Travel

What to Do in Lecce, Puglia

Lecce is one of my favorite little towns in Italy for its gorgeous buildings and quiet streets. Here’s what to do in Lecce in a few days!

Lecce Puglia cover

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Lecce is truly one of the most beautiful towns in Italy. The entire old town is built in sandstone, creating this beautiful aged brightness on every street. Baroque architecture everywhere makes the whole place feel like a step back in time.

When someone talks about what to do in Lecce, you really only need a day to “accomplish” everything. It’s a fairly small town for such a major historical hub. But one of the best parts about this corner of Italy is the sleepy speed to its days. Take a few days to rest, recharge, and enjoy that quintessential dolce far niente, the sweetness of doing nothing.

Exploring Lecce's amphitheater

There are also a ton of great restaurants in Lecce- more on these coming soon! But it makes for a good base for a few days to explore the Salento region.

Renting a car makes exploring Puglia so much better. There are trains, but they often don’t connect well or run often. So it’s worth renting a car to get the most out of your time in the region.

There are a few things worth seeing as you soak in the slower pace of life! Here are my favorite parts of Lecce.

Gorgeous Lecce streets

What to do in Lecce

Everything else on this list is within the Centro Storico, but it’s the best place to wander so it’s worth its own mention.


Hard to believe but until 20 years ago, the historic center of Lecce was nearly empty. The whole area was largely abandoned. After the local government revitalized and restored many of the buildings, it’s easily the best part of the city!

The old town is nearly entirely pedestrian, making it easy to get around and glance down every side street.

Want to get a little more out of the wandering? Do a walking tour! While I usually recommend free walking tours, these haven’t taken off in Lecce. This one is paid but covers so much history that you’ll get your money’s worth!

A food tour is another great way to get your bearings. This one offers classic Pugliese street food as they take you around the major piazzas of Lecce.

Lecce Duomo

Lecce’s Churches

Like any great old Italian city, Lecce has a ton of churches. Lecce’s are especially beautiful because they match the city’s ornate architecture inside!

To see most of them, buy the LeccEcclesiae. As of spring 2024, 11€ gets you a pass into four of the major churches. While paying entry into churches is no one’s favorite, these are beautiful enough that I’d recommend it. I would say skip the extra charge to include climbing the bell tower – I’m not sure it’s worth it.

If you go this route, the ticket includes these churches:

Duomo

The Duomo, or Cathedral, is your first stop. Sitting in an unusual enclosing piazza, even the walk up is striking. Several of the surrounding buildings were in service of the religious community, including the bishop’s residence and a seminary.

Weirdly, the church has two fronts: the more ornate side faces the entrance to the piazza, but actually opens into the side of the Duomo (weird for traditional cathedral designs). The traditional placement for the door has a front facade as well, though it’s less intricate.

Gorgeous ceilings of Puglia churches

Basilica di Santa Croce

The Basilica di Santa Croce is the fan favorite. It’s the most over-the-top in terms of detailing, and the gold and wood ceiling contrasts beautifully with the white stonework everywhere. This was my favorite as well.

Chiesa di Santa Chiara

Chiesa di Santa Chiara’s claim to fame is that the ceiling interior is papier-mâché! Trust me, you won’t be able to tell. The detailing and shading make it look exactly like the wooden ceilings in other Lecce churches! It was so well done that when I got home from my trip, I had to look up online which of my photos was the papier-mâché ceiling.

Lecce is one of my favorite little towns in Italy for its gorgeous buildings and quiet streets. Here's what to do in Lecce in a few days!

Chiesa di San Matteo

In a city of baroque churches, Chiesa di San Matteo one is the most baroque! It was built over the remains of another medieval church. This one has my favorite exterior – there’s something about the curve of the front facade that I just love. The inside is ornate, with each shrine along the sides lined with those wavy columns that make my brain explode to think someone carved them by hand without computers.

Your ticket also gets you into the Ancient Seminary and Musem of Sacred Art. They’re not for everyone, but both are small enough that it’s worth swinging though, even just for the seminary’s beautiful cloister.

These aren’t all the churches, of course! Italy is packed with them, and most are still in use and free to enter. If you want a few more, swing by Chiesa di Santa Irene and Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista.

Lecce at night in Puglia!

Roman Amphitheater

While looking at the city’s architecture takes you back a few hundred years, Lecce’s history dates back thousands of years. The best place to see it is in the Roman Amphitheater!

It’s easy to find in Piazza Sant’Oronzo, which is Lecce’s main square. It dates back to the second century BC, and still puts on performances every summer. I don’t think it’s worth paying the small entry fee – there’s no need, you can see much of it from above in the piazza!

Lecce streets and corners

Castle

Lecce’s castle serves as the divide between the old town and new, making it an easy landmark. It dates back to the Middle Ages and has served all the myriad purposes such a fortress does: prison, protector of the city, barracks, and now museum and event space!

Currently, it’s only accessible by guided tour in Italian. However, it’s interesting to see the exterior, so make sure to wander over here on a passeggiata!

City Gates

Lecce’s historic center is small enough that it’s easy to make sure you see at least one of the city gates! Plus, it gives you an excuse to walk around after all that delicious Pugliese food.

The main gate, Porta Napoli, dates back to the 1500s and will remind you of a triumphal arch. Nearby Porta Rudiae is the oldest city gate and my favorite. On the other end of town is Porta San Biagio, which has buildings constructed straight onto it rather than the former protective walls.

Lecce's city gates

Puglia Souvenirs

If you want a meaningful and local souvenir, go for ceramics! Puglia is known for its ceramics, particularly a white with colorful splatters that’s iconic here.

I really loved the options at La Bottega dei Miracoli – everything is hand-painted and dishwasher-safe! But look around everywhere, each shop has slightly different styles so there’s plenty to explore and find your favorite.

What to do in Lecce, Puglia

Lecce Hotels

If you’re traveling as a couple, my top rec for a “bougie on a budget” option is Basseo33. It’s a studio apartment with everything you need – comfortable seating, great air conditioning, and a cool aesthetic. The place feels historic but has the modern amenities you want, and the decor has touches of the owner’s passion for jazz everywhere! Plus, the location is in the heart of the old town, making most of what you want to see and eat less than a 10-minute walk away! I stayed here and loved it.

A few others I’ve had my eye on include:

 
Gorgeous church ceilings in Puglia

Day Trips from Lecce

Lecce makes a great headquarters for exploring Puglia!

If you’d rather be without a car, there are plenty of group tour options that leave from Lecce. It depends on what towns you’d most like to see, but tours typically either go south to the gorgeous Salento coast or head north to picturesque towns like Alberobello, Ostuni, Locorotondo, and Monopoli.

If you can, this is best done with a car! I promise the driving here isn’t as scary as the major cities in Italy. Mostly, you’ll find small towns that make driving doable.

Old art and new art in Puglia

If you’re looking for beaches, consider these:

Gallipoli is another gorgeous historic town, but also has a sandy beach! It’s a 35 min drive or you can go by train from Lecce.

Porto Cesareo (40-minute drive) has great beaches and makes everyone’s lists for crystal clear water.

Santa Maria di Leuca (1-hour drive) is called the Maldives of Italy for its gorgeous water, which makes it worth the slightly longer drive.

Torre dell’Orso (35-minute drive) is another great beach town with the bonus of two towers called Due Sorrelle, the two sisters. They rise out of the sea and make for some pretty majestic photos.

Lecce Puglia day trip

Figuring out what to do in Lecce isn’t hard – it’s figuring out how to drag yourself out that’s tough!

Coming soon: my favorite restaurants in the city! Check back next week, or grab my interactive Thatch guide for everything here plus restaurants, bars, maps, and more sights!

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