Without a doubt, Italy is one of the most loved tourist destinations. Rich in history, culture, and flavors, Italy has captured the imagination of travelers throughout time. With its magnificent cities, fascinating monuments, and scenic landscape, Italy never fails to impress! That’s what makes the planning all the more tricky – where in Italy are you going to visit?

 

The country is divided into two main regions: the north and the south. North is where all the big names are: Milan, Venice, Florence, Tuscany. Here, you can immerse yourself in art, culture, and history.

 

But, if you are seeking sun, sea, and some of Italy’s best cuisine, then head south to where the Italians call the Meridione!

 

 

 

Traveling south of the country, you will notice the landscape and architecture transforming quite dramatically. Dotted with charming beachfront towns, pristine beaches, captivating landmarks, and must-try cuisine, Southern Italy is a land of hidden treasures waiting to be discovered.

 

A famous summer destination for Italian holidaymakers, the south has managed to charm international tourists as well. In recent years there has been a considerable increase in the number of tourists visiting the region.

 

In this post, we will take you through 10 of Meridione’s must-visit cities and what you can expect to see and do on your visit. These cities are scattered across Campania and Puglia regions, famous for their wines, olives, and fresh produce, which have enriched the local cuisine. Here, you can experience real Italy!

 

 

1- Naples

 

 

Sitting on the foot of Mount Vesuvius is the sprawling city of Naples – one of Italy’s oldest and most vibrant cities. This densely populated city is like nowhere else in Italy. Rich in history and culture, Naples is home to countless historical sites, museums, palaces, and cathedrals. Naples has an illustrious history showcased through its mixture of architectural styles. In Naples’ historic center, you can find architectural landmarks ranging from medieval to classical, renaissance, and baroque.

 

Located in the heart of Naples is the famous Piazza del Plebiscito. This grand square features two of the city’s most notable attractions: the royal palace to the east and the Church of San Francesco di Paola to the west. It is also the city’s most prominent gathering spot where Napoletanos often come together and socialize.

 

In Naples, you will find yourself surrounded by landmarks with enormous historical and artistic significance. These, among others, include the magnificent Sansevero Chapel Museum, Teatro di San Carlo – Italy’s oldest opera house, the seafront fortification of Castel dell’Ovo, and Fontanelle Cemetery, a 16th-century ossuary which houses 40,000 bone remains of the victims of the great plague of 1656.

 

Every landmark is a beautiful representation of the city’s invaluable history and heritage.  However, if you want to experience the real vibe of Naples, you need to head down to its famous bustling streets.

 

Take your time to truly explore Spaccanapoli Street. As the city’s longest street, Spaccanapoli is filled with hidden gems tucked away at every corner. The street is a buzzing scene with many vendors, street musicians, cafes, boutiques, and churches. Another very famous street in Naples is the Christmas alley. It is packed with quirky little workshops where artisans make detailed figurines depicting Nativity scenes and different characters from religious to artists, politicians, and celebrities.

 

Church of San Francesco di Paola

 

Strolling down the chaotically charming streets of Naples, keep an eye out for the city’s stunning street art. Naples has a vibrant art culture, and you will stumble upon fascinating graffiti in almost every street across Naples, each with its own remarkable backstory.

 

Aside from its thriving art scene, Naples also has an excellent food culture. Home to Italy’s best export – Pizza, Naples is the place to immerse yourself in mouth-watering Italian cuisine. The city is also famous for its dark strong coffee, Sfogliatella pastry, fried fish, and tasty Neapolitan pizza and pasta; all prepared with fresh local ingredients.

 

Naples also makes a convenient base for planning day trips to nearby towns. Driving 35 minutes to the northwest shore of the Gulf of Naples, you will arrive at one of the most fascinating sights in Italy – Baiae. What is now an underwater archaeological park was once a luxurious resort destination in ancient Rome, notorious for its lavish beach parties and hedonistic ways.

 

To visit the astonishingly well-preserved ruins of this glorious town, you can take glass-bottomed boats from the harbor or go snorkeling and scuba diving among the ancient remains of Baiae.

 

So, if you’re looking to experience authentic Italy, make sure Naples makes the list on your Italian trip.

 

 

2- Pompeii

 

 

Twenty-six kilometers southeast of Naples lies the vast archeological park of Pompeii. Once a thriving Roman city, Pompeii was buried under six meters of volcanic ash and pumice from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. A well-preserved ancient city, Pompeii offers an extraordinary glimpse into the life of ancient Romans.

 

At the ticket office, you will be given a map of the site with all the main attractions. For an additional cost, you can get guided tours or audio tours. Remember that Pompeii covers a relatively large area, and exploring it demands at least a few hours and a pair of comfortable shoes.

 

Stepping inside the city, you are instantly transformed in time. What makes Pompeii fascinating is how unscathed it is—walking along the cobbled streets, you can find houses and lavish villas with elaborate mosaic floors, intricate wall paintings, and colorful frescos all frozen in time. After the eruption, the volcanic ashes instantly covered the city, preserving it from damage for nearly 17 centuries.

 

Walking the streets past the shops, the amphitheater, and the public bath, you will approach the Forum. As the city’s main piazza, this spacious square was the focal point of Pompeii, with much of the social life taking place here. Surrounding the Forum are; the Basilica, the market, Roman temples, and statues. Here, you can take a moment and ponder how vibrant and thriving the city must have been before disaster struck.

 

If possible, it’s a good idea to base yourself in modern Pompeii city for a couple of days. This way, you have a chance to visit both Herculaneum and Mount Vesuvius. You can also make several day trips from Pompeii to other areas such as the Amalfi coast.

 

Herculaneum and Mount Vesuvius

 

Vesuvius Mountain view from Pompeii

 

Herculaneum is a 20-minute train ride from Pompeii. The city was buried 15 meters beneath a blanket of ashes when Vesuvius erupted. Compared to Pompeii, Herculaneum is smaller but more intact. Buildings with interior decor, furniture, fabric, and food were excavated unscathed, giving extraordinary details of life in this ancient Roman town. Located further from Mount Vesuvius, the city remained safe from the stones that rained down on Pompeii due to the eruption.

 

Strolling around this small but wealthy town, you will come across central baths, multi-story houses, and villas ornate with impressive frescos and artworks. An underground tunnel leads to the ancient port warehouses where the skeletal remains of 300 victims have been found who failed to escape the eruption.

 

After spending a couple of hours at Herculaneum and grabbing a bite at one of the many cafes and restaurants near the site, you can head up to Mount Vesuvius for magnificent views of the area.

 

There are tourist buses that will take you up to the hiking trail. The track will take you up to Mount Vesuvius, looping around the volcano’s crater, where you can get breathtaking views of the Bay of Naples and Pompeii ruins. The trail is quite steep and requires appropriate footwear and clothing. It will take you a total of 3 hours or so to visit Mount Vesuvius – a 1.5 hr. bus ride to the hiking trail and back and a 90-minute hike up to the crater and back.

 

We recommend you avoid visiting the crater during extreme weather. In summer, the weather can get too hot for hiking, and in winter, rain, snowfalls, and cold temperatures make the hike dangerous.

 

 

3- Amalfi coast

 

 

In recent years Amalfi coast has gained a lot of popularity, making it one of the most famous tourist destinations in southern Italy. You’ve probably seen it pop up on your Instagram feeds now and then with its picturesque beachfront towns and pristine beaches. Listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, Amalfi is a 50 km coastline stretching along the south of the Sorrentino Peninsula.

 

Amalfi coast is accessible via both Naples and Pompeii. You can take a bus, train, taxi, or even a ferry, but we strongly recommend you explore this beautiful region by car. When renting a car, make sure you pick a small one – the roads are tricky to navigate in big vehicles.

 

Driving through the winding roads, you are surrounded by lush green scenery, rolling hills, and huge mountains. There are many spots along the way where you can stop and take in the spectacular views. As you approach the coast, the shimmering blue water will reveal itself.

 

The Amalfi coast road will take you past gorgeous cliff-side towns. There are the more famous villages of Sorrento and Positano with their colorful buildings, terraced villas, and stunning beaches. But we strongly encourage you to visit the less famous towns like Marini, Ravello, and Maiori for a calmer, more authentic experience of the Amalfi coast. Also, make sure you stop for a drink in a hilltop cafe or bar for gorgeous views of the sea.

 

 

4- Matera

 

 

Matera is a city with a dramatic story of rebirth. A town once known as the “shame of Italy” has been transformed into one of the Italy’s most beautiful and intriguing tourist destinations. Abject poverty, rampaging diseases, and lack of running water forced many of Matera’s inhabitants in the 1950s to relocate to the modern dwellings provided by the government. In the 1980s, however, this ghost town went through significant transformations. The city’s ancient houses and cave dwellings were immaculately transformed into beautiful accommodations, attracting tourists from all corners of the world.

 

Every year, thousands of tourists make their way to this UNESCO world heritage site. Matera sits on the slopes of a rocky ravine, its skyline dominated by whitewashed houses and cathedrals carved into the rocks, ancient cave dwellings, and zigzagging staircases. The winding streets will take you through this atmospheric town up to the imposing structure of Matera Cathedral. Here, you can get a panoramic view of the town below.

 

A visit to Storica Casa Grotta will give you a clear picture of what an average home looked like and how locals went through their daily life. To truly admire the city’s origins, visit Parco Della Murgia Materana. In this archeological park, you can explore the vast network of cave dwellings encircling the old town. You will also get magnificent views of the city picking through in the background.

 

Many tourists make the mistake of planning day trips to Matera. But we strongly recommend you spend at least a couple of days exploring this picturesque city and trying out the tasty regional cuisine.

 

 

 

5- Lecce

 

 

Nicknamed Florence of the south, Lecce is the Jewel in Puglia’s crown. A city celebrated for its distinctive Baroque architecture and general sophistication the city is a dream destination for any traveler.

 

To experience the magnificence of this incredible city, you need to head straight to its old town. The Centro Storico is accessible via three stunning gates: Porta Napoli, Porta Rudiae, and Porta san Biagio.

 

All three gates lead to Piazza Sant’Oronzo. Here stands the dominating column of Sant’Oronzo, the patron Saint of Lecce. Another highlight of the square is the sunken Roman Amphiteatre. Built in the 2nd century AD, the arena was completely hidden until its discovery and excavation in the 19th century.

 

Piazza del Duomo is another stunning square in the old town of Lecce. Surrounding the piazza are ornate Baroque buildings, including the stunning Lecce cathedral. The church was initially built in 1144, but it was rebuilt in decorative baroque style in the 17th century.

 

Another fascinating site in Lecce is the Basilica di Santa Croce. Completed in 1695, this magnificent church is one of the finest and most extravagant examples of Lecce’s baroque architecture. The church facade is decorated with intricate frescos and sculptures. Inside, the high, decorated ceiling and ornate columns will take your breath away.

 

Apart from its breathtaking architecture, Lecce is also famed for its mouthwatering cuisine. You can find little streets filled with cafes, wine bars, and eateries all over the city. A must-try specialty in Lecce is Pastticcioto – a short crust pastry with soft cream filling. The gooeyness is otherworldly!

 

If you finish exploring the city in the day, make sure you head back to the old town after sunset, where the vibe is totally different. The town is lit up in a soft golden hue at night, and the piazzas become lively, buzzing with crowds.  It is a joy to walk around and watch street artists and musicians at work. You can also experience the Passeggiata – an evening stroll Italian take before dinner – and mingle in with the locals.

 

 

 

6- Gallipoli

 

 

An hour and a half drive from Lecce is one of the most charming cities in Southern Italy. Lying by the Ionian Sea is the fishing town of Gallipoli – meaning “beautiful city,” Gallipoli definitely live up to its meaning. It is the kind of city where you can spend hours wandering around its winding alleyways, stop for a glass of wine or cup of coffee, soak in the lovely atmosphere, and fall in love with its southern charm.

 

Like most cities in southern Italy, most of the magic happens in the “Centrio Storio” – the old town. Crossing over a 16th-century bridge, you will leave Modern Gallipoli, entering the old city sitting on a limestone island.

 

A maze of winding, narrow streets will take past bustling trading streets with little shops and cafes into quiet, peaceful residential quarters with picturesque whitewashed buildings and tiny balconies.

 

Eventually the alleyways will give way to the outer city wall promenade with magnificent views of the dazzling sea and sandy beaches. Della Purita is a beautiful sandy beach in the heart of the old town where you can swim in crystal clear waters, or even try rock jumping and snorkeling off the sea brakes.

 

The promenade is lined with cozy outdoor cafes, bars, and restaurants. It is a marvelous place to watch the sunset over the sea. One particularly famous spot is Bueno Vista, a bar where you can grab a drink and enjoy a colorful evening.

 

You can also walk to Gallipoli Castle – a 13-century fortress built by Byzantines which served as the city’s main stronghold. The castle is open to visitors all year round with exhibits and museums. Climbing up one of its four towers, you will get spectacular views across the harbor.

 

While there, head down to the fish market, where you can choose from an array of freshly caught seafood, which will then be cooked for you. In Gallipoli, seafood is a must-try! So, make sure you don’t miss out.

 

In Gallipoli, like other Italian cities, Riposo is observed where most shops close for the afternoon. But at night, the town comes to life with a buzzing energy and cafes and bars fill up for the evening. One of Gallipoli’s most spectacular sights at night is the Cathedral di Santa Agata with its intricate baroque facade bathed in golden color.

 

 

 

7- Ostuni

 

 

Traveling across southern Italy, whitewashed buildings become a familiar sight! But there is one town in particular that is dubbed the White City – Ostuni! Perched on a hilltop, the city gets its nickname for its white walls and white-colored buildings. Legend has it; the town was colored in white, mainly to keep the plague away.

 

The old town of Ostuni, fortified by ancient walls, is a tangle of winding streets leading up to the city’s magnificent cathedral, sitting high on the hill. The city is quite compact and you can manage exploring it in a couple of hours.

 

You can start your ascend from the town’s lavish square of Piazza de Liberta. The piazza is lined with outdoor cafes and bars where you can relax and watch the world go by. You can also have a taste at some of the best wine and olive produced in the country.

 

You can easily get lost in the town’s maze of picturesque narrow streets and whitewashed alleyways. But it is also an excellent opportunity to explore Ostuni off the beaten track. You will come across lovely boutiques, quirky souvenir shops, and beautiful hidden churches. If you don’t fancy walking up the steep hill, you can take a Tuk Tuk up to the cathedral.

 

Reaching the top, you are greeted by the imposing sight of the Ostuni Cathedral – a 15th century Gothic church with a magnificent gate and a beautiful interior. Up here you get breathtaking views of the Adriatic Sea and the expanding fields of olive trees.

 

Ostuni is also very close to some of the country’s most beautiful beaches. Seven kilometers off the city, you will find unspoiled sandy beaches with gorgeous blue waters on the shores of the Adriatic Sea.

 

 

 

8- Alberobello

 

 

A 40-minute drive from Ostuni is one of the most touristy and most Instagramable villages in Italy: Alberobello! This small town is best known for its huge network of Trulli – traditional whitewashed huts with cone-shaped roofs, dating back to mid-14th century.

 

Back in the day, these peculiar structures were used by farmers as temporary dwellings or storehouses. These dwellings were designed in a way so they could be taken apart and reassembled when needed – it was mainly to dodge taxes. Today, many of them have been converted into beautiful tourist accommodations. It’s well worth spending a night in a Trulli. You can choose from a host of huts both in Alberobello and stand-alone trullos outside the town.

 

Alberobello is a beautiful compact town consisting of two central districts – Rione Monti: a touristy hilltop district with narrow winding streets slopping up and down the hill. Here, most of the huts are converted into shops, bars, and restaurants.

 

But if you want to avoid the crowds, then head down to Aia Piccola. This is the less touristy area of the town where most of the locals live. Here, you can enjoy a nice stroll around the quiet, scenic streets. For a unique and memorable experience visit Casedda a Cummersa.  From the rooftop of this tiny family-run shop, you can watch the beautiful sunset over the Alberobello.

 

 

 

9- Monopoli

 

 

Monopoli is a delightful fishing town located 45 km southeast of Bari on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. Mostly overlooked by tourists, this charming city is the perfect place to unwind and devour fresh tasty seafood.

 

Like most towns in the Puglia Region, Monopoli’s old town is a picturesque sight with sandstone houses, whitewashed buildings, and tiny shops. What makes Monopoli different is its trademark green shutters and overhanging flower boxes, which add a pop of color to its winding alleys.

 

In the old town you can visit the Monopoli Cathedral; a 17th century ornate church in Baroque style. Strolling along Argento Street, you will come across Torre Civica – a 60-meter clock tower dominating the skyline. It is also a good idea to grab a drink At Piazza Garibaldi; a cute little square packed with outdoor cafes, bars, and restaurants.

 

Weaving in and out of the narrow streets of the old town, you will arrive at the Lungomare – the harbor promenade circling the old town. Have a stroll around the harbor and enjoy the beautiful architecture. One of the most notable sights is the Monopoli Castle – a 15-century stone fortress built by Charles V of Spain as part of the city’s coastal fortification.

 

Another place worth the visit is the town’s fishing harbor. The view of blue fishing boats dotted across the port against the backdrop of whitewashed buildings is a charming sight. You can watch fishermen tending to their boats, fixing their nets, or sorting out the day’s catch. It is also the perfect place to see the sunrise over the shimmering sea.

 

There is also a tiny beach in Monopoli where you can go for a dip. But we recommend driving 8 km up the coast to Polignano a Mare for an unmatched beach experience. This captivating caved seaside town is most famous for its beautiful pebble beach, breathtaking scenery, and elegant cave restaurant.

 

At Balconata sul Mare, you get stunning views of the whitewashed town and the caves that go underneath the houses in the background. Below you can see Carla Porto, the town’s famous pebble beach flanked by limestone cliffs on both sides and clear aquamarine waters.

 

Carla Porto is a glorious place to relax, go for a swim, or even try cliff-jumping – if the daredevil in you fancies a bit of adventure! If you are not a fan of pebble beaches or prefer a less crowded beach, then head down to Calette di Torre Cintola – a marvelous sandy beach with the most transparent waters where you can swim amongst ancient ruins and with only a handful of people on sight, you have the beach all to yourself!

 

Passing the Porta Vecchia gate, you will enter Polignano a Mare’s old town, with its winding cobbled streets, cute little cafes, courtyards, and local craft shops. You can grab a coffee or a gelato at the town’s tiny piazza and make your way to a viewing platform for panoramic views of the glittering sea.

 

 

10- Bari

 

 

A bustling port city on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, Bari is the regional capital of Puglia. Passing through southern Italy, travelers often overlook this beautiful city. Bari is a must-see with its historical landmarks, great food culture, and a vibrant nightlife scene!

 

This coastal city is a fascinating mixture of old-world charm and modern allure. The old town, known as Bari Vecchia, is the historical and cultural heart of the city. It’s a fascinating network of winding cobbled stone streets, stunning piazzas, lively cafes, and significant landmarks, including the 12th-century Romanesque Basilica of San Nicola, Bari Cathedral, and Castello Svevo.

 

You can spend hours wandering around the town’s atmospheric streets discovering its hidden gems, and watch local women make fresh pasta. Here in Bari, you can have some of the most delicious food. The local cuisine is mainly shaped by “food of poor” philosophy – making tasty dishes from simple ingredients produced locally. Orecchiette, a specialty in Bari, is ear-shaped pasta typically served with eggplants, mushrooms, and olives.

 

Another must-visit spot in Bari is the Lungamore. Combining old charm with the seaside appeal, the seafront promenade takes you from Bari Vecchia to the more modern district, where most of the shops and hotels are. You can either walk or bike the promenade looping around the town. On one side, you have splendid views of the city, and on the other, you have gorgeous views of the sea. At night the Lungamore transforms into a buzzing nightlife scene, with people eating, hanging out, and socializing at cafes and bars.

 

 

Just a quick note before we end! Southern Italy is typically packed with tourists during the summer season. If you want to experience the authentic charm of the south, we recommend you travel during the off-season. However, if you do travel in summertime, keep in mind that most Italians have siestas or “riposo,” as the locals call it. The city closes during the hot hours of the day – usually from 1 to 4:30, when locals go home to cook, eat, and rest.