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Where can you go in Italy to experience a small medieval city away from hordes of tourists?
We visited pretty Lucca during a trip to Tuscany and would return in a heartbeat. There are so many things to do in Lucca and we barely scratched the surface on our two day visit.
In this relaxed Tuscan city, the eating, culture and living is charmingly easy. It is a city small enough to manage on foot but one that has a rich history to explore within its beautiful medieval walls and beyond. In between stops for gelato of course.
Lucca – a proud and independent Tuscan city
Lucca is one of the larger cities in Tuscany and is often overlooked in favour of her more famous neighbours – Florence, Pisa and Siena. In fact, it is so close to these popular destinations that I consider it a perfect base for exploring Tuscany.
A proud and independent city, Lucca forged its own identity over the centuries having struggled with multiple conquests and rulers including the Spanish Emperor Charles II and Napoleon who crowned his sister Princess of Lucca!
The city has several other famous citizens, the most prominent of these is opera great Giacomo Puccini and there are many monuments devoted to him.
Things to do in Lucca
Lucca is a beautiful, compact and accessible city with a fascinating history and attractions both within and beyond its famous walls.
It is one of those typical Italian medieval cities that is perfect for aimless wandering.
But, as you stroll the streets enclosed by the impressive Renaissance ramparts , the city’s unique charm unfolds before your eyes
You notice the soaring Lucchese towers, elegant piazzas lined with cafes, and fountains gurgling as they have done for centuries. And best of all, the relaxed pace of life.
Walk or ride Lucca’s city walls
Your first point of call should be the Renaissance city walls, converted in the 19th century into a 4 kilometre long park that encircles the city as a belt of green.
Hire bikes from the tourist office near the station on Piazzale Ricasoli just outside the city walls near the station and ride around the park. Or simply stroll with a gelato.
The walls are the best vantage point to see the beautiful 14th century towers that rise above the city.
Explore the old town
After viewing Lucca from its fortifications, venture into the old town and discover the city’s piazzas, churches and typical laneways.
You can easily walk around Lucca taking in the sights but if you are in a hurry bicycles are the preferred mode of transport.
Don’t miss Piazza dell’ Anfiteatro, once the site of the Roman amphitheatre, and elegant shopping street Via Fillungo. Here you will find many interesting boutiques full to the brim with locally crafted goods.
Climb the city towers
Don’t miss climbing the city’s famous towers or torre. The views over northern Tuscany are breathtaking.
Lucca once boasted over 130 towers but only a handful remain today. The most famous of these are the Torre Guinigi and Torre Civica delle Ore, each with their own stories and legends.
Elegant Torre Guinigi, built by wealthy merchants of the town, is a city landmark due to its tree topped roof garden. Standing 45 metres high above the city rooftops, the oaks on top of the Romanesque-Gothic tower are said to represent the rebirth of the city.
The tower is open daily (except 25/12) from 09:00am to 16:30pm – later in spring and summer. Full admission is €4
Visit the churches in Lucca
Of course, like most Italian cities, Lucca has its fair share of beautiful churches crammed with incredible art.
My favourite is the gorgeous Romanesque basilica Chiesa di San Michele in Foro soaring above the enormous Piazza San Michele below. Here local children play at dusk and families enjoy their passeggiata or evening walk. It’s the perfect place to watch the world go by. Inside, the church is home to several Renaissance masterpieces.
Other famous churches include 13th century San Frediano church with its detailed Byzantine mozaic exterior and San Giovanni Church notable for the interesting archaeological excavations in its crypt.
Lastly, make sure to visit the San Martino cathedral. Pilgrims have been going there for centuries to see the Volto Santo wood carving otherwise known as the true face of Christ for almost 2,000 years.
Music and opera in Lucca
Lucca is famous for its music and over summer there is an annual music festival hosting artists such as Bob Dylan, John Legend and the Rolling Stones in Piazza Napoleone .
However, as Lucca was the home of famous composer Puccini we felt it only right to experience some opera in the church where he was baptised.
Held every night “even if there are only 3 people” the Puccini e la sua Lucca concerts run for an hour and are a lovely stop between aperitivo and dinner.
Free concerts are also held over summer in the square that was the Roman amphitheatre.
Where to eat in Lucca
This is Italy so of course you will not go hungry. There are so many pasticceria, gelato shops and enticing little cafes to tempt you in Lucca.
We enjoyed a leisurely lunch on the city walls at Ristorante San Colombano one day. I recommend the margherita pizza in particular. Buona!
One evening we dined at Osteria Tosca in the beautiful little Piazza Cittadella. The restaurant’s terrace overlooks a statue of composer Puccini whose home town was Lucca.
We were delighted to find our favourite dishes there. Melanzane (eggplant/aubergine) parmigiana for me and spaghetti vongole for my husband. Both dishes were simple and delicious.
The best place for gelato inside the city walls is Gelateria Veneta – Via Vittorio Veneto, 74
Lucca is a great place to shop for local delicacies. We bought a few packets of these delicious almond cantucci cookies.
Where to stay in Lucca
We were lucky enough to stay at the delightful La Romea, a boutique hotel housed in a 14th century palace. Our hosts Giulio and Gaia were so helpful and ready to assist with recommendations about their city.
They shared the best gelato shops and secured some last minute concert tickets for us. Gaia is also my friend Luana’s cousin so it was like staying at a home away from home.
I like to think we got special treatment but their TripAdvisor reviews tell a different story. This hospitality is extended to all their guests. La Romea is a wonderful place to stay in the heart of Lucca.
For more information and reviews of La Romea – click here
If you are unlucky and can’t get a room there we also suggest:
- Albergo Celide – located just outside the city walls, this lovely hotel offers free bike hire and parking and has an onsite spa. Also has family rooms – click for prices
- Locanda Sant’ Agostino – charming small bed and breakfast in the centre of town with a pretty terrace and delicious breakfast – click for prices
- Hotel Alla Corte degli Angeli – popular hotel in the old town with a bar and a 24-hour front desk – click for prices
How to get to Lucca
The closest airport is Pisa. From there you can easily catch the train to Lucca or organise a car transfer.
From Lucca you can easily reach Florence and Pisa by train
- Pisa to Lucca by train – 35 minutes
- Florence to Lucca by train – 1 hour 20 minutes
Hiring a car? It’s only 30 minutes to Pisa and just over an hour to Florence. You will need to pay close attention to parking restrictions in these cities and make sure you do not enter the ZTL historic centre zones. Huge fines apply even if you make a mistake.
We wrote a guide to driving in Italy that includes more information on ZTL zones and much more – you can find it here
Lucca for families
Due to the narrow streets and medieval architecture, the city of Lucca restricts the number of cars within its walls. The piazzas and mainly pedestrian streets ensure it is a relatively safe place for children to wander.
We loved riding along the walls of the city in our bicycle or surrey built for four. There are several playgrounds and gelaterie en route for those all important play breaks.
Our children love anything to do with water so they enjoyed the city’s fountains.
Onward through Tuscany and Italy
Lucca is surrounded by the northern Tuscan hills known as the Gargafagna. We stayed there for a week and loved exploring the region including day trips to Pisa and exploring the small towns.
Looking for more treasures like Lucca in Italy? Click on the links below to discover our favourites
We have also prepared these practical guides for planning a trip to Italy:
- Favourite trip planning resources for Italy – click here
- How to pack for Italy – click here
- Italy travel tips – click here
- 10 day Italy highlights itinerary – click here
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