Sometimes called the “heel of Italy,” Puglia doesn’t draw as many foreign travelers as other coastal areas of Europe’s playground.

Which means that this region remains a treasure trove to discover – from cities with millennia-old history in their walls to breathtaking beaches where all you have to do is relax under the sun.

Cities and towns in Puglia are perfect for exploring on foot – though getting between them and around the wider region may pose logistical challenges. A bit of planning – and this guide to getting around the region – will help make your trip to Puglia one you’ll never forget.

A mother and young child walk the narrow streets of Ostuni, Puglia, Italy
Count on walking through Puglia’s charming, historic cities and towns © Oscar Wong / Getty Images

Rely on your feet to get around Puglia’s cities

If you’re exploring Bari, Taranto, Lecce or other cities in the region, count on getting around on foot. Walking spares you the stress of driving through narrow streets and finding parking. And a leisurely stroll lets you take your time to explore all there is to see, from Taranto’s Castello Aragonese to the picturesque streets of Bari Vecchia. 

Remember to pack water and sunscreen if you’re visiting during the height of summer; the heat can be significant, especially in the midst of the marble and stones of historic city centers. Most Italians cope by avoiding going out during the hottest hours of the day – so don’t be surprised if you don’t see many people out between noon and 4pm.

A car on a road with the hilltop town visible in the background, Ostini, Puglia, Italy
Renting a car gives you freedom to discover Puglia at your own pace © Dave G Kelly / Getty Images

Renting a car is still the best option for exploring Puglia

The best way to explore Puglia? By renting a car. While this is never the cheapest transport option, having your own car means you can travel at your own pace and make your own schedule – including as many stops as you’d like along the way, for anything that catches your fancy. Your own ride spares you from relying on public transport, which is present throughout the region but can be difficult to navigate.

You can rent a car in most of the major cities, with prices for a mid-size model starting around €75 in July and August. (In the low season, expect rates as low as €35 per day.) Still, road tripping around Puglia isn’t totally carefree. Road surfaces might not be top-notch in many areas, and you’ll find that road signage is often not as regular or clear as it could be. Keep an eye out for Google Maps indications, and allow time for the possibility of taking a wrong turn.

The biggest headache? Driving and parking in cities and villages, since you’ll find many limited-traffic zones (ZTL for short) where only residents can enter or park. Keep an eye out for the ZTL signs, which are rectangular and white with a red circle and “Zona a traffico limitato” in black type.

A view of olive groves through the window of train passing through Puglia, Italy
Trains and buses in Puglia might tax your patience – but the views sure are wonderful © Simone Gallo / iStockphoto / Getty Images

You’ll need flexibility and patience with Puglia’s trains and buses

If you’re not fond of driving or want to keep your trip as eco-friendly as possible, then opt for public transportation, which in Puglia means both trains and buses. When it comes to trains, your best option is checking out the Trenitalia app, where you can plan routes, consult timetables and buy tickets. The last feature comes in handy, since many smaller stations no longer have working ticket offices. 

If you can’t find a ticket office and don’t have the app, then your best bet for pre-buying a ticket (and avoiding the surcharge for onboard purchases) is a local tabaccheria (tobacco shop) or edicola (newsstand). A ticket from Bari to Taranto on a regional train costs around €10 one way; going from Bari to Lecce on the same regional train will cost around €13 one way.

While trains cover routes between major towns and are relatively reliable – as much as trains in Italy can be… – buses offer service to smaller and more-remote places. Yet bus timetables are quite difficult to navigate and service is often subject to delays, which means you’ll need to be as flexible as you can if you choose this means of transportation. Keep in mind that bus schedules are usually geared toward commuters and students rather than tourists, and that packing light for buses is always a good idea.

Two mountain-bike cyclists follow a trail on a bluff in Gargano, Puglia, Italy
Cycling through Puglia lets you take in the scenery of this gorgeous region © Heiko Mandl / Getty Images

Slow down your travel by cycling

Taking it slow by getting around on a bicycle offers a unique way to experience all that Puglia has in store. Cycling is especially lovely during shoulder season, when the weather is milder and spending hours outside becomes pleasant rather than a sweat fest. 

Major cities have marked bike lanes – even though sharing the road with auto drivers requires you to stay hyper vigilant. Puglia is also crisscrossed by a series of bike routes, like the EuroVelo 5, which follows the ancient Roman Via Appia and connects Taranto to Brindisi on the Adriatic Sea. Another route, the Ciclovia dell’Acquedotto, currently runs from Cisternino to Ceglie Messapica.

Accessible transportation in Puglia

Sadly, accommodations for accessible travel are not always consistently available in Puglia. Some buses and taxis are wheelchair-accessible – but not all of them, nor are their respective stops. If you’re moving around by train, you can request assistance in advance (via mail, phone or in person) through the national railway system’s Sale Blu service, available at most stations.

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