Lucca: Planning Your Trip

Visit a Jewel of a City in Northern Tuscany

View of Lucca from Guinigi Tower

TripSavvy / Jamie Ditaranto

Lucca is one of the most beautiful cities in Tuscany and offers a lot to see within its 16th-century ramparts. These historic and picturesque walls wrap around the city, which is also quite flat compared to other hillier Tuscan villages. Known as the city of a hundred churches, Lucca offers many beautiful buildings and settings, such as the curved piazza that sits on the site of a Roman Amphitheater, an iconic tower topped with trees, and, of course, many churches with magnificent stone and mosaic facades. Whether visiting Lucca for a day or a week, there are many ways to stay busy exploring the Roman ruins in the basement of a cathedral, visiting the home of one of Italy's most famous composers, or doing as the locals do and going for a leisurely bike ride along the historic walls.

Planning Your Trip

  • Best Time to Visit: If you happen to be around Lucca in September, the Festa di Santa Croce is an event that washes the old town in candlelight as a wooden sculpture of Christ is carried through the cobbled streets of the old town to the Duomo.
  • Language: Italian
  • Currency: Euro
  • Getting Around: Lucca is a great strolling town because very little traffic is found inside the walls and bike paths along the walls make it easy to navigate and find your way around.
  • Travel Tip: If you have a car or find a tour, you can take in the Villas of Lucca, a string of grand villas and their formal gardens located to the north of Lucca and open to the public.

Things to Do

Lucca is a city rich with beauty and alive with music. Inside its walls, you can wander past the Romanesque churches and in and out of the piazzas like the Roman Amphitheatre, but there are a few activities that are quintessential of any visit to Lucca.

  • Bike Along the Ramparts: Lucca is surrounded by 16th-century walls. In the 19th century, trees were planted and now the ramparts can be walked or cycled. It's approximately three miles around the oval.
  • Visit the Guinigi Tower: Casa Guinigi was the fifteenth-century home of Lucca's leading family. Many of Lucca's affluent families built towers in their time, but this one is unique because of the oak trees that are planted at the top.
  • Visit Puccini's Birth Home: Lucca is the birthplace of one of Italy's most famous composers—Giacomo Puccini. Fans of operas like La Bohème and Madame Butterfly will be interested to see the exhibits on display and artifacts like the piano used by Puccini to write his music. From May to August, the Puccini Festival is held in an open-air theater in nearby Torre del Lago.

As in any historic city, a major attraction is wandering the medieval streets and seeing the little details that are normally hundreds of years old. You can read more about Lucca's many other attractions here.

What to Eat and Drink

A visit to Lucca offers the opportunity to try Lucca's traditional dishes like garmugia, a springtime soup made with the first vegetables of the season. In terms of pasta, you can order the tordelli Lucchese, which is a stuffed pasta served with meat sauce. Lucca is also famous for its sweetbreads like buccelatto, which dates back to Roman times and goes great with a cup of coffee. Chestnut cake, or castagnaccio, is another popular dessert, and typical of Tuscany if you're craving something even sweeter. When looking for somewhere to dine out, consider Ristorante Buca di Sant'Antonio where pasta is made fresh and by hand every day.

Where to Stay

Inside the walls, Lucca is still quite a large city and you'll find many areas to stay from the historic old center near some of the city's main attractions like San Michele and Piazza dell'Anfiteatro. Hotels here include Alla Corte Degli Angeli which is great for families because it offers the option of booking two-bedroom suites. If you'd rather stay out of the bustle of the city center, you could also stay at the Hotel Ilaria in the eastern part of the city which is located on Via del Fosso, a mostly residential street that has a narrow canal.

If you need to stay near the train station and just outside the walls, consider the Hotel Stipino. This location is very convenient if you're coming in by train because you can drop off your luggage, cross the street and in a couple of minutes be inside the walls. If you'd like to visit Lucca, but prefer a quieter home to retreat to at the end of a busy day of sightseeing, the surrounding countryside has hotels like the Hotel Villa Casanova, which is a five-star hotel located in a former 16th-century villa and is only 10 minutes away from the city center by car.

Getting There

The closest commercial airport to Lucca is in Pisa, which is only a 30-minute train or car ride away from Lucca. If you are flying into Florence, both the train ride and drive takes about an hour and a half. From Pisa, you'll drive 12 miles (20 kilometers) northeast along the SS12, and from Florence, you can take the A11 Highway 50 miles (81 kilometers) west. Lucca's train station is on the south side of town in Piazza Ricasoli. It's a short five-minute walk from the train station to the closest city entrance at Porta San Pietro. Even if you're staying on the other side of the city, near Porta Santa Maria, you only need to walk for 20 minutes. Buses are also available from Pisa and Florence to Lucca, but they tend to take longer and cost about the same amount as a train ticket.

Every year, the Puccini Festival is held on the shores of Lake Massaciuccoli in July and August. This is located in the town of Torre del Lago Puccini, which is just 12 miles (19 kilometers) west of Lucca. Barga and Pietrasanta are other medieval towns that may be of interest to visit. Barga is located in the alps, 23 miles (37 kilometers) north of Lucca and Pietrasanta is closer to the sea 24 miles (39 kilometers) to the northwest.

Culture and Customs

Lucca's history dates back to the Roman Empire, but it still maintains the look and feel of a Renaissance city. It's hard to say if the people of Lucca are more proud of their walls, the best-preserved and most complete example of Renaissance walls in Europe, or Giacomo Puccini, one of the world's most renowned composers. It is a city with a great appreciation of culture and art and home to many music schools, so it's not unlikely that you may hear music from practicing musicians flowing out through the open windows of the city.

Like in the whole of Italy, but maybe even more in Tuscany, gastronomy in Lucca is taken very seriously. In the evening, you'll find that many people are out on the streets for aperitivo, a time to sit and enjoy a drink and small snack before dinner. When dining out, tipping is not expected but can be done if you believe you receive exceptional service. If you take a guided tour, it's customary to tip the tour guide in proportion to the tour's cost and length.

Money Saving Tips

  • Cycling is popular throughout the city, but you can save money on a bike rental by finding accommodation that will let you borrow one. For example, the San Luca Palace Hotel offers bicycles for guests.
  • Accommodation tends to be cheaper outside the city walls, so this may be an alternative.
  • The best time to visit Lucca is outside of the busy summer season when festivals and events lead to fully-booked hotels and higher nightly rates. In the shoulder season, between September and October and February and March, you can find better deals.