Lucca in Italy is one of those cities that surprise visitors with its astonishing architecture dating back to the Gothic Era just before the Renaissance. Lucca hides many treasures behind its iconic city walls. Once they protected the city from enemies, today they are the favorite place for the inhabitants for nice walks or bike rides.
Living on the Tuscan Riviera, just thirty minutes away, we went to Lucca many times. It is one of our best-loved towns in Tuscany, and every reason is good to go back, again and again. Lucca is enjoyable for its grace and its wonders, not overcrowded with tourists except for the very high season.
Where is Lucca on Italy’s map?
The town of Lucca belongs administratively to Tuscany, one of the favorite regions of Italy for tourists. Lucca on Italy’s map is in the central northern area, near the west coast and the Mediterranean Sea. The beaches of Tuscany, in particular those of Versilia, are only 30 minutes away.
Pisa and its famous Leaning Tower are very close to Lucca, only 20 km or 13 miles. The best way to get from Pisa to Lucca and vice versa is by train. It takes only 25 minutes and you don’t need to stress yourself looking for a parking slot. In fact, the majority of tourists visit Lucca in combination with Pisa, spending half a day in both destinations.
Having time at your disposal, we highly recommend spending at least two or three days in Lucca, to truly enjoy the city and have the opportunity to discover the surroundings. The area of Garfagnana is a real heaven for lovers of nature and the outdoors.
How far is Lucca from Florence?
Lucca is only 80 km, 50 miles from Florence. By car, you can reach Lucca from Firenze in just over an hour. There are also a few direct Regionale trains that connect the two cities in about one hour and twenty minutes.
Unmissable Things to Do in Lucca Italy
To follow you find some of the best things to do in Lucca. We put the highlights you cannot miss if you come just for a day together with other unusual places to explore in case you decide to spend more days in Lucca.
Map of Lucca Italy
In this map of Lucca, I collected all the places I suggest in this article: museums, parks, squares, churches, and restaurants. On your smartphone you can widen the map using your fingers, to get closer to every point of interest. Clicking on every icon you get more details like addresses, phone numbers, website, and more pictures.
The Walls of Lucca
The massive ring of walls is the symbol of the town. They protect the old historical center of Lucca keeping the modern world out. The walls are the custodians of the secrets and the past of the town. Passing through one of the four gates, it seems to go back to another Era. Today The walls are Lucchese’s favorite green space. They climb the walls to walk, run, ride their bikes, and walk their dogs. Or simply rest in the shade.
Read more about the Walls of Lucca, seen from above and below.
Via Fillungo crosses the historical center and connects some of the main sites inside the walls of Lucca. Starting from Piazza Anfiteatro, you will reach the church of San Frediano, the clock tower to end very close to San Michele square. It is also one of the central shopping streets with shops and bars. Here is where you can also taste and buy the Buccellato, the traditional cake of Lucca.
Torre Guinigi is the most important tower in Lucca. Made of stone and brick it is one of the few remaining within the city walls. The uniqueness of this tower is the hanging garden roof with seven holly oak. In the past, towers were symbols of power and economic well-being. The Guinigi family, in the fourteenth century, decided to build one to show the city their importance. The idea of planting seven trees on top made the gesture even more impressive.
Off the Via Fillungo and in Piazza Scarpellini there were the ruins of a Roman Amphitheatre. But during the Middle Ages, some houses have been built and a square was born in the area of the ancient amphitheater. Nowadays the Piazza Anfiteatro is famous for its particular round shape and hosts many concerts and international performers for the Anfiteatro Jazz Festival.
Duomo di San Martino
The Duomo di San Martino is a Romanesque cathedral that dates back to the 14th century. It contains an important example of acheiropoieta, the Volto Santo (Holy Face), which is a wooden crucified Christ. They say it came into existence miraculously and was not created by a human being. This is a must-see for those pilgrims who are walking along the Via Francigena.
Torre delle Ore, Clock Tower
The Torre delle Ore is a clock tower and it’s the highest tower in Lucca (50 m, 164 ft). It was built in the middle age era, with the function to mark the time of the day, thanks to its bells and clock that you can see from Via Fillungo.
The Torre delle Ore is tied to the legend of Lucida Mansi, the woman who sold her soul to the Devil to remain beautiful and young. The devil, however, would be back after thirty years to demand payment of the debt. At the end of thirty years Lucida Mansi, (on the night of the 14th of August 1623) climbed the tower and ran panting to stop the bell, which was about to blink the hour of his death. At midnight, the Devil would take his soul. However, the legend is that Lucida did not reach in time the mechanism, so she couldn’t stop it and the devil took her soul away.
The Church of San Michele
Saint Michael’s Church is in the center of the city in the homonym square Piazza San Michele that host also Palazzo Pretorio, a wonderful renaissance building. The basilica was started in the 12th century and finished in the 14th century and contains a larger-than-life-size statue of the archangel Michael that crowns the gable.
Basilica of San Frediano
Saint Frediano’s Basilica is dedicated to an Irish pilgrim monk. Here you find a gold mosaic with Christ in an aureole that dominates the façade, flanked by two angels with the twelve apostles in a row underneath. The interiors are Romanesque and I must mention the baptismal font from the mid-12th century with reliefs of the life of Moses around the outside. The fourth chapel of the left aisle, the so-called Cappella Trenta, contains a polyptych made in marble, with bas-reliefs by Jacopo della Quercia.
Piazza Napoleone is a large square with a monument of Maria-Luisa of Bourbon-Parma, who was really popular among the citizens of Lucca. The entire west side of the piazza is taken by the Palazzo della Provincia. It is a construction from 1578 where once lived Elisa Baciocchi, the sister of Napoleone. Here you can visit the Museo del Risorgimento, in the Cortile degli Svizzeri, which holds documents of the Italian unification movement between 1851 and 1870.
Other Places to visit in Lucca, Italy
Museum of Palazzo Mansi
Palazzo Mansi is a 16th-century palace in Baroque style, which is hosting a National Gallery with a focus on Venetian, Flemish, and Florentine paintings, such as the Mannerist Pontormo and Paolo Veronese, Andrea del Sarto, and Bronzino.
The Baroque Gardens of Palazzo Pfanner
Palazzo Pfanner was built around 1667 near the northern fortification belt. It holds a Baroque garden with statues and fountains, where is possible to take a breath and enjoy the silence. The beautiful ornate staircase connects the first floor to the second, where you can visit a small but precious collection museum of costume and accessories displays from the 18th and 19th.
Puccini Concert at the Church of San Giovanni
The Orto Botanico is located in Via del Giardino Botanico, 14. Established in 1820 by Maria-Luisa of Bourbon-Parma, the garden is a heart of the green and calms just behind the city walls, which lead the visitor to another world in a few steps, thanks to its sounds, colors, and perfumes.
A legend says that once, the Devil kidnapped Lucida Mansi to bring her into hell, to be repaid of the debt of having sold her thirty years of youth and beauty. He loaded her on a burning carriage, which went through the whole city from the Torre delle Ore. After making the round of the city walls because all citizens of Lucca could hear her heart-rending cries, she disappeared in the pond of the botanical garden. Some say that by diving in the waters of the pond you can still see the face of Lucida Mansi asleep on the bottom of the lake.
Others claim that on the night of October 31 just before midnight, in the silence, the wind gets up and you may hear the hooves of horses running to rush toward the pond. The lucky ones may even catch a glimpse of the fiery carriage, launched in her eternal and unbridled race to hell.
Domus Romana or “Casa del Fanciullo sul Delfino” is an archeological site in the center Lucca, discovered in 2010. This is the place where you can admire finds and walled structures dating back to the Roman Empire of the 1st century B.C., but not only. In fact, the history path continues through the Longobards, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance.
The old aqueduct takes its name from its inventor Lorenzo Nottolini. It serves to bring water from the nearby mountains to the city. Today, walking under its high arches made in bricks, in just a few minutes you reach the surrounding countryside. The walk starts immediately behind the central station and has a length of about 4 km, 2,5 miles. I highly recommend it if you wish to take a break from history and culture and enjoy nature.
Did you know that …
- Lucca remained an independent city-state until the end of the 18th century.
- Giacomo Puccini, the famous Tuscan opera composer, was born in Lucca.
- The garden of Palazzo Pfanner was filmed in the 1996 movie of Jane Campion’s The Portrait of a Lady, with Nicole Kidman, adapted from the novel by Henry James.
- Every year, at the end of October, Lucca attracts thousand of colored and masked tourists for the Lucca Comics and Games. It’s the second biggest festival in the world of comics, games, and cosplay, after the Comiket of Tokio in Japan.
- In July, the city center hosts the biggest music festival in Tuscany, the Lucca Summer Festival. Every summer, international stars walk the stage in the Piazza Napoleone. Robbie Williams, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Lenny Kravitz, The Eagles, Stevie Wonder, and many others played here In the recent past, some big concerts took place right under the walls. The Rolling Stones and Elton John gave some amazing performances that will remain in the history of the festival.
Where to Sleep in Lucca
If you plan to spend a few nights in Lucca Italy, first of all, you have to decide if staying inside the walls in the historical center, or outside the walls in the modern town. Both areas have pros and cons.
Inside the wall, the atmosphere is more charming, there are no cars, and is like living in the history of the town. You won’t find big hotels but small and cozy accommodations like b&b or boutique hotels. The con is that you may have trouble finding a parking slot for your car because of restrictions of the ZTL limited access zone.
Staying outside the walls is better if you have a car. You will miss the magical atmosphere of the old central buildings, but you can easily reach the accommodation and park in private parking or find a slot nearby. However, you are just a few minutes walk from the center so it is not a big problem.
Another option is to choose your accommodation in the countryside. There are beautiful villas, and an elegant bed & breakfast and you will be surrounded by nature and silence.
Here is a list of hotels in Lucca from which you can choose the best solution for you.
Restaurants in Lucca Italy
Here is a small list of nice restaurants where you can stop for lunch or dinner to enjoy the food of the local tradition:
- Enoteca Osteria da Pasqualino Gubitosa. Open in 2011 in the heart of the city, this Osteria is an example of an innovative restaurant, where tradition meets new techniques of cooking. At Osteria Pasqualino Gubitosa you will appreciate good food and wine and the courtesy of the staff.
- Osteria da Rosolo. Good food made with fresh ingredients. The plus is the location, relaxing but elegant, inside an internal courtyard between Piazza Napoleone and Piazza San Michele, two of the main attractions of Lucca.
- La Bottega di Anna e Leo, beside the church of San Frediano. Terracotta floor, wooden and straw chairs, super relaxing atmosphere. Feels like being inside an old-time farmhouse. They offer a simple cuisine typical of Lucca and Garfagnana.
- L’Imbuto. The Orangery of Palazzo Pfanner hosts this amazing restaurant honored with one Michelin Star. A creative cuisine, a modern decor without a fixed menu. Every day the excellent Chef Cristiano Tomei will propose his commensals dishes that look like artworks. It’s virtually impossible to taste the same dish twice.
With the pleasant spring weather or to refresh ourselves from the summer heatwave, there is nothing better than an excellent gelato. Here are two Gelaterie we personally tried that we suggest trying:
- La Crema Matta in Via Fillungo, close to the Piazza Anfiteatro
- La Bottega del Gelato, not far from the Duomo
Where to park in Lucca
The huge walls separate the historical center from the modern town. Access to the center is possible, through the old gates, only for residents or people with special permission. So, going by car you necessarily have to park outside the walls.
Most of the parking lots are “pay and display”. Compared to other famous cities, parking in Lucca is not too expensive. With only six euros you can leave your car for the whole day. My suggestion is to park close to the train station which is just outside downtown.
However, you can also find some central areas where you can park for free. On Via Roosevelt Franklyn and its surroundings, you are allowed to park on the white line slots without paying and with no risk of fines.
- What to do in Lucca for a half-day
- The Walls of Lucca seen from above and below
- The Rolling Stones in Lucca. It’s only rock-n-roll!
- Lucca Comics & Games
- A little guide to Garfagnana, Tuscany, Italy
- The best things to do in Pisa beyond the tower
- The coastal Versilia
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(Last Update on 02.04.2021)