you can get a sneak peek into Grotta Palazzese Restaurant
- The “Viewpoint of Grotta Palazzese” (Via Gelsomino 82) where you can get another great view of the restaurant and surrounding limestone cliffs
- Ponte Borbonico su Lama Monachile (Piazza Giuseppe Verdi) – the historic bridge from which you can get great views of the other side of the famous beach
- Pietra Piatta (Lungomare Domenico Modugno) – the area of cliffs where you can hang out and see the entire center of Polignano a Mare
- Belvedere Terrazza Santo Stefano (Via Porto 83) for amazing Adriatic views
And many more. Polignano a Mare is surrounded by turquoise ocean vistas so just head to the nearest cliff edge and there’s probably a viewpoint.
If you love amazing viewpoints, definitely consider a day trip to nearby Matera while you’re in southern Italy!
4. Hang out at Lama Monachile Beach (Cala Porto)
Now that you’ve seen how gorgeous it is, head down to Polignano’s most famous beach, Lama Monachile (also known as Cala Porto). For obvious reasons (Ah-ooga!), this is one of the most popular things to do in Polignano a Mare and the best place to soak up some sun while you’re in town. You might as well see this picturesque beach from all angles.
Head down there early as the beach is small and it fills up on nice days. (But don’t expect soft sand; prepare your feet for small pebbles instead.)
5. Explore old town Polignano a Mare
One of the first things to do in Polignano a Mare after arriving should be to walk around the old town (centro storico) and just check it all out.
Polignano is small enough that you can just wander aimlessly without fear of never finding your way out. The town consists of countless narrow streets and alleys, lovingly decorated homes and storefronts, some friendly cats, and views of the sea around every corner.
Pop into one of the local shops for some fun beachwear or coastal-themed décor for your walls back home. Stop for an aperitivo in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II and just take it easy in this totally laid-back town.
Polignano’s history actually dates back to prehistoric times, with record of the existence of a village here as far back as the Bronze Age. And while you won’t see evidence of that in plain sight, you will see the remains of its importance as a commercial center under both Roman and Venetian rule.
6. Pop into the Church of Saint Mary of the Assumption
As it goes in Italy, each town has a historic and larger-than-life cathedral. In Polignano a Mare, that’s the Church of Saint Mary of Assumption. (Known in Italy as Chiesa Matrice di Santa Maria Assunto in Cielo.)
Located in the center of old town Polignano, this church was consecrated in the year 1295! It occupies the spot where a pagan temple once stood and you’ll see (and hear) its bell tower all over town.
It’s full of beautiful artwork dating back centuries and is free to visit. Be sure to pop in for a quick look while you’re out wandering the old town.
7. Walk through Porta Grande
At one time (in the 1700s), the only way into the center of Polignano a Mare was through the main gate: Porta Grande. This massive gate became Polignano’s main entrance and exit through the massive wall that had surrounded the town since 1530.
Today, there are many ways in and out, but walking through Porta Grande is still one of the things to do in Polignano a Mare that you should make sure not to miss. Also known as the Marchesale Arch, this massive portal also features paintings from the 16th century inside and is surrounded by a small church.
8. Check out the Domenico Modugno statue
Domenico Modugno is Polignano a Mare’s golden child. He was an Italian singer (among other things) responsible for the Grammy-winning song “Volare.” (Aka “Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu” aka one of the most famous Italian songs in history.) He was born in Polignano a Mare in 1928.
Now, I had never heard this song before my time in Polignano a Mare, but apparently I’m the only one. My husband and everyone else I’ve asked knows it quite well! (So I’m guessing you do too? Listen here.)
Besides hearing this song numerous times during your visit, posing with Modugno’s statue is one of the things to do in Polignano a Mare that almost no one misses out on. Knowing what I know now about this town, it feels sacrilegious to come here and not visit the statue.
9. Learn the words to “Volare” on Via Roma
I told you Polignano was obsessed with Modugno and “Volare.” To see what I mean, be sure to take a short walk down Via Roma. This most popular tourist street features wall-to-wall restaurants and shops, but also Volare’s lyrics strung across the street and lit up all the way down. It’s actually quite endearing.
10. Keep your eyes open for all the poetry
All around Polignano a Mare’s old town you can find random lines of poetry and other sayings painted lovingly on walls, staircases, and other spots.
They’re all in Italian but by writers and others artists you’re certainly familiar with (that aren’t necessarily Italian). Keep your translator app open and enjoy all the quirky reminders of how lovely life is.
11. Visit Polignano a Mare on an Ape tour around town
Judging by how many people I saw taking ape tours here, this is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Polignano a Mare! If you haven’t ridden in an ape in Italy yet, you’re missing out. These tiny little cars are so fun and you get to see so much more of the area than if you walked it.
You can book ape tours around Polignano to see some of the best parts and hidden spots with a local guide that knows exactly where to go. If you’re short on time here in Polignano, definitely check out this super popular Polignano ape tour.
12. Take a walk along the Lungomare
If you’re looking to get out of the small alleys and packed streets of the town center, head to the Lungomare. On the edge of Polignano a Mare (literally, the edge) you’ll find a kilometer-long walking path right along the coastline.
Polignano’s Lungomare is a wide-open path that offers incredible ocean views and plenty of elbow room. A good starting point would be: take Via Garofalo until it dead ends at the ocean, then turn right and just stroll along the wall. You’ll know you’ve reach the end when you hit the sportsfields. The Lungomare goes right over all the caves you’ll enter on the boat tour!
13. Take a Polignano a Mare walking or food tour
If you’d prefer not to wander around aimlessly, consider one of the popular Polignano a Mare walking tours available. These tours include expert local guides who know exactly where to find all the best places and can provide historical and other relevant commentary along the way. Check out these options to see which work best for you:
- Polignano a Mare Guided Walking Street Food Tour – Taste some of Puglia’s most popular (and delicious) street food items (plus wine!)
- Private walking tour of Polignano a Mare – Check out this 1.5-hour tour with all 5-star reviews!
- Polignano a Mare Walking Tour with Special Coffee Tasting – If you’re visiting with a bigger group, this is a great deal (+ Special Coffee!)
14. Eat amazing fresh local seafood
Given its location, filling up on fresh local seafood is a must on the list of things to do in Polignano a Mare. I ate a ton of seafood during my time here, but my favorite meal (outside of Grotta Palazzese) was at Nobilnonna (Via Roma 95).
We started with the selection of “home delights” for antipasto, then enjoyed some orecchiette con brasciola barese, a whole dorade (fish), and fig cheese cake with grappa for dessert. Everything was fantastic, especially the service! 10/10 highly recommend.
15. Grab a beer and hot dog by the cliffs
If you’ve been here for a few days and you’re fed up with seafood (yeah, it’s possible) head over to Malidea for something different. It feels a little profane to recommend hot dogs in Italy, but the menu at Malidea is freshly made in house and pretty great!
Malidea is located within eyeshot of the Domenico Modugno statue and right there next to the steps that lead down to the cliffs. It’s the perfect relaxing spot to grab a beer and a great meal (that’s a nice break from pasta and seafood) with super friendly service.
I actually went here twice on my latest trip to Polignano a Mare. They’ve also provided me with my new favorite saying: “Fresh you are born but crunchy you become.” I feel you, restaurant placemat; I feel you.
16. Drink a Special Coffee
Ready for something a little more than espresso? Another of the things to do in Polignano a Mare that you can only do here is drink a “Special Coffee.” Polignano a Mare is home to Il Super Mago del Gelo Mario Campanella–birthplace of this Polignano staple made with espresso, lemon zest, cream, sugar, and homemade amaretto. (The place’s founder, Cavaliere Giuseppe Campanella started out as an almond seller in the 1930s.)
I totally thought coffee with lemon zest would be too weird to be good, but Polignano’s Special Coffee is actually fantastic! I mistakenly called it Super Coffee the whole time I was there, but it’s that too! It will definitely supercharge your morning.
Il Super Mago del Gelo Mario Campanella is the place that invented it and has been serving it since 1935. It’s conveniently located right across from the Ponte Grande and the town’s center. It’s consistently surrounded by loitering old Italian men which, for me, is the mark of a truly fantastic place you shouldn’t miss.
17. Visit the Pino Pascali museum of contemporary art
Polignano’s contemporary art museum, Fondazione Museo Pino Pascali, is the only contemporary art museum in all of Italy’s Puglia region. It has permanent as well as temporary exhibitions.
The museum is dedicated to Pino Pascali who was born in nearby Bari and is known as one of the greatest Apulian artists. It houses many of his own works as well as those of other Apulian artists. The museum is open during certain times from Wednesday–Sunday and costs just €5 to enter.
18. Jump off a cliff or at least watch others do it
…but only because you want to, not just because everyone else is doing it. One of the most popular things to do in Polignano a Mare for adventure junkies is cliff diving. Personally, I’ve been happy enough just looking out from the cliffs, but some visitors want to take it a step further. (Pun not intended, but indeed welcomed.)
But if jumping off a cliff isn’t really your thing, you can always watch the other crazies out there do it!
Polignano a Mare is actually home to Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. Each summer, people who value their lives too much to try this themselves gather together to watch Red Bull’s adrenaline junkies jump off a couple of platforms into the ocean at Lama Monachile. Click that link for photos and more information if this is up your alley.
19. Take to the sea on a paddleboard or kayak
If you want to do something physical in Polignano but not, like, inherently life threatening, opt for a standup paddleboard or kayak trip out to the sea caves instead.
You get to see many of the awesome caves I saw on my boat tour, but much closer and at your own pace. My boat tour was so fun, but I’d love to spend more time hanging out inside the caves like all the paddleboarders I saw!
20. Visit San Vito Abbey
The Abbey of San Vito is located just a couple miles north of Polignano’s center and is right at the dock where you’ll board your boat for the cave tour.
This abbey dates back to the 10th century and enjoys some prime real estate right there on the water. It is now privately owned but is allegedly open to visitors on Sundays. I wasn’t around on a Sunday to head inside, but the building is still super cool to check out from the outside.
21. Spend a half-day in Monopoli
The equally adorable town of Monopoli is just a 15-minute drive (or a 6-minute train ride) from Polignano a Mare. Monopoli is just as lovely but much quieter since it’s not such a tourist destination. Despite its small size, there are still many things to do and see in Monopoli.
You can visit Castello di Carlo V (a stone fortress from the 1500s), check out the historic cathedrals, or just spend the day hanging out with a drink, enjoying some gelato, and strolling leisurely around this cute coastal town.
Monopoli is also popular for its beaches, so if you’re looking for something a little less crowded than Lama Monachile, head over here. It’s worth the short drive if you want to get away from the summer crowds.
And when you do, consider having lunch and a beverage at Vini e Panini. This place is so cute and I actually had one of the best sandwiches of my life here. I’ll never forget you, bresaola. Afterwards, head across the square for some gelato at Bella Blu.
Best places to stay in Polignano a Mare, Puglia
Polignano a Mare has a wide range of places to stay that are all adorable and close to the ocean. Here are a few top-rated accommodation recommendations:
Dimora 181 – This adorable B&B is where I stayed in May 2023 and I absolutely loved it! The room is completely done up with care and had everything we needed. The location is beyond perfect, parking is easy, and the whole place is a real value.
Our host was incredibly friendly and helpful with everything, even checking in afterwards to make sure our stay was perfect. 10/10 highly recommend!
Book your stay at Dimora 181 here.
If Dimora 181 isn’t available for your dates, also check out these other options:
- Grotta Palazzese Hotel (luxury) – The home of the famous Italian cave restaurant is also a luxury hotel with rooms overlooking the sea. If you want a totally gorgeous and unforgettable splurge while you’re in Polignano a Mare, book a room here!
- Itaca Home to Explorers (higher-end) – Exceptional reviews, washing machine (!!!), balcony, kitchen, whole house in a perfect location.
- Dimora Anderi (mid-range) – Amazing property with rooftop terrace, continental breakfast at nearby café, fantastic location, excellent reviews.
- Casa Marianna (budget) – Great location, fabulous reviews, balcony, and even has a kitchenette.
What to pack for Polignano a Mare
Regardless of which of the best things to do in Polignano a Mare you add to your itinerary, be sure to include these few essential packing items:
- European plug adapter – so you can charge all your devices here.
- Comfortable shoes – I’m a big fan of Teva sandals and Chacos when visiting places like Polignano a Mare. They’re super comfy for all-day sightseeing and perfect for boats and beaches!
- Anti-theft purse – I felt perfectly safe the entire time I was in Polignano, 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 at the town’s nasoni (water fountains).
- Italy guidebook for all your other Italy sightseeing
- Italy customs and culture guide – I take these pocket-sized guides everywhere! (See why in my Culture Smart review here.)
How to get to Polignano a Mare
Polignano a Mare is small and somewhat out of the way, but it’s still easy to get to Polignano via most methods.
Getting to Polignano a Mare by car
By far the easiest way to get to Polignano a Mare is to drive. This is how I arrived on my recent trip. I was able to park right in front of my B&B and easily drive to places like Monopoli and the docks at San Vito.
Polignano a Mare is a 30-minute drive south of Bari, an hour north of Brindisi, and a 3.5-hour drive from both Naples and Salerno on the Amalfi Coast.
Planning a road trip? Find the best deal on a rental car here.
Flying into Polignano a Mare
If you’ll be arriving by air, the closest major airports are:
- Bari Karol Wojtyła Airport (BRI)
- Brindisi Papola Casale Airport (BDS)
- and I arrived via Naples Capodichino (NAP) since it’s by far the biggest in southern Italy.
Taking the train to Polignano a Mare
You can also get to Polignano by train from a few cities. The train from Bari to Polignano takes 30 minutes (or less) and costs less than €3. The train from Salerno takes between 5-7 hours and costs around €26. (This isn’t ideal, but it is a way to get across the boot without having a care of your own.) Taking the train from Rome to Polignano takes anywhere between 5-7 hours also and costs start around €22 and go up.
Check out train schedules around Italy here on Trenitalia.
Bus to Polignano a Mare
You can also get to Polignano a Mare from all over Italy via the Flixbus. I’ve taken the Flixbus around Italy and have found it to be one of the best ways to get around Italy on a budget. I wouldn’t hesitate to take it again.
Check out Flixbus schedules and rates here.
I hope you have an awesome time checking out all the beautiful things to do in Polignano a Mare! As always, if you have any Polignano questions, don’t hesitate to ask them in the comments. Ciao!
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