Lucca is a city in Tuscany, just a 30 minute drive from Pisa. It’s famous for the medieval walls that encircle the historic old town, as well as its towers and historical churches. Lucca was also apparently an important meeting place for Julius Caesar and Marcus Crassus.
In 1822 the Duchess of Lucca requested the design of an aquaduct that would bring pure water from the hills to the people living in the city. You will most likely pass the impressive aquaduct on your journey to Lucca from Pisa and within the walls you can find fountains and little canals where you can enjoy this water yourself.
Lucca is a fairly small city so is perfect for a long weekend. If you want to visit for longer, there are day trips you could do to Pisa, Florence, San Gimignano, Siena and more.
We stayed in Lucca for four nights for my cousin’s wedding and three full days was enough to explore this beautiful, historic city.
Here’s the best things to see and do in Lucca.
Cycle or walk along the walls
The current walls of Lucca are actually the forth version of the walls and were built between the mid-1600s and the 1800s. The first version was built by the Romans in the 2nd century! Today, the walls are a public park where people can walk, cycle or scoot around the city.
There are also various cafes along the walls if you want to have something to eat or drink. Lucca is a great city to cycle in and a bicycle will cost you €20 a day or €4 an hour. It only takes around 30 mins to cycle around the walls so can easily be done in an hour.
Climb the Torre delle Ore
The Torre delle Ore, which means ‘tower of the hours’ is a clocktower that has marked time in the city since 1390. It’s one of the few remaining towers from the Middle Ages when there were over 200 towers in Lucca at that time.
To visit you need to actually purchase your ticket at the Torre Guinigi, which is about a 5 minute walk away, and your ticket is valid for a set time. Alternatively, you can purchase tickets online. When you ascend up the 200 odd stairs, you pass the clock mechanics, which are fascinating to see.
The views are also gorgeous from the top of the tower. Like all the towers, you get a panoramic view over Lucca. I loved seeing all the red roofs, with towers dotted around the city and the hills in the background.
Visit the Cattedrale di Lucca (St Martin’s Cathedral)
Absolutely one of the best things to do in Lucca is to visit the stunning cathedral. It’s actually located in the old city centre, a bit off the main tourist streets and close to the train station. At the time of its construction, it was built in a strategic position – at the crossroads of two streets and near the city walls.
It appears that there was a church in this spot in the 6th century but the cathedral was rebuilt in 1060 and consecrated in 1070. It is both Gothic and Romanesque in style and the exterior today dates back to the 12th century. However, there have been many modifications to the cathedral over the years.
If you think the exterior is beautiful, wait until you see inside! It is breathtaking. From the arches in the nave to the stained glass windows, the frescos and the artwork that adorns the walls…. so much to admire and enjoy.
You’ll also find the Volto Santo di Lucca or Holy Face of Lucca in the cathedral in its own little enclosed chapel. It’s a wooden crucifix that was said to be carved by Nicodemus shortly after the resurrection of Christ. Apparently whilst carving the body, Nicodemus fell asleep – it must have been tiring work! The story goes that when he woke up, Christ’s face was miraculously completed!
If you’re interested in learning more, this article has more about the legend of the Holy Face of Lucca. There is also a dedicated festival every September, called the Festival of Santa Croce – Santa Croce means Holy Cross.
Climb the Bell Tower
If you’re visiting the cathedral, be sure to get the ticket that gives you access to the cathedral, the bell tower and the cathedral museum. Climb the 217 steps to the top for a fabulous view over the city. It’s one of the best views to spot all the towers!
Be warned though… the stairs in the bell tower are not solid, so you can see through them. As someone who is slightly scared of heights, I was actually quite terrified going down as I could see how high up we were. Thankfully the other two towers we visited had solid stairs!
Enjoy aperitivo in piazza San Michele
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the church in piazza San Michele, which is right in the centre of the city, is the cathedral – because it’s very impressive and of course because of its location. It’s not the cathedral, however it’s just as beautiful and has a fascinating history.
The church is called San Michele in Foro and has existed (not in its present form) since the 8th century! It was built over the ancient Roman forum and is dedicated to Archangel Michael. The church sits in the centre of the piazza and is surrounded by bars and restauarants. It’s a lovely place to sit and have a coffee in the morning or an aperitivo in the early evening. You might get lucky like us and have the cutest puppy at the next table!
Admire the views from Torre Guinigi (Guinigi Tower)
The Torre Guinigi is a tower that was owned by the Guinigi family – who were a rich merchant family – and it’s distinctive because it’s the one with trees! At the top is a small garden where you can sit and admire the views.
It was built in the 14th century and is Romanesque-Gothic in style. It’s 45 metres high and has 233 steps to the top, where you’ll find amazing views over Lucca.
Explore the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro
The Piazza dell’Anfiteatro dates back to the second half of the 1st century AD, which blows my mind thinking how much history this piazza has seen. It was once a Roman amphitheatre where gladiator games took place.
Of course it has changed over the years. In 1830, over 9 years, the buildings occupying the area were torn down and a piazza was formed in the inner area. Today the piazza is filled with restaurants and shops.
Do yourself a favour and buy gelato from Gelateria Anfiteatro Lucca – it’s amazing! We opted for pistachio and fior di latte and it was absolutely delicious.
Admire the mosaic of the Basilica of San Frediano
The Basilica of San Frediano is one of the oldest churches in Lucca. Apparently Saint Fridianus, who was the bishop of the city from 560 to 588, founded it and it’s first mentioned in documents dating back to 685.
Apart from being one of the oldest places of worship in the city, it’s famous for its ornate mosaic of Christ asending with two angels beside him and the Apostles below. The mosaic dates back to the 13th century and is in the Romanesque style.
There’s a lovely bar in the piazza, called Caffè Santa Zita, where you can enjoy a coffee or aperitivo and admire the beauty of Basilica of San Frediano. It’s quite expensive compared to other places but it’s well worth it.
How to get to Lucca
The nearest airport to Lucca is Pisa, which is around 30 mins by car or taxi. There is also a train from Lucca to Pisa, which takes around 30 minutes too however the train station is a kilometer from the airport. The train station and airport are connected by PisaMover, a high-speed shuttle service that runs every 5-8 minutes and takes around 5 mins. It runs every day from 6am until midnight.
Where to stay
I’d highly recommend staying within the walls. We stayed near Piazza San Francisco in an AirBnB and it was a lovely location with restaurants and bars within a minute walk. No matter where you stay within the walls, Piazza San Michele and Via Fillungo (the main street) will only ever be a maximum 10 to 15 minute walk away.
Where to eat
We were only in Lucca for 4 nights and one of those was spent at the stunning Villa Grabau for my cousin’s wedding. Of the restaurants we did eat at, I would recommend:
- Da Pasquale – lovely outside setting, delicious food and great service. Pasquale is really lovely too!
- Santi Peccanti – located in Piazza San Francisco, an elegant restaurant with a lovely ourdoor area. Food was modern and of a fine dining standard. This was recommeded to us by our AirBnB and did not disappoint!
- All’Olivo – tucked away down a side-street from Via Fillungo is All’Olivo. It has a lovely garden-feel outdoor setting with a touch of fine dining (it’s on the Michelin guide). We really enjoyed the food and service.
Lucca is truly a beautiful, historic city that mustn’t be missed if you’re visiting Tuscany. I’d highly recommend adding it to your travel list!