The Gargano is a small peninsula of land that juts into the Adriatic Sea. Located on the eastern coastline of Puglia, Italy, this small promontory is home to some of the most diverse landscapes in this region of Italy. White limestone cliffs plunge into the aquamarine sea, small towns sit on top of these cliffs, and a thick forest and groves of olive trees cover the interior section of the peninsula.
The Gargano peninsula often gets overlooked on many road trips through Puglia, with people opting to spend their time in the more popular towns such as Alberobello, Ostuni, and Lecce.
We very much enjoyed the time we spent here, and in this guide, we want to introduce you to the beauty of the Gargano. We cover the best things to do in the Gargano with suggestions on how to plan your visit.
What is the Gargano?
If you look at Italy on a map, it looks like a boot. Puglia is the heel of this boot and the Gargano is the spur in the heel of the boot.
Within the central, hilly portion of the Gargano is Foresta Umbra. This dense forest of oak and beech trees is the last remaining forest of this type in Italy. Oak and beech trees once covered much of Italy and the Apennine Mountains. Gargano National Park preserves this last patch of forest in Italy.
Most of the interior section of the Gargano Peninsula is mountainous, covered with the Umbra Forest and huge groves of olive trees. The highest point of the Gargano Peninsula is Monte Calvo at 1,065 meters (3,494 feet). A few hill towns dot the mountainous landscape.
The hills tumble down to the coastline, where brilliantly white limestone cliffs drop into the sea. Sea caves dot the limestone cliffs, with occasional breaks in the cliffs for rocky and sandy beaches.
Best Things to Do in the Gargano
1. Monte Sant’Angelo
Located on one of the highest mountains in the Gargano is the town of Monte Sant’Angelo.
Monte Sant’Angelo | Things to Do in the Gargano
This small town has a compact city center to visit, with a castle, a maze of streets to explore, and one of the most sacred cave churches in the world.
Getting here is just as interesting as visiting the town itself. Monte Sant’Angelo is located high in the mountains. To get here, you will drive on twisting, mountain roads with views of the hilly interior and the Adriatic Sea. It is a very scenic drive, as you gaze out over small farms and fields of olive trees.
Once in town, park in the very large lot (parcheggio) that sits to the west of the castle. There is a small fee to park here.
In town, visit the Sanctuary of San Michele Arcangelo, the cave church. This is such an important place to visit that it gets its own entry, listed next.
One of our favorite experiences was walking the walls of the Castle of Monte Sant’Angelo for panoramic views over the area (click here for hours and pricing).
View from the Castle of Mont Sant’Angelo | Things to Do in the Gargano
Monte Sant’Angelo Castle | Things to Do in the Gargano
You can also visit a few more churches (the Church of the Most Holy Trinity and the Church of Saint Mary Maggiore), visit the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Tumba, and go shopping for local foods and souvenirs. For sale in the shops are local dried pastas, focaccia bread, and different flavors of taralli, which are small round crackers that can be sweet or savory. You will see them everywhere in Puglia…in restaurants, wine shops, and produce shops.
Campanile di San Michele Arcangelo
PRO TRAVEL TIP: Many of the sites, such as the castle and the church, as well as the restaurants, close midday. Get hours before you go so you can plan your time accordingly.
Where We Ate: L’Osteria del Corso. This small restaurant serves local pasta dishes. The service is fast and the prices were very reasonable. We ate the orecchiette pasta with typical Pugliese sauce, as well as bruschetta with tomatoes, olive oil, and basil that was delightful.
Lunch at L’Osteria del Corso
Driving Routes to Monte Sant’Angelo
There are two roads that lead from the coast to Monte Sant’Angelo. We drove SP55 into Monte Sant’Angelo and SS 89dir B back to Vieste.
The slightly faster, more direct way is to take SP55 from the coast to the town. This very windy road offers coastal views on the drive to and from town.
SS 89dir B is a slightly slower, less direct route but it is more scenic. Just below Monte Sant’Angelo, this winding road curves through small farms, with terraces made from the rocks. Cows, goats, and horses graze in the small fields. Occasionally, you get glimpses of the Adriatic Sea. For brief sections, the road runs along the edge of a cliff, but there are guardrails along the road.
SS 89dir B | Things to Do in the Gargano
As you get closer to sea level, the white limestone cliffs come into view and you drive past more terraced slopes, and these are covered with olive trees.
Both SP55 and SS 89dir B are narrow and winding, but SS 89dir B is slightly more so. I don’t have very many good photos from the drive, since there are very few places to safely pull over and take a photo, so you’ll just have to trust me in that SS 89dirB is a very scenic drive.
For the best experience, go up one road and down the other.
2. Sanctuary of San Michele Arcangelo
The Sanctuary of San Michele Arcangelo is located in Monte Sant’Angelo.
On the exterior, the Sanctuary of San Michele Arcangelo looks a typical church, but inside, you will descend into the underground world to one of the most famous cave churches in the world.
Sanctuary of San Michele Arcangelo | Things to Do in the Gargano
The cave church dates back to 460 AD. During the Middle Ages, this church was one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the world. A long list of popes, emperors, and saints have visited the Sanctuary of Monte Sant’Angelo.
In 2011, the Sanctuary of San Michele Arcangelo was listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.
On a visit to the Sanctuary of San Michele Arcangelo, there are a few things to see: the Saint Michael Cave, the Devotional Museum, the crypt, and the Penitential Chapel. Photos are not allowed inside of the Sanctuary and this is strictly enforced. A visit to the Sanctuary lasts anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, depending on what you do and how long you spend in each place.
For more information on hours and pricing, visit the official website.
3. St. Michael’s Cave (Grotta di San Michele)
Legend has it that St. Michael the Archangel appeared in this church. A shrine with an altar and a statue of St. Michael was built inside of this natural cave.
The cave has been inhabited since the paleolithic times and artifacts dating back to the Paleolithic and Neolithic times were found here.
St. Michael’s Cave | Things to Do in the Gargano
This cave is interesting to visit but we don’t think it is worth the time to go out of your way to get here. It’s only worth it if you already have plans to be passing through the area.
When we visited in 2022, there was a small fee to enter. The church is open from morning to early afternoon, but closed for a few hours midday. Check hours on Google before you go.
4. Spend Some Time in Vieste
Vieste is our favorite town on the Gargano. This whitewashed coastal town is a joy to explore, with its labyrinth of narrow streets, views of the Adriatic Sea, and long list of restaurants, wine bars, and gelaterias.
Vieste | Things to Do in the Gargano
Vieste | Things to Do in the Gargano
With one day in Vieste, you can explore the old town, take a boat tour of the nearby sea caves, and spend some time on the beach. Vieste makes a great home base for exploring the Gargano peninsula and we spent three nights here on our trip through Puglia.
For things to do, where to stay, and where to eat, read our Guide to Vieste, which also has a walking tour of the old town.
5. Take a Boat Tour of the Sea Caves
Without a doubt, taking a boat tour of sea caves is one of the best things to do in the Gargano.
Cruising along the coastline, seeing the white limestone cliffs and long beaches, and drifting in and out of the many different sea caves made this one of our favorite experiences in Puglia.
Vieste is the best place on the Gargano to hire a boat. You have several options for boat tours, ranging from a group tour on a large boat (good for those on a budget) to private tours on smaller boats (better for exploring the sea caves).
We took a private tour of the sea caves with La Darsena. Our tour lasted 3 hours (10 am to 1 pm) and since we were in a smaller boat, we were able to enter quite a long list of sea caves.
For more information on boat tours of the sea caves, and many more photos, read our Guide to Gargano Boat Tours.
6. Visit the Tremiti Islands
The Tremiti Islands are a group of five small islands that sit off of the north coast of the Gargano. They are part of Gargano National Park.
Tremiti Islands | photo credit: vololibero/shutterstock.com
To get to the Tremiti Islands, you can take a ferry or hydrofoil from Termoli, Vieste, or Peschici. Spend a few hours on one of the islands and then return to the mainland.
Ferries from Vieste to the Termiti Islands only run from June to September. Since our visit was in October, we were not able to visit the Termiti Islands, but they look beautiful!
Peschici is a small town that sits on a cliff overlooking the Adriatic Sea.
Peschici | Things to Do in the Gargano
It reminded us of the towns in Santorini, Greece, with its whitewashed buildings, narrow streets, and occasional blue dome. Peschici is not quite as scenic, but it is a nice place to go for a stroll.
We had lunch at Ristorante La Taverna di Peschici, located in Piazza Del Popolo, dining on octopus and fresh fish.
There is a small castle to visit (it was closed while we were here) and small shops to visit. We loved the views over Baia di Peschici and its long, sandy beach.
The view from Peschici
Near Peschici, we have two photo spots to recommend.
The first is from Baia di Peschici, which is the beach that sits to the west of Peschici.
Baia di Peschici | Things to Do in the Gargano
The second is from SS89, Strada Statale 89 Garganica, for a view overlooking Peschici and the beach. Here are the GPS coordinates: 41°56’43.0″N 15°59’50.8″E Tim parked on a turnout on a bend in the road (GSP coordinates: 41°56’39.7″N 15°59’50.5″E) and I walked up the road to take the photo.
Peschici | Things to Do in the Gargano
8. Vico del Gargano
We weren’t big fans of this town but I’m listing it, just so you know what to expect. It comes up on other lists so you may come across it as you are doing your research.
This very small town sits in the hills of the Gargano peninsula. Strolling the streets of the old town is the main thing to do here, but there are also a few churches to visit and you can go olive oil tasting.
Vico del Gargano is not nearly as picturesque as Peschici or Vieste. During our visit, it looked and felt run down. We had to dodge quite a few piles of dog poop as we walked through town. I only recommend adding this town to your do list if you have a lot of time in the Gargano. Otherwise, put your time in Vieste, the boat tour, and relaxing on the beaches.
Vico del Gargano | Things to Do in the Gargano
Vico del Gargano
9. Umbra Forest
Blanketing the mountainous interior section of the Gargano is the Umbra Forest. More than 2,000 species of plants can be found here, but it is the beeches and oaks the form the main part of the forest. Keep a lookout for woodpeckers, deer, squirrels, owls, and foxes. Turtles can be seen at Laghetto d’Umbra, a small lake that sits within the forest.
The Umbra Forest is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is protected by the WWF. This forest is one of the last surviving forests in Italy and it is a haven for animals that live here.
To get here, you will drive on winding roads up to the visitor center. From here, 15 trails weave their way through the forest. We couldn’t find much information online about the hiking trails and the visitor center was closed during our visit, so we simply walked out to the lake, Laghetto d’Umbra, which is lovely.
Laghetto d’Umbra | Things to Do in the Gargano
10. Go to the Beach
A mix of sandy and rocky beaches line parts of the Gargano Peninsula.
Vieste is situated between two stretches of long, golden beaches. To the west is Spiaggia di San Lorenzo, which sits right next to the marina. To the south is Pizzumunno Beach (also known as Castello or Scialara Beach), where you can see the massive pillar of rock.
Pizzomunno Beach, Vieste | Things to Do in the Gargano
Mentioned earlier, there is also a wide, sandy beach next to Peschici.
On the southeastern coast, Spiaggia dei Faraglioni is a small beach with views of sea stacks. Spiaggia di Vignanotica is a wide, pebbly beach with a restaurant. To get here, it is a short, but strenuous downhill walk on a rough trail through the woods.
Spiaggia di Vignanotica | Things to Do in the Gargano
11. Photograph Arco di San Felice
Arco di San Felice, also called Architiello of San Felice, is one of the most famous landmarks of the Gargano Peninsula.
You can see it on a boat tour of the coast and while driving SP53 along the southeast side of the peninsula. The best viewpoint is from Torre di San Felice, a tower that sits on the coastline. During our visit, this tower was closed for renovations so our photo was taken from a viewpoint next to it, on SP53.
Arco di San Felice | Things to Do in the Gargano
Best Things to Do on the Gargano: On a Map
How to Use This Map: Click the icons on the map to get more information about each point of interest. Click the star next to the title of the map to add this map to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.
How Much Time Do You Need in the Gargano?
Plan on spending a minimum of 2 to 3 days in the Gargano. This gives you enough time to visit Vieste, take a boat tour of the sea caves, visit the Umbra Forest and Monte Sant’Angelo, and spend a little bit of time on the beach. With more time, you can day trip to the Tremiti Islands or spend more time on the beaches.
We spent 3 days on the Gargano Peninsula:
- Day 1: Drive from Pescara to Vieste; we visited St. Michael’s Cave, Vico del Gargano, Peschici, and a quick visit to the Umbra Forest.
- Day 2: Vieste boat tour and explore Vieste
- Day 3: Monte Sant’Angelo and more time in Vieste
- Day 4: In the morning, we drove to Trani, Polignano a Mare, and ended the day in Alberobello.
Where to Stay
Vieste, with its beaches, boat tours, and ferry to the Tremiti Islands, is the most convenient place to stay on the Gargano Peninsula.
We stayed at Dimorà Cumma Marì, a 4-star small boutique hotel, and had an excellent experience.
Quintessenza Charme Rooms was another place we considered, since it also has a rooftop terrace with views of Vieste. It also gets rave reviews but is slightly farther from the old town than Dimora Cumma Mari.
If you like the idea of staying in a place with a rooftop terrace, two more highly rated properties to consider are Tra Cielo a Mare and Relais La Pretura.
Sunset in Vieste
If you have any questions about the best things to do in the Gargano, let us know in the comment section below.
More Information for Your Trip to Italy
PUGLIA: Read about 15 beautiful places to visit in Puglia and the best things to do in Alberobello. We also have a guide about how to spend one day in Vieste and about how to take a boat tour to visit the Gargano sea caves.
ITALY ITINERARY: On this 10 day southern Italy itinerary, visit the Amalfi Coast, Castelmezzano, Matera, Alberobello, and more towns in Puglia.
BASILICATA: Basilicata is a region in southern Italy. Read our guide on the best things to do in Matera and how to visit Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa and do the Angel’s Flight zipline.
AMALFI COAST: Pick out which towns you want to visit in our article about the best towns to visit on the Amalfi Coast. We also have a detailed guide on things to do in Ravello and things to do in Positano. If you are active and adventurous, one of the best things to do on the Amalfi Coast is hike the Path of the Gods.
ASSISI: In our article Best Things to Do in Assisi, we cover the top experiences to have, plus where to eat and where to stay. In our One Day in Assisi Itinerary, we have a detailed walking tour of the historic city center.
BEST OF ITALY: In our Guide to the Best Places to Visit in Italy, we list 25 beautiful destinations to consider for your next trip to Italy.
We have TONS more information about Italy in our Italy Travel Guide, including Rome, Florence, Venice, Tuscany, the Dolomites, the Amalfi Coast, the Cinque Terre, and Puglia.
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