Whenever people visit Puglia we always recommend that they do a quick hop over to the neighboring region and check out the magical town of Matera. It is an especially easy trip from Bari as the distance is a mere 1 hour of driving.
Matera is truly an amazing place and you would be making a mistake if you skip this town during your Bari visit. This is why we’ve put together this one-day road trip itinerary. We’ll take you through the ins and outs of visiting Matera from Bari and we even include a beach stop on the way back.
So strap in your seatbelts, get into your rental and get ready for a fun day out full of sightseeing and soaking in the sun later.
Note: We’ve made this travel guide mainly for those who are renting a car during their trip. If you are not renting a car but still want to visit Matera then we’ll give you some tips at the end of the article, however, you will be skipping the beach stop.
Getting to Matera from Bari
First, let’s cover the part of actually driving to Matera including tips for parking.
An Early Morning Headstart
If you are visiting from Bari we highly recommend planning an early morning. The town of Matera gets progressively busier as the day turns into the afternoon. This is why we recommend getting there in the morning so you can have parking and avoid most of the crowds.
Plus getting there early will give you more time on the beach. Don’t worry about getting up early you’ll be able to relax in the sand later.
We recommend that you plan a start from Bari around 7 to 8 in the morning. This is not super early, you’ll still get time to grab breakfast, but you’ll be in Matera pretty quickly.
Just an Hours’ Drive Away
For the most part, getting out of Bari in the early morning hours will be where the difficulty lies in this trip. Once you are clear of the Bari rush hour you will be on your way and arrive quickly at Matera.
We recommend Strada Statale 96 which is the main 4-lane road that connects the two cities. It is completely free, quick, and convenient.
Parking is a Challenge
Now that you’ve done the driving comes the worst part of visiting Matera: finding a free parking spot. Luckily, if you’ve followed our recommendation, then you’ll arrive in the city quite early. There should still be open parking garage slots or street parking available.
Expect to pay for parking in Matera. You may get super lucky and find a free street parking spot but most of the on-street parking is with blue lines, which means you have to pay. There are also some parking garages, but honestly, we never got lucky with them. Most parking garages try to get customers from the people who actually stay in Matera so they can get that sweet overnight charge.
Be careful with on-street parking. Pay attention to signs. Some streets only allow 30 minutes during weekdays. Meanwhile, the streets closest to the old town are ZLT (Zona Limitada, or Limited Traffic Zone) from 20:30 in the evening to the next morning. Although, if you follow this itinerary you should have no trouble with the ZLT, always keep your eyes peeled on the signs.
We recommend allocating 4 to 5 hours for Matera. You will be doing a lot of walking and taking a lot of photos. To fully experience this magical town you will need at least half a day. Keep this in mind when you purchase your parking tickets. You don’t want to be running back to your car.
If all went to plan it’s still around 9 to 10 in the morning when you arrive in Matera. Perfect time to be in town. You will be staying around 3-4 in the afternoon so there’s plenty of time to explore.
Once you get out of the car you will walk around the newer part of Matera. You might start to wonder, why is this town so famous? It looks just like any other Italian town! Worry not, the magic will happen.
Finding the Historic Old Town
The best way to enter the old town also called Sassi di Matera is through Piazza Vittoria Veneto. This is a huge square so we recommend that you seek out Vittori Veneto Caffé. Next to this coffeehouse, there are a set of stairs. These unassuming stairs look like they’ll take you to a cellar of some sort.
They are actually the entrance to the Sassi. Take the stairs and descent below street level. Walk through an archway and be amazed. You are now in the historic parts of Matera. It’s like a whole other town. Honestly, it is very hard to describe the feeling of descending some stairs and finding a full-blown medieval town on the other side.
This is why we think that these sets of stairs are the best way to enter the Sassi. You can take another way out for some spectacular overviews of the whole town but enter from this direction and you’ll have a memory to treasure forever.
Explore Sassi di Matera
We’ve written a lot of instructions but this whole ordeal should not actually take that long. It’s still at most 10:15 so you’ve got a lot of time to really start exploring. Because entering the Sassi marks the start of your Matera journey.
Walk the cobblestone streets. Marvel at the beautiful and ancient buildings. It’s all for you to take in. If you’ve taken the stairs we recommended then you will be at the bottom of the town’s valley. In front of you is the Cathedral towering over the landscape. This is where you should first go.
Follow the streets and stairs all the way to the Cathedral. Once you are up on Cathedral square you’ll get one of the best views over Sassi di Matera. This is the place to take pictures. You should also go into the Cathedral to check out the beautiful interior.
This is where we’ll leave you to explore Matera freely. With a half-day trip, you might be a bit short on time but if you skip the beach then you may explore the town fully.
The remaining things to see are places like the Dalí Museum and the Palazzo del Casale right next to it. Or the Church of Saint Mary of Idris which is a church that’s built right into the rocks around town. You may also explore the classic cave homes of Matera in Casa Grotta nei Sassi di Matera.
Time for the Beach
If you think you are good with an only half day in Matera then you may still squeeze in some beach time on one of the sandy beaches of Puglia.
For this, we’ll be heading over to Bagni di Chiatona. It’s around one hour by car so you’ll arrive between 4-6 in the afternoon depending on how much time you’ve spent in Matera. Of course, in Southern Italy, 6 in the afternoon is still pretty good sun and great weather during summer so you’ll get a few hours on the beach.
Bagni di Chiatona
Bagni di Chiatona is a beach town in Puglia. It’s a local’s favorite and we can easily see why. The place has miles upon miles of sandy beach. There will always be a place for you to settle down even at the height of the tourism season.
There are tons of paid parking areas in the town center and some free parking areas further from the beach. You may choose free street parking but make sure to always stay safe. For tips on that check out our article on Safety in Puglia.
Once on the beach, you can take as long as you want. You are no longer in a hurry. Who cares if it’s the night when you get back into Bari? Enjoy the sun, enjoy the water and relax.
A Local Diner?
Okay, before we had back to Bari, one final tip. How about dining like the locals do? On your way back you will pass the town of Palagiano which has a really nice local restaurant on the town’s outskirts. Super accessible from and only a small detour.
This place is called La Gardenia Blu. It is 100% local and 100% authentic. One of our favorite places in Puglia. They don’t really speak English though so keep that in mind. Also, in true Southern Italian fashion, you’ll be sitting, talking, and waiting for your food for quite a while. This is not a place to grab a quick bite. It’s a place to dine. Expect 1-1,5h spent here.
Back to Bari
Whether you spent all day in Matera or actually went on to have a nice beach day as well, you are about one hour away from Bari. It’s pretty straightforward getting back to town. No toll roads on the way. From Matera just take the Strada Statale 96 just like on your way to the town and from the beach take Strada Statale 100 which will take you to Bari.
How to visit Matera from Bari Without a Car
If you want a self-guided visit to Matera from Bari then without a car then your best bet is the train. Keep in mind that the Bari to Matera line is not operated by the main Trenitalia company. It’s operated by a local train company.
The direct train is an easy way to access Matera. The Matera Centrale railway station is actually pretty close to the Sassi di Matera.
Do note that the train towards Matera does not leave from the big main station in Bari. Rather it leaves from a smaller station right next to the main one. Here we have marked it on the map for you. It looks like the same station from above, but it’s a smaller one.
You’ll have to change trains in Altamura and it takes around 2 hours to complete the trip. Tickets are around $6.
Finally, you have private tours. They are the most expensive but they usually offer a smooth experience. You won’t have to worry about parking, traffic, or anything else. Just hop onto the group bus and enjoy a fine day out.
You may walk into the office of any of the tour providers in Bari and you’ll have a relatively nice experience. Of course, look out for scams and safety but people there live from tourism and only a few would want to scam you.
As far as pre-booked tours go we recommend this Puglia + Matera tour. Do note that we get a commission if you book this tour. It’s a great pick for a full Puglia experience. You’ll go visit a winery and then enjoy a walking tour of Matera. Pricey, but very good.