One of the main reasons travellers find themselves in Bari is because it is a major ferry port. From here you can get to Greece, Turkey, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro and Albania. And being the major city of southern Italy, train connections within Italy are also good, heading for Rome and Milan in the north as well as many of the southern towns.
But don’t just use Bari as a transit point. While it may not have the glamour of some parts of Italy, it’s the south’s most well-heeled city and has the boulevard of designer shops to prove it: Via Sparano da Bari. It also has an appropriately winding and narrow old town, Bari Vecchia with lovely piazzas and many, many churches and shrines dotted throughout.
The most interesting is the Basilica di San Nicola. Not only is it a lovely Romanesque church but its saint is Saint Nicholas, the basis for Santa Claus in the early twentieth century. But before this happened, Saint Nicholas was – still is – the patron saint of children. And prisoners. His remains are here – plundered from Turkey in the 11th century – and the church is a site of pilgrimage.
Bari also has a castle – very important to any self-respecting European old town – Castello Svevo; this is now used for art exhibitions. These days Bari is also a student town, with a thriving market on the edge of the old town, and bars a plenty. Piazza Ferrarese and Piazza Mercantile, side by side in Bari Vecchia, are popular watering holes.