If you’re looking for the perfect base for your adventures around Puglia or just a quiet town on the Adriatic Sea to relax, look no further than Monopoli Puglia. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know in this complete guide.
With its white-washed facades, fortified sea walls and old port, Monopoli makes the perfect stop on any Puglia itinerary. Boasting a unique local feel, it’s here that you can learn more about Puglia’s local history, feast on gastronomic delights and get glimpses into the lives of the many locals and fishermen who live here.
Monopoli also makes the perfect base for exploring Puglia for a few days- it’s close to the Itria Valley and its picturesque, whitewashed towns as well as Polignano a Mare- yet Monopoli is much more relaxed and laid back.
If getting away from the crowds is your thing, make sure to consider visiting and perhaps basing yourself in Monopoli for a little while but make sure you’ve rented a car for freedom to move around the local area.
Keep reading to find out the best things to do in Monopoli and all my recommendations for places to eat and the best hotels in Monopoli.
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GETTING TO MONOPOLI PUGLIA
Monopoli is a small fishing town located on Puglia’s Adriatic Coast. It’s a 45 minute drive south of Bari and just 15 minutes south of Polignano a Mare, making it a great day trip destination from Bari, Polignano a Mare or even the Itria Valley.
Car – If you’re exploring quite a few different destinations around Puglia, getting around by car is by far the best way. It’ll give you the flexibility to get to all the towns and villages in the region and you won’t need to read, understand or follow public transport timetables.
In Monopoli, there are many public car parks to park in near the town centre and many hotels also offer free or private parking. I highly recommend using Auto Europe to rent a car in Italy. They have some of the best rates, especially in the summer high season. Find a rental car with Auto Europe here.
Train – Monopoli is also reachable by train and if you’re just coming for the day from Bari or Polignano a Mare, the train is a good option. Monopoli’s train station is located just outside the modern center, a short walk from all the points of interest. Check Tren Italia here for schedules and to book tickets in advance.
WHERE TO STAY IN MONOPOLI PUGLIA
There are so many gorgeous options when thinking about where to stay in Monopoli. I’d highly recommend staying in Monopoli Old Town or close to it as this is where most sights are. With so many charming hotels in Monopoli Italy, Airbnb and vacation rentals you’ll be able to find the perfect option for you.
Hotel Don Ferrante Puglia – Probably one of the most charming hotels in Puglia, 5-star Hotel Don Ferrante is easily my favourite place to stay in Monopoli. With charming, low, stone ceilings, sea views, modern Italian decor and all the mod-cons, this hotel really has some serious design inspiration.
There’s also a small outdoor pool, amazing breakfast and service from all staff and an unbeatable location. Honestly, you don’t want to stay anywhere else. Check rates and availability here.
Bellavista Monopoli Suites – For a touch of Mykonos in Monopoli, Bellavista Suites is a stunning chic property with an infinity rooftop pool, sea views, amazing location and beautiful stone rooms fit for royalty. Opt for the luxury suite with a private pool in the main room and you’ll not want to ever leave. Bellavista Suites is the perfect choice for couples. Check rates and availability here
Orazio 33 B&B – Hidden behind an unremarkable blue door, this B&B is a modern and comfortable place to stay in Monopoli. With high ceilings and modern, minimalist rooms, well-functioning facilities as well as a communal kitchenette and fridge for guests, it’s the perfect mid-to-budget option. A good breakfast is also included. Check rates and availability here.
Vittorio Emanuele Charming Suites – Charming is definitely the adjective to use to describe these swoon-worthy stone suites. With great service, rooms with spa baths and terraces and indispensable free private parking, this is a brilliant choice in Monopoli. Check rates and availability here.
WHERE TO EAT
Gaia | Osteria Popolare – One of the best restaurants in Monopoli, this small, atmospheric restaurant is perfect for a more upscale Italian dinner. Using seasonal and local ingredients and creative recipes, they serve some really delicious plates of pasta, seafood and meat dishes. If you’re not too hungry you can also come in for just an aperitif.
I highly recommend making a reservation however or coming early as it’s a small restaurant that fills up fast.
Munz Munz biOstrot– One of the best plant-based restaurants in Monopoli, this cute little cafe serves some Puglian classic dishes like orecchiette with turnip tops and fava bean puree as well as Italian dishes like pasta, risottos and grilled vegetables. There are also some international staples like burgers, kebabs and dhal. All the food is really delicious and it’s one of the best fully plant-based restaurants in Monopoli.
Trattoria La Locanda dei Mercanti – A delightful, traditional trattoria in the heart of Monopoli serving local and traditional food such as orecchiette pasta and seafood dishes. Be prepared to wait for a table though, it’s really popular.
Bella Blu Gelateria – One of the best spots in town for gelato, try their ricotta and fig or their vegan chocolate fondant. They have many different flavour options including vegan and gluten-free ones.
Tuttoapposto Winebar – One of the best spots in town for antipasti and wine, Tuttoapposto is a real vibe. It’s a really small bar with some street-side seating and one table inside facing out onto the Porto Antico. They have a few different antipasti platters to share, including a vegetarian one and quite the wine list.
It’s a great place to sample some of the best wines from Puglia. I highly recommend the San Marzano’s Tramari, a rose primitivo from Puglia or the Tomaresca Calafuria, a light negroamaro rose if they have it.
Interested in Puglian wine? Check out Unmissable Wineries in Puglia for Your Next Trip
TOP THINGS TO DO IN MONOPOLI PUGLIA
Stroll around the Old Town
When it comes to Puglian towns there’s nothing better than just strolling around and exploring the town for yourself. Monopoli is a lovely mix of open, seaside promenades and narrow whitewashed alleys which you can get lost in for hours looking around corners and poking your head into cafes, shops and churches.
There’s no real itinerary or way to go about your walking, it’s best to keep it spontaneous and go where your eye takes you. I would personally start at the lungomare for sunrise, walk to the lighthouse, the Porto Antico and then the little back streets of the centro storico.
I highly recommend starting your exploring early in the morning however as this will give you the best light (for photos) and you’ll be able to escape the crowds and the heat.
If you’re only passing through Monopoli for a few hours while on a Puglia road trip, doing a guided walking tour might be the best idea so that you can get the most out of your time. Find the best 2-hour Monopoli Guided Tour here.
Visit Cattedrale Maria Santissima della Madia
Monopoli’s duomo is one of the most impressive cathedrals around and it certainly deserves a look inside. The cathedral was built on the site of a Roman Temple and even though the cathedral dates back to 1107 what we can see today dates back to the Baroque era of the 16th Century.
Inside you’ll find the Chapel of Madonna Della Madia with a prominently decorated altar as well as two paintings by Pietro Bardellino and smaller ones of the Virgin. What makes this cathedral different from many in the area is actually the use of red marble- both real marble and painted- giving a colourful effect of luxury and grandeur.
Stroll along Lungomare
Existing in almost every beach town in Puglia, the lungomare is the seaside promenade that’s made for strolling especially at sunset or sunrise. In Monopoli Puglia, that special time of day is sunrise and as the sun rises up over the Adriatic Sea, casting the whole lungomare into a golden glow, few locals take to the streets for morning exercise.
Monopoli’s lungomare is equally beautiful, yet a little more crowded in the evening where you can enjoy the local streets filled with restaurants, bars with Aperol sipping tourists and locals going for a walk. You’ll no doubt find yourself here at some point during your time in Monopoli.
Have a Beach Day
Because why on earth not?
While there aren’t too many beaches close to town (the one just outside the centro storico Cala Porta Vecchia, was covered in seaweed when we visited), there are quite a few little beaches and swimming spots nearby.
Walk south along the lungomare and you’ll find a few little coves or calas such as Cala Cozze, Porto Bianco, Porto Rosso and Porto Nero which are good for swimming but they are more rocky coves than beaches.
For one of the best beaches within walking distance head to the tiny but gorgeous Spiaggia di Porto Verde, which has a lovely strip of golden sand to relax on, just make sure to come early as it will fill up fast. It’s a 15-minute walk from the center of Monopoli.
There are plenty more beaches and coves walking south away from Monopoli, so I highly recommend exploring the area to find your perfect swimming spot for the day.
Visit Palazzo Palmieri
Hidden amongst the narrow alleyways of the centro storico in Monopoli Puglia is the historic Palazzo Palmieri. Palazzo Palmieri was the family home of the Palmieri family, one of the most influential and powerful families in Monopoli. The palace was built by Francesco Paolo and was passed down through the family until 1921 when the last remaining Palmieri made the palace a School of the Arts.
The building itself was built like a typical mansion house of this area, massively inspired by the Baroque style of Lecce. Inside you’ll find the main residences on the main floor as well as guest rooms, a study and library and even a private chapel. It’s worth visiting to find out more about the aristocratic lifestyle of the influential figures of Monopoli during the 18th Century.
Take in the Views from Bastione Santa Maria
While walking the lungomare, make sure to stop and take in the views from Bastione Santa Maria. A small fortress overlooking the open sea, the bastion used to be a defence tower for the city.
It’s now mostly a ruin but you can climb up to check out the cannons that still remain as well as the pretty picturesque sea views. Its best visited at sunrise or in the early morning.
Let Life go by at Porto Antico
The Porto Antico or Old Port is one of the most picturesque spots in all of Monopoli. Here you’ll find some historic, whitewashed buildings with beautiful ornate balconies facing the water, fisherman’s boats bobbing in the clear, blue water and a really slow vibe.
There’s not much to do here but stroll around, people watch, take photos of the iconic port and take a seat, with or without a drink and simply breathe and marvel at the picturesque scene before you.
Visit San Domenico’s Church
Apart from Monopoli’s Duomo, Cattedrale Maria Santissima della Madia is one of the most important churches in Monopoli and if it’s open as you explore this area, I highly recommend popping in for a quick glance. The church is attached to the former Dominican Monastery and is a prime example of Renaissance architecture- a testament to how important Monopoli was during the 15th-18th Centuries.
Inside you’ll find a grand classical church with a nave and two aisles divided by Corinthian columns. You’ll also find works inside that were taken from the fine altars in Lecce as well as quite a few Renaissance paintings and frescos.
Visit the Underground Church of Madonna del Soccorso
I have to be honest and say that I knew absolutely nothing about this church before visiting and I was about to walk straight past when an old man calls “per favore” from the bottom of a very old and weathered concrete staircase. He was standing in a tiny cave church- one of the finest in Puglia- urging us to come down and visit so we did.
The crypt is something really special with frescos and history all around it. Nothing has been restored giving the feeling that you’ve just walked in and discovered all this for the first time yourself.
Located 6 meters under San Domenico’s convent, this cave church dates back to the Norman times, even though several of its elements were added through the ages- the altar for example is Baroque. The most interesting thing to note however is the fresco of the Madonna on the back wall. Not much is known about it but it’s at least 500 years old.
Visit the Castello Carlo V
Standing tall by the sea and near the old port of Monopoli, you’ll find the grand stone Castle of Charles V. Built during the Spanish occupation of the city during the first half of the 16th Century. Used less as an actual castle and more as a fortress and even as a prison for hundreds of years, the castle today functions more as a local exhibition space.
While not overly impressive as castles and fortresses go, visiting will give you an opportunity to mill around these historic grounds, check out some cannons and weaponry from past eras and of course see any temporary exhibitions on at that moment. Not only that, but the sea views from the top of the Castle are also pretty impressive- probably one of the highest vantage points you can get in Monopoli Puglia.
Take a Walk out to Faro Rosso Monopoli
Monopoli’s lighthouse might not look like much, just a typical, modern red and white painted lighthouse, but getting to it is one of the nicest walks you can do in Monopoli.
The walk to the lighthouse is technically part of the lungomare– just keep following the path running along the edge of the sea to get to it. From here you’ll have a great view of Monopoli’s new port. From the lighthouse, you can loop around to come back via the other side, the inner side of the large stone wall, by Via Porto which will lead you straight to Porto Antico.
When walking along the outer part of the wall to the lighthouse make sure to take care, especially on a windy day, if you don’t want to get soaked. The sea here can get pretty rough and waves easily reach the walkway.
Have a Spritz in Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi
Piazza Guiseppe Garibaldi is Monopoli Puglia’s largest and liveliest square, especially in the evening. With a classic drinking fountain in the middle, the town’s library and tourist information office on one side and restaurants and cafes all around, this is Monopoli’s heart.
There’s no better way to experience it than to grab a table at one of the many restaurants, order a spritz and simply enjoy the moment and the quintessentially Puglian atmosphere- perhaps at certain times of the year.
Take some Day Trips from Monopoli
You’ll no doubt cover Monopoli’s major sights pretty quickly, it is a small place after all, but there are also it’s glorious surroundings to explore too.
Head inland to the Valle d’Itria and explore some of the best towns strewn across the valley including picturesque Locorotondo, iconic, trulli-filled Alberobello and Baroque Martina Franca. Nearby there’s also dreamy Polignano a Mare further up the coast, which can be accessed by train if you don’t have a car.
Looking for more things to do in Monopoli? Check the tours and activities below.
Ready to plan your time visiting Monopoli Italy? Let me know your questions and comments below, I’d love to hear from you.
Planning a trip right now? These are just some of my favourite websites I use to book everything from hotels to rental cars!
Booking.com for great deals on hotels
Agoda also for great deals on hotels
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