Matera in Italy is a beautiful city with a history that dates back thousands of years. As one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited settlements, Matera, with its UNESCO World Heritage Site cave dwellings, striking churches, and cobblestone streets, is a fantastic destination for families who enjoy learning about the past in a city far different from their own. If you are visiting Italy with kids and have time to explore Matera, even if for a day – it is so worth it!
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I had the pleasure of taking my own family on a trip to Matera- it is definitely worth a visit. We stayed in the Ai Tetrazzini Residence—just a short walk from the city’s main attractions—and it truly felt like we were sleeping in one of the caves that the city is famous for.
Matera’s unique and cultural attractions—including its filming locations for James Bond: No Time to Die—make the city a wonderful holiday destination for families in search of something different.
So whether you’re planning a trip to Matera, or would like more information on whether it’s the right getaway for you, keep on reading as I delve into all the information on the best time to visit, how to get there, and the city’s top attractions.
Best Time to Visit Matera, Italy
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The best time to visit Matera is during spring and autumn. However, summer and winter also have their perks. Here is a breakdown of each of the four seasons:
- Spring (March to May): During spring, the weather in Matera is mild and pleasant, making it an excellent time for families with little ones in tow. With temperatures ranging from 15°C to 20°C, you can comfortably walk around the city and enjoy the flowers and green spaces that are at their most vibrant.
- Summer (June to August): The biggest perk of visiting Matera in summer is the fact that kids are off for school holidays. However, the city does get incredibly hot, with temperatures often reaching over 30°C. Crowds will also be far larger than in other months. But with that comes festivals, events, and outdoor activities that you can only experience during this season.
- Autumn (September to November): Similar to spring, autumn also has cool—but comfortable—weather with temperatures of 15°C to 25°C. Crowds in both spring and autumn are far less compared to summer, meaning you can enjoy the local culture without an overwhelming amount of tourists.
- Winter (December to February): Winter can be quite chilly in Matera—you can expect 7°C to 12°C—but the city is quiet and peaceful, giving you a more relaxing overall experience. Just remember that some attractions may have limited opening hours.
How to Get to Matera, Italy
There are a few ways to get into Matera, Italy, with the first being flying into one of two major airports that are 50 minutes or an hour and 45 minutes away. The closest airport is Bari Karol Wojtyła Airport (BRI), but Brindisi Papola Casale Airport (BDS) is also a popular choice amongst tourists.
Getting from the airport to Matera is fairly simple as you can rent a car, take a taxi, or pre-book a private shuttle service that will take you over to the city.
Alternatively, if you’re visiting from another part of Italy—which we did—you can get a ferry into Salerno and take a bus, taxi, or shuttle to Matera. We came into Salerno by a one-hour ferry from Positano. And then hopped on a bus over to Matera—it was a pretty straightforward experience.
And finally, you can even catch a train into Matera as the city has the Matera Centrale railway station that is just a short walk from the area’s main attractions. The Bari to Matera train takes just under two hours. But as the Matera station is well connected, you can get into the city from various other parts of Italy.
Top Things to Do in Matera, Italy
There are so many historic, unique, and breathtaking things to do in Matera that you’ll struggle to fit it all in. So, whether you’re visiting the city for just a few days or even a week, here are some of Matera’s top attractions. For our visit, we didn’t have a set plan and just wandered around this beautiful place – the children loved the unique shops in the old town selling local hand-made handicrafts – where you could see the artisans at work. Stop to buy the local chicken whistle and play the piano with a view. Sample the local restaurants and enjoy meandering around the old town. If you need some modern shopping the new town as plenty of stores to meet your needs.
Church of Saint Mary of Idris
You’ll find plenty of beautiful churches in Matera. But the Church of Saint Mary of Idris is one of the best. Also known as the Rock Church and the Chiesa di Santa Maria di Idris, the Church of Saint Mary of Idris is an iconic representation of Matera’s historical significance.
Carved into a rocky cliff in the UNESCO World Heritage Site Sassi district, the church offers impeccable views of the city. And, of course, a trip back in time as guests can stroll through the building’s interior.
Dating back to the 13th century, the Church of Saint Mary of Idris has impressive frescoes throughout its interior. However, you can’t take photos inside, so it’s a sight you can see only with your eyes.
But although the church itself is magnificent, what really draws visitors in are its viewpoints. Two of the most popular viewpoints are from the terrace next to the church’s entrance and the terrace toward the back of the church.
You can access the back terrace by walking around the church’s right side and up some steps. Once you make it to the terrace, you’ll have uninterrupted views of San Pietro Caveoso and the ravine—it’s truly a breathtaking sight to see.
San Pietro Caveoso
If you do visit the Church of Saint Mary of Idris, then stop by the San Pietro Caveoso, which is just next door. The San Pietro Caveoso is another church with great views of the city. And as it’s free to enter, you can enjoy the hundreds of year-old frescos and beautifully painted ceilings.
Another must-visit church in Matera is the Duomo which was dedicated to the two patron saints of Matera, Sant’Eustachio, and to the Madonna della Bruna. Although the church was originally built in the 13th century in an Apulian Romanesque style, restoration projects dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries have transformed its interior into Baroque and Renaissance style making it an excellent attraction for architect lovers.
But don’t worry, even if you aren’t a huge fan of architecture, it’s hard not to find the Duomo fascinating—especially thanks to its panoramic views of Matera.
The MUSMA—or Museo della Scultura Contemporanea Matera if you prefer–is a museum in a 17th-century building. Showcasing a remarkable collection of contemporary sculptures, visitors can gaze upon works of art that Italian and international artists carved over 200 years ago.
Matera is home to dozens of cave houses that we also know as Sassi di Matera. Carved into the soft limestone cliffs of Matera, these cave houses are believed to be some of the oldest continuously inhabited structures in the world—dating back to the Paleolithic era.
Matera has now transformed some of the cave houses into museums that showcase the traditional furnishings and tools that the Matera residents would have used all those years ago. And although you don’t need to visit all of the caves, some of the most popular options to visit are the following:
- Vico Solitario Museum
- Casa Noha
- Museo Laboratorio della Civilta Contadina
- Casa Crotta “C’era Una Volta” Antica Matera
- Casa Grotta Nei Sassi
- Casa Grotta Del Casalnuovo
Some caves have even been transformed into restaurants and hotels you can stay in. So that’s definitely something to look into if you’re after a unique experience in Matera.
Murgia Materana Park
Spanning 16,000 hectares, the Murgia Materana Park is a stunning natural reserve in Matera. The park is home to various hiking trails, prehistoric cave dwellings, troglodyte settlements, and rock churches that are filled with well-preserved frescoes just waiting to be explored.
If you do plan on visiting the park—whether that be to immerse yourself in Matera’s nature or history—then here are some of the park’s highlights:
- Belvedere Murgi Timone – A viewpoint that gives one of the best views of Matera.
- Madonna Tre Porta – A rock church with frescoes and an altar.
- Chiesa Sant’Agnes – A century-old stone church with frescoes and an altar.
- Gravina di Matera – The gorge that runs through the park with picturesque landscapes and unique rock formations.
- Monte Conca – An elevated plateau with incredible views of Matera and the surrounding nature.
The Matera Cathedral
The Matera Cathedral—also known as the Cathedral of Santa Maria della Bruna and Sant’Eustachio—is a Roman Catholic church. Constructed in 1270 and sitting on Matera’s highest point, the Matera Cathedral is a sight not to be missed.
All throughout the city, you’ll be able to see the cathedral with its iconic bell tower. But you should definitely head up to the cathedral to marvel at the Apulian-Romanesque and Baroque architecture up close.
The interior of the cathedral has been through a restoration project. And visitors to the cathedral can enjoy the building’s ornate sculptures, intricate frescoes, and it’s impressive coffered ceiling.
Piazza San Francesco
The Piazza San Francesco is an open square that the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi dominates. The church dates back to the 13th century and has understandably made its way onto the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
But although the church is the square’s main focal point, the views of Matera, quaint coffee shops, and the sculpture that is modeled after a Salvador Dali painting also draw thousands of visitors in.
Chiesa del Purgatorio
Quite possibly, the most unique church in all of Matera is the Church of Purgatory—or the Chiesa del Purgatorio. Builders completed the church in 1747. And it now acts as a place for people to pray for the souls who are trapped in purgatory.
You can see decorative skulls, skeletons, and paintings of souls in a state of suffering both in the church’s exterior and interior.
If you have young children, then it may be worth skipping the Church of Purgatory—especially its interior. But if your children are older, then I’m sure they will love the church’s exterior.
James Bond 007 Guided Tour
James Bond fans will love visiting Matera the movie James Bond: No Time to Die filmed several scenes in this historic city. You can, of course, do your own tour. But a guided tour will take you to all the must-visit locations while explaining the storylines of the film in the process.
Serious James Bond fans can even stay in the Palazzo Gattini Luxury Hotel, which stars at the beginning of the movie.
Finally, something I always love to do when visiting historic cities like Matera, Italy, is to head off on a walking tour. Walking tours are an excellent way to see the city’s sights while learning about its interesting history from a knowledgeable guide.
Your guide on a walking tour of Matera will take you all around Matera’s top attractions and down its cobblestone streets so you can really get a feel of the city and all it has to offer.
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