The south of Italy is home to the world-famous Amalfi coast, but it also has a plethora of towns and cities to explore during your stay. Here’s our handy guide to some of the best cities and towns in the south of Italy which you’ll definitely want to explore on your next trip there…
Located on the eastern coast of Italy, Bari is a bustling city with a wonderful old town juxtaposed by the modern beating heart of the city. The town boasts several theatres, and a stunning botanical garden – Orto Botanico dell’Università di Bari – and a former church of the Teutonic knights which now houses a fascinating museum. You’ll also find two picturesque harbours, which make a nice location for a fresh local lunch.
Just south of Bari, you’ll find Brindisi – once a strategically important trading port, it remains a major port for trade with Greece and the Middle East. There’s the impressive Castello Svevo, built by Frederick II, the Aragonese Castle, and a Romanesque style Duomo. Nearby, you’ll find a smattering of nature reserves – the Regional Natural Park of Punta della Contessa Salt, the Regional Nature Reserve Forest Cerano and the Regional Nature Reserve Bosco of Santa Teresa and Lucci.
Capri is the main town of the eponymous island located off the Sorrento Peninsula. For a small island, there’s plenty to explore: two harbours – Marina Piccola and Marina Grande – the town of Anacapri, the Blue Grotto, and Roman villa ruins. It’s also worth going to see the faraglioni – limestone sea stacks which tower over the sea – which can be best viewed from the botanical gardens (Gardens of Augustus) with their panoramic ocean views. If you can’t get enough of the views, there’s a chairlift from Anacapri to the summit of Monte Solaro.
Now a ghost town, Craco was abandoned towards the end of the 1900s due to natural disasters – and is now a popular tourist destination and film set location (including The Passion of The Christ and the Quantum of Solace). The town is built on an incredibly steep summit overlooking the Cavone river valley, with the centre on the highest side of the town.
Foggia is a town just north of the heel of Italy, and is the main city of the plain of Tavoliere – also known as the ‘granary of Italy’. It has an impressive cathedral – part Romanesque and part Baroque – and a palace (Palazzo Dogana) which was the historical seat of the sheep custom. Foggia houses the main wheat market in southern Italy and is famous for its watermelons and tomatoes.
Lecce is the main city of the Salentine Peninsula, deep in the heel of Italys boot and commonly referred to as ‘the Florence of the South’ due to its extravagant Baroque architecture. Lecce is also well-known for its olive oil and wine production, and you’ll find plenty of tasting tours in the local area.
This world-famous city – it was the European Capital of Culture in 2019 – is located in the region of Basilicata, and its historical centre (the ‘Sassi’) has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993. The Sassi is an ancient town, believed to contain the cave dwellings where humans first settled in Italy. Although the ancient town was evacuated in the 1950s, it has since been redeveloped and houses numerous businesses, pubs and hotels – and the city is one of the fastest growing in southern Italy. It’s well-worth spending the day exploring the restored cave dwellings, visiting the cathedral and stopping for lunch in one of the new restaurants; there’s nowhere else quite like it.
Naples is the third largest Italian city, and – more importantly – is rumoured to be the founding city of pizza. Interestingly, thanks to its early Greek inhabitants it’s one of the oldest continuously inhabited urban areas in the world – and has had an illustrious history since. You’ll find various historic sites nearby; the Palace of Caserta, and the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum. In the city itself you’ll find a pleasant mix of architecture – from medieval castles to classical ruins and some stunning Renaissance and Baroque buildings – including the Royal Palace, the Teatro di San Carlo (the oldest opera house in Italy) and the Castel dell’Ovo on the islet of Megarides. Naples is also home to a number of museums; the aptly named Naples National Archaelogical Museum has an incredible collection of Roman artefacts, and the Museo di Capodimonte has an impressive collection of paintings from the Italian greats – including Raphael, Titian and Caravaggio.
Paestum is a former-town, but now an archaeological site which is near the coast and just south of Salerno. This might be in Italy, but it was originally founded by the ancient Greeks when they controlled this part of the country. Paestum was a major city, and there are areas which are still incredibly well preserved. You’ll find three Greek temples dating from about 600 to 450 BC – including the Second Temple of Hera – and a largely intact amphitheatre and the peripheral city walls. There’s also a modern national museum, which boasts numerous archaeological finds from the city and the Foce del Sele (an ancient sanctuary dedicated to the goddess Hera and situated about nine kilometres north of the city).
Potenza is the highest regional capital in Italy, overlooking the valley of the Basento river, east of Salerno. It has an impressive cathedral (aptly named Potenza Cathedral), and a handful of churches which are worth exploring. There’s also Torre Guevara – the ruins of an old castle and which is now used to house art exhibitions.
Located on the Gulf of Salerno, this city is divided into three zones – you have the historical medieval area, the 19th Century sector and the modern post-war zone. Salerno has an incredibly rich history; it’s home to the first medical school in the world, and has passed ownership numerous times since the middle ages. Perhaps the city’s most famous architecture can be found in its cathedral – the Duomo has stood since the 11th century. It’s a great place to explore outside too; there’s a fantastic promenade (Trieste Lungomare), landscaped gardens (Villa Comunale di Salerno and Minerva’s Garden), and a picture-perfect harbour where you’ll want to stop for a drink or two and watch the world sail by.
Sorrento is a town on the Amalfi Coast, overlooking the Bay of Naples. Although world-famous for producing limoncello, Sorrento is also well known for its ceramics, lacework and woodwork. There are two ports – Marina Grande and Marina Piccola, which are picturesque and have spectacular views to the Amalfi coast and beyond. Sorrento has an interesting museum (Museum Correale) which contains a mix of paintings and archaeological artefacts, a 14th century cathedral (cathedral of Sorrento) and it’s also worth exploring the Park of Villa Communale, which has spectacular views over the Gulf of Naples.
For those wanting to explore the surrounding area, there’s also the Amalfi Drive, which connects Sorrento to Amalfi – winding roads high on the cliffs above the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Dating back to the 8th century, Taranto was the only colony founded by Sparta and remains an important commercial port today (it’s also the main Italian naval base). Taranto has an illustrious history – in 500 BC it was one of the largest cities in the world – and this is reflected in the archaeological finds and architecture here. Visitors must visit the Aragon Castle, the Greek temple ruins on Piazza Castello and wander through the old town to explore the four corners and its narrow streets (built strategically to impede an attacking army). There’s also a handful of palaces and an impressive promenade which overlooks the natural harbour.