Monopoli is a gorgeous coastal city situated in the Puglia region of southern Italy. This charming place is filled with character and history, and it’s easily one of my favorite cities in the region.
To help you plan your trip, I’ve compiled a list of the best things to do in Monopoli. There’s plenty to see and do here; from discovering picturesque beaches to enjoying the delicious local cuisine and taking long evening walks along the ancient harbor and waterfront.
I spent some time in Monopoli earlier this year and really loved it. The city receives a fair number of tourists, but at the same time feels very real and authentic. I’m sure you will have a fantastic time there.
Best Things To Do in Monopoli
Here are some of the top things to do in Monopoli, Puglia.
1. Take a Walking Tour of the Old Town
Monopoli’s old town is a stunning, atmospheric labyrinth of cobbled backstreets, tiny piazzas, and old whitewashed buildings with green-painted shutters and window boxes full of colorful flowers.
I spent hours aimlessly wandering around this magical place and loved every minute of it. The best way to learn about the city, its culture, and traditions is to take a walking tour of the old town.
On this private guided tour, you’ll be introduced to all of the city’s main sights, including Plebiscito Square, the waterfront promenade, Porta Vecchia, the Cathedral, and the historical city walls. And at the end, you’ll get to taste some traditional Puglian treats.
2. Savor the Local Cuisine
Monopoli is known for its delicious seafood. However, even if you don’t feel like seafood, there are plenty of other traditional dishes to try as well.
I love the food in Puglia. There’s something about the simplicity of the dishes, together with the freshness of each ingredient, that makes Puglian cuisine really delicious.
For a unique and social introduction to typical Puglian food, consider joining this Airbnb experience run by a professional chef. Over the course of a long and leisurely dinner, you’ll sample several exquisite local dishes, expertly prepared with seasonal products and paired with some excellent local wine.
3. Visit the Castello Carlo V
Guarding the entrance to Monopoli’s ancient harbor, the 16th-century Castello Carlo V is an impressive sight. It’s one of the most iconic places to visit in Monopoli and offers incredible views of the old city and out to sea.
For centuries, the castle was used as a jail and a defensive fortress, but today it’s open to the public and serves as a museum.
Visiting the Castello Carlo V is one of the best things to do in Monopoli for families. Inside, you can explore its various rooms and view the fascinating collection of artifacts that tell the story of its long history.
4. Relax on the Beach
Monopoli is blessed with a wonderful coastline and there are plenty of lovely beaches to choose from. With calm, crystal-clear waters and year-round sunshine, it’s a great place for taking a dip in the sea or just relaxing in the sun.
My favorite beach in Monopoli itself is Cala Pora Vecchia, on the southern edge of the old town. It’s sheltered inside a small bay and has a stunning backdrop with iconic views of the city walls and the whitewashed old town.
Other great beaches in Monopoli include Cala di Porto Verde, Porto Rosso, Porto Nero, Porto Bianco, and Cala Cozze. All of these are suitable for swimming and are located within easy walking distance of the historical center.
5. Be Awed by the Cattedrale Maria Santissima della Madia
One of the top places to visit in Monopoli, the Cattedrale Maria Santissima della Madia dates back to the 12th century. It was constructed near the site of an ancient Roman temple and took over 300 years to build from start to finish.
The main reason for this was a lack of wood for the construction of the roof. However, in 1117 a raft drifted into the harbor supposedly carrying an image of the Virgin Mary. This was seen as a miracle and wood from the raft was used to finish the roof.
From the outside, the Romanesque cathedral looks fairly plain. But the interior is nothing short of breathtaking. It’s massive, with elaborately-carved colorful marble everywhere, imposing statues, and an intricately-painted ceiling that features angels and biblical scenes.
This is definitely one of the most impressive things to see in Monopoli, Italy.
6. Gorge on Incredible Gelato
The gelato in Monopoli is legendary. During my time in the city, I ate more of the stuff than I care to think about.
In my opinion, Gasperini serves the best gelato in Monopoli. They’ve been around since 1936 and their gelatos and sorbets are out of this world. My favorites were their pistachio crunch and dark chocolate sorbet, but honestly, every flavor is incredible.
Make sure you have a scoop (or two) of this amazing stuff while sightseeing in Monopoli – you won’t regret it!
7. Explore Polignano a Mare
The picturesque coastal town of Polignano a Mare is one of the most popular places to visit in Puglia. The town is best known for its dramatic cliffs and white pebble beaches, and its stunning Lama Monachile is one of the most photographed beaches in Italy.
Polignano a Mare is located a mere 8 kilometers from Monopoli and there are frequent trains between the two places which can take you there in as little as 12 minutes.
It’s one of the best and easiest places to visit near Monopoli, and I highly recommend taking a day trip there if you have time.
Due to its popularity, Polignano a Mare can get quite busy in the peak summer seasons (June-August). It’s still beautiful but be prepared for crowds at the town’s more famous sights, such as Lama Monachile and the Roman bridge.
I was there in late September this year, and it was wonderfully crowd-free.
8. Check Out Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II
Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II is one of the largest town squares in Italy. Surrounded by trees, shops, cafes, and bars, it’s one of Monopoli’s major focal points.
In the center of the piazza, you’ll find an attractive fountain and a large monument honoring the city’s residents who died fighting in World War I.
At night, this enormous square comes to life, with families and friends of all ages coming here to enjoy the warm night air. The atmosphere is festive most evenings, and it’s a great place to come with a cold beer or two and immerse yourself in authentic local life.
9. Learn About the Secrets and Legends of Monopoli
Monopoli is an ancient city, steeped in history and legends. From the story of the Madonna emerging from the sea to the secrets locked inside the walls of the castle, it’s a unique and fascinating place.
Learn more about the city’s varied and dramatic past in addition to some local secrets and legends on this fantastic tour. It’s led by an experienced guide who will take you around the city’s old streets and show you some of its more mysterious corners.
You’ll also discover some of the best places in the city for street food, coffee, and ice cream, loved by locals.
10. People-Watch in Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi
Italy is one of the best countries in the world for people-watching, and there’s nowhere better for this in Monopoli than the Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi – an intimate square in the heart of the old town.
There are many cute cafes around the edge of the square, making this the perfect place to pull up a chair, order a spritz or a coffee, and watch the locals going about their days. For me, this is one of the most fun things to do in Monopoli, Italy.
11. Explore the Local Area by Bike
The area around Monopoli is a patchwork of ancient villages, fortified farmhouses, rock churches, historical mills, and olive groves. It’s also fairly flat, making it a perfect place to explore by bike.
You can either hire bikes and take a trip out by yourself or join this highly-reviewed bicycle tour which departs from close to the center of the old town of Monopoli.
Your guide will show you the way along quiet country roads and gentle dirt tracks to discover some truly memorable sights, including a cave church with frescoes from the Middle Ages, groves of almond and olive trees over 1,000 years old, and an underground oil mill.
12. Visit a Traditional Puglian Vineyard
Puglian wine is excellent and visiting a traditional vineyard is one of the best things to do around Monopoli. Many wineries in the region welcome guests and offer tastings. You can either organize this yourself or visit as part of a guided tour.
This tour picks you up from Fasano train station. There are several trains per hour from Monopoli, and the journey takes just 7 minutes.
You’ll visit a family-owned vineyard where you’ll learn about the different stages and techniques of wine production, as well as the various grape varieties and the unique terroir of the region.
Then, you’ll taste a selection of different wines, perfectly paired with a set of homemade appetizers.
13. Take a Boat Trip Along the Coast
The coastline around Monopoli is stunning, and taking a boat trip to appreciate it properly is one of the best things to do near Monopoli. There are several different tour operators to choose from, offering everything from short sightseeing tours to multi-day sailing cruises.
This 60-minute boat trip from Polignano a Mare is excellent value and gives you a unique perspective of the dramatic cliffs and idyllic beaches that the area is famous for. You’ll also visit a series of sea caves and tiny islands.
14. Enjoy a Stroll Along the Promenade (One of the Best Free Things to Do in Monopoli at Night)
Monopoli has one of the most beautiful harbors in Italy and an attractive seafront promenade links this to the beaches just south of the old town.
This is a wonderful place for a walk at any time of day but is particularly magical at sunset. Join the locals who gather here to fish or meet friends, and watch the sunset paint the city walls and the whitewashed old town a series of vivid colors.
There’s something about this place that’s just so romantic. Enjoying the sunset here is one of my top-recommended things to do in Monopoli for couples.
15. Go on a Guided Day Trip to Bari, Polignano a Mare, and Alberobello
If you’re short on time and want to see as many different places in the region as possible, with all transport included, this tour might be perfect for you.
First, you’ll visit Bari, the capital of Puglia, where you’ll be shown around the main sights of the famous Bari Vecchia historical district. Next, you’ll head to Alberobello, which is famous for its unique conical “trulli” houses.
Finally, the tour takes you to see the beautiful town of Polignano a Mare, famous for its cliffs and picturesque beaches.
Note, the tour starts in Bari, but you can select to be picked up from various locations, including from several places in Monopoli. Be sure to select the pickup point that’s most convenient for you at the time of booking.
Quick Travel Itineraries For Monopoli
However long you have to spend in Monopoli, here are a few suggested travel itineraries to help you get the most out of your visit.
1 Day in Monopoli Itinerary
You can visit most of the top places to see in Monopoli in one day.
Start by exploring the old town and take in some of Monopoli’s stunning architecture. Head down to the harbor to watch the colorful fishing boats, then spend an hour or two on the beach.
Take a stroll along the promenade to watch the sunset and finish the day by enjoying dinner in one of the city’s many excellent restaurants.
2-3 Days in Monopoli Itinerary
Day 1: As above.
Day 2: Take a day trip to Polignano al Mare for some stunning coastal views, and go on a boat trip to see the coastline from the water.
Day 3: Spend the day exploring the area by bicycle and/or visit one or two of the region’s excellent vineyards.
1 Week in Monopoli Itinerary
With a week in Monopoli, you can comfortably do all of the activities and see all of the places mentioned in this guide.
You’ll be able to take your time, really stopping to savor each experience. You won’t be pressed for time at all, and it will be up to you as to how you want to schedule your time here.
Where to Stay in Monopoli
These are a few of the best neighborhoods in Monopoli for tourists.
Old Town – Best for First-Time Visitors
The old town is where you’ll find most of the top tourist attractions in Monopoli, Italy. The streets are narrow, winding, and very picturesque. Vista Cattedrale is an excellent mid-range apartment right opposite the Cathedral.
Harbor Area – Best for Restaurants
There are so many excellent restaurants next to the ancient harbor, you’ll be spoilt for choice. To this day, it remains a working fishing port and is very atmospheric. Albergo Diffuso Monopoli is a fantastic mid-range guesthouse in this area.
Cala Porta Vecchia – Best for Beach Lovers
This beach is located just south of the old town and is a great spot for sunbathing and swimming. Staying here would be a good bet for those looking for somewhere a little quieter, away from the bustle of central Monopoli, but within easy walking distance of all the action.
Check out B&B A C-Caste – one of the most highly-rated places to stay in this part of town.
Best Restaurants in Monopoli
Don’t miss these great places to eat in Monopoli.
This excellent upmarket restaurant is located next to the attractively landscaped Largo Fontanelle park. You can expect to pay around €40-50 per person, so it’s definitely not the cheapest restaurant in town, but the quality is truly superb and I’d say it’s actually very good value for what you get.
Try the mixed antipasti selection and the orecchiette pasta with pistachio sauce. Heavenly.
Trattoria La Locanda dei Mercanti
This traditional mid-priced seafood restaurant is located in the heart of the old town, close to the fishing harbor. They serve a range of excellent pasta and fresh fish, cooked to perfection. Their grilled tuna steak is superb.
They’re usually super busy in the evenings, though you’re more likely to get a table at lunchtime without having to book or wait.
Cime Di Tapas
Italian food is delicious, but with so many amazing dishes on offer, it can sometimes be hard to choose what to order. This is why I love Cime Di Tapas, an amazing mid-priced Italian tapas restaurant in the center of the new town, close to the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II.
Their menu is seasonal and changes all of the time. But if you see pasta with asparagus and shrimp, order it!
Sometimes you just need a really good burger. If this happens to be when you’re in Monopoli, head to Pop Burgers, the best burger joint in town. Their burgers and fried chicken are top-notch, and everything is very affordable.
It’s not a restaurant, but this tiny food truck served me the best fritto misto (mixed fried seafood) I’ve ever eaten. It’s only €11 for half a kilogram of the stuff.
They also offer grilled panini sandwiches with octopus, tuna, or swordfish, together with your choice of homemade sauces. I chose the swordfish sandwich and it was divine.
Getting To Monopoli
If you don’t have a car, the easiest way to get to Monopoli is to take the train. Monopoli has a station with frequent direct trains to Bari, which in turn has connections to most other major Italian cities, including Rome and Naples.
The nearest major international airport is Bari, with flights to various locations throughout Europe. From Bari, the train to Monopoli takes around 30 minutes.
If you have your own car, getting to Monopoli is even easier. It’s located on the main southern Adriatic highway (SS16) and the drive from central Bari takes about 40 minutes.
Parking in the center of Monopoli can be tricky at times, but I found that if you drive around for long enough the chances are you’ll find a free space somewhere. Keep an eye out for parking restriction signs though.
Once you arrive in Monopoli, the best way to get around the city is on foot. Most of the stuff to do in Monopoli itself is within easy walking distance of the center.
Things To Do in Monopoli: FAQs
Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about visiting Monopoli.
Monopoli is known for its beautiful coastline, quaint atmosphere, and delicious seafood. It’s also close to some of the most stunning beaches in Italy, with crystal-clear water that’s perfect for swimming.
The best time to visit Monopoli is in the spring and early summer, or early fall, when things are relatively quiet but most places are still open. This is also a great time of year for sightseeing and exploring Monopoli’s many attractions.
In July and August, things can get quite busy, so if you’re looking for a quieter trip it’s best to avoid this period.
Absolutely! Monopoli is a beautiful city with plenty to offer visitors. From its stunning coastline to its vibrant culture and delicious food, there’s something here for everyone. Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway or an action-packed vacation, you won’t be disappointed.
You could see most of the main sights in the city itself in a day. However, that could feel quite rushed and you wouldn’t have much time to relax and take everything in. I recommend spending at least 2-3 days here to get a real sense of the place.
If you want to do any day trips (and you should!), allow extra days for these.
Yes, Monopoli, Puglia is a safe place to visit overall.
That said, it’s always wise to take the usual precautions when traveling, irrespective of the destination. Be aware of your surroundings, don’t leave any valuables in plain sight, and stick to areas that are lit at night.
The most popular things to do in Monopoli are exploring the old town, relaxing on the beach, sampling typical local dishes in the many wonderful restaurants, and taking boat trips out along the stunning coast.
The best beach in Monopoli is Cala Porta Vecchia. It’s a beautiful bay located near the old town, with crystal-clear waters and several excellent cafes and bars nearby.
Being a port city on the Adriatic, fresh seafood is the food that Monopoli is best known for. Other dishes to try include orecchiette (the typical handmade pasta of Puglia that looks like little ears), and the traditional regional focaccia.
There are also several excellent gelaterias in the old town, serving up delicious Italian ice cream.
Now you know what to see and do in Monopoli. It’s a beautiful city with a lot to offer. Despite being a fairly small place, there are enough things to do and places to visit in Monopoli to easily justify including it on any Puglia travel itinerary.
And if you, like me, prefer smaller cities over giant sprawling ones, you’ll probably find this to be the perfect place to base yourself while exploring more of this wonderful region.