Lucca is infinitely more laid-back and less touristy than some other Tuscan cities, yet still very lively and cultured, making it a great alternative, especially in the peak summer season. Museums, sights and outdoor activities abound, but this is also a fine city for serendipitous bike rides and walks. Slow the pace and allow time to linger on a piazza terrace over a coffee or gelato, go off-piste into hidden backstreets and courtyards, and seek shade in the city’s parks and gardens and you’ll feel Lucca begin to work its charm on you.
To tie in your trip with a vacation elsewhere in Tuscany, check out our 14-day Explore Tuscany itinerary.
Planning Your Visit
Lucca is infinitely more laid-back and less touristy than some other Tuscan cities, yet still very lively and cultured, making it a great alternative, especially in the peak summer season. Bear in mind that many attractions close or have restricted opening hours in the winter season (November through March).
Museums, sights and outdoor activities abound, but this is also a fine city for serendipitous bike rides and walks. Slow the pace and allow time to linger on a piazza terrace over a coffee or gelato, go off-piste into hidden backstreets and courtyards, and seek shade in the city’s parks and gardens and you’ll feel Lucca begin to work its charm on you.
Don't limit your explorations to the daytime: if anything Lucca is even more beautiful after dark when the heat subsides and lanterns flick on to romantically illuminate its winding backstreets and historic monuments.
When to Go
As with much of Italy, July and August are when the crowds rock up and room rates soar, so try to avoid these months if you possibly can. Unless, that is, you fancy snagging tickets for the Lucca Summer Festival on Piazza Napoleone, which hosts big-name rock and pop stars (Sting and Elton John headlined in 2019).
Come in spring and fall for better deals, a more local vibe and cooler temperatures that make it more pleasurable for walking and cycling about town. This is also a great time to strike out into the surrounding landscapes, with wildflowers brushing the Apuane Alps in spring, and new wine in the vineyards heading east in fall. See more about when to visit Tuscany in our monthly article series.
Getting There & Around
One of the true delights of Lucca is the fact that everything is walkable (or cyclable). You’ll see locals zipping about town and along the tree-canopied city walls on retro bikes, which you can hire at numerous rental places including Cicli Rai on Via San Nicolao and at the tourist center on Piazzale Ricasoli. Bring along some ID.
Much of the parking in Lucca is residents only. One of the best public car parks is Parcheggio Carducci, just outside of the city walls. If you’re venturing out for the day, you may need to go on the autostrade or highways, which have tollbooths. Collect a ticket as you access the highway and pay (all major credit cards are accepted) when you leave. Avoid booths labeled ‘Telepass’.
Pisa, 12 miles south, is home to the nearest airport and all major car rental companies. There are also half-hourly trains between the two cities with a journey time of 30 minutes. See more about getting around Italy here.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Highlights & Activities
Any visit to Lucca should begin on the ring-shaped Piazza Anfiteatro, built above the remains of the old Roman amphitheater and rimmed by ochre-hued, shuttered medieval townhouses. It’s rightly billed as one of Tuscany’s prettiest piazzas. Arrive first thing in the morning before the crowds to grab a table on one of the café terraces as the city lazily wakes up.
From here, you can dive into the warren of narrow lanes that interweave Lucca’s historic center. You’ll want to stop by the Chiesa di San Michele in Foro, a Pisan-Romanesque, marble-hewn basilica, built above the ancient Roman forum, which is the showpiece of the piazza bearing the same name. Gaze up to spot the statue of the archangel Michael slaying the dragon at the top. Close by is the house where Puccini was born in 1858, with a statue to the great opera composer and a museum presenting his personal items, letters and piano. For more insight, hook onto one of the free guided tours in English at noon on Fridays from June to September.
On the southern edge of town is the mighty Cathedrale di San Martino, an intricately wrought vision in polychrome marble in the Lucca-Pisan style. It’s worth paying a few euros to see the interior, which hides treasures such as the Volto Santo crucifix and Renaissance works by Tintoretto and Fra Bartolomeo.
If you only climb one tower in Lucca, make it medieval, oak tree-topped Torre Guinigi. Puff up 230 steps to the top for spirit-lifting views over the terracotta rooftops, towers and domes to the ripple of hills beyond.
Lucca is a refreshingly green city. Most elegant of all its gardens are the baroque ones at 17th-century Palazzo Pfanner, where scenes from the 1996 movie Portrait of a Lady were filmed. Come for a wander here among manicured lawns, potted lemon trees and Olympian gods. The compact Orto Botanico gardens flourish with century-old cedars, magnolias, camellias and black pine trees. Look out for turtles as you cross the lily pond.
Stretching for 2.6 miles in a perfect ring around the city, Lucca’s tree-lined walls are your gateway to the city. The locals come here to cycle, skate, play, picnic, jog and enjoy their evening passeggiata (stroll) as the sun sets over the not-so-distant Apuane Alps, clearly visible from up here.
Where to Stay
Cosy family-run B&Bs, grand villas operating as Airbnbs and boutique hotels in restored palazzi—Lucca has the lot. Come in the shoulder seasons and you can easily score a good deal on accommodation, but be prepared to book well ahead if you’re planning on visiting in July and August.
Many options are tucked within the city walls in the centro storico (historic center), which place you right in the heart of the action, or just a few minutes’ walk away. If you’re prepared to venture out a little further and have rented a car, an agriturismo stay on a working farm or vineyard is a wonderful alternative, allowing you to combine city culture with a dose of rural charm. There are plenty of these on Lucca’s fringes.
Room rates peak in August and are at their lowest from November to March. A city tax applies on all stays from April to October, costing €3 per night.
Where to Eat & Drink
Lucca is farm-to-fork heaven for food lovers, with bounteous produce coming from the surrounding hills and fields, paired with full-bodied Lucchese wines from nearby vineyards. On menus look out for zuppa di farro, a rich soup made of spelt, borlotti beans and vegetables, dishes prepared with truffles and chestnuts in season, and tordelli Lucchese (pasta stuffed with meat and vegetables and topped with grated nutmeg). Sweet, brioche-like buccellato, flavored with aniseed and studded with raisins, goes excellently with morning coffee.
The historic center is jam-packed with restaurants, osterias, enotecas (wine bars) and piazza-side café terraces. For a bite to eat on the hoof, stop by century-old Da Felice for delicious wood-fired pizza, focaccia and cecina (chickpea flatbread), or Strabuono for gourmet paninis. La Bottega di Anna e Leo serves top-quality deli food in an atmospheric osteria setting
For something more upscale, reserve a table ahead at Il Grammofono, which puts an innovative spin on local ingredients in dishes like homemade black taglioni with sea urchin, teriyaki sauce, pistachio and raw wild salmon. They host regular live music on a Friday.
La Cantina di Lucca is a relaxed choice for an aperitivo with a taglieri di formaggi e salumi (cheese and ham sharing platter). Another terrific choice for an aperitivo, glass of Tuscan wine or cocktail is retro-cool StraVinSky.
Day Trips from Lucca
Lucca is a brilliant springboard for exploring this unsung corner of northern Tuscany. With your own transport, you can make the short, scenic drive north of town to the Apuane Alps in the wild, mountainous Garfagnana region. Here appealing hill towns include medieval Barga, where sleepy cobblestone lanes lead up to a castle with beautiful views, and Castelnuovo di Garfagnana (go for a memorable deli lunch at the old-school Osteria Vecchio Mulino).
Going east, you can sample local wines at Montecarlo wineries. While going west brings you to the lively seaside towns of Viareggio and Forte dei Marmi, both appealing picks for a stroll along the promenade, gelato and time spent unwinding on golden sand beaches.