Lucca is still overshadowed by other Tuscan towns like Florence, Pisa or Siena, but if you are planning to go beyond the main sights during your Tuscan road trip, make sure you don't miss this gem. It’s worth spending a couple of nights in Lucca, but if you only have a day in the area, you can combine it with a short visit to Pisa. Direct trains come and go between the two towns all day long, and from the railway station of Lucca you can walk straight through one of the gates of the amazing Renaissance city wall. This 4 km fortified wall encircles the historical center of Lucca, most of which is car-free. Outside the wall you can find beautifully green residental areas and amazing villas.
This wall plays a very important part in the life and wellbeing of local people. A beautiful, tree-lined promenade was created on top of it, where local people are running, rollerblading, walking the dog and the kids. For those who just want to relax, there are tables for playing cards or chess. and benches for reading a book or chatting with your friends. I am not a big fan of jogging, but I love riding a bike, so every time I am in Lucca, I rent a bike for a few euros and truly enjoy people-watching while slowly pedalling around. Such a perfect way to enjoy slow life in Italy.
In Lucca everyone is walking or riding a bike, so do as the locals do. It’s also a great way to discover the narrow streets and the colourful piazzas, especially during siesta time, when streets are quite empty. During the evening passeggiata it’s better to join the walking crowd on Via Fillungo, the main shopping street. Every day around 6 PM locals dress up nicely and go for a leisurely walk, taking their children, parents and dogs, meeting their neighbours, relatives and friends in the street. The daily passeggiata is an important part of social life, nobody has to feel lonely here. Another way for adding slow, joyful moments to your Italian travels.
There are no world-famous sights in Lucca, most travellers have actually never heard of this town. But if you give it a chance, you’ll surely love its everyday life, historical atmosphere and local vibe. You can wander on the small alleys for hours, and a surprise will be waiting for you around every corner: charming squares, marble church facades, towers, small shops selling local products, an antique market or restaurants serving delicious wild boar dishes. You’ll surely get lost in the maze of little streets, but it’s worth it. Of course you can get a map at the tourist info office. It also took me a while to walk around comfortably in Lucca, without having to look at the map.
One of the main meeting points in Lucca is the Piazza Anfiteatro, an oval shaped piazza, surrounded by medieval houses. Two thousand years ago there used to be an amphitheater here, but during the centuries its stones were carried away to build elegant palaces, just like in Rome. Today you will find some cute restaurants, bars and shops around the piazza. From spring to autumn several concerts and cultural events take place in this historical location.
The oval shape of the piazza can be clearly seen from Torre Guinigi, which is a tower with trees on top. One day Lucca had over 100 towers, with vegetable gardens and trees on top. All these fortresses were homes of rich families, but later these families moved to the countryside around Lucca and built elegant villas for themselves. The owner of this tower, Paolo Guinigi was a very wealthy merchant, but not very popular in Lucca. It’s worth climbing the 227 steps to the top of the tower, as you can enjoy a stunning panorama over the mediterranean rooftops of Lucca and the surrounding hills. Lights are most beautiful in the morning or during sunset.
While Piazza Anfiteatro is really historical, the real center, the heart of Lucca is actually Piazza San Michele. During Roman times that’s where the two main roads crossed each other, so it was the political and religious center, the forum. Don’t forget to look up as the Romanesque facade of the Church of San Michele is simply breathtaking, and the white marble looks amazing with the colourful buildings in the background. If possible, go to this piazza late afternoon, that’s when lights and colours are most beautiful. (If you like taking photos, I hope you’ll appreciate these small tips.)
You can find several churches in Lucca. Don’t miss the mosaic facade of the Church of San Frediano, and the Cathedral of San Martino. The beautiful marble tombstone of Ilaria del Carretto, created by Jacopo della Quercia is hiding inside the cathedral. It’s a real art masterpiece. Ilaria was the wife of Paolo Guinigi and she died at the age of 26 during the birth of their second child.
The most famous native of Lucca is Giacomo Puccini. You can find his house in a small street close to Piazza San Michele. If you’d like to listen to some Pucinni arias, go to the Church of San Giovanni any evening at 7 PM and enjoy a Puccini concert. You’ll hear arias from his famous operas like Turandot, Tosca, la Bohème and Madame Butterfly. If you prefer different type of music, look out for the summer music festival and the jazz festival of Lucca.