It’s taken me over a decade crisscrossing the region to come up with a list of my favorite places to visit and things to do in Lucca. I am also sharing some of the history behind this magical city.
One of my favorite things about this city is that you feel as if you have traveled back in time.
City rules prevent you from driving into town so you will find no cars or tour buses running you over. You’ll also struggle to get great cell reception inside the walls so it feels like you have gone off the grid to a faraway magical fairytale town where your to-do list can’t find you.
This guide has been years in the making. I can’t tell you how many times I get asked for this information and I finally figured it was time to get up a post.
Lucca my love… you are my my favorite city on planet earth!
So much so that I chose to buy a home and open an Italian cooking school Susina Cucina in Lucca. During the summers I teach host luxury retreats for food lovers. I help busy dreamers taste and explore Tuscany. Check out the upcoming retreats and come cook with me.
Situated beside the Serchio River in northwestern Tuscany, Lucca is perhaps best known for its well-preserved city walls. They form a perfect ring around the Renaissance-era center. Enjoy a walk or bike ride or grab dinner on this leafy two-and-a-half-mile path with views across green fields and terra-cotta rooftops.
Lucca is home to over 1000 restaurants, cafes, and gelaterias. Sip on a spritz in Piazza dell’ Anfiteatro, take in the views of the magnificent Romanesque church of San Michele or climb one of the many towers. You can also grab an espresso and wander around the city. If you’re into shopping you’ll find amazing leather, high fashion, souvenirs, and food items in the many designer stores and boutiques.
Music is central in this city.
It’s the birthplace of Giacomo Puccini. In summer, melodies waft through the town from Piazza Napoleone, which hosts the Lucca Summer Festival, an annual outdoor concert series now in its 23rd year.
HISTORY OF LUCCA
This jewel of a town takes you back in time. It is filled with medieval architecture and so much history in every pebble, statue, archway, and tower. It brings to mind stories of castles, knights, and magical kingdoms with fortresses and royal gardens.
The Romans founded Lucca 2000 years ago, in 180 BC.
They built the first small settlement. In 1118 Lucca became a Comune and a second set of walls was built integrating the Roman old ones. During the 1300s, Lucca grew and built a third set of walls to defend the city from its enemies.
Generally, the fortified cities had four main entrances, one for each cardinal point. Instead, in Lucca, there were only three gates: northern, western, and southern. Florence, Lucca’s enemy who had tried and failed to capture the city was to the east so this was a symbolic message of Lucca’s independence from Firenze and of the Medici Family.
Lucca was one of the most famous producers of silk.
From the end of the 12th century it shipped silk to the Western world . Thanks to this trade Lucca became a rich city. It had a great relationship with the Pope and powerful European Families and managed to stay out of any war.
Lucca was an independent city for more than 700 years.
The only person able to conquer it was Napoleon during the French First Empire. It is during its control that the fourth, eastern gate of the walls was built, and it was called “Porta Elisa” in honor of Elisa, sister of Napoleon, and Grand Duchess of Tuscany.
The huge walls we see today are of Renaissance origin.
Lucca is completely surrounded by an ancient wall dating back to the 17th century. They are the only ones in all of Italy to be completely accessible on foot, by bike, or by car (but only police are allowed on top).
THINGS TO DO IN LUCCA
The wall once used for defense is now a tree-lined path filled with walkers, joggers, and bicycles. At certain times of the year markets for local artists, spring plants, bands, festivals and events like Comicon Europe and the Lucca marathon and Grand Prix take place on the 4km loop. There are also benches where people sit and read, play a game of chess, or stop for a picnic.
A great way to start exploring the town is to walk or bike ride on this wall. And keep an eye for the underground bastions of San Paolino, Santa Croce, and San Martino.
The bastion of San Paolino
It is used for special events and exhibits and there is also an exit path to get out from the walls. Along the corridor, you can admire wood and paper artwork from the event called Cartasia that every two years takes place in town.
The Bastion of San Martino
The old arches made in bricks that light games make them even more fascinating, and the embrasures used for defending the walls with cannons. The most powerful cannons (that could shoot up to 4 km away) were on top of the walls while from these windows cannons shot stones, nails, and iron scraps.
The City of a Hundred and One Churches
St. Michael’s Church (San Michele al Foro).
A Roman Catholic basilica church in Lucca, Tuscany, central Italy, built over the ancient Roman forum. Until 1370 it was the seat of the Consiglio Maggiore, the commune’s most important assembly. It is dedicated to Archangel Michael.
It is a true jewel from Roman times. This bustling Italian plaza is built on the ruins of an ancient Roman amphitheater. Today a bustling plaza where tourists can enjoy their food and drinks, but several centuries ago, it was in this very spot that gladiators battled for supremacy in front of rapt audiences.
The Guinigi Tower
The Torre Guinigi is a typical example of local Romanesque-Gothic architecture. The tower is 45 meters high. It takes 232 steps to reach the top. It dates back to the 1300s when several wealthy families were building bell towers within the walls of Lucca as status symbols. It is one of the few remaining towers within the walls. The roof garden is a popular attraction and was built when the Guinigi family created a garden as a symbol of the town’s rebirth while under their control.
Palazzo Pfanner is a palace and a garden now converted into a museum of art and artifacts. The building dates to 1667 and is notable mainly for its fine garden, attributed to Filippo Juvarra, and an interesting external stairway with loggia. Its principal salon contains frescoes by Scorsini and De Santi (early to mid 18th century), as well as a collection of surgical instruments gathered by Dr. Pietro Pfanner (1864–1935).
St Martin Cathedral
This Lucca Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours in Lucca, Italy. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Lucca. Construction was begun in 1063 by Bishop Anselm.
San Frediano Basilica
The Basilica of San Frediano is a Romanesque church in Lucca, Italy, situated on the Piazza San Frediano.
Lucca’s main shopping street. It spans the entire length of the city. It is a shopper’s dream and the perfect place to wander along. You can pick up designer fashion, Italian leather, books, art, food, and souvenirs and it has all the big Italian name brand stores too.
Torre delle Ore, Lucca
The Torre Delle Ore or Torre dell’Orologio is a clock-tower or turret clock located on Via Fillungo in central Lucca, region of Tuscany, Italy.
Giacomo Puccini’s House
Follow the traces left by the great composer and know more about his life and passions.
Orto Botanico Comunale di Lucca
A botanical garden operated by the city. It’s open daily during the warmer months and weekday mornings off-season. The garden was established in 1820 by Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma, and contains many mature plantings of botanical interest. Its site is triangular and organized into two main sections. One contains the gardens with a pond, the other contains the greenhouse, botanical school, and laboratories. The Museo Botanico “Cesare Bicchi” contains a herbarium and archive.
Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Mansi
The Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Mansi is one of the two main art museums hosting tapestry collections and mainly post-19th century art collections owned by the city of Lucca, Italy. The collection is displayed in the Baroque palace, formerly belonging to the Mansi family, and located in central Lucca. Many of the original room decorations remain in place.
Events in Lucca
Lucca is also home to several annual events. In fact there is always something going on in the piazzas, along the courtrads and on the wall.
Paper art festival
The first international festival dedicated to paper takes place every two years from late June to early August. Cartasia. Paper monuments and huge sculptures welcome visitors coming from everywhere in Europe, attracted by these peculiar masterpieces of paper art. Universities across the world and Tuscan schools participate and the art is displayed all over the city.
The Food fair
Il Desco is held annually in the Real Collegio in the very heart of Lucca center in late October – early November It is an exhibition and market for the special ingredients that are found only in Lucca, but it also traces the recipes that grew around these ingredients.
Mercatini in Cortile (Markets in the Courtyard) is an annual event held in the Foro Boario, close to the Serchio river, three times a year usually in April, July, and December. It features vintage objects, small pieces of furniture, old clothes, books.
The Lucca Marathon
The Marcia delle Ville (Running the Villas), takes place in April. It is a competitive race for beginners and expert runners on different length tracks – from 3.5 to 28 km – all winding their way through the magnificent historical villas that have contributed to making this outside part of Lucca famous throughout the world.
Lucca Summer Festival
This takes annually place in July and welcomes some of the most popular and renowned musicians, singers and bands, coming from all around the world. This summer (2020’s) edition, features Paul Mc Cartney, Cat Stevens, Celine Dion, Ben Harper, Liam Gallagher, Paolo Conte, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Past artists include Sting, Elton John, Tom Petty, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, James Brown, David Bowie, Green Day, Seal, Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, Billy Idol, Lenny Kravitz, Snoop Dog, Mackelmore and many more. A whole month of great music that you shouldn’t miss out on if you are in Lucca in July.
Takes place from October to December with a wide choice of concerts held in the Teatro del Giglio in Lucca; Gino Paoli and Mario Biondi are some of the artists performing during the past edition.
Lucca Blues Festival
Held in April, it welcomes blues bands and singers
Lucca Comics & Games
Called Comix by the locals…It is held annually during the last weekend of October and is considered one of the most important events dedicated to comics, cartoons, games, video games in all Europe. Hundreds of exhibitors are spread out over the city and there are shows, live performances, role-playing, and board games, historical reenactments of medieval games with people dressed up in costumes.
So there you have it.
And comment below and let me know if I missed anything I need to add to this list. And make sure to check out my post about Eating in Lucca for a list of must-try foods and my favorite restaurants, bars, and trattorias.
And I hope you will come say hi…
Till then baci, baci…