Lucca may not be the first place that springs to mind when planning a trip to Tuscany but this charming city shouldn’t be overlooked. With its narrow lanes, historic city wall and beautiful churches it’s the perfect spot for a short break. Here is my guide to the best things to do in Lucca.
I’d never really heard of Lucca until Take That announced their appearance at the Lucca Summer Festival. A quick google later and Lucca went straight into the top ten of my travel wish list.
Less crowded (and touristy) than it’s famous neighbours, Pisa and Florence, Lucca is one of Tuscany’s best-kept secrets.
While you can get a feel for the city in a day, it’s the perfect place to spend a relaxing night or two. Inside its historic city walls, the narrow cobblestone streets make it an enchanting place to wander around. Pedestrian-friendly (cars are mostly kept out of the city centre) every lane and piazza seems to be picture perfect. The best way to discover all Lucca has to offer is by simply wandering around.
What to see and do in Lucca
Stroll along the historic city walls
Walking around the beautiful Renaissance walls was the one thing I really wanted to do in Lucca. Every blog I’d read about the city before my trip recommended this and it didn’t disappoint.
When I first read about the wall I thought it was, you know a wall. Instead, it’s a wide (enough to drive a car along) tree-lined pathway, more like a city park circling the city. You quickly forgot you are strolling along the city walls.
A full lap of is about 4k and takes around an hour or so at a leisurely pace. There are plenty of spots to take a break, including benches around the path and a cafe (which served the best – and cheapest – prosecco I’ve ever tasted).
The walls are also ideal to cycle or jog around. I regretted not bringing my running gear this trip.
My friends and I did this in the middle of the day, in a heatwave. I know. However next time I’d do it at sunset. It would be pretty magical strolling round as the light fades.
Marvel at the view over Lucca by climbing to the top of Torre Guinigi
Whenever I visit a new city I like to head up high and get an overview of the place. So the first thing I did in Lucca was to climb to the top of the Guinigi Tower (or Torre Guinigi as it’s better known as).
Built-in the 1300s by the Guingi family, it is one of the few remaining towers in Lucca. It’s pretty hard to imagine now but over 250 once towered over the city. Back in the day, towers were status symbols and families competed to have the tallest one to reflect the importance of their family.
What makes this tower really stand out is the roof garden of trees at the top. Yes, you read that right, trees are growing out of the tower.
Standing at 45 meters high and with 232 steps to the top it’s quite a climb but the spectacular view over the orange and red rooftops of Lucca is well worth the effort.
A metal staircase clings to the inside wall and it is a moderate climb to the top. In some places, the stairs are only wide enough for one person at a time. However, the worst bit is the slightly narrow stairs towards the very top but it’s only for a few steps. Once past this, it’s one more short staircase to reach the summit. The holm oak trees, said to represent rebirth and renewal, stand proudly overlooking the city in a U shape. There is a narrow gap between the garden wall and the edge of the tower for you to walk around and take in the view.
I visited toward the end of the day, about 45 minutes before it closed, and despite being in high season it was very quiet up there. I can imagine it gets quite crowded and difficult to move around there at busy times so it is worth planning a visit at the start or end of the day.
Getting there: Look up and you’ll likely see the tower. Head to Via Sant’Andrea for the entrance.
Enjoy the view from the Torre delle Ore
The only problem climbing one of the most spectacular towers in town is that it is not in your view. You can get over that problem in Lucca by climbing the Torre delle Ore (Clock Tower) which gives you a bird’s eye view of Lucca including the Torre Guinigi.
The tower, the tallest in Lucca, is located on Via Fillungo. Local legend has it that a young woman, Lucida Mansi, made a deal with the devil to remain young and beautiful. When it was time to repay the deal, she ran up the tower to stop the clock before it struck midnight. However, she was captured by the devil who took her soul.
Getting there: Head to Via Fillungo.
Cost : €5
Visit a church in the city of 100 churches
Lucca is known as the city of 100 churches so you have no shortage of spectacular churches to visit. I managed to see three on my short trip.
Chiesa di San Michele in Foro
Arguably the most beautiful church in Lucca, the magnificent wedding cake-like facade is worth a visit alone. At the top, a statue of St Michael the Archangel slaying a dragon is flanked by two angels.
While the church dates back to the Roman era (and marks the spot where the Roman forum was), it has been rebuilt and renovated over the years so there are several different architectural styles to enjoy.
Lucca Cathedral (Duomo di Lucca)
Dating from the 11th century, Lucca Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral dedicated to Saint Martin and home to the Archbishop of Lucca. It is slightly hidden away in Piazza Antelminelli but it is worth seeking out.
The Cathedral is also home to the Volto Santo (Holy Face), an ancient wooden crucifix and image of Christ.
I wanted to visit the San Frediano church after reading about the Byzantine style mosaic at the top. Designed by Berlinghiero Berlinghieri in the 13th century, it depicts the Ascension of Christ with the Twelve Apostles below. The mosaic seems to sparkle when catching the sunlight.
Originally named after St Vincenzo, the church was later renamed after the Irish Bishop, Fridianus, who founded the first church on this site and who’s remains now lie in the crypt.
Said to be the oldest church in Lucca, frescos adorn the side chapels and the mummified body of St Zita is displayed in a glass cabinet.
Step back in time in a former roman amphitheatre – the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro
Once a roman amphitheatre that held up to 10,000 spectators, the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro is now full restaurants and cafes, making it an ideal spot for an aperitivo and a bit of people watching.
Access to the square is via four small entrances. The various sized buildings follow the elliptical-shaped outline of the old amphitheatre giving you a little insight into its previous life.
A regular market is held there and each April 27 it is filled with flowers to commemorate St Zita.
Named after Napoleon by his sister Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi, who ruled the city between 1805 and 1816, the Piazza Napoleone (or Piazza Grande to locals) is the largest square in Lucca.
Framed by sycamore trees, the piazza comes alive in the summer with the magical sounds of the Lucca Summer Music Festival.
In the winter, a temporary ice rink is set up.
View my post on the Lucca Summer Music Festival 2019
Wander the Via Fillungo
The Via Fillungo is Lucca’s Main Street and winds through the historic centre of the city. There are many big brands here as well as local shops.
More things to do and see in Lucca
Unfortunately, as I was only in Lucca for two nights I ran out of time to do all the things I wanted to do. However, that does give an excuse to return soon.
Next trip I’ll be adding
- Visit the Puccini Museum – the house he was born and grew up in is now a museum
- Attend a Puccini concert
- Explore the Palazzo Pfanner – palace and gardens converted into a museum
Lucca Travel Guide
How to get to Lucca
Lucca is easily accessible. The nearest airports are Pisa or Florence. You can reach Lucca via train from both cities. It’s just 20 minutes from Pisa and around 90 minutes from Florence.
How to get around Lucca
By foot! That’s all you need. Inside the city walls, Lucca is small, compact with little traffic. The pedestrianised streets are best explored on foot.
You can hire bikes to cycle around the city walls if the thought of a 4km walk doesn’t appeal…
Best time to visit Lucca
There is no one best time visit Lucca. It really depends on your own personal preference and tolerance of crowds, temperature and higher prices. Summer is obviously peak season although the city doesn’t get as busy as some of its larger neighbours such as Florence.
The music festival takes place throughout July and draws a large crowd. Make sure you book accommodation in advance if your visit coincides.
During the winter, some attractions (such as the Torre delle Ore) are closed so if there is anything particular you are hoping to do on your visit its worth checking before you book any travel.
Late spring or the start/end of summer is probably your best bet. The weather will still be pleasant but the crowds will won’t be too crazy.
Final words…Is Lucca worth visiting?
Yes and yes again. Now I’ve been there I’m not sure why it wasn’t on my radar before. It’s not often you can say a place is a real hidden gem but Lucca is just that. It’s a much more authentic experience than its neighbouring cities. Even at the height of summer, I didn’t find it overly crowded and it is a great base from which to explore the Tuscan countryside.