But have you ever taken a look at the map of Tuscany? Lucca is very close to Pisa, less expensive and less crowded: it is an ideal base to combine the two cities into one exciting, holiday. Actually, one could stay in Lucca for a whole weekend.
Its historical centre is a jewel enclosed within a perfectly preserved Renaissance wall that you can walk and cycle around. A tour of the walls is only the beginning of a rewarding exploration: numerous surprises await you, such as a square with no access roads, a garden atop a tower, and the birthplace of one of Italy’s most famous composers.
Lucca is a place to see but also to experience. It is full of bars and clubs and has a busy annual programme of events; the highlights are the Lucca Summer Festival, with concerts by Italian and international artists, and Lucca Comics & Games, Italy’s most important comics fair.
The typical cuisine is another good reason to come here. Don’t leave Lucca without tasting buccellato, the typical local sweet… and don’t confuse it with its Sicilian namesake!
Inside and outside the walls of Lucca there is a wealth of things to see. Take your time, Tuscany is best enjoyed when visited slowly!
The walls enclosing the historic centre of Lucca are the city’s top attraction. They are called medieval walls but it would be more correct to call them Renaissance, since they were built from the beginning of the 16th to the middle of the 17th century.
It is the only wall with a defensive purpose built in the modern era that has survived intact to the present day: a masterpiece of architecture and town planning that still inspires admiration today.
The numbers are impressive: they are a total of 4 km long, 12 km high and even 30 km wide. During their long history, the only enemy they defended the city against was the flooding of the Serchio river in 1812.
Do not imagine them as the classic austere walls surrounding a medieval castle. The walls of Lucca are a beautiful tree-lined avenue that you can walk, run or cycle along and often become the location for outdoor events.
Along the way, you will come across the city gates and embrasures.
The most beautiful square in Lucca is the central Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, so called because it stands on the site occupied in Roman times by an amphitheatre and partly follows the ancient layout: this explains its particular elliptical shape.
Another peculiarity is that it is a closed square: there are no streets leading into the square, it is accessed through four small vaulted gates.
The current appearance of the square dates back to the 19th century and was designed by the Lucchese architect Lorenzo Nottolini; to admire its perfect harmony, stand in the centre of the square. It is also worthwhile to take a peek inside the shops that overlook the square because some of them preserve remains of ancient Roman buildings.
Piazza dell’Anfiteatro is the heart of city life: busy day and evening, it is often animated by concerts and events.
The Giunigi Tower is one of the few surviving towers in Lucca and one of the two that can be visited. It is a square red-brick tower built in the 14th century by a rich merchant family from Lucca.
It would not be so different from other medieval towers if it were not for its peculiarity, namely a hanging garden built on top of it. Tell the truth, when have you ever seen large trees growing on top of a tower?
From the top of the Torre dei Giunigi, cooled by the shade of the centuries-old holm oaks in the hanging garden, you can admire a view that stretches from the city to the surrounding hills. The tower is 44.25 metres high and to reach the top you have to climb 230 steps.
The other tower that can be visited in Lucca is the Torre delle Ore (Tower of the Hours), which is about six metres higher than the Giunigi Tower. It is a civic tower equipped with a bell and a clock that still works today through a hand-wound mechanism.
The first clock dates back to 1390, the one we admire today was made by clockmakers from Lucca and installed in the second half of the 18th century. You can see it by climbing to the top of the tower: in this case there are 207 steps to climb.
The tower stands on the corner of Via dell’Arancio and Via Filungo, the city’s shopping street. After admiring Lucca from the top of the tower, you can take a stroll and take a look at the shop windows.
Its location in the small square of the same name, and the presence of other buildings leaning against it, might detract from the importance of Lucca Cathedral, dedicated to St Martin, in the eyes of visitors.
But a quick glance at the architectural details and the impressive quantity of works of art contained within it is enough to understand that it is a building of great historical, artistic and religious value, on a par with other famous cathedrals in Italy.
The original core of the Cathedral of Lucca was built in the 4th century AD at the behest of San Frediano, bishop of the city. The first changes were made as early as the 11th century, but the appearance we can admire today is due to alterations made between the 14th and 17th centuries.
The polychrome façade is inspired by that of Pisa, but is distinguished by some typical Lucchese style; it is slightly asymmetrical because it had to be adapted to a pre-existing bell tower.
The interior of the church is a riot of works of art. The most mentioned in guidebooks are the ancient Crucifix of the Volto Santo, the Funeral Monument of Ilaria del Carretto by Jacopo della Quercia and the Last Supper painted by Tintoretto.
You can climb to the top of the bell tower to admire a panoramic view of Lucca; after visiting the church you can take a look at the nearby Museo del Duomo dedicated to sacred art.
Piazza Anfiteatro is not the only beautiful square you’ll come across when exploring Lucca’s historical centre.
Lucca’s largest square is Piazza Napoleone6, dedicated to the sister of the French emperor. It cannot compete in beauty with the better known square, but it is equally rich in history and is another important meeting place for the people of Lucca. The main concerts of the Summer Festival are held here.
Also worth mentioning are Piazza San Michele7 and Piazza San Frediano8, overlooked by the churches of the same name.
Giacomo Puccini, famous author of operas that have made the history of Italian opera such as Turandot and Manon Lescaut, was born in Lucca on 22 December 1858.
The house where the great composer saw the light and spent his childhood and adolescence is now a museum entirely dedicated to him. The house was sold at a time of economic difficulty and bought back by Giacomo during his years of success; it has remained the property of his descendants ever since until it was transformed into a museum managed by a foundation.
Inside the Casa-museo Giacomo Puccini you can see original furnishings from the period, historical documents and sheet music. The most interesting pieces, however, are the Maestro’s personal belongings and in particular the piano he used to compose his masterpieces.
In the square that the house overlooks, you can see a bronze monument depicting Puccini created by Vito Tongiani.
If you are a fan of painting or local history, do not miss the Villa Giunigi National Museum: a visit is a journey through the history and figurative culture of the city.
The venue is a majestic red-brick palace in late Gothic style that was the residence of Paolo Guinigi, lord of Lucca from 1400 to 1430. It is located just outside the city walls.
On display are works of art by artists from Lucca and international artists who stayed in Lucca, and archaeological finds discovered in the area. The exhibition follows a chronological order.
Another important collection of paintings and another magnificent example of a stately home is the Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Mansi.
The venue is an elegant 17th-century palace that belonged to a wealthy merchant family, embellished with frescoes, Brussels tapestries and valuable furniture that can still be admired today.
The museum collection includes paintings by Italian and international artists from the 16th to the 18th century; some eighty of these paintings were donated to the city by Grand Duke Peter Leopold.
There is also a section dedicated to weaving that includes a workshop and an exhibition of 19th-century looms.
A green oasis behind Lucca’s Renaissance walls, in the south-eastern part of the city, is the Orto Botanico, a large garden created in 1820 that boasts a rich collection of trees, plants and flowers.
Top attractions are the Montagnola dedicated to the native flora of the mountains around Lucca, the Arboretum with centuries-old trees and a magnificent collection of camellias and rhododendrons.
Leaving behind the medieval and Renaissance atmospheres of the centre of Lucca, a baroque jewel awaits you a stone’s throw from the walls: Palazzo Pfanner, a sumptuous 17th-century building built – needless to say! – by a rich merchant family.
The palace was extended and embellished by later owners, who, having recently obtained the title of nobility, wanted to flaunt their wealth and prestige. In the 19th century, it was bought by Felix Pfanner, a brewer of Austro-German origin.
The palace is now owned by his descendants and is open to the public for guided tours and events. Areas that can be visited include the central hall, other inner rooms and the monumental garden.
The surroundings of Lucca offer the possibility of wonderful walks or cycling excursions in the countryside. The best area for outdoor activities is the Serchio River Park, an area of great naturalistic value extending from Monte San Quirico and the Palazzaccio locality to Sant’Anna.
Inside the park it is possible to follow three different thematic itineraries: water trail, nature trail and historical trail.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
The most fascinating area where to stay in Lucca is definitely the historic centre. Booking a hotel or a b&b in the centre allows you to be a stone’s throw from all the main attractions and to have a large number of restaurants and places to spend the evening.
Be careful, however, if you travel by car: the centre is a limited traffic zone and parking spaces are very scarce. Be sure to ask the establishment you have chosen if you are allowed to enter with your vehicle and if they have parking facilities. If not, leave your car outside the walls or book a hotel near the centre.
Another important caveat concerns the period of your holiday. If you wish to visit Lucca during the periods of the comics festival and the Summer Festival, it is necessary to book well in advance, possibly several months in advance. It may sound exaggerated, but bear in mind that during these two very popular events, hotels are always sold out.
Sleeping around Lucca instead of in the centre widens the choice of facilities. In addition to hotels, flats and bed and breakfasts you will also find splendid country houses, agriturismi and luxury hotels with spas surrounded by greenery. The best facilities have a swimming pool.
Lucca is located in a strategic position for road connections in Tuscany, which means you can easily reach it from several directions.
To get to Lucca by car, the reference motorways are the A11 Firenze Mare and the A12 Genova-Pisa, from which you take a slip road to your destination. The Lucca Est and Lucca Ovest toll booths are a few kilometres from the centre.
Getting to Lucca by public transport is possible but requires a little organisation and patience: you will almost certainly have to make at least one change.
Lucca’s railway station is located close to the historical centre; it is mainly served by regional trains to Pisa, where you can then change for Florence or other destinations.
The bus is perhaps a better option because there are direct bus connections to Florence and other important locations in Tuscany; there are also some long-distance buses that allow you to get to Lucca from cities in other regions. Lucca’s bus station is located in the centre.
The nearest airport to Lucca is Pisa airport, about 20 kilometres away and easily accessible. It is an important hub for low-cost airlines so it is quite common to find cheap flights.
What's the weather at Lucca? Below are the temperatures and the weather forecast at Lucca for the next few days.
Lucca is a municipality in Tuscany, capital of the province of the same name. It is located in north-western Tuscany, only 20 km from Pisa, about 75 km from Florence and 150 km from Siena.