Discover the Best Things To Do and See in Lecce, Italy, in Just 24 Hours! Explore Baroque gems, local cuisine, and more in this enchanting city.
Lecce, with its unique blend of Roman, Greek, and Byzantine influences, weaves ancient tales into every corner of its narrow streets.
Often referred to as the ‘Florence of the South,’ Lecce boasts a distinct charm that captivates visitors from the moment they arrive. It is also a renowned hub for Italian Baroque architecture in the Salento region.
While taking your time to explore the city at a leisurely pace is a true pleasure, we understand that sometimes you only have a single day to experience it all.
Fear not, for in this article, we present a comprehensive one-day itinerary, showcasing the city’s top attractions to ensure your visit leaves you fully satisfied.
Furthermore, we’ll offer additional suggestions for exploring the broader Province of Lecce, from embarking on scenic cruises along the Adriatic Sea to uncovering the paradisiacal beaches of Salento.
The possibilities are endless.
Join us on this whirlwind adventure through the captivating streets of Lecce, and let’s make the most of every moment!
Best Things To Do in Lecce (What To Do In One Day)
Discover the Historic Center of Lecce
Lecce’s historic center is a true masterpiece of beauty and charm. In fact, the challenge lies in deciding where to begin your exploration.
Strolling through the city on foot reveals hidden treasures at every turn: splendid mansions adorned with decorated facades, windows, and balconies that proudly showcase their owners’ affluence while offering captivating views, and inviting squares adorned with sculptures and benches, perfect for relaxation.
As for historical landmarks, the Piazza del Duomo, home to the Lecce Cathedral (Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption), and the Basilica di Santa Croce, an exquisite example of Baroque architecture, are essential stops on your journey.
However, the allure of Lecce, Italy, extends far beyond these landmarks.
Don’t forget to explore the Roman Amphitheater in Piazza Sant’Oronzo, the medieval fortress of Torre del Parco from the 15th century, and Castello Carlo V, a 12th-century fortress fortified by Carlo V in 1539.
Continue reading to delve into the details of Lecce’s primary monuments, all of which should find a place in your day trip itinerary.
Explore Lecce Cathedral, the Bell Tower, and the Palazzos in Piazza Del Duomo
Lecce Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, graces the heart of the historic city center in Piazza Del Duomo.
Although the present-day cathedral was completed in 1659, it stands on the sacred grounds where a Norman church from the 12th century once resided.
Adjacent to the cathedral is the iconic bell tower, Il Campanile, soaring majestically to a height of 70 meters.
Both structures are the remarkable creations of the renowned architect and sculptor Giuseppe Zimbalo (1620–1710), a native of Lecce and a pivotal figure in the city’s Baroque movement.
Interestingly, Zimbalo was affectionately known as ‘Lo Zingarello,’ which translates to ‘the gypsy.’
The cathedral’s facade is adorned with an opulent display of intricate sculptures, featuring saints, cherubs, and chimeras.
Allow yourself ample time to immerse in the rich details. The cathedral’s interior is equally captivating, and entry is free.
To the right of the cathedral stands Palazzo Vescovile, the residence of the Archbishop of Lecce, a structure dating back to the 15th century.
In addition to these marvels, don’t miss Palazzo Giuseppe Cino (seminary) in Piazza Del Duomo and the opportunity to explore the Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art.
Stroll Along Via Giuseppe Libertini, Lecce’s Most Enchanting Street
Via Giuseppe Libertini weaves a charming path from Piazza Del Duomo, located in the heart of Lecce’s historic center, all the way to Porta Rudiae, one of the city’s ancient gates.
As Lecce’s primary thoroughfare, Via Giuseppe Libertini teems with life and activity.
Expect to encounter magnificent palaces adorned with intricate sculptures, inviting cafes, delectable restaurants, captivating shops, and a vibrant tapestry of fellow travelers.
The bustling atmosphere along Via Giuseppe Libertini may initially seem overwhelming, but fear not, for there’s always a warm welcome for newcomers in this lively street.
Step into the Enchanting Basilica of Santa Croce
The Basilica di Santa Croce is a breathtaking sight that leaves an indelible impression on first-time visitors, and it’s no wonder that it’s often regarded as the quintessential symbol of Baroque Lecce.
This magnificent basilica stands as a powerful testament to the triumph of Christianity over ancient pagan rituals, a history vividly portrayed through its exuberant limestone facade—an exquisite masterpiece in its own right.
At the lower section of the facade, you’ll encounter depictions of hell, featuring mythological figures like mermaids and dragons. Above this realm of pagan symbolism, heaven prevails, adorned with angels, animals, flowers, and plants.
The wealth of intricate details is truly astounding, even surpassing the Lecce Cathedral. Consequently, plan to spend some unhurried moments admiring the basilica’s resplendent beauty.
Construction of the Basilica of Santa Croce concluded in 1695, yet it took over a century to reach completion, with both Francesco Antonio Zimbalo and Giuseppe Zimbalo – father and son – contributing to its realization.
Please note that admission to the Basilica of Santa Croce requires a fee, but it grants access to a world of wonder inside, featuring imposing columns and no less than seventeen altars.
Explore the Roman Amphitheater of Lecce
Lecce’s Roman Amphitheater, a relic from the 2nd century, bears witness to the city’s ancient history.
Yet, it remained concealed for centuries, hidden beneath layers of time until an accidental discovery in 1915, during reconstruction work on a nearby building.
Today, only half of the amphitheater is exposed, with the other half lying beneath the bustling Piazza Sant’Oronzo. This unique coexistence of ancient ruins and modern life is a testament to Lecce’s rich heritage.
The decision to leave a portion of the amphitheater concealed is tied to the deep-rooted connection between the people of Lecce and the Church of Santa Maria della Grazia (Chiesa di Santa Maria della Grazia). To fully unveil the amphitheater, parts of this beloved church would need to be sacrificed.
In its heyday, this grand amphitheater could accommodate up to 25,000 spectators, boasting a spacious arena and a network of internal tunnels to facilitate movement during captivating performances.
At the heart of Piazza Sant’Oronzo, you’ll find a towering column dedicated to Lecce’s patron saint, Sant’Oronzo. Interestingly, this column has a fascinating backstory.
The Colunna di Sant’Oronzo is one of two columns that once graced Brindisi and marked the end of the Appian Way, the historic road that connected Rome to Brindisi.
A tale unfolds as Brindisi initially offered one column as a gift to Lecce, later retracting the offer. The people of Lecce, however, were determined to retain their cherished column.
The Roman Amphitheater is one of the best things to do in Lecce, and it’s a marvel to behold, especially when illuminated at night, offering a glimpse into Lecce’s splendid past.
Discover Porta Napoli: A Monumental Gateway to Lecce
Porta Napoli stands as one of Lecce’s grandiose gates, steeped in historical significance.
In 1548, this magnificent gateway was erected to commemorate the triumph of the Habsburg Emperor Charles V.
Its design draws inspiration from the imposing ancient Greek doors of antiquity, reflecting the architectural marvels of a bygone era.
To witness the grandeur of Porta Napoli, make your way to Piazzetta Arco di Trionfo.
While there, don’t miss the opportunity to explore the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Porta o di San Luigi Gonzaga, affectionately known as the Church of Santa Maria ‘della Porta’.
Additionally, at the heart of a bustling roundabout, you’ll find the Obelisk of Lecce, serving as a prominent landmark.
This historic gateway not only welcomes visitors to Lecce but also invites them to delve deeper into the city’s rich heritage.
Indulge in Pasticcioto Lecese: A Sweet Invention Born near Lecce
The Pasticcioto Lecese traces its origins back to 1745, when Andrea Ascalone, near Lecce in Galatina, had a creative culinary moment.
Left with surplus dough and luscious egg cream, he decided to craft a small cake from these humble ingredients.
While Andrea may not have initially been satisfied with the outcome, his customers adored it. Thus, the beloved Pasticcioto was born, eventually spreading its delightful presence throughout Italy.
If you find yourself in Lecce, there’s no better place to savor this Italian delicacy than Caffè Alvino, conveniently located next to Piazza Sant’Oronzo.
Travel Tip: Read the full article on Gastronomy in Puglia in +40 dishes.
Unveil the Time-Honored Craft of Papier-Mâché
In Puglia, the art of Papier-Mâché has a rich history dating back to the 17th century when churches required swift and budget-friendly adornments.
In Lecce, skilled artisans honed a technique employing paper and glue to craft exquisitely detailed, enduring, and cost-effective pieces. Traditionally, saintly figures featured clay heads, hands, and feet, while the remainder came to life through paper.
Today, this art teeters on the brink of extinction, yet Maria and her husband are determined to preserve this heritage. If you find yourself in Lecce, don’t miss their charming store nestled in the heart of the city.
La Casa dell’Artigianato Leccese 📍 Via Giacomo Matteotti, 18, 73100 Lecce LE, Italy 📞 +390832306604
Explore this unique cultural tradition and support the artisans dedicated to its legacy!
What To Do in the Province of Lecce?
As you may have already noticed, there is a lot to see and do in the city of Lecce, but if you have a few more days to explore the region, here are suggestions for what to visit in the rest of the Province.
Embark on a Scenic Cruise to Explore Castro’s Caves
Situated approximately 40 km from Lecce, Castro boasts a picturesque coastal landscape renowned for its charming marina and pristine beaches.
One of the highlights of Castro Marina is the opportunity to embark on boat cruises for an up-close exploration of its captivating caves.
Among the notable caves is the renowned Grotta Zinzulusa, but there are other equally mesmerizing options like Grotta Palombara, Grotta Azzurra, and Grotta Romanelli.
This excursion offers an incredible experience as boats can venture deep into the caves, allowing tourists to marvel at the intricate stalagmite and stalactite formations up close.
It’s a breathtaking adventure that adds a touch of wonder to your visit.
Discover the Stunning Beaches of Salento
If you’re visiting Lecce between May and September, you’re in luck – it’s the ideal time to savor the beauty of Salento’s beaches.
What makes Salento truly unique is its geographical advantage – it offers access to two magnificent seas: the Ionian Sea and the Adriatic Sea.
To make the most of your beach day, consider a local tip. When the wind blows from the North, known as Tramontana, the Ionian Sea beaches are typically calm and wind-free.
Conversely, when the wind comes from the Southeast, or Scirocco, it’s the perfect time to enjoy the Adriatic Sea beaches without waves.
Speaking from personal experience, I spent a few delightful hours at Pescoluse, specifically on the Maldive of Salento beach.
Even on a cloudy day, the charm of the place shone through, making it a truly enjoyable outing.
Explore the Riserva Naturale Le Cesine
Le Cesine Nature Reserve is one of the best things to do in Lecce, located approximately 17 km from the center of Lecce, but it feels like a world apart.
There are trails that you can explore on foot, winding through the dense forest while you listen to the birds’ chirping.
Additionally, in the lagoon area, you can spot turtles, damselflies, and butterflies.
If you’re a cycling enthusiast, you’ll be pleased to know that there is a dedicated track for two-wheeled adventurers that traverses the park, allowing you to cycle amidst the beauty of nature.
Visit the Santa Maria di Leuca Lighthouse
Santa Maria di Leuca, or simply Leuca, is a city that deserves a spot on your itinerary.
Located approximately 80 km from Lecce, at the tip of the Salento peninsula, it’s where the Ionian Sea and the Adriatic Sea converge.
In the past, Leuca was the favored summer destination for wealthy Italian families, which is why the city boasts numerous palaces. Despite its continued popularity among tourists, you won’t encounter the typical chaos of Italian cities.
For the best perspective of Leuca, head to the Lighthouse perched on a hill overlooking the city. Don’t miss another Leuca attraction: the Santuario di Santa Maria de Finibus Terrae.
Travel Tip: Read the full article on What to visit in Santa Maria di Leuca.
Accomodation in Lecce
I stayed at the Marenea Suite Hotel CDS Hotels, which is about 50 km from Lecce and had a great experience.
If budget is not a concern, the Patria Palace Lecce (5 stars) is the hotel of choice for those seeking luxury and the best view of the Basilica of Santa Croce.
Explore the link and map below to find the best accommodations in Lecce, Italy.
Day trips from Lecce, Puglia
There are several tours and excursions that you can take in Lecce, ranging from walking tours in the city center, typical cooking classes, to bus trips to visit Ostuni, Alberobello, Polignano a Mare, just to give a few examples.
So, if you are interested in getting to know this beautiful region better, check out the tours I recommend.
- Baroque architecture and underground walking tour: discover not only the Baroque masterpieces of Lecce on the surface, but also venture through the city’s tunnels;
- Street food tasting and walking tour: taste Salento’s street food specialties and explore the city on foot;
- Typical Apulian cooking class: learn the cooking techniques of the Lecce region with a professional cook and enjoy a home-cooked meal.
- Visit Ostuni, Alberobello and Polignano a Mare: explore these cities at your own pace, leaving from Lecce.
Travel Tip: Read the full article Visit Alberobello: UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Where is Lecce and how to get to it?
Lecce, often referred to as the “Florence of the South,” is a charming city located in the southern part of Italy, specifically in the Apulia (Puglia) region.
For European travelers, reaching Lecce is relatively straightforward, thanks to its well-connected transportation networks.
You can easily access Lecce by train, with regular services from major Italian cities like Rome, Milan, and Naples. The train journey offers picturesque views of the Italian countryside, making it a delightful travel experience.
If you’re flying from within Europe, Brindisi Airport (approximately 40 kilometers from Lecce) and Bari Airport (approximately 150 kilometers away) are the nearest options.
From these airports, you can catch domestic flights or use shuttle services to reach Lecce.
For American travelers, reaching Lecce typically involves a longer journey.
The most common route is to fly into major European hubs like Rome or Milan and then take a connecting flight to Brindisi or Bari.
Alternatively, you can choose to explore other parts of Italy first and then make your way to Lecce, enjoying the diverse landscapes and cultures along the way.
*I traveled to Puglia at the invitation of Puglia Promozione as part of a press tour that included international journalists and travel bloggers.
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