There are few places in the world as magical, fascinating, and yet still quite unknown as Matera. Located in the region of Basilicata, this 2019 European Capital of Culture is thought to be one of the most inhabited settlements in history dating back to the Paleolithic period. Read this guide to make your own Matera itinerary and discover the perfect way to spend one day in Matera and why Matera needs to be on your travel radar.
How Many Days in Matera?
One of your first questions while planning your time in Matera will be how many days to spend in Matera? If you’re looking to make a Matera day trip from Bari or other nearby areas, Matera can very easily be explored in one day.
Matera in one day is a great experience itself but also makes you keen to come back for a longer trip. On the other hand, Matera is without a doubt worth a trip in itself to at least stay a night or two and it makes for an excellent addition on any trip to Puglia or Southern Italy.
This way you don’t need to rush and you can also see the city and Sassi at different points of the day. There is nothing more alluring than watching the city lights glisten from the Sassi at nighttime.
Getting To and Around Matera
The best way to reach Matera no matter where you’re coming from in Italy or if you’re taking a Matera day trip from Bari is to take a direct train from the Bari central train station to Matera.
Trains from Bari to Matera take around 1.5 hours. Departures are quite regular so you don’t need to worry if you arrive late and miss your train.
If you’re flying into the Bari airport, there are bus shuttles that take you to the Bari train station which takes only around 20 minutes, There are also buses that run directly from Bari Airport to Matera that can be booked here.
For those that plan on driving to Matera, keep in mind that parking is quite difficult to come by closer to the city. Your best option to snag parking will be on the outside of the old part of Matera and will be in the “new Matera”. If you need to rent a car, you can compare options on Rentalcars.com.
Once you reach the Sassi and old part of the city, the only way to get around will be on foot. Be prepared for your time exploring the historic Sassi with the correct footwear as there will also be quite a lot of stairs.
The good thing is that the part of Matera that you’ll be exploring is quite small so it’s not difficult at all to make your way around its entirety by walking.
1 Day in Matera Itinerary
Once known as “the shame of Italy”, Matera has gone through a drastic transformation and is now a prime travel spot in Italy, with Michelin restaurants and fancy spa hotels residing in the caves.
With one day in Matera, you’ll have the chance to walk through the history of this incredibly interesting city and leave feeling inspired by the city risen from the caves.
Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario
A great way to begin your day in Matera is to spend time learning about the Sassi and what life was like for those living within the caves. I recommend heading to the museum, Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario or “Cave House in the Sassi”. The house is where a peasant family in Matera lived up until 1956 before being relocated to the new part of the city during evacuation.
Here you can see what life was like for those living within the caves up until the last century as well as learn more about the history of the city. The museum is open every day from 9 AM to 7 PM.
The Sassi of Matera
The Sassi of Matera are what make up the historic area of the city and what you have probably seen in pictures of Matera. These prehistoric cave dwellings are where the first inhabitants of Italy lived and have gone through many phases throughout history.
Later, the Sassi became overcrowded, dark, and without most of the necessary means to live comfortably in the modern day. Thankfully in 1945, these poor conditions were brought to light by author Carlo Levi prompting attention by the government which led to the creation of modern Matera.
Everyone that was living within the Sassi was evacuated to new Matera, leaving the ancient city void, empty, and full of secrets and history. What was left behind is now a thriving attraction.
Some have moved back into these renovated caves, and some are hotels and restaurants, but the Sassi in its entirety is just pure magic.
After learning more about the Sassi and its past residents while being immersed in the way life was once, take some time to explore the Sassi district and the unique and exciting things within it.
While wandering the Sassi of Matera, there’s no doubt that you’ll feel as if you’ve ended up in a nativity scene. Numerous films have been filmed here yet as much as you feel like you’re on a film set – you’re in the living breathing history of one of the oldest cities on earth.
It’s an easy joy to get lost while exploring the Sassi and you don’t know what you’ll come across next or the unbelievable views just waiting around the corner.
There’s a plethora of artisanal shops throughout the district as well as great bars and restaurants featuring local Materan and Basilicatan dishes. Check out Osteria San Francesco to enjoy a delicious local meal within the Sassi for lunch.
Another great way to spend time within the Sassi is to take part in a guided tour. While a lot of locations are still quite valuable with your own independent research, learning about the city with a local that may even have a personal history within the city is completely worth it.
You’ll learn the world behind what you’re walking through and this can only enrich your experience during your Matera itinerary.
Duomo of Matera
Like any other city in Italy, Matera has an abundance of churches and museums to visit that are unique and offer stunning views as well. After wandering throughout the Sassi from the outside and
Dedicated to Saint Mary the patron saint of the city, is the cathedral (duomo) of Matera dividing the two Sassi. You’ll see the tower of the cathedral from pretty much any point in the city and it can’t be missed during a day trip to Matera.
The cathedral was built in Puglian Romanesque style dating back to the 13th century and offers some of the most dramatic views of the city.
I suggest visiting at night if you don’t have an interest in visiting the inside of the church. This way you’ll have the opportunity to see the city light up from below.
Located within a 16th-century cave palace is the MUSMA – the Matera Museum of Contemporary Sculpture. This museum is a great option to visit if you’re tired of churches and older museums and would like to experience something a bit more unique in the city.
It’s known as one of the most important museums in the city offering a wonderful collection of contemporary art and sculpture.
Santa Maria di Idris
If you’re looking for more of a unique church to visit during your day trip to Matera, head to the Santa Maria di Idris located in the upper part of the Sassi near San Pietro Caveoso.
The Santa Maria di Idris church goes back to the fifteenth century and is located within a rock complex as its cave dwelling.
The church itself is quite small in comparison to the cathedral, with just one room making up the interior, but is worth the visit due to its unique location and history. There are quite remarkable views from the area around the Santa Maria di Idris church as well.
Belvedere Murgia Timone Hike
Matera is perched on a plateau above a ravine that surrounds the city and surrounding the ravine are more cave structures where the first people inhabited the city. One of the most unique things to do during a day trip to Matera is to walk along the ravine and take in the most magnificent views of the Sassi.
The route from start to finish is just under 3 miles or 5 km, so it’s quite feasible even if you’re someone that doesn’t typically spend time hiking. Plan to spend at least 2 ½ hours of your day on the hike so you’re not rushing for time.
If you’re doing the hike in the warmer weather, make sure you have enough water to last for the hike since once you reach the bottom area of the trail, there won’t be anywhere to buy or get fresh water.
To reach the route that will take you through the ravine, first go to Porto Pistola which is close to “Chiesa di San Pietro Caveoso” on the west side of Sassi district, and take the stairs. A great way to know you’ve arrived at the right entry point is to look for the parking lot named “Parcheggio via Madonna delle Virtu”, which is also convenient if you’re driving to the trail.
From here you’ll be entering the Parco della Murgia Materana. You’ll then be led to a few different bridges that will bring you downwards into the canyon and the pathway along the ravine.
Along the way are a few churches dating back to the 7th century such as Chiesa Rupestre Sant’Agnese, Chiesa Rupestre di San Falcione, and Chiesa Rupestre Madonna delle Tre Porte. The Chiesa Rupestre Madonna delle Tre Porte gained in popularity since being the site of crucifixion in the filming of Passion of the Christ.
After the Chiesa Rupestre Madonna delle Tre Porte, you’ll want to make your way back to the side of the canyon that is near the suspension bridge. From here you’ll have the chance to witness some of the most remarkable panoramic views of the ancient city of Matera.
Once you’ve reached the side of the canyon and took in the city from below, the only way to get back to town and the starting point of the trail is to follow the same trail in the opposite direction. The benefit of this is if you want to check out any of the churches or views again, this is your opportunity!
Palombaro Lungo – Cathedral of Water
Another unique site to visit while spending one day in Matera is the Palombaro Lungo. During the construction of Piazza Vittoria Veneto in 1991, this large public water cistern was discovered under the city of Matera.
Access to water within the residences of the Sassi had always been quite difficult and took creativity to have access to enough water. The houses were equipped with a cistern dug deep within the home but as the population grew quickly with the city, the Palombaro Lungo was built.
Visiting the Palombaro Lungo is a distinctive experience as you’ll likely find few other places in the world where you can visit such a complex labyrinth of a huge water system underground.
The museum is open every day and is also the perfect opportunity to escape the heat from above if you’re visiting in the summer!
Have 2 or 3 Days in Matera?
If you are planning to spend more than one day in Matera and would like to see more of what the city was like to live in historically, Casa Noha is also a great place to check out.
Located near the Cathedral of Matera, Casa Noha is an immersive experience that from the moment you walk into the caved home, you feel as if you’ve been transported back in time. The home was donated to the city and now offers visitors a multimedia experience taking them through 3 different rooms within the 16th-century home.
Casa Noha is a great place to learn more about the painful and inspiring history of the city, the Sassi, and the courageous residents of the city throughout time.
The museum is open for visitors every day except for Tuesday.
If you’ve explored the city of Matera enough from above, head underground to the Materasum Ipogeo to experience an entirely different world from below.
1,200 square meters below ground you’ll discover a city of homes, streets, cisterns, and churches. It’s incredible to see the things that people were capable of in some of the most ancient times and walking among that history is something that can’t be missed on any Matera itinerary.
The museum is open every day and tickets include an audio tour for your visit.
Stay in a Cave Hotel
If your Matera itinerary includes more than one day and your budget allows, an unforgettable experience overnight is to stay in one of the many restored cave hotels that are now in Matera.
There are few experiences more special than falling asleep and waking up within an ancient cave surrounded by memories from some of the first inhabitants of Italy.
Costs for cave hotels to stay within the Sassi vary depending on how luxurious of a hotel experience you’re after.
Where to Stay in Matera
If you’ve determined that you’d like to spend more than a day in Matera, you’re going to need to find a great place to stay in this unique city. There are lots of places to choose from, including these great suggestions:
Palazzotto Residence&Winery – This cave hotel and winery is an excellent option if you’re looking for an interesting place to rest your head in this beautiful city. Situated in the heart of Matera, they have a number of lovely rooms available, are pet friendly and even have breakfast available each morning. Click here to see their availability
Casa Blanca Matera – If you’re after a luxury stay in Matera, this four-star hotel is an excellent option. Located in the city centre within easy walking distance of the top sites, they have countless amenities and a number of plush rooms to choose from. Click here to see their availability
L’Ostello Dei Sassi – For those travelling solo or on a budget, this hostel is an excellent choice in Matera. Centrally located close to everything this unique city has to offer, they have a range of dorm beds and private rooms to choose from and good common areas to enjoy. Click here to see their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Matera hotels!
Matera is truly a city that is defined as off the beaten path, and no matter how wondrous and magical it looks from pictures, it needs to be discovered in person for full justice.
With a cuisine different from any other Italian food you’ve likely eaten, an emotional history full of trials and tribulations, and some of the warmest people you’ll meet, Matera deserves to be on the top of your Italian travel bucket list.
Are you planning to visit Matera? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!