As one of Southern Italy’s most stunning places to visit, Matera is one of those places that’s totally unique and completely gorgeous. Not only that, being one of the oldest (continually lived-in) cities in the entire world, Matera is steeped in historical sights, gorgeous vistas and a heap of yummy restaurants that you can’t miss. Honestly, there’s a heap of the best things to do in Matera that makes it perfect for a long weekend break or part wider Italian road trip.
Matera itself is split into quite distinct areas and it’s likely you’ll want to spend most of your time in the historic Sassi area. It’s the oldest, and arguably, the prettiest part of Matera that you’ll want to visit. After all, this is the area where all the cave houses, shops and cliffside buildings are and still look as impressive as they did centuries ago.
We had the most incredible time exploring, strolling the cobbled alleys and finding the prettiest little bars. It really is stunning and not just a place for pretty pictures.
All tried and tested, I wanted to share some of the best things to do in Matera that we loved. And, as always, if you have any questions on your visit, just pop us a message. Take a look, below. Have the best trip!
1.) Stay in a cave hotel
Staying in a cave has to be one of the best things to do in Matera! Historically, the caves of Matera were once home to many people and workers that made this area their home.
Over the centuries, as living standards increased, many of the remaining residents left the Sassi caves in the mid-Twentieth Century.
Nowadays, the caves are filled with the most gorgeous little hotels, artist studios and little eateries that are totally unique.
As soon as we planned our trip to Matera, we knew we had to stay in one of these caves… and we found the most amazing place.
We booked into the Aquatio Cave Hotel & Spa and it’s easily one of our favourite places.
Perched right within the caves of the Sassi area, our cave hotel was carved within the mountainside and had the prettiest rooms.
It was a mix of historic caves and an uber-luxury suite that was out-of-this-world.
Our cave, itself, went quite far back into the mountainside, with the deepest part of the cave having our ‘egg-shaped’ bath and cave rain shower. It’s by the far one of the most unique hotels, ever.
Oh, and they even have a cave pool that is so incredible. We spent a morning just in the cave pool and it was a total struggle to leave.
One thing to note, you can’t drive your car within the historic Sassi area of Matera. The roads might look open but you will get fined if you go ahead and drive into this area. We parked in the Damasco Garage that had an affiliation with our hotel and it’s worth checking with your hotel on the best places to park as each garage seems to prioritise hotel guests that they are contracted with.
2.) Saint Agostino Church
For me, this is one of the best places to watch the sunset over the historic city of Matera. I’ve included a Google Maps link to show you exactly where I mean.
After exploring inside Saint Agostino Church, pop outside and see the views across to the Civita area of Sassi. It’s totally gorgeous at any time of the day, but especially stunning at sunset. We stayed here until nightfall and it was so dreamy.
Plus, It’s not really far from any part of the historic Sassi area of Matera, and at most, a 30-minute stroll. Which, by the way, is always one of the best things to do in Matera. You get to spot so many little gems and cave cafes that are too good to miss.
After watching the sunset, pop overt to Osteria al Casale for some of their homemade truffle pasta. It’s so yummy.
3.) Church of Saint Mary of Idris
Nestled within the huge Monterrone cliff that sits within Matera itself, the Church of Saint Mary of Idris is well worth seeing. Cut totally within the rock, it’s well worth visiting for 15-minutes and taking a look around.
Once inside, you’ll get to wander the carved out caves, see the fresco that once covered so much of the cave walls.
Also, from here, you’ll get some lovely views across the Sassi and towards the Rione Pianelle area. It really is one of the best things to do in Matera that you can’t miss (even if it’s a short and fleeting visit).
Now, you will need to pay for entry, but entry is quite a low cost (around 3-5 Euro).
Also, you’ll be able to easily see the Church of S Pietro Caveoso, right below it, too.
4.) Church of Santa Lucia alle Malve
With thousands of years of history, the church of Santa Lucia alle Malve is so unique. Located just a stone’s throw away from the Sasso Caveoso area of Matera, it’s really easy to visit after exploring the nearby Church of Saint Mary of Idris.
Although again, you’ll pay a small fee to enter (and will likely only spend 10-15 minutes inside) it’s well worth taking a gander and learning more about the long history of this place.
Oh, and afterwards, pop onto the roofed area (where you can freely walk) and spot the crypts and tombs.
Here, they’ve actually used the cave roof to bury people into the ceiling of Santa Lucia alle Malve. We’ve never seen anything like it before.
5.) Duomo Matera
Okay, I know I’m mentioning quite a few religious sites in Matera but honestly, they’re all so impressive.
Perched right in the centre of the Sassi area of historic Matera, the Duomo is incredible. Built in a Romanesque-style it’s over 700 years old and still stands proudly overlooking all of Matera.
Take a little wander, explore the incredible fresco and art that adorns the walls and keep your eyes peeled for the altarpiece (created by Fabrizio Santafede).
Plus, there’s some great views from the Belvedere outside.
6.) Via Di Ridola
So, Via Di Ridola, is quite a big street to stroll, well, as far as the Sassi area of Matera goes; though, that’s not really the reason you go to visit. You see, there are quite a few of the best things to do in Matera that are dotted all across this street.
After arriving, check out the incredible views from Belvedere Piazzetta Pascoli (Google Maps link). From here, you’ll get to view all across old Matera and spot places like the Church of Santa Lucia alle Malve and the Duomo in the distance.
If the weather takes a turn for the worst, pop inside to visit the museum at Palazzo Lanfranchi. It’s one of the most popular art galleries and museums in the city and houses both old and new exhibitions to explore.
Afterwards, head on over to National Archaeological Museum (about a 1-minute walk away) and explore the Church of Purgatorio and, further up, the Church of Chiara, too.
Along the way, you’ll find lots of little bars, eateries and one of the best gelato spots in all of Matera.
It’s called I Vizi degli Angeli and they’re selection is incredible. You’ve gotta try their pistachio and hazelnut gelato; it’s so dreamy.
7.) Piazza V Veneto
In the newer part (of the old city, if that even makes sense), Piazza V Veneto not only has another gorgeous Belvedere for views ( at Belvedere Luigi Guerricchio) but also becomes a hive of activity in the late afternoon and early evening; especially with locals.
Once here, stop off for some alfresco coffees or wine.
We loved 19^buca, just be sure to grab a table inside the cave (or outside, if you prefer) and try some of the local Basilicata wines.
We loved it.
8.) Hiking the gorge
Crossing the Tibetan Bridge which scales over River Gravina is picture-perfect. Not only that, it’s easily one of the best things to do in Matera if you fancy stretching your legs and want to leave the confines of Matera itself.
Now, it’s a relatively easy hike (as hikes go, it’s not a long-distance) but it can be brutal on a really hot summer day. Honestly, that sun is so strong in the heat of August.
Wear some comfy shoes, stick to the paths and end up around the Sanctuary of Madonna delle Tre Porte.
Alternatively, pop over to the Church of Our Lady delle Vergini, that’ll take around 60-minutes to hike to (from the centre of the Sassi area of Matera). Along the way, you’ll find some of the historic caves that we’re never developed beyond their original use, too.
9.) Gorge in these restaurants
Okay, so Matera has a fair few places to grab a bite! So much so that it can be bamboozling to spot the best places. After a little trial and error, we found a handful of amazing places that we loved so much. So, to make your trip a little easier, I wanted to share these with you.
First up, La Lopa! This was one of our favourite spots to eat in all of Matera. Not only do they have the cutest little cinema spot within the cave, but they also serve up some tasty local dishes.
Ofcrouse, you’ve got to try pepperoni cruschi (dried peppers), crapiata (a matera chunky soup with fava beans) and pignata (with lamb and potatoes). Just make sure to make a reservation before going, especially in the evening.
Also, pop into Le Bubbole for their octopus and Lucano Black Pork. They have a seasonal menu that’s so good and the setting is totally stunning (within one of the cave houses).
Finally, grab a table at Dedalo. Here, they serve up some tasty tuna antipasti with sarconi bean sauce. Oh, and their Slow-cooked beef cheek is so delicious and tender.
Of course, their homemade espresso tiramisù is incredible, too.
10.) Tramontano castle
If you love all the incredible castles in Italy, then you’ll need to head over to Tramontano castle. Perched upon Lapel Hill, Tramontano castle is almost 500 years old and well worth popping by whilst in Matera.
Sadly, you can’t go inside but it’s worth a fleeting visit especially if you’re leaving the historic Sassi area of Matera and heading to the newer part of the city.