Once known as the “Shame of Italy”, Matera is now far from that. It is possibly the most magical city in Italy! Matera secured its place on the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage list and there’s no wonder why. With over a 9,000-year history, you’ll be in awe as you walk through every winding alley and stone-carved dwelling. The cave dwellings create a unique landscape you won’t see replicated anywhere else. This blog post will help you navigate the charming old city of Matera. You’ll discover the best things to do in Matera, the best places to eat, and the most amazing photo points.
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History of Matera, Italy
Matera is the oldest city in Italy with 9000 years of history. It is located in Southern Italy in the Basilicata region very close to Puglia. In the 20th century, living conditions in Matera were very poor, hence this sad label, “The Shame of Italy” was given to the town. The living conditions were poor with no access to proper sewage or modern amenities. The “shame of Italy” label prompted action from the Italian government and other organizations. Efforts were made to improve living conditions, relocate residents to more suitable housing, and restore the historic Sassi district. In 1993, Matera was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of its unique historical and architectural significance. It was transformed into an important and well-sought-after destination. Once a hidden gem, more and more people are discovering Matera making it a very popular place to visit. There were many movies filmed here including No Time To Die with James Bond.
The most distinctive feature of Matera is the Sassi di Matera, which translates to “stones of Matera.” These are ancient cave dwellings carved into the soft limestone cliffs of the Gravina River canyon. The cave dwellings date back thousands of years and were once the homes of the city’s residents. Today, many of these cave dwellings have been transformed into boutique hotels, restaurants, and cultural attractions.
Best Things to do in Matera, Italy
- Explore the Sassi di Matera: Wander the ancient cave dwellings and stone-carved streets of the Sassi, a UNESCO World Heritage site and Matera’s most iconic attraction.
- Admire the Matera Cathedral: Visit this impressive Romanesque-style cathedral with stunning architecture and interior frescoes. It is the focal point of the beautiful city of Matera.
- Explore the Rock Churches: Matera has a plethora of rock-cut churches, such as the Church of San Pietro Caveoso and the Church of Santa Maria de Idris.
- Visit Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario: Step back in time by touring this recreated cave dwelling. It is setup to show how people once lived in the cave dwellings.
- Have a coffee in Piazza Vittorio Veneto: Enjoy the beautiful view of the Sassi from this picturesque square and maybe even have a coffee at one of the cafes.
- Hike Matera Murgia National Park: Go hiking in this park for stunning views of Matera and its surroundings.
- Have a drink at a cave bar and watch the sunset: Watch the sunset over the Sassi, offering a breathtaking and magical experience. I’d recommend watching the sunset at Zipa Cafe, a cave bar!
- Go Underground at Palombaro Lungo: Visit this deep cistern and former water storage system built underground. The Palombaro Lungo was constructed in the 18th century to address Matera’s chronic water shortage problem. It served as a water reservoir and distribution system for the city, allowing the storage of rainwater during the rainy season and its distribution to the city’s inhabitants during dry periods. It is one of the reasons Matera has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Try the Local Cuisine: Sample traditional dishes like Pane di Matera (Matera bread), Cavatelli pasta, and local cheeses at Matera’s restaurants. My favorite restaurants were Regiacorte (for a splurge) and La Fedda Rossa for delicious local food and at an affordable price.
- Stay in a Cave Hotel: Consider staying in one of Matera’s cave hotels for a unique accommodation experience. I stayed at Residence La Vie del Mosto. See the bottom of this post for more of my hotel recommendations!
Best Viewpoints in Matera, Italy
Instagrammable spots with a view in Matera, Italy:
Belvedere Luigi Guerricchio: (this is the first image above!) Here you’ll find 3 arches overlooking the view of the sassi.
Steps & Railing viewpoint: (this is the second image above!) If you head towards Zipa Cafe, the really cool cave bar I mentioned, you’ll come across this spot. It is up the stairs and standing in front of the railing makes a really nice photo.
Belvedere di Piazza Giovanni Pascoli
Piazza San Pietro Caveoso
Above the Church of San Pietro Barisano
Drinks or Restaurants with a view:
Best Restaurants & Bars in Matera
The food in Matera was amazing! Traditional foods include Pane di Matera, a type of crispy bread, and Cavatelli pasta which is served with different sauces. Peperoni cruschi, dried and fried peppers, are usually garnished on many dishes. Lucanica, is a local pork sausage, that is enjoyed grilled or in pasta. Caciocavallo Podolico cheese from the native Podolica cow’s milk is a regional favorite, often grated over pasta. Lamb dishes, taralli biscuits, and traditional sweets like Sospiri and Mostaccioli are more local dishes you can try.
Drinks in a Cave Bar!
Zipa Cafe was my favorite place to visit in Matera. This hidden bar is set in an actual cave which transforms to a bar in the evening. Every seat is either perched on the cliff, nestled on a comfy cushion on the ground, or tucked away in a cozy cave cubby. With insane views all around and delicious cocktails, you’ve got to check this place out! The basil-frozen drink I had was so good!
🎥 Watch my Instagram video on how this cave bar looks like!
Dinner at Regiacorte
Regiacorte: This place is on the higher end but completely worth it. For €100 you get a 3-course meal with some extra surprises. You have insane views of Matera as you’re seated outside on the terrace. The dishes are truly unique. Our dessert was a twist on a classic Caprese salad, featuring a cake shaped like a tomato and a sweet dessert resembling mozzarella.
La Fedda Rossa
I highly recommend dining at La Fedda Rossa. It was very good and affordable too. Be sure to book a table as this place can get really busy. The drinks made us literally say wow when they were brought out. It was a spin on an Aperol Spritz – purple in color. The presentation was beautiful and it tasted even better than an Aperol Spritz to me. I tried the strascinati pasta which is known in the Basilicata and Puglia region. The name “strascinati” roughly translates to “dragged” or “pulled,” which refers to the traditional method of shaping the pasta. It was very tasty and had bread crumbs and basil on top.
Other Places to Eat in Matera
Osteria La Vigna de Mare: This restaurant has great food and nice views too. There will be a few tables overlooking the view outside but they get taken quickly!
Day trips from Matera
Although Matera is located in the Basilicata region, it is very close to Puglia and visiting the other nearby towns is a must! You can read my Guide To The Best Places in Puglia to discover where else you should visit on a road trip to the area.
Especially close to Matera are 2 lesser known towns: Altamura and Gravina. Both are around 30 minutes from Matera making them an easy day trip. Altamura is known for its unique bread, the “Pane di Altamura.” You will find the nonnas (grandmas) handmaking orecchiette (A traditional ear shaped pasta in Puglia) at Antico Forno Santa Caterina dal 1391.
Gravina in Puglia is known for its impressive canyon and ravine landscape, which is a natural wonder. The town is situated along the edge of the Gravina River canyon.
Other must see towns include Alberobello, Locorotondo, Polignano a Mare, Ostuni, and Monopoli.
How long to visit Matera?
Matera can be visited in one day. However, I highly recommend visiting overnight to really experience the place. Also, seeing Matera at night is truly beautiful. I stayed for 2 nights and it was perfect. I even had the chance to visit some neighboring towns like Altamura and Gravina in Puglia. They were only about 30 minutes away. And, Altamura is known for its bread. These towns have no tourists and it’s definitely worth seeing these hidden gems.
If you love Matera, you’ll also love a hidden gem in Sicily called Ragusa Ibla.
Where to Stay in Matera
Staying in a cave hotel is a must! You will get to walk out of your room with amazing views of the city. It couldn’t get any more magical! There are so many wonderful and affordable stays in Matera allowing you to travel to Italy without breaking the bank. Here are my top choices.
Residence La Vie del Mosto This hotel was situated as central as you can get in the heart of the Sassi. For only €150 per night, you get a massive room, kitchen, a walk-in shower, and a private terrace. The value was insane and the views were even more insane!
Sassi Hotel: I also stayed here before. It was the first time I visited Matera as I’ve been twice! This was a super affordable place and it had views from the balcony too.
Check out my blog post on the 10 best cave hotels in Matera, Italy
How to Get to Matera & Getting Around
To get to Matera, the closest airport is the Bari-Palese Airport (BRI).
How to Get There
It will take you about one hour to drive there. There is also an option to take a bus (pre-book here) but the timings are limited. If you plan well, it can work out nicely. However, a trip to Matera wouldn’t be complete without also seeing the neighboring towns in Puglia. While you can’t drive within the historical center of Matera, you would need a car to explore the surrounding towns. Without one, it might be difficult. I found my rental using Discover Cars which is a great aggregator site, that will find you the cheapest rates for a car rental.
Where to park in Matera
You can’t drive in Matera itself, but there’s plenty of parking right outside the town.
Paid parking lots:
– Via Pasquale Vena
– Scotellaro Parking
– Damasco Parking
– Nicoletti Parking
– Pasquale Vena Parking
– Sant’Isidoro Parking
There are also free parking spots around but with a longer walk. You can find the free parking on one of the streets below:
– Via Pasquale Vena
– Via Lanera
– Via Minozzi
– Via delle Tamerici
– Via Chiancalata
– Via Caropreso
You may also like these posts!
🚗 Complete Puglia Road Trip: A Guide To The Best Places
🏨 Where to stay in Puglia
🧚 What to do in Alberobello – the Trulli town in Italy
🤍 Locorotondo, Puglia: The Beautiful White Village in Italy
💎 Martina Franca, a Hidden Gem in Puglia
🏖️ Polignano a Mare – a guide to the most famous beach in Puglia
✨ Insider Tips to visiting the Cave of Poetry in Puglia, Italy
🏖️ 10 Beautiful Seaside Towns along the Coast in Italy
💎 20 Hidden Gems in Italy
🇮🇹 For more travel inspo visit my Italy section!
Matera, Italy Visual Web Story