1 Day in Matera
Matera is one of those magical places that is hard to put into words. It has gone from being the “shame of Italy” to a UNESCO World Heritage Site to one of the 2019 European Capitals of Culture. The city is one of the oldest continuously-inhabited settlements in history, has been the filming location for many movies, and is split into two areas, the “Sassi” (old city) and the new city. One second you’re walking in the new city and the next you’ve entered a whole other world. The ancient architecture, the cave dwellings, views at every turn, and less touristy feel made it one of our absolute favorite spots during our two week Italy trip and we had a goofy smile on the entire day! We spent 1 day in Matera and felt like we were able to explore so much of the city and learn tons of history. While we could’ve spent more time there just wandering around or exploring the surrounding area, if you’re short on time, 1 day in Matera is perfect!
PS: For more Italy ideas, watch our Italy vlog series and check out the rest of our Italy guides:
- 4 Days in the Dolomites
- 1 Day in Venice
- 2 Days in Positano
- 3 Days in Rome (Coming soon!)
- 2 Days in Florence (Coming soon!)
Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!
Tips for a Great Trip
- One thing that was different in Matera than other spots we visited in Italy is that many places shut down midday. We also noticed, almost more so than other areas in Italy, that hours were inconsistent with what we found online. We tried multiple restaurants our first night that said they were open and sure enough, they weren’t. 🙁 So to avoid disappointment, don’t get too excited about a place.
- Many things are closed on Mondays or Wednesdays. We aren’t sure why this is, but we visited on a Wednesday and had to skip a few restaurants we wanted to try because they were closed.
- There are a lot of stairs, so if you do not like stairs or are unable to walk up and down many flights, Matera may be a bit challenging for you.
- It gets very hot during the day in the summer. There is no cover and you’ll be getting lots of sunshine, so make sure to wear sunscreen and drink lots of water!
General Italy Tips
- Wake up early to beat the crowds. It’s 100% worth it!
- In Italy, they do not drink lattes (especially flavored ones) or many of the other coffee drinks we are used to in the US. The main drinks to order are: an espresso, macchiato, or a cappuccino (but only before 10:30 AM). We drank lots of macchiatos and loved them! Coffee is also way cheaper than in the US! You also usually drink your coffee and then pay, which is different than we were used to.
- Tipping is not expected in Italy like it is in the US. Some places do charge a small service fee or charge a little more for table service though.
- There is a rumor that gluten and dairy sensitive folks can eat gluten and dairy in Europe. Kathryn is gluten free in the US (and doesn’t eat much dairy) and decided to test the theory and felt fine the whole trip (and we ate a TON of gluten)!
- If you’re driving, make sure to get an International Driving Permit. You can get this from AAA for only $20. Make sure to bring your actual driver’s license with you too!
- We highly recommend getting an internet plan for your phone or SIM card. Relying solely on wifi can be a bit stressful at times and it’s worth the cost to be able to use your phone freely. We also suggest downloading offline Google Maps so you can use maps without eating up data.
- Buy an adapter before you go! Also, make sure your hair dryer and straightener (and other electrical items) are dual voltage. We took this hair dryer and this straightener with us during the trip and they worked great!
- None of our Airbnb’s had keypads so we had to meet the hosts in person, which wasn’t a huge deal, but this can be a tad trickier if you arrive somewhere late so keep that in mind. You also have to pay a tourist tax for all Airbnbs (this should be in their listing) and they will ask to see your passport, so don’t be alarmed when they ask!
- Bring Euros! We used Euros WAY more than we thought we would. We took out some Euros at our bank beforehand to ensure we had some on hand, but then used bank ATMs the rest of the trip (the ones in actual banks, NOT the ones just on the street in the big cities—those will charge you massive fees). We ended up spending around 500 Euros in cash over two weeks. In the smaller cities, don’t expect everywhere to take a credit card, but even in some of the larger cities, some gelato spots or restaurants only took cash. You also need some coins handy if you want to use public restrooms.
- If you’re staying at Airbnbs and need somewhere to store your bags, we recommend checking out Bagbnb. We have used this in many cities and it is a huge help!
- Sometimes restaurants/coffee shops/gelato spots weren’t open when Google said they would be (and we never knew why). We ran into this issue in almost every city, both big and small. We learned to not trust Google for hours and to not get too set on going somewhere because there was a chance it wouldn’t actually be open. Being flexible is key!
Getting to Matera is where we made a few mistakes. We planned to take trains between the other cities on our trip and didn’t even look to see if there were other options to get to Matera…oops *facepalm*. We took a train from Venice to Naples and then a bus from Naples to Matera. It was about a 9 hour travel day. And little did we know, we could’ve flown into Bari and taken a bus or train from Bari to Matera for way less time. Although we loved the long travel day to knock out some work, we did waste some vacation time.
So don’t be like us! Fly into Bari, which should be relatively cheap from any Italian city, and then take the train into Matera (or bus if a train isn’t available).
As for leaving Matera, we went to Positano after Matera and took a BOLT bus from Matera to Salerno (and then a ferry to Positano), which wasn’t bad at all, but we had to walk 30 minutes with our luggage to the bus stop.
While it’s maybe not as easy to get to and from Matera, it’s 100% worth it!
Where to Stay
As we mentioned above, Matera is full of cave dwellings. From the outside, the buildings look like buildings, but when you enter, you’re in a cave! It’s SO DANG COOL! Our biggest tip for Matera is to stay in one of these caves! We stayed at this Airbnb and it was the coolest Airbnb we have ever stayed at (and it had an espresso machine that we used probably too much). Some other Airbnb options are:
PS: If it is your first time staying at an Airbnb, click this link to get $40 off your first stay!
One reason we loved Matera is because it is super walkable! We walked allll over town and although it’s very hilly and has lots of stairs, it was so much fun! We wouldn’t recommend renting a car here, as it would be a bit harder to park in the Sassi.
The wonderful thing about Matera is that you don’t even need to be doing much to be in awe and having a great time. We usually aren’t ones to just wander around without much of a plan, but in Matera, we spent half of the day just walking around and seeing what we could find and it was perfect! So with that said, this guide will be a little looser than our others, but just as fun!
- Kick off your morning with coffee and a pastry from Caffe Schiuma or Gran Caffe
- Take a tour of Parco della Murgia Materana! This park is just across the ravene from the Sassi and not only has great views of the Sassi, but also has tons of caves, frescos, and rock churches to explore. We took a tour with Silvio and he was the absolute best! Getting to Murgia is a bit challenging without a car, but thankfully Silvio was kind enough to drive us for an extra fee. While you could explore without a guide, having a local guide gets you access to many of the rock churches, as they are able to get the keys to open them.
- After spending a couple hours touring Murgia, grab lunch at Il Rusticone or Quattroquarti – Crostaemollica. We unfortunately never got the chance to eat at Quattroquarti because they were closed both days, but we went to Il Rusticone and LOVED it! It was affordable, the service was great, and the puccia (which is kind of like a panini, but with pizza crust instead of bread) is delicious!
- Grab some gelato from I Vizi degli Angeli. This was in our top 5 favorite gelatos of our entire trip!
- Wander around the Sassi. We spent hours just wandering around and loved every minute of it! Make sure to go to Belvedere di Piazza Giovanni Pascoli for an awesome view of the city and walk up to the Church of Santa Maria de Idris. We didn’t go inside, but the big rock it’s on was fun to explore.
- Enjoy a nice dinner! Here are a few good options: Da Zero (great pizza!), Kapunto, Osteria Al Casale, and La Grotta nei Sassi.
- If you’re looking for post-dinner drinks, check out Area 8, which is a super cool bar!
- Cry because your time in Matera is over 🙁
If you have extra time…
- Trattoria del Caveoso
- Osteria Pico
- Dimora Ulmo
- Panificio Perrone Il Forno di Gennaro to try some fresh bread! Matera is known for its bread 🙂
- Pasthello Gelato Autentico for gelato
- Explore more of Puglia: we cannot wait to come back and explore more of this region in Italy! Lonely Planet has tons of ideas of things to do!
- Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario
- Cripta del Peccato Originale
- MUSMA Museum of Contemporary Sculpture
- MOOM Matera Olive Oil Museum
Ready to fall in love with Matera?
Pin this 1 Day in Matera guide to plan your trip!