17 Fun Things to Do in Matera, Italy, Mysterious Stone City

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Welcome to Matera, Italy — a metropolis carved solely from stone, considered the third-oldest settlement on the planet after Aleppo and Jericho. Matera and its historic cave homes generally known as sassi sit on a rocky canyon in Basilicata, Southern Italy.

People lived in these caves in Matera, with neither electrical energy not working water, as late because the Nineteen Fifties. When this got here to gentle, the town of Matera was known as “Italy’s Great Shame.”

Matera escaped the radar of overseas vacationers for many years. However, being designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993 put the City of Caves on the map for tourism — and film scouts. Parts of The Passion of the Christ and Wonder Woman have been filmed on location in Matera. 

And then got here 2019 — after I lastly visited Matera as a part of a Puglia street journey. (While Matera is technically a part of Basilicata, it’s simply barely over the border from Puglia and is likely one of the hottest locations for vacationers in Puglia. I’m categorizing it in my Puglia content material for that purpose.)

That 12 months, Matera was designated a European Capital of Culture; shortly after, a automobile chase within the James Bond film No Time to Die was filmed within the stone metropolis. Visitor numbers skyrocketed as vacationers “rocked” as much as {photograph} the vistas and sleep in luxurious cave resorts.

Matera lived as much as my sky-high expectations — and I feel it’s going to for you, too. There’s not a single place in Italy that appears like Matera. That’s precisely why it is best to plan a go to. 

This publish was printed in December 2023 and co-written by Adventurous Kate and Hannah Cooper.

Kate wears a red dress with an asymmetrical hemline and poses in front of the city of Matera: stone towers and homes built on top of a row of sassi (caves).
This Matera shot will at all times be considered one of my favourite images of me in Italy!

Best Things to Do in Matera, Italy

Stroll via the Old Town

For all first-time Matera guests, I like to recommend getting the lay of the land with a wander across the historic middle. Piazza Vittorio Veneto is the pure start line on your first time in Matera, as this huge public sq. is house to a number of sights on this listing, together with Palombaro Lungo and Belvedere Luigi Guerricchio detto dei Tre Archi. Look out for Salvador Dalí’s Space Elephant, too.

Matera is nice enjoyable to discover independently, though this historic stroll with a neighborhood information will deepen your understanding of Matera’s distinctive historical past. As a non-public guided tour, some customization to the itinerary is feasible. Generally, the route focuses on the Sassi di Matera aspect of the traditional city and supplies a possibility to listen to extra in regards to the tradition, historical past, and structure in addition to the “Shame of Italy.”

And in case you’re a photographer, this sundown tour in Matera coincides with sunset when the town is saturated in gold and amber gentle. This exercise is likely one of the greatest issues to do in Matera in summer time.

If you’re a photographer, it is best to completely prioritize photographing the town at sundown (or dawn, in case you’re an overachiever), as a result of there’s nowhere else on the planet like this.

A simple church facade carved into a big, flat piece of rock in Matera.
Chiesa di San Pietro Barisano, by way of Shutterstock.

Visit the Church of San Pietro Barisano

Matera accommodates round 150 non secular websites, a lot of that are rupestrian church buildings: rock church buildings dug into the tufa stones of Matera. That’s an bold quantity to tick off, so make a beeline for one of many large ones: Chiesa di San Pietro Barisano.

As the most important of Matera’s rupestrian church buildings, this is likely one of the key sights to find whereas roaming the previous city. Its foundations date again to the twelfth century, though the frescoes marking the doorway are from the sixteenth century. Step inside and also you’ll see a sequence of burial niches. 

It’s free to go to the Church of Saint Peter Barisano.

A small white tuk tuk driving through the stone streets of Matera.
Tuk Tuk in Matera Italy, by way of Shutterstock

Tour Matera by Tuk Tuk

Hurtling round Matera in a tuk tuk is an expertise you received’t neglect anytime quickly! This personal panoramic tuk-tuk tour of Matera lasts 45 minutes. The route focuses on such main landmarks because the Piazza Vittorio Veneto, the sassi of Matera, and the rupestrian church buildings.

Note that this isn’t an academic tour; it’s extra of a whirlwind picture expedition. Regular stops are factored in for images and selfies. Also, it is best to know that the drivers will not be fluent in English.

Even so, it’s a cool solution to see the previous city inside a restricted timeframe or on a baking sizzling summer time day. It’s additionally probably the greatest issues to do in Matera with youthful kids or anybody with who might wrestle being on their toes all day.

A tall, square-looking stone church in Matera, Italy.
There are practically 150 church buildings in Matera Italy!

See the Churches of Matera

Out of the opposite 149 church buildings in Matera, Chiesa Rupestre di Santa Maria di Idris is likely one of the most spectacular rupestrian church buildings. Teetering over the ravine on the Monterrone hill, you’ll be able to admire it from a distance but it surely’s price visiting the crypt to see the frescoes. Admission is 4 EUR ($4.40 USD).

Chiesa di San Pietro Caveoso sits just under in a curious juxtaposition with the rock church. It’s free to go to and you’ll see a wonderful view of each church buildings on the Belvedere the place Via Muro meets Via San Giacomo.

The Cattedrale di Santa Maria della Bruna e Sant’Eustachioc (or just, Matera Cathedral) instructions consideration with its Romanesque rose window. Chiesa del Purgatorio is uncommon because it was meant as a spot of prayer for these in purgatory. These are each free to go to.

While exploring Piazza San Francesco, it’s additionally price trying out the Baroque Chiesa di San Francesco d’Assisi.

Inside a cave home in Matera: a tiny bed in the corner, lots of tools hanging on the walls, a stuffed donkey, and a mannequin of a woman spinning wool.
Life within the caves of Matera Italy was not straightforward.

Visit the Sassi of Matera

The Sassi di Matera are divided into two classes: the Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano. Evidence suggests these cave homes have been round for the reason that Paleolithic period, which is what helped earn that coveted UNESCO World Heritage standing. 

It’s a good suggestion to go to Matera’s sassi as a part of a tour; there’s a lot info that offers you the historic context you want. This Sassi di Matera tour explores each cave districts and contains visits to church buildings and homes. It hones in on the historical past of Matera and the pure caves with a good bit of strolling.

As another, this official open bus tour spares your toes. It’s a tad shorter and commentary is by way of an audio information. While not as thorough because the strolling tour, it’s nonetheless an insightful expertise and contains admission to Casa Grotta Sassi di Matera.

Casa Noha is attention-grabbing, because the minimalist exhibition is delivered via movies. These recordings don’t shrink back from the difficulties confronted by inhabitants of the caves. I’d advocate following up with a go to to Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario. This is a extra conventional expertise the place rooms are laid out with furnishings and homeware.

A long suspension bridge hanging between two sides of a canyon, people walking across it.
Tibet Suspension Bridge in Matera Italy, by way of Shutterstock

Cross the Tibetano Suspension Bridge

Stretch your legs by mountain climbing to the Ponte Tibetano della Gravina, a suspension bridge strung throughout the Gravina di Matera. It’s not as excessive up as you suppose, so even in case you’re a bit afraid of heights, you may be okay with this bridge!. 

The Tibetan-style bridge is accessible by way of a brief however strenuous hike from Via Madonna delle Virtù. Proper footwear is necessary and warning must be taken within the warmth or after rainfall. Matera will get sizzling via a lot of the 12 months, particularly summer time. Be certain to carry a bottle of water and put on solar safety.

The views are excellent right here, and it’s free to go to. 

The Palombaro Lungo, a gateway to an underground area in Matera with arched columns covered with overgrown vegetation.
Entrance of the Palombaro Lungo in Matera Italy, by way of Shutterstock.

Head underground to Palombaro Lungo

Matera is stuffed with surprises, and few locations are extra stunning than this whopping large underground cistern. Palombaro Lungo was carved into the caverns beneath Piazza Vittorio Veneto and as soon as held 5 million liters of water. While it’s not the one tank lurking beneath the town, it’s the most important by far.

This was considered one of my favourite locations to go to in Matera, and it offers perception to the engineering marvel that the town was prior to now and immediately.

Coined the Cathedral of Water, Palombaro Lungo is an unlimited labyrinth the place you’ll be able to quiet down on a sizzling summer time’s day. (For that purpose, I like to recommend saving this for the most popular time of day — the early afternoon.) Despite the dimensions, it solely takes quarter-hour to wander via the exhibition. 

Admission is 3 EUR ($2.50 USD).

The belvedere (view of Matera) with layers of stone buildings and a church steeple, in black and white.
I needed to get the Belvedere of Matera Italy in black and white.

Take within the Belvedere

In a hilly city like Matera, each road nook is worthy of belvedere standing. However, the Belvedere Luigi Guerricchio detto dei “Tre Archi” claims the highest spot for actually spectacular views. 

These sweep proper throughout the Sassi di Matera and body the cathedral. Honestly, there’s no unhealthy time to go to the belvedere. Sunset is the apparent time, however the views are attractive always of day. If you’re staying a number of days in Matera, I like to recommend visiting at totally different occasions of day to get images with totally different sorts of sunshine.

The Belvedere di Piazza Giovanni Pascoli is an alternative choice.

Explore Ipogeo MateraSum

Ipogeo MateraSum is one other underground attraction close to the cistern. As it’s lesser recognized, it’s usually skipped off a typical day journey to Matera and is likely one of the greatest uncommon issues to do in Matera.

The museum illustrates the lifestyle within the cave complicated. It’s not fairly as spectacular as Palombaro Lungo or the cave homes, but it surely’s nonetheless price visiting you probably have greater than a day in Matera.

Admission is 7 EUR ($7.50 USD) and contains an audio information. 

People walking down a stone street in Matera next to a church with a Dali exhibit.
Madonna della Virtù, by way of Lucamato on Shutterstock.

Check out the Rock Complex a Madonna della Virtù

Constructed within the Middle Ages, the Complesso Rupestre Madonna delle Virtù e San Nicola dei Greci is a monastery and church complicated. It teeters on the sting of the sassi and grants sneaky views of the town and ravine at sure factors.

The Salvador Dalí set up ushered within the crowds for a few years. Even with out the exhibition, the caves are adorned with rigorously preserved frescoes to pore over. The simplicity of the church makes it all of the extra lovely and the compound has fallen quieter for the reason that elimination of the Dalí exhibit.

A path edged with purple and green shrubs leading through a rocky landscape near Matera.
Murgia Materana Park in Matera Italy, by way of Shutterstock

Hike in Murgia Materana Park

Situated east of the Sassi di Matera, Murgia Materana Park is a large regional park on the other aspect of the Matera Ravine. You principally cross the suspension bridge and simply preserve strolling. 

Once there, you’ll spot a cluster of viewpoints and rupestrian church buildings on the best level of this aspect of the park. It’s a well-trodden path and there’s no must enlist a information until you need to enterprise deeper into the wilderness. 

Hiking in Murgia Materana Park is likely one of the greatest issues to do in Matera you probably have longer than a day. The payoff is epic views of the entire space surrounding the gorgeous metropolis. 

A bowl full of Italian panzanella (bread salad) and an aperol spritz, overlooking a view of Matera, with the stone houses and the church tower pointing upward.
Matera isn’t a nasty place for lunch with a view! Via Shutterstock.

Book a Restaurant with a View 

Round off a busy day of sightseeing with dinner spent feasting on the caves and church buildings of Matera. 

Regiacorte is likely one of the greatest locations for upscale eating with views galore on the seasonal terrace. Opt for the degustation menu and wine pairing in case you’re trying to splurge. Portions are on the smaller aspect however they’re filled with taste with a presentation as scrumptious because the style. 

Sample regional specialties like burrata and orecchiette pasta at Osteria al Casale – the pizza isn’t half unhealthy both. Popular with native households, the restaurant sits on the sting of the Sassi di Matera with the choice to sit down contained in the cave or on the terrace. 

Friendly and fuss-free, Vicolo Cieco is the proper place to take pleasure in aperitivo on the patio in summer time, simply earlier than sundown. The vintage-style inside is cozy on a cooler day in Matera. 

A tall museum in Matera, with a clock perched on top of the building.
There are loads of museums in Matera Italy — by way of Cineberg on Shutterstock.

Learn (and Play) at Local Museums

Pad out an extended itinerary (or a wet day) in Matera with one or two further museums. The Museum of Contemporary Sculpture (MUSMA) is contained throughout the Seventeenth-century Palazzo Pomarici. Emphasis is positioned on trendy statues which strikes a kooky distinction with the palatial cave setting.

Laboratory Museum of Rural Life is a treasure trove of instruments utilized by craftspeople within the area. It’s deceptively giant – particularly contemplating the marginal entry payment of 4 EUR ($4.35 USD) – and considerably chaotic. Although, it’s the cheerfully chaotic nature that makes it a lot enjoyable to discover. 

The Matera Olive Oil Museum (MOOM) takes you right down to an underground olive oil mill. MOOM can solely be visited on a guided tour, which lasts about 20 minutes. You should make your reservation not less than 3 days upfront. Get extra info, and the hyperlink to make your reservation, on the official web site.

Mission to Matera, anybody? Sparkme Space Academy is an immersive museum of astronomical proportions! Perfect for your entire household, this tour of the Museum of Space in Matera is the antidote to all of the historical past. 

A close up of a tiny model of the cave homes of Matera maybe 1000 years ago.
Sassi in Miniature may be a gimmick, but it surely’s a cute one.

See Sassi in Miniatura

If wandering round Matera’s sassi isn’t sufficient then you’ll be able to study the caves in micro-form. Sassi in Miniatura is a memento retailer with a limestone reproduction mannequin of the Sassi di Matera. Just pop in and you’ll go to it without spending a dime within the rear of the store.

Seeing as Sassi in Miniatura is at the beginning a present retailer, this is likely one of the greatest locations to choose up mementos or trinkets.

The sculptures are available in all totally different sizes with costs catering to backpackers and luxurious vacationers. 

A bowl of cavatelli pasta with tomatoes and basil.
Pasta is best when loved with a neighborhood household! Via Shutterstock.

Dine with Locals

Being invited to dinner in an Italian house is nearly probably the greatest issues that may occur to you in Italy. This eating expertise is a solution to do exactly that — and it takes place on the house of a neighborhood prepare dinner in Matera. 

Huddled across the kitchen desk, glass of wine in hand, you’ll observe a cooking demonstration and chow down on a four-course meal. The exercise is supported with cooking suggestions, tips, and knowledge — plus mountains of anecdotes. 

This distinctive cultural expertise in Matera is offered for lunch or dinner. 

A cave filled with paintings of saints in Matera Italy.
The Crypto of Original Sin in Matera Italy, by way of Gimas on Shutterstock

Enter the Crypt of Original Sin

The Crypt of Original Sin is a 15-minute drive southwest of Matera. This church is hewn into the pure caves and was a part of a Benedictine rock monastery when the Lombard tribes have been in Italy.

Richly adorned with frescoes from the Middle Ages, the church is nicknamed the “Sistine Chapel of Rupestrian Art.” Wall work depict typical scenes of the Apostles, the Archangels, the Virgin Mary, and child Jesus. However, it’s the illustration of Adam and Eve within the Garden of Eden that hogs the limelight.

Public transport doesn’t go right here so that you’ll must drive or be part of a tour from Matera. Keep your eyes peeled for indicators saying “Cripta del Peccato Originale” and keep in mind to make a reservation in case you go to independently.  

A small Italian street with arched lights in a lace-like pattern.
The Puglia city of Altamura is effectively price a fast cease.

Visit Altamura 

Twenty minutes north of Matera, Altamura is a Pugliese city with lovely structure and a legacy for bread-making. If you’re doing a day journey from a city on the coast to Matera — or transferring on to your subsequent location — that is the proper cease after leaving.

At the very least, cease briefly at Antico Forno Santa Caterina to choose up some focaccia. They have the oldest oven on the town, relationship again to medieval occasions. Their focaccia is stupendously good — most likely the most effective I’ve had in my life (sorry, Liguria) — and comes topped with an assortment of regional meats, cheeses, or veggies. 

If you’d like, carry your slice to Piazza Duomo and admire the carved facade of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. The church blends Romanesque and Gothic components and is free to enter. If you’ve gotten time, wander across the previous city and medieval gates. 

A ramp leading around a stone church topped with purple flowers in Matera.
Matera Italy is a well-liked day journey, however a number of days can be good, too.

How Much Time to Spend in Matera, Italy

Matera is arguably the most well-liked day journey vacation spot in and round Puglia — and certainly, in the future in Matera is sufficient to see the principle sights and the sassi. There are loads of choices to go about your day journey both independently or with a tour.

That mentioned, you’ll be able to completely take pleasure in your self and discover Matera in higher depth in case you spend a number of days right here. And in case you’re in a position to take action, I’d advocate staying in a cave resort. They have loads at totally different value factors, which I am going into under.

If you’re a photographer, it’s important to have a number of days in Matera to benefit from a number of sunsets and provides your self a buffer in case of unhealthy climate. (But after all, in case you’re a photographer, you already know that.)

Layers upon layers of square stone buildings in the city of Matera.
Note that this isn’t a straightforward place to drive.

How to Get to Matera, Italy

Bari International Airport (BRI), Puglia’s major airport, is the closest airport to Matera. It’s round an hour’s drive in a rental automobile or personal taxi. Direct buses from Bari Airport to Matera take 1.5 hours and are straightforward to rearrange on the airport.

If you need to have somebody ready for you on the airport, you’ll be able to pre-book a shared switch to Matera Centrale or a personal switch to your resort.

If you’d wish to e-book a day journey to Matera from one other city, there are many group excursions, like this present day journey to Matera from Bari.

Some vacationers do a southern Italy street journey that begins in Naples and ends in Bari. If that’s your plan, Matera makes a superb halfway level and is 2 hours and 45 minutes from Naples. I’d advocate staying two nights in a cave resort to provide you a full day to discover Matera (to not point out two totally different sunsets).

There are trains and buses to Matera, however nothing high-speed. Keep in thoughts that on this a part of southern Italy, if it’s not a high-speed practice, it is going to be fairly sluggish.

A luxury hotel room inside a cave, with a four-poster bed and couch, all surrounded by sand-colored stone walls.
If you’re staying in a single day in Matera, make it a cave resort! Via Shutterstock.

Where to Stay in Matera, Italy

If you propose to in a single day on this historic stone metropolis, a cave resort is a MUST! Keep in thoughts that a lot of Matera is closed to automobile visitors, and you could have to hold your baggage to your resort from the closest drop-off.

I picked out three totally different cave resorts in Matera at three totally different value ranges. Here they’re:

Luxury: Rooms on the Corte San Pietro are carved straight into the stone of an previous cave within the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The decor is stored easy with minimal elaborations apart from sunken whirlpool tubs within the personal lavatory. Breakfast is served within the courtyard in summer time.  

Midrange: Comprising 4 items, Endea Suite Rooms is likely one of the boutique resorts in Matera for intimacy. The greatest suite has a grotto spa tub for alleviating the muscle tissue after a day of hills and mountain climbing. This a part of Sasso Barisano is quiet but moments from the principle church buildings. 

Budget: Bring your entire household to Hydria Rooms the place sizable rooms function cave components and conventional supplies. Couples can go for a room with a balcony or splash out on the spa suite. All the Sassi sights are inside strollable distance of this contemporary resort. 

Another angle of stone square buildings piled on top of each other in Matera, Italy.

Best Time to Visit Matera, Italy

If you’ll be able to select anytime to go to Matera — or southern Italy as an entire — I’m an enormous fan of shoulder season, spring and fall. These months are excellent for exploring the sights with out struggling via the searing warmth.

July and August are extraordinarily busy and I like to recommend avoiding Italy at the moment if doable. If you’re trying to take pleasure in summer time climate in Puglia and southern Italy, I like to recommend planning your journey for early June or late September.

Winter is an attention-grabbing time to go to Matera. It can drop into the 30s on the coldest days which implies bundling up in heat clothes however the depleted streets are a significant benefit. While Matera is a year-round metropolis, the previous city of Matera isn’t — and needless to say many resorts and eating places will probably be closed within the winter.

A brilliant sunset in Matera Italy, with pink and blue clouds above and each building in the layered stone city lit up with glowing lamps.
If you’re a photographer, Matera is price it for images like this. Via Shutterstock.

Is Matera price it?

I feel that Matera is an absolute should for any Italy-phile. Not only for its magnificence and distinctive attributes — however due to the historical past. It’s completely stunning that individuals have been residing within the caves of Matera for thus lengthy, together with people who find themselves nonetheless alive immediately. It’s necessary to acknowledge the more durable elements of life in Italy together with the nicer elements.

No matter whether or not you go to for a day or a number of days, Matera is a fully bewitching vacation spot. I’m certain you’ll get a few of your favourite images of Italy right here.

I hope you’ve gotten essentially the most great time in Matera! I do know it’s cliche to maintain saying it, however there’s actually nowhere else in Italy prefer it.

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Have you been to Matera, Italy? Any options? Share away!

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