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If you’re planning a vacation in Puglia, one of the best places to stay is Gallipoli, situated on the west coast of the Salento Peninsula facing the Ionian Sea in southern Italy.
There are so many things to do in Gallipoli and nearby villages, you easily stay a week or longer and not run out of fascinating things to see and do.
Over the past several years, I’ve explored both the Adriatic and Ionian coasts as well as many of its inland villages. It’s quickly vaulted to the top of my list as one of the best places to visit in Italy.
Not only does the Salento region have fantastic regional cuisine, a diverse history and stunning Baroque architecture, but it’s got some of the finest beaches I’ve ever seen.
Here’s my pick of what to do in Gallipoli on the peninsula’s west coast and why you should add this beautiful city to your bucket list of places to go in Puglia, Italy.
Tip: Wondering how to pronounce Puglia? The pronunciation is “Pool-ya” and in Italian it’s Apulia.
1. Walk the Ancient Walls of Old Town
One of the first things to do in Gallipoli is get oriented to its old and new sections by taking a walking tour. The Old Town District of Gallipoli is a stark contrast from the more modern downtown centre.
It’s located on an island accessed from the mainland part of the city via a 17th-century bridge. This bridge is your first taste of the rich history and culture that dominates the fortified island.
The first thing you’ll notice is the impressive Gallipoli Castle and Rivellino Tower that loom over the harbour. The castle and 14th-century walls and fortifications that dominate the island were built for defensive purposes.
There’s no shortage of photo ops here! As you explore the narrow streets and walk the ancient walls, you’ll see architecture from many centuries. You’ll also enjoy incredible views of Gallipoli Lighthouse in the distance.
2. Visit the Greek Fountain
On your walking tour be sure to make a stop at the Greek Fountain. Gallipoli was founded by the Greeks and its original name of Kallipolli actually means “Beautiful City”. The beautiful Fontana Greca is a reminder of this past.
Once thought to have been constructed in the 3rd century, recent findings show it was built centuries later. But it’s still a must-see attraction on any Gallipoli visit.
You don’t even need to go out of your way to find it! This stunning architectural wonder is a few minutes walk next to the bridge leading to the Old Town. The Greek Fountain stands five metres tall and features a water basin and intricate designs.
Insider Tip: Take a peek inside the nearby Sanctuary of Santa Maria del Canneto a baroque-style church containing a stone statue of the Virgin Mary recovered from a fire in a previous church.
3. Get a History Lesson at the Gallipoli Castle Museum
This region of Puglia has been invaded, conquered and populated by waves of Greeks, Romans, Ottomans, Spanish and Normans. Each left their mark on its traditions, architecture and landscape.
Gallipoli Castle was built in the 13th century and today, it houses a museum dedicated to the area’s history and culture. This striking landmark towers over the harbour and features a display of modern artworks and exhibits showcasing ancient artefacts.
The theme of the museum is culture and civilization so it also plays host to contemporary art exhibitions and photography displays. The Torre del Rivellino (tower) is a popular and atmospheric venue for film, concerts and dance performance events.
Guided tours are available and a bookstore is on site. Admission to Castello di Gallipoli is 5€ per person. Hours vary seasonally.
4. Admire Saint Agatha Cathedral
One of the highlights of this beautiful city is the Gallipoli Cathedral, also known as Saint Agatha Cathedral. It’s a striking Baroque-style church that was finished in the late 1600s.
The exterior of local stone, a golden sandstone known as pietra carparo, is one of the best Gallipoli sights to see at sunset, but the interior, with its Byzantine and Renaissance features, is a hidden gem.
Inside you’ll find a nave with marble pillars holding up an arcade and beautiful works of art created by local artists. Some of the beautiful creations include The Holy Souls of the Purgatory by G.A. Coppola, the Martyrdom of St. Sebastian by N. Malinconico and The Miracle of St. Francis of Paola by G. A. Coppola.
5. Take a Refreshing Swim at Purity Beach
As the only beach in Gallipoli proper, Purity Beach is the perfect location to take a break from shopping and touring the city to cool off in the clear waters.
This scenic, sandy beach is located right below the historic walls of Old Town and minutes walk from shops, restaurants, and attractions. The beach is small, but rarely gets crowded.
It’s also quite shallow which means it’s safer than some of the other beaches in the region. Unlike the beach clubs further south, there are no facilities at Purity Beach, but you also don’t have to pay a fee to access it.
6. Visit Gallipoli Fish Market
In this part of Salento, instead of tour groups, you’re more likely to see fishermen hauling nets brimming with fish plucked fresh from the Ionian Sea.
A top thing to do in Gallipoli is visit the Gallipoli Fish Market. Situated underneath the bridge leading to the Old Town District, it’s part market, part spectacle and part restaurant zone.
No matter what time of day you visit this fascinating place, there’s excitement in the air.
Very early in the morning you can watch the “paranze” (typical Gallipoli fishing boats) haul in their catch. Then, witness the long-standing tradition of the fish auction where customers shout and banter excitedly while competing for the best catch of the day.
In the evening, take a seat in the open air dining zones and enjoy a fresh seafood dish matched with a glass of regional wine.
A popular spot to enjoy a range of fresh-off-the-boat seafood is La Lampara restaurant set in the heart of the market. Choose from:
- purple prawns of Gallipoli,
- local red oysters,
- white oysters,
- sea urchins and more, all sold by weight and prepared while you wait.
7. Sample Traditional Gallipoli Fish Soup
Italian fish soup is a favourite among seafood lovers around the world and varies in preparation depending on the region of Italy you’re in. Typically, the dish is a mix of different types of fish served on a slice of bread saturated in tomato sauce and seasoned with chilli, garlic, and other spices.
In Gallipoli it’s raised to a fine art. Gallipoli fish soup is unique in that the soup is diluted with sea water and contains about 20 different fish. You’ll find scorpion fish, capons, and stargazers as well as mussels, shrimp, and cuttlefish.
Looking for a restaurant in the city where you can sit down and enjoy a delicious serving of traditional Gallipoli fish soup?
Try the Ristorante Il Bastione or L’Angolo Blu. Don’t forget to complement your meal with a glass of Salento wine.
8. Sip Local Wines
Italy has long been known for its wines and famed wine regions, but Salento is only recently emerging on the wine scene as a must-visit region.
One of the best places to explore the wines within the Unione dei Comuni Jonica-Salentina is during a day trip to the town of Melissano, named after the Greek word Melissos in reference to its honey production. This sweet legacy can be seen in the honey bee depicted within the town’s crest.
Wine fans will be interested in the Unione Agricola di Melissano, a cooperative producing Negroamaro, ruby red wine with rich black fruit flavours, as well as the medium bodied Primitivo, one of the most iconic wines of the Salento.
Many of the traditional wines produced here are made from the black-skinned Primitivo grape which creates very flavourful wines with hints of blackberry, dark chocolate, and liquorice.
Other popular varieties include Salice, Negroamaro, Salentino, Nera, Malvasia Bianca, Verdeca, Chardonnay, and Fiano.
Top wineries to visit for a tasting and a tour of the facilities and vineyards include Tenute Rubino, Mottura Vini Del Salento, Leone di Castris, Cantine Baron, Azienda Agricola Salvatore Magnoni, and Vetrere.
9. Admire Ancient Watchtowers Along Coastline
Gallipoli and its surrounding region have historically been the subject of countless attacks. The fortified watchtowers that dot the coast were built with defence purposes in mind.
While many of the towers are now in poor shape, their striking appearance against the contrasting beauty of the area makes for some great photo-ops.
If you’re planning a day trip, notable towers still standing today include the Torre Suda, Torre Alto Lido, Torre Sabea, Torre del Pizzo, and Torre San Giovanni la Pedata. The majority of the towers along this coast were built in the 16th and 17th centuries.
An outside table at stylish Solatio restaurant near Torre Suda is a prime place to soak up the views while dining on sweet shrimp simply grilled with olive oil, lemon and sea salt.
10. Enjoy a Gallipoli Beach Day
In Italy, a lido is a beach club where you pay a fee to spend a day on a private beach with privileged access to a range of services.
What you sacrifice in privacy, you gain in amenities. There will usually be a restaurant serving light food and cocktails, a scenic oceanfront terrace, sun loungers, change rooms, and showers.
While there are several popular lidos on the Ionian Sea north of Gallipoli towards Taranto, many others are located to the south. One of the most well-known is Spiaggia G Beach.
Here you’ll enjoy a relaxed beach day with easy access to the crystal clear blue waters of the Ionian Sea. For partying, a popular destination is Samsara Beach, known for its DJs, live music and concerts.
Another option for a day trip on the Ionian sea is Baia Verde where there’s a mix of sand and rocky outcroppings.
No matter which of Gallipoli’s many beaches you choose, stick around until dusk and you’ll enjoy one of the spectacular sunsets the area is known for.
11. Explore Coastal Wonders with a Boat Tour
Several local companies offer boat tours in the waters surrounding Gallipoli, each offering different activities and stops at different sites. But the two most popular activities for coastal excursions are snorkelling and cave exploring.
Both Sea Tour Gallipoli and AmareMare Tour offer boat cruises with snorkelling. During a snorkelling excursion, you’ll enjoy crystal clear, calm waters making it easy to spot colourful fish.
You may even get to see some of the region’s famous underwater caves. Several tours go all the way south to the Caves of Santa Maria di Leuca which includes several incredible cave formations including the Cave of Terradico, Cave of the Soffio, Cave Verdusella, and Cave of the Vora.
One thing all Gallipoli boat tours have in common is spectacular views of the coast.
12. Party at Gallipoli Nightlife
Parco Gondar is a massive entertainment complex situated in a central location on Gallipoli’s seafront. On most nights, the on-site live music pub Welcome to Tijuana is the place to be. This is where you can enjoy a party atmosphere with live local music.
You’ll also have access to a pizzeria and a games room with table tennis, carambola, and pinball machines. Throughout the year, a variety of concerts, sporting events, and other large-scale events take place at the arena.
13. Day Trip to the Village of Racale
An ideal itinerary for the Salento Peninsula should also include day trips to the Unione dei Comuni Jonica-Salentina a collection of five tiny towns within easy driving distance of Gallipoli.
A 20 minute drive south of Gallipoli, the charming village of Racale is the type of place where it doesn’t take long to begin wondering about the price of real estate.
It’s easy to imagine oneself cycling to the market, sipping a caffè macchiato or cappuccino in one of the many streetside cafe/bars or hanging laundry on a light-flooded rooftop of a 17th century building.
This small, inland village brims with unassuming genuineness; its cobbled streets empty except for cascading flowers and palazzos waiting for a breath of new life.
In addition to a rich history evident from the she-wolf of Rome emblems on its fountains, ancient city gates and 600-year old stone walls, the town of Racale is also a short drive to soft golden sand beaches stretching northward to Gallipoli.
Fringed by a national park filled with fragrant Aleppo pine, the windswept dunes and azure waters are assuredly some of Italy’s most scenic.
It’s also proving to be a popular retirement destination in Italy. With real estate said to be half the price of Tuscany, Racale also features outdoor markets filled with fresh produce, antipasti and local cheese.
The surrounding countryside is dotted with wild flowers, cactus, ancient gnarled olive trees and even more frantoi ipogei in various states of restoration.
14. Dine in an Underground Olive Oil Mill
An unforgettable thing to do in Gallipoli is to sample local wines and authentic regional dishes within one of the more than 100 underground olive oil mills in the region.
Ancient underground olive presses dot the landscape of Salento. A top one to try is located at La Grottella restaurant on the outskirts of Melissano, a unique pizzeria and trattoria with its own underground facility.
At La Grotella, the ancient frantoi ipogei with its oil presses has been carefully restored. Originally, the underground facilities protected the olives from the scorching heat as well as from theft.
I was surprised to learn that olive oil was not only enjoyed as the deliciously healthy oil we know today but was once used for heating and lighting in the lamps throughout Europe.
15. Experience a Local Festival
To soak up the local culture, another must-do is attend a regional festival. The tiny town of Taviano is best known as the home of the Festival de San Martino (St. Martin of Tours), an autumn harvest celebration recognizing the patron saint of winemaking, horsemen and horses, beggars, the poor and injured.
San Martino is often depicted on horseback, sharing his cloak with a beggar.
His feast day is November 11th but if you’re planning to attend the festivities in Taviano, it’s important to note that the festivities take place on November 10th.
They include the illumination of the streets of the town, processions featuring the statue of the St. Martin being carried from the church through the streets along with brass bands, live music and dance.
And of course there’s food, food, food.
Another festival you don’t want to miss is the Novello in Festa – New Wine Festival in November. It takes place in the town of Leverano, inland from the Gulf of Taranto coastline, north of Gallipoli.
The festival is an opportunity to sample vino novello (new wine of the season) and explore the impressive Torre Federiciana, a structure dating to 1220.
If you miss the Novello in Festa (New Wine Festival in November), aim for the summer Medieval Festival.
16. Feast on Regional Cuisine
When it comes to gastronomy, in addition to celebrating with vino novello (new wine of the season) and castagne (chestnuts), food fans will enjoy sampling an array of delicious regional cuisine.
As you explore other inland towns in Salento, you’ll meet vendors in markets, restaurant chefs as well as artisanal producers, all willing to share their stories and cuisine.
The cucina povera tradition means the cuisine is simple and delicious, relying on fresh, local produce.
One of the most famous dishes of Italy’s 20 best food regions is orecchiette cime di rapa, an ear-shaped pasta originating in Puglia, served with rapini.
Another regional dish popular throughout Salento — Purè di fave con cicoria or Fava Bean Purée with Chicory— had me swooning at first bite.
Perfect in its simplicity, much like other cucina povera style recipes of Puglia, it’s a marriage of creamy fava beans complemented by slightly bitter chicory.
17. Sample the Street Food
Also worth seeking out are the unique street foods such as Scapece Gallipolina, tiny fish such as fried smelt marinated in vinegar, olive oil, saffron and grated breadcrumbs.
Produced by a small number of families, who themselves are descended from generations of scapeciari dating back to possibly even Roman time, scapece is sold exclusively in markets and during festivals in the Salento region.
Look for enormous wooden barrels and order a serving by weight from the vendor for a few euros. The dish reminded me of fish escabeche in Spain and Latin America but for me, scapece would be an acquired taste.
18. Do an Olive Oil Tasting
Another top thing to do in Gallipoli is learn about extra-virgin olive oil production of ulivi secolari, centuries-old olive trees.
For a tutored tasting, visit the Adamo Estate in Alliste where they cultivate olives without pesticides or fertilizers.
The prized olives are harvested in early October and then crushed using a traditional mill, thus preserving their quality and fruity flavour.
Another must-visit is the pastoral Contadini farm in Felline where you can sample an award-winning line of products such as sun-dried tomatoes, marinated vegetables and oils in a rainbow of colours.
Don’t miss lunch at a seafood restaurant such as Trattoria Octopus in Alliste where antipasti include polpette di polpo followed by catch of the day, baked in a sea salt crust, a regional cooking method that deliciously preserves the freshness of the fish.
19. Dance the Pizzica
During your visit to Gallipoli, you’ll likely have an opportunity to witness the traditional folk dance the pizzica.
While it has its origins in the Tarantella dance (a frenzied dance said to have been performed by victims of those bitten by a tarantula in order to sweat out the effects of the venom) the pizzica is a more elegant, romantic dance.
It’s often performed on the street by a couple accompanied by a guitar, a mandolin, an accordion and tambourines or more simply by tambourines and chanting.
Even Madonna danced the pizzica while in the Salento on vacation – so don’t be shy!
20. Browse Art in Matino
Wrap up your explorations in Matino, a charming village of winding streets, courtyards and stacked stone houses known as casa in corte, many of which have been converted into stylish B&Bs.
Although Matino is filled with fairytale, white-washed buildings and historic frescoes, it has a youthful energy and creative spirit.
Located within the historic Palazzo Marchesale, its modern Museo Arte Contemporanea Matino is home to an expansive collection of contemporary art well worth exploring.
Best Time of Year to Visit Gallipoli
Despite word is spreading about this enchanting “heel” of Italy’s boot (Madonna and Helen Mirren are already fans), it’s still under the radar for mainstream tourists.
Outside of holiday periods when Italians flock to the beaches from Rome Gallipoli is generally free of crowds in the shoulder seasons of April to May and September to November.
When it comes to weather in Puglia, June, July and August are the driest months but are also the busiest. December and January can actually be chilly with daytime highs of just 13-15 C and overnight lows of 7 C. Ideal months are May or September.
Is Gallipoli in Italy or Turkey?
The city of Gallipoli is in Italy. It is situated facing the Ionian sea in Italy’s Puglia region. It’s within the Salento area which is comprised of Lecce and the southern parts of the provinces of Brindisi and Taranto.
Gallipoli and the War
Gallipoli, Italy should not be confused with the battle of Gallipoli. The latter was one of the bloodiest conflicts in the First World War.
It took place on the Gallipoli peninsula (Gelibolu in modern day) of Turkey between February 17, 1915 to January 9, 1916.
How to Get to Gallipoli from Brindisi
You’ll likely arrive as I did in Brindisi, on the peninsula’s northeastern coast, home to the Brindisi International Airport (BDS). It’s a 45 minute drive from Brindisi to Gallipoli.
To get the best deal on your car rental in Puglia, compare rates and reserve online at Discovercars.com an online car rental website that features major providers such as Hertz, Eurocar, Alamo etc. with no hidden fees.
South of Brindisi is Lecce, the capital of the province of Lecce. This beautiful city has been called the “Florence of the South” so try to spend some time taking cooking classes or studying Italian at one of its many schools.
Best Hotels in Gallipoli
There are many small B&Bs as well as listings on AirBnB. If you’re accustomed to the steep prices in other regions of Italy, you’ll be pleased to discover that prices are as low as 35 Euros a night ranging to a high of 100 Euros in the small AirBnBs and apartments.
The largest selection of these historic homes converted to accommodation for visitors is in Matino where you can find B&B Corte Dragone with three apartments at very low rates.
Check prices and availability of B&B Corte Dragone Matino on Booking.com.
I stayed at the Bellavista Club, a member of the Caroli Hotels Collection, in Gallipoli. While the large, modern hotel has some advantages, namely spectacular views and an English-speaking, helpful staff, the guest rooms could use refreshing.
Check prices and availability on the Bellavista Club-Caroli Hotels in Gallipoli on Booking.com.
Overnight in Rome: If you’re staying in Rome enroute to Puglia, it’s worth staying near the Stazione Centrale Roma Termini for easy access to the train station. Check out our Guide to Rome’s Termini Neighbourhood for tips on where to stay, what to eat and things to do.
For a unique stay in Puglia, check out our guide to Booking a Convent Stay in Italy
Map of Salento Puglia
Official Puglia Website: www.viaggiareinpuglia.it
Official Unione dei Comuni Jonica-Salentina website: A collection of five small villages filled with charm. www.unioneionicasalentina.it
Getting To Brindisi: Fly to Rome and then connect to Brindisi via Alitalia or by train in five hours.
Rome to Brindisi Train: Travel from Rome to Brindisi by rail in around three hours. It’s also possible to take the ferry from Greece to Brindisi.
Other Places to Visit in Puglia
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Dividing her time between Canada, Guatemala and Mexico (or the nearest tropical beach), Michele Peterson is the founder of A Taste for Travel. Her award-winning travel and food writing has appeared in Lonely Planet’s cookbook Mexico: From the Source, National Geographic Traveler, Fodor’s and 100+ other publications.
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