Known by many for its ties to the legend of Santa Claus, the port city of Bari crowns the Adriatic Sea as the capital of Italy’s Puglia region and resting place for the relics of famous 4th century Saint Nicholas of Myra. Museums, castles and ancient basilicas illuminate the city’s past, dotted now with trendy cafes, Barese street food and Italian “osteria” taverns.
The old-town Bari Vecchia neighbourhood is the heartbeat of historic Bari, with a maze of narrow lanes leading to its most famous pilgrimage site, the 11th century gold-domed Basilica di San Nicola, cradling the bones of St. Nicholas himself. As a university town, Bari exudes a youthful, cosmopolitan energy, with hipster bars and trattorias in the Old Town, as well as along the waterfront promenade and the pedestrianised Murat shopping quarter. Castello Svevo spreads grandly along the seafront with its towers, ramparts, bastions and moat, spanned by an impressive drawbridge and lined by centuries-old defensive walls.
Bari’s bustling port brings cruise and ferry passengers connecting to and from Greece and Croatia, and a small international airport services visitors from across Europe. Taxis, metro trains and shuttle buses transport tourists from the docks and airport to the city centre, with plenty of public bus connections and routes throughout the entire city. Rental cars are readily available, but walking is ideal within the city centre and the compact surrounding squares, districts and neighbourhoods.
The magnificent Apulian Romanesque Basilica di San Nicola was constructed in the 12th century for the dedicated purpose of harbouring the relics and remains of Saint Nicholas, which were reportedly stolen from Turkey in 1087 by local sailors and fishermen. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, travellers and children, known for giving gifts to young people and the poor. This legend gave rise to the myth of Santa Claus, the bearded figure spreading joy and gifts during the Christmas holiday.