Lecce is often called the Florence of South Italy. It is in Puglia, where I ended up spending an entire month.
Puglia is Italy’s upcoming travel destination. It was already a popular destination for Italian travelers but now the rest of the world is noticing Puglia too. I highly recommend it as an important stop in my Italy road trip itinerary.
This is because too many people have already visited the Amalfi coast, or Tuscany or the canals cities, so many seek something new.
Italy’s famous historical cities like Florence and Rome are often the background setting for many books and movies, and I wanted to visit them too. But in this age of Instagram, I often see photos of these destinations jam-packed with summer travelers.
So if you’re like me and seek easier destinations without hoards of crowds, but are still a hopeless romantic at heart and love historical streets, then you’re going to love Lecce.
So is Lecce worth visiting? Yes, this baroque gem on Italy’s southeastern heel is an amazing destination and I will tell you why.
Labyrinth of Pretty Streets in Lecce’s Old Town
Ever wanted to walk around on a historical labyrinth-like network of streets? You can do that in Lecce.
You may not believe it but I don’t like going from one landmark to another when I visit a famous city. Instead, I like to take my time to walk around and get a feel of the place without keeping a track of the landmarks. This is how I spent my first day in places like Porto, Lisbon, Amsterdam, Prague, Barcelona, and Istanbul.
Lecce is the perfect city for walking without a purpose and getting lost. The streets are stunning and you will find a lot of interesting shops & houses.
The thing I loved the most about walking on the streets of Lecce was that most of the area was shaded even in the peak summer because of the way the houses along the streets are built. So, even though it was close to 35-38 degrees in Salento in August at the time of my visit, the shade tremendously helped.
When you get tired of walking along the maze of the historical streets, relax in one of the cafes with outdoor seating that spills over to the lovely cobblestone sidewalks.
The main street of the Old Town in Lecce was crowded, unlike the inner streets that I fell in love with and photographed. There are vendors on both sides of the main street and they sell interesting handmade things that one can find in a lot of touristy cities all over Europe. This particular street wasn’t my favorite but I still wanted you to see a picture of it.
Lecce’s Has Many Historical Landmarks
The city of Lecce city has a beautiful old town with historical buildings with Baroque architecture. Ever heard of the “Lecce Stone“? It is a famous limestone that Lecce is known for, that is sold all over the world for sculptures. The buildings in Lecce are made with this Lecce Stone.
The style of Lecce’s baroque architecture even has its own name – barocco leccese (Lecce baroque). Expect to see a lot of intricate carvings on columns, gargoyles, arches, and literally every part of the old buildings.
Just like the city of Rome, Lecce also has a Roman amphitheater that dates back to the 2nd century.
Lecce has a lot of historical buildings and landmarks, I don’t expect you to visit every single one of them but as you walk around Lecce’s historical center, you can check them out from outside.
I have mentioned some points of interest in Lecce that you can keep a note of as you walk around in the old town.
Anfiteatro Romano – the Amphitheater
Lecce has a historical amphitheater right in the middle of the historical center. I mentioned it already that it dates back to the 2nd century, but here’s the crazy thing.
Anfiteatro Romano was hidden all the time but discovered just in the early 20th century and only half of it was excavated because there’s a building that’s on the other half.
Walk around it and enjoy this beautifully preserved piece of history. It is a sunken amphitheater and you will enjoy photographing it from interesting angles.
Piazza Sant’Oronzo is the city square within the baroque historical town. This piazza has a number of interesting landmarks including a statue of Sant’Oronzo. The roman amphitheater is a part of it. You will see a lot of interesting carvings out of white limestone, the Lecce stone.
When you walk around in Lecce’s historical quarter just about anywhere, almost all the streets will lead you to Piazza S Oronzo.
Basilica di Santa Croce
Basilica di Santa Croce is the most famous historical church of Lecce which dates back to the 1600s. It is an exceptional example of Baroque architecture at its best not just from the outside but also from the inside. There’s a very famous church by the same name in Florance too!
The facade is highly detailed and features a circular window and intricate figures. As per Marchese Grimaldi, the facade of Basilica di Santa Croce looked like a lunatic was having a nightmare. I don’t know about you, but comments like these make me super curious!
It took three competing artists 150 years to complete the design of Basilica di Santa Croce. If you decide to go inside, it costs 6 EUR and it is worth it, because of the paintings and exquisite interiors. The basilica is very calm from the inside.
Duomo di Lecce (+ Bell Tower)
Duomo di Lecce is Lecce Cathedral in English was built in 1144 and rebuilt in 1659. The full name is Cattedrale Maria Santissima Assunta e S.Oronzo, which means it is dedicated to Virgin Mary.
Duomo di Lecce is located in the center and can be accessed from the Piazza. This cathedral has a bell tower, which you can spot from a distance.
Duomo di Lecce also features an elaborate facade like many other nearby churches. There are many columns that are adorned with climbing angels figures.
If you are a Dan Brown fan, then you will enjoy the stained glass Virgin Mary artwork and also a triangle with an eye inside.
Porta Napoli is a historical arch, that was once the gate of the walled city of Lecce. Walk around it and admire the area around you.
For a stunning photo, use the arch as a frame and click through it instead of clicking trying to capture the entire arch.
Apart from the above-mentioned spots, Lecce’s historical center has many more churches and historical landmarks such as the Obelisk (Obelisco), Santa Chiara (the Church of Saint Clare), and Paisiello Theatre.
Just like Rome or Florance, you can not visit every single one of the landmarks while you are there, so just pick a few.
Take a Break in Giardini Pubblici Giuseppe Garibaldi & Parco Giochi
Why have I included a public park on a list like this? Well, that’s because I’m showing you reasons to visit Lecce, and the city is extra everything so even the city park is super extra.
Lecce’s city park is lovely, and make sure you take a break here. If you are traveling with children, they will thank you for it. It is right next to Basilica di Santa Croce, so you won’t miss it.
Lecce’s public park – Giardini Pubblici Giuseppe Garibaldi features a fountain, many trees, plants, and benches. Pack a few snacks like arancini and calzones to enjoy a picnic here.
If you are traveling with children, they will thank you for bringing them here because this park also has a playground inside for children – Parco Giochi.
This park has enough benches and things for small children so that you can easily spend an hour or so with them.
Eat Pasticciotto, Cozze Gratinate, Frutti di Mare & Gelato
What’s the best part of traveling to a new destination? For me, it is trying new food that’s unique to that destination. In this sense, Lecce did not fail me.
I will publish another post about my favorite food in Puglia because I noted down at least 20+ names of Puglien dishes. However, in this section, I’d like to mention a quick list of famous foods of Lecce.
Pasticciotto is a famous pastry of Lecce that has a custard filling. It is the most popular breakfast of not just Lecce but the entire Puglia region. Enjoy it with espresso or Caffè ghiacciato (iced coffee).
I have tried mussels in many destinations all over the world but the ones in Italy have the best flavor. I also tried another version of this with squids and shrimp and that was super yummy too. Of course, it helps that Puglia has a massive coastline on three sides so expect to eat super fresh seafood here.
Seafood in Italy is called “Frutti di Mare”, which literally translates into “fruits of the sea”. When in Puglia, expect the best Frutti di Mare risottos, pasta, and also pizzas. Frutti di mare linguine was my typical dinner in Salento.
One can’t go wrong with Gelato and Lecce old town has some amazing gelato shops. I often picked coffee gelato and loved the icy kick. My husband and daughter both picked the fruity flavors. I went back for more and loved the fruity flavors too.
Experience Typical Italian Summer Nights with Wine
How to make the most of a romantic destination like Lecce? Go for a romantic meal in one of the restaurants with outdoor seating and sip wine.
If you want to do it the way Italians do, you will sit for as long as you can while you savor antipasti with wine. As the night progresses, you can ask your server for recommendations for the fresh catch of the day for dinner.
Summer isn’t the best time for red wine but I highly recommend Puglia’s Primitivo reds, you can’t go wrong with them. Of course, Prosecco works if you are looking for something bubbly.
White wine lovers should try Moscatello Selvatico. On a few occasions I tried the Rosè wine of Salento, it was just called Rosè Salento and was super refreshing.
Make a Side Trip to Torre Sant’Andrea
Just 25-30 kilometers away from Lecce is my favorite beach in Salento. It is called Torre Sant’Andrea. As for me, this is the most beautiful beach in Puglia, and I am happy that I got to visit it.
If you are road-tripping in Italy, then a stop at Torre Sant’Andrea is a must-do if you want to cover Puglia at all.
The sandy part of Torre Sant’Andrea beach is small and looks like paradise. The water here is turquoise blue, super clear, and refreshing. The sand is perfect and soft.
But the real beauty of this beach lies in the arches and rock formations (I Faraglioni di Sant’Andrea), for that you have to go over the rocks and walk a little. (Kind of like the beaches of the Algarve in Portugal)
The walk that goes over the rocks from the sandy beach to the arches is lovely because of the views. There is also a food truck with affordable snacks on top of the rocks as you hike toward the arches.
We did this with our 3-year-old daughter and we didn’t have hiking shoes and it worked. If you do this with small children, you have to be overly cautious because they will get hurt if they fall here.
I saw a lot of people cliff-jumping here. The water was insanely clear and I wanted to cliff jump too, but we decided not to because we were here with our toddler.
The drive from Lecce to Torre Sant’Andrea took us just half an hour but the challenge was finding a decent parking spot here. We eventually did but it wasn’t shaded.
I have an entire post about visiting Torre Sant’Andrea, make sure you check it out to better plan your visit.
Another stunning location on the coast near Lecce is Grotta della Poesia (Cave of Poetry). It isn’t far from Torre Sant’Andrea. I couldn’t go because the outing was already too long for my toddler but I hope you do.
Where to Stay in Lecce
I will be honest, my family and I did not stay in Lecce. Instead, we stayed in my husband’s family’s house in Porto Cesareo, which is on the coast. We did visit Lecce often because it is a very big city and we found reasons to come back here over and over.
Rooms aren’t cheap in Italy and definitely not in Lecce. But I did see some cute hotels and Bed ‘N Breakfast places. Check out:
- Li Cetti,
- Hotel Aloisi,
- Casa Dei Mercanti Town House,
- Luxury House Lecce Piazza Sant’Oronzo,
- Alla Vista Del Barocco,
- Balbo, and
- Le Comari Salentine.
How to go from Bari to Lecce?
Lecce is closer to Brindisi than Bari. Brindisi also has an airport, so you can fly directly to Brindisi instead of Bari if you want to visit Salento (the heel of the boot of Italy).
It is possible to reach Bari from Lecce using local transport. Go to Bari Centrale station, and from there the buses leave a few times a day to Lecce Stazione. These buses take around 2 hours to reach Lecce from Bari, and they also stop in Brindisi on the way. The bus route is along the Salento coast, so you will enjoy the views.
If you are driving in Italy, then you can reach Lecce from Bari by driving on the scenic SS16 highway that goes along the coast.
If you decide to take the smaller inside routes to avoid the highway, you will see a lot of prickly pear cactuses that have turned into giant trees, old olive trees, and a lot of vine farms.
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