Matera: The Most Spectacular City in Italy

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In Matera Italy you’ll spend a lot of time in caves. You’ll sleep in a cave, eat in a cave, drink an aperitivo in a cave, and even view modern sculpture in a cave.

The ancient neighbourhoods, known as sassi, are a series of grottoes carved out of limestone, teetering on the edge of a ravine.

This southern Italian city is one of the most unique and spectacular places we’ve visited in Italy or anywhere in the world.

For years Matera wasn’t well known to foreign visitors, but that has been changing since it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, a European Capital of Culture in 2019, and the 2021 James Bond film No Time to Die was filmed here.

While visitor numbers have grown and many of the caves have been transformed into stylish hotels and restaurants, Matera still has an undiscovered air and far fewer tourists than further north.

In this post I share the best things to do in Matera, where to stay and eat, how to get there, and a map with all the top attractions.

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Update 2021: Green Pass Required

Since 6 August 2021 everyone over 12 years old in Italy is required to show a Green Pass to enter indoor venues like restaurants and museums. From September it is also required to access domestic flights and train travel between regions.

This health pass shows proof of vaccination against COVID-19, recovery from the virus within the last six months, or a negative test taken within the last 48 hours.

Vaccination certificates issued in other EU countries, the US, UK, Canada, Japan, and Israel will also be accepted in lieu of the Green Pass. They can be presented in digital or paper form. You must also show your ID.

Read more about the Italy Green Pass.

I also recommend making sure that your travel insurance covers COVID-19 medical expenses. We use SafetyWing nomad insurance, which does cover it and is available worldwide.

World Nomads is another reliable insurance company that includes Covid medical and cancellation costs for certain nationalities.

Video: Italy Travel Inspiration 

We recommend combining a trip to Matera with the neighbouring region of Puglia. Discover the best places to visit in this video. 

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Matera Travel Tips and Facts

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Where is Matera Italy?

Matera is located in a remote corner of southern Italy in the small region Basilicata.

The nearest airport is 65km (40 miles) away in Bari in the Puglia region.

Matera is 250km (155 miles) or a 3-hour drive from Naples.

Below you’ll find more details on how to get to Matera.

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How Old is the City of Matera Italy?

Matera is one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in history dating back to the Palaeolithic period.

On the other side of the ravine from the sassi, you can see the simple forms of the Neolithic caves where people lived 7000 years ago.

Neolithic caves in Matera
Neolithic caves on the other side of the ravine from Matera

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What is Matera Known For?

Matera is known as the city of caves with spectacular scenery, stylish cave hotels, and a fascinating history.

It wasn’t always a desirable location, though.

Until the 1950s, Matera was a source of shame for Italy. It was a place of poverty, malaria, and high rates of infant mortality, where people lived in caves without electricity, running water, or sewage.

Carlo Levi’s book Christ Stopped at Eboli, published in 1945, raised awareness of the desperate conditions people were living in.

About half of the 30,000 population were moved to new homes in the modern part of the city between 1953 and 1968.

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How Many Days Do You Need in Matera?

Matera is very walkable and you can get a good sense of the sassi with one day in Matera.

Some people visit on a day trip from Puglia. While this is doable, I recommend staying for at least two nights.

Matera is such a special place that it’s worth at least two days to soak up the atmosphere, see the city lit up at night, and enjoy some delicious meals.

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What to Pack for a Matera Trip

I recommend packing as lightly as possible. If you stay in the sassi of Matera you won’t be able to park nearby and will likely need to carry your luggage up the many steep staircases.

If you are driving, it’ll be easier if you leave most of your lugagge in the car and take a small backpack to your hotel.

Some hotels may be able to help with luggage or provide a valet parking service—check with them in advance.

The best way to explore Matera is on foot so comfortable shoes are essential.

In summer, I like a combination of Teva Verra hiking sandals and Allbirds ballet flats, which are dressier but still ultra comfortable.

In cooler weather, Allbirds Wool Runners are my favourite walking shoes. See my Allbirds review for more details.

Our carry on packing list has everything we pack for our full-time travels.

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What to Do in Matera

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Stay in a Matera Cave Hotel

One of the most unique things about Matera is the large number of cave hotels and B&Bs. Staying in one really adds to the magical experience of visiting the city.

On our last visit we stayed at Bed and Breakfast La Corte dei Pastori in the heart of the old sassi. We loved the atmospheric rooms, gorgeous views, delicious breakfast, and friendly hosts.

See the Where to Stay in Matera section below for more details.

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Wander and Get Lost

The best thing to do in Matera is wander and get lost in the incredible streets.

Although we preferred exploring alone, it could be worthwhile visiting with a guide to learn more about Matera’s history.

This two-hour guided tour of Matera’s sassi is affordable and gets excellent reviews. Or check out this private Matera walking tour for a more personal experience.

If you don’t want to walk, the only option is this tour in an Ape, an open-sided tuk-tuk.

From Matera’s train station we walked through the modern city of Baroque churches and graceful palaces.

The first glimpse of the sassi (the stones) stops you in your tracks, looking down at the dramatic tangle of grey stone houses; a contrast with the elegance of the new town.

Walking down a steep staircase we plunged into the magical world that doesn’t quite feel real.

Sassi of Matera, Italy

Buildings climb up and down the hillside, houses piled on top of each other, the roofs of some acting as streets for those above.

They were carved out of the rock and the original caves extended with facades that look like normal homes.

Matera Sassi

The best way to explore the neighbourhoods Sasso Barisano and Sasso Caveoso is on foot.

Roam through the labyrinth of narrow alleyways, up and down uneven stone staircases, discovering dead ends and tiny courtyards adorned with flower pots, cave churches and expansive views of the sassi.

Sassi of Matera
Sassi of Matera

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Visit Cave Churches

The cave church Madonna de Idris, Matera
The cave church Santa Maria de Idris

One of the Matera highlights is the many chiese rupestre, churches that have been carved out of the soft tufa rock. Many of them contain ancient frescoes.

Some cave churches to visit include Santa Maria de Idris, which sits high on top of a rock, and San Pietro Barisano, the largest rupestrian church, which dates back to the 12th century.

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Explore the Uninhabited Caves of Sasso Caveoso

Most of the caves in Matera are now homes, hotels, restaurants, and bars.

But on the edge of town in Sasso Caveoso you can wander through uninhabited caves and get a sense of what it was like to live here years ago.

It’s the rawer side of town, and for us, the most fascinating.

Uninhabited caves in Sasso Caveoso, Matera
Uninhabited caves in Sasso Caveoso
Uninhabited caves in Sasso Caveoso
Uninhabited caves in Sasso Caveoso
You can walk inside many of the old caves in Sasso Caveoso

Learn Matera’s History at Casa Noha

A good first stop in Matera is Casa Noha, where you can watch a 30-minute film about Matera’s history.

Casa Noha is open every day except Wednesdays from 10am to 7pm (5pm in winter). Entrance is €6.

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Admire Sculptures at MUSMA

MUSMA (Museum of Contemporary Sculpture) is an art museum with modern sculptures scattered in the nooks and crannies of a 17th-century cave palace.

It’s an extraordinary setting and worth a visit even if you aren’t into modern art.

MUSMA is open from Tuesday to Sundays (closed Mondays) from 10am to 8pm (until 6pm in winter). Entrance is €7.

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Head Back in Time at Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario

Located in Sasso Caveoso, the Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario is a typically furnished cave dwelling where you can see how people lived in these caves in the 18th century.

It’s touristy and gets crowded with tour groups, but it’s still worth seeing for an insight into life in the sassi.

The entire family (on average six members) including animals like mules, chickens, and pigs lived together in the cave. You can see the typical furnishings, tools and other artefacts of the time.

Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario is open every day from 9.30am to 8pm. Entrance is €3.

Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario
Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario

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Walk into the Ravine

Matera on the edge of the ravine
Matera on the edge of the ravine

It looks daunting, but the walk down into the ravine and the return back up isn’t too difficult. Try to go early or late to avoid the midday heat, though, and take plenty of water.

This whole area is part of the protected Parco della Murgia Materana.

It’s quiet in the ravine and you get another perspective of the city looming above.

You can find the trail down at Porta Pistola. At the bottom you cross a river and then choose from the many trails that crisscross the hillside.

If we’d had more time, we would have walked up to the other side of the ravine. The views back across to Matera are best at Belvedere Murgia Timone. The walk here takes about two hours. There are a number of rupestrian churches nearby carved out of the rock.

If you don’t feel like hiking, you can reach the viewpoint by car—it’s a 15-minute drive from Matera Centrale train station. It would be stunning at sunset.

You can also explore the cave churches on this guided tour to Murgia Park.

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Where to Stay in Matera

The most atmospheric and welcoming places to stay in Matera are cave hotels and B&Bs.

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B&B La Corte dei Pastori

On our last trip, we stayed at Bed and Breakfast La Corte dei Pastori run by the friendly young couple Tiziana and Mimmo.

We stayed in the largest room with a spacious living area with a couch, table and fridge, and a bedroom at the other end.

It’s been lovingly restored with an arched ceiling from rustic creamy stone and the decor is kept simple with just some lovely details like a carving of the city along the wall.

B&B La Corte dei Pastori, a cave hotel in Matera, Italy
Our cave room at B&B La Corte dei Pastori
B&B La Corte dei Pastori review, a cave hotel in Matera, Italy

The cave is cool inside but doesn’t feel damp. There’s good WiFi and the bathroom has a powerful rain shower and is decorated with a colourful mural of the Basilicata countryside.

The best thing about the B&B is the location, right next to San Pietro Caveoso church on the edge of the ravine, with wonderful views of the sassi through the glass door in our room and from their terrace.

I don’t think we’ve ever eaten breakfast in a more scenic location, and the food is delicious—a big spread of focaccia, bread, jams, croissants, biscuits, yoghurt, fruit, juice, and coffee, far more than we could eat.

Breakfast with a view at La Corte dei Pastori cave hotel in Matera, Italy
Breakfast with a view at La Corte dei Pastori
The view from La Corte dei Pastori in Matera, Italy
The view from La Corte dei Pastori

La Corte dei Pastori was the perfect place to stay in Matera—it’s affordable, unique, friendly, and has an incredible location. Check the latest prices here

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Other Matera Cave Hotels

Don’t miss out on staying in a Matera cave hotel. 

You can find more B&Bs and hotels in Matera here

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Where to Eat in Matera

The food in Matera is on a par with our favourite Italian food in neighbouring Puglia and uses lots of fresh seasonal vegetables.

You’ll find the same huge plates of antipasti as well as orecchiette pasta and fava bean puree with chicory. Look out for delicious bread, too.

We ate at two restaurants very close to our B&B and recommend them both.

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Ristorante Francesca

Ristorante Francesca is a classy cave restaurant with a contemporary twist from the modern lampshades and purple chairs.

We shared the five antipasti of the house plate which changes daily. It’s more creative and refined than your usual antipasti.

We had a zucchini flower tortino, melanzana parmigiana, fava bean puree with chicory, bread balls in a tomato sauce, and figs stuffed with orange ricotta and mint.

We followed that with orecchiette with fave bean puree and mushrooms.

Antipasti at Ristorante Francesca: figs stuffed with orange ricotta, bread balls in a tomato sauce, zucchini flower *tortino*, and *melanzana parmigiana*
Antipasti at Ristorante Francesca: figs stuffed with orange ricotta, bread balls in a tomato sauce, zucchini flower tortino, and melanzana parmigiana

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Trattoria del Caveoso

Trattoria del Caveoso is a simpler, less expensive restaurant, but the food is still excellent.

The antipasti plate was delicious and varied, and there was a good choice of vegetarian pasta dishes.

We had orecchiette with cherry tomatoes, caciocavallo cheese and rocket, and cavatelli with the local dried red chiles, caciocavallo and fried bread.

We even got a complimentary limoncello after our meal.

Antipasti plate at Trattoria del Caveoso, Matera
Antipasti plate at Trattoria del Caveoso
Cavatelli pasta with dried red chiles, caciocavallo cheese and fried bread at Trattoria del Caveoso, Matera
Cavatelli pasta with dried red chiles, caciocavallo cheese and fried bread

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How to Get to Matera

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Matera by Plane

The nearest airport to Matera is 65km away in Bari, Puglia (airport code BRI).

I highly recommend combining Matera with a visit to the neighbouring region of Puglia (here are the Puglia towns we recommend).

On both of our trips, Bari was our access point—there’s a major train station and an airport served by budget airlines.

Search on Kiwi.com for the cheapest flights to Bari.  

From the airport you can hire a car or take the airport shuttle bus. The Pugliairbus takes 1 hour 15 minutes from Bari airport to Matera. It costs €6.

You can also arrange a private transfer from the airport to Matera.

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Matera by Car

From Bari you can also hire a car—either from the airport if arriving by plane or from the centre if arriving by train.

This is the best option if you are planning to tour Puglia as well as visit Matera.

Parking and navigating the streets in Matera can be tricky, but we have managed it before.

Once you are in Matera you don’t really need a car unless you want to visit some of the attractions further afield. The city is fairly small and walkable, as long as you can deal with the many staircases.

I use Rental Cars to search for the best deals.

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Where Can I Park in Matera Italy?

The biggest problem with travelling to Matera by car is that you are not allowed to park in the sassi or historic centre unless you have a permit.

For most of the day it’s not even possible to drive into the ZTL (Limited Traffic Zone).

It’s best to ask your accommodation in advance where to park. In some cases you might be able to drop off your luggage and then go to park your car outside the centre.

Driving in the sassi is quite stressful, though, so I’d avoid it if possible.

One of the nearest car parks to the sassi is Parcheggio Nicoletti Michele, which costs €15 a day.

It’s privately run and you need to leave your keys with them, but it gets good reviews. From there it’s a 10 minute walk to the B&B we stayed in.

A cheaper parking spot is Parcheggio Via Saragat, a large car park that costs €0.50 per hour.

It’s a 25 minute walk from the car park to our B&B or you can take the Linea Sassi bus from outside.

This bus runs every 30 minutes right into the sassi and ends at Piazza San Pietro Caveoso. You can buy tickets on board for €1.50.

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Matera by Train

Taking the train avoids parking hassles. The train from Bari to Matera is run by a private company and is a slow commuter train that doesn’t run on Sundays.

You can see the timetable on the Ferrovie Appulo Lucane website. Tickets cost €5.10 each way and it takes at least 1.5 hours.

Trains leave from the FAL station next to the main station in Bari.

From Matera Centrale station you can walk to the sassi in about 15 minutes (which is what we did) or take the Linea Sassi bus.

To travel by train from elsewhere in Italy to Matera, you will have to change in Bari.

You can buy tickets to Bari on TrenItalia (using Italian place names) or on ItaliaRail (easier for English speakers).

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Matera Italy Map

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Is Matera Italy Worth Visiting?

Yes, Matera is absolutely worth visiting! Matera is truly special—it has a spectacular setting, fascinating history, and excellent cuisine. It’s as beautiful as many cities in Italy but far less crowded.

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104 Comments

  1. Hi Erin,
    Sounds like a wonderful city to visit especially after watching No Time to Die.
    What is the festival in the movie about burning a paper to forget the past? And when is that and called?
    So is it sage for a solo to take a bus or train from Bari? I think it is but just like to reconfirm.

    Thanks so much
    Jeannie butler

    Reply ↓

    • Hi Jeannie, it is such a beautiful city and safe for solo travellers to get there from Bari.

      I think they made the festival up for the film, but it is partly based on Matera’s largest festival, Festa della Bruna, which takes place on 2nd July each year.

      I hope you make it there!

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  2. My friend is in Matera now. He sent me amazing photos of this incredible place. The caves, the buildings, the food,
    what a historical phenomenon. He can’t stop raving about Matera. I can see why by the photos.
    Hopefully some day I’ll get there. Italy has always been my favourite country, along with Cuba.
    Matera is a must. Totally unique. Looks tranquil and peaceful.

    Reply ↓

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