15 Best Things to do in Monopoli, Italy

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Monopoli, Italy is one of my favorite places in the world. This small coastal town is one of the loveliest places to visit in Puglia, and one of my all-time favorite underrated destinations in Italy. Just south of the big city of Bari, Monopoli’s small town charm draws visitors in, but never to the point of it feeling overwhelming. 

While there are lots of things to do in Monopoli, it’s also great place to just be. Half the charm of Monopoli is just soaking up the atmosphere. Have an aperitivo at sunset, enjoy a gelato with a view of the old port, or wander through the narrow alleyways and whitewashed buildings of the old town, taking lots of photos. 

I’m a big fan of exploring Puglia by road trip, and Monopoli makes a great base for exploring Puglia by car. It’s within easy distance of some of the top destinations in the region, like Matera and Alberobello, and it’s the perfect place to come back to each night to relax and enjoy a delicious dinner. 

My husband introduced me to Monopoli just a few months after we met, and even after more than a dozen Italy visits together since, Monopoli remains one of our all-time favorite spots.

Here are some of the best things to do in Monopoli, Italy! 

This post was published in January 2024 and co-written by Adventurous Kate and Riana Ang-Canning.

Blue boats in a small harbor with white buildings on one side in Monopoli, Italy.
Monopoli’s old port

The Best Things to do in Monopoli, Italy

Explore the Old Town

The place where you want to spend the bulk of your time is Monopoli’s old town, known as the centro storico in Italian. Here you’ll find most of Monopoli’s cultural points of interest. The old town is home to beautiful whitewashed buildings with green shutters and doors, meandering alleyways, churches, bars and restaurants, and piazzas — all inviting you to take a seat and enjoy. 

In the heart of the old town is Palmieri Palace (Palazzo Palmieri), a Baroque palace used by the Palmieri family until 1921 and then used as an art institute until 1990. Today the impressive palace still holds art in many of its 100+ rooms but it is not often open to the public (though I still think it’s worth a look from the outside!). I recommend checking in person once you arrive.

In Monopoli’s old town you’ll also find Il Bastione del Molino, the ruins of an old fort, and churches like Chiesa di San Salvatore, the oldest church in Monopoli built in the 3rd or 4th Century.

You can explore the centro storico on your own or with a tour — though a tour will give you so much historical context. If you’d like, you can see the highlights of the city on a two hour tour with a local produce tasting or enjoy a private tour with a local guide

A tall, sand-colored Baroque cathedral in Monopoli, Italy.
Cathedral Maria Santissima della Madia in Monopoli Italy, via Shutterstock

Visit Monopoli Cathedral (Basilica of the Madonna della Madia)

The Basilica of the Madonna della Madia, also called the Cattedrale Maria Santissima della Madia, is a Roman Catholic Cathedral with a stunning interior and exterior. 

Construction began on the original cathedral in 1107 but had to be stopped when they ran out of wood to finish the roof. Miraculously, a boat washed up in 1117 carrying an icon of the Madonna. The beams of the boat were used to finish the roof and the Madonna icon inspired the church’s name! 

Over the years, the cathedral was damaged and rebuilt; its current Baroque-style building was completed in 1772. There are a number of important paintings and altar decorations inside the basilica for visitors to admire. 

The cathedral is open daily from 8:00 AM-12:00 PM and 4:00-8:30 PM. Entrance to the cathedral is free. 

People relaxing on the jagged rocky beach of Monopoli, Italy.
Spiaggia Cala Porta Vecchia, the beach on the edge of the old town in Monopoli Italy

Relax on the beaches of Monopoli

If you’re looking to spend a few days in Puglia relaxing on picturesque beaches and swimming in crystal-clear waters, you can definitely do that in Monopoli. 

In Monopoli you’ll find both free beaches that are open to the public and Italian-style beach clubs, where you pay for private access and get amenities like sun beds, changing rooms, and drinks service. Keep in mind that most beach clubs are only open during swimming season, typically from late May to late September. 

Some of the best beach clubs in Monopoli include Lido Cala Paradiso, Lido Colonia, and The Black Pearl (La Perla Nera), which has a delicious restaurant attached.

Some of the best free beaches in Monopoli include Cala Porta Vecchia, which is right next to the old town, as well as family-friendly Calette Del Clio and off-the-beaten-path Cala Monaci.

A boat sailing along a rocky coastline in Italy
The Puglia coastline is home to lots of caves! Via Shutterstock.

Take a boat trip along the coast

Since so much of this city is centered around its port and coastline, it only makes sense that one of the best things to do in Monopoli is get out on the water. 

Explore the coast on a private sightseeing cruise (with champagne!) where you’ll enjoy beautiful views, go for a swim and indulge in an aperitif. This private boat tour includes the boat rental, skipper, cruise along the coast, and refreshments for groups of up to 10. Though I think it would also make a lovely romantic option.

Or, alternatively, take a three hour private boat tour to the nearby Polignano caves with up to six friends. The Polignano caves are a great day trip from Monopoli. But rather than get there by train or car, why not visit by boat and enjoy some swimming stops?

A square stone castle perched on the edge of the sea in Monopoli, Italy.
Castello Carlo V in Monopoli Italy, via faber1983 on Shutterstock.

Explore Castello Carlo V

Castello Carlo V, also known as the Castle of Monopoli, is a 16th Century fortress that juts out into the sea. Its structures include a Roman round tower, an underground church and the pentagonal shape that was common of Spanish forts at that time. It was named for Charles V of Spain, who planned the fortress.

Once a place of high military regard, the castle was then used as a prison in the 20th Century. Today, the castle is used for conferences and exhibitions, with some exhibits open to the public from 10:00 AM-1:30 PM and 4:30-9:00 PM daily. The current photography exhibit costs 10 EUR ($11 USD) per person.

Visit Museo e Sito Archeologico Cripta Romanica

Monopoli’s Museum of the Romanesque Crypt and Archeological Site is located under the Monopoli Cathedral and displays artifacts from the city’s history and many occupations. 

In this small museum you’ll find 3rd and 5th Century BC tombs, remains of the 12th Century crypt of the Romanesque Cathedral, and post holes used in 15th Century BC huts. Your visit ends in the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, where you can learn more about mummification and religious rituals. 

The museum is open Friday from 6:00-9:00 PM, Saturday from 11:00 AM-1:00 PM and 6:00-9:00 PM, and Sunday from 6:00-9:00 PM. Entrance costs 5 EUR ($5 USD) per person. 

A hand holding up an ice cream with white buildings and blue boats in the background.
Gelato on the old port in Monopoli Italy — a truly transcendent experience!

Have a gelato on the old harbor

My favorite thing to do in Monopoli is get a gelato at Bella Blu Gelateria and walk down to Porto Antico with my cone. There I can sit back and enjoy my gelato while watching the boats float in the small harbor. It’s one of those experiences that makes you think, Wow, there’s nothing better than being in Italy.

Keep in mind that Bella Blu is only open seasonally, from March to November. If you’re visiting in the off season, try Il Capriccio Gelateria just across the street. And plenty of bars have gelato, though it won’t be quite as good.

A bike standing alone on a dirt path in the countryside in Italy, next to a gnarled olive tree.
Puglia’s countryside is so nice to explore by bike. Via Shutterstock

Explore the area by bike

A great way to explore Monopoli and the greater Puglia region is by bike. It’s a fun way to explore the countryside! 

Bike through Monopoli’s old town and then onto the nearby countryside in this guided three-hour bike tour. You’ll visit a thousand year old church and end your tour with gelato! 

If you prefer to e-bike (which I personally love because it helps you get up the tougher hills), you can join this 30 km (18 mile) guided e-bike tour along Monopoli’s coast. Bike by beaches and farmhouses while making stops to enjoy local produce, such as panini, wine, and gelato. 

Or cycle from Monopoli to the ancient rock village of St. Andrew on this three-hour guided e-bike tour. You’ll explore the ancient village, hearing legends from Monopoli’s past, and end your tour with a swim in the ocean. 

A woman's hands rolling out a long skinny tube of pasta dough with her knife ready to cut it into ear-shaped pieces.
Learning to make orecchiette by hand is a very valuable skill!

Learn to make pasta

You may know that the Puglia region is famous for its handmade ear-shaped pasta, orecchiette. Orecchiette can be served so many ways. So why not try your hand at creating the Pugliese specialty?  

Just 20 minutes from Monopoli is Castellana Grotte, a beautiful town famous for its caves, where an expert home chef will teach you how to make orecchiette. After learning about Puglian gastronomy and making your own pasta, you’ll sit back and enjoy it alongside local produce and wine. 

End your experience with a certificate, apron and recipe book so you can recreate your bowl of pasta when you get back home! (And believe me, friends from home LOVE it when you cook something special from your travels for them!)

Kate and Charlie taking a smiling selfie with aperol spritzes.
Me and Charlie out for aperitivo in Monopoli — with spritzes!

Stroll and enjoy an aperitivo at sunset

Aperitivo is Italy’s version of happy hour, and one of my favorite traditions: before dinner, people gather at bars to have drinks and complimentary snacks served. The food is often simple, but it’s a nice bonus treat. Lots of the bars in Monopoli offer aperitivo, many with an ocean view.

Enjoy friselle pugliese, a double baked bread from Puglia, topped with fresh tomatoes and paired with a glass of local wine. My favorite wine from Puglia is Primitivo — a deep but approachable red that I think goes with everything!

If you come at the right time of day, you can enjoy your aperitivo while watching the sun set over the ocean. This is one of my favorite Italian traditions to partake in! 

Stones laid out in circles in archaeological ruins under purple sunset light.
Egnazia Archaeological Park, near Monopoli Italy, via Shutterstock

Visit Egnazia Archeological Park

Egnazia was a 13th Century BC Greek-Messapian town and is one of the most important archeological sites in Puglia today. Here you can discover the ruins of the former town and visit the adjoining museum to learn more about its history.

Discover foundation stones for ancient roads and houses, see the impact of Roman rule and the baths they left behind, learn about Puglia’s ceramic traditions in the museum, and visit a cemetery decorated in frescoes. 

The opening hours for the park are 8:30 AM-1:30 PM daily. Combined entrance to the park and museum costs 7 EUR ($8 USD) per person. 

The city of Polignano a Mare, with a sandy white beach leading to clear teal water, with two cliffs on each side, one cliff topped with whitewashed buildings.
The essential photo of Polignano a Mare, via Shutterstock

Visit Polignano a Mare

One of the things I love most about Monopoli is how convenient it is as a base for day trips around Puglia. Polignano a Mare is an easy train ride or drive from Monopoli — both take under 15 minutes. 

While similar to Monopoli, Polignano a Mare is much more popular with international tourists, so prepare for the crowds. Spend your time here wandering through the old town, walking along an ancient Roman bridge, and relaxing on that famous beach between two cliffs.

Polignano is also home to the most famous restaurant in Puglia: Grotta Palazzese, a restaurant inside a cave in front of the sea that has become Instagram-famous in the last few years.

If you didn’t go on a boat trip from Monopoli, you could also go on one from Polignano a Mare to see the famous sea caves nearby. 

Colorful flags hanging along a narrow alleyway in Old Town Bari, Puglia, Italy.
Bari’s old town feels much more lived-in than the touristy spots.

Visit Bari

Bari is Puglia’s largest city, biggest transport hub, and another easy journey by car or train from Monopoli. It’s only a 25-minute ride by train from city center to city center. 

While in Bari, spend your time wandering through the Old Town (Bari Vecchia) and checking out the historic basilicas, piazzas, museums, and theaters. Keep an eye out for the ladies in the street rolling orecchiette by hand, with quick, efficient movements from a lifetime of practice.

Also, you can stroll around the port, explore Bari Castle (aka Castello Normanno-Svevo) and see Santa Claus at Basilica di San Nicola where Saint Nicholas’s remains are buried. 

Read More: 17 Fun Things to Do in Bari, Italy

Conical white and gray "trulli" homes with a pointy roof.
Alberobello is an easy day trip from Monopoli Italy!

Visit Alberobello and the Val d’Itria

One of my favorite day trips from Monopoli is to the Val d’Itria (Itria Valley), where you’ll find groves of olive trees, limestone caves, trulli homes, and wildflowers in full bloom. I recommend visiting this area by car as the public transportation isn’t the greatest.

One of the best places to visit is Alberobello, which gained UNESCO World Heritage status for its trulli houses in 1996 and is only 30 minutes from Monopoli by car. These white stone houses with conical roofs are definitely worth visiting and getting lost amongst. 

There’s also the town of Locorotondo, which is just a 10-minute drive from Alberobello (and 30 minutes back to Monopoli). Locorotondo is a hilltop town with meandering white alleys and beautiful views over the valley below. There’s not a ton to do there, but I think it’s one of the prettiest small towns in all of Italy. That’s high praise coming from me.

Read More: The Stunning Trulli of Alberobello, Italy

Kate wears a red dress with an asymmetrical hemline and poses in front of the city of Matera: stone towers and homes built on top of a row of sassi (caves).
How can you not want to visit Matera after seeing this photo?

Visit Matera

While Matera is technically in the Italian region of Basilicata, it’s a stone’s throw from the Puglia border, and just a 90-minute drive from Monopoli. This is one of the most visually stunning towns in Italy, carved from stone. Movies like No Time to Die and The Passion of the Christ were filmed here.

A UNESCO World Heritage city, Matera is known for its neighborhoods that are carved into rocks and caves, called sassi. People actually lived in these caves as late as the 1950s, without running water or electricity, which was called “Italy’s great shame.” Today, however, those caves have been refurbished into museums and luxury hotels!

Matera is one of the most popular places in Southern Italy, so expect it to be busy.

On your way back to Monopoli, I recommend stopping in the town of Altamura. This small Puglian town is a bit off the beaten path for tourists, but an interesting place to stroll around. Whatever you do, stop at Antico Forno Santa Caterina for some focaccia — it’s the best I’ve ever had.

Read More: 17 Cool Things to Do in Matera, Italy

Kate crouches in front of a giant food platter filled with various small plates in Monopoli, Italy.
Happy days in Monopoli!

How Much Time to Spend in Monopoli

Because Monopoli is a small town, you can see the top places in just one day. However, you shouldn’t be here just to check sights off your list — you should be here to soak it up! I believe the real charm of Monopoli is found in slowing down, staying a few days, and getting to enjoy the rhythms of the town.

I love to stay in Monopoli for several days at a time, taking it easy in the city and using Monopoli as my base for day trips.

So whether you’d like to spend a few days in Monopoli, or a week or longer, I think you’re going to have a wonderful time.

A small beach leading to turquoise water next to a stone city wall in Monopoli.
It’s easy to get to Monopoli Italy.

How to Get to Monopoli

Bari is the closest big city to Monopoli and likely where you’ll arrive to start your time in Puglia. Bari Airport is the main air hub in the region, with direct flights all over Europe. From the airport it’s an hour’s drive to Monopoli, or a 15-minute train ride to Bari followed by a 25-minute train ride to Monopoli.

If you’re coming from Bari city center, the best way to get to Monopoli is by train. It’s only a 25-minute train ride from Bari’s central train station to Monopoli. Keep in mind that Monopoli’s train station is in the new town, not the old town. From there it’s about a 12-minute walk to the old town’s entrance.

If you’re staying for a week and planning on doing day trips, I recommend having a car in Monopoli. Even though Monopoli is on the train line, some of the better places to visit like Matera and Alberobello don’t have trains.

Monopoli’s old town is part of the ZTL (zona traffico limitato, or limited to only resident cars) — and there are paid parking lots on the edge of the old town. You can read more about ZTLs in my guide to driving in Italy.

The streets of old town Monopoli, with tall white washed buildings with green shutters, and cacti planted on the ground.
Stay in the old town for the best experience in Monopoli.

Where to Stay in Monopoli

The best place to stay in Monopoli is the old town (centro storico) where most of the main sights are located and where you’ll find the most picturesque town views. Again, keep in mind that you’ll need to find parking outside the old town if you have a car.

Top-Rated Hotels in Monopoli, Italy: 

  • Top-Rated Luxury Hotel in MonopoliHotel Don Ferrante boasts world-class service, elegant stone wall rooms and plenty of terraces with panoramic views of the town and ocean.  
  • Top-Rated Mid-Range Hotel in MonopoliPalazzo Indelli is just a few steps from the harbor and offers air-conditioned en-suite rooms with a restaurant on site. 
  • Top-Rated Budget Hotel in MonopoliB&B Villa il Sughero, while outside of the Old Town, features large rooms, delicious breakfast and free parking, making it a good value option for budget travelers. 

Find deals on places to stay in Monopoli here.

A hand holding a cup of Gelato in the middle of an Italian old town.
Summer is for gelato, but shoulder season in Monopoli Italy might be better!

Best Time to Visit Monopoli

My favorite time to visit the white city of Monopoli and explore the surrounding Puglia region is during the shoulder season: late May/early June or late September/early October. That way, you get to enjoy nice weather without the maximum crowds or the high prices of peak season travel in July and August. Anytime in spring or fall is perfect for exploring Puglia.

Monopoli is very quiet in the off-season, so prepare for lots of places in the old town to be closed if you visit during the winter. However, the newer parts of Monopoli have year-round residents and will have plenty of stuff open. 

Monopoli hosts a number of religious and cultural events throughout the year. Their most important celebration is the Feast of the Madonna della Madia (the same Madonna who their cathedral is named for) which happens on December 16th and again on August 15th. If you’re in town on those days, you can join the crowds down at the old port to pay homage to Monopoli’s patron saint.

Kate wears a brightly colored and patterned one-piece bathing suit and throws her hands in the air in joy. She's standing on a rocky formation with the bright blue ocean behind her. In Monopoli, Puglia.
This is how happy I am to be in Monopoli!

Is Monopoli Worth It?

You’re not going to be surprised by my response — Monopoli is my favorite place in Puglia, and for that reason of COURSE it’s worth it! It’s worth it for a day, for a few days, or even a base for a week or longer in Puglia.

I genuinely hope you fall in love with Monopoli as much as I have.

More on Puglia, Italy:

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Have you been to Monopoli? What would you suggest? Share away!

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