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Sitting snugly on the side of the Serchio River in Tuscany, Lucca is one of those charming cities that should be on any itinerary of the region. Why? Because there are just so many things to do in Lucca, of course.
Some historians argue that Lucca started as a Ligurian settlement or an Etruscan town, but all can agree that by 180 BCE, it was a Roman colony. The city is over 2,000 years old and has undergone many changes, but it still holds that history dearly. This is seen in its beautifully-preserved Renaissance walls, Medieval towers, beautiful piazzas, and more.
It’s also nicknamed the ‘City of a Hundred Churches’ because (you guessed it) the city is known for its many beautiful places of worship. These impressive structures are one of the many reasons this charming city should be added to your Tuscany itinerary.
Thankfully, this guide takes you through the city’s highlights. You’ll learn everything from how to get there, where to stay, the top eateries to visit, and the best things to do when visiting Lucca.
Explore Lucca’s Medieval and Renaissance Center
One of the best places to start exploring Lucca is discovering its rich history through its buildings and architecture. There are thousands of years of stories to be told from these walls.
Tour suggestion: Get an in-depth look at Lucca’s history on this guided city center walking tour.
About two millennia ago, the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro was used as a Roman amphitheater where the public gathered for gladiator shows. Construction of the structure dates back to 1 AD and was initially outside of the city walls. But, as the city underwent several changes, so did the structure.
By the middle ages, the space became a plaza before eventually becoming a prison, salt store, and many other things. It wasn’t until the 1800s when architect Lorenzo Nottolini restructured the space to look closer to what it does today.
Today, while not as rowdy as in its heyday, it is still a buzzing meeting place where many people gather to enjoy local foods and drinks.
This elliptical plaza is hugged tight by tall buildings of various heights for that snug feeling and can only be entered through the four doorways. Looking closely, you can still see some Roman amphitheater remnants holding the structure up.
Upon first glance, you are taken aback by the Medieval red-brick Guinigi Tower thanks to the tall trees growing out of its rooftop garden. These ancient Holm oaks and the tower’s great height draw many tourists to its steps.
Commissioned by the powerful silk merchant family in the area, the Guinigis, this tower was built more as a show of wealth. While construction started and ended in the 14th century, the rooftop garden wasn’t completed until later in the 17th century.
It stands at 125 feet high and takes about 230 steps to reach the top. But, once up there, you’ll have one of the most amazing panoramic city views.
You must buy a €6 ticket to enter, which gives you unlimited time upstairs. While the tower opens almost every day from 10:00, depending on the season, it can close at 16:00 and 22:00. So, it’s best to check trading hours online when booking your tickets.
Lucca Cathedral (Duomo di San Martino) – Volto Santo
As mentioned before, Lucca is a city of a hundred churches. One of these is the 11th-century Cathedral of Lucca, dedicated to Saint Martin and now home to Lucca’s archbishop.
You can find the beautiful church tucked away in some quiet streets in the old city center near the train station. If you get lost, simply follow its north star, the tower’s white tip, to guide you to it.
Once you reach it, there’s no denying the cathedral’s beauty, with its intricate design on each column and wall. While the exterior of the building is enough for many tourists, don’t hesitate to wander inside for a look too.
You’ll find many artworks and an archaeological site inside the cathedral, but three works, in particular, are worth noting. These are the Volto Santo di Lucca a cedar carving figure of Jesus considered to be the city’s finest relic, Domenico Ghirlandaio’s Madonna and Child, and the ethereal tomb of Ilaria del Carretto by sculptor Jacopo della Quercia.
You can visit it Monday to Sunday for €3. Or buy a combined ticket for €10 to see the cathedral, the bell tower, the museum, the Church of Saints Giovanni, and a few more sites nearby.
Beautiful Palazzo Pfanner is a palace and communal botanical garden less than five minutes from the Piazza San Michele.
The entire garden is decorated in an Italian Baroque style, with narrow pathways directing you to its beautiful corners. You’ll spot a fountain, Greek god statues, and the city’s first brewery among the many lush plants all over the garden. While this brewery closed down in 1929, you can still enter it as a part of the permanent exhibition showcasing Pietro Pfanner’s medical instruments.
Today, you can visit the gardens, which you might recognize from the 1996 movie “The Portrait of a Lady,” for €6.50. This allows you access to the beautiful garden and the palace with its ornate rooms. You are also able to stay inside the Palazoo itself which offers several charming apartments.
San Michele in Foro
San Michele is another of Lucca’s beautiful churches. Interestingly, it dated around 795 BCE and was first a Roman Forum. Construction on the church itself started and ended in the 11th and 12th centuries, but its ornate facade and statues, which we see today, were only added around the 13th century.
San Michele is dedicated to the archangel Michael, who sits atop its ornate roof looking over the historical city. Just below him are two smaller angels, also guardians of the city.
The basilica is free to enter and open daily. Inside, you’ll see two aisles and a semicircle nave open before you. These display beautiful art pieces including ‘Madonna and Child’ by Luca della Robbia and the Four Saints by Filippino Lippi.
Explore Beyond Lucca’s Old Town
Once you’ve admired the historic center, consider exploring these local attractions.
Bike or Walk Along the City Walls
Lucca’s historic city walls are among the first things you see as you enter the city. The impressive fortification encircles the city center and stretches about 2.4 miles long. Once important for the safety of the citizens of Lucca, in the early 19th century the walls were converted into public gardens and a promenade lined with trees.
If you only have limited time in the city, walking or bike riding along the city walls is one of the best things to do in Lucca. From here you can enjoy panoramic views of the city and its elegant Medieval towers and churches. It is possible to rent bikes all over the city or take a leisurely city walls walking tour.
Shop in Via Fillungo
Via Fillungo is an ancient street in the town center popular with shoppers. Starting at Porta dei Borghi, it stretches almost half a mile long to Canto d’Arco.
There are many unique stores and boutiques to pop your head into, from clothing, homewares and souvenir shops. Should you build up an appetite, you’ll also find several of the city’s favorite cafes and restaurants close by. We love to enjoy a coffee with biscotti at Caffè Santa Zita.
Discover Lucca’s Food Scene
Lucca is one of the best towns in Tuscany to try delicious local Tuscan cuisine. Note that the dishes you find in this city are quite different from those of other parts of the region with an emphasis on legumes and ancient grains. Here are some of our favorite Luccese dishes to try.
Zuppa di Farro
Also known as Minestra di farro, this soup is a very typical dish from Lucca and can be found in almost every restaurant in town – particularly because farro has been grown in this part of Tuscany for centuries.
A hearty bean and spelt soup with a rich nutty flavor, borlotti beans give the soup a velvety texture, while the farro is added for texture.. Traditionally, the stock contains tomatoes, onions, celery, and herbs. While the soup is mainly vegetarian, meat like pancetta or prosciutto can also be added.
Lucca’s favorite pasta dish is a hearty stuffed egg pasta filled with the city’s favorite delicacies including pine nuts, swiss chard, and raisins. The semi-circle shaped pasta is topped with a rich meat ragu, making it the perfect dish to try in winter especially.
Lucca’s famous sweet dessert Buccellato whose name roughly translates to ‘ancient sweet bread’ and uniquely contains aromatic hints of aniseed and raisins
The cake’s origins date back to the 14th century, and it was a favorite of the Roman army.
While it used to be a dish only eaten on special occasions like Holy Cross Day in September, it can now be found on sale daily.
Traditionally buccellati were baked in the shape of a ring, but today, you can also find them in the standard rectangular shape in bakeries across the city.
Tour suggestion: Sample the flavors of the city with a local on this guided Lucca food tour.
Best Restaurants and Cafes in Lucca
Good food is at the heart of any trip to Italy, and these restaurants in and around Lucca’s historic center will ensure you’re full and satisfied.
Gigi Trattoria has been serving hungry patrons for 80 years and is one of the most highly-rated restaurants in Lucca — with good reason. This rustic restaurant serves fresh, home-style Tuscan meals. Make sure to order their specialty tordelli lucchese pasta or gnocchi for a true taste of the city.
Ristorante Mecenate is only 25 years old. While relatively young compared to other restaurants in the area, they know what’s most important to good food — flavor. Their “no frills” approach allows the flavors to shine through. The restaurant also showcases local and traditional dishes that you can enjoy on the sunny veranda.
In Pasta – Cibo e Convivio
As the name suggests, this restaurant is in the business of pasta — and takes it very seriously. In Pasta serves fresh pasta daily, and they have a blackboard with suggestions of the best sauce combinations with these fresh dishes.
Experience Culture in Lucca
While many beautiful buildings showcase Lucca’s beauty, we cannot forget about the arts which are an important part of the city’s heritage. Here are some the best cultural experiences in the city.
Daily Puccini concert
Composer Giacomo Puccini was a Lucca native, so it’s no surprise that his city honors him in several ways that visitors can enjoy. Concerts are held nightly between April and October at 19:00 at the San Giovanni church near the Piazza Napoleone. Each night music lovers can enjoy a different theme with various Puccini songs and arias recited by local musicians. These range from opera, traditional songs, and pieces by another Lucca native, Giuseppe Verdi.
Lasting around an hour, the shows are quite short and usually end around 20:30 making a stop here the perfect interlude between aperitivo and dinner
Book your Puccini performance ticket early to avoid disappointment. Each night is different, with the same show only being played once.
Museums and Art Galleries
If you’re an art and history lover there are some unique and interesting museums in Lucca to explore.
The Puccini Museum is found in the house where the famous composer Giacomo Puccini was born and raised. There are twelve rooms to explore featuring items of his life on display.
You’ll find the museum in Piazza Cittadella and Corte San Lorenzo, where you can also browse the Puccini Museum Bookshop. You can pick up notebooks, CDs, and other souvenirs here. These places reveal great insight into the composer’s life, family, music, and ideas, so be sure to visit them both.
The museum is open Wednesdays to Mondays with varying time slots depending on the season. Admission tickets are €9 per adult, but if you come in a group of a minimum of ten, it is €5 per person.
Museo della Tortura or Museum of Torture
Not for the squeamish or faint of heart, Lucca’s Museum of Torture takes a close look at the methods of torture used throughout the centuries but especially in the 16th and 17th centuries. Visitors can view the implements and machinery used in the past as punishment and are encouraged to reflect on their cruelty. The museum is open daily from 9:00 to 19:00 and adult tickets cost €10.
Lucca Antiques Market
Lucca’s famous antique market occurs every third weekend of the month in Piazza Antelminelli and Piazza San Giusto and attracts visitors from throughout Europe. Spread across many streets in the historic old town, the market hosts up to 220 stalls and exhibitors.
Typically, vendors sell items like antique furniture, jewelry, art, pottery, and even clothes. Even if you don’t see any items that catch your eye, “window shopping” at the antique market is still a favorite activity if you’re wondering what to do in Lucca for free.
The market usually runs between 09:00 and 20:00, so it’s a great pitstop between sightseeing Piazza San Martino, Piazza San Giovanni, and the nearby winding streets.
How to Get to Lucca from Florence
How to Get to Lucca By Train
Traveling to Lucca by train from Florence is the easiest way to get there. The earliest departure is just after 06:00, and the journey takes about an hour and 20 minutes. It’s also relatively cheap at only around €8.10 for a one-way trip. The last train back to Florence is just after 22:00. You can book a ticket using Omio.
How to Get to Lucca By Car
Renting a car in Italy is a great idea if you prefer more flexibility. It should take you under an hour to drive from Florence to Lucca along the A11 autostrada.
On arrival in Lucca note that the area within the old city walls are a designated historic zone and restricted to drivers with special permits. That means if you come by car, you can only park in designated spots or outside the city walls.
How to Get to Lucca By Bus
Several buses run from Florence to Lucca every day. The earliest bus leaves at 05:45, while the last returns to Florence at 22:30.
It costs about €15 for a round trip and can take between an hour and 20 minutes to an hour and 45 minutes. You can book a ticket using Omio.
Where to Stay in Lucca
Staying in Lucca overnight is recommended so you can enjoy all of the city’s many charms. Here are some hand-picked accommodation options in Lucca.
Mid-range – Albergo Celide
Albergo Celide is a 4-star hotel near the historic center facing the city walls. It has comfortable rooms with a private bathroom and even offers an organic and gluten-free buffet to sweeten the deal >> Check Rates and Availability.
Budget – B&B Anfiteatro
The B&B Anfiteatro is ideal if you’re seeking comfort and space. Rooms have a classic but spacious style with high beam ceilings. Just outside the window, you’ll see the Piazza dell Anfiteatro with Via Fillungo just a stone’s throw away >> Check Rates and Availability.
Visiting Lucca, Tuscany – FAQs
Still have some questions about visiting Lucca? Here are the answers to some popular questions asked about this beautiful city.
Is Lucca Worth Visiting?
Yes, Lucca is worth visiting. This charming Tuscan city has a character unique in the region. Just as many have before you, you’ll fall in love with its collection of beautiful churches, musical heritage and elegant cobbled streets
How Long Should We Spend In Lucca?
The city of Lucca is small, so most visitors enjoy its attractions in one to two days. You’ll have enough time to slowly take in your surroundings, enjoy a concert and sample the delicious foods of the area.
Is Lucca Worth a Day Trip from Florence?
Yes, Lucca most certainly is worth a day trip from Florence. However you might wish you’d stayed longer, so consider staying overnight and enjoy another full day to enjoy everything the city has to offer.
What to Do in Lucca, Italy – Wrapped Up
As you can see, there are so many Lucca activities to choose from, whether you stay in the historic center or wander further afield. From the ancient city walls and Medieval towers to the musical delights of Puccini, the city has something for everyone.