Top Things to Do in Lecce Italy: Exploring Puglia’s Baroque City
Discover what to do in Lecce Puglia with our ultimate travel guide. Uncover the best things to do in Lecce and plan the perfect trip to Puglia today.
If you’re considering visiting Lecce and adding the southern Puglian city to your bucket list you’ve come to the right place. There are so many things to do in Lecce and with a historical center that’s brimming with Baroque churches, palaces, museums and cultural ruins it’s the perfect spot to put down on your Puglia bucket list.
What to do in Lecce is based around historic sights, museums and of course the rich Baroque architecture of the city. Also known as ‘Florence of the South’, Lecce is brimming with important Baroque monuments such as the Lecce Duomo and the Santa Croce Basilica.
For those not so interested in history and architecture, Lecce is also home to a splendid amount of local restaurants, bars, boutique shops and more.
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How To Get to Lecce
Lecce is located in the southern region of Puglia in Italy’s boot, almost at the base of the heel. It’s a landlocked city located 30 minutes southeast of Brindisi and just 20 minutes from the Adriatic Coast.
Lecce is a lovely city to visit for a couple of days while on a Puglia road trip, as we did, or used as a base to explore the local area. There are several lovely spots like Otranto, Gallipoli, Torre dell’Orso and some splendid beaches within easy reach.
Your trip type will probably determine how you’re going to reach Lecce- you’ll have a car if doing a Puglia road trip or possibly taking the train if coming in for the weekend.
By Car – Getting to Lecce by car is probably the easiest and most flexible way to get into the city. If you’re driving from the Itria Valley down to the southern Salento Peninsula, then Lecce makes a welcome stop. The best way to get there is to use Google Maps or a GPS to better guide you into the city.
Once in Lecce, you won’t need your car as everything is walkable and parking is difficult to find. You’ll want to try to find parking or arrange parking through your hotel and leave your car there for the duration of your time in Lecce.
If you want to get the most out of the area I highly recommend renting a car for total flexibility. I always use 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.
By Train – There are many direct train services operating between Lecce and Brindisi (30 mins), Bari (1.5 hours), Rome (5.5 hours) and Bologna (7 hours). You can check train times and plan your journey on the Trenitalia website.
By Bus– Buses link Lecce with many other cities in Puglia and beyond. Sometimes buses are faster and more direct than trains depending on your original destination. I personally use the website Omio where I can compare bus and train journeys to choose the most convenient option. Check Omio here to plan your bus or train journey to Lecce.
Best Things to Do in Lecce Italy
When considering what to do in Lecce, you might be pleasantly surprised to find quite a few historical and cultural monuments to see. For a city of this size, there are many things to see in Lecce and you can easily spend a day or two here soaking it all in.
Here are some of the top things to do Lecce that you shouldn’t miss off your itinerary.
Wonder at the Piazza del Duomo
Lecce’s Piazza del Duomo is one of the largest and finest Baroque squares in Italy’s southern Salento Peninsula. It’s easily one of the best things to do in Lecce and shouldn’t be missed while visiting Lecce. In fact, I’d suggest starting your visit here even if it’s just to avoid the crowds.
The Piazza del Duomo is a large, Baroque square that’s completely enclosed on all three sides. There’s only one entrance on via Vittorio Emanuele II. On the square, you find the Cathedral of Our Lady of Assumption, Lecce’s Duomo, The Bishop’s Palace, the Seminary Palace and the Bell Tower.
The Bell Tower is a large imposing structure built tier by tier and dates back to 1661. It’s now possible to visit the inside and head up to the top, thanks to a brand new elevator inside. Make sure to head to the top for some of the best views of the city.
The Bishop’s Palace is the home to the archbishop of Lecce and it’s located just to the right of the Duomo, at the back end of the square. It’s one of the grandest palaces in Lecce.
Pro Photography Tip: If you want to photograph the whole Piazza without people I suggest arriving as early as possible, soon after sunrise before the square fills up with people. Alternatively, it’s also great for night photography as it’s lit up really nicely once the sun goes down. Don’t forget your tripod!
Visit the Churches
It’s safe to say Lecce has a few amazing churches that are absolute must-sees. There are a total of 22 churches in Lecce’s historical centre however I probably wouldn’t advise visiting them all.
Lecce’s churches are all built and decorated in the same prevalent architectural style; Baroque. This lavish and opulent style flourished in Italy during the 17th and 18th Centuries, particularly in the more northern cities of Florence and Rome. This might be the reason why Lecce is also called the ‘Baroque Capital of Southern Italy’ or the ‘Florence of the South’.
Either way, you’ll want to spend some time visiting the main churches and getting familiar with the Baroque style, a flamboyant style that brings movement into neo-classical architecture. Make sure not to miss all the impeccable details and the motifs found in these amazing churches.
The best way to visit all the churches, or at least the most important churches in Lecce is to follow the church path. This means purchasing the bundle ticket (adult €9) which includes entry to the four most important churches in Lecce and more. The ticket comes with a map too which you can use to help guide you to the most intriguing places.
The Church path ticket includes entry to the Duomo and its crypt, Basilica di Santa Croce, Chiesa di Santa Chiara, Chiesa di San Mateo as well as the Seminary Museum and Cloister and MuDAS (Museum of Sacred Art).
You can buy the ticket online here or in person at the Seminary Museum on the right of the Piazza del Duomo.
Lecce’s Duomo, Cattedrale di Maria Santissima Assunta e San Oronzo
At the center of the Piazza del Duomo, you’ll find the imposing Cathedral of Our Lady of Assumption, Lecce’s Duomo. The Cathedral was originally built in 1144 but was resorted in 1659 by architect Giuseppe Zimbalo, a prominent figure in Lecce’s Baroque movement. This is the cathedral we see today.
After walking around the outside of Lecce cathedral and after going in you might spot that something is a little off. The elaborate main entrance of the Cathedral isn’t actually the main facade of the church. When entering the church you reach the side nave not the bottom of the main nave.
The thing is the cathedral actually has two facades yet the main one is completely hidden from view as you walk into the square. This is why a second one was built in the high Baroque style to truly impress visitors as they arrived at the square. Walking around to the side you’ll notice the main facade is actually pretty plain and solemn compared to the newer, false facade.
Make sure to head inside to check out the stunning inside of the church. The church has 12 altars all commissioned by varying local artists at the time. Make sure to also head down to the 12th Century crypt that contains two baroque chapels and columns with capitals decorated in human figures.
Basilica di Santa Croce
With probably the most ornate Baroque facade in all of Lecce, the Basilica di Santa Croce is another must-see on your things to do in Lecce. It’s the most extravagant church in the city and it was also designed by Giuseppe Zimbalo.
On the facade, you’ll be able to note a large rose window at the top, flamboyant, organic motifs as well as human figures as capitals for many of the columns. The facade has just undergone restoration so if you visit soon it’ll be in tip-top condition.
Head inside to check out the ornate columns and intricate, wooden ceiling.
Chiesa di San Matteo
Another really lovely church in Lecce amid the narrow streets of the historical center.
St Matthew Church was built in the 17th Century for the Tertiary Franciscan Sisters. It’s one of the most unique churches in Lecce, mainly due to its facade. It features the concave and convex elements of the Baroque style that were developed in Rome around this time- the bottom part of the facade seems like it’s moving outwards while the top part looks like it’s moving in.
Make sure to also have a quick look inside at its ornate ceiling and carved main and side altars.
Chiesa di Santa Chiara
The last of the four main churches in Lecce, Santa Chiara has a somewhat subdued facade compared to some of the other churches. Walk inside, however, and you’ll be greeted by extravagant altars in the high Baroque style in a light, bright and airy setting.
Other churches worth visiting are Sant Irene Church, Church of Gesu, Church of Carmine, Church of Saint Nicolas and Saint Cataldo, Church of Santa Maria della Grazia and Church of Giovanni Battista.
Explore the Historical Center
Simply going for a wander around the centro storico is one of the best things to do in Lecce. Lecce old town reminds one of a mini Rome due to its Baroque architectural style. You’ll see cobbled narrow streets with grand Baroque facades flanking each side and wide open piazzas full of locals and visitors alike.
The historic center is the heart of Lecce and most of its main sights, churches and palaces are located here. No doubt you’ll come across them all while simply just wandering around.
The best place to start your walk might be the Piazza del Duomo or the Piazza Sant’Oronzo or even your hotel if you’re staying in or close to the historic center. However, the idea is not to have a clear itinerary and just walk and see where your wander takes you.
If you’d like to know more about Lecce, its history, Baroque architecture and other fun information make sure to take a guided tour. This way you’ll be able to get the most of your time while in the city. Check out the best Lecce Walking Tour here.
Visit the Seminary Museum
The Seminary Museum is included in the Church Trail ticket, so it’s worth popping into even if it’s just for a few minutes.
Located on the Piazza del Duomo, this historic Baroque building is dedicated to religious art from the city over the last few hundred years from the 15th Century and earlier to the present. Here you’ll find a number of artworks including paintings, triptychs, statues and gold ornaments.
Even if you’re not the biggest fan of religious art make sure to make your way up to the first floor for some great views of Piazza del Duomo. There’s also a side chapel worth popping your head into as well as a beautiful cloister in the inner courtyard. It’s a lovely, yet sometimes crowded spot to sit down and rest your legs for a while.
Visit MUST (Museo Storico Città di Lecce)
MUST is one of Lecce’s most fascinating museums and I highly recommend a visit during your time in the city. MUST stands for the Lecce City History Museum and this is the place to go to learn more about the art of Lecce, both historical and contemporary.
Inside you’ll be able to walk the galleries that contain art from the Messapian age up until the 20th Century and learn more about the artefacts and pieces central to local culture and history.
Apart from that, there are also galleries dedicated to modern and contemporary art that showcase some of the best work from local artists today. It’s certainly worth a look.
Visit the Roman Theatre
Right next to MUST on via Degli Ammirati, you’ll find the Roman Theatre of Lecce (not to be confused with the amphitheatre). It’s hidden among the sandstone side streets that were built on and around it- in fact- it was only rediscovered in 1929.
The Roman theatre is a real testament to Roman ruin in Lecce and southern Italy and this theatre dates back to the 2nd Century. You can also visit the small museum attached to it to find out more.
Wander around the Piazza Sant’Oronzo
The Piazza Sant’Oronzo is the focal point of Lecce’s old town. Here you’ll find a number of cafes, restaurants, shops, gallerias and even banks. It’s a great spot for grabbing an espresso in a local cafe, taking a seat outside and just people-watching.
Some of the highlights of Piazza Sant’Oronzo include the Colonna di Sant’Oronzo and of course the sublime Roman Amphitheatre which the square looks out onto.
Marvel at the Roman Amphitheater of Lecce
A once two-tiered, Roman amphitheatre thought to have once sat up to 15,000 people, the amphitheatre of Lecce was discovered at the turn of the century by pure chance. Now only the lower tier survives but it’s easy to see the incredible scale of the building and what it might have looked like in the past.
Today the amphitheatre is open to look into from street level and is occasionally open for hosting some special cultural events.
Did you know you can visit the Roman amphitheatre, Piazza Sant’Oronzo and many of Lecce’s Churches as part of a guided walking tour? For more information click here.
Visit Lecce’s Palaces
Apart from churches, Lecce is also known for its beautiful, Baroque palaces which were once homes of nobility, high-ranking Church figures and aristocracy.
While many palaces remain in Lecce, some have been turned into luxury hotels and B&Bs, while some are still open to visitors. Here are some of the best palaces in Lecce to visit during your stay.
Palazzo dei Celestini – Located right next to Santa Croce and was also designed by Zimbalo. The building now serves as the seat of local government but you can walk through the inner courtyard to reach Villa Comunale Park on the other side.
Palazzo Vernazza – A gem of Renaissance architecture in Lecce, this is Lecce’s most famous palace. Visit to find out more about its cultural and architectural heritage.
Palazzo Loffredo Adorno– One of the most splendid palaces in the city with ornate capitals, vaults, and intricate designs everywhere.
Palazzo Luce – A chance to visit a beautifully renovated, modern take on a traditional Italian palace. With swoon-worthy design, this is the place to visit for design lovers.
Palazzo Bernardini– One of the best luxury B&Bs and places to stay in Lecce. Stay in one of their few rooms for an unforgettable boutique palace experience that’s difficult to have anywhere else. More on this in ‘Where to Stay’ below.
Peek inside Museo Faggiano
Imagine having a house and after breaking into the floor to fix a sewage issue you stumble upon extensive archaeological remains. That’s exactly what happened here in 2001 when the owners of this very residence discovered a site thought to be 2,500 years old.
It took the city over 7 years to excavate the site which is now the Museo Faggiano. You can visit today to find out more about this interesting sight which was a Roman site, a Knights Templar house until 1200 and later a Franciscan convent until 1600.
Inside you’ll also be able to see many of the cisterns, secret passageways, frescos and tombs that were found here.
Walk by the Lecce Portas or City Gates
While walking around and exploring the city, you’ll at some point get to a porta or city gate. There are three remaining city gates that would have once been linked by the old city walls.
These gates signal the start or end of the historic center and would have been the first thing travellers saw when arriving in Lecce in the 16th Century.
The main city gate is the Porta Napoli which was built in 1548 for the visit of Charles V. It’s modelled on a Roman triumphal arch.
The oldest gate in the city is the western gate of Porta Rudiae which is a more elaborate, Baroque-style arch topped with figures of saints.
Finally, towards the south of the historic center there’s Porta San Biagio, which is located just a few minutes further down the street from Chiesa di San Matteo and Museo Faggiano so make sure not to miss it when there.
Check out the Castello Carlo V
One of the largest sights in Lecce is the Carlo V Castle. Dating back to the 12th Century the castle was originally built for the Norman counts of Lecce and later remodelled and reconstructed under the rule of Emperor Charles V during the 16th Century.
Today you can visit the castle and walk through the medieval rooms learning more about the castle’s history. Inside you’ll also find the Papier-mâché Museum, a small exhibit dedicated to the history of artistic papier -mâché in the Salento area.
While the castle is a great testament to the history of Lecce, I’d probably skip it if you don’t have too much time in the city.
Go on a Tour
Apart from walking tours around the city center, there are quite a few other tours offered in the city. Some fun tours to check out are a Guided Rickshaw Tour, a Lecce Highlights Biking Tour and a Private Home Cooking Class.
These and more can be booked through Get Your Guide here, my top place for booking tours and activities when travelling.
Walk the Historic Center at Night
Lecce’s historic center is beautifully lit at night and one of the best things to do in the evening in Lecce is to simply go for a walk. Make sure to check out the beautifully lit Piazza del Duomo and the surrounding streets around it that are atmospherically lit and lined with buzzing restaurants and bars.
Around the back of the Duomo, you’ll find many vibey street-side restaurants perfect for an aperitif under a canopy of Baroque excellence.
Day Trips from Lecce
There are some pretty gorgeous places around Lecce I highly recommend exploring. Due to Lecce’s location in the south of Italy’s Salento area, it makes the perfect base for exploring some other heritage towns in the area and idyllic beaches before heading back for another vibrant evening in Lecce.
Day Trip from Lecce to Otranto
Otranto is a beautiful seaside town in southern Salento. With a beautifully rustic historical centre, stunning beaches, unique churches and heritage based on Byzantine, Roman and Arab influences, Otranto Puglia is the perfect place to spend a day.
You can wander around its historic center and main sights in the morning before heading to the incredible beaches north of town- some of the best beaches in Puglia.
Day Trip from Lecce to Gallipoli
Gallipoli is a small, historic town located on the other side of the peninsula. Its historic center is so picturesque and separated from the mainland by a beautiful stone bridge.
It’s the perfect place to explore and meander through its stone alleyways before checking out its historical olive oil mill and its beaches.
Day Trip to the Itria Valley
Ok, so it might be a little far to drive just for a day trip, (it takes 1 hour to get to Ostuni) but it is doable. If you leave early it’s possible to explore some of the best, whitewashed towns in the Itria Valley.
Head to Alberobello for its unique trullo architecture, Martina Franca for more Baroque architecture, Ostuni for a beautiful, white hilltop town or Cisternino to escape the crowds and for a truly local atmosphere.
For more check out all my Italy guides here.
Best Beaches in Puglia
Why not use a day trip from Lecce to go in search of the best beaches in Puglia? Here are a few suggestions of my personal favourites in the area but I highly recommend renting a car and just driving south to see what you can find. The coast is so picturesque and the water so clear and blue, it’s hard to go wrong.
Porto Miggiano Beach – One of the best, hidden beach gems in Puglia and just south of Otranto. If you decide to drive this way make sure to pay it a visit.
Bahia dei Turchi – A long stretch of sand with beautiful, turquoise calm water this is easily one of the prettiest Puglia beaches. The perfect spot for an afternoon picnic.
Spiaggia di Pescoluse – One of the closest beaches to Lecce, a great option for those that don’t want to go far.
Castro – Not really a beach, but another lovely little coastal village with a gorgeous marina.
Punta Proscuitto – One of the best beaches in Puglia, the water is turquoise and the sand is white. Located just north of Gallipoli.
Where To Stay in Lecce
The best place to stay in Lecce is in the historic center. This means that you’re within short walking distance to the main sights in the city. Luckily there are plenty of palazzos, B&Bs and rentals in the historic center making choosing a place to stay quite a difficult task.
Here are some of my favourite options to help you decide.
Palazzo Bernardini Suites – There’s no stay more fitting in Lecce than a Palazzo. Handed down through generations, Palazzo Bernardini is a historical building in Lecce that turned into a luxury B&B.
With incredibly decorated hallways and family mementoes in rooms, this beautifully decorated B&B makes you feel like you’re staying in a noble family home.
It’s in the perfect location just 5 minutes from Piazza Duomo and the breakfast here is just delicious. Also includes free parking which is really useful in Lecce. Check rates and availability here.
Azzurretta Guest House- A lovely budget option in the center of town with lovely, minimally designed rooms and a gorgeous rooftop terrace. Check rates and availability here
Palazzo Maresgallo – For the ultimate palace experience, look no further. The decor and design here are nothing short of incredible and the terrace is where you want to be at sunset with an aperitivo in hand. Most stays also include a taxi transfer from the airport, making this a great choice if you’re not planning on renting a car. Check rates and availability here.
Patria Palace Hotel Lecce – Another remodelled palace, this modern gem in the heart of Lecce is another perfect place to base yourself while exploring the city. With large suites fit for royalty and a terrace with a hot tub overlooking the city, there’s no better spot for couples visiting Lecce. Check rates and availability here.
Where to Eat in Lecce
La Barca di Mario – A lovely little restaurant located around the back of San Giovanni Battista Church. It specialises in seafood but there are also many other tapas-style dishes and vegetarian and vegan options.
Vico dei Sotterranei – A wonderful little restaurant specialising in local food, head here for lovely pasta, antipasti and a few other traditional vegetarian dishes.
Sud Kitchen– The best place in town for Salento-style tapas.
Il Pizzicotto – A good pizza-by-the-slice spot, perfect for a quick lunch while exploring.
Sensi Gelateria – The perfect stop for gelato on your way out of the Piazza Duomo.
Top Tips for Visiting Lecce
↠ Lecce is a small city with a compact historic center. Most places can be visited in a day but I’d personally recommend two days in Lecce to be able to fully slow down and enjoy your visit. Perhaps you can add a third day to do some day trips.
↠ Get the combined church ticket. Costing only €9, the ticket gives you entry to all four main churches in Lecce as well as the Seminary Museum. With entry to Lecce’s Duomo costing about €7, it’s well worth the few extra euros.
↠ Find accommodation that includes parking. If you’re driving in it really helps to have somewhere pre-booked where you can park, as space around the historic center is very limited and it can end up costing a lot.
Is Lecce worth visiting?
In short yes but this really depends on your interests. Lecce is an inland city that’s known for its Baroque architecture, churches and museums so if you’re a culture buff, Lecce is definitely worth visiting.
If you’re craving more beach time over city time, you can still visit Lecce Italy for a short while before zipping off to the stunning beaches of Puglia.
How Much Time Do you Need in Lecce?
To see most of Lecce’s sights well, without having to rush, I’d allow 2 days in Lecce. If you’re on a tight Puglia itinerary but you still want to visit, most of Lecce’s sights can be done in a day but you probably won’t have time for all the museums.
If you’d like to do some day trips or visit beaches you can add a day or two respectably.
Want more things to do in Lecce Puglia? Check out the great tours below.
Are you ready to plan your trip to Lecce with all these things to do Lecce? Let me know your questions and comments below, I’d love to hear from you.
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