Ostuni 2023 Travel Guide
Sophisticated and stylish, poetic and timeless. Ostuni rises up from the rolling olive groves that surround it, a gleaming white oasis, framed by Puglia’s endless blue sky. Excellent restaurants and chic bars are tucked away in the maze of medieval alleys, arches and stairwells of the old town, winding and creeping around the duomo. Ostuni is perfectly positioned as a base to explore our region, marking the end of the verdant Valle d’Itria trulli zone and the start of the hot, dry Salento peninsula.
Where to park in Ostuni
Finding a parking spot wherever you are in Puglia can be challenging. Read on to discover our hacks on where to park in Ostuni.
Food and drink
In Puglia good food is always around the corner, although we do have a few favourite spots in Ostuni. Check out the reviews of our favourite places to eat in Ostuni using the drop down menu above; Eat Puglia | Our Reviews.
Ostuni sits some 8 km back from the Adriatic coast. The province has 17 km of coastline of sandy beaches peppered with small coves and rocky views. A 15 - 20 minute drive from the centre of town will take you to some of Puglia’s most popular beaches.
The Big Guide to Ostuni
Picturesque, historic with a vibrant bar and restaurant scene Ostuni is one of the most popular stops for visitors to our region. Loose yourself in its nooks and crannies as you explore the tangle of narrow streets and stairways of the centro storico. Its central location makes Ostuni the perfect home base for venturing into the Valle d’Itria and beyond.
Podcast Episode | Our Ostuni Tuk Tuk Tour
Join us on our Tuk Tuk tour of Ostuni with David 5-Star of Golapa Ape Calessino Ostuni.
We chose Golapa for two reasons. They have electric Tuk Tuk golf carts rather than gas guzzling Ape that buzz around the old town. Better for the environment, and better to hear our guide. And they have David 5-Star, Ostuni’s favorite Tuk Tuk guide, earning his name from the number of 5 star Tripadvisor reviews he has been given.
Read our tour review. As with all our reviews we paid our own way and received no incentive.
Welcome to Ostuni | La città bianca, Puglia's White City
The city is at its most vibrant over summer when visitors swell Ostuni’s population from around 32,000 to over 100,000.
From the end of October until spring revives the city at the start of Easter many bars and restaurants in and around the old town stay closed. During the daytime especially options for eating out will be very limited.
Ostuni is 40 km (about 25 miles, less than a 30 minute drive) north of Brindisi’s Salento airport and around 100 km (62 miles, a little over an hour’s drive) from Bari airport. Puglia’s Adriatic coast is 8 km away. The white walls and buildings of the old town gleam in the distance and can be seen as you drive along the main coastal highway.
Insider Tip | The best views driving into Ostuni are from the E55 (SS379) Adriatic coastal highway along the SP19 (take the exit at Pilone coming down from the north/Bari) or from the SP21 (take the Torre Pozzella exit coming up from the south - Lecce/Brindisi) turning off at the Contrada Rosaria fork as you climb to approach Ostuni. The latter route will also take you to the municipal pay and display car park we often use (see Parking).
Ostuni | Origins
Ostuni’s oldest inhabitant can be traced back to the Middle Palaeolithic some 25,000 years ago. The skeleton of “Delia” found in the cave of San Maria di Agnano indicates the presence of Neanderthal hunters who made homes in the nearby caves.
Later settled by the Messapi around 1000 BC, the city came under the dominion of Rome until the later stages of the fall of the Roman Empire. Invasion and conquest followed and over the next 1000+ years came the Ostrogoths, the Lombards, the Normans and the Aragonese.
During the 16th century the Aragonese widened the defensive wall around the city rebuilding the Villanova Tower and constructing the Pozzella and San Leonardo towers to protect against the Turks.
Tyranny reigned for almost 150 years under Duke Giovanni Zevallos, to whom Ostuni was sold in 1679, and his descendants. Calm was only restored under the Bourbons who rose to power after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo.
Following Italian unification under Garibaldi, Ostuni became part of Garibaldi’s Italian nation state.
A plague on all your houses
Lime washing the town’s houses - a practice believed to have originated as a defence against the plague in the 17th century - is still carried out annually, lightening up the centro storico’s maze of dark medieval streets and stairways.
Hints of the Middle Ages still lie around each corner of the old town’s cobble streets but what most visitors see today dates from between the 1400s and the 1700s and has survived three major earthquakes
Parking in Ostuni
Like most Italian towns and cities, car parking in Ostuni can be a challenge.
Try parking in the municipal pay and display car park opposite the Confraternita del Carmine church between Via Salvatore Tommasi and Via Giosuè Pinto.
Insider Tip | [May 2022 edit] The pay and ticket machines are up and running again. You need to input your car registration number, so if you don’t know it, have a photo of the licence plate on your phone so you don’t have to leave the queue/line to check it when it is your turn to pay.
Beware the gentleman in the high visibility waistcoat sometimes present and taking it upon himself to guide cars into spaces looking for payment. He is an opportunist and not an official. If in doubt ask the Golapa Tuk Tuk guides who line up adjacent to the car park.
A 2-minute walk, ending with the up the steps to Sant’Oronzo’s column will take you to the heart of Ostuni; the Piazza della Libertà and up to the duomo.
This car park fills up pretty quickly in summer. Our fall back is parking around the Parco Rimembranze.
Cost | see above: the parking charges have been suspended due to the insolvency of the operator, and the ticket machines removed. The pay signs are still on display and the parking spaces are delineated in blue (to indicate pay parking, white lines = free parking), but despite this there is currently no means of payment, so parking is free.
More | read our guide to Driving in Puglia.
Insider Tip | the pay and display machines at both these parking spots require you to input your vehicle registration (license plate). If you have a hire car keep a photo of this to say you having to go back and re-join the line to pay for your ticket.
Insider Tip | ZTL. Beware Ostuni’s ZTL, zones of restricted circulation, particularly the one which runs along Corso Vittoria Emanuele II, past the Sant’Ornzo column and along the Piazza della Libertà into Corso Giuseppe Mazzini. Only the local residents and registered vehicles are authorised to drive here. These zones are therefore prohibited to outside vehicles during certain hours. Stray into it and you will get a hefty fine - and the hire car company will pass it on. Just before Easter the municipality replaced the old cameras that didn’t work with fully functioning new ones!
The walk down towards the old town is pleasant, passing by Ceramiche Puglia.
The shop is worth stepping into if only to view the two sections of the floor that are cut away. One reveals to the olive oil drain, the other further into the shop the cave section in the rock below.
Most of Puglia’s ceramics come from Grottaglie, near Taranto. The ceramic quarter is a must see. If you are going to Grottaglie, save your money until then. If not, then spend away in Ostuni.
Ostuni in a nutshell
Cross the Piazza della Libertà (main town square), with the baroque obelisk of Sant’ Oronzo (la colonna), the saviour of Ostuni; stop for a spritz at Caffè Fanelli on the smaller side of the piazza before taking the Via Cattedrale up into the old town to the duomo, Ostuni's cathedral, that sits at the highest point looking down at the rest of us!
We wouldn't stop to buy olive oil or wine on the Via Cattedrale - it's overpriced of course.
After the duomo, pass under the Arco Scoppa, the ornate pedestrian bridge between the buildings, originally in wood.
Enjoy an ice-cream from the gelateria a little beyond the arch, before turning the corner to enjoy the panoramic view from the east, out to sea, taking in the acres and acres of silver green olive groves (try to blank out the ugly industrial buildings spoiling the view, beyond which is the train station).
Don't forget to take a selfie at La Porta. These days it seems to be a more popular selfie stop than the adjacent view of the olive groves.
Go down the steps, keeping right, and up some more, to find your way around the edge of the old town and back to the via Cattedrale. Alternatively keeping left will take you around the Aragonese wall.
Piazza della Libertà
The Piazza della Libertà is the beating heart of Ostuni and the main focus not only of locals, but also visitors to the city.
The piazza is a large open space on which, in addition to the café bars and restaurants sits Palazzo San Francesco, an ancient Franciscan monastery, and now the Town Hall. Standing next to it is the Church of San Francesco d’Assisi.
Chiesa di San Francesco d’Assisi
Originally built in the 14th century built in the fourteenth century the church was restored after being severely damaged by the 1743 earthquake.
Sant’ Oronzo’s Column
The column was built in 1743 and is a tribute to Sant’Oronzo the saviour and holy bishop of the city of Ostuni. It stands 19.5 meters high and marks the spot where the Valle d’Itria ends and Alto Salento begins, one half of the column sits on each side.
If in doubt, the column is the perfect meeting point if you are new to Ostuni. It’s an obvious landmark, central and perfect for orienting yourself.
Concattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta
Ostuni’s cathedral sits at the top of the highest of the three hills the city is built on. The present Romanesque church was built between 1228 - 1229. The 1456 earthquake damaged it and construction began again between 1469-1495 when it was rebuilt in Gothic style. The central rose window, said to be the second largest in Europe after Notre Dame de Paris, is divided into 24 rays, with 12 inner sections. The glass was destroyed.
The interior layout is a latin cross with three naves on columns, with a flat painted ceiling and Baroque chapels. Look out for the At the end of the left aisle there is a wooden altar from 1734 at the end of the left aisle with busts of Saints Oronzo, Biagio and Agostino.
Built to connect the bishop's palace to the seminary, the original was made of wood. This was replaced by the stone bridge that now exists. Either because the wooden structure was unsound, or according to popular history, because of the wear and tear of overuse due to nighttime visits by the bishop to the seminary on the other side.
Heaven’s Door | La Porta
Puglia’s most famous door and certainly Ostuni’s most popular selfie stop. Some believe paradise lies behind the door, opening onto a vista of blue sky, green olive groves and the azure blue of the Adriatic beyond (giving it its other name - Heaven’s Door). It is in fact a B&B.
Be sure to give it a “ Knock-knock-knockin' on heaven's door” for good luck on your visit.
The defensive walls around Ostuni date back to the Middle Ages and have been modified and added to over time. Extending from Porta Nova to Palazzo Scalona, it was the city’s third defensive wall built, to defend the lands from various invasion attempts by the Agarenese, Saracens and pirates.
The towers and bulwarks were erected in 1480. In 1500 the structure was restored and strengthened to allowed the construction of dwellings above it.
The choice of dining experiences in Ostuni during the summer season seems endless. Excellent restaurants and chic bars are tucked away in the maze of medieval alleys, arches and stairwells of the old town that shoot out from via Cattedrale and wind around the duomo and the old town walls.
While bad food is hard to find some restaurants offer better value than others. Restaurants regularly recommended on travel forums may not be included here. The food and dining experience may be good, but if it is comparatively overpriced without any added value, we haven’t included it.
We pay for all our meals and review anonymously.
But first - one to avoid
You will find this on the far side of the old town, on Via Gaetano Tanzarella Vitale, 61 just along from Osteria Del Tempo Perso.
Offering aperitifs and cocktails in a cave setting with a trendy outside seating area marked by beanbags up and down the stone steps, beware of being overcharged and paying for unexpected extras.
We explained that we had actually come to the bar for the purpose of reviewing it for our Ostuni travel guide. We pointed out that it was not permitted to charge more than the menu price, required to be displayed by Italian law. When we asked how we could explain this in our review, we were approached by someone who had identified themselves as Riccardo when we arrived. In what we considered a very aggressive, confrontational and threatening manner, after asking him the same, we were asked to leave. We were then escorted off the premises.
Having done with the bad and the ugly, let’s turn to the good…
Piazza della Libertà
Restaurant - traditional local dishes. Good value, good food and friendly service. Great for lunch. Orecchiette in a traditional tomato sauce and the parmigiana offer great value at 8€ but their orecchiette with polpette and braciole (maritato piatto unico) 15€ blew us away.
Starters 5€ - 10€
Primi 8€ - 15€
Secondi 12€ -15€
House wine 4€ | 18€)
Piazza della Libertà, 5, 72017 Ostuni
+39 333 934 9620
More | our visit to Ostuni Bistrot | visit their Ostuni Bistrot website.
Bistrot Caffè Fanelli
Bar, coffee and drinks, or a light lunch. Our favourite spot for people watching, morning and evening. Friendly service, and very reasonable prices.
Insider tip | a glass of white wine is 3€ a spritz is 4€, and is served with the stuzzichini pictured. The cost of a glass of wine at Etrè, the bar whose terrace can be seen in the photo below further down the piazza is double the price, where a spritz is also 6€. Neither was served to us with stuzzichini nibbles! It then increases to 10€ elsewhere on the piazza.
Piazza della Libertà, 72017 Ostuni BR (2 Corso Cavour).
Cicinedda Fruit Bistrot, Ostuni
More than a smoothie and juice bar it describes itself as. Traditional Pugliese ingredients are served up in less usual ways. We loved their “bagel Pugliese” (using bagel shaped bread, rather than traditional bagel) topped with cime di rapa and smothered with stracciatella and then a generous glug of Puglia’s finest olive oil.
More | our visit to Cicinedda Fruit Bistrot | visit their website.
Casa San Giacomo
Restaurant. Traditional cooking by Nonna. A favourite for dinner, but be sure to book. And yes, Madonna celebrated her 63rd birthday here.
€€ - €€€
Via Bixio Continelli 4, 72012 Ostuni
+39 328 138 8457
More | visit their website.
Restaurant. Good local food in the heart of Ostuni’s old town.
€€ - €€€
Via P.Vincenti, 72012 Ostuni
+39 083 133 4212
More | our visit to Ostuni Monacelle | visit their website.
Asso di Spade
Take away panzerotti. Asso di Spade has some class specials including nduja, gorgonzola and guanciale as well as bog standard tomato and mozzarella. Hits the spot!
Via Benedetto Cairoli, 1, 72017 Ostuni BR.
More | visit their website.
Trattoria Il Cortiletto
Good food in modest unassuming surroundings. A short drive from Ostuni en route to the main highway.
Via Lecce 91, 72015 Speziale
+39 080 481 0758
More | visit their website.
A modern take on traditional dishes in minimal surroundings. Expensive, but exceptional dining. A short drive from Ostuni en route to the main highway. Fixed menu, price on booking.
Contrada Lamacavallo snc, 72012 Ostuni
+39 338 18 99 199
More | our visit to Masseria Moroseta | visit their website
Insider Tips | if you take an Ape Calessino Ostuni tour (the tuk tuk ride) the drivers usually have 10% discount vouchers, be sure to ask for one.
| Lunch | the afternoon siesta variously referred to as la pausa, la controra, il riposino starts from around 1pm | Many restaurants will continue lunch service until around 2.30pm | Be prompt - try to sit down before 2pm if you want to be sure of having lunch.
| Dinner |The only people eating in restaurants at 8pm are British tourists | At 8.30pm the German and Scandinavian tourists join them | Italians enjoy the occasion of dining out | They are not in a rush, neither to eat, nor to finish and leave | If the service gets slower after the food has arrived, that’s normal.
Which beaches to visit
Long stretches of sandy beach. Many private lidos with loungers, umbrellas, bars and restaurants but fewer free public beaches. Great for seafood.
Long stretches of public, sandy beaches. Popular with families and sports enthusiasts, there is canoeing and kite surfing.
Sandy beach, popular with residents of the camping and touristic villages nearby, who often arrange for residents’ beach club activities for kids, so it can get noisy!
Torre Pozzelle | Lamaforca
Small sandy beaches in rocky coves, surrounded by pine forest. Both are popular with the families who stay in the nearby camping touristic villages. They are also locally well known, but fairly discreet, popular gay beaches.
Punta Penna Grossa
The family friendly end of Torre Guaceto. Extremely popular, but you need to park in the not so nearby pay car park and take the shuttle trolly train (around 4 mins).
One of Puglia’s most popular naturist beaches, but difficult to access. After parking it’s still a 35-45 minute walk. There is a dedicated gay section at the very end towards the tower, after passing through the main, mixed naturist section.
Where to stay
We recommend Apartment q|40. Split over 3 levels (including the external panoramic terrace), it is a bright and airy apartment with traditional vaulted ceilings. It is located behind Ostuni’s main square, Piazza della Libertà.
Ostuni is the perfect home base for venturing into the Valle d’Itria and beyond.
Locorotondo, officially one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, the slightly underwhelming Alberobello and the breathtaking Polignano a Mare with iconic views from the Balconata sul Mare are all within easy reach by car.
A 13 km drive will take you to the acknowledged foodie paradise of Ceglie Messapica while 15 km to the west is Cisternino famous for its bombette pugliesi - street food made and cooked by the butcher, served at tables outside their shops.
Carovigno - little more than a 10 minute drive south of Ostuni - has a small but perfectly formed old town that punches above its weight with some stunning restaurants, including one with a Michelin star. Much quieter and less well known than Ostuni - as reflected in the pricing of holiday accommodation found there.
Lecce’s old town is under an hour away (78 km - park for free directly outside the old town). Even a a day trip to Santa Maria di Leuca, at the very tip of the heel of Italy’s boot, is possible (a 1h45m drive via Gallipoli - and well worth it).