12 Amazing Things to do in Matera, Italy

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Discover the 12 most amazing things to do in Matera below and delve into the enriching history of one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the world.

Nestled in the heart of Southern Italy, Matera is one of the most beautiful places in Italy that is a true showing of human history and architectural wonder. Matera’s claim to fame lies in its ancient cave houses – homes built within the cliffs of Matera. These distinctive cave houses along with a rich cultural heritage and breathtaking natural surroundings make it an unforgettable destination.

It is easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited that is such a “hidden gem in plain sight”. I visited Matera with minimal expectations and was absolutely blown away by the history, culture, and beauty all interwoven into a place I can only describe as pure untouched magic.

Matera’s magic lies not only in its past but also in its present. As you wander through the winding streets of the Sassi di Matera – the historic center of the city – you’ll encounter a maze of narrow alleys, hidden chapels, and charming artisan shops. Prepare to be transported back in time as you fall in love with Italy’s best-kept secret.

Keep reading to learn the best things to do in Matera.

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Where is Matera?

Matera is located in the southern part of Italy, in the region of Basilicata. It is situated near the heel of the Italian boot, to the east of Naples and to the west of Bari.

However, it’s interesting to note that some people associate Matera with the neighboring region of Puglia, which lies to the east. The reason for this is primarily due to Matera’s close proximity to Puglia, its cultural similarities with Puglia, and the convenience of visiting both regions in a single trip.

πŸ’‘ INSIDER TIP: In my 7 day Pugia itinerary, I combined Matera with the rest of Puglia as it is a logical addition to an amazing itinerary! I suggest doing this as the largest major cities close to Matera are in Puglia making it a great destination stop.

Matera view
Walkway in Matera

Why is Matera so famous?

Matera is famous for several reasons:

πŸ‘‰πŸ» Ancient Cave Dwellings: Matera is renowned for its Sassi di Matera, a unique historical district featuring ancient cave dwellings carved into the limestone cliffs. These cave dwellings, or “sassi,” date back thousands of years, making them one of the earliest examples of human settlement in Italy. The architecture and the way of life associated with these caves have earned Matera a place on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

πŸ‘‰πŸ» Historical Significance: The city of Matera has a rich and layered history, having been continuously inhabited for thousands of years. It has been home to various civilizations, from prehistoric settlers to Romans, Byzantines, and more. This historical depth and the preservation of its ancient structures contribute to its fame.

πŸ‘‰πŸ» Cultural Heritage: Matera’s cultural heritage is deeply rooted in its history and the traditions of its people. The city is known for its festivals, art, music, and local cuisine, providing a rich cultural tapestry for visitors to explore.

πŸ‘‰πŸ» Movie and Media Exposure: Matera’s unique and picturesque scenery has attracted filmmakers over the years. It has served as a backdrop for various movies, including Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” and the James Bond film “No Time to Die.”

πŸ‘‰πŸ» Tourist Destination: Matera has become a popular tourist destination, drawing visitors from around the world. Its captivating historic center, combined with the scenic beauty of the surrounding countryside, makes it a top destination for travelers interested in history, culture, and nature.

πŸ‘‰πŸ» Cave Hotels: The city’s ancient caves have been transformed into unique and luxurious accommodations, known as “cave hotels.” Staying in these cave hotels offers visitors a truly immersive and unforgettable experience.

πŸ‘‰πŸ» Rebirth and Transformation: Matera has undergone a significant transformation in recent years. It was once known for its poverty and overcrowding in the cave dwellings. However, these issues have been largely addressed, and the city has experienced a remarkable revival, turning it into a symbol of cultural preservation and urban regeneration.

All of these factors contribute to Matera’s fame and its status as a must-visit destination for those seeking a blend of history, culture, and stunning natural landscapes in the heart of southern Italy.


Is Matera Italy worth visiting?

YES! It is easily one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited in Italy and an absolute gem that should be on every traveler’s bucket list. This city, with its fascinating history, is like stepping into a time machine, offering an authentic glimpse into ancient Italian life.

Although it attracts many tourists, it is still a hidden gem that is overlooked in favor of more popular tourist destinations in Italy. Matera is not just a pretty destination; it’s a historical treasure trove waiting to be explored. It is a place that isn’t just worth visiting; it’s a destination that will leave you utterly enchanted and eager to return.


Matera viewpoint
View of the rock houses in Matera

How many days do you need in Matera?

The number of days you should spend in Matera depends on your travel preferences and interests. However, here are some general guidelines:

🌟 Day Trip: If you’re short on time or just want a taste of Matera’s unique atmosphere, you can do a day trip from a nearby city like Bari or Lecce. In a day, you can explore the main sights and enjoy the city’s ambiance.

🌟 Two Days: A two-day trip allows you to delve deeper into Matera’s history, culture, and architecture. You can explore the Sassi di Matera, visit museums, and enjoy local cuisine.

🌟 Three Days or More: To fully immerse yourself in Matera and the surrounding region, consider staying for three days or more. This allows time for leisurely exploration, hiking in the Murgia Park, and experiencing the local culture and traditions. You can also venture beyond Matera to nearby towns and attractions in Basilicata and Puglia.

πŸ’‘ INSIDER TIP: I suggest AT LEAST 2 days in Matera to see and experience as much of it as possible. It is not closely located to any other major cities so a day trip will use a lot of time with transportation to and from Matera. Plus the city is quite large and walking around to all the different spots, viewing the museums, etc takes time.


Films Set in Matera, Italy

Matera’s unique and picturesque setting has made it a popular location for various films and television series. Some notable films set in Matera, Italy, include:

πŸŽ₯ “The Passion of the Christ” (2004)
πŸŽ₯ “Ben-Hur” (2016)
πŸŽ₯ “No Time to Die” (2021)
πŸŽ₯“The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” (2004)
πŸŽ₯ “The Omen” (2006)


10 Amazing Things to do in Matera, Italy

Explore the Maze of Matera

Matera view
Houses of Matera

One of the most captivating things to do in Matera is to explore the intricate labyrinth that is the historic center, known as the Sassi di Matera.

πŸ’‘ QUICK FACT: Sassi di Matera is named after the historic center of Matera, which consists of ancient cave dwellings or “sassi” carved into the cliffs, giving the city its unique architectural identity.

Exploring the historic center is an adventure in itself where you can uncover the city’s unique architecture and history. Walking through Matera’s maze of ancient stone structures is like stepping into a living museum that dates back centuries.

As you navigate the winding streets, you’ll find yourself simply walking up and down the stone-carved stairs, getting lost in hidden alleys, and wandering down narrow, picturesque pathways. This immersive experience not only offers a sense of time travel but also provides an intimate look at the daily life of Matera’s past and present residents.

You’ll discover hidden chapels, artisan shops, and charming nooks that unveil the essence of this extraordinary city, making it one of the best things to do in Matera for all travelers.

πŸ’‘ INSIDER TIP: The streets and paths of Matera are made of old stone that can be incredibly slippery! Pack good shoes that prevent slipping and watch your step.


Admire Matera from the Viewpoints

View of Matera Sassi
View of Matera Sassi

One of the most spectacular things to do in Matera is to admire the city from its stunning viewpoints. The best viewpoints in Matera include:

πŸ‘‰πŸ» Belvedere di Murgia Timone: This is one of the best views over the city of Matera as a whole where all the classical Matera photos are taken. This viewpoint is located outside the old town across the deep gorge surrounding the city and requires some walking to reach it. You can hike from the old town or park your car next to the tourist point and then walk for 30 minutes.

πŸ‘‰πŸ» Belvedere di Piazza Giovanni Pascoli: One of the most stunning views of Matera that is located right in the heart of the old town. This viewpoint is easy to reach and offers a stunning view of the endless stone houses.

πŸ‘‰πŸ» Luigi Guerricchio Belvedere: A beautiful viewpoint where you can admire all of Matera laid out in front of you.

For the most enchanting views, visit these viewpoints during sunrise and sunset.


Enjoy the Sunset Views

Sunset over the Sassi
Sunset over the Sassi

Savoring the sunset views in Matera is easily one of the best and most memorable things to do in Matera. While there are numerous viewpoints in this enchanting city, the best spot to watch the sunset is from the private luxury of your hotel’s patio.

With a bottle of wine in hand, I was treated to an awe-inspiring spectacle as the sun dipped below the horizon, casting a warm, golden glow over the unique stone-carved cityscape. It was undeniably one of the most breathtaking sunsets I’ve ever had the privilege of witnessing, and the ambiance made it an unforgettable evening.

🏨 BOOK THIS: This is the hotel – Riscatto 1514 – I stayed at in Matera and it is SUPER affordable, clean, and has one of the BEST views of the city, especially for sunset.


Visit The Cave Churches

Matera church view built in rocks
Matera church view built in rocks

When in Matera, don’t miss the opportunity to explore the remarkable cave churches, known as “Chiese Rupestri” or Rock Churches. These ancient places of worship are not only historically significant but also offer a unique and awe-inspiring experience.

The most notable cave churches in Matera include:

⭐️ Church of Santa Lucia alle Malve
⭐️ Church of San Pietro Caveoso
⭐️ Church of San Giovanni in Monterrone

These churches are not just architectural marvels but also showcase beautifully preserved frescoes and religious artworks that provide a glimpse into the region’s rich cultural and spiritual history.

Visiting the cave churches is a journey back in time, allowing you to connect with the traditions and artistry of Matera’s past. It’s a captivating exploration and one of the top things to do in Matera.


Go on a Historic City Tour

Embarking on a historic city tour in Matera is a captivating way to delve into the rich heritage and fascinating past of this remarkable Italian city. The tour typically includes visits to iconic sites such as the Sassi di Matera, the ancient cave dwellings that have been inhabited for millennia.

The tour guides you through the labyrinthine alleyways of the historic center, where you can admire the unique architecture and discover hidden chapels and artisan workshops. Overall, a historic city tour in Matera provides a comprehensive understanding of the city’s evolution, from its ancient beginnings to its modern-day revitalization, and is one of the top things to do in Matera.


Stay in a Cave Hotel

Matera balcony view
Matera balcony view

Staying in a cave hotel in Matera is a truly unique and immersive experience that allows you to connect with the city’s ancient history and its extraordinary architectural heritage. These cave hotels, also known as “Sassi hotels,” have been expertly renovated from the historic cave dwellings that define Matera’s landscape.

You’ll find a range of accommodations, from cozy and rustic rooms carved directly into the stone to more luxurious options with modern amenities. Regardless of your choice, the experience of sleeping in a cave hotel is unlike any other, with the cool and peaceful ambiance of the caves providing a welcome escape from the heat of the day.

Waking up in these cave dwellings allows you to fully appreciate the historical significance of Matera and its remarkable transformation into a modern and vibrant destination. It’s an extraordinary way to fully immerse yourself in the city’s heritage and a highlight of any visit to Matera.

Some of the best cave hotels in Matera are:

πŸ’‘ Hotel La Casa Di Lucio
πŸ’‘ Sextantio Le Grotte Della Civita
πŸ’‘ Palazzo Gattini Luxury Hotel

I actually didn’t stay in a Cave Hotel but a hotel in the old town with a view! The one I booked is below.

🏨 BOOK THIS: This is the hotel – Riscatto 1514 – I stayed at in Matera and it is SUPER affordable, clean, and has one of the BEST views of the city, especially for sunset.


Have Drinks with a View

Wine with Matera view in the distance
Wine with Matera view in the distance

Having drinks with a view is one of the top things to do in Matera to savor the city’s captivating beauty. Several restaurants, cafes, and bars offer terraces or outdoor seating with breathtaking panoramic vistas of the Sassi di Matera and the surrounding landscapes.

Whether you’re sipping on a local wine, enjoying an aperitif, or simply relaxing with a coffee, the ambiance of Matera’s unique architectural landscape at different times of the day and evening enhances the enjoyment of your drink.


Hike the Ravine

Hiking the ravine is one of the best things to do in Matera to explore the city’s surrounding natural beauty and gain a different perspective on its iconic architecture. The ravine, often referred to as the Gravina, is a deep gorge that winds its way through the landscape.

Hiking along the paths and trails in the Gravina allows you to experience the rugged terrain, enjoy stunning views of Matera from below, and discover hidden caves and grottoes along the way. This outdoor adventure is an excellent way to connect with the region’s natural landscape and provides a balance to the city’s historical and architectural attractions.


Tour the Cave Museums

View of Matera
View of Matera

Touring the cave museums in Matera offers a captivating journey into the city’s rich history, art, and culture. These unique museums are housed within the ancient cave dwellings, adding an extra layer of historical authenticity to the exhibits.

Some of the best cave museums in Matera are:
πŸ‘‰πŸ» Museo Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario: This museum was set up as a traditional cave dwelling to provide insights into daily life in Matera.
πŸ‘‰πŸ» Museo Laboratorio della Civilta Contadina: This museum showcases the region’s agricultural and rural heritage
πŸ‘‰πŸ» Museo della Scultura Contemporanea Matera: This museum located within a cave church, features contemporary art installations

These cave museums offer a diverse and immersive cultural experience, making them a must-visit for those interested in Matera’s unique heritage and artistic expression.


Visit Matera’s Duomo

Visiting Matera’s Duomo, officially known as the Cathedral of the Madonna della Bruna and Sant’Eustachio, is one of the top things to do in Matera for all types of visitors. This grand cathedral, built in the Apulian-Romanesque style, is a remarkable blend of architectural beauty and historical significance.

The cathedral features an elegant facade with intricate sculptures and a rose window that exudes timeless charm. Inside, you can admire impressive frescoes, ornate altars, and historic religious artifacts. The crypt beneath the cathedral, dedicated to Sant’Eustachio, adds an extra layer of historical depth to the visit.


Enjoy Local Cusine

Italain food
Matera restaurant

Enjoying local cuisine in Matera is a delectable journey through the flavors and traditions of this region. Matera’s culinary scene is deeply rooted in the local culture, offering a variety of dishes that showcase the simplicity and authenticity of Basilicata’s gastronomy.

Some must-try dishes include “cavatelli,” a homemade pasta typically served with a rich tomato sauce, and “orecchiette,” small ear-shaped pasta, often paired with local vegetables and sauces. Matera is also known for its bread, particularly “pane di Matera,” which has a distinctive crunchy crust and soft crumb. To complement your meal, sample local wines from the Basilicata region, such as Aglianico del Vulture.


Join a Cooking Class

Participating in a cooking class in Matera is a fantastic way to deepen your appreciation for the local cuisine and immerse yourself in the culinary traditions of the region. These classes typically take place in charming settings, such as traditional stone kitchens or historic cave dwellings, adding an authentic atmosphere to the experience.

During the class, you’ll have the opportunity to learn the secrets of preparing Matera’s signature dishes. Experienced chefs or local cooks guide you through the process of making homemade pasta like “cavatelli” or “orecchiette,” as well as traditional sauces and side dishes. You’ll gain insights into the use of locally sourced ingredients, such as olive oil, herbs, and vegetables.

This is one of the VERY best things to do in Matera!


How to get to Matera, Italy

To get to Matera, Italy, you can use a combination of transportation options. Matera is located in the Basilicata region of southern Italy, and the nearest major cities with transportation hubs are Bari and Brindisi. Here’s how to reach Matera:

πŸ›©οΈ By Air:

  • Bari Airport (BRI): This is the nearest major airport to Matera, located approximately 66 miles (106 kilometers) away. After landing in Bari, you can continue your journey to Matera by train, bus, or rental car.
  • Brindisi Airport (BDS): Brindisi Airport is another option, situated about 130 miles (209 kilometers) from Matera. From Brindisi, you can also take a train or bus to Matera.

πŸš‚ By Train:

  • Once you arrive in Bari or Brindisi, you can take a train to Matera. Matera has two train stations: Matera Centrale and Matera Sud. The journey from Bari to Matera by train takes approximately 1.5 to 2 hours.

🚌 By Bus:

  • Several bus companies offer services to Matera from various Italian cities, including Bari and Naples. The bus station in Matera is located in the modern part of the city, while the historic center is easily accessible on foot or by local transportation.

πŸš— By Car:

  • If you prefer to drive, you can rent a car at the airports or in nearby cities. Matera is accessible by road, and it’s approximately a 1.5 to 2-hour drive from Bari. Be aware that parking in the historic center can be limited, so it’s advisable to check with your accommodation regarding parking options.

🚎 By Shuttle Service:

  • Some hotels and accommodations in Matera may offer shuttle services from nearby airports or cities, so it’s worth checking if this convenient option is available.

Before your journey, be sure to verify the latest travel information and transportation options, as schedules and routes may vary. Matera is a unique and captivating destination, and the journey to reach it is part of the adventure, offering glimpses of the beautiful landscapes of southern Italy.


Where to Stay in Matera, Italy

In Matera, Italy, you can experience the city’s historic charm by staying in a cave hotel, such as “Sassi di Matera.” Alternatively, you’ll find a range of accommodations, from boutique hotels to charming bed-and-breakfasts, in the heart of the Sassi or in the modern town, offering comfort and unique experiences in this captivating city.

Top places to stay in Matera:
πŸ’‘ Riscatto 1514
πŸ’‘ Hotel La Casa Di Lucio
πŸ’‘ Sextantio Le Grotte Della Civita
πŸ’‘ Palazzo Gattini Luxury Hotel

 

Best Time to Visit Matera

The best time to visit Matera, Italy is during the shoulder seasons of spring (April to June) and autumn (September to October). During these months, the weather is pleasant, and you can explore the city and its surroundings comfortably. Summer (July and August) can be hot, with high tourist numbers, so it’s advisable to book accommodations in advance.

Winter (November to March) is the low season, and while temperatures are milder than in northern Italy, some attractions may have limited hours. For a well-rounded experience with fewer crowds and favorable weather, aim for spring or autumn.


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12 Amazing Things to do in Matera
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