Magnificently situated on the Ionian sea on the western side of Puglia (Southern Italy’s “heel”), and dating back to the eighth century B.C., Taranto is a tale of three cities.
To the north lies its gritty industrial core, home to the largest steel plant in Europe; across the Ponte di Porta Napoli bridge is its fascinating Old Town (Borgo Antico), and to its south, across the Ponte di San Francesco di Paola, sits the modern Borgo Nuovo, with its sophisticated boutiques and bars and the unmissable Museo Nazionale Archeologico.
On a city break, you’ll want to spend most of your time navigating the Old Town’s twisty ancient streets before strolling along the waterside promenade to enjoy the town’s more cosmopolitan side.
As befits a town surrounded by water, the seafood in Taranto is plentiful. Taranto’s most famed dish is Cozze alla Tarantina—mussels in a spicy tomato sauce—and you’ll also find calamari and fish served either grilled or raw at pretty much every restaurant. For an interesting look behind the scenes, swing by the Mercato del Pesce in the morning to see chefs selecting items for the day’s meals.
Taranto’s best-known seafood eatery, Gatto Rosso, is renowned for its hot seafood salad along with variations on traditional Puglian dishes such as spaghetti with Taranto clams. The same family has been at the helm of Gesù Christo (which, yes, translates as Jesus Christ), another well-regarded seafood trattoria, since the 1960s, while Ristò Fratelli Pesce is a favorite with for its seasonal seafood paired with a wide selection of Puglian wines.
If fish isn’t your thing, try the famous ear-shaped orecchiette pasta or stop by a butchershop for a bombette, a roll made out of meat, stuffed with various fillings. Another on-the-go Taranto specialty is panzerotto, a fried or baked calzone filled with tomato and mozzarella; pick up one at Casa del Panzerotto or Dottor Panzerotto.
Taranto’s long and colorful history has left plenty of historical sights more than worth a visit. The Borgo Antico area was once an important part of Magna Graecia, so-called due to the Greek colonization of Southern Italy between the eighth and fifth centuries B.C. The Hellenic rulers left behind such relics as the Doric Temple of Poseidon.
Further west you’ll find the 11th-century Cathedral di San Cataldo, one of Puglia’s oldest Romanesque buildings. Cross the bridge to the Borgo Nuovo to marvel at the world’s largest collection of Greek terracotta figures in the Museo Nazionale Archeologico.
For a break, head south of town to the picturesque beaches of the Salento coast. Lido Bruno, Lido Gandoli, and Lido Silvana are highly recommended for enjoying some sun and sand.
Today, only two columns remain from the ancient Doric Temple of Poseidon. Credit: Maximix/CC BY-SA 3.0 Take the scenic route between the Old Town and the new by crossing the Ponta di San Francesco di Paola bridge. Credit: Fdecomite/CC BY 2.0
Just a five-minute stroll from the Taranto train station, this charming boutique inn sits inside a building dating from the 17th-century. The 11 rooms have white Puglian stone floors—some include balconies and lovely views of the sea. The single rooms are perfect for solo travelers.
With stone walls and floors and original frescoes, the Hotel L’Arcangelo is a charming place to stay. Credit: Hotel L’Arcangelo Hotel L’Arcangelo is perfect for eating your way through the Old Town. Credit: Hotel L’Arcangelo
Suite Le Perle Bed & Breakfast
Located on a pedestrian shopping street in the heart of the Borgo Nuovo, this friendly B&B is housed in an 1830s manor. Three of the four bright and comfortable rooms boast frescoed ceilings—two suites are great for groups, sleeping up to four people.
The Suite La Perle Bed & Breakfast sits in a 19th-century manor. Credit: Booking.com Some of the rooms at charming Suite Le Perle feature lovely 19th-century frescoes. Credit: Suite Le Perle Rise and eat: Suite Le Perle’s helpful owners bring your breakfast right to your comfy room. Credit: Suite Le Perle