On our jaunt down to Liguria, where we hiked between the five towns of Cinque Terre, feasted on the amazing basil pesto, and basked in the pink glow of the sun setting into the sea, we did take some time out to take a day trip to a town I had heard plenty about Lucca.
We knew we were going to love it, but we didn’t yet know what to do. So we were on a mission to find all the best things to do in Lucca. As we did, we discovered we loved this small city as much as some of the other places we’d visited in Italy, like Bolzano and even Venice.
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Only an hour and a half drive from our hotel in Bonassola, we arrived well before lunch. It seemed almost deserted after the crowded towns of Cinque Terre, but without the cool breeze off the water, it was a bit warmer.
A Little History About Lucca
Our first stop was the Tourist Information Center which is housed in its own gorgeous medieval building where we soaked up some history and facts about this lesser known Italian city.
Lucca was first founded by the Etruscans, which was then run by the Romans, of which there is still evidence existing today. Later, it was made capital of the region and became prosperous from banking and the sale of silks. At one point, after Napoleon became emperor, he installed his sister as regent for about 10 years.
Each civilization left their mark on this small city, as you can see by its well-ordered streets and by its gorgeous white marble squares. Because of its shining history, and the fact that you can almost visualize where each civilization made its mark, UNESCO inscribed it on the world heritage list in 2006.
However, one of its more recognizable and famous structures is that of the city walls, about 4.2 kilometers in length. As soon as we parked and started walking, we could see the walls and the gate. Many people love to walk or even ride bikes on the walls, and plenty of the hotels will rent you a bicycle.
The City of 100 Churches
No matter where you are heading in this quaint town, you cannot go too far without running into a religious institution. Probably the most recognizable is the Church of San Michele in Foro, a formidable edifice that just shines white in the hot sun.
Next you will probably visit the Basilica of San Frediano, which sports a stunning mosaic on the top part of the building. You can’t miss it.
My Favorite – The Piazzas
I love a piazza! C’mon, you do, too. There’s something about a square completely enclosed, only open to foot, bikes sometimes, and the motorbikes that just don’t care if they are allowed or not.
You stand in the middle looking at each cafe or restaurant as its waiters’ beckon you to dine with them. I like the red umbrellas of that one. I like the flower pots surrounding the tables on that one, and of course in the middle of summer I want the one with the best fans, or in the winter with the closest outdoor heaters. Finally you choose one and you sit down to a lunch of homemade ravioli or the local specialty, zuppa di farro. Yum!
Well, let me tell you that without a doubt, Lucca has the best piazzas. One of the oldest and most historic piazzas is that of San Michele which was built over the old Roman forum. However, my absolute favorite is the dell’Anfiteatro.
This stunning piazza is built on top of the old Roman amphitheater, it still holds its oval shape. Instead of gladiators battling it out to the death, the pedestrians vie for their favorite tables.
Some Other Sights in Lucca
- Botanical Gardens
- Torre Guinigi – if you want to get a higher viewpoint
- Torture Museum
Many famous people have called Lucca home, and sitting on his chair in front of his family home is the composer Giacomo Puccini.
If there was one spot we found tourists, it was right here. Other sights include a botanical garden, a couple of towers you can climb, and of course at least a dozen fantastic museums.
However, if you are like us, you might want to go and just soak up the atmosphere, sit and drink a cappucino, and later ride a bike around the towns and walls in the cool evening.
Like most Italian towns, Lucca is also full of outdoor markets, small shops with tastes and special products from the region, as well as high fashion boutiques. If you like to shop, you won’t get bored, that’s for sure.
Practical Information For Visiting Lucca Italy
- The historic center of Lucca was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list due to its harmonious development over several thousand years.
- Lucca is a pleasant city to stay in, where you can have the old town free of the visiting day trippers.
- Getting to Lucca is simple enough by car, or train making it easily accessible for a day trip out of Pisa or from the Cinque Terre.
- If you drive, beware there is little to no parking within the city walls. If you arrive earlier you’ll be more likely to find parking in Lucca.
- Visit Parking Metro for parking locations (non-sponsored link).
- A very good option is to travel by train in Italy. Going by train between Pisa and Lucca takes about 30 minutes on a direct route that will deliver you to the central station just outside the Lucca city walls.
- If you choose to stay in Lucca, you might like one of these hotels in Lucca.
- The historic center of Lucca is flat but cobblestoned, strollers are feasible but be ready for some bumpy rides.
- What to eat in Lucca? For me soup is always the ultimate comfort food, so you really must try hearty bean soup called Zuppa di Farro in any of the local restaurants.