Despite its proximity to Florence and Pisa, Lucca is a Tuscan gem that is often skipped over by tourists. And if visited, it’s often only as a day trip. But with so much to offer, I can assure you that it’s worth spending a weekend in this splendid town. Lucca delivers all the charm one expects of a small Tuscan town, while still having a unique identity.
Getting to Lucca is especially convenient if you are traveling by train. The railway station is across the street from the town’s famous walls, making it a short walk into the centro storico. But don’t let the discreet view from outside the walls of Lucca fool you because inside, a delightful experience awaits!
What to Visit in Lucca
Piazzas in Italy come in many shapes and sizes and they play an important role in daily life. There are many public squares in Lucca but Piazza dell’Anfiteatro is the most beloved of them all. Built upon the ruins of an ancient Roman amphitheater like Piazza Navona in Rome, this piazza has an elliptical shape and is almost entirely enclosed. There are only four arched entrances that allow visitors to enter and exit, giving the piazza an intimate feel. Today it’s a magnet for locals and tourists alike because of its many restaurants, bars and cafes.
One of the few remaining towers in Lucca, the Guinigi Tower is one of the city’s highlights. Torre Guinigi was built to showcase the wealth and prestige of the Guinigi family, a common practice throughout Italy. There were originally 130 towers that dotted the town’s skyline but today only 9 remain. While Torre Giunigi has an impressive height — it stands 45 meters tall — it is the oak trees planted on its roof that immediately catch one’s attention. They were believed to symbolize rebirth and renewal. According to an old legend, the tallest tree, which was planted by Paolo Guinigi, lost all of its leaves before his execution. And while the authenticity of this story is unknown, one thing is certain. The view from the top makes the journey of 230 steps worthwhile.
Lucca’s Musical Legacy
Music is intrinsic to Lucca’s identity. This small town is the birthplace of Giacomo Puccini, one of the biggest names in Italian opera history. Fans of this legend can visit his childhood home which has been converted into the Puccini Museum. The museum houses various artifacts, including the Steinway & Sons piano he used to compose Turandot, one of his famous operas. Puccini’s influence can be felt throughout the town and it’s clear that he is a source of pride for the locals. He attended the Conservatorio di Musica Luigi Boccherini, a prestigious institute where students still come to study music. Even today you can hear the voices of aspiring singers as you wander the streets near the conservatory.
Every June and July, the town also hosts the popular Lucca Summer Festival which has seen some of the industry’s most famous performers grace its stage. This annual outdoor concert series began in 1998 and is still going strong. You’ll definitely want to plan ahead and get your tickets if you’re visiting during this period. Every evening, the town comes to life with concerts from both Italian and international singers. The list is extensive and has included the Rolling Stones, Norah Jones, Elton John, Alanis Morissette, the Backstreet Boys, John Legend, Justin Bieber and many more. If you’re a music lover, consider staying two or three nights to take in as many performances as possible!
Duomo di San Martino
Also known as the Cathedral of Lucca, the Duomo di San Martino is a beautiful example of Gothic and Romanesque architecture. Its elaborate and ornate exterior makes an impressive first impact, while its interior features a painted ceiling that is nothing short of mesmerizing. The whole church is a work of art but there is one painting in particular that leaves many visitors stunned. A depiction of the Last Supper creates the illusion that the subjects in the painting move with the movements of those admiring it. It happens to be one of the final pieces painted by Tintoretto in 1594.
Le Mura di Lucca
Lucca is a fortified city and its walls still greet visitors immediately upon arrival in the centro storico. Spanning more than 2.5 miles (4km) in length and 100ft (30 meters) in width, these walls once protected Lucca’s inhabitants. Today, these walls serve as green spaces for locals who use them to cycle, jog and practice yoga. Thanks to their height, the walls also offer spectacular views of the historic center. Despite being a popular spot, one can find a sense of serenity while taking a stroll on the walls. This is also thanks to the scent of chestnut trees that perfume the air with a crisp and clean aroma. You won’t regret walking along Lucca’s walls while you’re in town!
The Best Restaurants In Lucca
Buca di Sant’Antonio
One of Lucca’s oldest restaurants, Buca di Sant’Antonio was established in 1782 and has been serving patrons for over 200 years. It still delivers plenty of authenticity with copper pots and pans hanging from the ceiling. This Michelin Guide-listed restaurant is tucked away in a quiet alley and will surely please all palates. Meat lovers can choose from a range of dishes like pasta with rabbit sauce, to poultry, pork filet, and beef carpaccio. Vegetarians dishes include truffles and porcini mushrooms — and be sure to try local Tuscan beans.
Located just beyond the arches of Piazza dell’Anfiteatro lies Osteria Baralla. Dating back to 1860, this historic restaurant has a great ambiance with a rustic brick exterior and vaulted ceilings inside. Hearty pasta dishes and savory legume dishes are sure to delight vegetarians. But omnivores will enjoy a wide selection of grilled steaks, wild boar, lamb, and trippa alla fiorentina. And there’s plenty to satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth. I would recommend doing as the Tuscans do and sampling their cantucci with Vin Santo.
Where to Stay in Lucca
Grand Universe Lucca, Autograph Collection
The Grand Universe Lucca is a hotel steeped in history, offering luxurious accommodation. Its prime location, opposite of Teatro Giglio, has made it a popular spot for philosophers, poets, and artists. It’s even hosted the likes of Giacomo Puccini and King Vittorio Emanuele II. Today guests can enjoy modern conveniences in an elegant and sophisticated setting. Featuring a lounge, rooftop bar, and a restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, guests are spoiled for choice! The Grand Universe Lucca also offers wine tastings in its Eterno Wine Cellar. Finally, fitness fans can enjoy a fully equipped gym available onsite.
Palazzo Dipinto is a boutique hotel offering a serene experience. While it’s tucked away from the tourist crowds, it’s a short stroll from Piazza San Michele. The decor is a marriage between rustic charm and modern Italian design, featuring wood beams and sleek marble bathrooms. Besides offering 24 hour service, its elegant bar serves breakfast daily. Offering a buffet breakfast, one can choose to dine inside or in the hotel’s private courtyard. With a friendly, multilingual staff this hotel is a great home away from home.
Where to Shop in Lucca
Lucca may be a small town but it offers a big range of shopping. For some of the best souvenirs, take a stroll down Via Fillungo. This posh street is lined with shops that sell clothes, jewelry and houseware by local artisans and international brands. One thing you shouldn’t miss is purchasing a quality scarf or shawl.
Lucchesi artisans are incredibly proud of their town’s silk tradition. Originally purchasing raw silk from the Middle East, they began to produce it locally because of growing demand in Europe. In fact, the local economy prospered because Lucchesi silk was highly coveted by European royalty. This is reflected in the elaborate homes found in the centro storico, which once belonged to the town’s silk merchants. While it’s no longer a key player in the industry, a number of boutiques in Lucca have kept this tradition alive.
Zazzi Dallamano, a boutique located on Via Fillungo, sells scarves and shawls that are hand woven with wooden looms. Their apparel is exclusively made in Italy, using the highest quality materials, including silk, wool and cashmere. Given that few brands continue to use artisanal methods, this has become a sure stop on most tourists’ itineraries.
Just around the corner from the Puccini Museum is Tommasi Loom Works. This shop is a real treat for anyone interested in seeing artisans at work operating traditional wooden looms. Besides using silk, their scarves are made using linen and cotton. If you value buying directly from the source of production, you’ll want to make a visit to this shop.
Vissidarte di Stefano Girolami is a gold mine for ceramic lovers. This shop offers a wide range of handmade (and hand-painted) pieces that feature traditional Tuscan designs, from sunflowers and olives to countryside landscapes. Whether you’re looking for new dishes for your kitchen or decorative objects to gift friends and family, you’ll find many beautiful designs in store. Vissidarte also offers worldwide shipping in case your suitcase is too full!