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Although small, Polignano a Mare is one of the best-known towns in south Italy’s Puglia region, mainly due to its famous white pebble beach which is hidden within a cove below the limestone cliffs on which the town sits and can be reached by heading underneath a historic Roman bridge.
But while most people have seen photos of the iconic beach, very few known much else about this charming little Apulian town perched above the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic Sea.
Below you’ll find a full guide to visiting Polignano, including how to get there, where to stay and, of course, all of the best things to do in Polignano a Mare…
How to get to Polignano a Mare
Travelling to Polignano by train
Polignano a Mare is one of the more convenient destinations in Puglia to get to by public transport, with its own train station which connects the town directly with several larger cities on the east coast including Bari, Monopoli, Ostuni and Brindisi.
Also check out my detailed guide to travelling around Puglia without a car here.
Below are the average travel times and ticket prices for travelling between Polignano and other cities.
Bari to Polignano a Mare – 30 minutes, €2.50.
Monopoli to Polignano a Mare – 5 minutes, €1.10.
Ostuni to Polignano a Mare – 45 minutes, €3.30.
Brindisi to Polignano a Mare – 1 hour, €5.80.
Travelling to Polignano by car
If you want to see more of Puglia than just the coastal cities, renting your own car is the best option.
Puglia is a region that is most easily navigated by road as public transport is somewhat limited in areas such as the Valle d’Itria, which is home to the famous Trulli town of Alberobello and the ancient whitewashed towns of Locorotondo, Cisternino and Martina Franca. By car, you can get between many of these places and Polignano in as little as 20-30 minutes.
When arriving in Polignano by car, head straight to the designed car parks. The Centro Storico is a limited traffic zone (ZTL – Zona Traffico Limitato), meaning you may end up with a hefty fine for parking or driving in the wrong areas.
Things to do in Polignano a Mare, Italy
Note: The photos in this post were taken in Polignano a Mare during my time in Italy in autumn 2020 during the covid pandemic, hence why the town looks quieter than normal.
Wander through the historic center
Although much smaller than many other towns and cities in the region, Polignano still has the classic Apulian charm which draws people down to the south of Italy, with a maze-like historic center filled with narrow alleyways, traditional whitewashed houses and beautiful coastal views.
Allowing yourself to get lost wandering around the quaint little streets of the Centro Storico is certainly one of the best things to do in Polignano a Mare.
Look out for poetry in the streets
Guido Lupori was born in the city of Bari in Puglia but gave up everything to move to Polignano a Mare in 1984 to pursue his dream of becoming a writer.
After moving to Polignano, he began the unusual task of filling the city’s walls and streets with verses from his favourite poems, both his own and those of other poets.
His unique artwork is signed with the signature ‘Guido Il Flâneur’, with ‘Flâneur’ being a 19th-century French word for a man who strolls the streets of a city simply observing his surroundings.
There are poems by Guido all across town, but one of the most important has to be the Vicolo della Poesia, a quaint alleyway where you’ll find the writer’s famous poetry steps.
Take in the view from Terrazza Santo Stefano
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Terrazza Santo Stefano is one of several viewpoints in the historic center where you can enjoy the town’s iconic coastal views.
Often referred to as ‘Balconata sul Mare’ (Balcony over the sea), this particular viewpoint is the most famous for its stunning views out to the Adriatic Sea, back down the coast and over the town’s famous beach.
You can also pop into neighbouring Aquamarea to enjoy the fantastic view with a drink or quick bite.
Head down to the famous beach
The main reason most people visit Polignano a Mare is to see one of the most unique and picturesque beaches in all of southern Italy; Lama Monachile (also known as Cala Porto).
And while, in my opinion, the best thing about the beach is looking over it from one of the viewpoints in the old town, a walk down to the beach itself is also a must when visiting Polignano.
The beach is covered in little pebbles, meaning its not the most comfortable place to lay down and sunbathe for too long or walk around barefoot, however, this doesn’t stop the crowds of locals and tourists from heading down to enjoy the unusual little beach for a while; particularly swimmers who make the most of the large sheltered cove and its idyllic emerald waters.
Check out Ponte Lama Monachile
It’s pretty much impossible to miss Ponte Lama Monchile when looking out from one of the old town vantage points or heading down to Lama Monchile beach, but the historic bridge is still worth a mention.
The impressive bridge, under which you’ll need to walk to arrive at the beach, is one of the few remnants of an ancient Roman road, Via Traiana, which was built to connect Benevento in Campania to Brindisi in Puglia. The bridge gained its name from a monastery that used to sit nearby.
Go cliff jumping
When wandering along the cliffs of Polignano, don’t be alarmed if you see people jumping off the edge into the sea. The town and its rocky coastline are a hot spot for cliff diving.
In fact, the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series holds its Italy leg in Polignano a Mare each summer; a seriously cool sporting event to witness if you time your visit right!
There are even areas around Lama Monchile where you can give cliff jumping a try for yourself if you’re feeling particularly brave – I wasn’t, but it was still fun watching other people take part!
Grab lunch in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II
Like most towns in Italy, Polignano a Mare has a few picturesque little squares filled with shops, restaurants and cafes where you can sit and watch the world go by with a cappuccino or glass of wine.
Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II is the main piazza in the historic center of Polignano and one of the best places in town to enjoy lunch or a drink if you enjoy being right in the heart of the action.
The square is also where you’ll find some of the city’s important landmarks including Chiesa Matrice Santa Maria Assunta and the medieval Palazzo dell’Orologio (Clock Palace).
Visit the statue of Domenico Modugno
While you may not immediately recognise Domenico Modugno from his name or face, I almost guarantee that you’ll recognise his 1958 hit song ‘Nel blu dipinto di blu‘ (or ‘Volare’) once you give it a listen.
Domenico Modugno is considered the first Italian cantautore (singer-songwriter) and later in life went on to become a member of the Italian Parliament. Throughout his career, he won 2 Grammy Awards, represented Italy in the Eurovision Song Contest and had a song he wrote sung by Elvis Presley himself.
So why is there a statue of him in Polignano a Mare? Because Modugno was born in Polignano in 1928 and the town is extremely proud of one of its most successful residents.
Rather see Polignano on a guided tour? Book a walking tour with a local guide here.
Sit for a while at Pietra Piatta
Go around the statue of Domenico Modugno and behind him you’ll find the Scalinata Volare (named after Modugno’s song), a grand staircase that leads down to the viewpoint of Pietra Piatta.
Pietra Piatta is a rocky outcrop that overlooks Polignano a Mare’s famous beach from the opposite side of the cove from Terrazza Santo Stefano.
The large natural platform is my personal favourite viewpoint in Polignano as it’s far more spacious than the terraces in the historic center, meaning you can sit for a while and enjoy the beautiful views in peace.
Walk the promenade
If you have some time spare and are finished exploring Polignano’s old town, take a stroll down Lungomare Cristoforo Colombo, the seafront promenade which runs all the way down the coastline with endless views out over the Adriatic Sea.
A peaceful walk that will get you away from the Centro Storico and beach for a while and let you see a slightly different part of town.
Visit Polignano’s contemporary art museum
Continue walking along the promenade out of the old town and you’ll reach Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Pino Pascali, Polignano’s contemporary art museum and non-profit foundation which was built to honor Apulian artist Pino Pascali.
The museum, which is located in a former renovated slaughterhouse, exhibits works by Pino Pascali himself and the works of up-and-coming artists who have won the Pino Pascali Prize, as well as some temporary exhibitions by other prominent Apulian artists.
The museum is open Tusday to Saturday 3pm-8pm and Sundays 10am-1pm & 3pm-8pm.
Entry costs €5.
Look out for Hermit Island
From the area close to Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Pino Pascali you’ll also be able to see out to the Island of San Antonio, a tiny island the size of a large rock just a short distance from the Polignano coast.
While the rock doesn’t look like much at face value, it’s actually got a pretty interesting history.
The island is also known as Scoglio dell’Eremita (Hermit Island) after a local fisherman’s legend about a hermit who lived alone on the island during the eleventh century.
The man was believed to be a missionary returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in order to spread the Gospel but discovered the island and decided to move there and dedicate himself to a life of solitude and contemplation instead. Local fisherman delivered him food so he’d survive on the derelict island.
In the 17th century, the Chapel of San Antonio Abate was built as a dedication to the hermit. However, in the 19th century, the island became a lazaret (quarantine station) due to a cholera epidemic in the local area and the chapel had to be destroyed for hygiene reasons.
Today, all you’ll see on the island is a single iron cross.
Take a boat tour to see the caves
Another fun and unique way to see Polignano’s iconic coastline is by boat.
On a boat tour you’ll be able to visit the many amazing sea caves hidden in the limestone cliffs around Polignano and go for a swim in the crystal clear waters away from the crowds of the beach.
Plus, most boat trips include an aperitif to enjoy while cruising along on the water too. The perfect activity for a sunny day in Puglia.
Eat dinner in a luxury cave
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Grotta Palazzese is an elegant restaurant set inside a natural cave carved into a cliff in Polignano. The unique venue has been used for hosting extravagant banquets and parties since the 1700s.
Undoubtedly one of the most romantic and exclusive restaurants in all of Puglia, if not the whole of Italy, Grotta Palazzese isn’t somewhere for those travelling on a budget, with 3 course set menus starting at €190 per person. But if you can afford it, the exquisite food and stunning views are certainly worth every penny.
Be sure to pre-book your table in advance online as it gets quickly booked up. The restaurant has a formal dress code so no shorts or sandals.
Extend your evening of luxury by also staying at the 5* Grotta Palazzese Hotel (see below for more of the best hotels in Polignano a Mare).
Is Polignano a Mare worth visiting?
Definitely yes, but only on a day trip – unless you’ve really got the money to splash out.
My honest opinion is that other than the famous beach and the beautiful coastal views, there aren’t that many things to do in Polignano a Mare compared to other bigger towns in the region.
You can easily see the main sites of Polignano a Mare in half a day to a day, and while the scenic pebble beach is definitely worth visiting if you’re exploring the Puglia region, there are much nicer sandy beaches all across Puglia to set down your towel for a day of sunbathing.
We visited Polignano as a day trip from Monopoli and after wandering around for a few hours and sitting on the beach for a bit, we ended up spending most of the afternoon in a bar enjoying several spritzes.
The main reason to stay in Polignano a Mare overnight or to use it as your base for a few days is if you can afford to splash out on one of the town’s luxurious hotels or eat in the famous cave restaurant.
Polignano undoubtedly has some of the most amazing luxury hotels in all of Puglia, many of which have picturesque little balconies overlooking the sea. But hotels in Polignano also come with a noticeably heftier price tag than most other towns and hotels in the region.
Where to stay in Polignano a Mare
San Michele Suite – A chic and luxurious boutique guesthouse with romantic rooms overlooking Lama Monachile Beach and the sea and a beautiful rooftop terrace to enjoy breakfast or glass of wine at sunset.
Grotta Palazzese Hotel– The most famous hotel in Polignano a Mare, 5* Grotta Palazzese offers stylish modern rooms overlooking the sea and serves breakfast in the iconic connecting cave restaurant.
Dimora Anderì – Newly renovated homely guesthouse in the heart of Polignano’s historic center, a few minutes walk to Lama Monachile Beach, with private balconies and a roof terrace.
Masseria Le Torri – Charming 17th century Masseria (restored farmhouse) with luxurious rooms, spa baths, an outdoor pool, large garden and private restaurant, just a 15 drive to central Polignano a Mare.
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