Lucca is a historical city located in Tuscany on the western coast of Italy – this city lies in close proximity to Pisa and is known as the city of a hundred churches due to its large amount of historical religious structures. Lucca is known throughout Italy for its fantastic medieval city walls that still encircle most of the historic old town.
Originally this city was founded by the Etruscans and was then a Roman colony around 180 BC. During the Roman era, Lucca served as an important meeting place for Julius Caesar and Crassus. In later years, the city was an independent republic for nearly 500 years as part of feudal Italy. During the 19th century, Lucca was conquered by Napoleon, and it finally became part of Unified Italy in 1860. Today, Lucca is a popular tourist destination and has close ties with Pisa.
For those who love historical architecture and Medieval constructs, Lucca is a true haven – as mentioned above, it is known as the city of a hundred churches boasting such buildings as Lucca Cathedral and San Michele in Foro. Furthermore, the extensive city walls show how many Middle Age settlements would have been defended. Aside from the architecture, Lucca also has some fantastic museums, gorgeous public squares and a fine selection of restaurants and bars.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Lucca:
1. Lucca Cathedral
Located in the historic old town in the Piazza San Martino, the Duomo is a truly impressive structure and is renowned throughout Italy for its stunning façade and design.
The front façade features a series of opulent archways and an ornate portico framing the front doors.
Construction was begun during the 11th century and the church was re-designed in its current form during the 14th century Renaissance.
Next to the church is the immense bell tower that is only half finished – the lower half remains exposed brick and creates a contrast to the white walls of the top two levels.
Inside the cathedral, there is a plethora of beautiful artwork and one of the main features is the sublime shrine of the Sacred Face of Lucca.
2. Piazza dell Anfiteatro
This Square is exactly as the name describes and was once a Roman Amphitheatre – the elliptical shape is still evident even if none of the original structure is.
The buildings surrounding the square have been created in the same elliptical shape and are all different heights and colours – the effect is quite astounding and the shades of yellow, cream and white create an inviting open space.
Furthermore, most of the houses have green shutters to create a sense of uniform.
Within the piazza there is also a series of high quality restaurants and cafes all with outdoor seating – a meal within this beautiful square will prove to be a memorable one.
3. Take a walk on the historic city walls
Surrounding the old centre of Lucca is a virtually complete complex of city walls – this defensive network was constructed during the Renaissance and stands to this day.
It is one of the most complete and well preserved fortifications in Italy and you can walk around the whole city through a series of well-maintained promenades.
At strategic intervals there are 11 bastions such as the bulwark of San Martino and the Porta San Pietro.
A complete footpath connects each bastion – the Via delle Mura Urbane; this footpath is lined with trees and stretches for some 4km total length.
Consider walking along this footpath and admiring the old city walls – also walk down to the lower levels to see the walls from the ground and look at the fantastic craftsmanship of the bastions.
Suggested tour: Lucca Semi-Private 3-Hour Tour
4. San Michele in Foro
Another stunning church in the centre of Lucca, the Basilica di San Michele in Foro features a unique front façade that is not like any other in the city.
The original church was first mentioned in the 8th century but gained its current form during the 13th century.
Above the main arches of the façade are four rows of ornate arches and columns that feature a number of different colours and designs.
Furthermore, above each tow of arches there is some beautiful artwork depicting various wild animals.
The level of detail is quite astounding from the carvings on the columns, to the stonework around the rose windows.
The interior of the church contains some important artworks by Luca della Robbia and Filippno Lippi.
5. Orto Botanico Comunale di Lucca
In the south eastern corner of the historic old town you can find the beautiful Communal Botanical Gardens of Lucca.
These gardens are expansive and cover two of the bastions on the city walls.
Established in 1820 by the Duchess of Parma, the gardens are extensive and feature some beautiful species of trees, plants and flowers.
Furthermore, there are several greenhouses, an arboretum, a herbarium and several ponds and water features.
Each section of the gardens is beautifully maintained and the variety of colours and species is wonderful to behold.
6. Torre delle Ore
The Torre delle Ore has served as both a defensive fortification and a clock tower during its 700 year history.
Created in the 14th century, the tower was part of a private structure and was originally used for protection.
As time progressed, the need for defense lessened and the tower was turned into a horological clock tower instead.
Today it is possible to climb a series of stairs to reach the top of the tower for unrivalled views of the city of Lucca.
From here you can see the many other towers within the city and such landmarks as the Cathedral and Basilica of San Frediano.
7. Acquedotto del Nottolini
To the south of Lucca, you can find a marvel of architectural achievement in the form of the Aqueduct of Nottolini.
This epic structure was once used to carry water from the mountains into the city and contained 400 arches made from stone stretching for 3km.
Today the aqueduct stands in its entirety and you can follow the structure from its beginning at the Temple cistern, through to its end at the Parco dell’Acquedotto.
The surrounding landscape is beautiful and the aqueduct is truly a wonderful construct to behold.
8. Guinigi Tower
Lucca has several interesting historical towers, but none are as interesting as the strange Torre Guinigi – this is the most important and iconic tower in Lucca and is known for its rooftop garden.
Created in the 14th century, this tower is a fantastic example of Romanesque/Gothic architecture and features an exposed brick design with a series of arched windows.
Standing at 45m high, this tower dominates the skyline and can be seen from many places within the city centre.
The most notable feature is not the height however, it is the garden that sits at the very top – this garden contains some beautiful Holm Oak trees that symbolize rebirth and have become an icon of Lucca.
9. Piazza Napoleone
Located only a short distance from the Piazza dell Anfiteatro, the Square of Napoleon is another fantastic open space within the historic town centre of Lucca and features some important buildings.
To the left hand side of the square you can find the Ducale Palace with its impressive front façade.
In front of the palace is an ornate white statue of Maria Luisa which is in turn framed on three sides by a series if luscious trees.
Other notable structures surrounding the square include the Giglio Theatre, the Museo del Risorgimento and the Prefettura Di Lucca.
10. Museum of Villa Mansi
Approximately 25 minutes to the north east of Lucca you can find the historical Villa Mansi.
This villa was constructed during the 16th century by the wealthy Benedetti family and was extended in later years to include a fantastic landscape garden.
The villa itself has an interesting front façade complete with an ornate staircase and an arched portico.
Furthermore the grounds of the villa are extensive and contain a pond, several stunning flower arrangements and a series of marble statues.
Tours are available of the villa and this is a great way to spend an afternoon in the gorgeous Italian sun.
11. Basilica of San Frediano
The Basilica of San Frediano is yet another sublime religious structure in the heart of Lucca.
This building is renowned for its front façade that contains a beautiful mosaic and its impressive ornate bell tower.
During the 14th century the mosaic was added to the front of the church and has remained in remarkable condition to this day.
Depicted in the mosaic is the Assension of Christ – you can clearly see the central figure of Christ surrounded by angels and his apostles – the detail and colours are simply fantastic.
The ornate decoration continues inside the church and a notable feature includes a finely decorated 12th century font complete with stone carvings.
12. Enjoy a fine meal at Da Pasquale
For an evening of fine dining, great service and excellent drinks, the Da Pasquale restaurant in the centre of Lucca is one of the most inviting places to visit.
Located on the Via del Moro in the heart of the old town, this unassuming establishment benefits from fantastic hosts and high-quality dishes.
The restaurant specializes in seafood but also offers some wonderful Italian dishes such as ravioli and other pastas.
If you enjoy a glass of wine with your meal, the host will help you choose a suitable bouquet from their extensive selection.
The quality of the food, the attentiveness of the staff and the atmosphere will create a magical evening.
13. Sample some fine wine at Vinni Liquori Vanni
For wine lovers there is no other place in Lucca to visit than the Vinni Liquori Vanni.
On entering this establishment you may think you have simply wondered into a restaurant and indeed the food served here is high quality and delicious.
The real treat however is tucked away in the expansive cellar beneath your feet.
This establishment had a huge wine cellar packed full with a staggering amount of different vintages – if you ask the staff they will take you below and let you peruse the catalogue – if you are lucky you can also have a few samples or even partake in a wine tasting session.
Vinni Liquori Vanni is a wonderful place and the staff are extremely knowledagble – for wine connoisseurs this establishment is an absolute must!
Another wine experience: Food & Wine Experience in the Countryside from Lucca
14. Take a day trip to Pisa
A trip to Lucca would not be complete without visiting the historical city of Pisa – these two cities are only 17km apart and have great transport links.
You can reach Pisa in less than 30 minutes using the regular train or bus service, or even by simply driving there.
Pisa has a plethora of beautiful structures and its location on the River Arno means that it has some fantastic photographic opportunities too.
The main attraction is undoubtedly the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Piazza del Miracole – this complex contains the leaning tower, the magnificent cathedral, the unfinished baptistery and the monumental cemetery.
Aside from this area, Pisa also has a series of interesting museums and galleries.
15. Parco Alpi Apuane
The Apuane Alpine Park is a vast area of natural beauty that contains the Apuan Alps mountain range in the northern part of Tuscany.
This region is located approximately one hour to the north of Lucca further up the coast and is a fantastic place to explore.
Notable mountain peaks include Monte Pisanino, Monte Tambura, Pania della Croce and Monte Sagro.
This region is well known for its exquisite marble, dramatic landscapes and hiking and climbing opportunities.
Points of interest within this park include Mt. Forato, the ancient marble quarries, the stunning Lipu Oasis and the Casola Museum.
For those willing to explore and seek adventure, this region is an endless playground.
Further reading: All available tours and activities in Lucca