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We love Lucca: all the best things to do in this Tuscan treasure

If you’re thinking of visiting Lucca, Italy, you’re in the right place to find out everything to plan your trip to this Tuscan gem!

When I look back on our family’s year of backpacking across Europe, a few destinations stand out in my mind. Lucca, Italy was our final long-term stay on the continent, and it remains one of our favorite places we visited in all four years of our full-time travels as a digital nomad family.

Come along as we head back to Italy and share all of our favorite things to do in Lucca, the Tuscan city that captured our hearts!

Lucca Italy

Exploring Lucca, Italy: a family’s guide

Located in the heart of Tuscany, Lucca is a unique and fascinating city. The historic city center is still surrounded by its medieval walls, which have been turned into a circular, elevated city park!

Within the walls, you’ll find an ancient Roman amphitheater turned into a bustling shopping and dining destination, the birthplace and childhood home of Puccini, dozens of gorgeous churches, several impressive towers, a beautiful Italian palace, and some of the best Italian food you’ll ever eat!

Architecture in Lucca

Short on time? Here’s our quick guide to the best things to do in Lucca:

  • Stroll or bike the walls
  • Eat lasagna at Madama Butterfly
  • Catch an outdoor concert
  • Get an arancini at the Mondadori Bookstore cafe and stroll the streets while enjoying it
  • Climb the Torre Guinigi
  • Visit San Michele en Foro
  • Tour the Pfanner Palazzo gardens

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A brief history of Lucca

Lucca was originally founded by the Etruscans and later became a Roman colony in 180 BC. During the Middle Ages, Lucca became a significant center of commerce, known for its well-preserved defensive walls and strategic position as a trading hub along the Silk Road.

Lucca’s wealth and power during this time are reflected in its impressive architecture, including the stunning Romanesque churches, medieval towers, and elegant palaces that still stand today.

Beautiful Lucca Italy

These days, Lucca is a charming city known for its picturesque streets, beautiful piazzas, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for history enthusiasts and travelers alike.

Staying in Rome? Lucca is a perfect 2-day trip from the capital city. Get all the details here: Day Trips From Rome By Train

Living like locals in Lucca

To be honest, we were planning to stay in Venice for a month. When that proved to be very expensive, we started looking at the Tuscany area of Italy. We settled on Lucca, knowing we’d be able to take day trips to nearby Pisa and Florence, and we couldn’t have been happier with our pick!

Lucca apartment entrance
Our Lucca apartment entrance

During our stay, we lived in a 3-bedroom apartment within the city walls. Our hosts were wonderful and welcomed us with wine, bread, and a big package of Nespresso pods!

We were right in the heart of Lucca, just a few yards away from the Torre delle Ore (clock tower). The town of Lucca is super walkable — you can walk from the west side to the east side, or from the north to the south, in about 20 minutes.

View from our Lucca apartment
View from our Lucca Airbnb

Our daily life in Lucca was always busy with something fun to explore. We were working our jobs on American time (approximately 2–10pm), so we had every morning free to do whatever we pleased! 

We spent lots of time biking and walking the city walls, enjoying Italian dishes, climbing the towers, admiring the churches, and just wandering the cobblestone streets and browsing the storefronts.

Italy is a wonderful place to take kids! Check out our tips for traveling to Italy with kids.

Things to do in Lucca

Here are some of the must-see attractions and must-do activities we recommend for all visitors to Lucca!

Climb a tower

Torre delle Ore Lucca

Back in the old days, families in Lucca would demonstrate their wealth by building a tower taller than their neighbors’. As you can imagine, this resulted in lots of towers across the city! Many have fallen, but a few remain, and you can even climb to the top of some of them.

From our apartment, we could hear the Torre delle Ore chime each hour, so of course we had to climb that clock tower!

Learn more about the history of Torre delle Ore here.

You can also climb to the top of Torre Guinigi, where you’ll find a hanging garden! You’ll also enjoy peaceful views of the red roofs of Lucca from your vantage point.

Torre Guinigi hanging garden

We climbed Torre Guinigi near the end of the day, as the sun set over the town. It was also near the end of our stay and a great finale to our time in Lucca.

Sunset view from Torre Guinigi

Visit one of the many churches

Lucca is called the City of a Hundred Churches, and you will certainly find a lot of churches and cathedrals in town. Our favorite was San Michele en Foro, a Roman Catholic basilica with a striking exterior built in the 8th century and finished in the 14th.

Lucca Italy

We spent a lot of time in and around the Piazza San Michele, so the building was a familiar sight. Who wouldn’t love walking past that gorgeous building every day?!

Another popular spot is the Cathedral of San Martino, a Roman Catholic cathedral built in the 11th century and the seat of the Archbishop of Lucca. The cathedral houses several important artworks, a venerated crucifix, and the Tomb of Ilaria del Carretto, a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture. 

Cathedral of Lucca

Read more about the Cathedral of San Martino here.

Tour an Italian palace

We happened to be in Lucca on Independence Day in 2022, so we did what all good Americans do on July 4th — we toured an Italian palace!

Palazzo Pfanner

We had already glimpsed Palazzo Pfanner and its beautiful Baroque garden from our strolls along the walls, and I knew we had to visit up close. We opted to tour both the palace and the gardens, and it was one of the highlights of our time in Lucca.

Inside the palazzo, we explored the central hall and an exhibition of antique furniture and objects from the 1850s to the 1930s.

Inside Palazzo Pfanner

The Baroque garden was one of the most beautiful places we’ve visited — with its tall statues of Olympian gods, lemon trees in large pots, and blossoming flowers everywhere you look, it’s one of the best places in Lucca to take pictures!

Palazzo Pfanner Baroque garden

Want to really feel like royalty? The Palazzo Pfanner is now a hotel and you can stay there!

Walk the walls

One of my favorite things to do in Lucca was to walk the walls around the city. Our apartment was almost directly in the center of town, so each day I’d pick a different direction to walk the radius to the edge of town before climbing to the top of the walls and starting my stroll.

Walking the walls in Lucca

A few times I walked the full 2.7 miles, but other times I’d go as far as I felt like before taking a set of stairs back down to the street and heading home.

Even better than walking the walls is biking the walls! A few times, Daniel and I rented bikes and enjoyed a ride around town, and once I took my oldest, Carter, and we had a fun ride.

Biking the walls in Lucca

You can also rent a surrey! On Father’s Day, all six of us pedaled a surrey around the city walls. Okay, some of us worked harder than others, and truthfully I think Dad worked the hardest! Happy Father’s Day!

Surrey ride in Lucca

Dine in an ancient Roman amphitheater

One of Lucca’s most iconic landmarks is the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro. This historical site is a remnant of the ancient Roman amphitheater, which has been transformed into a charming public square.

Lucca amphitheater

The oval shape of the original amphitheater is still evident in the layout of the piazza, now a lively hub with cafes and shops. Daniel and I dined here one night and enjoyed our first taste of limoncello, now one of our favorite liqueurs!

We also brought the kids to the amphitheater and let them enjoy some gelato while we strolled around. They were very happy kiddos that day!

Eating gelato in Piazza dell'Anfiteatro

Listen to Puccini

Lucca is the birthplace of Giacomo Puccini, a composer well-known for his operas in the style of “verismo,” portraying realistic themes. At a time when music and literature largely focused on the lives of the elite, Puccini brought attention to relatable topics like poverty, heartbreak, and sacrifice.

Kids with Puccini statue in Lucca

In Lucca, you can tour the Puccini Museum, housed in Puccini’s childhood home, and it’s quite common to come upon an outdoor concert celebrating his works.

Eat gelato

It bears mentioning again. Make sure to eat gelato while in Lucca! We went to at least three different gelaterias during our stay, and we returned to some of them several times.

Kids eating gelato in Lucca

Especially in the heat of the summer, there’s nothing like cooling down with some gelato. Just be sure to eat it before it melts!

Go shopping

Lucca is a shopper’s paradise! The cobblestone roads of the city are lined with shops, including many upscale boutiques. You’ll find a wide range of options here, so if you’re more of a budget shopper, you’ll be happy too!

Window shopping in Lucca

I loved walking the streets and window shopping, admiring all the pretty dresses, shoes, and bags in the storefronts. My two girls enjoyed this activity as well!

Play on the playgrounds

It’s easy to make friends when you’re a kid, even with a language barrier! 

We visited lots of playgrounds while in Europe, and in Lucca we found them on both the east and west sides of town. Our kids love meeting new friends and playing games and make-believe, whether they speak the same language or not!

Making friends on the playground in Lucca

In Lucca, our kids found lots of friends to play with. One time, two little Italian girls used their mom’s phone to say “hi” in Google Translate. Another time, my youngest, Melody, was given snacks and a juice box from the mom of the little girl she was playing with. I made sure she said “Grazie!”

Where to eat in Lucca

We’re STILL talking about the amazing food we ate in Lucca! I already mentioned our dinner in the amphitheater — here are some more places we recommend with the best food in Lucca:

Madama Butterfly

Madama Butterfly Lucca Italy

A lovely restaurant next door to the Puccini Museum, we gave Madama Butterfly a try…and then returned several times throughout our month-long stay. Daniel and I couldn’t get enough of their lasagna, and he was also a big fan of their risotto di mare (risotto with seafood).

Caffè Manon Lescaut

Breakfast in Lucca with the big kids

I took my big kids here for breakfast one day. We were each served an orange juice and a cappuccino, and my delicious dish included the best bacon I’ve ever had, hands down!

Best bacon in Lucca

Mondadori Bookstore

Wait, a bookstore was one of your favorite places to eat? Yup! Inside, they have a little cafe where they sell arancini (fried rice balls with various fillings), and one of my favorite things to do was to get an arancini and wander the streets or sit in the piazza while eating it.

Dante & Gentucca

This pizza place was right by our apartment, and we treated ourselves to lunch there several times. Always delicious!

Alice Lucca

This was another pizza place near San Michele en Foro. We went here several times and got a variety of slices to take home and enjoy with the family for dinner.

Bringing home Alice pizza

Cuisine has always been important in Lucca’s culture – from gourmet Italian experiences to the simple dishes you’ll find on the street, you’ll look back on all the amazing food you’ve had, and maybe even incorporate it into your own cooking!

Day trips from Lucca

During our stay, we took day trips to both Pisa and Florence. We were truly spoiled in being able to see so much of Italy’s Tuscany region!

Lucca’s main train station is located just outside the city walls, so it’s an easy walk from anywhere in the city center. You can be in Pisa in 30 minutes and Florence in about an hour and a half.

Visiting nearby Pisa

On our day trip to Pisa, we visited the Piazza dei Miracoli, where we saw the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Pisa Baptistery, the Cathedral Of Santa Maria Assunta, and the Campo Santo.

Leaning Tower of Pisa

Day trip to Florence

In Florence, we saw the statue of David, climbed Giotto’s Bell Tower, went inside the Duomo, and admired some famous works of art in the Uffizi Gallery.

Florence cathedral

How to get to Lucca

The best way to visit Lucca is definitely by train. As I mentioned, the train station is just outside the city walls, so you can easily walk into and all around the city center.

Tunnel or stairs to get into Lucca
To get into Lucca’s city center, you have to walk up and over the walls or through them!

Lucca’s historic center is encircled by ramparts dating back to the 14th century, which have been transformed into a pedestrian promenade. This makes for a lovely stroll or bike ride, with sweeping city views from the top of the walls. You should be aware, though, that this means the city center is largely car-free and best enjoyed on foot or bicycle.

Renting bikes in Lucca

If you are driving to Lucca, parking outside the city walls is the way to go. You’ll find several parking lots with fees typically ranging from €1 to €3 per hour.

FAQs about visiting Lucca, Italy

What’s the best time of year to visit Lucca?

Spring and fall offer mild weather and fewer crowds, perfect for exploring the town and its surroundings. Pay attention to Lucca’s event calendar, because the town hosts several festivals throughout the year. You may want to attend one or, alternatively, avoid those busy dates.
You’ll find the town full of cosplayers in late October, during the Lucca Comics & Games festival, and the Lucca Summer Festival welcomes some of the biggest musicians and bands for epic outdoor concerts.

How do families with kids make the most out of Lucca?

Lucca is wonderfully kid-friendly, with parks, bike rentals, and engaging historical sites. Plus, the local cuisine is sure to please even the pickiest eaters.

Are there any hidden gems in Lucca that tourists usually miss?

The botanical gardens and lesser-known churches offer quiet beauty, away from the main tourist paths. Also, seek out the markets for authentic local tastes.

Can you recommend any local dishes to try in Lucca?

Try the tordelli lucchese (stuffed pasta) and any dish with local olive oil. The flavors are unforgettable.

What are some tips for communicating with locals if you don’t speak Italian?

A smile goes a long way, and so does Google Translate! Many Lucchesi speak some English, and they appreciate any effort to speak Italian.

I’m so glad we ended up in Lucca for our last long-term stay of our full-time travels! There were so many fun things to see and do. Our kids still reminisce about strolling along the walls, eating gelato and pizza, and even doing mundane chores like taking our clothes to the laundromat! The vibe in town is so great that even everyday tasks seem special.

If you’re looking for a home base to explore the beauty and culture of Tuscany, I highly recommend staying in Lucca. You’ll be able to easily visit Pisa and Florence, but more importantly, I think you’ll fall in love with Lucca itself! We sure did.

We love Lucca
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