Last Updated on June 1, 2022 by

Matera is madly photogenic: Houses tumble down the hillsides, stacked on top of one another, perched on the edge of a ravine. Its hilltop tangle of caves and sand-colored alleys backdropped by a steep ravine has an almost biblical setting.

But Matera wasn’t always this elegant. In the 1950s, Matera was branded “the shame of Italy”. People here lived in caves with their livestock, without electricity, plumbing nor running water. But a writer Carlo Levi changed Matera’s fate with his book. 

Forced to improve the situation here, the Italian authorities relocated residents to a nearby rural development. The creatives then moved in and made it their mission to uphold Matera’s cultural traditions. After a transformation from slum to cultural hub, Matera was given UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

things to do in matera italy

Matera Travel Guide 

How to Get to Matera

The nearest airport to Matera is Bari Airport. There are plenty of budget flights to Bari from major cities in Europe like London and Paris. We got our flights from Amsterdam to Bari on Transavia for just €150 (US$180) round trip.

We visited Matera as part of a Puglia road trip. The Puglia region is made for road trips, with great infrastructure and scenic coastal drives. Car rental in Puglia is affordable, with prices starting from US$30 per day. If you don’t drive, there are trains that leave regularly from the Bari FAL train station to Matera (1.5 hours and costs €5).

15 Cool Things to Do in Matera, Italy

How to Get around Matera

But once you get to Matera, avoid driving your car as roads in the Sassi are only open to residents. The best way to explore Matera is on foot as you can walk everywhere easily (albeit with lots of steps).

If you’re driving, be sure to ask your hotel or Airbnb for instructions on the nearest spot to park. Our host was super helpful and recommended us to park along Via Tommaso Stigliani, right outside the old town. We found free parking easily. Other spots with parking nearby are Via Gramsci and Via Castello.

how to get around matera

How Many Days in Matera?

Most people spend 3 days in Matera, but I definitely recommend longer as it’s such a special place. The old part is bigger than you’d expect and you can easily spend days and days just wandering around, enjoying delicious Italian food and wine. I recommend combining a visit to Matera with nearby Alberobello and Ostuni for a 1-week Southern Italy trip.

Puglia Road Trip: My 1-Week Southern Italy Itinerary

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Best Time to Visit Matera

In general, the best time to visit Matera is April – June, and October – November. There are less people and prices are lower. Plus the weather will still be sunny and relatively warm.

We visited Matera at the end of October, and temperatures were around 73°F (or 23°C) during the day and 55°F (13°C) at night. During the day, we could wander around with just a t-shirt or dress. We just needed a small jacket for chilly mornings and evenings. 

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best time to visit matera

Things to Do in Matera

1. Stay in a Cave Hotel

After local inhabitants were forced to move out of Matera in the 1960s, many caves were converted into stunning boutique cave hotels. If you’ve never stayed in a cave hotel, this is definitely your chance to try it. Aquatio Cave Luxury Hotel has rooms that are carved into the side of a cliff and even a heated swimming pool embedded in natural rock.

To see a full section of my hotel recommendations, scroll to the bottom of this post.

aquatio cave hotel in matera puglia - southern italy trip

2. Get Lost in Sasso Barisano

The old part of Matera is known as Sassi di Matera (Sassi literally means “the stones”), made up of two districts: Sasso Barisano and Sasso Caveoso. They compose of cave dwellings carved out from the rocky slopes of La Gravina ravine. 

Most caves in Sasso Barisano have been restored and you’ll find more cave hotels, shops and museums here. The best way to explore Sasso Barisano is to ditch your GPS and just get lost! Take your time to roam its narrow alleyways, interconnected loops and cave-converted-spaces. You’ll find lots of hidden corners and spectacular views around each bend.

things to do in matera italy - get lose in sasso barisano

3. Explore the Palombaro Lungo Cistern

Piazza Vittorio Veneto is the main square in Sasso Barisano, and it’s full of life especially in the morning. Enjoy a nice cup of espresso and breakfast here before heading to the panoramic viewpoint where you can catch a view of the Sassi. 

Right next to the viewpoint is the entrance to Palombaro Lungo, an underground cistern with impressively tall columns and arches. This was the largest water reservoir of Matera, dug under the main square as part of the rock church of Santo Spirito. Entrance is 3 euros.

best things to do in matera - view point at piazza   best things to do in matera - palombaro cistern

4. Visit Museo Laboratorio

At the bottom of Sasso Barisano (close to Via Fiorentini), you’ll find the Museo Laboratorio della Civiltà Contadina (Museum-workshop of the Peasant Culture), an ethno-anthropological museum. Get an idea of how local artisans and peasants used to live, through the museum’s replica of a typical cave home and workshop. 

places to visit in matera - museo laboratorio

5. See Matera in Miniature

Another interesting spot to visit is Sassi in Miniatura, a workshop and museum (free entry) with impressive limestone miniature models of the old town. Local craftsman Eustachio Rizzi has spent decades recreating the unique architecture of Matera in miniature and they’re all on display here. 

places to visit in matera - sassi in miniature

6. Admire Matera’s Cathedral

Located on the highest point of Matera, Matera’s Cathedral (Duomo di Matera) stands at the point that divides the two Sassi: Sasso Barisano and Sasso Caveoso. 

Most people come here for the spectacular view of Matera, but the Cathedral itself is worth a visit too. Built in the 13th century in Puglian Romanesque style, the Cathedral features a Latin cross ground plan, gilded stuccoes and frames.

places to visit in matera - matera cathedral  places to visit in matera - matera cathedral

7. Visit MUSMA

Next to the Cathedral stands MUSMA (Museum of Contemporary Sculpture), a stunning museum located inside the 17th-century Palace Pomarici. It’s internationally recognized for its unique cave exhibition spaces, and is the most important museum entirely dedicated to sculpture in Italy. The museum displays works of art which tell the story of Italian and international sculpture from the late 1800s to today.

matera italy - musma museum

8. Explore Sasso Caveoso

Once you leave the Cathedral, you’ll find yourself in Sasso Caveoso, the other neighborhood that makes up old Matera. In contrast to Sasso Barisano, this area is less developed and you will get to see caves that are left entirely intact (especially those dug into the area that runs into Via Casalnuovo).

From the main piazza, the beautiful Church of San Pietro Caveoso is a gorgeous landmark worth visiting. It’s perched on a clifftop overlooking the ravine. Right above it is the rock church of Santa Maria de Idris, which is carved into a huge rock pinnacle jutting from the gorge. Climbing to the top of the rock is an experience on its own!

matera italy - view from rock church

9. Visit Casa Noha

Raved as the #1 thing to do in Matera, Casa Noha has a multimedia exhibition spread across three rooms of a 16th-century family home funded by two local families. It tells the astonishing and often painful story of Matera. We sadly missed it as it was closed on Mondays. Entry is €5 per person.

casa noha - best things to do in matera

10. Hike across the Ravine

Sasso Caveoso overlooks the steep ravine that locals call “La Gravina”, that was created by a river. From the main piazza, you can see the vertiginous cliff walks plunging down to the river bed and zigzag hiking trails that weave their way up and down the slopes.

It looks daunting but the walk down into the ravine and the return back up isn’t too difficult. Take the stairs at Porto Pistola and cross the Tibetan bridge and you’ll find yourself across the ravine. On the other side of the ravine, you’ll find several paleolithic caves that have existed for over 7,000 years! 

things to do in matera - hike la gravina

11. Get the Best Views at Belvedere di Murgia Timone

Alternatively, you can also drive across the ravine to get to the paleolithic caves (just 10 minutes away). Above the caves, you’ll find a big carpark and viewpoint. The Belvedere di Murgia Timone is easily the best photography spot in Matera and the best time to come here is at sunset.

This was also where the crucifixion scene in The Passion of Christ was filmed — and you can easily see why they chose this spot as Matera looks almost biblical in the background.

things to do in matera - view of belvdere di timoglia

12. Experience the Museum of Medieval Art

Back in Sasso Caveoso, head to the pedestrianized Piazza Pascoli. History buffs will love the Museo Nazionale d’Arte Medievale e Moderna della Basilicata, which showcases medieval art work. It is housed in an 18th century palace. Here, you’ll find ancient mosaics and paintings, including the 44 paintings of Carlo Levi (the most famous of which is the panoramic mural Lucania 61).

things to do in matera - museum of medieval art

13. Take in Night Views at Piazza Pascoli

At the viewpoint next to Piazza Pascoli, you’ll find what I consider the BEST view in Matera. In the evening, see the meandering alleys and network of cave houses are lit up in gold. From this viewpoint, you can see the sloping city backdropped by the ravine. It’s a gorgeous sight and definitely one you don’t want to miss!

things to do in matera - night view from piazza pascoli

14.Try Local Wine in a Cave Bar

Wine connoisseurs will be happy to know that there are several aperitif bars and stores in town that serve locally produced wine. One of the best places to go for an aperitif is Agriristories, located in a beautiful underground cellar where you can taste local cheese, olives and wine! Vicolo Cieco is another cave bar offering excellent prosciutto and cheese, with a vintage retro setting.

matera guide - wine bar in matera

15. Watch a Materan Film in La Lopa

One of the best restaurants in Matera, La Lopa, is more than just a dining establishment. Set in an underground cave, La Lopa stands out from the rest because of its cozy cave cinema, where diners can watch films set in Matera for free. With a warm atmospheric setting, La Lopa serves authentic, gourmet Materan dishes using fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Check out my guide to the best dishes to try in Italy.

  where to eat in matera - la lopa  where to eat in matera - la lopa

Where to Eat in Matera

There is no shortage of atmospheric restaurants in Matera — but what makes them special is their setting in restored caves. Most of them offer Puglian specialities made with local produce and paired with the perfect wine.

La Lopa

La Lopa really takes it up a notch with its otherworldly setting. They serve Materan dishes and wine using only locally sourced ingredients. And it also has the cutest little cinema that plays movies set in Matera! Book a table.

La Grotta Nei Sassi

We had one of our best meals in Matera here. Tucked behind a low bridge, overlooking a grand view of the Sassi, is this modern restaurant. Don’t miss the roast lamb with pistachio and tomato orecchiette. Read reviews.

Il Terrazzino

This highly recommended restaurant is a fixture in the local culinary scene. With gorgeous outdoor views of the Sassi, this landmark restaurant serves a huge array of dishes as well as daily specialties. Read reviews here.

Restaurant Soul Kitchen

Another hugely popular restaurant in Sasso Caveosa, Soul Kitchen dishes up traditional Materan cuisine with a modern twist. Everything is made with local produce. Book a table here!

where to eat in matera - la lopa where to eat in matera - la lopa

Where to Stay in Matera

We definitely recommend staying in a cave hotel, as there are not many places in the world that offer such unique accommodation. They are not too expensive, with even affordable cave houses that fit budget travelers.

Airbnb: La Casa di Giò

With a panoramic terrace overlooking Matera’s historical center, this loft-style apartment has one of the best views in Matera. Featuring an all-white interior, the apartment is fully equipped and spacious. Check rates here.

Mid Range: Cave Rooms Sassi

Set in several locations in Sassi Barisano, this guesthouse has cave rooms that have excellent locations. We stayed at one near the main piazza and walked everywhere. The owner was extremely welcoming and helpful. Check rates here.

Luxury: Aquatio Cave Luxury Hotel & Spa

Easily one of the coolest hotels in the world, the property (pictured) is home to 35 rooms that are carved into the side of a cliff. Its biggest draw is the spa, which includes a heated swimming pool embedded in natural rock (pictured). Check rates here.

things to do in matera - aquatio cave hotel

Enjoy Your Trip to Matera!

I hope you’ve found this list of things to do in Matera useful. If you have one week, I definitely recommend exploring more of the Basilicata and Puglia regions. For those who are planning to travel the rest of Italy, I have written quite a few articles on other parts of Italy. Check them out before and let me know if you have any questions! 

Read my articles on Italy below:

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