Lucca in the north of Tuscany is much less known than Florence, Siena, Pisa or San Gimignano. But you will certainly not be bored in the birthplace of the composer Puccini. After our visit, we were impressed by the atmosphere, picturesque streets, impressive churches and lively squares. And: it is much quieter than those other famous cities of Tuscany. That is why you should not miss out on the sights of Lucca.
History of Lucca
Around 200 years B.C. the Romans founded a settlement in this area. They built a fortress with a rectangular street pattern. And if you walk through the city now, you will notice that the centre still has this layout. Lucca had an important role in those days. It was situated at the intersection of three major Roman routes.
The city became rich through the silk trade in the 11th century. In the following centuries Lucca was the scene of many disputes. For example, Lucca had to defend itself against attacks from its great rival Florence. In the 15th century, therefore, it was decided to build a city wall. In the following centuries, the city was subject to many powers. Lucca has been part of France, several principalities, the kingdom of Sardinia and finally the Kingdom of Italy.
The best sights of Lucca
The nice thing about Lucca is that the historical centre is car-free. In addition, the inner city is by the street pattern well organised. You can therefore easily walk from one sight to another in the compact centre.
Cathedral of San Martino
When you approach the beautiful cathedral, you immediately notice its asymmetrical shape. This is because during the construction, the adjacent tower, the campanile, had to be taken into account. This tower had already been there for a couple of centuries. This has given the church a somewhat distorted appearance though that does not detract from the beauty of the San Martino. Outside, the beautiful sculptures in the main portals catch the eye. Inside, you can admire many beautiful works of art. The wooden crucifix and the tomb of a young bride are especially beautiful.
San Michele in Foro
This used to be the site of the Roman Forum, the city’s political, legal, religious and commercial centre. Now there is the San Michele Church. The church has one of the most exuberantly decorated facades in Tuscany. The exterior of the church is so exuberant that people used to call it almost pagan. On the façade, there is also a beautiful statue of the archangel Michael. The interior is less opulent. The church has an austere appearance.
Basilica San Frediano
The Basilica of San Frediano is one of the oldest churches in the city. And, as far as we are concerned, the most beautiful, especially the interior. San Frediano, the bishop of Lucca, founded this church. The mosaic on the façade is of great beauty. It depicts the ascension of Christ. Inside, your eye is immediately drawn to the two beautiful colonnades with equal arches. At the sides of the church there are numerous chapels. The chapel of San Agostino, with its many frescoes, and the chapel of the Tenta family are the most beautiful. But don’t forget to take a look at the baptismal font in the baptistery. You’ll find it immediately to the right after the entrance. Here you can see beautiful reliefs.
The Guinigi family were rich and powerful merchants in the 14th century. They embellished the city in many places. They also built an impressive building with a large tower, the Torre Guinigi. It is now one of the few reminders of the 250 towers that the city had in the Middle Ages. The most special thing is the hanging garden in the top. Centuries-old holm oaks grow here. You can climb the tower, after 230 steps you reach the top. Here you have a fantastic view over Lucca and the surroundings.
Birthplace of Puccini
The famous composer Giacomo Puccini was born in this house in 1858. Puccini’s masterpieces are the many operas, such as La Bohème, Madame Butterfly and Tosca. The house is now a museum, where you can learn about his life and work. There are many portraits, costumes from his operas and the piano on which he composed his last opera. Of course, you can hear the music from his many works in the background. In the high season, you can really enjoy Puccini’s operas. In the San Giovanni church, performances take place regularly.
In the 13th century, the bell tower Torre dell’Orologio was built. In the Middle Ages, there was a real competition between the rich merchants of the city. The Torre dell’ Orologio was the only one with a clock. That is why this tower enjoyed great prestige in Lucca. You can also climb this tower. After a little more than 200 steps, you will reach the top. Here you have a beautiful view of the city, despite the latticework in the portals. On your way up you will pass the impressive chimes.
To defend against attacks from the great rival Florence, in the 16th century a large defensive wall was built around the city. These attacks did not occur afterwards. So, for that reason the city walls were not necessary. But at the beginning of the 19th century, the city walls proved their worth. The Serchio River overflowed its banks and the city was in danger of flooding. Fortunately, the city walls protected Lucca from disaster. The walls are four kilometres long in total and in some places almost 40 metres wide. It is great to walk around the wall. For the entire city wall is now a large walking park. The inhabitants use it as an ideal keep fit trail.
The Romans built an amphitheatre on this site. Here gladiator fights took place in front of thousands of spectators. In the course of time, the use of the amphitheatre changed. Due to its size and location outside the city walls, it was in danger of falling into enemy hands. It was therefore reinforced and used for military purposes. Nowadays, this is one of the nicest and most pleasant squares in the city. In a large round arch around the square are beautiful and colourful buildings. The windows are full of colourful laundry, which is happily blowing in the summer breeze. The square is lined with one terrace after another. A lovely place for a cappuccino or a tasty lunch.
Other sights of Lucca
Still have time left after seeing these sights? The city has even more nice places to visit. Here are some of them:
- Palazzo Pfanner is an impressive building from the 17th century. The baroque building breathes the grandeur of former times. Especially the garden is worth a visit. According to experts, it is one of the most beautiful gardens in Tuscany. Around the garden, there are many statues of gods and goddesses from the Roman antiquity.
- The Piazza Napoleone owes its name to the sister of Napoleon Bonaparte. She ordered the construction of this square. Here, the inhabitants drink their cappuccino on the many terraces. The statue on the square is not of Napoleon’s sister. It is of the woman who had the city walls transformed into a large garden.
- Lucca used to be the city of 100 churches. Now you can still find many of them. They are not as well-known as the cathedral, but certainly worth a visit.
Walking the sights of Lucca
The nice thing about Lucca is that the city is small and manageable. The rectangular street pattern makes it easy to find your way through the picturesque alleys and streets. At the tourist office you can get a good map. On it all the important places are mentioned. It is even nicer to discover Lucca with a guide. Then you will learn a lot more.
Discovering the sights of Lucca by bike
You can also explore Lucca by bike, with a Dutch guide. A very nice way to admire the city. These are the possibilities for a bicycle tour through Lucca.
Sights in the surroundings of Lucca
Most people only see the sights within the city walls. Then they miss a beautiful aqueduct. It is located just outside the fortress, behind the railway station. There you find the aqueduct of Nottolini. It is over 3 km long and has almost 400 arches. It is not a Roman aqueduct, by the way. It was only built in 1850.
If you want to visit other beautiful cities in Tuscany, Pisa is the closest. After about half an hour’s drive, you will be face to face with the famous Tower of Pisa. A little further away, but also absolutely worthwhile, is a visit to Florence. After an hour and a half, you can enjoy the Dom and all the other cultural treasures of the city. If you are in need of a beach, go to Viareggio. A chic seaside resort at a half-hour drive from Lucca.
Wine lovers should not miss the “Strada del vino e dell’olio”. The tourist office in Lucca has a good road map with the wineries listed on it. If you only want to see a limited part of the route, you should go to the nearby village of Montecarlo. This town is famous for its delicious wines. It also has an impressive fortress.
This is what you want to know when you visit the sights of Lucca
The best time to travel is May and June, or September and October. Try not to go in July and August. The heat makes it oppressive. There are also more tourists then. Although Lucca is not as overrun with holidaymakers as Florence and Siena in summer.
The fastest and most practical option is to fly to Florence. From there it is a one-and-a-half-hour train ride to Lucca. Of course you can also rent a car in Florence.
If you are in Lucca at the end of October/beginning of November, you will experience something special. The Lucca Comic & Games turns the city into a living cartoon. Everyone dresses up as a famous or less famous comic book hero. They make the most beautiful costumes for it. Young and old look forward to this festival for months. It is really nice to experience it.
- Osteria da Pasquale. Superlatives fail to describe this restaurant. Our advice: savour it and enjoy it to the full.
- L'Angolo Tondo Trattoria. Located in Piazza Dell' Anfiteatro. Everyone is full of praise about the quality. Moreover, here, the staff explain each dish fluently in English.
- Cantine Bernadini. In a nice entourage in a beautiful cellar, the chef prepares the most delicious dishes. A matching wine completes the experience. Yet still affordable.
- B&B Antico Cancello. A nice family runs this excellent B&B. Right in the centre, in a nice street. After a delicious breakfast you can start discovering Lucca.
- Locanda Sant' Agostino. Wake up like a prince and princess in a stylish room with high ceilings. Relax on the outside terrace after a day in Lucca.
- Palazzo Dipinto. In a former palace you feel like a king. Beautiful, stylish and spacious rooms. The friendly staff prepares a delicious breakfast.
This is the complete list of hotels in Lucca.