There are two great Adriatic towns south of Bari – Polignano a Mare and Monopoli. Visiting Polignano a Mare you will see one of most beautiful and popular coastal towns in Puglia in Southern Italy. In summer months, it is a bustling hotspot of tourists. A short jaunt out of Bari, Monopoli is a great alternative to the more crowded Polignano A Mare. With numerous small coves to explore, there is space to recline and enjoy the view. But, if you only have time to visit one, which should it be?Should you visit Polignano a Mare or Monopoli in the summer? And what about in springtime?
If you want to read more about Puglia, you can find our guide to visiting this wonderful region of Italy here.
How to get to Monopoli from Bari
From Bari, or Bridnisi, Monopli is easy to get to on the train. It takes around 38 minutes from Bari with the fastest Regionale running at 26 minutes. If you are using public transport, there are two notes of caution:
- The trains are semi-regular, look out for gaps in the timetable (e.g. no trains between 1220 and 1430 or 2100 and 0440!)
- Take note of the Regionale l v Intercity Trains. The intercity services are faster, but more expensive. If you board the Intercity train with the wrong ticket, you will be fined or asked to disembark.
Check the Trenitalia app if journey time is an important consideration.
Travelling by train, it is important to stress that the experience of visiting Monopoli or Polignano a Mare on a weekday and on a weekend are different. On weekdays, trains have plenty of seats, you can choose which side to sit (left hand side facing the locomotive – you are out of direct sun and get occasional sea views. Both sides have infeasible number of olive trees interspersed with almond trees in flower), it’s a quiet journey.
At the weekend, especially in the summer, everyone will have the same idea as you –flock to these attractive seaside towns. The trains are quite full with young people singing and playing their individual choices of music. This is either vibrant or annoying, depending on your viewpoint/mood.
Is Monopoli worth visiting in the summer?
A charming town on the East coast of Italy, Monopoli is encased by a sea wall and surrounded by sparkling sea. Facing Croatia, Monopoli feels almost like a piece of Dubrovnik that has drifted off and joined Italy. When we spent the month of August living in Bari, Monopoli was one of our favourite day trips to take. We visited Monopoli a number of times, bringing friends with us to enjoy the trip.
If you enjoy a day spent sunbathing by the beach, floating in the glorious blue sea with some dinner and drinks thrown in, the Monopoli is a great place to visit in the summer. When it comes to deciding whether to visit Polignano a Mare or Monopoli in the summer, we think Monopoli wins it. There are more beaches to choose from and less crowds. But, be warned that the weekends do still get busy in Monopoli during the summer and you might need to spend a little time finding your perfect sunbathing spot!
Is Monopoli worth visiting in the spring?
In the spring, you are unlikely to get weather suitable for sunbathing in Monopoli. Therefore, the highlight of Monopoli (the beaches) aren’t quite so relevant in the spring! Subsequently, the highlights of your visit will include the Old Town (historic centre) and a promenade along the beach. For anyone who enjoys a languid lunch and a small town to peruse, Monopoli is perfect. But, on the downside, the walk from the train station is quite long and there isn’t that much to do in the old town if you’re looking for activities.
How to visit Monopoli Old Town
The newer part of town has some nice aspects, the main square and a few trendy restaurants. But on a first visit to Monopoli, I’d recommend heading straight for the labyrinth like Old Town.
The walk to the interesting historic centre is not obvious. From the station, walk up via Diaz (middle of three roads in front of station), turn/bear right onto Via Marconi, then uphill for a while and left onto Corso Umberto. Walk downhill and through the rather large Plaza Victorio Emmanuale, and you will be outside St Francesco church and the entry to the historic centre. It will take 20mins.
The streets are white washed and dotted with plenty of eateries to entice you in. Unlike the board game that shares this town’s name, Monopoli is not so easy to navigate! Its pretty impossible to find particular streets. Randomly wandering around is the right thing to do here.
There is an excellent tourist information off in the Piazza Garibaldi. It has a 3D model of the town, if that is your thing. The piazza itself is very attractive and a good place to sit with an Aperol spritz. But if you are looking for the pretty harbour (the Porto Antico), you need to turn left at St Francesco, then right and follow the road down. The harbour hides its location quite well. There is a pointed archway on the left at the lowest point. Walk through the thick walls and there will be the small harbour with its blue and red fishing boats plus a view of the castle, the jetty and some nice buildings.
Does Monopoli have good Beaches?
As is the case with many Italian towns in the summer, the crowds assemble to hit the beach. But, there are so many different areas along the coast, sand, shingle or rock that you can park yourself on the for the day. The water here is calm, cool and wonderfully clear. You can swim, paddle board or just bob about until your heart is content.
To find your perfect sunbathing spot, I’d recommend strolling out of the old town and following the sea wall until you find somewhere to suit you. The first point you’ll reach is Cala Porta Vecchia, which you can expect to be crowded in the Summer (this is a walled beach rather than sand).
If you walk further on to either Porto Bianco or Porto Rosso you should start to find some areas to sit and enjoy the water. Our favourite cove near town Porto Verde is a little further, but here you can perch atop a large rocky cliff, which gives you much more space to stretch out and a fairly private launch into the sea down from the rock.
If you want to keep walking, or have access to a car, the beaches get quieter as you move further away from town and towards Capitolo.
There are also a number of Lido/Beach Clubs, if you are looking to rent sun loungers and umbrellas and gain access to the beach club bars. Try Cala Paradiso, which has a convenient jetty into the ocean.
Here are some the best things to do while in Polignano and Monopoli:
Where to eat and drink in Monopoli?
For snacks, you can’t go wrong with Mani in Pasta which churns out Panzerotti, Pizza and Focaccia in a matter of minutes. Take one of these treats to go and head for a stroll along the sea wall.
If you’re after Ibiza chill vibes and cocktails, then Tamborr Restaurant and Bar is perfect for you. It’s got a good selection of drinks, including Spritz and other cocktails and occupies a prime spot by the water in the shadows of the Castle. Cocktails are around 7 Euro, with wine ranging from 18 Euro.
If reggae music is more your scene, try Sottocperta (above) where you can enjoy a bit of rest bite from the sun, whilst you enjoy a chilled glass of Chardonnay. This place also does a range of healthier lunch or dinner options, that are on the pricey side but are popular nonetheless.
For a longer lunch or dinner, there are endless restaurants to choose from. Monopoli, with it’s long coastline, is a great place to enjoy some seafood. For cozy local vibes in the old town, why not try Il Guazzetto. Or if you want to take in the coastal views, Porto Rosso sits atop a cliff overlooking the ocean. Proper holiday feels!
How to get to Polignano a Mare from Bari
Polignano a Mare is a 30 minute train ride from Bari central station. The train runs all the way to Lecce along the coast, so you could make a day of it and visit other towns as well. The train from Bari to Polignano a Mare costs €5.40 return per adult. From
Exit from the station and go straight downhill along the attractive Viale dello Rimembranze. It takes around 10 minutes to get to Piazzo Aldo Moro. This large square has many bars, restaurants and gelateria. We had excellent ice creams at Il Mago del Gelato – their limoncello is good too.
Cross the square diagonally, past the small Piazza G. Garibaldi, and you three choices – left to see the view from the bridge and, further on, the view of and from the statue of Domenico Modugno,; to enter the historic centre through the Arco Marchesale with its views of the cliffs; or to wander down the atmospheric Via Roma.
Is Polignano a Mare worth visiting in the summer?
Polignano a Mare, particularly the famous cove, does seem to be THE place to be in the summer. For our taste, we found Polignano a Mare to be a little too busy to enjoy in the summer and therefore chose to spend more time in Monopoli. That said, Polignano has a stunning historic centre, which has a real buzz to it. In our view, Polignano a Mare is definitely worth visiting once, even in peak season.
Is Polignano a Mare worth visiting in the spring?
In spring, Polignano a Mare is far less crowded than in summer, the sea is a little inkier and the sun shines a little less. It is a fantastic opportunity to take your time exploring the historic centre. Aside from the beaches, that is the best of bit of the town.
There is the temptation to simply wander, but do one thing first. Take the left hand turn after going through the arch, then whenever there is a choice of routes, take the left hand one. That way you will visit every one of the balconies that will give you spectacular views of the cliffs. One balcony will give you a view straight down the throat of the cliff – the view that’s on thousands of web pages. And for a few minutes it’s all yours. Only then surrender yourself to wandering the historic centre randomly. There is nothing singular to see, but the totality is everything.
When you have had your fill of the historic centre (and revisited the balconies again to see the view in a different light) exit via the arch and turn right. The road spans the cliffs and provides more photo opportunities of the cliff and small, pebbly beach.
Head up the hill to see the statue of singer, actor, composer, and later in life, advocate for disability and social rights, local lad Domenico Modugno. Do look up his Wiki page.
The statue is full of life and movement showing Modugno with outstretched arms singing his standout hit “Volare”. It is quite fun watching others copying the pose for their photos. Beyond the statue a staircase descends to the uneven rocks below. This is a good place to take yet more photos of Polignano and the cliffs. Climb back up to the statue. This is your last chance of an arms-flung selfie with Mudugno. Oh go on then.
You cannot miss the Via Roma. It’s buildings are strung with illuminations that as you walk along spell out the words of the song “Volare”. They really love Domenico Modugno.
Does Polignano a Mare have good beaches?
The main cove in Polignano a Mare is so picturesque that it’s become something of an Instagram hit. Subsequently, it is very popular. When we visited in August, it was so full that it was impossible to get onto the beach. However, if you keep walking along the coast, there are two more options.
The first is to perch on the rocks and you can dip into the lido type pool nestling below.
The second is to continue on and there are two small beaches and a wall surrounding the sea. You can easily lay your towel down and while away many an hour, dipping into the blue water when you need to cool down.
Where to eat and drink in Polignano a Mare?
There is a thriving old town with cobbled streets dotted with bars and restaurants serving lunch, dinner or cocktails. The Spritz Granita (frozen mix of prosecco, aperol and fizzy water) seems to be a particular favourite here.
When visiting Polignano a Mare one the biggest hits in town is the array of Foccacia shops selling slices of Italian bread loaded with tomatoes and cheese. There’s also a wonderful Panzerotteria selling Panzerotti (obviously!) These are small Calzone-esque treats. Like a cross between a Pizza, Cornish Pasty and Empanada. A multitude of fillings is available, including sweet options like Nutella. (Want to know more about Puglian street food, read about it here).
When visiting Polignano a Mare there are also a smattering of supermarkets and small delis, so you could easily do it like the locals and picnic on the beach/rocks.
Should you visit Polignano a Mare or Monopoli?
In spring time when the crowds are absent, Polignano a Mare is the best of the two. It has star quality and when you leave it is with a sigh – a sure sign that this is somewhere special. The walk to and from the station is also shorter than Monopoli’s, and more pleasant. But Monopoli does have considerable charms. The solution is to rise early, visit Monopoli in the morning, hop on the train to Polignano, have lunch and spend the afternoon there. And wait for the lights to come on in the Via Roma. Volare…
Should you visit Polignano a Mare or Monopoli in the summer? In the summer, we would definitely recommend Monopoli over Polignano a Mare for a full day trip if you’re looking for a day sunbathing and swimming in the sea. Monopoli is also better for families, as there is more space. But, Polignano a Mare is iconic and absolutely worth visiting for a bite to eat and a nose around, even if you can’t fit on the beach!
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