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. It’s just such an atmospheric little city.
I spend a month in Lecce discovering all the best sights, local haunts, and the best culinary spots so you don’t have to. Here’s our local’s guide to Lecce, Puglia.
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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.