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Front entrance to Biostrot restaurant in Monopoli. Vines decorate white walls at entrance. Plants too. You can see people sitting inside.

Monopoli, Italy – Our Favorite Base for Exploring Puglia

Are you looking for a place to call casa (home) while visiting Puglia?

Or, maybe you just want to know how to spend a day or two visiting Monopoli.

Either way, keep reading for my tips and advice for exploring Monopoli and making the most of your time in the small city in Puglia’s Valle d’Itria.

I first visited in 2004 for work, and now I travel back for vacations with my family.  My latest trip was with my 5-year-old, and we had a blast exploring the region, using Monopoli as our base.

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Good To Know:  This isn’t a compilation of everything you could possibly see in Monopoli along with things like dates churches were built.  This is my personal guide to visiting Monopoli, Italy.  It includes a curated list of things I like to do and things I recommend.  If you want to know who built the church and when, the best thing you can do is grab a reputable guidebook or take a guided tour of the city

Where is Monopoli?

Monopoli is a large town (small city) in the Valle d’Itria (Itria Valley) in the Italian region of Puglia (the heel of Italy’s boot). 

It’s on the Adriatic Coast, and it sits about 40 kilometers south of Bari, the capital of Puglia.

Reasons to Visit Monopoli

We continually come back to Monopoli when we’re visiting Puglia because it’s:

  • A lively town, during the day and in the evening
  • Set in a lovely spot on the sea
  • Full of things to see and do, but it’s also a nice place to relax and enjoy Italian life (sitting in a piazza, participating in the passeggiata, having aperitivo alongside locals)
  • Feels safe to wander around the old town in the evening (so many people are out and about).

Why We Choose Monopoli as Our Home Base for Puglia

Monopoli is beautiful, so even walking to the grocery store is pleasant. 

We appreciate that Monopoli has all of the basics we need – a great selection of hotels, restaurants, groceries and pharmacies.

There are plenty of accommodation options in Monopoli, so it’s easy to find a place you like at the price you want to pay. 

We love that in Monopoli you see real life – it’s not just a town that caters to tourists.

Monopoli is close to places we want to visit while in the area – beaches, other towns like Polignano a Mare and sites like Grotte di Castellana.

Monopoli also has a popular road that locals walk on (Lungomare – Via Procaccia), so it’s great for morning jogs or going for a stroll or bike ride.

Things to Do in Monopoli

Walk along the Old Port

Old port and lungomare in Monopoli, Italy. You can see blue gozzi boats in water in foreground.

Take a stroll along the old port (porto antico) day or night and check out the gozzi, the traditional fishing boats.  Each town has different colored boats – Monopoli’s are blue and red. 

Helpful Tip:  Don’t walk to close to the edge – there aren’t any guardrails!

Spend Time in Piazza Garibaldi

Piazza Garibalidi (Monopoli) at night. It's full of people walking and sitting at cafes and restaurants.

This small piazza is perfect place for breakfast, lunch, aperitivo, or dinner.

We like having breakfast at Cafè Venezia, and aperitivo at Vini e Panini. 

Don’t rush here – settle in and enjoy the people-watching and lively piazza.

Browse Monopoli’s Shops

Colorful fish and seahorse ceramics on white stone wall.

Yes, there are shops in all of Puglia’s little towns, but I find Monopoli’s centro storico (historic center) has a nice mix of shops that include artisan ceramics, clothing, and local olive oil in gorgeous containers.

Go For an Evening Stroll Through Town

Piazza Garibalidi (Monopoli) at night. It's full of people walking and sitting at cafes and restaurants.

I’m not a night owl at all, but I love wandering the lively streets of Monopoli in the evening, before and after dinner. 

If you decide to explore Monopoli at night, don’t think that it’s a bunch of people bar hopping or going to night clubs.  Yes, there are younger people out, but you’ll see a ton of families, locals of all ages, and older couples out enjoying town.  Restaurants are open, you can peek at some shops, and of course, grab a gelato!

See the Unusual Church of Purgatory

If Italian churches are all starting to look the same to you, walk to the Chiesa di Santa Maria del Suffragio o del Purgatorio.  It’s next to the Duomo, and you’ll notice right away that it’s not a ‘regular’ church.  There are skeletons on the door, skulls and crossbones in the marble inside, and even really mummies of former priests (inside on the left). 

Not your thing?  You can also check out the inside of the Duomo next door.

Visit Castello Carlo V

I have to admit, I’ve never been in Monopoli when the castle has been open.  But, I always enjoy a walk around it, especially in the evening. 

Go To The Beach

An almost empty beach at Porto Rosso in Monopoli, Puglia. Sunny day, sandy beach, turquoise water.
An almost-empty beach at Porto Rosso in the morning in late-May

There are a few beaches scattered around Monopoli.  A convenient (and sandy) one that we like is Porto Rosso.  It’s walkable from town (10 minutes from the Duomo) and if you arrive early in the morning, you’ll get a spot in the sand.  Enjoy your dip in the turquoise Adriatic Sea! 

Good To Know:  Puglia’s beaches get very crowded (like your neighbor is close enough to rub sunscreen on your back).  If that’s not your thing, skip Monopoli’s public beaches and head a little south to the beach clubs in the Capitolo area.

Good To Know:  You may hear about the beach closest to the old town, Spiaggia Cala Porta Vecchia.  It’s got turquoise water too, but it gets very crowded because of its proximity to town.  Also, the sandy area is small and narrow. 

More Things to Do in Monopoli

Churches – If you love seeing the insides of churches, you won’t be bored in Monopoli.  Besides the Duomo (aka Cattedrale Maria Santissima della Madia), and the Church of Purgatory, you can also stop in at the Chiesa di San Francesco d’Assisi (Church of St. Francis of Assisi) or the Chiesa del Gesù Salvatore (Church of Christ the Savior), a deconsecrated church right on the sea that often hosts art exhibits.

Eating in Monopoli

When in Monopoli, don’t miss sampling:

  • Local seafood (fried, grilled, in pastas)
  • Fresh produce (the fruit just tastes better here; I try to plan trips here in May so I can buy cherries!)
  • Mozzarella
  • Primitivo wine

Monopoli Restaurants

Pinsotti (Via Santa Caterina, 9) – This restaurant serves pinsa – a type of Roman-style hand-pressed pizza, and it’s delicious!  The setting is also light and fun, and we love the location just off the busy Via Garibaldi.  Ask for a table on the front outdoor terrace.  Kids will love the pasta straws!  This is my current favorite for a casual delicious meal (they have other options besides pinsa too, and they have gluten-free pinsa).

Munz Munz BiOstrot (Via Cimino, 33) – Come here for colorful vegan, organic food in a cheerful setting.  Great place for breakfast too!

La Locanda dei Mercanti (Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, 44) – This is a classic place to dine on seafood in Monopoli.  It’s casual (think checkered tablecloths), busy (make a reservation), and quality.  I like the seabream and grilled veggies, and my boys like the spaghetti alle vongole.   Ask for one of the few outdoor tables – cozy (crowded) but fun to be on the main Via Garibaldi.

Piazza Garibaldi – We also like to spend time in Piazza GaribaldiVini e Panini is great for aperitivo and/or a quick sandwich, while we enjoy our relaxed breakfasts at Caffè Venezia. Bella Blu Gelateria, on the corner of the piazza, is our favorite gelateria in town.

Good To Know:  For contemporary Pugliese cuisine in a lovely setting, get in your car and drive slightly inland to Orto, the restaurant at Nina Trulli Resort.  Creative, delicious, beautifully-displayed dishes amongst the trulli.

Where to Stay in Monopoli

Rooftop terrace with tables and chairs and painting on back wall. You can see blue sky and surrounding buildings.
Palazzo Cesare

You have plenty of options for hotels and apartments in Monopoli.  Some of our favorites are:

  • Palazzo Cesare – We stayed here on our latest trip and we loved the proximity to the old town and the gorgeous rooftop terrace.  We also liked having a small kitchen here.
  • Hotel Don Ferrante – My pick for the best luxury option in Monopoli.  Don Ferrante is right on the water and even has a pool with a spectacular sea view.  A dear friend (who has high hotel standards) recently stayed here for her honeymoon, and they loved the simple, elegant décor and bright atmosphere.
  • Kees Apulian Stay – We’ve always been very happy staying in these self-service apartments with our family.  They’re clean, comfortable, and walkable to the historic center. 

Check out my general guide to Accommodation Options in Italy – From Agriturismos to Villas

How to Get to Monopoli

The best ways to get to Monopoli are by car or train.

Driving to Monopoli

We choose to drive to Monopoli (with our own car or a rental car), because we like using Monopoli as a base to explore the Valle d’Itria (and you really need a car for that). 

You won’t need to worry about tolls unless you’re traveling on the Autostrade north of Bari or between Bari and Taranto.  So, for example, if you’re flying in to Bari Airport, picking up your rental car, and driving to Monopoli, you have a straight shot on the superstrada without any tolls to pay.

Parking can be a pain in Monopoli. 

If you’re visiting for the day, you can drive close to the center without entering the ZTL, or park in the large lot by the new port and walk 10-15 minutes to the historic center. 

Another place we sometimes try is along Via Procaccia (southern part of the city) and there’s also a small lot there. 

If you’re staying the night in Monopoli, be sure to ask your accommodation where you can park.  And, have a backup plan for your accommodation, because you’ll often be told there’s street parking available in front of the accommodation or nearby.

Helpful Tip:  If you’re parking in a blue space on the street, be sure to check the parking signs – sometimes parking isn’t allowed on certain days or times.

You may want to read
Driving in Puglia
Important Italian Road Signs

Taking the Train to Monopoli

Monopoli is also easily reached by train from major cities like Bari and Brindisi.  For example, trains from Bari to Monopoli take less than 30 minutes and run frequently throughout the day. 

The Monopoli train station is about 1 kilometer from the old town (10-15 minutes walking). 

Read more about Train Travel in Italy

Other Ways to Get to Monopoli

You can also travel to Monopoli by bus, private driver, or even by bicycle!

Things to See and Do Near Monopoli

Boy in red shirt walking toward famous blue door of Ostuni, Italy. Cacti in pots on either side of door and bicycle on right.
Ostuni

We don’t base ourselves in Monopoli to spend our entire trip in Monopoli.  It’s a great base for exploring the area.  Be sure to check out:

  • Ostuni – whitewashed hilltop town; read our guide to One Day in Ostuni
  • Alberobello – home to the area’s famous trulli; a UNESCO World Heritage site
  • Cisternino – another one of our favorite towns in the area
  • Grotte di Castellana – read our guide to the dramatic caves
  • Beaches – especially near Capitolo and Ostuni; Monopoli is a coastal town but the best beaches are outside the city limits
  • Locorotondo – hilltop town full of character; read our guide to Locorotondo
  • Polignano a Mare – home to the famous Lama Monachile beach and so much more; read our guide to Polignano a Mare

Visiting Monopoli with Kids

Street of Monopoli, Puglia at night. It's lit up and there's laundry hanging from balcony. Boy looks up toward light.

If you’re traveling in Puglia as a family, I’d consider Monopoli a must-see destination.  While it’s not full of attractions for specific to kids, little ones enjoy exploring the streets of Monopoli and you’ll surely pass an enjoyable day in town (parents and kids!). 

Monopoli also makes a great family base for Puglia.  This is where we stay for all or part of our Puglia family trips.

Learn more in our guide to Monopoli with Kids!

Monopoli Italy FAQ

Where’s the best place for aperitivo in Monopoli?

You’ll find so many amazing aperitivo spots just wandering the streets of the historic center, but a good place to start is Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi, next to the old port.

How far is Monopoli from Matera?

Monopoli and Matera are both in Southern Italy, but Monopoli is in the region of Puglia, while Matera is in the Basilicata region.  They’re just 1.5 hours away from each other by car, by taking the superstrada (Monopoli-Bari-Matera) or strade provinciali (smaller country roads, but a more direct route).