Ignore warnings that Bari Vecchia is a gritty “no-go” area. Extensive regeneration has transformed the area into a vibrant hub for bars and restaurants centred around the piazzas Mercantile and Ferrarese and a fine destination for visitors.
All the while the everyday life of its longtime residents continues as it has been and still is. Front doors open into the cool shadow of the narrow alleyways, the sound of food being prepared and of families dining together can be heard in the background while laundry hangs from balconies to dry in the lazy afternoon heat.
Bari is the main point of entry for many arriving in Puglia - by air, ferry or train.
While it may not be most visitors’ ultimate destination, Bari is becoming a popular base for those on a shorter city-break or using public transport to get around the region.
Bari Vecchia - a knot of narrow streets and alleyways - is the highlight of a trip to our regional capital. Vibrant but not yet overly commercial. The Baresi podcast team members rave about the culture and nightlife on offer, telling us that their city is “buzzing”.
The Basilica San Nicola houses the relics of the city’s patron saint. It was here in the 11th century that Peter the Hermit preached the First Crusade.
Visitors from far and wide, many Russian - a statue gifted by Russia in 2003 watches over the square within which the church sits - still flock to the crypt where his mass is celebrated by Catholics and Orthodox Christians alike, reinforcing Bari’s importance as a destination of religious pilgrimage.
The Castello Svevo stands on the edge of the old town, near the port and the basilica. A massive 13th century walled fortress it now houses a museum.
The Murat district south of the old town was built by Joachim-Napoléon Murat, King of Naples from 1808 - 1815 by virtue of being Napoleon's brother-in-law, in an attempt to improve conditions. Laid out on a practical grid system its an early example of modern town planning.
Street food is becoming ever more present, and the highlight of the Bari calendar is the festa di San Nicola held in May to commemorate the arrival of the relics of the city’s patron saint (his saint day on 6 December is also celebrated locally).
WHERE TO EAT
Throughout history Bari’s old port, sitting on the Molo San Nicola, has been an important fishery. It’s not without its dark past. In Medieval times it was an important trading post for “white gold”. Slaves. Mainly Slavic, sold for service in North Africa.
These days the seafood market trades the daily catch; local fishermen sell raw seafood, Bari’s speciality.
As with the rest of our region good food is easy to find. Don’t obsess about finding the Instagram perfect meal. Follow your nose ... and the locals.
Bari Vecchia | packed full of gems where eating is a pleasure.
Street food | outside the walls of the old town street food is becoming ever popular | the panzerotti* are exceptional | try some focaccia, salumi, cheese, sgagliozze, and home made gelato | €
Porto Vecchio | Molo San Nicola | enjoy a freshly caught raw seafood lunch served up by the fisherman returning to port | we recommend freshly opened ricci (sea urchin) served with a hunk of bread and a wedge of lemon with a cold beer | mix from the catch of the day; sliced octopus, calamari, urchins, prawns and the pinkest shrimp, plump oysters and juicy mussels | €
El Chiringuito | Porto Vecchio, Molo S. Nicola | an absolute must for a panzerotto and Peroni | a no-frills hang-out from sunrise to sunset and beyond where young Baresi congregate to the sounds of reggae and lapping waves | €
* Panzerotti are Bari’s other specialty; fried dough filled with tomato and mozzarella.
WHAT TO DO
Contemporary art and design | visit Spazio Murat and their Puglia Design Store | located on the Piazza del Ferrarese at the edge of Bari Vecchia it bridges the old and the modern | firstname.lastname@example.org | +39 080.2055856.
Promenade along the lungomare | Bari has an exceptionally long seafront | walk from the old port on Molo San Nicola to the ever popular Pane e Pomodoro urban beach.
Bari walking street food tour | taking in the main attractions of Bari Vecchia with tastings | for more information.
Visit the Madonella quarter | diverse and popular with students | soak up the ambience in the quiet local-only bars - Prinz Zaum a bar come bookshop with readings and live music is our favourite.
Explore #1 | make efficient use of your time in Bari as a base to explore nearby towns with outstanding cultural and historical heritage which are very easy to reach by train | Barletta | Trani | Bitonto | Andria | or the lesser known but no less lovely towns such as Ruvo di Puglia and Giovinazzo.
Explore #2| Matera is a wonderful city to visit, easily accessible by road (and usually by train) and only 64km from Bari | Altamura famed for its bread is en route | Castel del Monte “a unique masterpiece of medieval military architecture” is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an easily managed detour.
More | read our BIG guide to Bari