Last Updated on December 1, 2023 by Laura Teso
Let’s see what are the top 10 things to do in Lecce, one of the most elegant and stylistically uniform cities in Italy, Lecce is also nicknamed the Florence of the South, due to its beauty. Honestly, the two cities are very different. But I personally know people who prefer the atmosphere of Lecce over the one of Florence.
Lecce was the second destination of my summer vacations after the amazing Polignano a Mare.
Lecce is essentially a baroque city, with all that this entails. While you stroll along the alleys of the city, you will be astonished by the cream-coloured facades, only apparently plain. Take a better look: fruits, floral whorls, caryatids and heads, grandstand on balconies, columns capitals, palaces entrances.
Every now and then, the portal of a palazzo is open. Well, what are you waiting for? Take a peek and you’ll probably see an enchanted hallway, full of plants and exotic flair.
Or visit some of the many churches. The triumph of decoration. Baroque is not my favourite style at all, but in Lecce I saw some exquisite examples, absolutely worth a visit.
Moreover, it is also a place rich in Roman testimonies, such the theatre and the amphitheater.
Another feature I noticed and appreciated is how the majority of shops, cafés and restaurant are very fashionable and instagrammable. People here give a great importance to decor and design. As a result, little artisan shops look like art galleries, very pleasant to see.
Beware of the opening hours, though! Many shops only open at 5pm (for my standards, being a citizen of a northern city, that’s totally weird).
Another important info: the city centre is rather small, easy to visit by foot.
Top 10 things to do in Lecce
1 City doors
They are now three:
- Porta Rudiae was the oldest city gate, but alas it was rebuilt (1703). It faces the ancient (now destroyed) city of Rudiae. It displays the busts of the city founders: Malennio, Dauno, Euippa and Idomeneo.
- Porta San Biagio is dedicated to St. Blaise, a bishop who lived in Lecce (his statue tops the archway).
- Porta Napoli was built in 1548 in honor of Charles V, and it leads to the road to reach Naples. Hence the name.
2 Santa Maria Assunta Cathedral
The present aspect is due to a 1600s reconstruction. It presents not one but two adorned facades. The one you see at first entering the square (very rich in decorations) and another one on the right, facing the bishop’s palace, more simple. Very beautiful is also the campanile. Rumor has it that from up there you can see, other than the Adriatic see, also Albania’s mountains.
The interior, a triumph of white and gold, preserves precious baroque altars and a notable Nativity scene in the local leccese stone.
3 Teatro Romano
Discovered in 1929, it dates back to the I century AD and probably contained up to 5000 people, who attended to comedies and tragedies. You can take a peek from via Arte della Cartapesta or visit the adjacent museum.
4 Piazza Sant’Oronzo
It is the beating heart of the city. Very heterogeneous, since the buildings date back to several different ages: from Middle Ages to 19th century. It once hosted also some workshops, demolished to build the Bank (sadly, I dare say, because it is quite an eyesore). Here you can see
- Saint Oronzo column, erected in 1666 as a thanksgiving for the lucky escape from the plague. Oronzo is the Saint Patron of the city.
- The Sedile [seh-DEE-leh], former hall for gatherings and hearings. The big glass windows were a symbol of transparency and assurance.
- Adjacent to the Sedile, the Saint Mark’s church (you will surely recognize the St. Mark’s lion on top of the portal).
- Roman amphitheater, uncovered at the beginning of 20th century, it dates back to the II century A.D. and could contain 14.000 people (someone says 20.000).
- Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie, right in front of the amphitheater.
5 Castello di Carlo V
5 minutes from Piazza Sant’Oronzo, you can see the Castle of king Charles V, built in 1539. It presents 4 angular bastions, strong walls and it was once surrounded by a moat. Not anymore, sadly. Moats are very romantic, in my opinion. During the centuries it passed from defence fortification to barracks. Now it hosts temporary exhibitions. But there is also a section dedicated to the Paper Mache museum. In Italian, paper mache is cartapesta, and it is a very important and traditional art here.
6 Basilica di Santa Croce and Palazzo dei Celestini
To be honest, I liked this basilica more than the duomo. It is in fact the most significant example of leccese baroque. First of all, the facade was realized by the most capable artists of the time. Obviously, I found the facade covered by scaffoldings, so no photo.
The interior is utterly fascinating. The ceiling is spectacular, as the chapels altars, especially the one of San Francesco di Paola.
The adjacent Palazzo dei Celestini, once a convent, is now seat of the local government. Other than admiring the superb facade, please try to sneak in, because also the courtyard is worth a stop.
7 Cartapesta Baldari
There are many paper mache shops in Lecce. But this one is special. It is the only place where the artisan still prepares the paper himself for its works. This is an operation that requires time and patience. But the result is remarkable. Angles, saints, figurines, nativity scenes, these are a few of the most common works of a paper mache maestro. Often, churches order a saint statue or the figure of christ to use during processions, because of the light weight of paper mache.
8 Where to eat the pasticciotto
In Lecce, people quarrel about the best pasticciotto in town. The pasticciotto is a small tart filled with custard. We tried both places. One of them was way better than the other, so I decided to recommend only that one: Pasticceria Natale. Close to piazza Sant’Oronzo, it is absolutely worth a visit. I only tried the pasticciotto, but locals told me the gelato and the other products are super, too.
9 Where to eat a panino
If you’re in a hurry, you can stop at Come Vuoi Pane e Condimenti, in piazza Sant’Oronzo. It is a small shop, with only 4 stools inside, and a couple of tables al fresco. You choose the type of baguette and the fillings as you please. The name in fact Come vuoi means as you like. I had a Briseide panino with mortadella and pistacchio pesto and stracciatella (the tender part of the burrata mozzarella). Matteo sampled one or two bites of mine and was very sad of his choice compared to mine. 😀
As for dinner, we went to a local, simple place called Vecchia Osteria da Totu. I’m not sure if recommend it to you or not. The food was not bad, but… “no big deal”.
10 Where to sleep in Lecce: Palazzo Belsanti
Matteo and I stayed for the night at Palazzo Belsanti, a lovely B&B, located in a 19th century palace with a pale blue door. We were offered this stay but they asked me nothing in exchange. I decided to insert the B&B in the post dedicated to Lecce, cause I found it a nice place to stay.
Palazzo Belsanti is at a stone’s throw from the city center, 5 minutes by foot both from Porta Rudiae and Porta Napoli. Our room was very classy, quiet and comfortable. The wifi worked well.
Alessandra and Andrea, the young managers, were very welcoming and accommodating. They helped us to find a parking space just behind the palazzo and arranged a taxi for us. I know that they also arrange tours and tastings in collaboration with local entreprises.
You’ll be pleased to know that they embraced a eco-sustainable philosophy. Toiletries are organic. Bed linen are handmade with natural fibers by a Salento artisan. Breakfast food is local.
About breakfast, it is a total plus of the place. It is served on the rooftop terrace, overlooking the Cathedral bell tower. Food was amazing.
If you need to stay in Lecce, I would recommend this B&B.
What about you? Have you ever been to Lecce? Would you add something to my Top 10 things to do in Lecce list?