I guess you could call me an expert when it comes to the things to do in Lucca, Italy! After living there for six months, I fell in love with this amazingly charming town, and it was everything I had ever hoped for while living in Tuscany, including a chance to sample wines, incredible food, and improve my Italian. However, if you are only there for a day, knowing what to do in Lucca can be a bit more of a challenge.
This list of things to do in Lucca will give you plenty of options whether you stay for a day or longer.
Things to do in Lucca, Italy
Most people head from Florence to Lucca or skip it altogether on their way to Pisa. Don’t do that! Here are my recommendations for Lucca sights when you arrive.
Devoted to San Martino, the Lucca cathedral is a highly underrated sight in the Tuscany region. Building began in 1083 as the local, wealthy residents invested in making Lucca a comparable kingdom to others around it. It features a number of different styles including Gothic and Renaissance, as the building of the cathedral spanned hundreds of years. It’s the largest and most impressive of the “city of a hundred churches.”
Thinking of a walled city in Italy? You might be thinking of Lucca! This is an absolute can’t-miss when it comes to things to do in Lucca, Italy. When you walk on these walls, you’re traipsing on 800 years of history. Not bad for an afternoon activity! Built as a military fortification, the walls of Lucca came to represent the city itself. While they have been reconstructed several times, some of the trees that remain are centuries old. Not down for walking the two miles? You can also rent a bike or buggies.
In the history of Lucca, Italy, the oldest site might be the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro. Originally the location where the Roman amphitheater stood, the oval shape was maintained by the surrounding houses and stories. Some of the best restaurants in Lucca are here, as well as the perfect places to people watch. Grab a gelato and sit on a bench under the Tuscan sun.
Torre delle Ore
As the largest tower in Lucca, this tower was built in order to help identify invaders while also providing locals with the time–all the way back in 1390. You can climb the tower for around $3 USD, but beware of the legend associated with this monument. The story states that a young woman sold her soul to the devil here by trying to stop time.
This darling little botanical garden is one of the overlooked things to do in Lucca, Italy. Located not far from the Lucca train station (all you have to do is go through the southern entrance and turn right), this garden houses a number of plants from around the world. It costs around $5 USD to enter and offers a wonderful spot to read a book.
This main square in Lucca is home to a number of great restaurants, seasonal activities like ice skating and summer fairs. The piazza was named after Napoleon after he conquered the city in 1805, and he placed his sister as the ruler of the area. It was a short reign and she was ousted by Maria Luisa of Spain ten years later. If you are addressing locals, make sure to call it Piazza Grande instead–Italians aren’t fans of Napoleon!
The Guinigi Family was one of the most influential in Lucca for several generations, and they added the tower for both defense and as ornamentation to show off their wealth. You can climb it for the price of $5 USD, which includes a small museum with descriptions in Italian. The highlight is the top of the tower where a lovely garden and old tree stands guard. It’s the perfect place for those Instagram photos.
San Frediano Basilica
Originally the spot of a church started by an Irish priest, the spot is now home to the main church built from 1112 to 1147. The main reason to visit is the beautiful mosaic facade, which features a scene of the Ascension of Christ in the Byzantine style. If you’re into saints and their mummies, you might want to check out St. Zita, who is located here. Gross, but cool. Definitely one of the coolest churches in Lucca, Italy by far!
Parco Alpi Apuane
Looking for some nature? The Apuane Alps are an amazing getaway for those who want to take a walk on the wilder side in Tuscany. Rent a car and take a day trip here for some amazing hiking trails, flora, fauna, and more. For those who want to experience something other than walking through a charming Tuscan town (or maybe do both), this is the national park for you.
Did you know that Lucca is home to some amazing concerts and attracts some very big acts like John Legend, Paul McCartney, Elton John, and more? I didn’t until I moved there. Concerts take place usually in Piazza Napoleone, though they can also be located on various places on the wall, as well. Italians come from all around to see some incredible artists for reasonable prices. You also don’t even have to purchase a ticket–just sit on the wall and you can still hear the music from another part of the city.
Once the home of the wealthy Mansi Family, their home has now been turned into one of two art museums in Lucca. Featuring some beautiful tapestries representing how the Mansi got their family wealth (they were silk merchants), it also has 19th-century art. In my opinion, I feel like just walking through the home is worth taking an afternoon to do–these people lived rather large and their home shows it!
Acquedotto del Nottolini
A little bit south of the city of Lucca is the Acquedotto del Nottolini, which was modeled after Roman aqueducts but transposed to a Neoclassical design. Commissioned by Maria Luisa (she comes up a lot in Lucca’s history), the aqueduct was meant to bring in water to the city with a structure of over 400 arches stretching from the surrounding Apuane mountains. If you have limited time, I’d skip, but if you’re staying a few days in the region then it’s worth checking out.
Day trip to Pisa
Most often, Pisa to Lucca is a day trip and not the other way around. However, if you’re basing yourself in Lucca like I did, then a day trip to the Leaning Tower and the basilica can be a lot of fun. Buses run frequently from the Lucca city center, or you can take the train. From Pisa to Lucca, it takes about 30 minutes to get there. Be warned–it will feel really touristy after tiny Lucca!
San Michele in Foro
If you only visit two or three of Lucca’s churches, make sure that this one is on your list. Rivaling the cathedral (or duomo, in Italian) San Michele’s Gothic facade is one of the most impressive in the city. Devoted to the Archangel Michael (which in itself is unusual), it was the site of a church as early as 795 AD before it was later then rebuilt by Pope Alexander II. All history aside, it’s a beautiful structure that you should at least stroll by when you’re visiting Lucca.
Known as the second main art museum in Lucca, the Palazzo was home to the most influential families in Lucca during the 1600s. The main reason to head here over the many different historical homes? The intricate gardens created by Filippo Juvarra. While you won’t find any famous artworks here, it’s worth checking out on a hot summer day for the breeze passing through the loggia.
Another one of my personal recommendations for things to do in Lucca, Italy is the Puccini Museum. The famous composer (La Boheme, Madame Butterfly, Tosca) was born and raised in Lucca, and he later retired nearby. He had a specific love for the city, and that is reflected in the museum that is located in his birthplace. You can learn more about him, his work, and Italian opera at this special spot.
For such a small city, Lucca has so many amazing artifacts and art that it needs multiple museums to house it all. Located on the east side near the wall, the Museo Nazionale features work from prominent Lucchese and Dutch artists, items from nomadic peoples who once called the area home, and more. If you have extra time, make sure to take a stroll in the extensive gardens.
Usually held at the end of October, Lucca is the home of the largest comics festival in Europe (who knew, right?). Featuring thousands of comics enthusiasts dressed up as their favorite heroes, appearances by famous artists, and more, you’ll want to book one of the hotels in Lucca well in advance. The tiny city becomes crowded with street vendors and activities that take place for a total of three days.
Located right off the Piazza Napoleone, the Ducal Palace is an extensive structure that was home to several relevant historical figures throughout the years. Its original footprint might have been designed by Giotto, and was later refurbished by the Guinigi family. Now, it’s a museum offering art exhibits and a fascinating collection of letters from immigrants from Lucca who made their way to other parts of the world.
Bordering Piazza Napoleone, the Lucca opera house hosts a variety of well-known and more obscure productions throughout the year. There’s always a lot of Puccini (which makes sense)–especially during the Puccini Opera Festival. While typically the only way you can see it is by booking a ticket to one of the shows, you might be able to peek inside if you’re nice!
I hope you enjoyed this list of the best things to do in Lucca, Italy! Feel free to ask any questions in the comments below!
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