A wonderful Southern Italy itinerary packed with UNESCO world heritage sites, stunning villages and beautiful coastal views! Includes pretty Alberobello, otherworldly Matera and the wonderful ancient ruins of Paestum
Southern Italy is one of the most beautiful yet underrated parts of the whole of Italy.
It is a land of shimmering sea and sandy beaches, of charming villages with unexpected architecture and cultural sites of worldwide fame.
However, it is a place still largely ignored by international tourism, that seems to stop around the area of Pompeii or flock to (stunning) Sicily.
Indeed, planning a trip to the South of Italy requires a little more effort than other destinations, especially if you do not speak Italian, but the rewards are immensely worth it.
We recently went on a road trip in the South of Italy and put a lot of research into its planning.
In this article, I share our best Southern Italy vacation itinerary, packed with the lessons learnt on the road!
This is a Southern Italy trip planner perfect for one week in Southern Italy or if you are looking for a Rome and Southern Italy itinerary.
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How many days to visit Southern Italy?
Southern Italy is a broad term to encompass the whole of the Italian boot South of Rome so it is not possible to give an exact idea duration for a trip there.
Depending on what you want to see, you can easily spend a month here but since this is often not an option for a vacation (I know it wasn’t an option for us!), I selected the best places I feel will give you the best experience.
They span across three regions, specifically Puglia, Basilicata and Campania.
This suggested itinerary for Southern Italy can be followed in as little as 4 days (if you don’t stop overnight between Matera and Rome, a 6h drive) and has an ideal length of 7 days.
I feel this is a reasonable length to see some of Southern Italy’s most beautiful sites and still be able to add a visit to other parts of Italy you may want to touch during your Italian itinerary.
Use this article to plan your own trip to Italy, pin it for later!
Southern Italy best places to see map
How to get to Southern Italy
The easiest ways to get to the South of Italy are plane and car.
The main gateway airports to the area are:
Bari airport: located in Puglia, the heel of the Italian boot, Bari airport gets a reasonable number of flights from several European countries and it a good getaway for the whole area.
Brindisi airport – Located in Puglia again, Brindisi gets flights from other Italian cities and some European locations (mostly Ryanair). Please be advised that especially from some cities, these flights are seasonal.
Naples international airport – Naples has a well-served international airport that puts you in a good position to drive both to the South of Italy or towards Rome.
You can follow this itinerary from any of these airports.
The best way to get around Southern Italy
The best way to travel around the southern regions of Italy is by car.
Unlike the rest of the country, the South of Italy does not have a good train network and having access to a private vehicle is paramount.
You can rent a car in any of the airports mentioned above and my provider of choice is Avis Car Rental.
If you cannot drive, local buses serve most locations but the distances are long and the journey time will eat significantly into your time in the area.
You may have heard that driving in Italy is hard but please, do not let this discourage you! Indeed driving here is very different from what you may be used to back home but you can do it, if you know what to expect. You can find my tips for driving in Italy here.
Suggested itinerary for Southern Italy 7 days
This is my recommended itinerary for a self-drive trip to the South of Italy.
Trani ( 2 nights)
Our first stop for this Italian vacation was the lovely village of Trani, in Puglia.
This is a small and charming town on the Puglia/Apulian coast, on the Adriatic sea, the part of the Mediterranean that laps the shores of the East of Italy.
It is in the Bari area so it is easy to reach and a wonderful base to discover the area for a couple of days.
The star of the show here is the town duomo (church).
It sits right on the seafront and it is a vision of picture-perfect Mediterranean splendor, made of light-colored stone and shimmering sea!
Trani is well served with accommodation and restaurants and a pleasant stop for one or two nights.
I recommend spending 2 nights here to be able to enjoy this slow-paced town but also drive and visit nearby Castel del Monte.
Castel del Monte is a castle and citadel perched on a hill in the Trani / Bari/Andria area and it is worth a visit.
Dating back to the 13th century, it is now UNESCO world heritage site for it unique architecture dating back to the time of Emperor Federico II (Frederick the second).
For Trani and Castel del Monte I allocated two days to give you time to settle after arrival.
If you are short on time, you can visit each in half a day.
In Trani, you can stay at the wonderful Dimore Marinare for the night/s
Alberobello (1 night)
Our second stop is the charming city of Alberobello, a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the most photographed places in the whole of Italy due to its peculiar houses, ‘i trulli‘!
Alberobello is gorgeous and indeed unique: the trulli are round, whitewashed buildings with pointy roofs that are unique to this area and that give the town a wonderful fairy-tale village.
Originally poor dwellings, the trulli have now largely been refurbished and many have been turned into beautiful accommodation (we slept in one and loved it, you will find my recommendation below!)
Alberobello deserves a morning and is a good base to discover the area however, it is very touristy which is why we felt overall one night was enough.
Considering the affluence of large bus tours and what there is to see in Alberobello, I recommend you arrive in the late afternoon, spend the evening here (lovely and quiet) and explore early the morning after.
Leave before 11am/lunchtime, when mass tourism is at its peak.
After your morning in Alberobello, I recommend heading for lunch to the lovely town of Locorotondo, ten minutes drive away, and then take an extra stop in Martina Franca for an afternoon art-filled stroll before heading to Matera.
In Alberobello, stay in the fabulous Trulli Anti Charme & Relax, simply wonderful (old trullo now converted into a stunning apartment)!
Matera (2 nights)
Matera is less than two hours away from Alberobello but it is a world apart from anything else you have ever seen!
Located in Basilicata, a region both Italy and tourism seem to have forgotten for centuries have forgotten, Matera was nominated capital of culture for 2019 and is also Unesco World Heritage site.
The city deserved both nominations as it is truly stunning and unique.
It is entirely carved out of a mountain and its a maze of meandering alleyways, stunning churches and expansive views
The city is one of the oldest in the world, along Jericho and Aleppo, and is famous for troglodyte dwellings, rock churches and for being continuously inhabited since prehistoric times!
Nowadays, Matera is well suited to welcome tourists and is clean and rich with restaurants, hotels and wine bars where you can taste the delicious local food.
This is quite a contrast with the peculiar and hard history of its cave dwellings but the result is intoxicating and wonderful.
It is a place like no other and one that deserves at least two nights.
In Matera, stay at the perfectly located Casa del Sole apartments
Paestum and Vietri (1 night)
After Matera, our southern Italy itinerary turns back north and brings us to the third region we visited: Campania.
Campania is often and rightly mentioned for world-famous sites such as Pompeii, Herculaneum, the island of Capri and the Almalfi Coast. However, my favorite place in the whole area is none of these.
Rather, it is the archaeological site of Paestum!
Paestum is a Greek settlement dating back to about 600 a.C that grew to be an important center in both Greek and then Roman times.
Nowadays, and is now a stunning archaeological site.
Here, beautiful temples lie on grassy fields and bear testimony of a grand past and a civilization usually only associated, in Italy, with the island of Sicily.
Paestum has some of the best preserved Greek temples in the world and is an absolute pleasure to visit.
You can reach it from Matera in about 3 hours and is well served with restaurants with lovely temples views.
You can easily spend a couple of hours here, letting the sun caress your skin, the temples mesmerize your eyes and the delicious local food fill your belly!
From here, you can head back to Rome or make an intermediate stop on Vietri and get a taste of the glorious and often celebrated Amalfi coast!
In Vietri, check out accommodation at B&B La Chiave
The Amalfi coast is an area of great natural beauty and how much or how little of it to visit depends largely on time of the year, willingness to drive on a winding coastal road and the presence or absence of children in your party. You can visit this area in about 1-3 days.
Rome (as many nights as you wish)
The last of our itinerary brings us to Rome but there is plenty to see on the way!
From Vietri, you can simply drive up to the city of you can stop in one of the many wonderful locations in this stretch of Italy.
Amalfi coast – if you do not mind driving along a coastal road, Vietri is at the start of the Amalfi coast and you can easily add a visit to some of its most iconic locations on your way to Rome.
Pompeii or Herculaneum – Both Pompeii and Herculaneum are within easy reach of this area. If you do visit, consider that especially Pompeii is very big so move early and be ready to sacrifice time in Vietri to make the trip feasible
Reggia di Caserta – Caserta is famous for its stunning castle, a gem of stunning Italian style gardens and priceless art within easy reach from the motorway.
Cassino – famous for the Cassino Abbey (stunning) and for being the location of the Cassino battle in the II world war, Cassino is the perfect stop on your way to Rome for both location, cultural significance and visual impact.
Sperlonga – A lovely whitewashed village along the Tyrrhenian coast, Sperlonga is the perfect stop for a beach-side meal or a picture-perfect stop along the coast.
Gaeta – The small town of Gaeta packs a punch in terms of location and charm.
Located in between Naples and Rome, is has a lovely beach (Serapo) a stunning promontory and charming churches that make is a perfect stop for a lazy lunch on the way to the big city
If you are unsure about how many night to spend in Rome and how to plan your time there, have a look at our full Rome vacation planning guide here or get in touch. I would be delighted to help!
I hope you enjoyed this Southern Italy itinerary and it gave you ideas of great places to add to your Italy bucket list.