Salento with kids: all you need to know to visit this stunning area of Puglia
Travel guide to Salento with kids: family-friendly places to visit, best beaches for families, kid-friendly attractions, travel tips for parents.
Salento is a beautiful part of Italy; more precisely, it is the southernmost part of Puglia, the very end of Italy’s heel!
Salento is famous for having some of the most beautiful beaches in Italy, some pretty towns and the beautiful and historic city of Lecce, with art so significant to be dubbed ‘the Florence of the South’.
Salento is a fantastic destination for a summer vacation and one of the best places to visit in Puglia with kids if you are looking for family-friendly beaches and pretty towns for the occasional day of sightseeing.
I have visited Salento with kids, children and my parents.
We have rented a car (you need a car here, more about it later!), we have explored extensively, mixing stops that appealed to the kids with some that were more for grown-ups.
In all cases, we found Salento to be beautiful and welcoming!
This is our guide to visiting Salento with kids, based on our own travels to the area. All photos are my own (also the reason why some are taken on rainy days! This is how it actually was!).
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Why visit Salento with kids
There are many reasons why Salento is great for a family vacation.
- Salento has stunning sandy beaches with shallow waters, perfect also for small children.
- In Salento, you find plenty of family-friendly accommodation options and seaside resort towns that are fun for kids.
- Salento has some beautiful towns such as Lecce, Galatina and Monopoli, fantastic if you want to mix a beach vacation with a bit of sightseeing.
Why not to visit Salento with kids
I can think of three main reasons why a trip to Salento may not be for you. These are season, distance and transport.
- Season – Salento is a summer place. There are some beautiful towns in the area but, with kids, the real start of the show here is the sea, so you need the weather for it!
The best months to visit Salento with kids are June and September: at this time, you have summer weather (usually!) but you don’t have the crowds that flock to Salento’s beaches in July and August especially.
In winter, you can still enjoy Salento but you’ll find most coastal towns closed for the season and limited indoor attractions for children. If coming in winter, my choice would be the town of Lecce.
- Distance -Salento is far from most places. Covering the very tip of Italy’s heel, Salento is remote and you’ll need time to get here from almost anywhere in Italy.
To give you an idea, Santa Maria di Leuca is 2.5 hours from Bari and Bari is almost 3 hours from Naples and over 5 hours from Rome.
This means that you need to be intentional about including Salento in your Italy itinerary and cannot just swing by en route to somewhere else.
This is a good thing, if you come to Salento, it is great to explore it slowly! But it is something you need to take into account if including this area in a longer itinerary.
Transport – to explore Salento you need a car. While you can reach Lecce city by train, the rest of the area is poorly connected by train and most places are basically unreachable without your own vehicle.
Because of this, if you do not have a car, I recommend alternative areas instead.
How long to stay in Salento with kids
I recommend you state a minimum of four days for sightseeing and at least a week if planning on checking out several beaches.
The best places to visit in Salento with kids
Lecce is the main town in Salento and a lovely place to visit with kids. Easy to reach by high-speed train from Bari and even Rome, Lecce has a fabulous and car-free historic center and a relaxed vibe.
The town has existed since ancient times and is so rich in history and architectural beauty to have gained the nickname ‘Florence of the South’!
Lecce is pleasant with kids and well served with shops for essentials, restaurants etc.
It is not on the sea, so I recommend it for a spring/autumn trip rather than a summer one, and it is a lovely place to relax and immerse yourself in local life for a few days.
The ols town center is car-free, stroller friendly, it has a park and playground and plenty of shops and restaurants.
In Lecce with the kids you can:
- Take a walking tour of the city.
We did this booking on the day from the little agency in Piazza Abbazia (one of the great things about Lecce is that it is not overrun by tourism, you can wing it!).
This was a lovely way to get acquainted to the city and the guide was great at telling us little anecdotes and stories that kept the kids engaged. We saw Lecce’s churches, piazzas, Roman theater and amphitheater and the Jewish museum, all well worth learning about!
- Take a rickshaw tours of the city
Ape cars (aka rickshaws / tuktuks) are super popular here and largely used for local visits. If you have small kids or prefer to take a break from walking, you can get one for a tour: they are great fun and the people who run it were super helpful they were amazing with us. Book here.
- Take a paper mache workshop.
Lecce is famous for the fascinating craft of paper mache, which is used here to create stunning, lightweight statues to be used in churches and processions.
You can see the artisans at work in several shops in the city center, for free, but you can also book a workshop with a local teacher, who can tailor-make a class for you.
You can book this workshop from the same agency offering the guided walking tour but you need to give them notice, so they can secure the teacher for you. Contacts: http://www.infotab.it/ (we chatted with them on whattsapp, both message and whatsapp calls)
- Take an orecchiette pasta class
Orecchiette are a special type of pasta typical of Puglia and a fun dish to prepare with kids.
Like all pasta, making them is a hands-on activity you can do as a family and they are delicious even with a simple tomato and basil sauce, so even ‘discerning’ kids usually love them!
There are a few classes in Lecce and they are kid-friendly (usually tweens and up for group classes, more flexibility if you book privately).
A cool one for kids is this one with Paola (Airbnb experience) or this one La Strada del Vino Bistrot (on Viator).
To stay, check out:
To eat, we enjoyed:
- Boccon Divino, 8, Via Giuseppe Libertini, 17, 73100 Lecce, Italy and
- La Bottega del Corso, Via Giuseppe Libertini, 52, 73100 Lecce LE, Italy
Gallipoli is probably my favorite town in Salento. It is a well-known, popular vacation destination, very much not a hidden gem. However, it is a delight and we loved it with the kids!
As you first arrive to Gallipoli by car, you see the modern part of the city, and this is likely to leave you a mixed impression.
Modern Gallipoli has some pretty streets and piazza but also some genuinely awful-looking skyscrapers that have nothing to do with the image of Puglia you have dreamed of when booking your trip. But don’t despair yet!
As you arrive to the old town, this is where Gallipoli shows its best!
Gallipoli old town is surrounded by mighty walls that protect the towns from the sea.
As you leave the car outside fo them and venture in, the town welcomes you to a mase of lovely streets, plenty or restaurants and souvenir shops, a fantastic wall promenade overlooking the sea and the port and even access to a lovely sandy beach.
Gallipoli has a strong tourism vacation so the town has that lovely summer resort feel and it is very easy to settle here for a few days and make this place your home.
As well as the restaurants, here you have the port and the fresh fish fishmongers if you want to cook at home and since the modern town is just outside the old center walls, you have all you may need for children in terms of shops etc.
The best things to do in Gallipoli are enjoying the town center and restaurants, relax on the small city beach and explore the stunning beaches of Salento close to the town (Punta Prosciutto, Torre Lapillo, are kid-friendly and nearby).
Near Gallipoli you also have Splash Waterpark, which is just what you think: a water park with pools, slides etc!
Galatina is maybe the most fascinating town to visit in Salento and a place with a particular cultural background unique to this area: the tradition of the taranta.
Local culture tells us that in the area of Galatina, women would be victims of a condition triggered by a spider bite. This condition would affect only women and could be treated with a community ritual: a dance to the rhythm of the local tambourine and a visit to a holy well.
As even this brief description shows, the bite was metaphorical rather than real, so don’t worry about actual spiders when visiting!
The tradition has sparked the interest of anthropologists and psychiatrists and is at the center of many studies.
If you come to Galatina, you can learn about it (we had an informative chat with the gentlemen at the info point) and you can even visit the chapel in question.
If you don’t want to tap into this, however, or you have kids that may be disturbed by it, you can also enjoy Galatina in other ways!
The tows is pretty, and it has beautiful car-free streets easy for kids to explore safely. It also has a wonderful church (even my kids went ‘wow’ when they say it, it is that impressive).
Most of all, Galatina is the birthplace of Pasticciotto, a delicious piece of pastry filled with the smoothest, most indulgent cream you can ever dream of!
A morning stroll around Halatina with a pasticciotto is a fantastic way to spend time in Salento with kids!
Otranto is a pretty town on the Adriatic coast of Salento and a pleasant place to visit on a day trip from Lecce.
Like many other towns in this area, Otranto has an old, charming center, with restaurants, shops and pretty streets and a modern area, equipped with larger hotels, beach access and facilities.
With the children, we enjoyed a stroll in the old town with its impressive castle, we marveled at the incredible mosaic floor of its cathedral and had some play time at the small playground in front of the port.
While we didn’t feel Otranto itself had a lot to offer, we found it to be a pleasant city worth a stop.
Santa Maria du Leuca Sanctuary
Santa Maria di Meuca is at the extreme south of Puglia, where the Ionian and the Adriatic sea meet!
The town is pretty and has something special a scenic sanctuary on top of the hill overlooking the ci from where you can see the special location of the town. The sanctuary is aptly named Santa Maria Finis Terrae, St Mary of the end of land!
Our kids enjoyed the novelty and a cafe on site was great for a quick treat and bathroom break!
Best beaches in Salento for families + best beach resort towns
Salento has stunning kid-friendly beaches, blessed with soft sand, crystal clear waters and slowly degrading seafloor.
However, there is a but! in summer, and in July and August especially, these beaches are so buys, you can hardly access them!
So, while I want you to have this list of the best beaches in Salenti, please be aware that these places are at their best outside of the busy season, so usually in early June and late September.
Awesome kid-friendly beaches in Salento are:
- Torre Lapillo beach and resort town – stunning, kid-friendly beach and resort town with a quiet and relax vibe
- Porto Cesareo: popular, kid-friendly resort town in Salento, with a fabulous beach and a dynamic vibe in the evening (more lively than Torre Lapillo, still kid friendly)
- Punta Prosciutto beach – within the municipality of Porto Cesareo, a stunning beach with soft sand and shallow waters
- Pescoluse beach– one of the most beautiful beaches in Italy, famous especially for the stretch called Maldive del Salento, with water so clear and sand so white, they recall the landscapes of the Maldives (!)
- Lido Marini beach and resort town – a lovely resort town with a beautiful and kid-friendly beach, cute small parks and a playground.
- Torre dell’Orso beach and resort town – on the opposite coast of Salento, Torre dellOrso is a stunning beach famous for its scenic rock formations called ‘Le Due Sorelle’ (the two sisters). Also, a lovely resort town with a nice playground and sports pitches for kids called I Giardini del Sole
Driving in Salento
Driving in Salento is easy. Unlike other parts of the South of Italy, where the rods are narrow and trafficked, we found the rods n Salento to be large, well kept and with disciplined drivers!
At busy times, parking in famous localities and beaches can be problematic. If coming for a sea and sun vacation, I recommend looking for a hotel/ rental with parking and walking distance from the beach, so you are not tied to the car to reach the coast.
If you need to rent a car loclly, we had a good experience with Hertz in Lecce.
I hope you enjoyed this quick guide to Salento with kids and it helped you plan your vacation! Safe travels!