After our planned Puglia trip last summer was COVID-cancelled, we rescheduled to this September! While we originally planned to explore a bit more of Puglia, we ended up adding Umbria to the trip (highly recommended!) and based our time in posh Polignano a Mare. This article tells what we did, where we ate, and where we stayed or those planning a similar trip to Polignano a Mare!
POLIGNANO A MARE
Polignano a Mare is a small, yet swanky, Italian beach town in Northern Puglia, located 45 minutes south of Bari by car on the intersection of the Adriatic and Ionian coasts, directly across from southern Croatia and Montenegro. While in Northern Puglia, Polignano a Mare is firmly in southern Italy, and as such, stays warmer and summery much longer than its northern counterparts. Reachable by its tiny train station or car, Polignano a Mare is definitely on the Italian-tourist’s radar, but I didn’t find it quite as touristy as some more popular destinations, such as Amalfi or Cinque Terre (at least not yet…). Dan and I spent 3 nights and 4 days in Polignano a Mare and we thought this was the perfect amount of time to see Polignano a Mare and explore a bit of Puglia.
We choose to stay in Polignano a Mare because it just looked so cute in the pictures! We were happy with our decision: Polignano a Mare was easy enough to reach, close to some places we wanted to day trip, such as Bari and Alberobello, and had lots of restaurants and shops. On a return visit, however, we will probably visit another town; Polignano a Mare is more expensive than other towns in the area and its a bit more foreign-tourist heavy than its neighbors.
WHAT TO SEE & DO IN POLIGNANO A MARE
While hours can be “wasted away” watching the sea and the sun (we saw it both rise and set on multiple days!), Polignano al Mare does have a few sites. Polignano a Mare’s most famous site is the Instagram famous Lama Monachile beach. Located right in the middle of town under the Roman Bridge and filled with while pebble rocks (honestly more rock than pebble), Lama Monachile is super picturesque and the water was lovely in early September. Plan to take pictures of Lama Monachile from the bridge overlooking it, as well as of the bridge from the beach. Bring water shoes and towels if you plan to swim; the rocks make it nearly impossible to walk barefoot. Go early to avoid the crowds. Lama Monachile is crazy crowded in the afternoon. There is a small area of chairs to rent, but most people just lay a towel out on the rocks. An interesting park is located behind the beach.
After you’ve seen Lama Monachile, taking a 2 hour boat ride along the coastline of Polignano a Mare is another popular activity that I recommend. A few companies offer the exact same tour with several departures per day, which can be booked in town or online in advance. We took the 3:00 PM boat ride, which consisted of a pick up in town at 3:00 PM, a short drive in the tiniest car with two strangers to another beach about 5 minutes away, boarding a boat, viewing the gorgeous coastline, and then ending with an optional swim (bring your own towel, etc.), some Pugliese crackers, and a tiny glass of warm Prosecco… While not my favorite tour, the views were fantastic and the boat went right into many of Polignano a Mare’s caves! We also drove by the famous Grotta Palazzese (where we later dined!).
Like most Italian seaside towns, Polignano a Mare has a cute little Old Town situated on craggy cliffs. The Old Town is carless, flat, and pretty easy to navigate. It’s also filled with restaurants, cafes, shops, and bars. Be sure to walk to the end of town for more gorgeous views. Also in Old Town, don’t miss Via Roma, which is lit up with Domenico Modugno’s lyrics to Nel blu, dipinto di blu, better known as Volare (oh oh)! Its also filled with loads of inexpensive restaurants and bars. We dined on Via Roma more than once.
The Old Town also has some fun art installations, including a Campbell’s soup Volare can (a Warhol knock off) and painted poetry by Guido il Flâneur and other artists.
Polignano a Mare is also home to a statute of its most famous resident, Domenico Modugno, a singer and songwriter who debuted on the Eurovision Song Contest (!! I LOVE that move!). The statute is located outside of Polignano al Mare’s Old Town, very close to B&B Malu (where we stayed). Stop for a snap and excellent views of Old Town!
WHERE WE ATE IN POLIGNANO A MARE
Ah, the most important part of any trip, where to eat! I had a very difficult time narrowing down where to eat prior to visiting Polignano a Mare and honestly we ate on the fly a couple times. Luckily, everything was deliciously Italian and we didn’t go wrong! For popular restaurants, reservations are helpful, but not necessary during the week (except Grotta Palazzese).
As many of you may know, Polignano a Mare’s most famous and Instagramable restaurant is the cliff restaurant inside Grotta Palazzese. And yes, we dined there (I just couldn’t pass up the experience!). I’ll be writing an entire review on my evening, but suffice it to say that we enjoyed our dinner very much. I was a bit iffy going in, as there are some not great reviews online and it is anything but cheap, but we were very happy with our meal, the view, and drinks! Grotta Palazzee also serves lunch for a bit of a lighter and less expensive meal. Also note, this is totally touristy. No Italians in site.
Our first meal in Polignano a Mare was at Malidea, very close to the Domenico Modugno statute and also a quite well-known lunch spot with views overlooking the sea. We made an advance lunch reservation online via The Fork due to its popularity (which we did not need). Malidea is known for its elaborately decorated hard breads called le pinse and cocktails! Dan tried the Margherita Malidea, which was one of their hard breads topped with fior di latte, argula, proscuitto, peppers, and a delicious, slightly spicy sauce. It was tasty and came with scissors to cut it! I ordered the Piggy Bank, a mortadella, provolone and stracciatella, basil and pistichio spread sandwich. The food and drinks were very good, and the views were stunning, but the restaurant totally forgot about my sandwich and we waited over an hour for it…. They did graciously take it off the bill. Just be sure to ask if you don’t get everything at once. Meat and cheese boards ordered by neighboring diners also looked amazing, FYI.
FCazz & Birr is another popular restaurant that we ended up eating at…TWICE! FCazz is located in a very touristy area between the entrance to Old Town and the Roman Bridge overlooking Lama Monachile. I didn’t anticipate eating here, but they open early and the food was surprisingly good and cheap! FCazz specializes in Focaccia Barese and “stuffed half moon” sandwiches, or what I think of as real panini. They also serve the local speciality panzerotti (which I first had in Milano and later in Antigua). During our two visits, we tried the focaccia Barese, a panini with provolone and salami (yum) and tomato and mozzarella panzerotti.
On that same note, there is a Panzerotti restaurant and a focacceria just over the Roman Bridge toward B&B Malu. Both of these spots looked delicious but we unfortunately did not have time to try them.
We also found ourselves at Olio e Pane one evening, which does Pugliese street food style sandwiches. And these sandwiches were excellent! Here, we started with Spritzes and fried zucchini flowers stuffed with cheese and sardines. A seasonal speciality. Next, a meatball and cheese sandwich for me and a fresh octopus sandwich for Dan. This dinner was inexpensive and amazing!
We also had dinner at Il Quadrifoglio pizzeria on Via Roma. Rumored to be one of the best pizzas in town, Il Quadrifoglio’s pizza did not disappoint. I went with an upscale Margherita (meaning made with fancy DOP ingredients) and Dan ordered prosciutto with a local, spreadable cheese.
Il Super Mago del Gelo is an old school bar in Polignano a Mare that is best known for its Caffè Speciale coffee drink. The Caffè Speciale is a small cold drink of coffee with a type of Amaretto. It was very tasty without too much alcohol. In addition to the Caffè Speciale, Il Super Mago del Gelo serves ice cream, granita, other coffees, and pastries. This place is super popular with locals so just get to the bar and order your drink like a local.
Aside from the restaurants that we visited, Pescaria, which we missed, is popular for its fresh seafood and bread. Their version of the octopus sandwich that Dan ate at Olio su Pane is rumored to be the best. Pescaria has a sister restaurant on Via Roma called Tomarito that looked fun.
WHERE TO STAY IN POLIGNANO A MARE
Polignano a Mare has loads of lodging options, from the uber upscale Grotta Palazzese, to local hotels, to bed and breakfasts, to apartment rentals. For tourists visiting for the first time, I would try to stay right in Polignano a Mare, close to the old town or Lama Monachile. This is the most central area.
We stayed at B&B Malu, which is an adorable bed and breakfast overlooking the Old Town. FANTASTIC VIEWS! B&B Malu offers pretty simple rooms, with a bed, TV, in-suite shower, but the most amazing part of the albergo are the balconies overlooking the sea. We spent a looooot of time on our balcony. Breakfast is served on the top deck from 8:00 – 10:00 (and not 1 second longer), which also is open air and offers those stunning views.
HOW TO GET AROUND POLIGNANO A MARE
Polignano a Mare is easy to explore on foot. Polignano’s Old Town is compact and the remainder, which may be of little interest to tourists, is easily reachable. If you don’t want to walk, taxis are available, although they do not go into the Old Town, and the cutest little three-wheeled tuk tuk’s are popular with tourists. A red tourist train also circles the town seemingly 24 hours a day belting out Domenico Modugno’s Volare.
To get to and from Polignano a Mare, its small, two track train station is located a 15 minute walk from Old Town. With luggage, the cost is €15 from Old Town to the train station with luggage.
GET OUT OF POLIGNANO A MARE
Many people come to Polignano a Mare for a day trip, but we did the opposite! From Polignano, we took a day trip to Bari for a cultural and food tour and to Alberobello. Both trips were easy and a short ride from Polignano a Mare. Both are recommended, but Bari was a real surprise in a good way.
ATMS and pharmacies are pretty abundant in Polignano a Mare, especially on Via Martini di Dogali between the train station and Old Town.
Many, many businesses, including restaurants, pharmacies, and stores, close in the afternoon. A real siesta so to speak. Don’t plan to get much done in the late afternoon.
There is a Mail Boxes, Etc. in Polignano a Mare, which we visited in an effort to buy a wine shipper. The employee was extremely helpful, but they had no wine shippers. We bought ours instead at the Mail Boxes, Etc. in Bari.
Every September Polignano a Mare hosts the Red Bull Cliff Diving Word Series. We were in town the weekend prior and things were already a bit crazy. If you are not going for the cliff diving, you may want to avoid that time in September. We did see some very brave people build one of the diving platforms – it was insane!
STEAL OUR TRIP
B&B Malu: Lungomare Domenico Modugno, 7, 70044 Polignano a Mare BA, Italy. Only a few rooms, many with great balconies. Aside from the balconies, the rooms are large for Europe but pretty basic with AC and TV. Book in advance, especially during the Summer and in September.
Grotta Palazzese: Via Narciso, 59, 70044 Polignano a Mare BA, Italy. Reservations essential and should be made online in advance. Upscale dress. Prices are fully disclosed online.
Il Quadrifoglio: Via Roma, 33, 70044 Polignano a mare BA, Italy. Casual. Open for lunch and in the evenings. Closed Tuesday. Reservations not required, but not a bad idea.
Il Super Mago Del Gelo: Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi, 22, 70044 Polignano a Mare BA, Italy. Open from 5:30 – 1:30, later on Saturday. The most popular place in town.
FCazz & Birr: Piazza Giuseppe Verdi, 70044 Polignano a Mare BA, Italy. Open lunch – late. No reservations required.
Olio su Pane: Via Roma, 60, 70044 Polignano a mare BA, Italy.
Malidea: Lungomare Domenico Modugno, 11, 70044 Polignano a Mare BA, Italy. Open from lunch to late. Reservations can be made via The Fork.
Boat Trip with Pugliamare: We booked via GetYourGuide and the cost was around $45/person. I think you can probably book it for less in Polignano a Mare.
ON A BUDGET
Budget travelers may prefer to stay in one of Polignano a Mare’s neighboring, less expensive towns, such as Monopoli or Bari, and visit Polignano a Mare on a day trip. While definitely less expensive than some of the swanky Amalfi coast towns, Polignano a Mare is pricer than other Puglian beach towns. If you are staying in Bari on a budget, there are plenty of inexpensive bars and restaurants in Polignano a Mare, some of which I’ve referenced here!