If you’ve ended up on this post I can almost guarantee that you’ve already exhausted countless other blog posts and travel forums that have told you that the only way to travel in Puglia is by hiring a car.
And while I do agree that the south Italian region is probably easier to explore on a road trip, you certainly shouldn’t be put off travelling around Puglia without a car.
Recently, I spent 2 months exploring Puglia, using the beautiful seaside town of Monopoli as a base and heading on day or weekend trips to other parts of the region. And guess what? I didn’t use a car once!
Travelling around much of Puglia is perfectly doable by public transport or on organised trips, all you need is to do a little bit of research and some planning in advance.
Based on my experience, here’s everything you need to know about travelling in Puglia without a car…
How to travel in Puglia without a car
In order to get travel in Puglia without a car, your options are either using public transport or booking onto organised tours from one of the larger cities.
Puglia by train
While much of northern Italy is extremely well connected by train, the south of the country is considerably less so, Puglia included. However, while it may not have the best train network in Italy, it is still possible to travel between many of the towns and cities in Puglia by train with a little bit of pre-planning.
There are two train companies that service Puglia; Trenitalia and Ferrovie del Sud Est.
Trenitalia’s Regionale Veloce (fast regional) trains make just a few stops along the coast and travel between Bari and Lecce in under two hours with numerous trains running every day, making it the quickest and most convenient train route in Puglia.
If you’re limited on time when travelling around Puglia by public transport, sticking to the cities on this line is your best option for an easy and hassle free trip.
Even along this main train route, you should plan your timings and possibly even book tickets in advance if possible. The schedule can be slightly erratic and depending on the time and day you’re travelling, trains can range from every 20 minutes to every 2 hours.
Trains in Puglia are also cheap, with journeys on this route costing between around €1 – €10.
Ferrovie del Sud Est
Ferrovie del Sud Est connects many of the smaller towns and regions of Puglia. There are a few different lines that run through the Valle d’Itria and across the Salento Peninsula.
However, trains on the Ferrovie del Sud Est routes run far less regularly and make a lot of stops, meaning that journeys can be rather slow and you’ll need to plan your routes and timings very precisely. From my own experience, these trains also have a habit of being canceled last minute so you’re going to need to be flexible. Patience is key when travelling in Puglia by train!
The most important routes you may need to use on the Ferrovie del Sud Est network are those between Bari and Alberobello, and from Lecce to towns in the Salento Peninsula such as Gallipoli or Otranto.
IMPORTANT: Something important to remeber when travelling in Puglia by train is that physical tickets need to be validated at the green and white machines either in the station or on the platform before your board your train otherwise you may end up with a fine.
Puglia by bus
Another option for travelling in Puglia by public transport is using the regional bus network which is also run by Ferrovie del Sud Est.
Although buses do run along the east coast on the Bari to Lecce route, they take considerably longer and are usually no cheaper than trains. However, buses may come in handy when travelling elsewhere in Puglia.
For example, getting the bus from Bari to Putignano then Putignano to Alberobello takes the same amount of time as the Ferrovie del Sud Est train from Bari to Alberobello and runs on a more regular schedule.
When you’re planning your route to some of Puglia’s smaller destinations, don’t write off the bus straight away. Ferrovie del Sud Est’s buses are in fact coaches so are more than comfortable for longer journeys. Plus, travelling by bus you also get to take in some of the scenic countryside views that you’d usually only get exploring Puglia by car.
I usually use Omio to search for both the train and bus routes in Puglia to compare timings and prices. It’s best to pre-book bus tickets as finding physical shops to buy them in can be difficult.
Organised day trips in Puglia
The honest truth is that hiring a car will almost definitely work out cheaper than booking multiple day trips, however, if you don’t have a driving license or simply would prefer not to drive, then taking organised day trips is another way of visiting some of the more out of the way destinations in Puglia without a car.
The larger cities of Bari and Lecce are the starting point of many organised tours, although you will also find some that will pick you up from other destinations in the region too.
Exploring Puglia on organised day trips and tours means that you can base yourself in one city but still see other parts of the region without having to hire a car or navigate public transport.
Organised day trips from Bari:
- Guided Alberobello trip from Bari – Visit the charming trulli town of Alberobello.
- Alberobello and Matera from Bari – Two unique UNESCO world heritage sites in one day.
- Grotte di Castellana guided tour from Bari – See one of the most amazing natural wonders in Puglia – a 90 million-year-old karst cave system more than 60 meters underground.
- Castles of Puglia from Bari – Visit Puglia’s UNESCO-listed Castel del Monte then continue up the coast to castles around the towns of Bitonto, Bisceglie, Trani and Barletta.
Organised day trips from Monopoli:
- Guided Alberobello trip from Monopoli – Includes transport between Monopoli and Alberobello and a local tour guide in the trulli town of Alberobello.
Organised day trips from Lecce:
- Salento in one day from Lecce– Visit the prettiest towns of the Salento Peninsula including Galatina, Otranto, Santa Maria di Leuca and Gallipoli on a day trip from Lecce.
- The wineries of Salento from Lecce– Explore vineyards and visit 3 authentic Apulian wine cellars on the Salento Peninsula while sampling some of the region’s best wine.
- Valle d’Itria guided tour from Lecce – Visit Alberobello, Martina Franca and Ostuni in a day.
Where to stay in Puglia without a car
My two personal recommendations for places to stay in Puglia without a car are Monopoli and Lecce.
Located just south of Puglia’s capital of Bari, Monopoli is a lovely coastal city with beautiful beaches and plenty of great restaurants and bars. With its working fisherman’s port, Monopoli has retained much of its authentic Apulian charm that other major cities are starting to lose due to the influx of tourism.
Monopoli is also well connected to other major cities on the Trenitalia east coast line, with the likes of Bari, Polignano a Mare and Ostuni just a short train ride away.
Monopoli is not just one of my favourite cities in all of Puglia, but it’s also one of the most convenient and central places to base yourself in Puglia without a car.
Hotels in Monopoli:
- Hotel Don Ferrante – one of the most luxurious 5* hotels in Monopoli, uniquely located inside the city’s 16th-century fortified walls, with a rooftop pool and terrace with a sea view, an on-site restaurant and spacious and elegant rooms with balconies overlooking the water.
- Palazzo Murat B&B – a beautiful B&B inside a historic building just a few minutes walk from the old town and beach, with stylish rooms, some of which have their own in-room hot tub, as well as a rooftop terrace to enjoy the daily breakfast.
- Santa Maria 24 – chic and modern apartments right in the heart of the historic center, with city or sea views from small private balconies.
Also known as ‘the Florence of the South’ due to its many striking Baroque buildings, Lecce is one of the real architectural gems of Puglia and the main city on the Salento Peninsula.
Lecce is located on both the Trenitalia east coast train line and many of the Ferrovie del Sud Est routes, making it a great base for exploring the peninsula and southern region of Puglia.
Hotels in Lecce:
- Pollicastro Boutique Hotel – A beautiful and elegant 4* hotel in a recently renovated historic building, right in the heart of Lecce’s historic center.
Where not to base yourself: Although certainly a beautiful city to visit, the historic center of Ostuni is located either a 45 minute walk or short shuttle bus ride away from the station, adding on unecessary hassle and travel time if you’re taking regular day trips around Puglia by train.
Itinerary for travelling in Puglia by public transport
(*) = Cities to base yourself in.
(*) Bari – Arrive at Bari airport and base yourself in Puglia’s capital city for the first couple of days.
Alberobello – Take the Ferrovie del Sud Est train or bus from Bari for a day trip (or even an overnight trip and stay in a trulli) to the UNESCO town of Alberobello in the Valle d’Itria. If you stay overnight you can jump on the train to a nearby town such as Locorotondo before returning to Bari the next day.
(*) Monopoli – From Bari, move on to Monopoli and find a hotel for a few nights. Make sure to keep at least a full day free for exploring Monopoli and relaxing on one of the beautiful beaches.
Polignano a Mare – Take a short 5 minute journey on the Trenitalia line to Monopoli’s neighbour Polignano, known for its white pebble beach hidden underneath the limestone cliffs.
Ostuni – Jump on a Trenitalia train again the next day for a trip from Monopoli to the white city of Ostuni.
(*) Lecce – Finally, base yourself in Lecce for the last few days of your trip.
Gallipoli – From Lecce, take the Ferrovie del Sud Est for a day trip to Gallipoli on Puglia’s west coast.
Otranto – Take a second day trip from Lecce by Ferrovie del Sud Est train to the town of Otranto.
You can end your trip by getting the direct train from Lecce to Brindisi or Bari to head to the airport.
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