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The best things to do in Lecce aren’t necessarily its museums and churches.
Instead, Lecce is for experiencing—wandering the narrow streets of golden sandstone, finding hidden piazzas, lazy lunches in wine bars with a glass of local rose and a view of an extravagantly carved baroque church.
On our third visit to Lecce, we spent a month in this small university city (population: 95,000) located in the Salento region of Puglia in the heel of Italy’s boot.
Most visitors only come for a day or two, but we never got bored on our extended stay in this beautiful city.
In this Lecce travel guide, I share our tips for what to do in Lecce Italy, as well as where to eat and stay, how to get there, and more.
At the end of the post, you’ll find a map with all these Lecce attractions.
- Best Things to Do in Lecce, Italy
- Day Trips from Lecce
- Best Beaches Near Lecce
- Where to Eat in Lecce
- Where to Stay in Lecce
- Lecce Shopping
- Where to Run in Lecce
- How to Get to Lecce, Italy
- The Best Time of Year to Visit Lecce
- Lecce Italy Map
- Is Lecce Worth Visiting?
- More Puglia Tips
Best Things to Do in Lecce, Italy
1) Wander Lecce’s Historic Centre
The heart of Lecce is where you’ll spend most of your time. Traffic is limited in the centre so it’s a pleasure to wander.
Despite the historic centre’s small size, we always found a new hidden corner on our daily walks.
Lecce has grown in popularity since our last visit five years ago, and the tour groups have arrived, but it’s nothing compared to the crowds of Florence or Rome.
All you have to do is head down a side street to find a quiet spot to yourself.
If you’d prefer to explore with a guide and learn more about the city’s history, check out one of these tours:
- Lecce History and Street Food Tasting Tour – On this three-hour tour, you’ll see the highlights of Lecce while trying local snacks like rustico and pasticciotto.
- Lecce: Rickshaw Guided City Highlights Tour – If you have limited mobility, explore the top Lecce sights in a cute rickshaw. Private and shared tours are available from one to three hours.
- Lecce: Baroque Architecture and Underground Walking Tour – A two-hour tour that includes Baroque churches and the Jewish Museum.
2) See the Roman Amphitheatre in Piazza Sant’Oronzo
A good starting point for your Lecce explorations is the city’s main square, Piazza Sant’Oronzo.
I recommend picking up a Lecce sightseeing map from the tourist office here. You can also see our Lecce map below featuring all our favourite places.
The highlight is the large Roman amphitheatre which once seated 14,000 spectators on its two tiers, although only the lower tier remains. Sometimes concerts still take place here.
In the piazza, you can also see the column of Sant’Oronzo and an unusual 20-meter high bronze clock, the Orologio Delle Meraviglie, created in 1955 on the wall of the Banco di Napoli.
If you are in need of refreshment, Caffe Alvino is a good place for a coffee and pastry or aperitivo.
3) Visit Lecce Cathedral
Lecce’s Cathedral is on one of the most beautiful squares in Lecce, the Piazza del Duomo.
Unlike Piazza Sant’Oronzo, which is bustling with cafes and shops, the Piazza del Duomo has a more intimate feel and is enclosed by ornate buildings including the bishop’s residence and seminary.
The Cathedral was originally built in 1144 and was rebuilt in the 17th century by architect Giuseppe Zimbalo in the decorative baroque style that now characterises the city.
It’s also worth seeing the Duomo lit up at night.
You can now pay to take an elevator up Lecce’s bell tower for a view over the city, but many visitors say it’s not worth the extra €12 fee.
Lecce Cathedral is open 9am – 9pm (until 6pm in winter).
Entrance costs €6, but it’s better value to buy a €9 ticket that includes all the major Lecce churches. Family combo tickets cost €19. You can buy tickets from the information point across the piazza from the Cathedral.
See the LeccEcclesiae website for details.
4) Admire the Extravagant Basilica di Santa Croce
Lecce’s most extravagant baroque church is Santa Croce, also designed by Zimbalo. If you only visit one church in Lecce, make it this one.
The facade features intricate carved figures and a rosette window, and inside are ornate columns and a decorative ceiling.
Next to Santa Croce is another Zimbalo creation, the Palazzo dei Celestini, now the seat of the local government.
After admiring the exterior you can walk through the courtyard and out the archway to reach Lecce’s park (see below).
Just beyond the church and palace is a lovely little street full of wine bars—perfect for a light lunch or aperitivo.
Santa Croce is open 9am – 9pm (until 6pm in winter). Entrance is included in the €9 combo ticket that you can buy near the Cathedral.
5) Tour Lecce’s Other Churches
There are so many other churches to explore in Lecce—wander randomly and you’ll come across them, or follow the trail on the city tourist map.
A few to look out for are Santa Chiara, San Matteo, Santa Irene, and San Giovanni Battista.
Most churches are intricately decorated in the 17th-century baroque style with cherubs, gargoyles, and gremlins carved out of the soft Leccese stone.
Santa Chiara and San Matteo are included in the Lecce church combo ticket (see Cathedral above).
6) Take an Evening Passeggiata
If you want a real experience of Italian life, join the evening passeggiata when locals of all ages take a pre-dinner stroll.
The streets come to life after the afternoon slumber and the buildings turn golden as the sun sets.
The heart of the action is Via Vittorio Emanuele II between Piazza Sant’Oronzo and Piazza del Duomo—on weekends it gets very busy, but it certainly is lively.
7) Learn to Make Local Dishes on a Cooking Course
Our favourite Lecce activity was taking a cooking class with Cooking Experience Lecce.
We joined local chef Gianna for a tour of the city’s produce market before heading to a 17th-century palazzo for a fun, informal cooking class.
We all pitched in to make local specialities like parmigiana di melanzana (eggplant parmesan) and orecchiette pasta before enjoying a leisurely dinner on the terrace.
A cooking class is a great way to learn more about the local food, have a unique experience, and enjoy a delicious meal.
Read more about our Lecce cooking class experience.
Other cooking classes in Lecce include:
- Orecchiette Cooking Class and Wine Tasting – A two-hour class combining pasta making with tasting local wines (with snacks).
- Market Visit and Private Cooking Class at a Local’s Home – A 5-hour private class that takes you from shopping at the market to learning to cook three local dishes to enjoying everything you’ve made.
8) Discover Lecce’s Portas (City Gates)
The three remaining city gates of the previously walled city are useful landmarks for navigating the city, and all are decorative and worth seeing.
Once you pass through the gates, you leave the historic centre behind for the modern part of the city which is less attractive, but it does have some good restaurants and shops.
The main city gate is Porta Napoli built in 1548 for a state visit from Charles V and modelled on a Roman triumphal arch. Just outside the arch is the obelisk and beyond this is the university area.
Further south on the same side of the city is Porta Rudiae, the oldest of the gates, which is topped by statues of saints. Just outside is the small produce market.
On the other side of the centre is Porta San Biagio, probably the least visited gate but it’s still impressive.
9) Head Underground at Museo Faggiano
We don’t usually visit archaeological museums but we were intrigued by Museo Faggiano because of its origin story.
It was a normal private house until 2001 when the owner needed to break into the floor to deal with a sewerage problem. Below the family discovered layers of archaeological remains dating back 2500 years.
You can do a self-guided tour of the house and see what they uncovered including underground cisterns, tombs, escape holes, and secret passageways.
The building dates back to pre-Roman times and was a Knights Templar house from 1000 to 1200 and a convent of Franciscan nuns until 1600.
Museo Faggiano is open all day from 9.30 am – 8 pm. Entrance is €5.
10) Learn the Hidden History at Museo Ebraico di Lecce (Jewish Museum)
The Jewish Museum in Palazzo Taurino opened in 2016 to highlight the little known Jewish history of Lecce.
This area was a thriving Jewish community in the Middle Ages until the Jews were expelled around 1540.
Most of the Jewish buildings were destroyed and baroque churches were rebuilt on top, including Santa Croce (next to the museum).
Entrance includes a guided tour. At the end, there’s a moving video about another aspect of Jewish history in the Salento when Jewish refugees after WW2 were put in camps here and worked in partnership with local Catholics.
Lecce Jewish Museum is open every day from 10 am – 6 pm (mornings only on Sundays and holidays). Entrance is €9 and includes a 20-minute guided tour. 1 hour tours are also available if you book.
11) Admire the Roman Theatre
Hidden amongst the narrow streets of the baroque city is a 2nd century CE Roman Theatre (Teatro Romano) that once seated 4000 people and was only rediscovered amongst the gardens and palaces in 1929.
You can see the theatre from Via Arte della Cartapesta, a small street to the left of Chiesa Santa Chiara.
To go inside, the entrance is on Via degli Ammirati and costs €3 and includes entrance to a small museum. Opening hours are limited (mornings are probably the best time).
12) Stroll Past Convitto Palmieri
Convitto Palmieri isn’t a Lecce tourist attraction. I discovered it by accident and was amazed that this grand column-lined square wasn’t marked on the tourist maps.
The building houses a library and the square is a hang out for kids in the evenings with a couple of bars opposite.
13) Picnic in Villa Comunale Park
Lecce’s most pleasant green space is the small Villa Comunale just outside the centre. It’s worth visiting for a short stroll or picnic.
Day Trips from Lecce
Lecce is the ideal base for exploring the Salento region as it’s located between the Adriatic and Ionian Seas so you can reach all of the peninsula’s sights within 30–60 minutes.
In just over an hour you can also visit the gorgeous towns of the Valle d’Itria further north, but I prefer to stay in that area for part of my time in Puglia.
See our detailed travel guide to the Salento Peninsula for lots of day trip ideas.
Here are my favourite places to visit with driving times from Lecce:
- Otranto (40 minutes) – A beautiful seaside town overlooking the turquoise sea.
- Coast North of Otranto (approx 35 minutes) – Some great beaches including Torre dell’Orso and the unique Cave of Poetry swimming hole.
- Gallipoli (35 minutes) – Another lovely seaside town with a beach and old olive press to visit.
- Castro (40 minutes) – A charming coastal town that’s less visited than Otranto and Gallipoli. See my Castro Puglia travel guide for tips.
- Galantina (25 minutes) – A small town with a baroque centre that’s often overlooked.
- Coriglione d’Otranto (25 minutes) – An untouristy town with an interesting medieval castle.
You can read my post on the best places to visit in Puglia for more ideas beyond the Salento.
Having a car is by far the easiest and quickest way to take day trips from Lecce as public transport is limited (see the How to Get to Lecce section below).
To cover a lot of ground without a car you could take a tour like one of these:
- Full-Day Salento Tour with Professional Guide – This eight-hour, small-group tour covers the highlights of the Salento including Otranto, Gallipolli, Galatina and even all the way down to Santa Maria di Leuca.
- From Lecce: Ostuni, Alberobello, Polignano Tour – If you won’t be staying overnight in the Valle d’Itria, see three of the most beautiful towns on this eight-hour day trip.
Best Beaches Near Lecce
The nearest beach to Lecce is San Cataldo on the Adriatic Coast, which is a 20-minute drive and has a free section and lidos (beach clubs) with umbrella/sun lounger rentals.
A better option, though, is to head west to the Ionian Coast. Nearest to Lecce are the string of beaches north of Porto Cesareo including Torre Lapillo and Punta Prosciutto with their soft white sand and turquoise sea.
Torre Lapillo is 35 minutes from Lecce. As we visited in August peak season, when the free beach was packed, we splurged on the fancy beach club, Bahia del Sol Porto Cesareo.
For a more natural experience with pine forest rather than beach clubs, visit the pebble beach at Porto Selvaggio, which is 30 minutes south of Lecce.
There are also some lovely beaches north of Otranto including Torre dell’Orso, which is 30 minutes from Lecce.
See our guide to the best beaches in Puglia for lots more ideas.
Where to Eat in Lecce
The food is a highlight of a trip to Lecce—morning pastries with iced almond milk coffee, a puff pastry rustico for lunch, evening aperitivo snacks, and multi-course dinners of generous vegetable antipasti and hearty plates of pasta.
Top it all off with a gelato and a stroll along the beautifully lit streets.
Puglia is our favourite Italian region for eating and it’s wonderfully vegetarian-friendly (although fish and meat lovers will find plenty on offer too).
See our detailed guide to Lecce restaurants for the best local dishes and restaurants to try, but here are our top picks:
- Pizza & Co – Absolutely delicious pizza slices. Perfect for a quick, inexpensive meal.
- Baldo – Our favourite gelato spot.
- Enoteca Mamma Elvira – Brilliant wine bar with a huge selection of wines by the glass and delicious light meals.
- Osteria Da Angiulino – Excellent value traditional food.
- Alle Due Corti – Another great spot for traditional dishes.
- Osteria degli Spiriti – A more upmarket restaurant with an excellent multi-dish antipasti.
Where to Stay in Lecce
I recommend staying within the historic centre if possible as it’s much more attractive than the modern part of town.
That said, if you have a car it will be easier to find parking outside the centre (where traffic is restricted).
Lecce Hotels and B&Bs
- Dimora Storica Torre Del Parco 1419 – My top pick for a luxury stay is this gorgeous hotel in a medieval castle with its own tower just outside the centre. The stylish rooms have been lovingly restored with antique furniture and modern facilities. Book the hot tub suite for special occasions! The classic rooms can be surprisingly affordable if you book in advance.
- La Fiermontina Urban Resort – This 5-star hotel is the only place within walking distance of the centre with a swimming pool. It looks very stylish and peaceful.
- B&B Le Caruse – Friendly B&B with clean, modern rooms just outside Porta San Biagio.
- Palazzo Bignami – Comfortable, stylish B&B with a roof terrace just outside the centre.
- Apartment Don Giuliano Centro – A small but modern studio apartment in the centre.
- Dimora Vico dei Nohi – Clean rooms in a historic building just outside the centre.
If you’d rather rent an apartment (as we did on our last visit), see holiday rentals in Lecce on Vrbo.
Clothes and Souvenirs
We’re not into shopping, but Lecce does have lots of cute looking independent clothing, jewellery, and craft stalls. Good streets to browse are Via Palmieri and Via Vittorio Emanuele II.
For chain clothing and lingerie stores head out of the centre from the main piazza along Via Salvatore Trinchese. Unlike most of the small shops, many of the chains stay open all afternoon.
Lecce is famous for its papier mâché (cartapesta in Italian) which was originally used for creating religious statues that were lighter to carry for festivals.
You can find a few small studios around town to pick up a unique souvenir such as Cartapesta Riso on Via Vittorio Emanuele II.
- Morning market – Just outside Porta Rudiae is a small market (Mercatino Porta Rudiae on Google Maps) where you can pick up local produce.
- Biweekly market – Unfortunately Lecce’s market (Mondays and Fridays) is quite far out of the centre near the stadium. It’s huge and consists mostly of cheap clothes, although there are some good, inexpensive produce stalls selling fruit, vegetables, olives, nuts, and dried beans. It’s not worth going out of your way for unless you have a car and are self-catering.
- Dok – The biggest supermarket in the centre.
Where to Run in Lecce
It’s best to run as early as possible to beat the heat and to avoid the crowds when running through the centre.
The small park Villa Comunale close to the centre would be good for laps, but it doesn’t open until 9 am so was no good for me.
For short runs I headed instead to the Parco di Belloluogo next to the cemetery (leave the old city from Porta Napoli). It opens at 8 am and there are toilets and water taps. A full loop is around 1.5km and takes you past a tower and olive trees.
For longer runs I headed out of town into the countryside along Via Vecchia Frigole north of the centre. It starts out as pavement, turns into a cycle path, and then becomes a quiet country road. You do have to cross over a highway at one point, but there was no traffic early on Sunday mornings.
How to Get to Lecce, Italy
You can reach Lecce easily by direct Trenitalia train from cities such as Brindisi (30 minutes), Bari (1.5 hours), Rome (5.5 hours), and Bologna (7 hours). From Naples you’ll have to change trains at Caserta (5.5 hours total).
You can check timetables and book tickets in advance for the best rates from the Trenitalia website. You need to use Italian place names (i.e Torino not Turin).
The Bari to Lecce Trenitalia train stops at a number of places in Puglia including Polignano A Mare, Monopoli, Cisternino, and Ostuni.
Lecce is also on the local FSE train line, but these trains are much slower, less frequent, and can be unreliable. You can reach Gallipoli direct in 1.5 hours and Galatina in 45 minutes.
Getting to Otranto involves two changes (at Zollino and Maglie) and takes at least 1.5 hours.
Make sure you check outward and return train times before you set out on a day trip. Avoid travelling on Sundays when services are even more limited.
In summer (mid June to early September), FSE sometimes runs extra trains in the Salento including a direct train from Lecce to Otranto (1 hour 10 minutes), which makes travelling around the region a little easier.
You don’t need a car in Lecce as it’s small enough to walk everywhere and parking isn’t easy. But if you’ll be exploring the area it’s much easier to do so by car than by public transport.
On our first two short trips to Lecce we had a car. On our last long stay we arrived by train from Bologna and rented a car for just a few days for some day trips.
We had intended to get around by public transport, but the schedules were so limited and the journeys so much longer that we decided to rent a car.
We booked with Maggiore—booking a week in advance for a small Fiat Punta for three days for just £20 ($27).
It was a rather old car with no USB socket and the lady in the office was very grumpy (she was not pleased we hadn’t printed out our booking), but you can’t beat the price. The Maggiore office is a 20-minute walk from the centre out of Porta Napoli.
When we left Lecce we rented a car for a one way rental from Lecce to Foggia for a two-week road trip along the length of the region.
It cost £232 ($311) for 15 days including one-way fee with Avis who were more professional than Maggiore and our car was more modern with a USB socket. The Avis office is a 20-minute walk south of the centre past the train station.
Once we dropped the car in Foggia we took the train to Rome (3 hours).
I recommend renting the smallest car as it’s easier to navigate Italy’s narrow streets and park.
Check with your accommodation in Lecce about where to park. We found free street parking outside the old city just north of the station on Via Giuseppe Petraglione.
From the Airport to Lecce
The nearest airport to Lecce is Brindisi (30-minute drive), while Bari airport is a 2-hour drive away.
You can rent a car at Brindisi airport or take a shuttle bus from the airport to Lecce (40 minutes, €6.50).
The Best Time of Year to Visit Lecce
We have visited Lecce in April, May, June and September and the weather was hot and sunny most of the time.
The summer months July and August are very hot and crowded and it’s best to avoid visiting then if possible.
June and September have reliable weather and are the best times to enjoy the beaches without huge crowds.
In April-May it was sunny most days with daytime temperatures in the high 20s Celsius and night temperatures around 17–20ºC.
By the end of April we could go out for dinner without a sweater. We did have a couple of rainy days though. October would be similar.
If you aren’t bothered about sunbathing on the beach, then winter isn’t a bad time to visit. The weather will be variable, but you’ll benefit from lower prices and fewer crowds.
Lecce Italy Map
Is Lecce Worth Visiting?
Yes, Lecce is well worth visiting! It’s one of our favourite cities in Italy.
We love the beautiful architecture, lively yet relaxed atmosphere, tasty food and wine, and the central location for exploring the Salento.
I hope you add Lecce to your Puglia itinerary, and that this post helps you make the most of your stay.
More Puglia Tips
- The Ultimate Travel Guide to Salento Puglia
- 19 Best Restaurants in Lecce
- Castro, Italy Travel Guide: Puglia’s Underrated Seaside Town
- Visiting Porto Selvaggio Beach, Puglia
Elsewhere in Puglia
- 15 Towns Not to Miss in Puglia, Italy
- 17 Best Beaches in Puglia
- A Guide to Ostuni, Puglia
- 17 Best Things to Do in Bari, Puglia
- 8 Beautiful Places to Visit in the Gargano
Matera (in neighbouring Basilicata)
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