The Charming Walled City of Lucca – Gallop Around The Globe

Lucca (pronounced “Luka”, not “Lucha”) was the one place in Tuscany that my uncle and auntie (my mum’s brother and his wife) insisted I must take mum during our 7-day trip around this beautiful region in central Italy.

Encircled by an imposing ring of tree-lined Renaissance walls that you can walk or cycle along, Lucca is situated in a fertile plain near the Tyrrhenian Sea, part the way between Pisa and Florence.

If you’re staying in Florence, the easiest way to get to Lucca is by train, from the city’s Santa Maria Novella station (which is walkable from almost anywhere in central Florence).  Direct trains run every hour, even on a Sunday, and the price of a return journey is €15.  We caught the 10:10 train, which dropped us into Lucca at 11:29.

Lucca’s train station is literally the other side of the 16th century ramparts to its historic centre.  So, once you exit the station, just walk across Piazzale Bettino Ricasoli, and follow the path across the old moat.  Alternatively, follow everyone else who gets off the train; most people are heading in the same direction!  Don’t forget to stop off at the tourist information centre to pick up a map.

Streets of Lucca

Lucca’s tall buildings and largely traffic-free (save for the odd push bike) narrow, cobbled streets mean that its the perfect place for an aimless wander.  Its labyrinthine alleyways are punctuated with beautiful churches and hidden piazzas containing cute little cafes and boutique shops.

I actually found one selling the quirky but practical and super comfy vibram running shoes that I’ve only ever seen for sale online before!

Lucca

Streets of Lucca

Unlike Florence, where there are certain must-see sights that feature on every traveller’s itinerary, the whole of Lucca’s old city is like a living museum and is guaranteed to totally charm your socks off.  It’s also pretty compact so is easily walkable in a day.

Here are a few of my favourite sights and activities in Lucca.

#1 Climbing Torre Guinigi

Torre Guinigi dates back to the 14th century and is one of the few remaining towers in Lucca.  It was donated to the local government by the descendents of the Guinigi family – hence the name.

View from the top of Torre Guinigi, Lucca

At 44.5 metres tall, it’s smaller than all of the other towers I climbed in Tuscany, but what makes this tower unique is the garden of Holm Oaks that sits on top of it.

A Holm Oak is an ancient tree that symbolises rebirth and renewal.

Guerrilla gardening ante litteram

Photo by Emanuele via Flickr

Whilst you’ll get a good view of the old city from up here, if you want your photograph to include this unusual-looking tower, head up to the Torre delle Ore, about 300 metres west of Torre Guinigi.

Entrance fee: €4

#2 Piazza Anfiteatro

Built on the ruins of an ancient amphitheatre that dates back to the second century, Piazza dell’Anfiteatro is an elliptical-shaped piazza that’s surrounded by private residences, shops and restaurants, and is accessed via a series of arched passageways.

Piazza Amfiteatro

Piazza Anfiteatro, Lucca

Piazza Amfiteatro

Cute little owl letterbox, Piazza Amfiteatro, Lucca

Shop window, Piazza Amfiteatro, Lucca

Only the lowest of the four archways belongs to the original structure of the amphitheatre; the others were added in the 19th century when architect Lorenzo Nottolini was commissioned to rebuild the piazza.  It blossomed as a busy market square throughout the 20th century, and is still known by locals today as the Piazza del Mercato (Market Square).

Although its painted yellow buildings would’ve looked noticeably brighter bathed in sunlight and backed by blue skies, Piazza Amfiteatro was still one of our favourite squares in Lucca.

#3 Piazza San Michele

Once the site of a Roman forum during ancient times, Piazza San Michele is now one of Lucca’s most buzzing squares, surrounded by bars and cafes.

Piazza San Michele

At the centre of the Piazza San Michele is the impressive San Michele in Foro, a Romanesque church that dates back to the 12th century.  Construction took place over the period of 200 years, but was halted when the money set aside for the project ran out, resulting in an unfinished structure whose front facade is noticeably larger than the main body of the church.  But who’s to say that an unfinished building is any less appealing? I mean look at Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona!

What’s more, its marble facade is apparently one of the most unusual in Italy, with a menagerie of mythical creatures decorating the tops of each of the upper four tiers.

San Michele in Foro, Lucca

Whilst you’re in Piazza San Michele, don’t forget to stop by Taddeucci for a coffee and a slice of buccellato (Lucca’s famous sweet bread loaf made with sultanas and aniseed seeds).

Buccellato, Lucca

#4 Spotting Blub’s creations

If you’ve read my article, A Few Things to See and Do in Florence for Free, you’ll know that one of them involved work by the street artist commonly known as “Blub”.  Blub paints icons of the past wearing diving masks with the aim of presenting “a mix between the past and the contemporary world.”

Blub

Although Blub (real name unknown) is Florentine and lives in Tuscany’s capital city, he travels often. And one of the cities he appears to have travelled to is Lucca: we spotted quite a few of his pieces here, the instantly recognisable blue background standing out against the faded yellow paintwork of so many of Lucca’s building facades.

Blub

#5 A walk or cycle along the city walls

Lucca’s monumental mura (wall) was built around the old city in the 16th and 17th centuries, and is one of the best preserved city walls in all of Tuscany.

You can walk or cycle around the entire 4.2 kilometre circumference, along the beautiful tree-lined ramparts that overlook the centro historico in one direction, and the Apuane Alps in the other.

Lucia's old city walls

#6 Cattedrale di San Martino

If you’re coming from the train station, this is probably one of the first buildings you’ll see as you enter the old city.  Located in Piazza San Martino, Lucca’s St Martin Cathedral dates back to the 11th century.  Similar in design to the San Michele in Foro (but with less tiers on its facade), the Cathedral di San Martino houses the famous Volto Santo – a life-sized Christ on a wooden crucifix that was apparently carved by Nicodemus, a man who witnessed the crucifixion.

The sculpture is carried through Lucca’s streets every year on the 13th of September, during the city’s Luminaria di Santa Croce procession.

Cattedrale di San Martino 3, Lucca

Photo by Allan Parsons via Flickr

Due to every inch of the ground that you see here being covered in sprawling market stalls selling antiques and bric-a-brac (everything from furniture to paintings, ceramics and clothing) on the day that we visited (Sunday), I’ve borrowed the photo above from another Flickr user via the site’s Creative Commons licence.

#7 Basilica di San Frediano

As you’ve probably gathered by now, Lucca has a lot of amazing churches!  This one is named after Frediano, who was an Irish bishop of Lucca in the first half of the 6th century.  Most of the structure you see today dates from the 12th century, and the amazing golden mosaic depicting The Ascension of Christ was added in the 13th and 14th centuries.

Lucca

#8 A stroll along Via Fillungo

Via Fillungo is Lucca’s elegant stone-paved, traffic-free shopping street.  It stretches all the way from the intersection of Via Roma and Via Cenami (not far from Piazza San Michele) to Borgo Gate (one of the ancient gates in Lucca’s pristine city walls), to the north of the centro historico.

Lucca


Practical Info

  • We did look at staying in Lucca; there are some charming accommodation options to be found if you want to factor an overnight stay into your itinerary.
  • You can look up an up-to-date train timetable (together with prices) at www.trenitalia.com

A word of advice

The train back from Lucca to Florence leaves from platform 4, which is – as logic suggests – right next to platform 3.  Don’t make the same mistake we did and board the train on this platform.  The two leave within minutes of each other, yet the one that leaves from platform 3 heads in the opposite direction and is bound for Viareggio.

Fortunately Viareggio is only 20 minutes from Lucca, and the train terminates there and then heads back to Florence.  So we stayed on the train and sat there for the entire 2o minute journey hoping and praying that we weren’t unlucky enough to be approached by a ticket inspector before we got back to Lucca.

In my experience the Italians are not very forgiving when tourists make genuine mistakes with their rail tickets: the first time I travelled on an Italian train nine years ago I was fined €50 because I didn’t realise I had to validate my ticket before I got on the train.

Helpful tip: Always validate your ticket; look out for the little yellow machines on the station platforms.


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How to spend a day in Lucca, Tuscany

The Charming Walled City of Lucca, Tuscany

Mentioned in this post
  1. Piazzale Bettino Ricasoli
    LU Italy

    Piazzale B. Ricasoli
    LU Italy
  2. Torre Guinigi
    Attraction in LU Italy

    LU Italy
  3. Piazza dell'Anfiteatro
    LU Italy

    Piazza dell'Anfiteatro
    LU Italy
  4. Piazza San Michele
    LU Italy

    Piazza San Michele
    LU Italy
  5. St Martin Cathedral
    Attraction in LU Italy

    Piazza Antelminelli
    LU Italy
    0583 490530
    http://www.museocattedralelucca.it/
  6. Via Fillungo
    LU Italy

    Via Fillungo
    LU Italy
  7. Borgo Gate
    Attraction in LU Italy

    Via S. Gemma Galgani
    LU Italy

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8 Responses to The Charming Walled City of Lucca – Gallop Around The Globe

  1. Sophie May 7, 2017 at 10:32 AM #

    A tree growing on top of a tower?!
    I think this is one of those little gems that needs an overnight stay ?

    • Kiara Gallop May 7, 2017 at 10:53 AM #

      Haha, yes that definitely was an unusual sight! We do wish we’d stopped overnight here, especially considering that it turned out to be my mum’s favourite 🙂

  2. Ivana May 7, 2017 at 3:05 PM #

    What a charming little town! Italy is one place I’ve decided needs to be travelled slowly. There are so many off-the-beaten-path destinations worthwhile seeing.

    • Kiara Gallop May 9, 2017 at 10:03 PM #

      I’d love to have the time to explore Italy slowly, but a limited amount of annual leave makes that virtually impossible for me. But if you have the opportunity then definitely go for it, I love to read your travel tales 🙂

  3. Hannah May 7, 2017 at 9:22 PM #

    Ooh going to have to stash this! I’m looking at a return trip to Italy in Spring 2018 with my mom and Lucca looks stunning. I love old walled cities!

    • Kiara Gallop May 9, 2017 at 10:00 PM #

      I visited with my mum too. She adores Italy! Old walled cities are awesome; I’ve actually just returned from three days in one – Girona (Spain), which incidentally is a lovely city that’s only an hour from Barcelona yet seems to have remained relatively undiscovered by foreign tourists 🙂

  4. Lana June 30, 2017 at 1:50 PM #

    Great article! I love reading about all those who spend their time travelling from place to place with no base. I love hearing their stories and how they go about full-time travelling, but I know that I couldn’t do it.Purposeful travel is definitely my favourite way to explore! Thanks for sharing your thoughts 🙂

    • Kiara Gallop July 2, 2017 at 10:14 PM #

      Although I have taken two long-term trips in the past, I’m not a nomadic traveller. I work full-time in my hometown of Shrewsbury, so the amount of leave I can take is dictated by my employer. This is why I build such busy itineraries on many of my trips, because I have a limited amount of time in the countries I travel to. But I agree, purposeful travel is definitely more rewarding 🙂

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