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One of the better-known towns in Puglia’s Valle d’Itria, Ostuni is also known as Italy’s ‘White City’ (or La Città Bianca in Italian) due to its many white-washed buildings and white defensive walls.
The entire city is perched on 3 hilltops to protect it from invaders, with endless views over the many olive tree groves, vineyards and ancient farmhouses surrounding it.
Step inside and Ostuni’s historic old town is an enchanting labyrinth of steep sloping staircases, narrow Medieval streets and historic archways leading out into small piazzas.
The magical town of Ostuni is a must-visit on any trip to Italy’s Puglia region. In this post, I’ll take you through everything you need to know about visiting as well as the best things to do in Ostuni.
Note: Many of the photos in this post are from my trip to Ostuni during autumn 2020 in the midst of the covid pandemic, hence the city being much quieter than usual.
A complete guide to Ostuni, Italy
What you'll find in this post
How to get to Ostuni
Travelling to Ostuni by car
Much like the rest of Italy’s Puglia region, Ostuni is easiest reached by car.
When arriving in Ostuni by car it’s best to park somewhere on the edge of the city as much of Ostuni’s Centro Storico is a limited traffic zone (ZTL – Zona Traffico Limitato), meaning you may end up with a hefty fine for parking or even driving in the wrong areas.
Travelling to Ostuni by train
Or if you’re travelling from other cities in Italy, you’ll most likely want to get the train to the capital city of Bari then change onto the regional line to Ostuni.
Also check out my detailed guide to travelling around Puglia without a car here.
If you do arrive by train, it’s important to note that the station is 2km away from the city center. But don’t attempt to walk it as I stupidly did! You can jump on the local shuttle bus (it’s actually a minibus) which takes you up to the historic center in just 5 minutes and costs €1.50 per person (so make sure to have cash).
Things to know before visiting Ostuni
Many, many stairs! I’ve already mentioned that Ostuni is sat on a series of hilltops. But I think it’s important to emphasise just how steep the city is. It’s pretty much impossible to explore (especially the Centro Storico) without traversing multiple staircases and steep slopes. So make sure to wear your walking shoes! Unfortunately, Ostuni isn’t the most accessible city for those with mobility issues.
There are a lot of Brits. Ostuni is actually home to the 5th largest population of British ex-pats in all of Italy, meaning that you’re far more likely to find people speaking English than in other cities in Puglia.
Siesta time is taken seriously. Like all of Puglia and the south of Italy, Ostuni still adheres to daily siesta time. So the majority of shops and attractions close from around 1:30pm to 4:30pm. However, being a popular tourist town, you may find a few places remain open during the peak summer months.
Visit in August for the festival. A great time to visit Ostuni is at the end of August during the 3 day festival of Cavalcata di Sant’Oronzo which pays homage to the city’s patron saint who supposedly saved Ostuni from the plague. Think elaborate costumes, big processions, live music and lots of food.
The best things to do in Ostuni
Get lost in the labyrinth of streets that make up the old town
A city known for its whitewashed old town (Centro Storico), it should come as no surprise that one of the best things to do in Ostuni is to simply let yourself get lost in its maze of winding alleyways.
Wander down narrow Medieval streets that veer under stone archways and lead out into tiny piazzas.
Pass by pretty green and blue doorways and shutters that form the thin barrier between the street and the everyday life taking place inside.
Climb up and down steep staircases which will inevitably lead you round in a circle and back to where you started, but that’s all part of the charm of Ostuni’s old town after all.
Then when you need a break from all of the walking, stop at one of the cute little cafes substituting chairs and tables for decorative pillows placed on stairwells to enjoy a spritz and soak up the atmosphere outside.
Rather explore Ostuni on a guided tour? Book a guided walking tour here.
Admire the 15th-century Romanesque-Gothic Cathedral
Right in the center of the Centro Storico, at the highest point of the hilltop on which Ostuni sits, you’ll find the city’s crowning jewel; Ostuni Cathedral (Duomo di Ostuni).
Dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the 15th-century cathedral has an impressive Gothic-Romanesque facade with an elegant rose window that overlooks the small piazza outside. The rose window has 24 carved columns that represent the hours of the day.
Inside, the large cathedral is just as impressive, adorned with numerous artworks, frescoes and statues dedicated to the city’s patrons saints and depicting important historic events.
Wander under the Arco Scoppa
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Arco Scoppa is a baroque stone bridge built in 1750 by Bishop Scoppa (hence the name) to replace the existing wooden bridge that connected Palazzo Vescovile (Bishop’s Palace) and Palazzo del Seminario (Seminarian’s Palace) on either side.
The arch is located directly opposite Ostuni Cathedral and rounds off the small piazza known as Largo Arcid Teodoro Trinchera.
Though compact, the square is one of the most important places to visit in Ostuni for its historical architecture. During the summer months, it also houses a couple of little cafes with bustling outdoor terraces which really bring the whole area alive.
Visit the Museum of Preclassic Civilization of Southern Murgia
Ostuni Centro Storico is also home to one of the most fascinating museums in Puglia.
Sat in the former Carmelite monastery of San Vito Martire church, The Museum of Preclassical Civilization of Southern Murgia (Museo di Civiltà Preclassiche della Murgia Meridionale) is a collection of archaeological finds from Ostuni and the surrounding countryside, with artifacts dating back to Paleolithic times.
One of the most interesting artifacts housed in the museum is the skeleton of a pregnant woman from over 25,000 years ago. The woman’s body was embellished with decorations and carefully buried with other objects, teaching us a lot about the burial rituals and beliefs of our ancestors from this era.
It is important to note that all of the descriptions are only in Italian so if you don’t have a native speaker with you or a good translation app you won’t be able to read about the artifacts.
The museum is open weekdays 17:00-21:00 & weekends 10:00-13:00 / 17:00-21:00 (check as this can change).
Entrance costs €5.
Eat inside an ancient cave
Osteria Del Tempo Perso, which translates to the ‘Inn of Lost Time‘, is a Michelin-listed restaurant located inside a centuries-old cave in Ostuni’s Centro Storico and the spot where I had one of the best meals of my entire time in Puglia.
The rustic white stone walls and arches of the ancient cave are perfectly complimented with elegant table settings and furnishings, making the restaurant one of the most charming and unique in all of Ostuni.
Other than the beautiful setting, the restaurant has won numerous awards and accolades for its delicious typical Apulian and Ostuni cuisine since it first opened back in 1983.
Multiple courses are a must at Osteria Del Tempo Perso. You can’t miss the stracciatella with truffles to start, while you’ll find a variety of delicious pastas and mains of succulent meat and fresh seafood, as well as plenty of seasonal vegetable dishes.
Some Apulian dishes you can try here include orecchiette pasta with turnip tops and sporcamuso for dessert. Check out my full article on traditional foods and dishes in Puglia for more.
Plus don’t forget to ask your waiter to recommend a local wine to pair with your meal from the restaurant’s extensive wine cellar.
Take a sunset stroll along Ostuni’s defensive walls
One of the best things about Ostuni’s hilltop position is the city’s amazing panoramic views.
Head to the edge of the historic center and take a walk around the defensive walls which were built to protect the city from invaders. It’s from here that you’ll get the best views out towards the sea and surrounding countryside, especially at sunset.
Enjoy an aperitif in Piazza della Liberta
Like almost all cities in Italy, a visit to the central piazza of Ostuni is a must. Piazza della Liberta is Ostuni’s main town square and is located just a short walk away from the Centro Storico.
On one side of the square is Ostuni’s large town hall and Chiesa di San Francesco, while in the middle you’ll find some cordoned off archeological remains from the old town of Ostuni and a column with a statue of the patron saint Sant’ Oronzo perched on top.
Sitting around the edge of the piazza are numerous cafes, restaurants and bars with large outdoor terraces that spread out into the square.
While most places are open throughout the day for breakfast, lunch or an afternoon aperitif, the best time to enjoy Piazza della Liberta is during the early evening when you can watch the sunset over the old town and feel the atmosphere of the vibrant city coming alive with people heading out for dinner or drinks.
Look back over the white city from the old town viewpoint
While the panoramic views from Ostuni over the surrounding countryside are pretty spectacular, one of my favourite things about the city is being able to look back over its magical whitewashed rooftops.
From Piazza della Liberta walk just a few minutes down Corso Vittorio Emanuele II until you reach the Ostuni Old Town Viewpoint on your left which has some of the best views over the Centro Storico.
Close to the viewpoint, you’ll also find Dish Restaurant, Ristorante La Vecchia Terrazza and late-night bar Controcorrente so you can enjoy dinner or a couple of drinks with fantastic views of Ostuni.
Visit Ostuni’s weekly market
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Mercato Settimanale del Sabato is Ostuni’s local market which takes place every Saturday morning and is one of the largest in all of Puglia.
Located in the newer part of town around Via Sansone, about a 15 minute walk from the Centro Storico, the huge market has an extensive food section selling fruit, veg, cheese, bread, meat and more. There’s also an area for other goods, including clothes, shoes, household items and plants.
Being away from the main tourist areas, the weekly market is often missed by visitors, despite being one of the best places to really experience authentic life in the Apulian city. The marker is where locals come to do their weekly shopping while chatting with neighbours and enjoying a coffee in one of the little cafes lining the busy street.
Head to the beach
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Although Ostuni is located 5km inland, the nearby coast shouldn’t be overlooked on a visit to the city.
The Ostuni coastline, referred to as Marina di Ostuni, runs 20km along the Adriatic Sea and is home to numerous beaches, resorts and campsites based around the small port and fishing town of Villanova.
In fact, the coastal area around Villanova has been awarded the title of Blue Flag for the last 14 years for meeting a series of stringent environmental, educational, safety and accessibility criteria.
Some of Ostuni’s stunning beaches worth visiting include;
- Lido Morelli – a beautiful white sand beach with dunes that has been declared a Natural Reserve.
- Quarto di Monte – a small picturesque beach close to Villanova Port with its own bar.
- Rosa Marina – a series of small sandy beaches with nearby holiday resorts and nightlife.
Ostuni’s coast can be reached by car or by local bus.
Where to stay in Ostuni
Staying in a hotel in Ostuni
The best hotels in Ostuni itself;
- Palazzo Mascetti – Stylish, modern rooms in the heart of Ostuni with private in-room jacuzzis and a large sun terrace overlooking the city center.
- Paragon 700 Boutique Hotel & SPA – Luxury 5* hotel located in a grand historic building in the newer part of the city with an outdoor swimming pool and large garden.
- La Dama Bianca – An affordable B&B featuring rooms with private terraces and hot tubs.
Staying in a traditional Masseria close to Ostuni
Another option rather than staying in a hotel in Ostuni is to stay nearby in the surrounding countryside.
The area around Ostuni is where you’ll find some of the most beautiful Maserria in all of Puglia.
A Masseria is a traditional 16th-century Apulian farmhouse, usually still sitting within a working farm, that has been converted into a luxury agriturismo hotel or B&B.
One of the perks of staying in a Masseria is that most offer experiences such as tours of their land and farms, tastings of local produce including olive oil, wines and cheeses, home-cooked breakfasts and lunch or dinner tasting menus using all home-grown and local produce.
Some of the best Masseria close to Ostuni include;
- Masseria Salinola – a luxurious and romantic BnB with a large outdoor pool, stunning terrace and restaurant serving delicious locally produced food. This Masseria close to Ostuni has won numerous awards and titles for the best farmhouse stay in all of Puglia.
- Masseria Il Frantoio – an organic farm surrounded by citrus gardens and olive groves and featuring an original mill dating back to the 15th century.
- Masseria Grieco – a charming BnB inside an old farmhouse in a large olive tree orchard and outdoor swimming pool.
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